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Karin L Kross

The Perils of Communal Living: High-Rise

I was predisposed to like High-Rise, given my admiration for J.G. Ballard’s fiction and Ben Wheatley’s films. Wheatley is a Fantastic Fest favorite; his previous films Down Terrace, Kill List, Sightseers, and A Field in England all had their US premieres there in previous years, so it’s no surprise that High-Rise was one of the hot tickets for this year’s festival.

Advance word out of TIFF was fairly polarized, and reactions at Fantastic Fest were similarly split. High-Rise is not to all tastes. Overly literal minds will spend too much time wondering why Laing doesn’t just leave the high-rise and go to Tesco instead of doing the notorious thing that he does for food in the opening scene. Some may be slightly disappointed by the fact that it is what they envisioned when they heard “Ben Wheatley is directing an adaptation of High-Rise” and thus lacks some surprise. However, the film largely succeeds—Ben Wheatley and screenwriter/co-editor Amy Jump have created a visually striking, splendidly acted adaptation that accurately captures the sardonic humour and the gimlet observations of human behaviour of Ballard’s novel.

[Mild spoilers, for those who haven’t read the novel]

Modern Folk Horror: The Witch

If you use the words “horror” and “New England” together in a sentence, most aficionados of the genre will think first of H.P. Lovecraft and the Salem witch trials. You should now include The Witch in that list, a tightly crafted and deeply unsettling film that was a hit at Sundance and Fantastic Fest, and which has a very strong claim to being one of the best horror films of the year.

[Spoiler-free review]

Exuberant Science: April and the Extraordinary World

Knowing what I do about the readership here at, I’m guessing that if I say “hey, you really need to check out April and the Extraordinary World, because it’s a delightful animated adventure story about a scrappy young scientist and her talking cat, set in an alternate history steampunk France that feels like a mashup of Jules Verne, J.J. Grandville, and Hayao Miyazaki,” then—

Okay, a bunch of you are probably already gone, trying to figure out where and how and when you can see this lovely film, which just had its US premiere at Fantastic Fest. But just in case you need a little more information…

[Spoiler-free review]

Reinventing Cyberpunk in Mr. Robot

Cyberpunk may have been one of the 1980s’ most quintessential subgenre-movement-phenomena, and it also may have been one of the quickest to descend into self-parody. It was easy to get hung up on the aesthetics—chrome, casual violence, neon reflected in dirty puddles, mirrored sunglasses, neo-Orientalist imagery driven by fears of a economically dominant Japan—while only superficially engaging with the deeper themes of the technology-driven, corporation-dominated near-futures portrayed therein.

Then the Internet age proceeded to co-opt the vocabulary of cyberpunk, much as the world of espionage absorbed the lingo of John le Carré’s fictional spies. Brief resurgences via The Matrix and Snow Crash (which is more satirical than some people realize) notwithstanding, cyberpunk now seems like a quaint retro-future at best, and entirely moribund at worst.

At least it did until Sam Esmail’s television series Mr. Robot came along—and on the USA Network, of all places. In a recent Reddit AMA, Esmail stated that he “wanted to bring cyberpunk to TV,” and he has actually done it—and in the process, reinvented cyberpunk and made it valid again for the twenty-first century.

[Warning: Spoilers for season 1!]

A Farewell to Discworld: Terry Pratchett’s The Shepherd’s Crown

One of the intractable problems of getting older is that you will inevitably watch your heroes die. For a reader, there comes the day when the pleasure of opening a new book by a beloved author is tempered by the knowledge that this is the last new one you will ever read.

With The Shepherd’s Crown, that time has come for the readers of Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books—and the characters of the Discworld must also bid farewell to one of their most enduring citizens.

[Minor spoilers ahead.]

“Working in a Cupboard” — An Interview with Comic Artist Tula Lotay

It might have seemed to some readers that Tula Lotay burst onto the comics scene from nowhere with her gorgeous art for the Warren Ellis-penned Supreme: Blue Rose, but she had already contributed work to such diverse titles as American VampireThe Witching Hour, and Red Sonja—and, not incidentally, had founded the Thought Bubble comics festival, now one of the UK’s top comics conventions. I met with her after negotiating the terrifying badge line at San Diego Comic-Con on Wednesday, and talked with her about her work with Warren Ellis, her process, and the ways in which the internet has been—believe it or not—good for women in comics.

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Using Robots as a Metaphor: An Interview with Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen

Combining elements of space opera and the Pinocchio-like adventures of an innocent robot boy, Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen’s Descender has been one of the big hits of the year in comics; before the first issue was released, Sony announced that it had secured the rights to develop a Descender film. Amidst the bustle of the convention floor at SDCC, I sat down with writer Jeff Lemire and artist Dustin Nguyen to talk about the place of artificial intelligence stories in the current zeitgeist, their collaborative process, and where Tim-21, his faithful robot dog, and homicidal friend and protector Driller would be going next.

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“What if Harry Potter Were a Reader?” — SDCC Spotlight on Lev Grossman

For his Sunday morning spotlight at San Diego Comic-Con, Lev Grossman gave a talk about how he developed The Magicians, took audience questions, and also brought up Sera Gamble and John McNamara, co-creators of the forthcoming TV adaptation. And not only did we get a look at the extended trailer—we also got to see a clip from the show.

[Do the goddamn magic!]

Sex and Science Fiction

“Warning: we are going to be adulting, and if this is an issue, this might not be your Friday morning panel.”

With these words, moderator Maryelizabeth Yturralde opened the Sex and Science Fiction panel at San Diego Comic-Con, which featured writers Wesley Chu, Gini Koch, and Nick Cole, comics artist and illustrator Camilla d’Errico, and cartoonist and comics writer/artist Marisa Acocella Marchetto. As is often the case with panels on such dense, baggage-laden themes, it felt as if the discussion touched on a wide range of subjects within the larger subject of sex and sexuality, but lacked the time to really delve into any one of them. Still, the panel covered a number of interesting questions, and even some controversy.

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SF That Will Change Your Life

The Science Fiction That Will Change Your Life panel is a regular highlight at San Diego Comic-Con, and will inevitably leave your wallet complaining over your latest haul at the bookstore (or on your e-reader of choice). This year’s panel, led by Annalee Newitz, featured Charlie Jane Anders, Jane Espenson, Javier Grillo-Marxuach, and Ernie Cline.

Rather than stepping through the proceedings of the panel as I usually do, I’m going to provide a list of the books, films, and TV shows that came up, with some of the commentary that accompanied each. Don’t blame me for your next Amazon/B&N/local bookstore of choice shopping spree—I only report these things.

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NASA and the Life Cycle of Science and Science Fiction

At first glance, the panel description for Thursday evening’s “NASA: Turning Science Fiction into Science Fact” seemed like a bit of a dog’s breakfast—moderated by Jay Ferguson, otherwise known as Stan from Mad Men, featuring a zippy pre-recorded video briefing from the International Space Station, and including not only NASA scientists Amber Straughn (astrophysicist at the Godard Space Flight center), Kevin Hand (astrobiologist and planetary scientist), but also Adam Nimoy (son of actor Leonard Nimoy, currently developing a documentary called For the Love of Spock about his father and his most famous character), and Adithya Sood (producer of The Martian).

How, one might wonder, was this all going to come together?

[Quite well, as it turned out.]

Filling the Westeros Gap With Tudor England

There’s only so much I can really swallow of real-world politics before it all gets so bad that not even The Daily Show makes it any better. Political fiction, though—that I can’t get enough of, and frankly, the more cynical the better. I’m a huge fan of The Thick of It, and the US House of Cards was, disturbingly enough, my happy place for the last couple of months—though fans of that show will appreciate that it was really something to watch a certain very dramatic episode of House of Cards on the same day that HBO broadcast the now-infamous “The Rains of Castamere.”

And while I definitely enjoy the dragons, ice zombies, fire magic, and prophetic visions of both the Song of Ice and Fire novels and the Game of Thrones TV show, it’s the courtly intrigue that keeps me coming back for more. Cersei Lannister’s struggles to hold on to the power that the men of the court would take from her, Daenerys’s hard-knocks school of statecraft, Tywin’s ruthlessness, Tyrion’s desperate attempts to make something of himself in service of the kingdom, the charm offensive of the Tyrells—this is what really makes the books and the show for me. That the intrigue occasionally explodes into shocking and bloody violence is, perhaps, a bonus for those for whom contemporary political drama is a bit too arid.

[No, really, hear me out.]

Memoir as Fantasy: Michael Moorcock’s The Whispering Swarm

Michael Moorcock has offered bits of autobiography here and there over the years, as in the brilliant “A Child’s Christmas in the Blitz,” and certain elements of his own life have contributed to his fiction, as with the family of David Mummery in Mother London. He’s also appeared “as himself” in his own fiction many a time. The Nomad of the Time Streams novels are presented as manuscripts that form the legacy of his grandfather, also named Michael Moorcock. He introduces The Adventures of Una Persson and Catherine Cornelius in the Twentieth Century stating that the book is drawn from “the unpublished memoirs of Miss Una Persson, the temporal adventuress,” memoirs that “exist partly in the form of notes in her own hand, partly in the form of tape-recorded interviews between myself and Miss Persson”; later, in The White Wolf’s Son, there is an interlude in which the lady pays him and his wife Linda a visit at his home in Lost Pines, Texas to fill him in on the further adventures of Elric of Melniboné. He even drags collaborator Walt Simonson into the metafictional stew in the Michael Moorcock’s Multiverse comic, making both of them players in the Game of Time.

The Whispering Swarm, the first book of his new Sanctuary of the White Friars series and Moorcock’s first new novel since the Doctor Who tie-in The Coming of the Terraphiles, is a heady blend of memoir, fantasy, history, and self-referential fiction. In a move reminiscent of his late friend J.G. Ballard’s The Kindness of Women, Moorcock presents—to borrow Ballard’s description of his own novel—a story of his life “seen through the mirror of the fiction prompted by that life.”

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Skulduggery, a Dirigible, and a Stolen Train: Gail Carriger’s Waistcoats and Weaponry

So I have a confession to make. When I read Gail Carriger’s previous Finishing School books, Etiquette and Espionage and Curtsies and Conspiracies, I hadn’t actually read the Parasol Protectorate books. On one hand, this lacuna in my library helped in that it allowed me to approach the Finishing School books as a hypothetical first-time YA reader might, without too much of the previous series to color my views—not knowing, for example, that the prototype aetherographic transmitter that everyone is so spun up about in the first book is in regular use by the time of Changeless, some few decades hence in Carriger’s world.

So—in the interim between Curtsies and Conspiracies and the new Waistcoats and Weaponry, I’ve caught myself up with the Parasol Protectorate, and it’s proved to be something of a mixed blessing in returning to the Finishing School. I appreciate certain characters more, but I also know things the characters don’t—and won’t for a while—and reading around that is unexpectedly difficult.

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William Gibson on Urbanism, Science Fiction, and Why The Peripheral Weirded Him Out

William Gibson is one of those great writers who is also a great talker; his collected interviews provide a brilliant director’s commentary on his work. In advance of the release of his new novel, The Peripheral, I talked to him by phone about London, the “raging dystopia” of rural America, urbanism and gentrification, the influences behind The Peripheral, his approach to writing science fiction, and why his own novel ended up giving him the creeps.

Spoilers for The Peripheral follow, at some length. Just so you know.

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