Tor.com content by

Natalie Zutter

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch Is Its Own Perfect Example of the Illusion of Free Will

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is without a doubt the series’ most ambitious experiment in storytelling—and that’s saying a lot, since last season kicked off with an entire Galaxy Quest-esque episode. With Bandersnatch, Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones abandon virtual realities for branching realities, putting control of the rumored 300+ minutes of footage into the hands of their audience. Through dozens of decision trees (which look just like the logo from “White Bear”), passive viewers become active players, deciding everything from what cassette troubled programmer Stefan (Dunkirk’s Fionn Whitehead) listens to on the bus to how to answer his increasingly existential pleas as his fate unspools.

It’s an intrepid move on the part not only of the creators but also Netflix itself, as one of the streaming service’s primary jokes is its tendency to prod viewers into confirming that, yes, they are still watching Friends 20 episodes in. But by the time you’ve satisfied yourself with the second or seventh ending of Bandersnatch, the story is less and less able to match the caliber of the experience of it; go down too many alternate paths, and the format begins to outshine the content. Then again, when was the last time you remembered the plot of a Choose Your Own Adventure novel after closing it?

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Why I’m Obsessed with the Outlander Theme Song(s)

Sing me a song of a lass that is gone
Say, could that lass be I?

The first time I saw the opening lyrics to Outlander’s theme song posted on a friend’s Facebook post, I thought it sounded ridiculous, way too on-the-nose to start every episode by acknowledging the series’ premise. YES WE GET IT CLAIRE YOU DISAPPEARED.

That was before I actually listened to it, and watched the title sequence—and then, like Claire at Craigh na Dun, I fell hard. Now, I forbid my husband from fast-forwarding through the credits every time we watch… and considering that we binged a season at a time to get caught up in a matter of weeks, that means I’ve got it well memorized. But why do I find this particular TV opening so compelling?

The answer, I think, is that it presses all of my nerd buttons: it’s a remix of a mashup, with an excellent invocation of Rule 63. It is the platonic ideal of a TV theme song.

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Evil Rites of Passage: Runaways Season 2 Premiere “Gimmie Shelter”

The first scene in Runaways’ season 2 premiere not only is a great little nod to Spaceballs, but also sets the thematic tone for the sophomore season of Marvel and Hulu’s children-of-supervillains series: the members of Pride rush to the police station, believing that their children have been apprehended after missing only 24 hours… only to walk in on a group of lookalikes who are complete strangers. “Those aren’t our kids,” Geoffrey Wilder snaps, as if it should be so easy for the cops to recognize their children—but the truth is that nobody knows who the Runaways really are, not even the Runaways themselves.

Season 1 established the adolescent rite of passage of learning that your parents are not only imperfect, but actually evil, but the Runaways haven’t automatically become one big happy family. Learning the truth about their parents was one thing; this season, they have to examine their own complicated heritages and figure out which of their tangled bonds—to parents and to each other—to honor, and which bonds need to be snipped.

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We Soldier On: Checking In With Outlander, “Down the Rabbit Hole”

At about the halfway point of any given Outlander season, our heroes usually wind up in a completely different country—sailing from Scotland to France, or shipwrecked in America by way of Jamaica. The stakes change, the theme song gets a cool new spin, and the latter half of the season is drastically altered.

But after three years, you gotta shake things up a bit. So it’s no surprise that the midpoint of Outlander season 4 is less concerned with changing the where so much as the when… and in doing so, creating not one, but two new sassenachs.

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How Animorphs and ReBoot Used Cheesiness to Get Away With Telling Important Stories of Trauma

Even today, even in the era of mainstream geekdom and publicly embracing guilty pleasures, I still cannot recommend two formative pieces of genre work from my childhood (the mid-’90s to early ’00s) without caveats. One was the first book series that I committed to with unabashed zeal, buying new installments monthly and absorbing myself in its world (nay, universe) for half a decade. The other was the TV series that first brought me online reading and then writing fanfiction; it was also my first lesson in the exhilaration-followed-by-disappointment of seeing a beloved series come back from cancellation not-quite-right. Animorphs and ReBoot shaped me as a fan and a writer; they were the first places where I learned how to make your characters grow with their audience, and how to depict war and its indelible consequences.

They are also cheesy as all get-out, with their ’90s-tastic Photoshop morphing book covers and CGI characters rapid-fire riffing on pop culture. But it was this unapologetically cartoonish packaging that made both series brilliant Trojan horses of a sort, ferrying impressively dark tales of trauma and recovery they might not have otherwise gotten away with.

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Curiouser and Curiouser Retellings of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Snacks that make you shrink (or grow gigantic), mad tea parties, murderous croquet: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a bonkers enough story on its own that it’s impressive to see the ways in which so many authors have been able to retell it.

In these thrillers and pastiches and history lessons, Alice Liddell is a princess on the run, a mad inmate, or only a tangential part of the story; some retellings focus on other citizens of Wonderland, from the maligned White Rabbit to the misunderstood Queen of Hearts. No matter which of the many ways into Wonderland these writers choose, the stories are as enticing as a bottle that says DRINK ME.

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Margaret Atwood Announces The Testaments, a Sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale

When The Handmaid’s Tale was published in 1985, it ended on an ambiguous note, as Offred was carried away from her household in the Eyes’ van, to a destination unknown: “into the darkness,” she ponders, “or else the light.” Now, Margaret Atwood is finally answering the question of what happened to the eponymous Handmaid, in a sequel titled The Testaments, which will be published in September 2019.

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Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2 Explores the Gray Areas of Life Online

Spend too much time on the Internet, and everything that makes it so breathtaking on first blush—impossible connections over infinite space, the havens for likeminded folks, the sheer accessibility of information and materials—can be twisted to fit nefarious purposes. It’s a yin-yang between the promising and the perverse; you can’t have the likes without the comments.

Disney’s Ralph Breaks the Internet engages with this ambivalence about the Internet in ways that are smart but not surprising: Whereas Wreck-It Ralph was about struggling against the limited constraints of an arcade game to be good, its brand-savvy sequel recognizes that there are boundless opportunities to be our worst selves online.

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Nearly Every SFF/Horror/Comic Book Adaptation in the Works!

Thanks to major properties like Game of Thrones and Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, we’ve entered a golden age of sci-fi and fantasy properties being developed for film and television. It seems that nearly every network and studio has snatched up the rights to old and new classics, with a bevy of projects in production or premiering in the coming months. To keep you on top of the latest news, we’ve updated our master list of every SFF adaptation currently in the works, from American Gods to Y: The Last Man.

Check out this list and get your DVRs and Netflix queues ready, because you’re going to be wonderfully busy for the foreseeable future.

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Halloween Is This Year’s Feel-Good Family Movie About Inherited Trauma

The original Halloween isn’t all that scary, except for little moments here and there. Like every time that iconic score starts up, and it gets the heart racing at the same rapid beat. Or when teenager Laurie Strode happens to catch a glimpse of masked Michael Myers just watching her from behind some hanging laundry. These moments, of the killer stalking his prey, are terrifying. But once he actually catches up to her… a lot of the terror just drops away. The trap he lays for her, the way he slowly tracks her to the closet where she’s moaning like a caged animal—these are key horror-movie moments, but they’re experienced at a remove.

That’s due in large part to the fact that it’s never made clear why Michael is so obsessed with Laurie. Her chasteness, her responsibility compared to the horny teenagers shrugging off babysitting to hook up, must certainly fascinate him, considering how he murdered his sister Judith post-sex. And he certainly targets her, with the final grotesque vignette involving her friends’ bodies, clearly designed to drive her to utter hysteria. But why her?

Later (bonkers) installments in the franchise attempted to explain this by having Laurie be Michael’s other sister, to connect them by blood. But the new Halloween (a soft reset of the franchise and direct sequel to the 1978 original) retcons this in such a cheeky, on-the-nose way: Laurie’s granddaughter shrugs off this theory as “That’s just a story someone made up to make themselves feel better.”

There’s never going to be a satisfying answer as to why Michael is obsessed with Laurie, so the filmmakers brilliantly turned it around and made her obsessed with him.

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3 Big Moments from the Outlander Season 4 Premiere, “America the Beautiful”

O Beautiful, for Sassenach, for auburn waves of hair… The Droughtlander is over, and Outlander season 4 is here! We got to see the premiere, “America the Beautiful,” last month at New York Comic-Con and had to hold our tongues about the episode’s more brutal and shocking moments. But now that it’s aired, there is so much to talk about! Read on for the biggest moments and the most pressing questions, and share your own thoughts in the comments!

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NaNoWriMo Pep Talks From SFF Authors Will Help You Do the Impossible

Happy National Novel Writing Month! You have 30 days to write 50,000 (or more!) words without fear of outside readers or your own second-guessing. You get to throw all the writing rules out the window, except for the one where you sit down every day to write. Which is not to say that NaNoWriMo lacks structure—in fact, it’s all about support systems, from the forums to the pep talks from dozens of published authors, some of whom have attempted NaNoWriMo themselves. (And, in the case of some like Patrick Rothfuss, lost.) Because if you’re staring at the blank page on Day 1, or desperately sobbing your way through what seems like an irreparable plot mistake on Day 20, you’re going to need the moral support.

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You Might Be the Killer Falls Victim to Meta Horror Pitfalls

If you attend a remote summer camp, you have to know there’s a non-zero chance that you’ll get stalked through the woods by a killer with a mask and a machete. If you cheat Death on a plane/the highway/a roller coaster, you can’t be surprised when it comes after you in your daily life in increasingly creative ways. If you pick up the phone when you’re home alone, you’re rolling the dice on whether the voice on the other side of the line wants you dead. Horror is filled with these (and other) scenarios that don’t exactly say that you’re asking for death and dismemberment, but you really should know better by now.

You Might Be the Killer, an entertaining horror-movie riff that began its life as a masterpiece in Twitter improv, engages with these horror tropes and a larger debate about free will: Should you find yourself running through a campground, splattered in blood, are you doomed to be added to the growing kill count by a slow-stalking, relentless killer? …Wait, you’re the one holding the machete and wearing the mask? Ohh, then we have a very different problem. Unfortunately, the answers this movie raises are less than satisfactory.

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Boba Fett vs. Zombies and Other Bonkers Moments from Star Wars: Galaxy of Fear

John Whitman’s 12-book Galaxy of Fear series was the Star Wars Expanded Universe’s attempt to tap into the middle-grade horror market of the late ’90s—bringing Goosebumps to a galaxy far, far away. The series introduced two adorable Alderaanian orphans under the care of their mysterious shape-shifting anthropologist uncle Hoole, and set them loose into every random corner of the Star Wars universe, occasionally crossing paths all the fan favorites from the original (and at the time, only) film trilogy: Luke provides Tash some one-on-one lessons in the Force, while Boba Fett shows up to save Zak from space zombies. Thrawn’s in there somewhere, too, as badass as ever.

These character cameos made Galaxy of Fear the ultimate self-insert fiction—except if you preferred nightmares to fantasies. Because while R.L. Stine’s haunted ventriloquist dummies and egg monsters rarely provoked much of a reaction beyond, well, goosebumps, Galaxy of Fear was the stuff of your deepest, darkest fears: slimy bump monsters, boneworms that sucked you dry, brain-swapping spider robot monks, cute li’l babies that could turn people into goo and suck them up… The kind of body horror and under-the-bed monsters you would never associate with lightsabers and Death Stars and the Force.

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Neukom Institute Literary Arts Award Opens Submissions for Second Year Honoring Speculative Fiction

After a successful inaugural year, The Neukom Institute for Computational Science at Dartmouth College has announced the 2019 Neukom Institute Literary Arts Awards. Established in 2017, the award honors speculative fiction works in book form (debuts and otherwise) as well as plays. It also recognizes the relationship between science and the arts, the latter which the award website describes as “[a]cting as gadfly for the good, provocateur and satirist when the sciences overreach, but also far-seeing prophets of scientific potential.”

The inaugural winners were Juan Martinez for Best Worst American (in the debut category), Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station and Corinne Duyvis’ On the Edge of Gone (in the open book category), and Jessica Andrewartha’s play Choices People Make.

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