content by

Cole Rush

Behind the Mask: Five Mysterious SFF Fighters

Imagine for a moment the distinct narrative thrill of seeing a masked character appear for the first time. Who could it be? What are they hiding? Is it a character we already know and love, shirking their identity in favor of this mysterious persona? 

In fantasy stories, masks often stand in for identity, or a character’s understanding of who they are. Donning a mask obscures a face and creates someone entirely new. Storytellers in fantasy capitalize on this duality, treating us to wonderful, compelling character development both behind and beyond the mask. So let’s talk about some favorite examples…

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5 Video Games That Teach Valuable Lessons About Failure

Video games are master classes in dealing with failure. The medium welcomes and rewards failure in ways other forms of media can’t. When the player is in control, success pushes the narrative forward while failure brings it to a standstill…but not completely.

Many games shape their mechanics around failure, weaving the player’s inevitable deaths into the core story. Losing a life or dying in a video game is seldom the end of the line. Doing the wrong thing can lead to a successful outcome, or it can provide crucial information that informs a more successful attempt down the line.

Due to their unique playable nature, video games teach important lessons about failure. The five games below each taught me something about failing, what it means, and how to cope with it. And as a bonus, they’re all incredibly fun to play…

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In Loving Memory of the Books I’ll Never Read Again

Which books will you never read again?

Not because they’re bad or boring, but because you love them. You love what they mean to you, or what they meant to you when you turned that final page.

Relegating a book to the realm of wistful memories and fond nostalgia can involve some powerful feelings that are all wrapped up in both the story itself and the circumstances under which you first embraced it. I’ve laid to rest a pile of novels from my youth that I likely won’t revisit. I don’t want to squash my younger self’s joy by experiencing these books once more and taking on the very real risk that I’ll leave disappointed.

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Five Fantasy Swordsmen I’d Never, Ever Want to Challenge

Reader, I am not what most would describe as “fit.” Dexterous, sure; I can play ping pong, darts, or Spikeball with the best of ‘em. I walk 10+ miles per week. I’m not particularly strong, but I’ll help you move for the right price (pizza). The biggest thing I lift with any semblance of regularity isn’t a dumbbell—it’s a fantasy book. The bigger, the better.

And within those fantasy books, particularly the more epic ones, I’m treated to swashbuckling and magic-fueled training montages. Lately, I’ve been drawn to stories about fantasy swordsmen and their workout regimens. More specifically, I enjoy reading the action scenes in which they dispose of their enemies with lethal swipes of their chosen blades. I’ve started to ask myself during these fights: “How long would I last in one of these battles?”

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Five Games for People Who Love Fantasy, Puzzles, and Escape Rooms

I’ve always felt like escape rooms occupy a similar mental space as fantasy books. There’s something thrilling about walking into a room full of puzzles and curious trinkets, then solving a series of riddles to free yourself and your friends from the clutches of whatever narrative the room constructs. I’ve done escape rooms themed around zombies, wizards, and even The Legend of Zelda. Every time, I feel fully entrenched in an alternate world, and it scratches the same escapist itch as a fantasy novel.

I tend to look for the same kind of experiences in games, be they video games or board games. Recently, I’ve been on a kick of escape room-esque games with a fantasy bent. If you, like me, enjoy the unique intersection of these three delightful mediums, I present the following: my five favorite fantasy games that have a distinctly escape room vibe.

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I’m Cuckoo for These Fabulous Fantasy Clocks

Time is quite literally of the essence today, folks! We’re diving into the wibbly-wobbly world of fantasy clocks, in which time can be molded, anthropomorphized, or simply measured with remarkable flair.

Examples of intriguing clocks, watches, and timepieces abound in fantasy worlds. I’m certain the five below, though they’re my personal favorites, don’t begin to cover the many ingenious time-related devices in the fantasy pantheon. So, as always, please hit me with your own favorites in the comments below!

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Five Non-Disney Animated Movies Everyone Should Watch

We’re in the midst of an animation renaissance of sorts, with new and electrifying creative visions bursting into the mainstream. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is the latest groundbreaking phenomenon to hit the zeitgeist; the sequel expands on stunning success of the previous movie, which redefined the rules of animated storytelling and captured the hearts of mainstream audiences all at once.

For folks who grew up in the ’90s and the preceding decades, Disney tended to dominate the scene when it came to animated films. That’s not to cast aspersions on the House of Mouse, but in my experience, many of those Disney kids didn’t continue loving animation into adulthood, which means they’re missing out on some truly great art and storytelling. I’ve written twice before about this very topic, so this is a loosely related third installment in my animation saga, which began by questioning seemingly negative attitudes toward the medium, then continued with a deep dive into three specific test  cases.

Now, to complete the trilogy, I thought I’d simply discuss five of my favorite animated works not made by Disney. I’m also leaving Studio Ghibli out of the mix, since their work is already widely popular, though consider this sentence a blanket recommendation for pretty much any and every Ghibli movie…

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All the Way Down: Five of the Greatest Turtles and Tortoises in Fantasy

They’re slow. They’re steady. They win races against arrogant bunnies. Turtles and their tortoise brethren have long been fabled creatures—they may be seen as purveyors of wisdom, or transport characters to new worlds. In some myths (and some newer stories as well), they hold parts of the world (or all of it) aloft.

Once, these creatures carried the weight of Aesop’s pithy morals. Now, they shoulder so much more, and our fantasy stories are often better off with turtles and tortoises in the mix. Here are five of my favorite turtles and tortoises in fantasy, and I hope you’ll add your own in the comments below!

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Alex White’s Salvagers Series Could Be an Epic, High-Flying Sci-Fi Film Trilogy

Hello, fellow readers! I write to you today still feeling caught up in that “I’ve just finished a series” lull. You know the one—it’s an emotional state where you feel at once happy about how much you loved spending time in a fictional world and very  sad that it’s over. Such is my mental disposition after turning the final page of Alex White’s Salvagers series, which includes three wonderfully titled books: A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe, A Bad Deal for the Whole Galaxy, and The Worst of All Possible Worlds.

What better way to revel in that post-series feeling than to write about how ripe Salvagers is for possible adaptation? Let’s get to it.

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Five Books That Help Me Face Anxiety and Feel Better About the World

For me, reading is meditation—a flow-inducing escape from whatever woes the workday brings me, and a welcome reprieve from any worries that might be flitting around my mind.

More than 90 percent of the time, I find that escape in the form of a many-volume epic sci-fi or fantasy story. Once in a while, though, I need something more subtle and nuanced—a book or a story that speaks to my need for calm and comfort and allows—even encourages—my mind to take a break from my anxieties and find a new perspective.

It takes a special kind of book by a special kind of author to ease my mind in exactly the right way, and today I’m happy to share five of my favorites with you. These books and stories are all at the top of my list whenever I need to take a break, reflect, and focus on what’s important in life…

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Five Fantasy Stories in Which the Moon Is More Than a Moon

What is it with moons in fantasy? Is it possible that Earth’s rocky tag-a-long is too boring and barren for us? Fantasy moons need verve, a bit of spice! They can’t simply hang out, endlessly revolving, reflecting the light of whatever sun(s) shine on the magical worlds we hold dear…

I’m working on my own fantasy story about a weird and magical moon, and it’s inspired me to look into other stories that make the moon more than a simple rock locked in orbit with a larger mass. Fantasy has no shortage of lunar lunacy; below, let’s discuss five of my favorite moons. As always, I want to hear your own favorites in the comments!

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Finding the Perfect Animated Movies for People Who Avoid Cartoons

Earlier this year, curious about the number of people in my life with little or no interest in animated movies and TV shows, I decided to dig a bit deeper. I surveyed my friends and collected the results of this extremely scientific experiment into an extensive article with filled with quotes about the participants’ different experiences as well as plenty of recommendations.

I was hoping to find a way to get people to look at animated stories with fresh eyes and unravel their preconceptions regarding a format that’s often written off as being only “for kids” or simply difficult to connect with. After the initial survey (on which many of you commented and shared your own thoughts, for which I am immensely grateful!), it was time to take the next step and see if I could do exactly what I’d hoped from the beginning: change some minds.

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Cosmere Cashmere: Finding the Best Fit for Sanderson’s Cosmere Planets

Sometimes, endlessly singing the praises of your favorite fictional universes can pay off. Such was the case with Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere, when a friend who doesn’t read a whole lot finally picked up one of the books. It took some coaxing—in the form of a suggested reading order, a Please Adapt column, and this Stormlight primer (spoiler-free)—but my buddy finally made the leap into Sanderson’s interconnected world.

Still very new to the whole Cosmere thing but enjoying The Way of Kings, he called me and opened with this gem of a line: “Dude…you’re right. The Cashmere is sweet.”

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Five Television Intros You Just Can’t Skip

Have you met Skip? Skip Intro, that is.

For viewers everywhere, Skip Intro has been a savior. He saves us precious seconds (or sometimes minutes) as we’re careening through our latest streaming obsession. I’ve deployed our pal Skip hundreds of times, spanning multiple rewatches of The Office and a recent Brooklyn Nine-Nine outing.

While there’s many, many times Skip is indispensable, he isn’t always needed. There are shows that completely transcend the need for Skip Intro, begging the viewer to catch every last second of content, from the theme tune on… Before this whole “Skip Intro is a person” bit gets old, why don’t we jump right in? Here are five unskippable TV intros.

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