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Recent Movie: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

There's a moment early in the new Doctor Strange movie that seems to promise something genuinely dark. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is attending the wedding of his ex-girlfriend Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). He ends up seated next to Nic (Michael Stuhlbarg), a former colleague from his days as a surgeon, who informs Strange that during the five year interregnum when they were both reduced to dust by Thanos, his brother died. Was there, Nic asks, really no other way to defat Thanos than the one Strange chose? And for a moment, you feel it. The sheer existential terror, the crippling despair, of existing in a universe in which the very fabric of your reality is subject to the whims—or even the considered decisions—of not just cosmic beings like Thanos, but ordinary people like Strange. The sort of people you might end up chatting to at a wedding, while having to swallow the knowledge that they have determined the course of your life—often without even knowing that you

Recent Reading: The Actual Star by Monica Byrne

By a total coincidence, Byrne's second novel resonates with both of this year's previous Recent Reading reviews. Like Matt Bell's Appleseed , it's a climate novel that proceeds in three timelines, past, present, and future, connecting to and echoing one another. And like Benjamin Rosenbaum's The Unravelling , it depicts a far-future, anti-capitalist society where post-human people can sculpt their bodies and choose their social milieu with incredible freedom, but which turns out to be more repressive, and in need of revolution, than it first seems. Obviously,  Byrne strikes her own path, and among her most distinctive choices is the one to construct the novel around the culture and worldview of the ancient Maya, who are depicted here, in all the complexity of their rituals and beliefs, with an acceptance and lack of judgment that can take a while to get used to. In the past storyline, set in 1012 South America, twins Ajul and Ixul are preparing to accede to the thro

Review: She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan, at Strange Horizons

My review of Shelley Parker-Chan's debut novel She Who Became the Sun —recently nominated for a Hugo award (the first time ever, apparently, for an Australian author), with Parker-Chan also appearing on the Astounding ballot—appears today at Strange Horizons . I enjoyed this novel a great deal, and particularly the way in which it combined a non-Western historical fantasy of the type we've seen so much of in the last decade or so with some really interesting ideas about gender. It's a story about how societies are weakened by rigid gender roles, and about how specific individuals, by queering those roles, can achieve power. Right at the beginning, then, Parker-Chan establishes that the rigid gender roles that govern the novel's society aren't simply a matter of one gender having more power and freedom than the other, but of separate spheres of knowledge—and that the men in the novel, by convincing themselves that women's knowledge is both useless and out of rea

A Political History of the Future: Severance at Lawyers, Guns & Money

My series at Lawyers, Guns & Money about how science fiction constructs its social, political, and economic futures, A Political History of the Future, has been dormant for several years (you can find an archive of previous posts here ). So I should probably thank the producers of Apple TV+'s Severance for inspiring me to pick it up again . The show, in which a group of office workers undergo a procedure that severs their personality in two, creating completely distinct lives for their work and outside selves, does a lot of interesting things with its construction of a sort of high-tech company town, a place where employees who have never known the outside world are emotionally and psychologically conditioned in ways that, one suspects, companies in the real world would love to do. But it's also a show with some profound blind spots, ones that are perhaps inevitable for a series produced by a streaming service that is aiming for an upscale, affluent audience. There's a

Recent Reading: The Unraveling by Benjamin Rosenbaum

The long-awaited—nearly twenty years!—first novel by Rosenbaum is part teenage coming of age novel, part posthuman, far-future extravaganza, a combination that is often delightful but occasionally leaves you wanting more. Set hundreds of thousands of years in the future, on a planet so far distant from Earth that it (and the history of human colonization of the stars) are but a distant memory, The Unraveling appears, at first, to be positing a society of Banks-ian liberty and freedom of expression. The humans on the unnamed planet can change their appearance at will, up to and including their genitals and secondary sexual characteristics (which come in a much wider variety than we're used to). Their society is, if not quite post-scarcity, then aimed at avoiding the accumulation of wealth and property—there is, in fact, no ownership of property, only use-right, which is allocated according to social approval metrics, which also determine access to most goods and services. There doe

Do Ya Wanna Taste It? Thoughts on Peacemaker

I had no intention of watching HBO Max's Peacemaker . The whole concept seemed to me indicative of the cynicism and blatant manipulation that characterize this most recent chapter in the lifecycle of the superhero-industrial complex. Superheroes are now the leading product of the increasingly consolidated entertainment empires vying for our money, and each of those empires is now promoting its own streaming platform. Ergo, each superhero property has to function as a launching platform for a spin-off show, be it ever so esoteric and hard to justify artistically. Did you think that The Batman 's take on the Penguin was weird and over-emphasized, a waste of Colin Farrell under a distracting fat suit in a role that could have been played by any character actor in Hollywood? Well, just sit tight for The Penguin , coming to HBO Max in 2023! It would be one thing if these shows were bad and easily ignorable. But the same self-correcting mechanism that allows Marvel to keep chugging a

Recent Movie: The Batman

My overall reaction to this movie is: "fine, I guess". And perhaps that's less a function of the film itself as of the state of the character, who has received five different cinematic takes in thirty years, the last two of which have converged on a sort of a Batman orthodoxy that mandates gloom, brooding, and violence. But even allowing for the tiredness of the material, Matt Reeves's version feels uninspired, stitched together from the pieces of previous attempts, lightly rehashing ideas that have already been thoroughly chewed over, and adding nothing new to the concept or the character. The guiding principle was clearly " The Dark Knight , but more so". The film is structured more as a crime story than a superhero story, with a strong presence for the Gotham police department, an emphasis on organized crime and institutional corruption, and a deranged villain—Paul Dano as the Riddler—who is obsessed with exposing the seedy underbelly of the supposedly re