Tor.com content by

Ryan Britt

The SFF Everyman in Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee

The most efficient form of time travel might not be a phone box or a Delorean, but rather a good-old fashion bump on the head

Though it was Arthur C. Clarke who doled out the maxim “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”, it was Mark Twain who originally brought the firestick to the ignorant savages of the past. Though certainly not the first work of English-language literature to deal with time travel, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court does predate H.G. Well’s The Time Machine. But unlike The Time Machine, Twain takes his protagonist backwards rather than forwards, and features an unwitting everyman time traveler in opposition to Well’s intrepid inventor and explorer.

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Why Planet of the Apes Movies Will Always Blow Our Minds

If we had an infinite amount of apes banging on an infinite amount of typewriters, I think we can all agree, they’d eventually write every single Planet of the Apes movie, and then rise up and enslave us humans as their copy-editors, gaffers, and interns who get them coffee.

Basically there’s no way any of us are ever going to get over the idea of talking apes, like, ever. But why?

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Prometheus: Science Fiction or Religious Fiction?

Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, the hero of the new epic Prometheus, wears a crucifix and believes in a higher power. She’s a great, likable character who I enjoyed seeing wield an ax. But she didn’t feel like a scientist to me, at least not in a science fictional kind of way. To say that the search for a higher power occupies the majority of the Prometheus narrative is no spoiler, as the promotional tagline for the film is “the search for our beginning could lead to our end.” And in that search for our beginning, Prometheus pulls a few revelatory punches, and in doing so makes aspects of the film’s thematic noise feel, at least on the surface, to be more religious fiction than science fiction.

Tons of spoilers for Prometheus below.

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In Space, Sigourney is Too Cool to Scream: Why Alien Endures

Coming up with a more audacious title for a science fiction film than Alien would be tricky. Perhaps the only candidates are Science Fiction Film or Space: The Movie. From the earliest previews, the message of Alien was clear: all previous cinematic depictions of extraterrestrials are jokers and this Alien is the only alien, and yes, we only need one alien to convince you of that.

But the reason this movie is so great isn’t because of the singular Alien, or even the iconic design of the monster. The real monster here is the brilliant unfolding of the narrative. Just when you think you know what the hell is going on, something pops out (literally) and changes everything.

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Listen, Kurt Vonnegut Changed Your Life

Today would have been the 94th birthday of beloved author Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Throughout his career as a writer and a human being, Vonnegut shouldered many labels: sci-fi writer, satirist, humorist, humanist, political activist, and cranky old man. Luckily for us, he was all of those things and more.

But best of all, Kurt Vonnegut was a man who reminded us that our primary function on Earth is to “fart around, and don’t let anyone tell you any different.”

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Series: On This Day

50 Years of Star Trek People Drinking Coffee

It’s obvious to us now that Starfleet ships are not fueled by antimatter but rather, coffee.

Be it a raktajino (Klingon coffee) or just coffee–black–a surprising number of Starfleet’s finest can’t seem to function without pounding back a pint of the dark stuff before considering yet again whether to fire Chakotay.

In our eyes, Captain Janeway is the golden standard-bearer of coffee consumption in the 24th century, but she’s simply reinforcing a long tradition of Star Trek characters subsisting on coffee coffee COFFEE. Without further introduction, we present a stately walk through Starfleet’s love of the bean.

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The Fifty-Year Mission is the People’s History of Star Trek

In 1967 when Gene Roddenberry was accused of personally organizing scores of protesting fans who physically demonstrated in front of NBC Studios to keep Star Trek on the air he said “That’s very flattering, because if I could start demonstrations around the country from this desk, I’d get the hell out of science fiction and into politics.” This quote is one of thousands found in the new book, The Fifty-Year Mission: The Complete Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek: Volume One: The First 25 Years by Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman. It’s the first volume of two, and like that Roddenberry quip; the entire text shines a bright light on the chasm between what you think you know about the history of Star Trek and what the history of Star Trek really was.

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Time-Slip on Your Tongue: Chatting With John Wray About The Lost Time Accidents

As literary chimeras go, John Wray could be called a blend of all sorts of authors. Aspects of his novel Lowboy read as though Dickens teleported Oliver Twist from the 19th century onto a contemporary subway train. But, Wray is also a history junkie with an eye towards science fiction. Though his novel The Right Hand of Sleep isn’t science fiction, its title is a reference to The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, one of Wray’s idols.

With his latest novel—The Lost Time Accidents—John Wray presents his unique cocktail of historical fiction blended with the science fiction tradition of time-slipping. For a writer who isn’t really writing science fiction, John Wray sure knows a lot about science fiction. I chatted with him recently about the inspirations for his latest book, how to write a multi-dimensional family saga and what Ursula K. Le Guin taught him about imitating old school SF writers.

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Series: Genre in the Mainstream

Zootopia is the Best Science Fiction Movie of 2016

Talking animals are popular for two obvious reasons:

  1. They’re cute.
  2. Everything they say and do is probably about us.

Good science fiction is very often social commentary about “real” things dressed up in a way that is both close enough to the truth, and complexly unique enough to be its own brilliant thing. Which is why the odyssey of Bunny Police Officer Judy Hopps in Zootopia is socially conscious science fiction storytelling at its finest.

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Just Try to Escape the Voice of Kevin R. Free

Between the Night Vale World Tour and the novel version of Welcome to Night Vale, fans of phantasmagorically delicious podcast had a pretty great 2015. Now that 2016 is here, what should fans of Night Vale be getting excited about? Well, if you love horror, H.P. Lovecraft, and the genre-spanning writing of Victor LaValle, then maybe you want to listen to Kevin R. Free—“Kevin” on Welcome to Night Vale—narrate LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom!

We sat down with Kevin to get his thoughts on Welcome to Night Vale, voicing sci-fi/horror books, and what it’s like to be famous online.

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Star Trek’s Best Writer/Director EVER Has Joined the Crew of CBS’ New Star Trek TV Show

Star Trek fans of every shade just received the best news: writer/director Nicholas Meyer is joining CBS’ new Star Trek television show, which is set to debut in 2017 with Bryan Fuller producing.

Not sure who Nicholas Meyer is? He’s the guy who saved Star Trek from obscurity and made it smarter than you ever realized. Here’s why this is possibly the best geek-related news of the past 20 years.

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The Oscars Forgot to Nominate The Force Awakens For Best Picture

Let’s pretend for a second that The Academy Awards is designed to accurately represent the best achievements in a given year in the field of cinema. We know that it doesn’t—and the #oscarssowhite problem more than proves that—but let’s just say that the Oscars should be providing a representation of movies that were both relevant to the culture and were “good”: achieving the balance between entertaining people and doing something somewhat new in the field of cinema. I think The Academy Awards should have honored this approach by nominating Star Wars: The Force Awakens for Best Picture.

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William Shatner’s New Memoir Leonard is Surprising and Moving

Whether they’re in their Kirk and Spock guises, or just being themselves, it’s hard to prefer William Shatner to Leonard Nimoy. Nimoy just seems more comfortable and real of the two, whereas Shatner appears to be putting on airs. Over the years, William Shatner seems to have figured this out and embraced the fact that no one will ever totally take him seriously. All of this makes the publication of a memoir written by him about Leonard Nimoy both look like a cynical cash-grab and a disingenuous maneuver of faux-love.

But if you’re a Star Trek fan, or casually interested in Leonard Nimoy, Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship With a Remarkable Man reveals that not only is Shatner a good guy, but that Leonard Nimoy may not have been the cool one, and did in fact fight all sorts of demons both inside and out.

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Stephen Hawking Is a Perpetual Beacon of Hope

If you know even little bit about Stephen Hawking, then you know that you’re dealing with someone so extraordinary that his life and work might seem to be fashioned from the pages of science fiction. As a physicist, Hawking pushed our understanding of black holes into new frontiers, but as a person, he is nothing short of an enduring example of someone who just will not give up.

Today is his 74th birthday: happy birthday, Professor Hawking!

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Series: On This Day

Sherlock’s “The Abominable Bride” Is a Live-Action Think Piece About Sherlock

In both the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novel A Study in Scarlet and in the latest installment of BBC’s Sherlock—“The Abominable Bride”—we’re told “there is nothing new under the sun.” This mirrored sentiment explains the preponderance of fan fiction and fan writing in general, but also the tendency for the show Sherlock to feel more like fanish creation than a straight-up adaptation. So, if fandom be the food of our love for Sherlock Holmes, then “The Abominable Bride” isn’t really a new episode of Sherlock at all, but rather, a nearly endless hall of mirrors in which Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss do what they do best with our notions of these great characters: they play.

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