The Future Tornadoes Want: Twister

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

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

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

About a year ago, I 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 ...

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

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

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

[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

James Spader and Wolf Girl story Sarah Gailey

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

River Song in Hades

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. River Song is not a Persephone analog. She can’t be. If she was, the Doctor would be a Pluto figure, a Hades figure, and that would require a whole other column to justify. A column ...
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River Song in Hades

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. River Song is not a Persephone analog. She can’t be. If she was, the Doctor would be a Pluto figure, a Hades figure, and that would require a whole other column to justify. A column ...
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Women of Harry Potter: Hermione Granger is More than a Sidekick

Harry is the hero. Right? He’s the guy the story is all about, after all. He’s the Boy Who Lived. He has the scar and the prophecy. He has the sidekicks and the invisibility cloak. He has the mentor. He has the tragic backstory. He faces down the villain. Harry is the hero. It’s his face on the covers of the books. They’re called Harry Potter and the… for a reason. Right?
harry

Art by Lila

Ron is a sidekick. You can’t deny it. He can’t even deny it. He trips over things and he makes faces and he provides Harry with a Normal Friend. He explains things but doesn’t always get them right. He supports. He humanizes. He gripes sometimes but other times, he’s there. He’s there when Harry needs him, mostly. He holds the team together until he goes off in a snit to explore his options, and when ...
golden trio
trio fighting
hermione happy
hermione sweet
Hermione thinking
hermione fierce
fierce hermione
hermione final

Meet the Hippos From Sarah Gailey’s River of Teeth

Sarah Gailey Meet the Hippos River of Teeth Sarah Gailey’s River of Teeth features a diverse cast of memorable characters: Winslow Remington Houndstooth, leader of the gang tasked with clearing the Mississippi of feral hippos; Regina “Archie” Archaumbault, charming con artist; Hero Shackleby, the quietly deadly poisons expert brought out of retirement for one last job; and Adelia Reyes, assassin extraordinaire. (And then there’s Cal. That’s really all we need to say about Cal.) But none of these mercenaries would be quite as bad-ass without their trusty hippo steeds. So we want to introduce you to the hippos at the heart of Sarah’s alternate history adventure, and asked Sarah herself to provide the stats on each–from size to breed to quirky traits and middle names–to accompany these original illustrations by Gregory Manchess! Meet Ruby, Rosa, Abigail, Betsy, Zahra, and Stasia, the hippos at the heart of the River of Teeth duology (which continues with Taste of Marrow this September)! hippos Sarah Gailey River of Teeth

Developed ...

hippos Sarah Gailey River of Teeth
hippos Sarah Gailey River of Teeth
hippos Sarah Gailey River of Teeth
hippos Sarah Gailey River of Teeth

The Art of Asterculture

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, ...
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Facing Facts: American Identity is Based on Alternate History

I have never read, nor will I ever write, an alternate history as creative and thoroughly wrought as the one I read in high school. Alternate history requires the author to change a few fundamental facts about the history of the world we live in. These alterations usually take the form of “what if the Confederacy won?” or “what if the Nazis won?” or “what if the Industrial Revolution relied on steam?” But the alternate history book I read in high school had a premise deeper than these ones—something slightly less reductive, more far-reaching. Something that didn’t boil history down to a single pivotal event, but that instead boiled it down to a feeling, to an idea. I studied this particular book for a full year—in a display of singular dedication to an idea, the teacher designed her entire district-approved curriculum around it. The premise of this ...
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Mean Hippos, Fjords, and Fiddly Bits: Making the Map for River of Teeth

About a year ago, I 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 ...
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Storytelling Through Costume: The Woman in White

white-galadriel You do not see the woman in white head-on. Not at first. She is not looking at you. She is looking at something else, someone more important. She has a purpose. She has a vision. You are not worthy. When she does look at you, she does not smile. You feel even less worthy, unworthy even to touch the hem of her robe. Or is it a cloak? Or a gown? It doesn’t matter. It’s too good for you. She is too good for you. In a blood-soaked world where survival is dependent upon grit and determination, the woman in white is spotless. She is radiant. She is pure. The woman in white is often used as a main character’s motivation. She is his comfort in times of trouble, the source of his courage, and the object of his protection. His journey is one of attempting to become worthy of ...
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Storytelling Through Costume: The Badass Black Tank Top Walks the Line

costuming-trinity

She can accurately fire a pistol over her shoulder while riding a motorcycle between two semi-trucks full of spy robots.

No problem.

She can fling a knife across a room and knock the earring off the Big Boss of the major corporation that has been secretly ordering the assassinations of international political figures.

Piece of cake.

She can wield a flamethrower the size of a Prius while biting out the word “fuck” and lighting a cigar, her boot firmly planted on the jugular of the man she just finished beating up for calling her a girl.

Easy.

But what to wear?

costuming-sarahconnor

If the path walked by the Acceptable Woman is, by design, a narrow one, then the path walked by the Badass Woman is a tightrope. Like the Acceptable Woman, she must not be too interested in the way that she looks (but she must still look good [but she ...

Battlestar Galactica
costuming-laracroft
Dollhouse
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Storytelling Through Costume: The Badass Black Tank Top Walks the Line

costuming-trinity

She can accurately fire a pistol over her shoulder while riding a motorcycle between two semi-trucks full of spy robots.

No problem.

She can fling a knife across a room and knock the earring off the Big Boss of the major corporation that has been secretly ordering the assassinations of international political figures.

Piece of cake.

She can wield a flamethrower the size of a Prius while biting out the word “fuck” and lighting a cigar, her boot firmly planted on the jugular of the man she just finished beating up for calling her a girl.

Easy.

But what to wear?

costuming-sarahconnor

If the path walked by the Acceptable Woman is, by design, a narrow one, then the path walked by the Badass Woman is a tightrope. Like the Acceptable Woman, she must not be too interested in the way that she looks (but she must still look good [but she ...

Battlestar Galactica
costuming-laracroft
Dollhouse
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Storytelling Through Costume: The Allure of the Red Dress

reddress-hurley A dress the color of ripeness, of warning, of danger, of invitation. It’s cut in a way that beckons the eye, but it skims the edge of probability—how can it stay up? What kind of woman is comfortable wearing that? What kind of woman, indeed? reddress-buffy-glory The red dress is a staple of costuming. It communicates a thousand ideas at once. It draws the eye instantly — the primate brain in the skull of every viewer knows to watch for that color. It’s the color of a toadstool, the color of a berry, the rings on the coral snake and the best apple on the tree all at once. It’s tempting and alarming. “Stop,” it says, but also, “reach for me.” The canny costumer will use the red dress to alert the audience: look here. But the red dress isn’t just a costume; it’s an archetype. When we see the ...
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BEDAZZLED
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A Well-Worn Story: Examining Iconic SFF Costumes

amidala-costume What is the significance of the red dress? You know the dress I’m talking about. The dress. The red one. The woman wore it, the woman who you weren’t sure if you should trust or not, the woman who had everyone’s eyes on her. The red dress that was cut—well, you remember how it was cut. battlestar-red-dress What is it about the white robe? Yeah, that white robe. Or was it a cloak? You remember? The one that character wore? The character who was really powerful and tough-as-nails and fierce? The character who was occasionally in danger, sometimes in grave danger, but who never flinched? That white robe. Yeah, that one. leia-robe Why the black tank top? It’s so simple, but it’s important. It holds up okay to the scads of abuse it takes. And dang, it takes some abuse. Do you think it’s the reason we knew that she would survive ...
sarahconnor-tank-top
nedstark-got
But I digress.
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