guide to my reviews of new Star Trek — I’ve been reviewing the new Trek TV series (Discovery,Short Treks, Picard, Lower Decks, Prodigy) on Paramount+ (formerly CBS All Access) for Tor.com, and this post is regularly updated with each new review as they go live
guide to KRAD COVID readings — during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, I started up the YouTube channel “KRAD COVID readings,” and this post is a guide to all the stuff I’ve been reading as part of it, regularly updated with each new reading
guide to 4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch — I rewatched every live-action movie based on a superhero comic book each week from August 2017 to January 2020 for Tor.com, and now the feature is occasional, with me looking back at new movies that have been released every six months to a year or so; this is an alphabetical guide to all the movies I’ve covered or plan to cover
the Dragon Precinct chronology — a listing of the chronological sequence of the stories, vignettes, and novels in the world of my fantasy/police procedural series that started with Dragon Precinct
guide to the tales of Cassie Zukav, weirdness magnet — I’ve written a cycle of urban fantasy short stories taking place in Key West that involve scuba diving, Norse gods, folklore, rock and roll music, and beer drinking, not necessarily in that order; they’ve been published in a variety of sources, and this post gathers them all in one place, complete with links that give you the means to acquire/read them
I was really hoping that Farpoint would be my first convention of 2022, especially since I’d already backed out of going to Albuquerque Comic-Con and Pensacon due to their insufficient COVID precautions (neither of those cons are requiring masks or checking vaccinations).
Farpoint, unfortunately, is sticking by their COVID policy, which is not to require proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID test. They are requiring masks, at least, but given the contagiousness of the Omicron variant and how much more severe it is for unvaccinated, I don’t feel safe being around an indeterminate number of unvaccinated folks. (They’re also permitting guests to unmask while on panels, which strikes me as unnecessarily risky.)
After the really good experiences at Dragon Con and DisCon III (both much larger than Farpoint), who required proof of vaccination and all-masking all the time, I can’t understand why any convention wouldn’t require this much. Farpoint’s web site claims privacy concerns, but those don’t remotely apply here, especially since the convention isn’t collecting vaccination records or recording them in any way, merely confirming that they exist. It’s no more or less a privacy violation than checking a photo ID. And both DisCon and Dragon had very low infection rates at the events despite their size.
Fellow authors Peter David, Kathleen David, David Mack, and Howard Weinstein have also pulled out, as have actor guests Brent Spiner, Sean Gunn, and Wilson Cruz (though those three have backed out due to scheduling issues, not COVID concerns), and music guests the Chromatics, and the Boogie Knights are currently on the fence (three of our band, including me, are definitely not attending).
My apologies to those folks I was intending to see at the con. That was supposed to be the launch for Phenomenons: Every Human Creature and The Fans are Buried Tales, as well as a big con for the Devilish and Divine anthology, but Wrenn and I just don’t feel safe going.
I’ve been connected to Whedon’s worlds both as a fan and as a pro since the late 1990s. I was a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly, and I wrote four Buffy books (a novelization, two novels, and I worked on one of the official reference books) and novelized Serenity and wrote a Firefly role-playing game adventure. As a result, I was always heavily plugged into the intense fandom that grew up around his creations.
And I found myself concerned about the near-deification that went on surrounding him. The “Joss Whedon is My Master Now” T-shirts and the “trust in Joss” mantras — and just generally, referring to him as “Joss” as if he was their friend.
This always twigged me a bit. For starters, he was still a Hollywood producer, for all that he proved himself to have a certain geek cred. Also, this level of hagiography regarding him is the sort of thing that can go to a person’s head. Plus, his flaws as a writer tended to get overlooked or explained away, whether his laziness in world-building or the severe lack of presence of people of color in his productions (brought into sharp relief when he took over Justice League and practically wrote Cyborg out of it) or his creating an Asian-centric science fiction setting but neglecting to cast a single Asian.
And then there was his inaction with regard to Serenity novels. While there are now Firefly novels from Titan, which is great, the original deal back in 2005 that Simon & Schuster made was for three books: my novelization of the movie and two original novels. Several authors pitched to S&S (including me), and those pitches were met with resounding silence from Whedon’s office, to the point where S&S had to cancel the other two planned books due to Whedon never approving any of the pitches.
My concerns proved to be, if anything, underestimating the case. Revelations from Whedon’s ex and from Ray Fisher showed that the hero had feet of clay.
The interview is the first time Whedon has spoken publicly since he was all but hung in effigy by the entire universe, and he didn’t waste any time inserting his foot once he opened his mouth. At no point does he take responsibility, and he spends lots of time making excuses. He unconvincingly denies many of the allegations, or tries to downplay them.
The worst is how he responded to Shapiro’s questions about the affairs he had with people working under him on his TV shows.
“I feel fucking terrible about them,” he said. When I pressed him on why, he noted “it messes up the power dynamic,” but he didn’t expand on that thought. Instead, he quickly added that he had felt he “had” to sleep with them, that he was “powerless” to resist. I laughed. “I’m not actually joking,” he said. He had been surrounded by beautiful young women — the sort of women who had ignored him when he was younger — and he feared if he didn’t have sex with them, he would “always regret it.” Looking back, he feels shame and “horror,” he said. I thought of something he had told me earlier. A vampire, he’d said, is the “exalted outsider,” a creature that feels like “less than everybody else and also kind of more than everybody else. There’s this insecurity and arrogance. They do a little dance.”
What a spectacular load of tripe.
Almost as bad is his response to Gal Gadot’s description of the harassment she received on the set of Justice League: “English is not her first language, and I tend to be annoyingly flowery in my speech.” So it’s her fault for misunderstanding him, because her foreign self can’t understand how beautifully he expresses himself. Gak.
Whedon’s horrendous behavior doesn’t change the good work he’s done, any more than JK Rowling’s toxic transphobia changes the good work she’s done. But it’s why it’s often important to separate the art from the artist. Because the artist can be a total piece of garbage and still create great art.
Just don’t assume that the artist is great because the art is. This sort of thing is why I tend to be self-deprecating and modest about my own work. I’ve seen what fulsome praise does to some creative folks, and I don’t want that to happen to me.
And then there’s T’Pol telling Mayweather to prepare to leave orbit, with Tucker responding mutinously. What’s worse is that Tucker’s mutiny has absolutely no consequences, except to create artificial tension between T’Pol and the humans, even though she’s the one acting sensibly. Plus, of course, I kept thinking of a great line from Major Marks on Stargate SG-1 when told by Dr. Daniel Jackson that he should prepare to fire weapons: “Just for the record, I’m always prepared. I just push this button.” Pretty sure that Mayweather, with the ship under fire and all, had an evasive course laid in already…
Once “4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch” caught up to real time in January 2020, it went on hiatus, to be revived every six months or so to look back on the new live-action movies based on superhero comics. Here’s some highlights from the June 2020, December 2020, June 2021, and December 2021 revivals of the feature:
One reason why the revelation that Garrison’s entire background is a lie concocted by Eric is such a dud is because said revelation changes absolutely nothing. Diesel’s one-note Garrison is the same guy throughout the entire movie. It’s hard to get too arsed about a character’s crisis of identity when it does nothing to change anything about that identity in the least.
I love every element of Christina Hodson’s superlative script (Quinn giving Lance a hair-tie in the midst of the fight! The sandwich! Cain having a cast, not because her arm is broken, but so she can be a better pickpocket! The sandwich! Bertinelli hating being called the crossbow killer! The sandwich! Quinn firing bean-bag rounds full of glitter! The fucking sandwich, which is so perfect!), but the thing I love best is that she leans into Quinn’s psychotherapy background. She’s constantly psychoanalyzing the people around her just kind of randomly. I particularly love when Sionis has her tied up and she tries to get him not to do the clichéd detailing of his master plan and she sums up his psychoses in about two seconds.
At least the rest of the cast is trying. They’re still terrible, because they have to speak the words this script gives them, but you can tell they’re at least putting in the effort. Jeffrey Combs and Andrew Divoff are always eminently watchable, and have both made careers out of taking badly written roles and making them compelling, as both are extremely skilled with facial expressions and both have fantastic voices. Isabel Brook and Mónica van Campen have even worse roles, but they also do their best, with Brook in particular being at least vaguely convincing in all the many modes De Camp is required to be in (compassionate shrink, rape victim, person desperately in lust with Jaspers for no obvious reason, and M’s mind slave), and van Campen is obviously having a grand ol’ time as the slinky seductress/sadist. Kudos also to Fermí Reixach as the police commissioner, who does a wonderful job in his epic rant at M right before he dies.
Director Gina Prince-Blythewood deserves a ton of credit here, as the movie manages that perfect balance between strong character work and powerful action sequences that superhero movies rely on if they want to be any good. The fight choreography is also stellar. The four immortals fight like a well-oiled machine, and Freeman—a combat Marine—mixes in well with them. I particularly like how easy they all make it, and I particularly like how the immortals all fight with more aggression than their opponents, simply because they know they can’t be hurt permanently. (I also like that the filmmakers are aware that guns don’t have an infinite supply of ammunition and need to be regularly reloaded.)
The exception is Theron’s Andy, but not just because she becomes mortal partway through the movie—rather it’s because she’s really so much better than anyone else. It’s so effortless for her, she almost seems bored. I used to do karate with a high-ranking black belt—he’s since left our dojo to open his own dojo in a different discipline—and he is an amazing fighter. What blew me away watching him in sparring tournaments is that he barely moved and just made everything look so easy and effortless as he knocked people repeatedly to the ground and kicked them repeatedly in the head. Theron has that same style about her in her fight scenes.
Occasionally, Boone remembers that he’s doing a movie about teens, like when Illyana spikes Reyes’s tea so they can play, or when they sneak up to the attic. But mostly it’s a horror piece, and to drive it home, Boone and Lee have changed every character’s origin just enough to add murder to it. Sam didn’t just blast out of a coal mine, he killed his father and several other miners while doing it. Roberto didn’t just manifest his powers (which now include extreme heat, unlike his comics counterpart) in front of a bunch of people, he killed his girlfriend while doing so. Rahne wasn’t just condemned by her priest, but she killed the priest, too. And the demon bear is apparently a manifestation of Dani’s fear, and it destroyed her home.
But then we have the fact that Steve Trevor’s ghost takes over some random dude’s body and life and nobody ever comments on it! Diana’s wish has, for all intents and purposes ended this guy—who never even gets a name—and she never once expresses a micron of concern for him. This is, frankly, despicable behavior, especially given that Diana and Trevor sleep together, so she’s now also raped this person. The actions are appalling enough on their own terms, but to have it be this character in particular is a disastrous misreading of who Diana/Wonder Woman is not just in her previous movie, but in the rest of this one.
First off, there is absolutely no reason, none, why this movie had to be four hours. Every scene took about twice as long as it needed to, several scenes were utterly pointless and/or repetitive, and the movie is chock-full of unnecessary slow-motion scenes, usually accompanied by some dirge-y rock song or other. Mind you, there are also necessary slow-motion scenes, those being when the Flash is moving very fast, so the rest of the world is in slo-mo to show his perceptions. But the effect of that is severely diluted because half the fucking movie has been in slo-mo up to the point that Barry Allen first shows up.
In many ways, this is the perfect Black Widow movie. Most of the MCU movies have been superheroic twists on existing movie subgenres, and the only way to go with the Widow would be to do a spy thriller, à la James Bond or Jason Bourne.
And we very much get that in Black Widow, from the globe-hopping to the car chase in Budapest to the multiple scenes of hand-to-hand combat to the fancy-ass gadgets to the ridiculous bad-guy headquarters. We get a Black Widow Greatest Hits, with her feigning helplessness to get information (Avengers), kicking ass during a car chase (Age of Ultron), disguising herself with a face mask (Winter Soldier), and coming up with clever strategies to solve problems (Endgame). Oh, and her mad computer skillz (Iron Man 2).
Plus, we get a full accounting of her background, after all the hints dropped in Avengers, Age of Ultron, and Winter Soldier.
As with the last movie, the performances are superb. Margot Robbie is perfection itself as Quinn, and her every scene is gold. The high point of the film is her post-coital murder of Presidente Luna, especially with her lengthy monologue on the subject of her complicated love life while Luna is bleeding out on the floor. Just an epic moment, the perfect Harley Quinn scene. Her escape from captivity, complete with explosions of rose petals behind her, is a close second.
Viola Davis remains great casting as Waller, even though she’s once again written as a psychopath and an incompetent, neither of which she should be portrayed as. This is a woman who got one over on Batman, for crying out loud (in Suicide Squad #10, one of my favorite Batman moments). One of the few women of color in comics, and one of the most complex and interesting characters as originally conceived and written by John Ostrander in the 1980s is reduced to a cardboard villain once again. It’s more misreading of the source material, as is killing off Captain Boomerang. While Jai Courtney is pretty nowhere in the role (Nick Taraby was so much better as Digger Harkness in Arrow), Boomerbutt has been one of the mainstays of this version of the Squad snice 1987, and to kill him off in the first fifteen minutes of the film is like doing an X-Men movie and killing off Wolverine, or a Fantastic Four movie and killing off the Thing.
I haven’t even mentioned the title character, and it’s kind of too bad that Simu Liu stands out so little from his own movie, but that’s mostly because they surrounded him with so many great actors in Awkwafina, Leung, Zhang, Yeoh, and Kingsley. But Liu provides Shang-Chi with a very straightforward heroism that fits with the character he’s based on perfectly. The original comics character was trying to redeem the sins of his father, as well as those he committed himself in his service, and I like the way Liu plays a person who’s trying very hard to run away from a life he doesn’t want. He’s in a boring job that nonetheless pays the bills, he has a good, fun life. But when he’s attacked on the bus, his first thoughts are to keep the other people on the bus safe, and when it’s over, his next thought is of his sister’s safety. When it matters, he antes up and kicks in, which is what heroes are supposed to do.
Kelly Marcel’s script is full of some great lines, most of them Venom’s (Kasady’s are mostly pretty bog-standard oh-look-how-cool-I-am serial killer nonsense, but Harrelson delivers them well). And there are so many great bits, from Venom making a disastrous breakfast while singing, “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” to Venom at a rave, to Brock mentioning ice cream and Venom complaining that he gets brain-freeze, to Kasady’s plaintive, “That’s bad journalism!” while bitching about how Brock didn’t tell his side of the story.
It’s funny, there are a lot of ways that this movie reminds me of Watchmen. The death of one of the main characters drives the plot, we get multiple flashbacks, one of the main characters turns out to be a bad guy, and there are way too may characters to fit in one movie.
Indeed, one of my issues with the Zack Snyder adaptation of Watchmen was that the story was badly served by whittling it down to a feature film’s running time, and the same holds true for this. For this to truly achieve the scope it needs to succeed, for the characters to actually have the space to be characters instead of plot movers, for the breadth and depth of the storyline to really get a chance to shine, this needed to be a six-episode series on Disney+.
There are just too many characters here, and very few of them are well served. Most of the actors are doing the best they can, but there just isn’t space to give them room to breathe. The only characters who really work are Brian Tyree Henry’s Phastos and Angelina Jolie’s Thena. The former’s eagerness to aid humanity in the flashbacks and his complete burnout in the present day is beautifully played by Henry, while Jolie invests you fully in Thena’s disturbed state.
Almost all the rest of them are either underused or are too busy serving plot functions to actually be interesting characters. Or both.
Conceived by New York Times best-selling author Michael Jan Friedman, this is a superhero universe not quite like anything you’ve ever seen.
Here’s the table of contents:
“Salvaged” by Michael Jan Friedman
“Salt for Gold” by Mary Fan
“The Light Shines in the Darkness” by Keith R.A. DeCandido
“Red Sky in Mourning” by Michael A. Burstein
“Stealing Home” by Aaron Rosenberg
“First Op” by Robert Greenberger
“<null>” by Glenn Hauman
“The Primacy of Gravity” by Paul Kupperberg
“Taking Charge” by Heather E. Hutsell
“Tiny Lives Writ Large” by Dan Hernandez
“The Jungle” by Ron Marz
“Going for the Gold” by Peter David
“Lipstick Lilly versus Electric Lady in the ‘Land” by Marie Vibbert
“Dheeb” by Ilsa J. Bick
“ROI, Part 1: Pigs in a Blanket” by Russ Colchamiro & Hildy Silverman
“ROI, Part 2: Feint of Heart” by Russ Colchamiro & Hildy Silverman
“The Last Rambler” by Geoffrey Thorne
“The Return” by Michael Jan Friedman
The stories feature lots of cool heroes: Black Hat, Colosa & Particula, the Grey Guardsman, Lipstick Lilly, Luminosity, null, Professor Paracelsus, the Ramblers, Sarcastic Fringehead, Syntax, Torque, Zig Zag, and lots more!
My story is about Luminosity, a Bronx-based superhero who used to be an assistant district attorney, and now defends the people of the Boogie-Down. When members of the Bronx Bruisers, a super-powered gang, start trashing small businesses on St. Ann’s Avenue, Luminosity — who can manipulate the entire light spectrum — must stop them while her best friend De’Andra Jones must figure out who’s behind the Bruisers’ attacks.
My story also ties into the stories before and after it, as well. It was fun coordinating stuff with Mary and Michael…..
One of the biggest problems watching this episode in sequence is that the events of “The Andorian Incident” should be coloring everyone’s reactions, especially those of Archer and T’Pol. Archer’s snottiness toward Vanik and the Ti’Mur should be straight-up outrage after the events on P’Jem, and the revelation that Vulcan High Command was using an ancient monastery as a cover for a treaty-violating sensor array is a very good reason for T’Pol to be questioning Vulcan traditions. But those events aren’t mentioned, and it makes it feel like this episode and “The Andorian Incident” didn’t happen in the same space-time continuum. It robs Archer and T’Pol of texture for their actions, reducing the former to just more racism toward Vulcans (which, to be fair, is completely reciprocated by the arrogant Vanik) and the latter to a tiresomely foregone conclusion.
Book 2 of the Bram Gold Adventures, I’m only halfway through the manuscript, but it’s on the docket to be completed by springtime. In fact, my current goal is to have it done by my birthday, which means WordFire should be putting it out in the fall at the latest. The book will involve the golem that killed Bram’s parents being reanimated, and he’s hired to find out who did it — by the guy who animated it ten years ago and got his parents killed. Plus, there’s this dragon…
The book will also include as a bonus all the Bram Gold, Yolanda Rodriguez, and Valentina Perrone vignettes I’ve written for Patreon.
Depending on how things go, this may not be until 2023 — it’ll partly depend on when I finish it, partly depend on the rest of eSpec Books’s schedule — but I’m hoping to at least have the next book in my fantasy police procedural series written this year……
Ragnarok and a Hard Place: More Tales of Cassie Zukav, Weirdness Magnet
The long-awaited second collection of urban fantasy tales set in Key West, Florida featuring scuba diving, Norse gods, rock and roll music, folklore, and beer drinking (not necessarily in that order) will include:
“Fish Out of Water” (originally published in Out of Tune in 2014)
“Down to the Waterline” (originally published in Buzzy Mag in 2015)
“Seven-Mile Race” (originally published in Without a License in 2015)
“William Did It” (originally published on StoryOfTheMonthClub.com in 2015, and also in A Baker’s Dozen of Magic in 2016)
“Behind the Wheel” (originally published in TV Gods: Summer Programming in 2017)
“Rán for Your Life” (originally published in Unearthed in 2019)
“Ragnarok and a Hard Place” (originally released to Indie GoGo supporters in 2021)
“Stop Dragon My Heart Around” (new to this collection)
all the Cassie vignettes I’ve done on Patreon
Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness–The Beginning
This five-issue comic book I’m writing is a prequel to the Netflix animated series, and will be out from TokyoPop later this year, focusing on the Leon Kennedy character.
Star Trek Adventures
In collaboration with Fred Love, I’ve written a Klingon adventure for this role-playing game called “Incident at Kraav III,” that will hopefully be out this year.
The Four ???? of the Apocalypse
The inaugural project from Whysper Wude, this anthology edited by me and Wrenn Simms will feature some great stories by some great authors, plus also one by me, about the four septuagenarians of the apocalypse, called “What Do You Want from Me, I’m Old?”
Tales of Capes and Cowls
My Super City Cops story “Smells Like Teen Spirit” will be in this C.T. Phipps-edited Crossroad Press anthology this year.
Three Time Travelers Walk Into…
This nifty anthology from Fantastic Books and editor extraordinaire Michael A. Ventrella will have my Mary Shelley/Katherine Johnson/Josh Gibson story, tentatively entitled “What You Can Become Tomorrow.”
The Fans are Buried Tales
This delightful anthology from Peter David and Crazy 8 Press will have cosplayers telling stories in character. Mine is called “Carpet Bomb.” Be afraid….
Phenomenons: Every Human Creature
This shared-world anthology of superhero stories conceived and edited by mighty Michael Jan Friedman will have a mess of nifty superhero tales, including my own “The Light Shines in the Darkness.” I must confess to being ridiculously excited about this particular universe that Mike’s created, and I really hope it takes off so I can revisit it.
OOOFF! BOFF! SPLATT!: The Subterranean Blue Grotto Essays on Batman ’66–Season Three
I’ll be contributing a piece to this latest look at Adam West’s Batman, tentatively entitled “Watching the Detectives,” about the final episode, “Minerva, Millionaires, and Mayhem.”
The Gold Archive: Birthright
Obverse Books’s The Gold Archive is a series of monographs about various Star Trek episodes, and I’ll be doing the one focused on the “Birthright” two-parter from The Next Generation season 6, discussing Worf and Data as breakout characters, Daddy issues, the importance of storytelling in a culture, and other cool stuff.
Stargate essay anthology
Sequart is putting out an essay collection about the Stargate franchise, and I’ll be contributing an essay about how Atlantis didn’t always do right by its three leaders.
The Star Trek: Enterprise Rewatch will continue every Monday, the reviews of new Star Trek shows will continue apace for the most part, and “4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch” will get a periodic revival.