Top Gun is a motion picture. Say what you will about it: it’s a film, and that’s undeniable. When Tony Scott settled into the director’s chair on the set of Top Gun and shouted “action” into a cartoony metal bullhorn, there’s no doubt that he knew he was about to do some cinema at American audiences. There’s also no doubt that he knew exactly what kind of movie he was about to produce: a cautionary tale of heterosexual tragedy.
Fiction and Excerpts 
This is the first year I’ve failed to meet my reading goal.
Every year of my life since I can remember, I’ve read at least one hundred books. This year, I’ve managed half of that. I can blame part of that on writing, and I can blame part of it on edits, critiques, and the abject hell that is moving—but if I’m honest, it’s just been a hard year. It’s been a hard year for everyone I know; the world is a hard place to be right now, and the small personal struggles we all face feel unbearably magnified. For so many of us, 2018 has been a year of loss and grief: we’ve lost jobs, pets, friendships, relationships, health, family members, children, and a good measure of hope.
It’s been a hard year, and I haven’t been reading as much as I usually do. When I have been reading, I’ve been gravitating toward books that are kind to their audience, that treat the reader like a partner rather than an adversary.
Who is the villain?
Is the villain the leader who starts the movement? The demagogue who decides to rally the tiny cruelties that live within the hearts of people who think of themselves as good? Is it the person who blows on the embers of hatred until they finally catch and erupt into an all-consuming flame?
Or is it the person who finds themself in a position of power, and chooses not to put the fire out? Is the villain the person who chooses to sit before that fire, warming their hands?
When Jan de Bont released Twister in May of 1996, he probably thought he was being sneaky. He probably didn’t expect anyone to figure out that he’d made a horror film in which the monster represents the death of heteronormativity in the American nuclear family structure. He probably thought he got away with it. Well, I’ve got bad news for you, Jan…
(Oh, did you think Jan de Bont was safe from this essay series? Did you think I wouldn’t come after the director of Speed 2: Cruise Control? Did you think that just because he also directed Speed 1: It’s Actually Just Called Speed, I wouldn’t force a too-small hand-knit sweater of literary analysis over the narrow shoulders of one of his summer blockbusters? Welcome to Hell, where the essays are long and the tornadoes are feminists. The only way out is through. Let’s do this. Twister.)
It’s not that Michael Bay isn’t to blame for Armageddon. I want to be very clear about that. Bay should absolutely be held responsible for the film he inflicted on an unsuspecting world in 1998. But for all that the weight of guilt rests on his shoulders and his alone, one would be remiss were one to forget the serpent twined irrevocably ’round the roots of that motion picture: America’s subconscious desire to play the abusive father figure to a grateful world.
(There’s a lot of material here, reader. I’m dismayed to inform you that, despite what many literary wanks would like to tell you about the shallow nature of genre cinema, Armageddon is embarrassingly ripe for analysis. Let’s drill down (sorry) to the bottom of the longest montage ever made. Here we go. Armageddon.)
Robert Zemeckis’ Death Becomes Her is an ode to the perils of mortal sin. The 1992 cult classic is far more than just a vehicle for Bruce Willis’ moustache: one could argue that it also performs an incisive takedown of man’s desire to earn the notice of a patriarchal God.
I mean, one could make that argument. Look, reader, I’ll be honest with you: I spend a lot of time fielding the opinions of people who think that genre media and pop culture can’t sustain deep analysis, and I’m feeling very salty about it. People love to corner me at social and professional events to explain why genre fiction just doesn’t merit the kind of thought that real literature deserves. The people who do this seem unaware that a dedicated enough individual could write a thesis on the latent symbolism in a fistful of room-temperature ham salad. So this is my answer to those people: a series of essays focusing on needlessly in-depth literary analysis of a few selected modern classics of genre cinema. You think it’s impossible to find depth of meaning in popular media? Well strap in, kids. We’re riding this little red wagon directly to Hell, and we’re starting with Zemeckis.
Winslow Remington Houndstooth, notorious outlaw, handsomest heartbreaker in the American South, has just finished a lucrative job, but he’s faced with a hippo-sized problem that would test even the most seasoned of hoppers. A slyly funny, raucous adventure in the alternate America of Sarah Gailey’s River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow.
[Note: This essay is adapted from a lecture delivered by the author at Utah State University in October, 2017; video of the lecture is available here.]
Raise your left hand in the air and keep it there.
Did you do it? If so, you are extraordinary. A strange woman just told you to do something, and you listened. On a historic scale, that’s not just different. That’s revolutionary.
There are a lot of people in the world who wish you hadn’t done it. People who don’t like me personally, because I’m the kind of woman who gets up in the front of the room and starts telling people what to do. People who don’t like me in theory, because of what I represent to them. People who you know. People who are participating in a cultural narrative that is woven into the fabric of our society.
I’m not mad at these people, even though some of them have threatened my life. Even though some of them have threatened my family. Even though some of them have said they’d like to come to my home and shoot me in the head rather than see me continue standing up at the front of rooms, telling people what to do. I’m not mad at them, and I’m not scared of them. Because I recognize what they really are.
What follows is a true story. (Happy Halloween?)
I watched Blade Runner for the first time this week. Since I have apparently been living in a cave for the past few decades, I thought that Blade Runner was kind of like Tron but with more Harrison Ford, and less neon, and maybe a few more tricky questions about What Is The Nature Of Man.
That is the movie I was expecting.
That is not the movie I saw.
Crete is not an island.
Crete is a fleet in space, under attack, housing the last of an under-equipped race of people, all of whom are desperate to survive, all of whom depend on the ability of an exhausted group of pilots to defend them from the vacuum of space and the predators that live there.
Crete is a heavily armed underground bunker in a district that has been erased from textbooks and maps and oral history and a people’s understanding of their nation’s geography.
Crete is a damaged shuttle, aswim with radiation, a fragile little poison pill attempting to re-enter an atmosphere that will destroy it.
Crete is not an island. Crete is a prison.
And Icarus knows someone who can help him escape.
A few months ago, Winslow Houndstooth put together the damnedest crew of outlaws, assassins, cons, and saboteurs on either side of the Harriet for a history-changing caper. Together they conspired to blow the dam that choked the Mississippi and funnel the hordes of feral hippos contained within downriver, to finally give America back its greatest waterway.
Songs are sung of their exploits, many with a haunting refrain: “And not a soul escaped alive.”
In the aftermath of the Harriet catastrophe, that crew has scattered to the winds. Some hunt the missing lovers they refuse to believe have died. Others band together to protect a precious infant and a peaceful future. All of them struggle with who they’ve become after a long life of theft, murder, deception, and general disinterest in the strictures of the law.
Sarah Gailey’s hippo mayhem continues in Taste of Marrow, the sequel to rollicking adventure River of Teeth. Available September 12th from Tor.com Publishing.
Imagine an American frontier infested with feral hippos. Sound outlandish? It’s not: the U.S. government once considered hippos for meat production. Only Sarah Gailey could bring this alternate history of America to life with such humor, depth, and vibrant detail in River of Teeth, her fantastic fiction debut about the hard-living, knife-wielding mercenary cowboys tasked with taking back the Mississippi from the bloodthirsty ferals who have claimed it.
This is the fun, fast-paced alternate vision of America you never knew you needed, packed with a diverse cast, romance, betrayal, and of course, man-eating hippo mayhem. It is the story of Winslow Houndstooth and his crew. It is the story of their fortunes. It is the story of his revenge. Available now, River of Teeth is the first in a duology from Tor.com publishing—its sequel, Taste of Marrow, publishes September 12th.
Searched for, endlessly, tirelessly, by a mother who wants to love and protect her from what she is, and what others would use her for.
A change of name. A change of identity, from child to threat. Shaped by forces vaster than anyone’s understanding, into something new and different and wonderful and terrible.
Married to a man who might be a monster, but who is always the hero of his own story. Guided to him over and over by a fate she’s stopped resisting.
Escape, but not really. Life as a prisoner, but not really that, either. Life marked by a connection she didn’t choose—a connection that chose her.
A connection she can’t escape.
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