me talkin’ A Furnace Sealed on Mary Robinette Kowal’s “My Favorite Bit”

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It’s a day for A Furnace Sealed on the web, it seems. Today, Mary Robinette Kowal featured me on her regular feature “My Favorite Bit,” as I talk about how much fun it was to write a book that took place in my home borough.

An excerpt:

I love writing about the people here. The Bronx is one of the most fascinatingly diverse places you’ll find. In 2009 and 2010, I worked for the U.S. Census Bureau, and I got to see so many different places and things and people.

My favorite was going to a Buddhist monastery, located in an old two-story house on a side street near Kingsbridge Road. From the outside, it looked like just another house, but inside I was greeted by a wizened old monk and his acolyte. They gave me tea, and for half an hour, I felt like I’d been transported to a secluded region of Asia rather than the middle of the Bronx.

The team I supervised for the main Census operation included people who were from (or whose ancestry traced back to) western Africa, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Korea, Cambodia, Trinidad, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Poland, Russia, Italy, and Ireland.

my take on The Umbrella Academy

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I reviewed The Umbrella Academy, the new Netflix series based on the same-named comic book by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá. I compare the comics to the TV show, and the TV show actually improved on the comic in many ways.

An excerpt:

A lot of the show’s extra depth is courtesy of Hazel and Cha-Cha, who actually have a genuine story arc. Hazel has become disillusioned with their endless travels through time killing people and wants to settle down. Cha-Cha doesn’t want to break up a good partnership. Britton (who was overwhelmingly brilliant as Ed Kemper in Mindhunter) beautifully plays Hazel’s exhausted cynicism, while Blige is equally spectacular as the much less apologetic Cha-Cha, who is genuinely befuddled by her partner’s change of heart. What’s especially hilarious about their arc is that, while it’s about friendship and disillusionment and falling in love and all that stuff, it still involves two total psychopaths. (Hazel’s idea of a great second act, as it were, is to be able to kill whoever he wants, not who the bosses tell him to kill.)

look what I got in the mail!

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The first book that came out with my name on the cover was OtherWere: Stories of Transformation, an anthology I edited with Laura Anne Gilman in 1996. The day 23 years ago when my contributor’s copy of the book came off press and I got my hands on a copy was an absolute thrill, one that filled me with a tremendous glee.

In the ensuing two-decades-plus, a lot more books have come out that have had the words “Keith R.A. DeCandido” emblazoned on the cover, and I’m here to tell you right now that the thrill has not abated, as I was just as giddy today getting A Furnace Sealed in the mail as I was in ’96 when I got my hands on OtherWere, in 1998 when I held a copy of Spider-Man: Venom’s Wrath in my hands (that was the first novel with my name on the cover), in 1999 when I held Young Hercules: Cheiron’s Warriors in my hands (that was the first one where I had the byline all to myself; the previous books all had at least one other name on it, or I used a pseudonym), in 2001 when I held Star Trek: The Next Generation: Diplomatic Implausibility in my hands (that was my first Star Trek novel), in 2003 when I held Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda: Destruction of Illusions in my hands (that was my first hardcover), in 2004 when I held Dragon Precinct in my hands (that was my first novel that I kept the copyright on), in 2005 when I held my novelization of Serenity in my hands (just because that was so cool to do!!!!), in 2006 when I held Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Blackout in my hands (because at that point, that was my favorite book to actually write, taking place as it did in New York in 1977), in 2008 when I held Farscape #1 in my hands (as that comics project, working with Rockne S. O’Bannon to continue the story of Farscape, is one I took particular joy in), in 2011 when I held Unicorn Precinct in my hands (as that meant the series was a going concern again), in 2013 when I held Leverage: The Zoo Job in my hands (bittersweet, as the show had been cancelled, thus depressing sales like whoa, but I still loved having the book in hand, as I adored that show), in 2014 when I held Star Trek: The Klingon Art of War in my hands (because that book was such a thrill and a pleasure, and because it marked my, sadly temporary, return to writing Trek fiction, and, looking back, because that book has gotten such tremendous praise), in 2016 when I held Orphan Black: Classified Clone Report in my hands (because that book was huge fun to write and because Insight Editions did an amazing job putting it together), and just a couple weeks ago when I held Mermaid Precinct in my hands.

And again today when I got my contributor’s copies of A Furnace Sealed. The thrill has not dimmed even after fifty-plus books, even after spending half my life writing books and stories professionally.

Check this earlier blog post for ordering links for the book, as well as an excerpt, and if you do pick it up (or already have), please consider writing a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads. Thanks so much!

 

4-Color to 35-Millimeter: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Darkness

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The CGI version of the heroes on a half-shell return for a 2016 sequel to the 2014 film, with Megan Fox and Will Arnett returning, and adding fan favorites Casey Jones, Krang, Bebop, and Rock Steady. It’s a better movie than its predecessor, but it didn’t do as well, and it’s still flawed. The great superhero movie rewatch orders some 99-cheese pizza to watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows.

An excerpt:

The movie also benefits from strong performances from Tyler Perry as the very nerdy, but still dangerous Stockman and by Brad Garrett, leaving no piece of scenery unchewed as Krang’s voice. And I like the fact that Shredder, after casually betraying Stockman, finds himself betrayed in the exact same way by Krang. (I particularly love the dialogue exchange between them. “You betrayed me!” “Actually, I barely even thought about you.”) While Stephen Amell isn’t quite as batshit as Elias Koteas was as Casey Jones, he still inhabits the role quite well, and he actually has chemistry with Megan Fox (who remains mostly harmless as O’Neill). More to the point, he sells Jones’s desire to bring the criminals to justice, as he has something at stake here. Laura Linney also does well as the cynical police chief.

Star Trek: Discovery‘s “The Sound of Thunder”

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Discovery does an episode that is a sequel to both “An Obol for Charon” two weeks ago and the Short Treks episode “The Brightest Star,” as Saru proves that you can go home again, and you can completely up-end your whole civilization when you do! My take on “The Sound of Thunder.”

An excerpt:

One of the biggest issues I’ve had with rigid “we must not interfere at all!” Prime Directive stories—the worst offenders being TNG’s “Who Watches the Watchers?” and “Homeward” and Enterprise’s “Dear Doctor”—is that they tend to turn the main characters into uncaring bastards when they’re supposed to be heroes. Heroes should never allow people to die when they can be saved. And many of them—”Dear Doctor” being a particular offender—tend to view evolution as this rigid straight line of inevitability that the Prime Directive keeps Starfleet from interfering with. But that’s not how evolution works. It’s not a straight line, it’s a jagged, curved, random, ridiculous line being navigated by a drunk driver. Evolution is constantly shifting, and it’s affected by dozens of external factors.

from Patreon: my review of First Man

The Ryan Gosling movie First Man, about the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969, has been released on home video. I reviewed it on Patreon for my $1/month and up supporters back in October, and now present here on the ol’ blog as we approach the 50th anniversary of the events described. 

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It’s interesting, as an unrepentant space nerd, to watch the progression of movies about the space program. First you’ve got The Right Stuff in the 1980s, a hagiography of the early astronauts that sacrificed the most in terms of real-world facts for dramatic impact, and also casting the first people to go into space as total rock stars.

Then in the 1990s, we had Apollo 13, which still showcased the astronauts, but expanded the focus to the support crew on the ground. The real heroes of the film weren’t the three guys stuck in the capsule, it was the engineers on the ground who figured out how to get them home.

In the 2010s, we had Hidden Figures, showcasing another set of unsung heroes, the “computers,” the African-American women who did most of the math for the space program.

Most recently, Ryan Gosling stars in First Man, which focuses on Neil Armstrong, the first human being to set foot on a planetary body other than Earth, as he commanded the Apollo 11 mission that was humanity’s first successful attempt to put humans on the moon.

We’ve come full circle from The Right Stuff, as Armstrong as portrayed by Gosling isn’t blandified or whitewashed or made into something more noble. Instead, Armstrong is a humorless, unhappy egghead who doesn’t deal all that well with people, and who’s trying to figure out how to live without his daughter, who died at age two in 1961.

There’s nothing wrong with giving a more nuanced and truthfully unfavorable portrayal of astronauts. The people we see in this film are human—they have foibles and flaws and eccentricities. The problem is that the script is so busy showing how normal they are that it forgets to show their good sides.

Technically, the film is an impressive achievement, as they re-create the realities of space travel phenomenally well. Unfortunately, while the technical work is great, the actual pacing is horrendous. Every single sequence of flying, whether through the air or through space, goes on at least 50% longer than it needs to, and often more like 75%. The opening of Armstrong testing an X-15 that climbs above the atmosphere and bounces off it before Armstrong can figure out how to land sets the languid, endless tone for every like sequence in the film: shaky-cam closeups of Armstrong, of his instruments, of the view out of the cockpit, over and over and over again, with an irritating amount of silence. This happens a lot—on occasions where the radio chatter should be pretty much incessant, instead, it’s completely quiet. Which wouldn’t be so bad if anything was happening, but Damien Chazelle seems to think that letting the camera bounce around with the vessel and endless shots of the sky, the instrumentation, and the pilot(s) will actually build suspense all by itself. But most of the time, that pilot is Armstrong, who is being played as a total stiff. There’s no urgency because he has no urgency, no emotion, no anything. He’s just sleepwalking through life.

At the end of the film, when his wife Janet—Claire Foy in a role that is thankless even by the low standards of wives in movies like this—goes to visit him in quarantine after Apollo 11 has returned to Earth. They spend about seven years staring at each other before Armstrong makes a half-hearted gesture of affection. Both of them look agonized and pained and miserable.

If you’d showed me this scene out of context, I would have assumed that they just found out that their two-year-old daughter died, not that he was just the first fucking person to walk on the moon, from which he actually came back alive and holy shit that’s amazing what’s fucking wrong with you people?????

Sigh.

Seriously, the one thing that all the other films I mentioned above had in common was a sense of wonder and adventure. Even though there was full awareness that these were people doing a job, there’s a sense of mundane inevitability and of going through the motions that is completely at odds with what any story about the space program should ever be like. It’s not like the dangers are softpedaled—hell, the death of Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chafee on Apollo 1 is dramatized in the movie. The rare occasions when the movie shows people celebrating someone’s accomplishment, it feels out of place and awkward.

But even the negative emotions are few and far between. Foy’s best moment in the film is when she practically has to put Armstrong into a headlock to get him to tell his two sons that he’s going to the moon and he might not come back. It shows just what an emotional coward Armstrong is after losing his daughter, and Foy’s frustration is palpable as Janet. The movie needed more of that—if it couldn’t give us people happy to be going into space, it could at least have emotionally fucked-up people going into space.

Overall, the pacing is a disaster. The flying sequences do go on forever, but everything else takes too long, as well. This is about 75 minutes of movie jam-packed into an endless 2.5-hour package.

The movie is also relentlessly dark in terms of visuals. Even when the sun’s out, Chazelle emphasizes the shadows—and more often, it’s night. It’s a dank movie, and I honestly can’t figure out what message the movie is trying to convey. The Right Stuff, Apollo 13, Hidden Figures, these were movies about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. First Man is about a miserable person surrounded by other miserable people doing something dangerous for no obvious reason.

There’s a good movie to be made about the life of Neil Armstrong. I hope someone makes it some day.

 

belated irons in the fire update

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I generally do these monthly updates for me as much as I do for you, the reader of my blog. I noticed I was feeling a bit overwhelmed and confused, and then I realized I hadn’t actually done an IITFU for February. Oops. So let’s go….

Alien. I’ve done a second draft of Isolation, which is with my editor. Still need notes from 20th Century Fox, who will review it once my editor finishes going over the second draft. I assume the book is still on track to be published in July.

Game tie-in novellas. This still hasn’t been formally announced yet, but I’m doing a series of serialized novellas to tie into a videogame. This week’s task is to revise the first of those novellas to account for some changes made to the still-in-development MMORPG based on the game world that I need to incorporate into the story. Right now I’ve got more than a dozen of these novellas plotted out, so this’ll keep me busy for a while.

Precinct series. Mermaid Precinct is done. Some copies were available at Farpoint, the eBooks have been sent to Kickstarter supporters, and the hard copies will go to KS supporters soon. I also have to do various rewards for the last three Kickstarters (sigh), and stuff. You can also get a Precinct story in Release the Virgins! And at some point I need to start writing Phoenix Precinct.

The Adventures of Bram Gold. A Furnace Sealed is out! You should buy it! And I will probably need to write Book 2 at some point………..

Tales of Cassie Zukav, weirdness magnet. The latest Cassie story, “Rán for Your Life,” has been accepted for the anthology Unearthed, edited by Kara Dennison for Alitrix Books. I’ve also got a handshake agreement with Plus One Press to do a second collection, to be entitled Ragnarok and a Hard Place. It will include the as-yet uncollected stories “Down to the Waterline,” “Fish Out of Water,” “William Did It,” “Seven-Mile Race,” “Behind the Wheel,” and “Rán for Your Life,” with more besides.

Super City Cops. I’m under contract to do four novellas for Falstaff Books, which I’ll be writing at some point this year.

Collaborative thrillers. Agent is flogging the first of these thrillers, and I’m plugging away at the second. I’ve also agreed to write two more after that with my collaborator.

18th Race. Also plugging away at the third book in the trilogy by David Sherman. David wrote the first two and outlined the third, but is unable to finish it due to health reasons (nothing life-threatening, worry not), so I’m finishing the book based on that outline.

Various short stories. I’ve been invited to eight anthologies recently. Besides the above-mentioned Unearthed, there’s also Brave New Girls: Adventures of Gals & Gizmos, Thrilling Adventure Yarns, In Harm’s Way, Footprints in the Stars, a Predator anthology, a Beatles anthology, and next year’s Crazy 8 Press anthology. I’ve written the stories for the first three (respectively, “Rán for Your Life,” “The Silent Dust,” and “Alien Invasion of Earth!”), and I have to write the other five by, respectively, early March, the end of April, and early next year three times over.

Nonfiction. Still reviewing Discovery each time a new episode drops, still writing other things for both Tor.com and Patreon, and still doing the great superhero movie rewatch.

 

pinned post: some important posts and guides and stuff on this here blog

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This is a guide to the guides,  as it were, as this blog has several listings of things that folks might want to refer to. This post will remain pinned to the front page.

  • the compleat bibliography of Keith R.A. DeCandido — all my work listed in one place (updated as of 25 January 2020)
  • guide to my reviews of new Star Trek — I’ve been reviewing each episode of the new Trek TV series (Discovery, Short Treks, Picard) as they comes out on CBS All Access for Tor.com, and this post is regularly updated with each new review as they go live
  • 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 annual, with me looking back at each year’s movies every December; this is an alphabetical guide to all the movies I’ve covered or will cover at the end of this year
  • 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
  • guide to my Patreon content — this lists the TV and movie reviews, vignettes, and commentary I’ve written for my Patreon supporters