content by

Leah Schnelbach

Dirk Gently, Sherlock, and the Power of Consequences

As Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency returns, I wanted to take a look at season one and talk about one of the elements that made it a much more emotional viewing experience than I was expecting from a fun detective show. Shortly after the first season ended, I accidentally binged the show in its entirety. I say accidentally because I didn’t expect to love Dirk when I hit play on the pilot, but by episode three, I was so enamored with the characters that I knew I was in this one to the end.

And then I watched the most recent season of Sherlock. While I loved Sherlock—especially the first two seasons—this time I found myself comparing it Dirk Gently, and I realized why I found the later episodes of Sherlock so disappointing: like a lot of the recent rash of “troubled genius” shows, the writers of Sherlock blatantly ignore and undermine the unsexy idea that actions have consequences, that if you hurt someone you should apologize (and, y’know, mean it), and that forgiveness is a difficult gift. This is a concept that Dirk Gently, for all its silliness, fully embraces.

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The Tick Announces Return Date; Premieres Trailer; Promises More Hugs

The Tick panel was standing room only, lively, loud, with many shouts of “SPOOOON!” ricocheting around the room. The cast all clearly love working together, and the discussion was punctuated with banter and riffing between the entire cast.

I’ve rounded up a few highlights below, plus some news and a sneak preview of the second half of the season!

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“The Enemy is Fascism.” The Man in the High Castle Explores the Multiverse in Season 3 Clip and NYCC Panel

The Man in High Castle will return with a new exploration of the multiverse next year, but they’ve released a tiny, horrifying clip of the moment Obergruppenführer John Smith (Rufus Sewell) finds out that there are multiple universes. Some of the cast and crew took to the stage of New York Comic-Con to discuss the show’s themes.

Click through for panel highlights and the full clip, but be warned that the clip contains disturbing imagery of medical experimentation.

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Check Out the Hypnotic First Trailer for Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams

Amazon has released the first trailer for the upcoming Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams, and it is as promising as we hoped! The anthology show will star Bryan Cranston, Anna Paquin, Steve Buscemi, and a whole host of other luminaries. The showrunners gathered at New York Comic-Con along with actor Liam Cunningham and Isa Dick-Hackett to discuss their plans for the show.

Click through for the full trailer, plus panel highlights!

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Ta-Nehesi Coates and Jason Reynolds Talk Black Panther and Miles Morales

The Hudson Mercantile hosted the standing-room-only panel, “From Black Panther to Miles Morales: In Conversation with Ta-Nehesi Coates and Jason Reynolds” on Thursday afternoon. Coates, an author and columnist for The Atlantic whose Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet came out to acclaim last year, and Reynolds, whose novel Ghost was a National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature, and whose YA novel Miles Morales: Spider-Man hit shelves in August, discussed the history and future of T’Challa, Miles Morales, superpowers, and the importance of representation in comics and media, especially now, as our society seems ever more fraught.

I’m happy to report that over the course of the talk, a high school teacher, her students, and a librarian all received raucous applause from the speakers and the crowd during the Q&A. Click through for highlights from the panel!

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Keanu Reeves’ Love (And Cloning Tech) is Stronger than Death in Replicas!

Keanu Reeves tampers in anti-cloning regulations’ domain in his new film Replicas! The film, which looks like a cross between Johnny Mnemonic and one of John Wick’s less violent daydreams, follows a neuroscientist named William Foster, played by Reeves, who uses controversial tech to try to save his family after an accident.

Click through for the full trailer!

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Sometimes, Horror is the Only Fiction That Understands You

“I don’t trust people who look back on high school with fondness; too many of them were part of the overclass, those who were taunters instead of tauntees. […] They are also the ones most likely to suggest that books such as Carrie and The Catcher in the Rye and A Separate Peace be removed from libraries. I submit to you that these people have less interest in reducing the atmosphere of violence in schools than they may have in forgetting how badly some people—they themselves, in some cases—may have behaved while there.”

Stephen King, Vermont Library Conference’s Annual Meeting, 1999

Stephen King has a long and twisty relationship with censorship and book banning. During the 1990s, four of his books turned up on the ALA list of most banned books: Cujo at #49, Carrie at #81, The Dead Zone at #82, and Christine at #95. In 1992, a middle school in Florida pulled The Dead Zone and The Tommyknockers from their library’s shelves, prompting King to write a response in The Bangor Daily News.

King begins by speaking directly to the kids, telling them not to bother fighting, but instead to go to the local library and read the banned book.

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Wrestling with Tentacles: Cassandra Khaw and Victor LaValle Take on H.P. Lovecraft

You grow up loving Lovecraft. His stories inspire you to try writing your own weird twisty words, and then one day you come across a letter or an article that explains, in graphic detail, that Mr. Lovecraft thought you were scum. Worse than scum. And now when you look back at his stories you see that you’re not the hero, you’re not even always the villain—you’re just the OTHER. Unknowable and scarier than an eldritch god.

Victor LaValle and Cass Khaw could have rejected Lovecraft. They could have nursed their hurt, or internalized his hatred of them. Or they could take up their own twisty words and challenge him on his own turf. Luckily for us, they chose that last path. In The Ballad of Black Tom, LaValle goes up against “The Horror at Red Hook”, and in Hammers on Bone and A Song for Quiet Khaw takes on the squamous mythos as a whole, while also pulling up a chair and talking with LaValle.

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Her Body, Her Self: Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties

Carmen Maria Machado is the best writer of cognitive dysphoria I’ve read in years. While reading Her Body and Other Parties, I found myself thinking, again and again, of Shirley Jackson’s Haunting of Hill House. As Jackson’s readers are trapped in Eleanor’s crumbling personality, gradually realizing just how lost she is as the book unfurls, so Machado centers her readers in collapsing bodies and untrustworthy minds. Her collection reads like someone trying to list every possibly nuance of physical failure: plagues, environmental collapse, madness, terminal illness. She gives us woman after woman who could star in their own books. She gives us crimes of passion, and moments when passion elevates people to their highest potential. This is Machado’s first short fiction collection—she has already been a finalist for an overflowing cornucopia of awards, including the 2017 National Book Awards, the Tiptree Award, the John W. Campbell Award, and, appropriately enough, the Shirley Jackson Award. All thoughts of accolades fall away while reading her visceral writing, however—I am not a squeamish person, but there were a few points when I had to put the book down and walk away from it to escape the emotional intimacy Machado creates.

Obviously, I loved this book. And if you love intricate, weird writing, skewed fairytales, Law & Order, queerness, complex female characters, and emotionally vital writing that might cause nightmares, you will find something to love, too.

This review will contain light spoilers.

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Series: Genre in the Mainstream

We Dare You to Spend the Night with these 15 Haunted House Stories

Haunted house stories are their own special genre of horror. From moody Gothic tales of bumps in the night, to chilling, gore-filled nail-biters, They all follow a basic template: a group of people enter a house that seems a little…off. The more perceptive among them notice that something’s not right. Inexplicable occurrences pile up like books on a TBR stack, someone discovers a graveyard/occult shrine in the basement, and one by one the rest of the group begins to realize the truth. Sometimes, one or more of them disappear. Sometimes, an apparition confronts the whole group. But inevitably the haunting comes to a head during a stormy night or a full moon or a Halloween party or a seance, and no one’s life is ever the same.

And then we close the book and move on to the next house.

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Systems of Government: Anya DeNiro’s Tyrannia and Other Renditions

I was reading Anya DeNiro’s Tyrannia and Other Renditions on the train last week, and my concentration was abruptly broken by a sudden pounding noise. If you live in a city, and you’re on the train every day, a there’s a part of you that lives in perpetual dread of the day the train finally derails or explodes or just stops and never starts again, the same way that drivers dread the day the screeching, failing brakes they hear are their own, or the car behind them. But the pounding wasn’t my death kindly stopping for me—it was a police officer, who had decided to hold the door of the train car, and bang on the car’s wall, and yell, all to wake a sleeping woman.

“You can’t do that here!” He yelled this into her ear, as I and the other commuters glared at him.

The woman was silent, under a blanket. She had a bag. Maybe she was homeless, maybe she was taking a nap on the way to the airport, but either way she wasn’t disturbing anyone. Either way she looked ashamed at being put on display. She pushed the blanket down and straightened up, and we all glared at the cop some more, and he left.

I went back to reading Tyrannia. Sometimes life is a little too on-the-nose for my taste, but it’s not like I can control it.

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Enter the Vast and Beautiful World of JY Yang’s Tensorate Series!

There are so many ways to build worlds in a story. Personally, I love JY Yang’s method, which is to drop you into the story at a crucial point, and then trust you to catch up with the mechanics of the world as you read. Because Yang has a precise control of their world, it creates a wonderful feeling of expansion as you read, because you know that just around the corner characters are living their lives, completely separate from the trials of the protagonists. We learn about subterfuge and uprisings, religious rivalries and government schisms, in exactly the way the characters do: through scraps of conversation, significant glances, official memos. There are no infodumps, so you learn the world through the characters actions and reactions.

Now, having said all of that, I know that some people are more comfortable with a primer before embarking on a new fantasy world. And since the world of the Tensorate series is vast and full of wonders, there are plenty of vital facts to share.

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Stephen King’s Dark Humor Shines in His Many Cameo Roles

I love Stephen King, as a writer, as a proclaimer of the greatness of genre literature, and, maybe most of all, as a guy. He was the first author I knew who—actually, scratch that. Stephen King was the first author I knew.

I recognized the names of children’s authors, and some of the bigger pulpy adult authors that my parents read (my mother was a huge Dick Francis fan, and our house had the requisite copies of Clan of the Cave Bear and Shogun) but King was the first author I saw being interviewed on TV. He was the only author I knew who wrote introductions to his own books, and I got a real sense of him as a person form reading them. Later, when I read Danse Macabre and On Writing, I discovered that he could carry that conversational, regular-guy writing style through an entire book, and the more I write myself, the more impressed I am. I think what really came through, more so even than in his fiction, was his weird, dark sense of humor.

It is in this spirit that I present to you, oh my brothers and sisters and neithers and others, a Stephen King Movie Moment Retrospective.

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We’ll All Float On, Anyway: Stephen King’s IT

First thing first: IT is terrifying. People in my theater shrieked, gasped, applauded, hid—I think it’s one of the most reactive crowds I’ve ever been in, and it was great. And that’s all before we get to the evil clown. Bill Skarsgard takes Pennywise in even darker and more screwed up directions that Tim Curry’s over-the-top malevolence.

I’ve never wanted to see a horror movie more than once in the theater. Even if I love one, I tend to wait until Blu-ray or Netflix for repeat viewings. But IT? I want to see IT again, big, soon. It’s a great horror movie, wrapped up inside an almost-perfect coming-of-age film, and even with a couple of missteps I think it’s going to be a classic.

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Upping the Stakes of the Haunted House Story: David Mitchell’s Slade House

There is entirely too much David Mitchell on my TBR Stack. On the one hand, I want to devour every book he’s written. On the other hand, I don’t want to read them all until I know when his next one is coming out.

…I’ll admit this is a good problem to have. David Mitchell has written seven novels, all parts of a grander “über-novel” that I’ll talk about a little more below the cut. Since I’ve been on a haunted house kick I decided to dive into his latest book, Slade House, but belatedly realized it’s really a sequel to The Bone Clocks. I decided to try reading them in reverse order, to see how that affected my experience, and I’m happy to say I can recommend my method. I’ll talk about both books a bit, focusing on Slade House, and trying not to spoil either.

[[they might be unspoilable, actually…]]