Tor.com content by

Ryan Britt

Get Ready to Love Mark Gatiss

“Can we just sit here and watch this Spider-Man cartoon?” Mark Gatiss smiles slyly but it’s not clear if he’s completely kidding. We’re sitting on a couch in The Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, New York where a small retro-TV is playing an appropriately retro episode of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. “I love cartoons,” Gatiss tells me. “Did you ever see the old Star Trek cartoon? It’s brilliant. It’s basically like season four.”

The guy sitting next to me might look like Mycroft Holmes, but he barely sounds like him at all. This guy is softer, more childlike, more down to talk about whatever, so long as those things are James Bond, Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who, superheroes, Star Trek… In short, if you meet Mark Gatiss, you want to be best friends with him instantly.

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Harlan Ellison Taught Me How to Be Interesting

In the 1990s I was watching a promo documentary about Babylon 5—likely playing out its 5th season on TNT at the time—and in it J. Michael Straczynski related the best piece of writing advice his friend Harlan Ellison ever gave him, which was something to the effect of “stop sucking.” This might be one of those fuzzy memories where the meaning I derived from it is more real than the actual quote, but it stuck with me. Harlan Ellison inspired a lot of writers and provided a gateway for many of us into New Wave science fiction. And he did it with a lot of personality.

Today is his 81st birthday, and I’m sending him this birthday card.

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Series: On This Day

Most Citizens of the Star Wars Galaxy are Probably Totally Illiterate

Not once in any Star Wars movie does someone pick up a book or newspaper, magazine, literary journal, or chapbook handmade by an aspiring Jawa poet. If something is read by someone in Star Wars, it’s almost certainly off of a screen (and even then, maybe being translated by a droid), and it’s definitely not for entertainment purposes. As early as the 1990s-era expanded Star Wars books and comic books, we’re introduced to ancient Jedi “texts” called holocrons, which are basically talking holographic video recordings. Just how long has the Star Wars universe been reliant on fancy technology to transfer information as opposed to the written word? Is it possible that a good number of people in Star Wars are completely illiterate?

[It seems likely!]

10 Things I Learned About Life from Writing at Tor.com

As of today, May 31st, 2013, I am putting on my space helmet, opening the airlock and leaving the stubby rocketship of Tor.com. In pursuit of various projects, I will, after today, no longer be the staff writer at Tor.com, a position that I’ve been in since February of 2011! I also started on Tor.com as a freelance blogger in August of 2010, making my association with the site just shy of three years. In addition to the 300+ pieces I’ve written here, I’ve also frequently been the voice of Stubby the Rocket (many of us are, but I’ve done the vast majority of the Morning Roundups and several news posts) and also the curator of Genre in the Mainstream, and the organizer of a bunch of theme weeks including Holmes for the Holidays, Monster Mash, Tor.com Goes Ape, Sea Monster Week, Countdown to Prometheus, Ghost Week, and Dinosaur Week.

You’ll see me around the blog again from time to time, but as I head out into the nebulous future, here’s a list of the best stuff I learned.

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Maybe Star Trek Isn’t Supposed to Be Cool? On Star Trek: Insurrection

If I were to re-title the third Next Generation film—Star Trek: Insurrection—I’d call it Insurrection: The Search For Star Trek. And that’s because this movie is the embodiment of Trek’s ongoing identity crisis. Is this Star Trek thing all about thoughtful ethical dilemmas in a science fiction setting? Or does there need to be a bunch of shooting and explosions to get everyone else to care? In the case of Insurrection, Star Trek tried to split the difference, but this time with a little bit more philosophy, and a little bit less killing.

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Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch

Most Citizens of the Star Wars Galaxy are Probably Totally Illiterate

Not once in any Star Wars movie does someone pick up a book or newspaper, magazine, literary journal, or chapbook handmade by an aspiring Jawa poet. If something is read by someone in Star Wars, it’s almost certainly off of a screen (and even then, maybe being translated by a droid), and it’s definitely not for entertainment purposes. As early as the 1990s-era expanded Star Wars books and comic books, we’re introduced to ancient Jedi “texts” called holocrons, which are basically talking holographic video recordings. Just how long has the Star Wars universe been reliant on fancy technology to transfer information as opposed to the written word? Is it possible that a good number of people in Star Wars are completely illiterate?

[It seems likely!]

Series: Star Wars on Tor.com

Nobody Gets Mad About Hamlet Remakes: Why Superheroes Are the New Cultural Mythology

There is nothing remotely subtle about The Dark Knight Rises. Everything the characters say and do is designed to inform of us of who and what they are. Batman may be a “complex” character, but he’s fairly easy to understand. And so is Spider-Man, and so is Hamlet, Faust, and the nordic God Thor, Sherlock Holmes, and Cyrano de Bergerac.

Like it our not, Batman, Spider-Man, and other big comic book heroes are poised to be around just as long as “classic” canocial characters. If you’re irritated they remade Spider-Man too fast or you’re worried they’ll remake Batman to soon after Dark Knight Rises, just wait until they remake all of this stuff for the 40th time in the 22nd century.

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Ray Bradbury, 1920-2012

Artwork inspired by Bradbury’s work can be found here.

World-famous science fiction and fantasy writer Ray Bradbury has died at 91. To millions of readers, he was a literary giant and a household name. Best known worldwide for his dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury was also a distinguished author of short fiction; two of his most significant books, The Martian Chronicles and Dandelion Wine, were collections of linked stories.

Bradbury was honored with numerous awards, including an Emmy, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a National Medal of the Arts Award, and a special citation from the Pulitzer Committee. Most importantly, however, Ray Bradbury inspired generations upon generations of writers with his uniquely upbeat, almost childlike exploration of the endless dimensions of fiction. Ray Bradbury was, and still is, that rare writer who loved playing with dinosaurs as a child, and never really stopped.

Bradbury also never really stopped writing. New books have appeared well into the 21st century including Farewell Summer, a sequel to Dandelion Wine. He also just had an essay published in The New Yorker‘s first ever science fiction issue.

His stories aren’t just science fiction; they are among some of the best, most hilarious and heartfelt stories around. The best thing we can do right now is go out and read them. Read “The Wonderful Ice Scream Suit,” “The Smile,” everything in A Medicine for Melancholy. Read The Halloween Tree.

A prehistoric monster in Bradbury’s story “The Fog Horn” is searching for another monster of its own kind. And now, sadly, we’ll forever be lonely monsters searching for someone as wonderful and luminous as Ray Bradbury. We’ll miss you.

Why A Wrinkle in Time Should be Read Out Loud

If I said A Wrinkle in Time was the first book my mother read to me out loud, I would be a lying. There would have been the Maurice Sendaks, the Dr. Seusses, the early Chris Van Alsburgs, not to mention the awfully written Transformers and Masters of the Universe “storybooks.” But none of experiences are even as remotely memorable as when mom read A Wrinkle in Time to me over the course of several weeks. It’s the first book I truly remember having read to me. And through the power of a tesseract, I remember it being all happening in one darky, stormy night.

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John Landis Talks About His New Book Monsters In The Movies

Last week, I was lucky enough to chat with famous filmmaker and monster aficionado John Landis. He’s known equally for genre films like An American Werewolf in London, Innocent Blood, and The Twilight Zone movie and mega hits like Coming to America, Blues Brothers, and The Three Amigos. (And who could forget another work of his, a tiny little arthouse music video titled “Thriller” by Michael Jackson?) As evidenced by his career, Landis is clearly a lover of monsters. Further reinforcing that is the recent release of a gorgeous picture book that Landis has edited called Monsters In The Movies: 100 Years of Cinematic Nightmares. Being a lover of monsters, myself, I recently sat down with Landis to discuss the book.

Find out what his favorite type of monster is, what classically derided sci-fi film he loves, and more below the cut! (And if you’re interested in learning more about the book itself, you can win a signed copy here.)

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Will Tron Himself Actually Be in the New Tron: Legacy?

While sitting through the previews ahead of a screening of the latest Harry Potter movie, an old friend turns to me and asks, “Hey isn’t that ‘The Dude’?” He was referring of course, to Jeff Bridges. Now, I have to admit, Bridges is looking a little like his character from The Big Lebowski in this trailer for impending nerd-culture event that is Tron: Legacy. And while I start concocting a mash-up of The Big Lebowski and Tron in which Flynn enters into the video-game world to confront Sark and the MCP over the theft of a certain rug that “really tied the room together”; another thought hits me. Is Tron actually in the new Tron?

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A Baker Street Irregularity: Why the BBC’s new Sherlock is Science Fiction

If Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark had blogs, those blogs wouldn’t tell us anything, because the blogs of superheroes would be super-slanted and biased in order to protect their public personas and secret identities. But what if Alfred or Pepper Potts wrote a blog about the daily exploits and machinations of their bosses? Wouldn’t we get a slightly more honest picture of these super-people? It seems likely that the lives superheroes seen through a blog would take on the emotional characteristics of a reality TV show. Not the truth per se, but a kind of access ordinarily unavailable. So, what about a reality TV show featuring Sherlock Holmes? Well, Dr. John Watson just got a blog, and here in our universe, via BBC’s new mini-series, Sherlock, we’re able to “read” it. And the results are fantastic.

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“Lando Doesn’t Know How to Fly Space Ships”—A Babysitter Evaluates the Current State of The Force

In 1996 when I was 14, I wrote several letters to Dark Horse Comics, expressing my concern over what I thought was unrealistic and cheesy dialog spoken by members of Rogue Squadron in the Shadows of the Empire mini-series. Dark Horse published one of these letters in a subsequent issue, complete with an editor’s rebuttal. Since then, my enthusiasm for Star Wars has slowly wavered, partly because entering into a discussion about Star Wars is such a loaded gambit. Outspoken support of contemporary Star Wars is rare among adults. But through adventures in babysitting, I’ve discovered the most vocal fans of modern Star Wars. Children. And these kids—the current generation of rabid Star Wars fans—they like The Clone Wars best of all.

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Series: Star Wars on Tor.com

On The Sarah Jane Adventures Nostalgia Literally Saves the Day!

Though Matt Smith as the 11th Doctor was the guest star in the recent two-part episode of the The Sarah Jane Adventures titled “Death of The Doctor,” the real guest star was nostalgia itself. Writer Russell T. Davies taught us an important lesson in this one: if you’re ever getting your brain sucked out by alien-vulture undertakers, just think happy thoughts, allow your life to flash before your eyes, and most importantly, replay your favorite Doctor Who episode in your mind’s eye! Nostalgia will save you!

[Read more: Spoilers]

Pimp My Ride (With Brass and Velvet!): Five Steampunk Vehicles You Wish You Could Take For a Spin

A defining characteristic of steampunk is the fictional exploration of technological roads not taken. And one specific way this is exemplified is through the various sweet rides steampunk characters use to get from point A to point B. I’d like to think if I was offered any of the following vessels as my mode of transportation, I’d have the good sense to steampunk-up and jump behind the proverbial wheel.

[Here’s a sampling of some of the greats]

Series: Steampunk Fortnight