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Natalie Zutter

Let There Be Light: The Handmaid’s Tale, “The Word”

“Gilead is within you” has been the rallying cry all season for The Handmaid’s Tale, and it has seemed to describe the Handmaids. The imagery is apt: something implanted without their consent, its growth within them beyond their control, until it eclipses any remaining sense of their former selves. But the real danger, as June, and Serena, have come to learn, is to Gilead’s next generation, born with this defect and destined to know nothing but this world.

Season 2 has been building pretty clearly to some form of internal revolt; the only question has been the who and the why. Eden’s transgression, and the monstrous way in which Gilead makes an example of her, fill in the latter blank. Is it any surprise, then, that this is what makes Serena and the other Wives finally step up?

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Mother Knows Best: The Handmaid’s Tale, “Postpartum”

Patience. Service. Sacrifice. These are the qualities that Serena Joy claims have blessed them with their baby, after losing their Handmaid several times over and failing to have the birth according to Gilead’s standards and structures. But we know the Waterfords to be quite impatient, and their idea of sacrifice always requires a figurative lamb in place of themselves. Just like they rename someone else’s child, they cover up the messy details with a perfectly posed family portrait. The Wife gets the baby, while the Handmaid struggles with being postpartum.

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(Almost) Every Science Fiction/Fantasy and 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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Escape the Womb: The Handmaid’s Tale, “Holly”

“I’m sorry there’s so much pain in this story,” June tells her very-soon-to-be-born daughter in a voiceover that raises questions about the circumstances in which she’s telling it. Having taken much of the season to recover her rebellious inner voice, this is the closest she’s sounded to the Offred of Margaret Atwood’s novel (who, spoiler alert, winds up recording The Handmaid’s Tale on cassette tapes for future academics to mull over) in quite some time. “I’m sorry it’s in fragments. […] I’ve tried to put some good things in, as well.”

For all the talk of fragments, “Holly” has a pretty tight focus on June herself: alone in a huge, (mostly) empty house, struggling futilely to escape Gilead when her baby decides that it’s time to enter it. What follows is the most harrowing birth scene I’ve ever seen on television (and perhaps you’ll agree), as the Handmaid must deliver her blessed fruit without a doctor, without drugs, without even the other Handmaids to chant her through it. But out of it comes the rare good thing: Holly.

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A Worshipper’s Guide to the Pantheon of Gods in Jacqueline Carey’s Starless

The night sky in Jacqueline Carey’s latest novel Starless is—as the title of  suggests—bare. But a thousand years ago, the sky was lit up with glittering stars. More than stars, they were gods: the children of all-seeing Zar the Sun and his three Moon wives: bright Nim, dark Shahal, and fickle wanderer Eshen. But the children, who remained in fixed points lending light at night and guiding sailors on the four great currents, envied their parents’ freedom to wander the day and night sky. And so, they rebelled.

Rather than discipline his children in the sky, Zar the Sun grew furious and punished his rebellious children by casting them down to earth. As the heavens emptied of their celestial beings, they struck different points on the land and in the sea. In each spot, that god or goddess took on the form of their surroundings, from fierce sandstorms to calming rains to enigmatic marble statues. And where each deity reigned, so their human scions built worship around their particular form and decrees.

It is a massive pantheon to keep track of, and each plays a key part in the novel’s Scattered Prophecy. From trickster gods to harmonious nature deities, here’s a handy guide to the major divine players in this epic standalone fantasy.

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You Deserve This: The Handmaid’s Tale, “The Last Ceremony”

What’s worse: Thinking that you had endured that awful thing for the last time, only to have to go through it again without any emotional preparation? Or unexpectedly getting to experience something truly wonderful, and then not knowing if it is the last time you’ll do so? The Handmaid’s Tale poses these wrenching questions as it heads into the final arc of season 2, something of a ticking clock based on June’s soon-to-be-born baby.

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Hereditary is the Rare Horror Movie That Feels Oh So Human

The moment that I knew we were in for something special with Hereditary was the scene where miniaturist Annie Graham (Toni Collette) thinks she sees her mother’s spirit in her workroom. It’s a typical horror-movie shot of a shadowy figure ominously lurking in a darkened corner, distinct enough to elicit gasps but indistinct enough that it could just be a trick of the light. A scene later, there’s no wringing of hands from Annie, no self-denying rationalizations: Instead, she’s googling hauntings, because she saw something, dammit.

I loved that the heroine of a horror movie didn’t second-guess her instinct, that we got to skip the requisite scene where someone tells her “there is a dark presence in this house” and she doesn’t believe it. Annie knows that her life is saturated in darkness, because she survived a dysfunctional family. Even before the death of her estranged mother—an event which kicks off the film’s brutal series of events—Annie already had ghosts in her home. And that’s what makes Hereditary so successful—it’s frightening, and funny, and fuuuucked up, in ways that only humans can be to one another.

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We Believe the Women: The Handmaid’s Tale, “Smart Power”

It is frankly astonishing timing that this is the very week in which The Handmaid’s Tale sends Commander Waterford, Serena Joy, and Nick to represent Gilead up north for diplomatic talks with Canada. Fred cites Ofglen’s bombing as an “opening”—of course he would call it that—for both sides to speak, though it’s unclear what, if anything, Gilead realistically thinks it can offer to a conversation in which it is clearly at a disadvantage. For all of Fred’s bravado, it seems to be damage control, maintaining the fiction that they suffered a terrorist attack, that Gilead is still very much a useful neighbor and maybe even ally.

But to do that, he needs Serena Joy to do what she did at that university years ago: show that women in Gilead are neither oppressed nor voiceless; “show them a strong Gilead Wife.” Her dilemma is a fascinating reversal of Offred’s last season, when the Mexican trade delegation came to Gilead: she must lie through her teeth that this is a worthwhile life for a woman; to say anything else would be treason. But that doesn’t mean she’s not tempted to imagine a way out.

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Gender, Disability, and Prophecy: Jacqueline Carey on Writing Standalone Epic Fantasy Starless

When I asked Jacqueline Carey if a particular aspect of her new fantasy novel Starless had required extensive research, she laughed and pointed out that this was her eighteenth novel—which is to say, she has amassed a lot of background research over the years. The standalone epic, about a fierce warrior destined to guard a courageous princess even if it means going to the ends of the earth to return the stars to the sky, hinges on a Scattered Prophecy: each character possesses a piece of it, and can only solve it by bringing the different parts together.

Talking to Carey, author of the Kushiel’s Legacy books and other series, about the influences behind Starless is like piecing together the Scattered Prophecy: there’s the practice of bacha posh, octopus gods dreamed up at parties, YouTube videos on proper bola throwing, a dash of Lovecraft, and a spin on Le Guin. And just like Starless’ prophecy, each piece is vital.

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Cloak and Dagger Infuses Superhero Origin Story with Existential Teen Drama

For a TV show called Cloak and Dagger, there’s not a lot of “and” yet: Except for a few key scenes, Tandy and Tyrone rarely interact in the two-hour series premiere; which begins to set up why these two very different New Orleans teenagers are connected by powers beyond their control. However, considering that Cloak and Dagger’s very essences are inversely proportional—all-consuming dark versus piercing light—the narrative choice to pull them apart, and then thrust them together when it counts, mostly works.

It does make for a slow-moving pilot, one that prioritizes building up their respective motivations over a more typical superhero origin story. By the end of it, there are no formal costumes nor choosing of names, but Tyrone and Tandy’s existences have forever been altered.

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“Women’s Work” is Men’s Problem on The Handmaid’s Tale

A father and a son are in a car crash that instantly kills the father. The wounded boy is taken to the hospital. The surgeon exclaims, “I can’t operate on this boy—he’s my son!” How can this be?

I couldn’t help but think of this aggravating riddle that I first heard in the ’90s during this week’s The Handmaid’s Tale, when Serena Joy tells Fred that Gilead possesses the best neonatologist who might be able to help poor baby Angela/Charlotte, and he asks, “Who is he?” That’s the setup, and Serena gets the punchline: She is a Martha. His assumption that the only actually important members of society are male hews too uncomfortably close to the attitudes that make this riddle a stumper, even as recently as a 2014 gender bias study. (The doctor is the boy’s mother, come on people.) So by “punchline,” what I really mean is “find a corner to laugh until you cry” at how stubbornly Gilead refuses to ever put its women above its men, even when the women are the only things keeping it up.

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Charlie Jane Anders, V.E. Schwab, S.L. Huang, and Seth Dickinson Talk Queerness in SFF

The recurring theme of Tor Presents: LGBTQ+ Authors on Gender and Identity in SFF (one of the first panels to kick off BookExpo America 2018) was about how every artist’s identity informs their art. In the case of the four authors present, it’s not just a matter of which words wind up on the page: It’s what point in life their personal experiences became more prevalent to their creative process. It’s the kinds of identities they believe are currently lacking in fiction. It’s their preferences about metaphors and other coded ways of communicating queerness. It’s their decision whether to tell a story about a character whose queerness directly impacts the plot, or about characters who just happen to be queer.

But to start, Charlie Jane Anders, Seth Dickinson, S.L. Huang, and V.E. Schwab had to look at the default.

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Whispers Will Bring the Walls Down on The Handmaid’s Tale: “After”

“It’s about time things started getting back to normal around here, don’t you think?”

When Serena Joy says this to Offred near the end of this week’s episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, it ostensibly sounds as if she’s guiding their household back to its regular rhythms after the disruption caused by last week’s suicide bombing. Yet there is extra weight to the Wife’s words, not to mention the weight of a pen in the Handmaid’s hand. If you’re looking for subtext, it could be Serena Joy subtly pushing not just for Gileadean normalcy, but for the return to the state that existed before the Sons of Jacob.

That could completely be wishful thinking on my part, but what’s undeniable is that the women of Gilead have begun to change how they talk to one another. Wives confiding in Handmaids about their insecurities and rewarding such confidences with little mercies. Marthas breaking their stony, self-preserving silence to provide sympathy for the lowest members of the household. Aunts dropping pretenses and speaking plainly to Wives and Handmaids both. And the Handmaids to one another, with wistful reminiscences about brunch, snarky asides about each other’s petty pet peeves, warnings to each other about an explosion moments before pressing the trigger.

The walls between Gilead’s female inhabitants are beginning to come down.

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I Wish Solo’s Female Characters Could Find Better Escape Routes

Early on in Solo: A Star Wars Story, Tobias Beckett tells an eager young Han Solo that “if you come with us, you’re in this life for good”—a final warning before he seals his fate as a smuggler. The film’s female characters are not afforded the same courtesy; the systems in which they are trapped—a droid’s existence, a life owned by Crimson Dawn—lack the same opportunities for either turning back or abandoning entirely. But that doesn’t stop Elthree or Qi’ra from looking for a way out.

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How Do You Measure A Resistance? The Handmaid’s Tale: “First Blood”

Forgive the RENT reference, but “Seasons of Love” came into my head when thinking about all of the little moments and factors that build up something so massive as Gilead, or its undoing. It’s not quite 525,600 minutes, but there were several that stuck out from this week, about halfway through the season. The best way to talk about this episode (THIS EPISODE), then, is to focus on the moments. Some refer to the “First Blood” of the episode title; others I just can’t stop thinking about.

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