“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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“Star Trek: DS9” & International Development

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Star TrekPopMatters is running a series of articles about the franchise. I wrote a piece about Deep Space Nine and the politics of international development. I argue that the show takes a surprisingly nuanced approach to foreign aid. Some of what I discuss is based on my experience working for democratization projects in Southeast Asia. Check it out here!

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“The Telling” by Ursula K. Le Guin

leguincoverartOver the next few weeks, Mythgard is running a free online course on Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed. I’m rereading Le Guin’s Hainish books in order to prepare. The Telling is the most recent book in the series, published in 2000.

In some ways, The Telling is a synthesis of Le Guin’s previous Hainish novels. It combines the political skepticism of The Dispossessed, the anti-imperialism of The Word for World is Forest, and the intimacy of The Left Hand of Darkness. Yet, Le Guin never simply rehashes previous work. The Telling has its own identity as an exploration of how cultures survive government attempts to homogenize them. Continue reading

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“The Word for World is Forest” by Ursula K. Le Guin

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Over the next few weeks, Mythgard is running a free online course on Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed. I’m rereading Le Guin’s Hainish books in order to prepare. 

The Word for World is Forest continues Ursula K. Le Guin’s exploration of injustice. This time, she focuses on cultural and environmental destruction. In the distant future, humans colonize the planet Athshe for its timber resources. Le Guin alternates between Davidson, a human military officer, and Selver, an Athshean native whose wife Davidson had raped and killed. This isn’t one of Le Guin’s subtler novels, but it is a well written parable about the dangers of first contact.

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“The Dispossessed” by Ursula K. Le Guin

Over the next few weeks, Mythgard is running a free online course on Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed. I’m rereading Le Guin’s Hainish books in order to prepare. 

On its surface, The Dispossessed is a story about a physicist, Shevek, who struggles to conduct his research in the face of political and social opposition. Shevek flees his homeworld, Anarres, for the neighboring moon Urras. However, The Dispossessed is really Ursula K. Le Guin’s way of exploring the limits of “utopia.” Anarres society practices a non-Leninist form of communism, whereas Urras permits a thriving if unequal capitalist economy. Shevek finds that he cannot adjust to either society. Continue reading

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“The Left Hand of Darkness” by Ursula K. Le Guin

Over the next few weeks, Mythgard is running a free online course on Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed. I’m rereading Le Guin’s Hainish books in order to prepare. The Left Hand of Darkness isn’t the first book in the chronology, but it is the most famous…

What would society look like without gender? How would love and politics differ if we were neither male nor female? Gender is such a critical part of our identity that this thought exercise turns out to be incredibly difficult. Almost all human stories have some element of romance, or at gendered norms. In The Left Hand of Darkness, Le Guin asks readers to shed our cultural baggage and explore a humanity beyond gender.

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