Participation trophy

Participant Media has announced that it's closing down because of the difficult environment for smaller movies

Participation trophy
Image: Andrew Liptak

Here's a bummer of a headline from Variety from earlier this week: "Participant Shutting Down Operations After 20 Years." I was sad to see it, because it's the studio behind a handful of films that I've really liked: Contagion, Good Night and Good Luck, Spotlight, Syriana, and a whole bunch of others.

Some (especially Spotlight) are films that I'll randomly throw on to watch when I'm feeling down about the state of the world, while films like Syriana had a big impact on how I look at stories and storytelling.

Participant Shutting Down Operations After 20 Years: Film Studio Was Behind Oscar Winners ‘Spotlight,’ ‘Green Book’ (EXCLUSIVE)
Jeff Skoll’s Participant is shutting down after 20 years, leaving a library including Oscar winners “Spotlight and “Green Book.”

According to Variety (which obtained a memo from the studio's founder), it's changes in the media landscape that have pushed it to shut down: "the studios are just not making as many movies for adults, especially ones with a conscience."

There's a viral clip of an interview with Matt Damon in which he explains the reasons behind the changing economics of the film world: the DVD and home release market has collapsed.

Where studios could count on some income from a theatrical release and from home media releases, they can't any longer. Last year, Best Buy announced that it'll no longer be selling physical DVDs or Blu Ray releases, and I've noticed that the film section at my local Walmart has been shrinking. Places where I could reliably find a good film, like FYE, have vanished, at least here in Vermont. As Damon notes in that interview, these forces mean that studios like Participant can't rely on this post-theatrical release income, and as a result, it's hard to justify making the types of films they've been known to produce.

Shelf space
Streaming shows The Mandalorian, Loki, and Wandavision are getting a physical release

Films like Syriana and Spotlight don't pull in Marvel-sized blockbuster numbers. They'll do decently and recoup their budgets and get some critical acclaim, but that doesn't seem to be good enough in the theatrical / streaming world that we're living in. It's a shame, because these are the types of films that I think leave an outsized impact on viewers: Participant had a specific social mission with its projects, which I think matters more than ever in 2024.

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No photo description available.
Image: Andrew Liptak

Current reading

It's been a little while since I've done a reading update. I've been a bit slow lately, working my way slowly through a handful of books. I recently re-read Cixin Liu's The Three-Body Problem while watching the Netflix adaptation, and really enjoyed it.

What I'm currently loving is Alix E. Harrow's latest, Starling House. It's a wonderful gothic mystery about a young woman who's been entranced by a mysterious house in Eden, Kentucky, its strange keeper, and some horrors that are lurking under the surface.

Other books on the to-read list are Nuclear War: A Scenario by Annie Jacobsen, Godzilla and Godzilla Raids Again by Shigeru Kayama and translated by Jeffrey Angles, Womb City by Tlotlo Tsamaase, and System Collapse by Martha Wells.

Further reading

2024 Hugo finalists

Glasgow 2024 announced the finalists for this year's Hugo Awards. Hopefully this year's awards will be less dramatic than last year's.

Here are the 2024 Hugo Finalists
Hopefully this year’s awards will be less dramatic than last year’s

2024 Nebula Finalists

Aaaand, SFWA also announced the Nebula finalists for the year.

Here are the finalists for the 2023 Nebula Awards
Honoring notable works of SF/F from 2023

ALL the trailers. Studios have been dropping a ton of trailers in the last couple of weeks. Here are previews for Star Wars: The Acolyte, Alien: Romulus, Beetlejuice Beetlejuice, Doctor Who, Furiosa, two for House of the Dragon The Penguin, Rebel Moon: Part 2, Transformers One, and The Wild Robot. There's lots to look forward to!

Book lists

March had a ton of books, so I put together a second book list for the month. I've also belatedly sent out the first list for April, which you can read here. I've got another one coming soon.

17 new sci-fi and fantasy books to read March 2024
New books from Peter V. Brett, Harlan Ellison, Stephen Graham Jones, Téa Obreht, Brandon Sanderson, Timothy Zahn, and more.

The future of Star Trek. Variety ran a big cover story about the immediate future of Star Trek, with some hints at what's to come with the Section 31 movie and new series Starfleet Academy. Looks like it's time to update this timeline.

Genre contract. Miciah Johnson wrote one of my favorite recent books, The Space Between Worlds, and has an excellent essay up on Crime Reads about the limitations that genre puts on art, and some of the things that it does well.

Goods made to last

I recently picked up and blew through Steven Kurtuz's book American Flannel, an interesting look at the efforts that a handful of entrepreneurs are making to reshore the US textile industry. Here's my review:

Goods made to last
Steven Kurutz’s American Flannel is an intriguing look at the challenges of reshoring America’s lost textile industry

Grossman newsletter. Author Lev Grossman recently launched a newsletter ahead of his next book, The Bright Sword. You can subscribe here, and read his first issue.

Iain M. Banks Exhibition. The University of Sterling has announced that it'll be hosting an exhibit about Iain M. Banks, running from April until August.

Machine revolt

Read this excellent speech by Martha Wells.

Machine revolt
Read this fantastic lecture by Murderbot author Martha Wells

Movie mecha

Netflix has a new film coming soon called Atlas, which looks like a lot of fun.

Who doesn’t love giant mechs?
Atlas begins streaming on Netflix on May 24th

Remembering Vernor Vinge

Author Vernor Vinge, author of A Deepness in the Sky and A Fire Upon the Deep passed away earlier this month. My obit:

RIP Vernor Vinge
An immense figure who helped transform how we see the future

Revealing Karin Lowachee's The Mountain Crown

Karin Lowachee is one of my favorite authors and people, and I had the opportunity to interview her about her new book, The Mountain Crown, which comes out later this year.

Revealing Karin Lowachee’s The Mountain Crown
A Q&A with one of my favorite writers

RIP Caitlin Thomas

Some sad news from the SF fandom world.

RIP Caitlin Thomas
There’s some sad news out of the SF/F field this week: Caitlin Thomas, the daughter of Uncanny Magazine founders/editors Michael and Lynne has passed away. Michael reported the news on Twitter yesterday: Dear Friends and Family of Caitlin: Caitlin passed away at 1 am this morning in the

Rogue Squadron isn't dead yet

A glimmer of hope for those wishing for Star Wars's Top Gun.

Wings up?
It looks like the Rogue Squadron film still has some life in it

Something Good. TO reader Mark Slutsky has an excellent newsletter called Something Good. He recently moved off of Substack and over to Buttondown, and has an interesting post up about Christopher Priest.

Scary Stories

I interviewed Michael Dirda about his Folio Society collection Weird Tales.

Scary stories
An interview with Michael Dirda about his Folio Society collection, Weird Tales