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Alex Brown

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.”]

Where to Start with Joe Hill

Joe Hill is the kind of author whose works burrow under your skin. Months after finishing one of his books, certain scenes will pop up in your memories at unexpected moments. Characters will haunt you, their travails or deaths stalking you during work meetings, Twitter scrolling, even through other books. Hill writes horror fiction with a style as eviscerating as it is visceral. His works critique and peel apart our sociocultural ideals by pushing his characters to the extreme, and he does it all with geeky Easter eggs and literary eloquence.

There was a time not long ago when I could bring up author Joe Hill and no one would have any idea who I was talking about. Nowadays nearly every reader I encounter has heard of him, but many haven’t yet read any of his works. The son of authors Stephen and Tabitha King, Hill has written numerous novels, short stories, and comics, as well scripts for two TV shows (even though neither made it to air). His back catalogue, while a boon to long-time fans like myself, can be overwhelming for a newbie unsure of which to read first. Some are intimidated by his larger tomes while others by the horror tag. But I maintain there’s at least one Joe Hill story for everyone. It’s just a matter of digging around until we find it. Let’s see if I can’t do something about that…

[“Fantasy was always only a reality waiting to be switched on.”]

Pull List: Gather ‘Round for Some Spooky Tales from the Darkside

I first heard about Joe Hill’s new miniseries, a comic book adaptation of his scripts for the smothered-in-its-cradle Tales from the Darkside reboot he was doing for the CW, during his book tour for The Fireman. Needless to say, everyone in the audience gasped and squeed in excitement and anticipation. As I was sitting with several people from the local comic shop I frequent, I of course leaned over and asked the owner to put it on my pull list right then and there.

A few months later and the series has wrapped (or has it?!) and all I can think is how cool the TV show would’ve been. Granted, I’m still in mourning for his other DOA TV show, Locke & Key, but how awesome would a horror anthology be right now? There’s nothing like it on the schedule and the premise is chockablock with potential. Good thing, then, that the adaptation very nearly lives up to the high expectations.

[“No…this can’t be real.”]

To Hell and Back: Lost Gods by Brom

Recently released from jail after a stint on drug charges, Chet Moran is determined to turn his life around, starting with reconciling with his pregnant girlfriend, Trish. Her father has forbidden their relationship, and when the couple make their hasty escape, Chet accidentally hits his high school nemesis, Coach, with his car. They find sanctuary on an island off the coast of South Carolina, his ancestral homeland now occupied by his grandmother, Lamia. Decades before, Lamia’s abusive husband, Gavin, murdered her two sons and tried to kill her. Afterward she lost custody of her daughter, Cynthia, Chet’s mother. Despite having not seen Lamia since he was a child, they have an arcane psychic connection to each other.

But hiding out with his doting grandmother proves too good to be true. The ghosts of hundreds of dead children haunt the island, led by two demon children with an ominous attachment to Lamia. Before he and Trish can flee, Chet is brutally murdered. A depressed angel named Senoy convinces Chet to descend into the underworld to recover a magic key that was stolen from him by Gavin. The key, Senoy insists, will allow him to summon angelic backup to kill Lamia once and for all, and if Chet works fast enough he just might spare the souls of Trish and their unborn child as well.

[“Thought I saw a ghost.”]

Why I’m Walking Out On The Walking Dead

That’s it. I’m done. Tap me the hell out. Pack my bags and send me home. The season 7 premiere was an hour of sadism, misery, and over the top violence stitched together by padding and shouting. I don’t care what happens next, where Carol and Morgan are, or even how that damn tiger from the commercials will come into play. I. Don’t. Care. There are better ways to spend Sunday night.

[“I’m gonna kill you.”]

Don’t Touch That Dial: Fall 2016 TV — The DC Television Universe

And we’re back with the second edition of the Fall 2016 “Don’t Touch That Dial.” In this very special episode we’re looking at DC on TV, specifically Arrow, The Flash, Gotham, Legends of Tomorrow, and Supergirl. None of these series are new this fall, but all have had major overhauls since their first season, so let’s see what’s working, what’s not, and where we go from here.

Mild spoilers for previous seasons.

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Don’t Touch That Dial: Fall 2016 TV

Welcome 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. All four shows here are new this season and while they vary in subject and tone, all fill that SFF niche we call home. In this edition we’re looking at shows where the dead commune with the living (Frequency), the dead commune with each other (The Good Place), demons commune with priests (The Exorcist), and a history professor communes with famous historical figures (Timeless).

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Dead and Buried: The Graveyard Apartment by Mariko Koike

In this new translation of Mariko Koike’s famous 1986 horror novel The Graveyard Apartment, the Kano family’s darkest secrets come back to haunt them. When they move into their brand new apartment, the young family thinks they hit the jackpot. The unit is spacious and underpriced, sitting at the top of a newly constructed building in an soon-to-be-gentrified neighborhood in Tokyo. Teppei loves the convenience of the building to the train he takes to the advertising agency he works at, Misao enjoys the feeling of a fresh start, and little Tamao finally has other kids to play with. Even their mutt Cookie likes having plenty of room to roam. The only member of the family who doesn’t get the chance to settle in is poor little Pyoko, their java finch who dies mysteriously the first night they move in. Misao thinks nothing of it until Tamao tells her Pyoko is visiting her at night and warning her about the evil in the building.

In fact, the only bad thing about the building is its location, framed on three sides by a graveyard, Buddhist temple, and crematorium. As the Kanos move in, other occupants begin moving out, having had enough of the spooky malevolence permeating the atmosphere. Sinister coincidences and terrifying experiences pile up as the Kano family descends further into madness and fear. There’s something in the basement, something that wants out, and the Kanos are unlucky enough to be in its way.

[“Hello? Is someone there?”]

The Wild, Weird West of Lila Bowen’s Conspiracy of Ravens

Here’s the thing about Lila Bowen’s Conspiracy of Ravens, the second book in her YA western fantasy Shadow series: it’s frakking great. You can stop reading right now. Go to your local library or independent bookstore, pick up a copy, devour it whole hog, and thank me later. But if, for whatever reason, you need more convincing, hopefully what follows will do the job.

Some spoilers ahead for Wake of Vultures, book 1 in the series.

[“Fighting’s the only way I get anything I want.”]

Sanctioned Sororicide: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

Into every generation a slay— wait, let’s try that again. Into every generation triplet queens are born. Each sister specializes in one of three magics: Mirabelle is a fiery elemental with the ability to command earth, wind, fire, and water; Arsinoe a naturalist who communes with plants and animals; and Katharine a cunning poisoner able to consume toxins as if they were sugar pills. Or at least that’s how it’s supposed to be. Instead, Mirabelle is the one with all the power and her younger sisters more or less giftless.

For decades, the poisoner faction has defeated the naturalists and elementals and retained control of the throne, yet with the backing the Temple of the Goddess and her priestesses, this year the elemental is the favored champion. No one thinks Arsinoe, the plain country mouse of the trio, even stands a chance. Nevertheless, all three will square off at Beltane on their sixteenth birthday. Three queens enter, only one will survive. Years of training in their arts has brought them to this moment, yet none of them are prepared for the chaos that ensues. Hearts are broken, loyalties tested, schemes foiled, and friendships betrayed. The queens must decide if they want to play by the rules and murder the only family they have left or take matters into their own hands and defy the Goddess and their kingdom.

[“Two to devour, and one to be queen.”]

Pull List: Thrills and Chills with Afterlife with Archie

It may only be September, but the Halloween season has already begun for me. The Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack has moved up in rotation and the stack of horror movies is piling up on my DVD player. Afterlife with Archie has been out since 2013—counting a few breaks—and yet for some inexplicable reason, especially given my vocal and undying love of the Archie and Jughead reboots, I hadn’t gotten around to reading it until recently. Now I wish I’d been reading it all along, but at least I got in when I did. Pop culture is oversaturated with zombies as of late and where most new content comes preloaded with diminished returns, Afterlife with Archie soars with refreshing originality.

[“This is how the end of the world begins…”]

Where to Start with Delilah S. Dawson

There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Delilah S. Dawson—aka Lila Bowen, aka Ava Lovelace—but it’s a damn shame if you haven’t. I first encountered her a little over two years ago when she did a guest blog for John Scalzi’s “The Big Idea” series for her then new book Servants of the Storm. She wrote about how writing a character like Dovey, one strong enough to stand up for herself and refuse to accept violence, manipulation, and abuse, was a means of catharsis for the terrible things that happened to Dawson at a young woman. Not only did the book sound like exactly the kind of fantasy story I’d always wanted, but Dawson herself was the kind of author, kind of woman I knew I needed to get to know better. Within days I’d followed her on Twitter and consumed Servants of the Storm and added everything else she’d written to my To Read pile.

Outside producing some of the best underappreciated books of the last few years, she also teaches writing classes and workshops, blogs thoughtfully about the craft of writing, and speaks out on topics like grief, depression, and sexual assault. Her stories are all over the subgenre map in the best way possible while remaining solidly in the realm of SFF. Dawson writes with bite, passion, and all the intensity of a geek bubbling with excitement over some obscure piece of fandom. She inspires me to be a better writer and to tell my own stories without worrying about what publishers or booksellers might scoff at.

[“Don’t whine. Art harder”]