16 science fiction and fantasy books to read this – by Andrew Liptak@AndrewLiptak Sep 1, 2017, 12:02pm EDT

I took a short vacation to Maine recently, and ended up blowing through Deliliah S. Dawson’s new Star Wars novel Phasma. It’s one of a few recent books exploring the darker side of the franchise, along with Battlefront II: Inferno Squad and Thrawn. Given that one of my regular hobbies is dressing up like a Star Wars villain, this has special appeal to me, but it’s also a good read in its own right — you can read my full review here.

All three of these novels ask you to empathize with characters on the wrong side of Star Wars history: fan-favorite General Admiral Thrawn, upcoming Battlefront IIsoldier Iden Versio, and First Order enforcer Captain Phasma. They poke a hole in Star Wars’ usual good-versus-evil story, showing that its villains can be more complex than they seem — even if we don’t end up rooting for them, they become more than cartoon foils for the heroes.

But Phasma is just one of the many interesting books coming out this month. Here are 17 that caught our eyes.

September 5th


Ruin of Angels by Max Gladstone

Ruin of Angels is a sort of relaunch to Max Gladstone’s fantastic Craft Sequence, an urban fantasy series set in an alternate world where magic is treated more like law than something mystical. Here, priestess / investment banker Kai Pohala visits a fantastical megacity called Agdel Lex to see her estranged sister, Ley. She discovers that Ley is at the center of a sketchy business deal, and is on the run from the law. But Ley has her own agenda, which involves a heist that could free the city from its oppressive officials. The book earned a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, saying that “Gladstone packs a lot into his tale,” and that “longtime readers may find some of his choices surprising.” If you’re curious, you can read more in an excerpt we published earlier this year.

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The alt-right attacks sci-fi: How the Hugo Awards got hijacked by Trumpian-style culture warriors – TUESDAY, AUG 23, 2016 10:38 AM PDT

The fight over the Hugos reflects the larger cultural struggle that led to Trump — and the trolls aren’t winning

The alt-right attacks sci-fi: How the Hugo Awards got hijacked by Trumpian-style culture warriors

For those who want to understand the social dynamics of the Donald Trump revolution — and why it is almost certain to fail — look no further than the ongoing kerfuffle over the Hugos, an annual set of awards for excellence in sci-fi and fantasy, which have been under attack by a bunch of embittered reactionaries.

Since 1955, the Hugos have been awarded through a fairly straightforward process: Members of the World Science Fiction Convention nominate and then vote on their favorites in a variety of categories. Past winners have included luminaries like Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Connie Willis, Robert Heinlein and George R.R. Martin.

That all changed two years ago, when a group of conservative sci-fi fans and writers, believing that sci-fi had been taken over by “social justice warriors” who supposedly emphasize diversity and progressive themes over qualityrevolted and set out to take over the Hugos so that the nominees and winners were whiter, more male, and more conservative.

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“Science fiction cyber-war is here”: Alex Gibney on “Zero Days” and Stuxnet, the secret weapon that got away – ANDREW O’HEHIR WEDNESDAY, JUL 13, 2016 04:00 PM PDT

Salon talks to Oscar-winner Alex Gibney about his new film “Zero Days” and a new era of war

"Science fiction cyber-war is here": Alex Gibney on "Zero Days" and Stuxnet, the secret weapon that got away

Former Homeland Security cybersecurity chief Sean McGurk testifying to Congress about the Stuxnet virus, from “Zero Days.” (Credit: Magnolia Pictures)

Alex Gibney has made documentaries about Enron and the Church of Scientology and pioneering gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson and Jack Abramoff, the über-lobbyist who corrupted American politics more than any other individual. (That film went almost unnoticed by the larger world, which tells you something. It isn’t something good.) Most notably, Gibney won an Oscar for blowing the whistle on the Bush administration’s torture policies with the devastating exposé “Taxi to the Dark Side,” one of those “Inconvenient Truth” moments when a documentary can shift public opinion and shape policy.

But none of Gibney’s movies since that one, and perhaps none at all, have explored a secret as deeply buried or as important as the one he explores in “Zero Days,” which just opened in New York and Los Angeles with wider national release to follow. As he explains it now, Gibney set out to make a “small film” investigating a strange news story that many of us noticed around 2010 and rapidly forgot about again. (Quite likely because it was too troubling, and too difficult to under`rstand.) That was the discovery of an anomalous piece of computer malware that data engineers dubbed Stuxnet, which was far more sophisticated than those used in ordinary cyber-crime attacks and had shown up in computer systems all over the world.

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Star Wars Is a Postmodern Masterpiece – By Forrest Wickman DEC. 13 2015 8:15 PM

How George Lucas spliced together Westerns, jidaigeki, space adventure serials, fairy tales, dogfighting movies, and Casablanca to create Hollywood’s first world-conquering collage.

Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker

There are few faster ways to incense a movie geek than by calling Star Wars “sci-fi.” Star Wars may feature spaceships and aliens, but (pushes glasses up) its aspirations are definitely not those of science fiction. Ask what Star Wars actually is, however, and you’ll receive as many answers as there are scoundrels at the Mos Eisley Cantina. Star Wars is a WesternStar Wars is a samurai movieStar Wars is a space operaStar Wars is a war filmStar Wars is a fairy tale.

A Jedi craves not such narrow interpretations. In fact, Star Wars­­­—the original 1977 film that started it all—is all these things. It’s a pastiche, as mashed-up and hyper-referential as any movie from Quentin Tarantino. It takes the blasters of Flash Gordon and puts them in the low-slung holsters of John Ford’s gunslingers. It takes Kurosawa’s samurai masters and sends them to Rick’s Café Américain from Casablanca. It takes the plot of The Hidden Fortress, pours it into Joseph Campbell’s mythological mold, and tops it all off with the climax from The Dam Busters. Blending the high with the low, all while wearing its influences on its sleeve, Star Wars is pretty much the epitome of a postmodernist film.

This can be easy to overlook nowadays, when new entries in the ever-expanding Star Wars universe are largely self-referential, elaborating on their own mythology, repeating old in-jokes, holding up Vader’s mask like an ancient relic. Viewed this way, the original Star Wars seems notable mostly as the foundation upon which an empire has been built—the sequels and prequels, the heavily indebted franchises, indeed the whole blockbuster economy. The movies are dead, we’re told, and Star Wars shot first.

It’s undoubtedly the case that Star Wars changed the movie industry. But it also changed the cinema arts, in ways that are now as forgotten as old Ben Kenobi at the outset of Episode IV. You probably no longer think to ask why a Jedi is called a Jedi, why they dress in samurai robes, or why the preamble that opens each movie scrolls the way it does, receding slowly into the distance.

To answer those questions, we’ll need to imagine our way back to a galaxy, far, far away, when George Lucas was an artsy film student and budding bricoleur. By retracing the steps of his hero’s journey, from a farm town to blowing up the Death Star, we can unlearn what we have learned and see anew the power of Star Wars.

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How conservatives took over sci-fi’s most prestigious award – Updated by Todd VanDerWerff on August 22, 2015, 11:00 p.m. ET

“It is the rear-guard action of people who believe that just because other people are coming in with different views, different interests, and different concerns, and aren’t willing to naturally accept the previous order of things, that all doom and terror and fire from the skies is happening,” John Scalzitells me.

We’re talking about the most recent skirmish in a larger war, a war for the soul of nerd culture. This one involves the Hugo Awards, a literary award ceremony, but it’s the latest iteration of a new battle that already feels ancient.

Scalzi is an award-winning, best-selling novelist, the author of enormously entertaining science fiction novels like Old Man’s War and Redshirts. If you’ve read his popular blog, you’ll know he’s a passionate individual, and he seems incredibly frustrated by those in the science fiction and fantasy community who have launched this “rear-guard action.”

It’s the latest iteration of a new battle that already feels ancient

Yet if you talk to the people on the other side — who have dubbed themselves the “Sad Puppies” — they will point to Scalzi as part of a larger problem within the community. Yeah, their rhetoric might be a little over the top, but they’re the ones saving the industry from political correctness and the “literati.”

These Sad Puppies are, depending on whom you ask, the saviors of the Hugo Awards from mediocre books, a bunch of bigots, or part of a cynically motivated awards grab.

Tell me what happened in 100 words or less

Science fiction’s prestigious Hugo Awards are chosen by a fan vote at both the nominee and winner stages. However, the number of people who vote at the nominee stage is small enough that a concerted effort by a small group can have disproportionate payoff.

That’s what happened with two groups purporting to support traditional space opera science fiction and politically conservative authors, who initially made up 72 percent of all nominees. Once this happened, many accused both slates of supporting racist, sexist sentiments. These voters say — accurately — that they followed the rules.

Who are the Sad Puppies?

The term Sad Puppies is used interchangeably to refer to a group of Hugo voters and a specific slate of works advanced by those awards. It’s also often — inaccurately — been used to refer to a completely separate campaign. We’ll get to the other campaign — the Rabid Puppies — in a moment.

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he Craziest Sci-Fi Fantasies That Got Closer to Reality This Year BY NICK STOCKTON 12.26.14 | 6:30 AM

Speaking of Star Trek, anyone for photon cannons? This year the US Navy approved the first combat-ready laser cannon. After performing brilliantly in trials, the skipper of the amphibious dock transport vessel USS Ponce is authorized to use the weapon—called LaWS—to defend his ship.  US NAVY

Speaking of Star Trek, anyone for photon cannons? This year the US Navy approved the first combat-ready laser cannon. After performing brilliantly in trials, the skipper of the amphibious dock transport vessel USS Ponce is authorized to use the weapon—called LaWS—to defend his ship. US NAVY

In 1964, Isaac Asimov wrote that in 50 years we’d be living in a science fiction reality. Among his prophesies that have now arrived are instant coffee, driverless cars, and robots to vacuum our homes.

But Asimov wasn’t the only sci-fi visionary, and his predictions seem quaint against some of 2014’s actual advances, such as robotic arm transplants, cloned pets, and quantum teleportation. Here is a gallery of the technologies that brought us closer to—or in a few cases fulfilled completely—the promises made in our favorite works of science fiction.