Tor.com content by

Alex Brown

From Vampires to Space Battles: Where to Start with Chuck Wendig

It seems like everyone’s talking about this Chuck Wendig dude. Everyone but you, that is. And that’s a damn shame because Chuck Wendig is ten shades of great. On one hand, as a guy who’s done self-publishing, traditional publishing, and digital publishing (not to mention scripts and video games), he’s written a ton of stuff so you have plenty of titles to choose from. On the other, where the hell do you even start? Ah, my friend, that’s where I come in. Sit back, relax, and let me introduce you to your new favorite author.

Chuck Wendig writes like a punch to the face. His words are visceral and pungent, his tales discomfiting and nonconforming. There’s a fevered, staccato-like quality to his text which gives a sense of urgency, both for the characters and the reader. He writes characters who reject the norm even when they secretly crave it and rage against the family and friends they need the most, all while remaining imminently relatable and recognizable. Every time it feels like things can’t get any worse, Wendig turns the screw once more. Some writers can write big action sequences that make you feel like you’re part of the chaos and some can craft moments of quiet reflection between characters that make you feel like a fly on the wall. Chuck Wendig is one of those lucky few who can do both.

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Pull List: Goldie Vance and Ladycastle Turn Tropes into Treats

If you’re looking for out-of-the-box comics of diverse characters, stories, and creators, your first stop should be the indie/small press publishers. Especially BOOM! Studios and their imprint BOOM! Box. Some of the best comics around are coming out of BOOM!, and yeah, I’m counting Image in that ranking. BOOM! is balancing a fine line between bringing in new talent with fresh ideas and Big Two vets with vast reservoirs of creativity, and it’s paying off like gangbusters. Marvel and DC would never publish anything like the two titles we’re looking at this month, Ladycastle and Goldie Vance, but then again neither would Image. All the better for BOOM!, if you ask me.

Goldie Vance and Ladycastle are two pretty different series—the former about a girl detective, the latter a women-driven high fantasy—but both take the stale tropes of their chosen genres and subvert them with intersectional feminism. The hard truth of the matter is no matter how many Riri Washingtons or Jessica Cruzes the Big Two create, there’s always a Tony Stark or Hal Jordan ready to take back their mantles. The real diversity work is happening in the small presses and YA.

[“Pet my snake and bake and dream of anarchy!”]

“And the Master-Poet painted…”: Neil Gaiman Revisits Old Gods in Norse Mythology

Neil Gaiman’s newest book, Norse Mythology begins before the beginning with Surtr and his flaming sword in an empty, mist-choked universe and ends after the ending with the sons of gods and a game of chess. It tells the stories of creation and destruction, birth and death, life and cataclysm and everything in between. The ancient Norse lived in hard lives in a frigid, unforgiving land. Their cold and unyielding gods mirrored their world and worldview, and the Norse treated them with fear and reverence in equal measures.

It was Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s reworked God of Thunder from The Mighty Thor comics that first caught Gaiman’s interest and another retelling, Roger Lancelyn Green’s Myths of the Norsemen, that set him off on a lifetime of mythological fascination. Gaiman brings all of that awe to Norse Mythology, and you’ll be hard-pressed to finish it and not feel just as inspired.

[“That is how the worlds will end, in ash and flood, in darkness and in ice.”]

The Tree of Life and Death: Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer

In a world made from a massive, interconnected forest, thirteen treetops form the kingdoms of Canopy. Each one is the domain of a god, the physical embodiment of traits necessary to keep the great forest alive such as rain, life, and death. Below and cut off from Canopy by a magical barrier is Understory, a sometime trading partner and most often raiders to the sun-soaked privileged above. And below Understory is Floor, a sinister, dark place full of demons and the bones of the ancient deities slaughtered long ago by the first incarnation of the thirteen sitting gods.

This is the world in which Unar is born. After the tragic loss of her baby sister, Unar commits herself as a servant in the Garden, the sacred temple of Audblayin, the goddess of creation and life. Unar believes her role in life is to be the bodyguard of the next Audblayin. But when she loses her chance at a promotion, her pride pushes her to extremes. Act act of brazen empathy leaves her cast out of Canopy and into the depths of Understory. Determined to take what she believes is her rightful place near the top of the Garden hierarchy by any means necessary, Unar embarks on a quest filled with blood, lies, pain, and sorrow. Her arrogance and selfish disdain for the feelings of others may be her own undoing when she inadvertently aids a force of evil so great not even the gods can challenge.

[“The goddess of life has called to her.”]

Archiekins Gets a Sexy Upgrade in Riverdale

My love for Archie comics may be new, but it’s deep and undying. I came in with Mark Waid and Fiona Staples’ updated take on the Riverdale crew in 2015, and with the launch of Chip Zdarksy and Erica Henderson’s Jughead I was officially obsessed. Today an Archie fanatic can indulge in Betty and Veronica, Reggie and Me, Josie and the Pussycats, and a digital-first Life with Kevin, not to mention the upcoming Sabrina the Teenage Witch relaunch. What really kicked off the reboot, however, was Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s Afterlife with Archie, a series that not only propelled the publisher to new heights but Aguirre-Sacasa himself. He’s now both the COO of the comics company as well as the creator/executive producer of CW’s newest sensation, Riverdale.

Despite being left relatively unchanged for most of its run, the Archie multiverse is surprisingly adaptable. Whether adding zombies, battling the Predator, or shifting to the small screen, the charm and heart always remain true. Riverdale is more than just a Twin Peaks-ified Archie. Layers of Stand By Me and River’s Edge roughen up the edges of the typical CW teen melodrama, like peering at the seedy underbelly of the ‘burbs. But it’s also so much more than a gritty reboot with Dawson’s Creek-esque dialogue.

Mild spoilers…

[“Safe, decent, innocent. Get closer though and you start seeing the shadows underneath.”]

Pull List: The Best of Marvel’s New Female Superheroes

Unlike its cinematic counterpart, Marvel Comics has done a decent job at upping diversity in recent years. Of course they’ve had some pretty spectacular fails as well, far too many to recount here but I’m sure you can easily think of half a dozen off the top of your head. There still aren’t nearly enough queer and/or PoC leads but the few we have are (Sam Wilson battling SJWs aside) generally top notch. Production-side diversity isn’t as good as it could be either, but the shift toward telling new kinds of stories with new kinds of characters has definitely broadened the stables. I guess what I’m saying is at least they’re trying.

Now that Civil War II is finally over—finally!—a crop of new series have landed on the shelves, including the pair whose praises I’m about to sing. With Hawkeye and The Unstoppable Wasp, Marvel passes old mantles onto new female characters with rousing success. Kate Bishop and Nadia put their own unique spins on being superheroes, and it’s an absolute joy to behold. As much as I scoffed at DC’s bimonthly push with Rebirth, I’d happily shell out extra cash for twice the fun with Hawkeye and The Unstoppable Wasp. They’re so good that I’m totally over my annoyance at Civil War II. Welcome back to my good graces, Marvel. I missed you.

[“Excuse me, I’m here to make a deposit. Do you accept…sass?!”]

Can Anything Save the DC Extended Universe From Itself?

“Hate” is probably not the best word for what I feel toward the DC Extended Universe, but it’s close. I’d say I’m really somewhere between searing disdain, deep frustration, and weary resignation, none of which are emotions any studio would want associated with their tentpole brand.

The problems with the DCEU are bigger than just three crappy movies. What failed in Man of Steel was repeated in Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad and will likely continue to fail in Wonder Woman and beyond. Warner Bros. knows they need to retool their format, but whether they can, and what shape it will take if they do, depends entirely on how much course-correcting new DC division co-runners Geoff Johns and Jon Berg can do between now and Diana’s solo film. They have an uphill battle, that’s for sure.

So let’s dig in to see where the DCEU went wrong and what, if anything, can be done to salvage it. Obviously, spoilers ahoy.

[“Nobody cares about Clark Kent taking on the Batman.”]

When the Devil Comes Knocking: The Last Harvest by Kim Liggett

“I plead the blood” was the last thing Clay Tate’s father said to him as he died. This was after he slaughtered a dozen pregnant cows and attempted to do the same to the bull in the breeding barn. Papa Tate had been driven mad by who knows what—a bad batch of genetics, maybe, or meth—and as the one year anniversary of his death rapidly approaches Clay begins to recognize his father’s madness repeating in himself. It all begins again when Clay is harvesting wheat on his family’s farm and accidentally runs over a golden calf, just as his late father predicted. Soon he’s seeing things that aren’t there and hearing sinister voices in his head.

Fate pushes him back into the orbit of the Preservation Society, the council populated exclusively by the descendants of the founders of Clay’s Oklahoma hometown. He and his former friends are the sixth generation from the founders, but their intertwined destinies are greater than football and barbecues. As Clay loses sense of what’s real and what’s imaginary, the body count rises. Terrible killings fuel wild accusations of murderous insanity and devil worship and poor Clay is caught right in the middle of it.

[“He is coming.”]

Don’t Touch That Dial: Winter 2016 TV

Welcome back to “Don’t Touch That Dial,” a seasonal series in which I, your friendly neighborhood television addict, break down some of the shows screaming for your attention. The winter hiatus is upon us, and while the major networks are all reruns all the time, streaming networks apparently haven’t gotten the message. Today we’re looking at a brand new show (The OA), two returning fan favorites (Black Sails and The Man in the High Castle), and a cancelled series probably taking up space in your To Watch queue right now (Whitechapel).

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Top Comic Books of 2016

If I had to guess, I’d say there were at least a million comics being released every month. At least it feels that way sometimes. Most of it’s meaningless drivel, the comic book equivalent of network television that’s only on for background noise while folding laundry. Yet that very glut makes the gems both harder to find and more precious once you do.

[Great comics that debuted in 2016]

Pull List: Interdimensional Theater Geeks and Roadtripping Witches

The end of the year is nigh, so I might as send the final Pull List of 2016 out with a bang with two of my favorite series of the year. Both are diverse in terms of gender, sexuality, and race/ethnicity, both tell compelling stories with intriguing characters, and both prove independent comics are where it’s at if you want unfettered creativity. The Big Two can keep their event crossovers, rebirth-y reboots, and disappointing cancellations of low-selling, high-quality niche titles. I’ll be over here reveling in The Backstagers and Spell on Wheels.

[“That sounds awesome…” “That sounds terrible.”]

The Best YA SFF of 2016

2016 was a pretty darn good year for YA fiction. In contemporary YA, mental illness (The Weight of Zero by Karen Fortunati, Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley, The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner), trans characters (Beast by Brie Spangler, If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo), harrowing experiences (This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp), and romance (Girls Like Me by Lola StVil) reigned.

But science fiction and fantasy fans were especially spoiled. The list of must-read young adult SF/F from this year alone is massive—and super diverse!—so let’s start with the best of the best. In no particular order, here are my top ten best YA SF/F of 2016. Did I skip your fave? Stop by the comments with your recs.

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Clockmakers Lie: Ian Tregillis’ The Liberation

At the dawn of The Liberation, the final entry in Ian Tregillis’ Alchemy Wars series, things aren’t looking good for humanity. The mechanical now calling himself Daniel, has freed his fellow Clakkers, and the French are still (barely) holding on against all odds, but the war is far from won. When the mad metal dictator Queen Mab gains the secrets to mechanical Free Will, she sets her sights on slaughtering her makers. As the fight moves back across the pond to continental Europe, the war pits meat versus machine, humans against humans, mechanicals against mechanicals.

The survival of the “good guys” depends upon collaboration and cooperation between former slaves, enslavers, and the enemy of their mutual enemy. One faction of rogue Clakkers want to crush all humans, another prefers a more libertarian ideal of humans and machines living separate but equal. The humans are just as split, with the Dutch hoping to reimpose their rule over Clakkers and humankind and the French wanting to free humans and Clakkers alike. But neither group has pure motivations and as conflicts arise, suspicions and bigotry threaten what little hope for victory there is. The Liberation is part philosophical debate over human nature and choice, part contemplation on colonialism and slavery, and part action-y alternate history. It brings the trilogy to a raucous, blood-soaked end where no one gets everything they want, but everyone gets exactly what they deserve.

[“I was born, and reborn, in flames.”]

Pull List: Mockingbird and Comics’ Feminist Growing Pains

Pop culture is littered with stories about powerful women standing aside so weaker men can act out fits of dominance. That reductionism is one of the MCU’s biggest faults right now. Wasp trains Scott Lang to be Ant-Man despite her already being the most qualified person on the team. Black Widow’s detailed emotional arc is replaced with baby mania. Christine Palmer and Jane Foster may be brilliant doctors, but that’s secondary to their role as superhero girlfriends. At this rate, I’m half convinced Carol Danvers will be introduced not as a badass Air Force pilot but as Rhodey’s new girlfriend.

Chelsea Cain and Kate Niemczyk’s Mockingbird was a badly needed antidote to that noise. Sadly, Marvel made the inane decision to cancel it before it found its footing, and the comics world is all the worse for it. And to top it all off, trolls drove Cain off social media all for having the audacity to be a woman on the internet. For fans, we’re in the awkward position of being in the midst of a great feminist revival in comics while also dealing with haters who loathe any change that lessens their own sense of self-importance. Regardless of how you felt about Mockingbird as a series, its demise and the loss of Cain should have us all up in arms about the state of our beloved industry.

[“Ask me about my feminist agenda”]

Oh Come On, the Fright Night Remake Isn’t That Bad…

Fright Night is a great movie. Vampires, awesome actors, bloody deaths, cool special effects a splash of romance, what’s not to love? Oh, I should clarify, I’m talking about the 2011 remake, not the 1985 original. I could take or leave the original version but I break out my copy of the remake several times a year. To take it one step further, I submit that the remake is better than the original. Wait, wait, wait, don’t storm off yet. Hear me out.

Spoilers ahoy…

[“The whole house looks like that show Dark Shadows.”]