Highway to the Danger Zone: The Heterosexual Tragedy of Top Gun


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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.

(Michael Bay was 21 years old when Top Gun came out in theaters. His directorial debut came just nine years later, with the movie Bad Boys, which was also a Bruckheimer/Simpson picture. In the interim, Bay had time for over 42,000 screenings of Top Gun. It explains a lot. It explains Armageddon, which usually defies understanding. I’m not here today to talk about Michael Bay, but it was important ...

7 Books That Helped Me Survive 2018


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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, ...

Bread and Milk and Salt


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Not all things are built to obey…

We’re thrilled to share Sarah Gailey’s “Bread and Milk and Salt,” originally published in Robots Vs. Fairies (Saga Press, 2018).

 

The first time I met the boy, I was a duck.

He was throwing bread to other ducks, although they were proper ducks, stupid and single-minded. He was throwing bread to them on the grass and not looking at the man and the woman who were arguing a few feet away. His hair was fine and there were shadows beneath his eyes and he wore a puffy little jacket that was too heavy for the season, and the tip of his nose was red and his cheeks were wet and I wanted him for myself.

I waddled over to him, picked up a piece of bread in my beak, and did a dance. I was considering luring him away and replacing his ...

Evil in a Teacup: Fighting the Institutional Authority of Dolores Umbridge


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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?

Dolores Umbridge has surely never thought of herself as evil. Evil people never do. They think of themselves as working for the betterment of the world they live in. Dolores Umbridge lives in a world that is populated by all sorts of people—werewolves and merpeople and muggles and wizards.

And she knows in her heart that it would ...

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The Future Tornadoes Want: Twister


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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.)

...

Space Dads for America: Armageddon


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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.)

Armageddon is a film composed of two neatly dovetailed love letters to toxic ...

Vanity, Patriarchy, and Futility: Death Becomes Her


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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 ...

Hippos, Worldbuilding, and Amateur Map-Making


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I once attended a panel on worldbuilding in young adult literature. All of the authors on the panel were young, brilliant, dynamic women. They wore flower crowns and they talked about mapmaking and spreadsheets. They were impressive as all get-out. I have never felt more intensely envious in my life.

I was jealous of their flower crowns, of course. I was also jealous of the easy way they talked about going in-depth on planning color schemes for each chapter they wrote, and the Pinterest boards they referenced for their character aesthetics. I was jealous of the way their worldbuilding all seemed to start from the ground up, because that seemed to me to be a whole other level of professional-writer-ness. My worldbuilding has always leached out from my character development—I write how a character moves, and their movement defines the world they live in. The women on this panel were ...

A Bizarre Date I Witnessed Between Wolf Girl and James Spader’s Lonely Doppelganger


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James Spader and Wolf Girl story Sarah Gailey

What follows is a true story, as told through author Sarah Gailey’s Twitter account in October 2017. Trust us, you’re gonna want to stick around for the full weirdness of this one…

The Delicate Art of Asterculture


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Star-wine is very difficult to make. It’s a complex and sometimes dangerous process. But one must have a hobby, and this is mine. Here’s how it’s done.

First, I harvest the stars. People think that you’re only supposed to harvest the ripest stars—the ones that are near to bursting out of their skins, hanging loose off their nebulae—but actually, those stars only make up about half of the crush. I also grab a few unripe ones, the ones that are still cool enough to grab with bare fingers. They warm up when they’re in the basket alongside the fully-ripe stars, but not all the way, and their slight bitterness adds complexity to the press that you can’t get from just aging. To get a really good sense of terroir, I also let a few comets and loose moons drop in with the crush. People won’t tell you to do this, ...

Fear of the Female Voice


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[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 ...

The Date I Witnessed Between Wolf Girl and James Spader’s Lonely Doppelganger


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James Spader and Wolf Girl story Sarah Gailey

What follows is a true story. (Happy Halloween?)

River Song in Hades


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Kidnapped. 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.