“You Win or You Die: The Ancient World of Game of Thrones” by Ayelet Haimson Lushkov

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Season 7 of HBO’s Game of Thrones just wrapped up, but the speculation and commentary still rages on. A few weeks ago, I reviewed a book about medieval warfare in Game of Thrones. This time, I take a look at You Win or You Die: The Ancient World of Game of Thrones by Ayelet Haimson Lushkov, Associate Professor of Classics at the University of Texas at Austin. This book analyzes Game of Thrones from the perspective of Greco-Roman literature, showing how ancient epics from our own world can help us better understand Westeros.

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“Game of Thrones and the Medieval Art of War” by Ken Mondschein

52239536Like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings mythology, George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones is set in a world that looks like – and is clearly inspired by – our Middle Ages, but isn’t actually set in Europe between the fall of Rome and the Renaissance. Instead, Game of Thrones takes place in a fantastical world in which winters last a generation and magic is real. However, given the similarities between our Westeros and Medieval Europe, it’s natural to wonder how much Game of Thrones accurately reflects our own history. In Game of Thrones and the Medieval Art of War, Ken Mondschein, an expert on medieval warfare, looks at how Martin’s books – and, to a lesser extent, HBO’s adaptation – depict medieval warfare. Continue reading

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“War for Planet of the Apes”

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Many things about the past few years have shocked me. 2007 me I would never have believed that George Lucas would sell Star Wars to Disney, that I would come to love my cell phone, or that Donald Trump would win the 2016 presidential election. Most surprising of all, 20th Century Fox’s Planet of the Apes reboot is the best movie trilogy since at least Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, if not the original Star Wars trilogy. War for Planet of the Apes is an unexpectedly emotional conclusion to this unexpectedly thoughtful saga.  Continue reading

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“Star Wars: Thrawn” by Timothy Zahn

Star_Wars_Thrawn-Timothy_ZahnStar Wars fans who never read the Expanded Universe novels might not recognize Grand Admiral Thrawn, but he’s become one of the most popular characters in the franchise. Thrawn initially appeared in Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire trilogy, which was in the early 1990s as the official sequel to the Original Trilogy. For the first time, we learned what happened to Luke, Leia, and Han after Return of the Jedi. With Vader and the Emperor dead, Thrawn took lead the remnants of the Empire against the New Republic government. Thrawn was a new type of Star Wars villain, a mix of Sherlock Holmes and Erwin Rommel who used brilliant military tactics to defeat his opponents. Moreover, he was an alien who rose through the ranks of the xenophobic Empire. Continue reading

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“Beauty is a Wound” by Eka Kurniawan

30983524I read this book for an Indonesian class, but also read the English translation. It’s not a book I would have chosen to read on my own initiative as I’m not a fan of magical realism, but I thought I’d share my thoughts here because what I read felt very different from what I expected after reading reviews online. Continue reading

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“In Calabria” by Peter S. Beagle

Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn is one of my favorite books, so I could hardly contain my excitement when I saw that he’d written a new story about unicorns. In Calabria is a short story about Claudio Bianchi, an Italian farmer whose life has seemingly fallen into a rut. At least until a pregnant unicorn visits his villa. In Calabria isn’t a sequel to The Last Unicorn, but in some ways it serves as a spiritual successor. The book addresses some of the same themes as The Last Unicorn, including mortality, modernity, and mundanity. It also contains the beautiful language and sense of whimsy I’ve come to expect from Beagle’s best works. Continue reading

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“George Lucas” by Brian Jay Jones

I read Brian Jay Jones’ biography of Jim Henson when it first came out and found myself captivated. Jones conveyed Henson’s passion for his work and his joie de vivre. When I saw that Jones had written a book about George Lucas, I was cautiously optimistic. I was interested to see what somebody with Jones’ talent could do with one of the most influential filmmakers in history. On the other hand, I wondered if the world really needed another biography of George Lucas. Continue reading

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“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

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When news broke in 2012 that Disney had purchased Lucasfilm, some fans worried that Disney would “Disneyfy” the Star Wars franchise by making it too kid-friendly. After all, despite George Lucas’ protestations that Star Wars was made for kids, the original six had some very dark moments. Lucas even consulted a psychologist to make sure the big revelation in “The Empire Strikes Back” would not scar young children (the psychologist concluded most kids simply wouldn’t believe that Vader was Luke’s father). Would Disney dare to tell a story with shades of gray and dark undertones? Continue reading

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“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”

mv5bmjmxotm1oti4mv5bml5banbnxkftztgwode5otyxmdi-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is the first Harry Potter movie not based directly on one of J.K. Rowling’s novels (although she did write the script).* The movie takes place in New York City in 1926, over 70 years before Harry Potter first went to Hogwarts. Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), an eccentric wizard/zoologist, accidentally releases some of his magical creatures while visiting America. He teams up with Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), an agent of the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA). They also encounter Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a muggle—or No-Maj to the Americans—who dreams about opening a pastry shop. Together, the three of them track down Newt’s creatures before they can wreck havoc on New York City. There’s also a subplot involving an anti-wizard movement led by the headmistress of a Dickensian orphanage, Chastity Barebone (Jenn Murray). Continue reading

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“Invisible Planets” & Chinese Sci-fi

5156c3sbiolThere’s a tendency to think of science fiction as a uniquely – or at least primarily – Anglo-American phenomenon. During the 20th century, the most prominent sci-fi authors were either British or American. Moreover, they were, with a few exceptions, white males. Some writers, such as Ursula K. Le Guin, tried to incorporate non-Western philosophies like Taoism or Buddhism into their writing, but they were often the exception. Most sci-fi seemed firmly rooted in the Enlightenment. In the Oxford Handbook of Science Fiction, scholars discuss racial and gender diversity in the genre, but still tend to focus on British or American authors. With few exceptions, no non-English sci-fi story has made an appreciable impact on Western audiences. Continue reading

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