Celebrating Arthur C. Clarke’s Odyssey

Art by David A. Johnson

Today we mark what would have been the 97th birthday of the great Arthur C. Clarke. Often credited with making fantastic predictions in his science fiction that actually came true, Clarke is among the most recognized and celebrated authors of the previous century. Perhaps the hardest of “hard science fiction” writers, Clarke was the authority on futurism and concepts both mind-bending and fascinatingly plausible. Known best for the novel 2001: A Space Odyssey and the epic film of the same name, Arthur C. Clarke is probably the writer most responsible for making futuristic space travel look realistic in our mind’s eye.

2001 was initially based on Clarke’s short story “The Sentinel,” but at the urging of film director Stanley Kubrick, a collaborative novel was written instead, which released after the film. Clarke continued to write sequels to 2001, the last of which was 3001: The Final Odyssey, a ...

Why Peter Capaldi is the Über-Doctor

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In Paul Cornell’s recent comic book series Doctor Who: Four Doctors, he has the 12th Doctor saying: “Posh Doctor and Baby Doctor seem to think I’m Scary Doctor.” The fact that this dialogue is in a Doctor Who comic book and not on the actual show is totally a crime, but it’s also immediately recognizable as being a legit Peter Capaldi quip—something he would definitely say if he was faced with both Matt Smith’s (Baby) and David Tennant’s (Posh) Doctors. But, with the ludicrously awesome one-two punch of this season’s finale—“Heaven Sent” and “Hell Bent”—Peter Capaldi’s Doctor isn’t just Scary Doctor or Angry Doctor or Aging-Rocker-Who-Wears-a-Hoodie-Doctor. Instead, he is the Every Doctor, all the Doctors all the time; the über-Doctor!

A recent Radio Times interview with Steven Moffat finds the showrunner revealing that Peter Capaldi intentionally wanted the Doctor this season to be an all- encompassing iteration ...

Happy Birthday, Madeleine L’Engle!

Artwork by David A. Johnson

Today marks the birthday of an author who forever changed the way we feel about time travel, alternate dimensions, and dark and stormy nights. Madeleine L’Engle was born on November 29th in New York City and started writing almost right away. Her first story was composed at age 8, and she went on to pen a universe of novels, poems, and non-fiction throughout her amazing and inspirational career.

L’Engle is probably best remembered by science fiction fans and children throughout the world for A Wrinkle in Time and its many sequels in both the Kairos and Chronos series. These books set an impossibly imaginative standard for children’s fantasy adventure books. In A Wrinkle in Time, L’Engle appropriated the opening line “It was a dark and stormy night” from an 1830 novel Paul Clifford by Edward Bulwer-Lytton. But truly, in the same way Sherlock Holmes hijacked “the game’s afoot!” ...

The Ghost of Hayden Christensen: Why Anakin MUST Appear in Episode VII

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The very end of the super-duper 2004 special edition of Return of the Jedi finds Luke gazing out to see Obi-Wan smiling, Yoda smiling, Anakin smiling, and the audience freaking out. Instead of Sebastian Shaw as an old Anakin, Hayden Christensen suddenly shimmered into view, smirking awkwardly, complete with his big Jedi mullet. And the haters began to hate. But, now with Episode VII so close to release, there’s paradoxically one person I don’t think they can leave out, and that person is Hayden Christensen! Here’s why the ghost of Hayden must return!

For a vast majority of the general viewing public, the name Hayden Christensen no longer has any meaning for them, which in some ways is too bad. The prequels are replete with offensive errors in terms of how stories are best told. Why are there no likable characters? Does everyone’s motivation need to be so muddled? Must ...

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An Alternate History Primer: The Man in the High Castle

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Some alternate universes would be fun to visit, like a universe where I was born as a shape-shifting unicorn. Or that other universe where cheese quesadillas are legally required to be free. But an alternate universe you probably don’t want to vacation in is depicted in Philip K. Dick’s novel The Man in the High Castle: a world where WWII went super-differently than we remember. (Spoiler alert: someone other than the Allies won.) Poised to officially launch as an Amazon TV series this Friday, now is the perfect time to revisit the totally classic science fiction novel that started it all. Here’s everything you need to know/remember about the novel version of The Man in the High Castle.

The Book Is Very Subtle

I know. This sounds crazy: a book about the Axis winning WWII is somehow subtle. I’m being silly! But, ’tis true, because on page-by-page level, nothing about ...

Get Ready to Love Mark Gatiss

English actor, screenwriter and novelist 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.

For the uninitiated: Mark Gatiss is the co-creator (with ...

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The Spy Who Loved Clichés: Why Spectre Stumbles

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In “Four Benches,” a play by Ethan Coen (of the Coen brothers) a worn-out British secret agent character bemoans that he can’t stand the “abstract concepts” his organization deals in because he’s left without “one single meaningful feeling word.” This could easily describe the entirety of Spectre, a new James Bond movie that while dismantling the great groundwork of its predecessor—Skyfall—also tries to remove meaning and feeling from every single scene.  And yet, somehow, it’s still marginally watchable.

Light Spoilers for Spectre.

I say light spoilers, because supposing I told you the entire plot of Spectre, I couldn’t possibly ruin a thing. Even if you have hazy memoirs of the Sean Connery Bond films of the 60s, you’re probably vaguely aware there’s a big evil organization called “Spectre” which is all about being evil to the max. And you know they’re evil because they love to put pictures ...

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Lincoln Michel’s Upright Beasts Has Monsters Hiding in Every Page

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There are a lot of analogies for why writing short stories is so difficult; but I think the image of someone constructing a jigsaw puzzle while totally unsure as to what the image is supposed to be is the most apt. To do this once in your life—write a killer short story—is a total miracle. But if you’re some kind deranged monster like Lincoln Michel, you can churn these puppies out in your sleep. And in Upright Beasts (his first collection) he mashes up every genre imaginable and packs his stories into a book that feels pregnant with other books.

My knowing Lincoln Michel personally is probably a good thing to tell you right now. Saying I knew this author before reading his book admits that I had a bias going in. And yet. Lincoln was a guy I knew primarily for being a great editor and whip-smart funny on Twitter. ...

Lemony Snicket’s Why Is This Night Different From All Other Nights? is a Bittersweet Masterpiece

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As a book critic, I’d say that few authors have the unique voice and quirky prose-styling of Daniel Handler. But as a reader and super-fan of both A Series of Unfortunate Events, and the newer series—All the Wrong Questions—I am convinced that the ability to casually break my heart is a dark super-power held only by Handler’s alter-ego: the author/fictional character known as Lemony Snicket.

And even though I know he’s not real, I’m weeping about Lemony Snicket right now. In his new book, the last in All the Wrong Questions—Why is this Night Different From All Other Nights? he’s really outdone himself.

Light Spoilers for All the Wrong Questions 4: “Why Is This Night Different From All Other Nights?” by Lemony Snicket.

At the start of each volume of All the Wrong Questions, there’s a little section in fine-print which posits the ...

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This Review Has Already Happened: Fox’s Minority Report

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Despite supposedly being all about predicting the future, the 2002 film version of Minority Report is mostly about Tom Cruise running around. It was like he was jealous of Harrison Ford in The Fugitive and demanded that Steven Spielberg give him a movie with even more running plus cooler clothes. In fact, Minority Report the movie has such a cool aesthetic that Fox decided to base an entire TV show off of it.

How tired are you of hearing that such-and-such-show is a “procedural?” Yeah me too. But sorry! Minority Report the TV show is mostly a procedural with a weird dose of nostalgia for a movie that’s not really even all that classic.

Light spoilers for episode 1 of Minority Report.

In both the original Philip K. Dick short story and the 2002 film, a “minority report” refers to contradictory or tangential versions of the future. The idea ...

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Doctor Who is More Fashionable Than Any Other TV Show

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Ever since his eyebrows first filled our screens, Peter Capaldi’s incarnation of the Doctor has jarred us. Far from the swoon-inducing flirty charm of predecessors David Tennant and Matt Smith, Capaldi’s don’t-hug-me, acerbic Doctor told Clara (and all of us) last year “I’m not your boyfriend.” And yet, we’re all still in love with him! There’s a million answers to the question of why we still love the Doctor, but I believe there’s one basic reason for Who’s continued success that trumps all others.

Doctor Who has figured out how to stay relevant by continuing to define and redefine its own definition of “cool,” and by occasionally being very intentionally “uncool.”

A few years back, when I still was on staff at Tor.com full time, a bunch of us took temporary leave of the Flatiron Building and headed to certain spot on the east side of Manhattan where ...

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Practically Speaking, Why Do We Hate CGI So Much?

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The Star Wars panel at the 2015 San Diego Comic Con made one thing clear: J. J. Abrams hates CGI now. If the word “practical” wasn’t being bandied around in geek discussions last week, it is certainly the buzzword of the moment. From “practical effects” to “real sets,” seemingly all anyone had to say about The Force Awakens is that Abrams and company are throwing their computers out of the window because they want to make something real.

But, does everyone really hate CGI as much as we think we do? And if so, why?

Early cinema was all about the innovation of crazy effects. In this amazing mini-documentary on Filmmaker IQ, they point out that the technique of combining multiple mattes—which later became know as Chroma key or more conventionally, “green-screening”—was employed (without a computer) as early as 1898 by the impresario Georges Méliès in his short ...

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Sherlock Versus the Bees: Mr. Holmes

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Early on in Mr. Holmes, Sir Ian McKellen’s 92-year-old version of the aging detective says “I was real, once.” This is funny, because if you know nothing about Sherlock Holmes you might think you are watching a biopic about THE REAL MAN BEHIND THE MYSTERY instead of a work of fiction based on a book, which in turn is based on other books. Bill Condon’s new film Mr. Holmes (adapted from Mitch Cullin’s 2005 novel A Slight Trick of the Mind) imagines a “real” version of Sherlock Holmes who is more contemplative and nuanced than perhaps any incarnation before.

But is nuanced and contemplative what we want of Mr. Sherlock Holmes? Because when you eliminate the hyperbole of adventure, what’s left for the world’s greatest detective?

Light spoilers for Mr. Holmes. 

Like the novel from which its adapted, Mr. Holmes follows three storylines which all converge more ...

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If You’re 11 Years Old, Jurassic World is Now Your Favorite Movie

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In the summer of 1993 I would have been 11-years-old-about-to-turn-12. My sister was two years younger and terrified to see Jurassic Park because she’d heard it was “scary.” Calmly, I explained to her (lied) that for most of the movie the park operated just fine and it was only at the very end when the dinosaurs got loose. I’m not sure if she’s forgiven me for this.

Now, 22 years later the dinos are running amok again in Jurassic World and the result is totally a movie seemingly aimed at kids. Today’s kids will be terrified and also totally in love with this new crop of dinos. Is that a good thing, generally? Yes and no!

In the original Jurassic Park novel, Michael Crichton gives us a scene in which young Timmy talks to Dr. Alan Grant about the fact that he has “dinosaurs on the brain,” and in ...

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Jurassic Park III is the Purple Barney of the “Jurassic” Movies

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If all the Jurassic Park films were embodied as famous monsters, then the original film would be the king lizard Godzilla, The Lost World would be the sympathetic and hulked-out King Kong, and the third movie would be Barney the Purple Dinosaur. In other words: it’s impossible to take 2001’s Jurassic Park III seriously, making it equally hard to get too worked up about its blatant terribleness. But I’ll try!

Attacking Jurassic Park III in an efficient way would be a lot like a pack of raptors planning their attack on Muldoon in the first film; organized, intelligent, and ultimately, brutal. Still, I feel like this brand of takedown is a little bit sad and has been done before by the film critics who reviewed this bummertown afterthought sequel at the time it was released. So this is hard. I don’t want to beat a dead dinosaur after it’s already ...

Can we all agree that it's a mistake he doesn't appear like this again, though?
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6 Crazy SF Books Featuring Dinos that are Somehow NOT Jurassic Park

What would Jurassic Park's Tim read?

If you’re like me, the best way to get ready for Jurassic World is not to binge-watching Parks and Recreation while wearing a Velociraptor mask, but instead to do some reading—while wearing a Velociraptor mask. But what are you going to do when you’ve finished re-reading Michael Crichton’s science-heavy page-turners Jurassic Park and The Lost World? Luckily there are still plenty of insane science fiction books with dinos running through them for you to devour and then blabber about about endlessly.

 

Dinosaur Planet by Anne McCaffrey (1978)

dinosaur planetreloadedThis little-known McCaffrey effort was written in the early days of her career, while she was still formulating the Pern series. The novel concerns a group of space travelers who “discover” a planet called Ireta which they hope to mine for awesome precious jewels. Instead they find a bunch of dinosaurs and mutineers; bummer! A sequel called The Survivors–sometimes Dinosaur Planet ...

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Harlan Ellison Taught Me How to Be Interesting

Art by David A. Johnson

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.

My favorite bona fide quote from Harlan Ellison, and one which I repeat to my writing students in New York all the time is this: “The trick isn’t ...

Han Solo Has Always Been the Lead of Star Wars

We’ll never really know if it was the money or a mind-trick that convinced Han Solo to ferry Luke, Obi-Wan, and the droids to Alderaan, and the riddle of the actor who played Solo for three movies is equally unclear. Fittingly, or jarringly, Harrison Ford’s relationship with Star Wars is exactly like his character; always picking “Should I Stay our Should I Go,” by the Clash as his karaoke song with one boot out the door. Ford almost wasn’t in The Empire Strikes Back and wanted Han to die in Return of the Jedi. When it was announced that he would appear in Episode VII, flippant rumors circulated that he was the co-lead, along with two of the younger actors.

But none of this should come as any surprise, because Han Solo has always been the lead of the classic Star Wars films.

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5 Extremely Accurate Predictions For Star Trek Beyond

Remember Star Trek? It was your favorite before you started freaking out about the new Star Wars movies. Sure, things have been a little bumpy since Star Trek Into Darkness made its googly-eyed way across the screen, and some have worried that it may have cast a dismal pall over the entire franchise, stalling it completely. The story of Star Trek 3's development didn't help in that regard: one director left (J. J. Abrams) and the next got kind of fired (Roberto Orci), and for awhile nobody seemed to have a clue as to what would happen next.

But our faith holds strong! More recently, Simon Pegg was brought on as a co-writer for Star Trek 3 and things have started looking up. The movie now has a rumored-to-be-true title—Star Trek Beyondwhich matches stylistically with Simon Pegg's statement that the next Star Trek film will return ...