Scare-Free Movies for Halloween

I’m in the same camp as a lot of people, I think, in that I love Halloween, but I’m not as big a fan of being scared. Sometimes I want all the treats without the tricks. In the interest of discovering the best and worst Halloween movies, I’ve watched a whole bunch of non-scary movies and rated them by both Halloween spirit and quality. In no particular order, here they are!

1. Kiki’s Delivery Service

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Kiki is one of Studio Ghibli’s most iconic characters, and this sweet coming-of-age story is perfect for the whole family. She’s a young witch looking to make it on her own, but her only magical skill is flying on a broom, and poorly, at that. Nonetheless, with support from the people around her, she’s able to start a burgeoning delivery service.

Halloween Spirit: 2/5 black cats.

Star Quality: 4/5 big red bows!

2. Mary and the Witch’s Flower

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Mary is a young girl who manifests magic powers and is enrolled in a magic school. It all seems perfect, but there’s something off about the whole situation… This movie was made by former Studio Ghibli employees who started their own company, Studio Ponoc. It clearly owes a lot to Kiki’s Delivery Service as well as Harry Potter, and it comes together as a cute, but not entirely original film.

Halloween Spirit: 2/5 redheaded witches.

Star Quality: 3/5 magic flowers.

3. Room on the Broom

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Continuing with the witchy theme, here’s a short film based on a picture book about a friendly witch and her found family. It’s charming in its way, but I would only recommend it to folks with very young children. For older viewers, there’s not a lot to chew on.

Halloween Spirit: 4/5 broomsticks.

Star Quality: 3/5 unexpected guests.

4. The Gruffalo

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A mouse in the forest scares off predators with tall tales of a horrible monster, only to find out that the Gruffalo is real. From the same creators as Room on the Broom, The Gruffalo is another picture book-turned-short film, but it’s more suited to its adaptation than the former. Even though this story is geared toward younger children, it’s narrated so well and keeps such great tension through its pacing that older viewers will enjoy it, too.

Halloween Spirit: 2/5 Gruffalos.

Star Quality: 4/5 scrambled snakes!

5. Ghostbusters

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It’s campy, corny Halloween fun. It’s got a killer theme song and inspires oodles of nostalgia. If you’re reading this, you probably already have your own opinion of it. Here’s mine: I can see why people like it, but it’s overrated and sexist. Venkman is one of the most boring and unlikable protagonists I’ve ever seen. I’ll stick to bumping the song, thanks!

Halloween Spirit: 5/5 ghosts.

Star Quality: 2/5 tired stereotypes.

6. Dear Dracula

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This is a wholesome family film about a young bullied boy who makes friends with Dracula, who helps him to build up his self-confidence. Aside from a couple of gratingly stereotypical side characters, it’s a warm and funny movie for kids and adults to enjoy.

Halloween Spirit: 5/5 vampire bats.

Star Quality: 3/5 Dracula action figures.

7. Mickey’s House of Villains

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A collection of Halloween shorts tied together by a loose overarching plot, the best that can be said about this movie is that it contains characters your kids will recognize. The shorts themselves are mostly pretty boring, and I was much more intrigued by Jafar’s promised evil plan to upend the night, but that was disappointing as well.

Halloween Spirit: 4/5 Disney villains.

Star Quality: 1/5 spooky shorts.

8. Ichabod Crane (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow)

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This part two of two in The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, the first part of which is The Wind in the Willows. If you’re a fan of old-school Disney animation, this is a pleasant throwback set in the newly minted USA in the late 1700s. Most of it has more of a Beauty and the Beast feel than Halloween, but toward the end it gets nice and spooky!

Halloween Spirit: 3/5 headless horsemen.

Star Quality: 3/5 feckless dandies.

9. Trick or Treaters

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Originally in German, this movie based on a picture book comes up with a unique origin story for the tradition of trick-or-treating. It’s snarky, dark, and full of plucky orphans, kind of like a Lemony Snicket novel. If you want something a bit out of the ordinary for Halloween or are a connoisseur of animated film, I recommend giving this one a try!

Halloween Spirit: 4/5 plucky orphans.

Star Quality: 4/5 wicked aunties.

10. My Neighbor Totoro

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It might not strike you as particularly Halloween-ish, but My Neighbor Totoro starts out with a family moving into what they believe is a haunted house! Sure, the spirits they meet all turn out to be friendly, but there is a bit of haunting going on. Take a break and watch this timeless family classic. Yes, this is lowkey just me inventing a new excuse to watch My Neighbor Totoro.

Halloween Spirit: 1/5 soot sprites.

Star Quality: 5/5 acorns!

11. The Nightmare Before Christmas

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I might be a bit biased, but I think The Nightmare Before Christmas is the ultimate Halloween movie. The concept is creative, the aesthetic is perfect, and, of course, it gave us the anthem “This Is Halloween.” As a kid, I would wait for it to be shown on TV every year, and that’s how you know it’s timeless.

Halloween Spirit: 5/5 skeletons.

Star Quality: 4/5 Jack-o’-lanterns.

What are your favorite Halloween movie picks? Let me know in the comments!

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On Another Note: A K-pop Playlist for Halloween

K-pop may seem bright and cheery, more suited for summer fun than Halloween. In actuality, the aesthetic-based, high concept nature of the genre makes it perfect for spooky songs and videos. Some are genuinely dark, while others attach supernatural visuals to an otherwise bubblegum kind of song. However you like your music, there’s a Halloween K-pop song for you. In this post I highlight ten songs, but the full playlist I’ve created is much longer, available on Spotify or YouTube.

1. Dreamcatcher — Chase Me

Dreamcatcher is a fierce girl group with a hard rock vibe and killer dance moves. To match, their music video concepts have thus far involved horror, with “Chase Me” channeling The Shining. They’ve dedicated themselves to a ghostly storyline with gusto, and it’s paid off, attracting to them a dedicated cult following (not literally… we hope). Driving guitars combined with poppy vocals give their music a J-rock sensibility that wouldn’t be out of place on an anime soundtrack. Although they’re more rock than metal, they’ll appeal to fans of the Japanese sensation Babymetal.

2. VIXX — Voodoo Doll

WARNING: Contains body horror.

VIXX is famous for going full-out with their aesthetic concepts, and Voodoo Doll is no exception, crossing the line from dark to frightening and gory. Forget NSYNC’s mannequin look, this video shows the members as literal victims of voodoo dolls, gushing blood and stuck through with needles as their eyes glaze over into Xs. A dark, pulsing electronic beat supports dramatic vocals and rapping, and the choreography uses a needle prop. Both the music video and the choreography were rated adult in Korea for violence.

Note: Actual voodoo religions do not use dolls in the stereotypically depicted way. Please keep in mind the difference between myth and fact when enjoying horror!

3. Red Velvet — Peek-A-Boo

Red Velvet divides their discography into two main categories: their Red side is cute and quirky pop, while their Velvet side is smooth and sensual R&B. In “Peek-A-Boo,” they strike a balance between the two. Sonically, there’s nothing particularly ominous about this song, which dips into tropical house and has a Red-style chipper chorus. However, the music video shows the members living in a murder mansion where they lure delivery boys to their deaths. Red Velvet’s cuter songs tend to have unsettling vibes to them (see “Russian Roulette,”) but this femme fatale style was a step in a new direction for them, one that they leaned into with their following single, “Bad Boy.”

4. TRCNG — Wolf Baby

Several boy bands have used a werewolf concept to showcase a tough and mysterious vibe. TRCNG takes a different angle. They play up the campiness of the song and manage to make a dark, creepy monster into something actually cute. With sampled howls, exaggerated dance moves, and ketchup instead of blood, they add a pinch of humor to the slightly eerie refrain and the glimmering contact lenses. This is just the right catchy-cute bop to get you in the Halloween spirit if you’re not into the scary stuff.

5. Grace — Trick or Treat

More into hip-hop than pop? Grace is a Korean-American rapper who brings a grungy, rhythmic vibe to this song. The harsh, staccato consonants of “trick or treat” become their own kind of drumbeat, and the sung pre-chorus gives this track a nice pop sensibility. Don’t let the low-budget music video put you off. For a song that makes you feel like no one can mess with you, “Trick or Treat” is perfect.

6. HISTORY — Psycho

The song is, of course, inspired by the movie of the same name. I’m a sucker for eighties-style pop, and this delivers in a deliciously spooky way. The opening lines actually remind me of the Ghostbusters theme, which makes it sound like it might be a bit campy, but it’s actually got just the right amount of velvety darkness as it progresses to the pre-chorus. If you’re looking for something scary but sensual, this is your song.

7. SunnyHill — Midnight Circus

SunnyHill combines distinctly Korean-style dance-pop with demented circus music for a perfect upbeat Halloween bop. Small touches like male member Janghyun’s layered vocals and Kota’s oddly menacing refrain of “replay, replay” add extra flair to an already creepy instrumental. I love the styling in this video, too, which is reminiscent of scene kids in the aughts with their stripes, tiny top hats, and ripped leggings.

8. BOYFRIEND — WITCH

This music video turns Red Riding Hood into a horror concept with Red as a witch and the members of the band as werewolves. They make creative use of red banners representing her cloak in their choreography, too. The visuals here really elevate a somewhat typical song about a bewitching bad girl into a story of its own that comes across as more Halloween than fairy tale.

9. 4Minute — Volume Up

4Minute is better known for their later hip-hop bangers like “Crazy” and “Hate,” but the poppier “Volume Up” isn’t any less fiery. This jubilant break-up song features some truly intense soaring vocals building into a danceable chorus. In the video, the members sport gorgeous vampire chic outfits and pose with a snake for added dangerous flair. It’s just subtle enough that you wonder if they’re really supposed to be vampires or not… until they vanish into clouds of black smoke at the end.

10. BIGBANG — Monster

What I love about this song is that its story is as apparent through its melancholy, pleading melody as through its lyrics. The members of BIGBANG channel the kind of angsty, secretly sensitive bad boy that populates supernatural romance novels, and they play their roles to a T. The emotional highs of the song are in English, and they express the song’s meaning in just a few words: “I love you. Baby, I’m not a monster” in the chorus, and the heart-wrenching outro, “I think I’m sick.”

Enjoy these? I’ve created a full playlist on YouTube and on Spotify. Note that they’re not quite identical — the YouTube version includes some songs that aren’t available on Spotify, while the Spotify version includes a few deep cuts that don’t have music videos.

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/valerie-an/playlist/0yvJ7wQ2oLinQHhMl8ctIY

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All of my Halloween Costumes, Ranked

It’s October, and I am gearing up for a spooky month!! I need to decide on a Halloween costume, but first, I thought it would be fun to review the costumes I’ve worn in the past from worst to best. I’ve had costumes both store-bought and homemade, both strokes of genius and remarkably ill-advised. Where possible, I’ve included pictures. Let’s dive in!

10. Gypsy

When I was in fifth grade, my two best friends and I agreed to trick-or-treat as gypsies together. One of their moms was hugely into witchy stuff, so she had a lot of fancy cloths, crystal jewelry, and things like tarot cards. At the time, it seemed like a good idea and we were all proud of our costumes, but in retrospect, I cringe. “Gypsy” is a slur toward Romani people, and it’s never okay to make someone else’s culture into a costume. Plus, I wore a bandanna as a top, and while it looked cool, I was freezing and uncomfortable the entire time.

9. Monster

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This was a cop-out costume I wore my freshman year of college when I realized I didn’t have a real costume. I put on a hat with a monster face on it, then coordinated the rest of my outfit with the hat. I looked more like a quirky scene kid than a monster.

8. Waldo

I’m actually really fond of this costume. I wore it my freshman year of high school. Halloween was on a Saturday that year, so everyone wore their costumes to school on Friday, then again to trick-or-treat the next day. Unfortunately, through all of Friday, over a hundred people (I counted!) obnoxiously yelled “I FOUND YOU!”, which is why this costume is so low on the list.

However, it did redeem itself slightly. That Friday after school, I went to get a haircut. On a whim, I cut off all my hair to donate to charity. When I went trick-or-treating, the hat covered my newly shorn head. I trick-or-treated at my friend’s house and chatted with her for a solid ten minutes, and she never suspected a thing. When I came in to school on Monday, I gleefully told her that my hair had been short the whole weekend already!

7. Ariel

This one is an elementary school staple. A simple store-bought costume handed down from my sister, it never failed to make me feel like a princess. It did get worn down a bit over the years, but it was a trusty friend.

6. Flapper

My grandma wore the dress for Halloween one year, then lent it to me for a project on the 1920s. I never ended up giving it back, and I used it a couple times over the years when I needed a costume. It was cute and recognizable, if a bit generic. It was a good last minute option and easily spruced up by a solid makeup job.

5. Peter Pan

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I ordered this costume online and it looked great! I love wearing costumes that complement my appearance, and at the time, my hair was still pretty short, so I really did look like I could be one of those female actors playing Peter Pan onstage. The one drawback is that the tights that came with it were cheap and too small, and I was also pretty cold in it.

4. Dead Person

In eighth grade, my best friend and I thought it would be fun to go as dead twins. Then my other best friend didn’t want to be left out. Suddenly, my entire friend group, at least six of us, had decided to be dead people together. We spray-dyed our hair black, painted our faces white, gave ourselves raccoon eyes, and even wore black lipstick. Our uniform? Pure black. We bought spiderweb patterned socks and mix-and-matched them. We probably looked more fake goth than dead. In fact, that’s how most people saw us. Older women would chuckle as we walked by. “I looked like that all through college!” “Just don’t dress like that every day!” When people asked us if we were goths, we solemnly told them we were dead people. It was an unintentional hit.

3. Draco Malfoy

This was me in peak pixie cut era. I asked my dad to get me a black robe, but he got one that didn’t open in the front, so I had to cut it the way I wanted. Everyone seemed really offended that I chose to be a Slytherin, but honestly, that’s my Hogwarts house IRL. I’m not trying to be edgy. It’s not a phase. It’s who I am! Anyway, I was proud of the way I put everything together.

2. Calvin & Hobbes

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Even though my hair was short at the time, I bought a wig to get that spiky texture. It was really cute and easy to put together at home. I carried around a stuffed tiger with me, although it would have been even better if I could have gotten one that looked more like Hobbes. Still, it was so satisfying whenever someone recognized my costume. A good portion of people didn’t know who I was supposed to be!

1. Fairy Princess

This is the first Halloween costume I ever remember wearing, and it’s definitely the most magical. I went to the craft store with my mom and she helped me create a genuinely gorgeous wand out of Styrofoam and rhinestones. The dress was extremely poofy. I was blown away by the idea that I could be a fairy AND a princess at the same time. I felt invincible!

What should I be for Halloween this year? What are you planning on being? Tell me in the comments!

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An Unexpected DNF: Vox by Christina Dalcher (Linguist’s Perspective)

I was excited about Vox for one reason — the main character is a neurolinguist. What’s more, she is an accurately written neurolinguist, since the author has a PhD in linguistics herself. I studied linguistics in college, so having accurate representation of my field out there is important to me. Then why didn’t I finish it?

Time constraints. At my library, new books are lent on a two-week basis, no renewals. I had to give it back. To be honest, though, I had the appropriate amount of time to read this book, but it didn’t excite me enough to finish it before the deadline. It’s a decent book, based on the 75 pages I did read of it. I would have finished it eventually if not for the due date. Still, I’d like to talk about why, as a linguist, I didn’t really get the book I was expecting.

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Vox is set in a dystopian future where women are allotted 100 words per day. For every word after that, a wrist cuff administers a shock that increases in intensity as the woman continues to speak. It’s all very The Handmaid’s Tale. In fact, it’s a bit too The Handmaid’s Tale. Every single blurb and review of the book latches on to this easy comparison. Dalcher seems determined to impress upon us that something like this, if not exactly this, could happen if we don’t stop Trump and the fundamentalist right. The main character has failed to heed the warnings of her activist classmate from grad school, and now she’s stuck in a world where women can’t speak.

I mean, that’s one way to motivate people to action, I suppose.

There’s a strange disconnect between two segments of the U.S. population, in my observation. There are people who have firsthand experience with fundamentalist right-wing Christianity, and there are people who have only looked upon it from the outside. I’ve attended churches across the spectrum and known Christians of many different political shades. I find that books like Vox and The Handmaid’s Tale cater to an audience that has never been involved in “that” part of the church and that often has little experience with religion at all. That’s not to say that these books are necessarily wrong in their portrayals, but they lack nuance and a real understanding of how the religious right thinks. Religious characters seem like caricatures.

Margaret Atwood has given enough interviews about her work that we can understand how she formulated Gilead, but there is much less to go on with Dalcher. While she names her inspiration as the Cult of Domesticity, this doesn’t tell us about her own religious background and how it informs her writing. I don’t think readers are entitled to know her beliefs or her upbringing unless she chooses to share it, but I do think it’s a relevant point to consider on my end when analyzing a book that criticizes religion and politics.

With regard to linguistics, Vox is factual, or at least it is up to the point I read. And that’s great, but in terms of science fiction, it’s a bit of a snooze. Arrival might not have accurate linguistics, but at least it’s creative with linguistic concepts. Dalcher writes about Wernicke’s aphasia in layman’s terms, paragraphs I skimmed with a yawn. It’s a decent introduction to the topic, but from what I gather, she doesn’t take this aspect of the storyline anywhere particularly speculative.

The more interesting linguistic question she raises is about speech development in children. The main character’s daughter Sonia seems to receive an appropriate amount of linguistic input, but she isn’t allowed to put it into practice by speaking herself. The women of this society begin to invent sign languages, but the authorities cotton on quickly and shut them down. Any linguist can tell you that with such stunted language use in childhood, a girl like Sonia would end up with permanent linguistic disabilities. I hope that Dalcher explores this idea with imagination, since she’s creating a generation of test subjects for the most unethical of linguistic studies: what happens when you raise a child without speech? Only a small handful of abused, neglected, or “wild” children have been observed by researchers to this end.

The thing is, I could be wrong, but I don’t see room in the narrative she sets up to properly explore the ramifications of the 100-word policy. Its consequences would be on a generational scale, and her plot seems to be fairly real-time.

I want to highlight again that I only read the first 75 pages of this book. Many of my qualms could easily be wiped away in the rest of the story. I just wanted to give some of my thoughts as a linguist, even though I wasn’t able to read the entire thing. Maybe when the initial library rush has died down I’ll pick it up again and do a follow-up.

One thing’s for sure: Vox has ignited in me an appetite for more linguistic science fiction. Send the recommendations my way if you have them!

You can buy Vox here.

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On Another Note: 5 Great K-pop Boy Band Songs

By popular demand (read: exactly one person, you know who you are), music posting is back, and it’s more K-pop. Since I did a short survey of my favorite girl group songs, I thought it would only be fair to create a boys version.

iKON — Love Scenario

With its simple, clean, and catchy sound, it should be no surprise that this has been the radio hit of the year in Korea. The music video matches perfectly — I like the section with the turning chairs for the way it subtly hides faces, and there’s something aesthetically pleasing in the way duplicates are used throughout the video. This song is an apparent favorite among elementary schoolers, and it’s had an unintended consequence: some parents have tried to ban the song in schools, ostensibly for being “inappropriate,” but really just because their kids won’t stop singing it all. The. Time.

A.C.E — Take Me Higher

This is my personal song of the summer. A.C.E is an interesting bunch. The members have the raw singing and dancing talent of top-tier groups, but their label is tiny and has very little budget. Their first two singles are catchy, but in an attempt to stand out from the pack, they were written in an unconventional genre, hardstyle. Unfortunately, their style was a bit too unconventional, and the group didn’t gain much attention at first. After the members competed on survival TV shows, though, they gained more exposure. “Take Me Higher” capitalizes on that exposure and also departs from their original sound, instead going full-on bubblegum pop. And honestly? It’s their best work yet. Let’s hope that this song… takes them higher.

Note: this is actually a 5 member group, but one of the members, Chan, is taking a temporary break after being included in the winning group on a survival show, The Unit.

BTOB — Movie

In the video for “Movie,” each of the members act out roles from popular films. It’s a fun, danceable bop with a cute gimmick and a disco vibe. What’s not to like? For me, what gives this song extra spice is Peniel’s rap in English. K-pop is no stranger to cheesy rap, but hearing the same kind of lyrics in English adds an extra layer of absurdity to it. I have a suspicion that Peniel wrote these lyrics as a joke and decided to put them in the final version of the song just for kicks.

Block B — Nillili Mambo

“Nillili Mambo” is one of the first K-pop songs I ever listened to, and it was totally by chance. I’m a fan of the webcomic Homestuck, and a popular fan-made animation was set to this song. The lyrics are a bunch of vaguely party-oriented word salad, but you can’t deny that the music absolutely bangs. Just ignore Zico’s atrocious dreadlocks and enjoy the weird Pirates of the Caribbean plot.

BIGBANG — Fantastic Baby

I was debating with myself what my final selection for this list would be. I enjoy recommending songs that people might not know, but I also want to pay homage to the greats. I was considering recommending a lesser-known BTS track, but then I thought about Fantastic Baby. It’s one of the songs that went semi-viral in the wake of “Gangnam Style,” so it’s more likely to be recognized by casual listeners than many other K-pop tracks, but in my opinion, if there’s one person out there who hasn’t heard this song, that’s one person too many. It’s bombastic and over-the-top, yes, but it’s undeniably cool, and it fuses the electronic sound of earlier K-pop with the loud visuals and high production quality of newer K-pop. And it’s the home of G-Dragon’s most iconic look!

Wow. Fantastic, baby.

Did you enjoy any of these songs? What other music topics should I cover? Tell me in the comments!

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Sci-Fi Favorites

Right now I’m reading The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal, an alternate history wherein an asteroid hitting Earth accelerates the space race, including the appearance of the world’s first female astronaut. I’m loving it so far, but I haven’t finished it yet, so I thought I’d recommend some other sci-fi favorites in the meantime!

1. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

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Since I read this book around when it came out, it’s spawned a popular series now on its third installment. To be honest, I haven’t read either of the sequels yet, but I really want to. This first book features a quirky ensemble cast of humans and aliens. They form an interstellar construction crew for wormholes, and their biggest assignment yet is to connect an isolated planet with the universe at large. The planet is so isolated that they can’t use typical shortcuts to get there, and so it’s a long way to that small, angry planet. It’s a fun, low-pressure space adventure that focuses on the relationships between characters on what is essentially a really long road trip. And the characters are so endearing!

You can buy it here!

2. The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin

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Le Guin is, of course, the queen of sci-fi, but I hadn’t read any of her books until this year after my brother gave me a copy of The Dispossessed for Christmas. It centers around Shevek, a renowned physicist from Anarres, an anarcho-communist splinter colony on the moon of the planet Urras (or is Urras the moon of Anarres?). He’s the first visitor between the two worlds in hundreds of years, becoming entrenched in diplomatic intrigue in the much more complex politics of Urras. There’s a strong focus on world-building, comparing and contrasting the political systems of the two worlds. Le Guin uses this novel as a way to explore what anarchism might look like when put into practice, both the upsides and downsides. It’s a nuanced and fascinating read.

You can buy it here!

3. Extras by Scott Westerfeld

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This might sound a bit unusual, but I’m recommending the fourth book in a series. The Uglies series made a splash with its exploration of beauty standards, environmentalism, and dystopian government in a post-apocalyptic Earth. I’ve loved it ever since middle school. Most people, though, don’t even know that there’s a fourth book, since it was originally billed as a trilogy. Extras is something of a spin-off featuring a new main character, Aya Fuse, who lives in a future Japan. The book came out in the early years of YouTube and social media, and I find that it predicted the impact of these websites on our world with unnerving precision. In a city where popularity is an industry, Aya is desperate to be famous. Her character is a fictional prelude to the social media stars and wannabes of today.

You can buy it here! Or start with the first book here.

4. The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

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This series is an enjoyable and well-crafted sci-fi/fantasy mashup that brings together the stories of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White in a futuristic setting. Cinder kicks off with the title character as a cyborg who loses her entire prosthetic foot, not just her shoe. It’s also fittingly set in future China, home to one of the earliest versions of the Cinderella myth. The Lunar Chronicles is not merely a retelling, but rather a total reinvention of fairy tales, and Meyer deftly weaves them together to form a cohesive, creative world. I’m asking you to give it a shot even if you usually steer clear of YA books. It’s worth it.

You can buy the first book here!

Have you read any of these? What are your favorite sci-fi novels? Tell me in the comments!

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Flashback Friday: Childhood Favorites

If you know me, you know I am an ardent fan of Ella Enchanted and Gail Carson Levine, and that her books pretty much defined my childhood. Today, though, I’m going to go a bit deeper into the authors and books that made me who I am now. I’ve restricted myself to elementary school favorites — middle school is a whole different game.

1. The Town Cats by Lloyd Alexander

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I’m easy. I will read almost any book that prominently features a cat. The Town Cats is a collection of short stories about various sentient talking cats in fantasy medieval settings, an excellent premise that is brilliantly executed here. The cats in question are often heroes, but usually roguish ones. Most memorably, the first story of the collection features a cat who convinces the entire populace of his village to switch place with their cats in order to evade increased regulation and taxes from the government. As you can guess, the level of humor is perfect for family entertainment: funny for kids, but with an extra layer of absurdity for their parents. It’s kind of like SpongeBob that way.

(See also: Time Cat, Chronicles of Prydain)

2. Dealing with Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles) by Patricia C. Wrede
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I found Princess Cimorene’s name to be supremely unpronounceable, but that didn’t stop me from adoring her. This contrarian princess saves herself not from a dragon, but from a forced marriage by means of taking up with a dragon named Kazul. Whenever a prince or knight comes to “save” her in exchange for a hefty reward, she sternly kicks him out, usually without even calling on Kazul. She also learns practical skills from her new reptilian mentor, thwarts the plans of some unscrupulous wizards, and makes friends with other captives. I would gladly live in a cave with Kazul, who is the chillest dragon aunt ever.

3. Maximum Boy series by Dan Greenburg

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Max is a kid with amazing superpowers, but the caveat is that he can only use them at maximum. Maximum speed, maximum strength — he can’t parade that kind of power in front of his classmates, so he sticks to being the second slowest kid in gym class. In that sense, he’s a bit like Deku in My Hero Academia, for you anime fans. Also, he’s allergic to math. …There’s no real explanation for that part. I checked this series out of the library a weird number of times, and I’m not really sure why. It’s such a typical kid-superhero storyline, but it’s well done. Max reminds me a little bit of Percy Jackson, a wisecracking kid who somehow has to save Manhattan.

4. Tales of Magic series by Edward Eager

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I took these from my classroom library originally mistaking them for Roald Dahl books. The covers in my teacher’s classroom copies featured cute sketches of children in fantastical situations against a white background, so it was an easy mistake to make. It’s a charming series of low fantasy stories that take a group of children from the mundane to the fantastical. It’s hard for me to remember specific plot points, but all of it has an air of whimsy. The “half magic” coin only does half of what you want it to, and there’s a thyme garden that facilitates time travel. It surprises me that I don’t hear more people talking about these books.

What books did you love reading as a kid? Are any of these among them? Tell me in the comments!

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