THE HOLIDAYS IN SPACE

We made it! Christmas Day has come and gone here in the States, and as the Holiday season wraps up, we wondered: how did people around the world spend their holidays?

And because we’re a speculative blog, that question in turn led us to wondering: how did people not on this world spend their holidays?!

So, a-searchin’ for answers we went, and we found some fun facts about how Christmas is celebrated in Outer Space …

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5 ‘NOT SO MERRY’ CHRISTMAS MYTHS

Most of us have heard of, or are at least somewhat familiar with, the story of Santa Claus.

Popular in the US, Old Saint Nick is a jolly, red-suited fellow who’s belly shakes like a bowl full of jelly when he laughs, and on Christmas Eve night, flies around in a sleigh pulled by magic reindeer, eating cookies and delivering gifts to the children of the world. For the children on his naughty list, however, nothing in their stockings but fat lumps of coal.

For all the gift giving and magic flying, there are darker sides to this popular holiday figure.

In some parts of the world, dark creatures come out in the winter—some hungry, some mischievous—and some ‘not so merry’ myths that give new meaning to the word ‘sleigh’ …

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Spec Fic Comic Book Review: Cold Iron Issues 1-3

It’s been a while since our last comic book review, so this time we’re tackling something a bit newer. 

Cold Iron is a Comixology original from a great team of artists and writers. This “supernatural thriller” had its first issue hit shelves in May of this year, and it was followed up by issues two and three soon after. 

While this genre is something that’s pretty over-saturated, from TV shows to novels, Cold Iron was a quick, fun read. Let’s dive a bit deeper. 

Cold Iron Background

Like we mentioned, Cold Iron had a star-lineup working hard to get this comic book out on the market. 

The writer Andy Diggle has gained some renown in the comic book scene with his work on The Green Arrow and Hellblazer. And the artist, Nick Brokenshire, has worked on all kinds of projects, including Star Wars and The Once and Future Queen. Diggle and Brokenshire have been friends for a long time and worked on projects in the past, but Cold Iron was a labor of love for both of them. 

Diggle revealed the history of his interest in Celtic and faery stories in a press release from Comixology. “The Isle of Man is a magical place, and holds a very special place in my family’s heart. From neolithic burial sites to Celtic stone circles and Viking castles, the island carries a sense of the ancient in its very bones. I learned at an early age that it’s always considered advisable to acknowledge the Other Folk when crossing the Fairy Bridge on the Port Erin to Douglas road.”

So there’s obviously a personal connection to the lore and story of Cold Iron, and it shows. The story, which is only a 4-issue limited release, is full of rich history and ancient beings. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t know it was only a 4-issue story arc until I started writing this blog. There seemed like so much more that could come after issue 3! 

cold iron issue 1

Hold Your Horseshoe Tight

Cold Iron takes place on the Isle of Man, as you might have guessed, and it follows Kay, a young woman who dreams of being a world-renowned musician. Her boyfriend wants her to work at a local restaurant, but Kay’s feisty and defiant, and wants to forge her own path. 

All that changes when Kay encounters Mona, a young girl stranded in the countryside, who is seemingly from another time. Thus kicks off the wild, scary journey through the woods back to town, where Kay and Mona run into a goat-headed man, the stuff of legend. 

Mona is apparently the bride of an ancient Celtic king who resides on the “Other Side”, and she’s managed to escape into our modern world. As such, the devious creatures of the Other Side inveigle and trick, trying to bring her back to the king. But that’ll only happen over Kay’s dead body. 

Kay’s world goes sideways after that first encounter with the supernatural, and her dreams of being a famous songwriter seem all but distant as her grandmother helps her load cold iron into shotgun shells and keeps the horseshoe close. 

Verdict

Andy Diggle and Nick Brokenshire had very little space to create their world, but they still succeeded in fleshing out the setting and conflict within a few short issues. While the Celtic lore and fae mythology is a pretty popular subject for supernatural or paranormal stories, Cold Iron doesn’t seem like a copycat or contrived in any way. 

The story and the art work together to create both an idyllic, pastoral place, and a dark, creepy island of ancient myths. While reading the first few issues, there were times I felt chills, which is a hard thing to accomplish in the New Jersey summer heat. 

Despite the interesting story and unique take on the ancient faery-world trope, I definitely felt like there wasn’t enough Cold Iron. I was expecting at least a 6-issue run, but the 4-issue release is just a taste of what could have been done. 

I hope that in the future, Diggle and Brokenshire get to continue telling stories in this world, which feels like a combination of the Folklords and Monstress. I’d rate Cold Iron as a 8/10. It’s fun, easy to read, and unique. But, it’s too short, and I felt like some of the conflicts needed more time to develop. 

But, I’m interested to read the last installment, which should be out within the next week or two. You can read Cold Iron on paper from Dark Horse comics, or you can read the digital version on Comixology. 

Can NFTs Deconstruct Big Media?

Every once in a while I come across some fortuitous intersection of topics I’m researching that really proves that the universe is listening. 

A while ago, I wrote a review for the 2018 sci-fi movie Prospect, which appeared on Netflix. It was a fairly good movie with a simple premise and interesting characters. Not the best sci-fi movie out there, but a good one nevertheless. 

I hadn’t seen or heard anything about Prospect since I’d done some research on it for that review, but the other day I came across this article about the Prospect filmmakers and NFTs

Seeing as how we’ve talked about NFTs and how they apply to science fiction on Signals from the Edge before, I figured this topic deserved further investigation. 

Understanding The Fringe

So the universe in which the Prospect film lives is called The Fringe, and it’s a collaborative universe created by Zeek Earl and Chris Caldwell. 

After watching the Prospect movie–which is a far-future sci-fi movie about illegal space miners and bandits–I didn’t initially learn anything about The Fringe. 

However, after reading a few articles in the past day or so, I’ve come to see that The Fringe is much more than just an “umbrella universe” for Prospect. 

The Fringe instead is a franchise, much like Star Wars, Star Trek, or The Expanse, and Prospect was only one project in a realm of hundreds of possibilities. 

And how do Caldwell and Earl plan on funding The Fringe? With NFTs, that’s how. 

Using NFTs to Fund Art

The Fringe creators collaborated with the TAKA Artist Collective to create around 10,000 unique NFT collectibles called Drifters. The sale of these NFTs will fund The Fringe’s next project, which is another feature film. 

The allure of owning a Fringe NFT is pretty powerful. In addition to some benefits like a community Discord server and the ability to win super rare NFTs, Drifter owners have a say in the creation of new, in-franchise stories. 

nfts the fringe
A selection of Drifter NFTs, as shown on their website

For example, Drifter owners will be able to compete in various challenges to have their NFT character featured in the first film project, and have individual short-form content made about them later on in the franchise. 

As someone who loves seeing Easter Eggs and throwbacks in film and media, this is a pretty compelling opportunity. Not only will you own an NFT that grants you access to the community behind-the-scenes, but you could also become part of the cinematic universe!

Why Use NFTs?

Some of you might be thinking, “Why would the Prospect duo use NFTs to fund their projects?” After all, their first film did well-enough, they could partner with larger film companies for funding or take on more investors. 

But, as Caldwell and Earl expressed, “The dream is to keep The Fringe with the fans and out of the hands of Disney and the like.” And NFT sales allows them to tap into the community of fans, but to remain independent from media moguls. 

And for people who are gradually getting frustrated with the massive money-making machines behind Star Wars and other popular franchises, the appeal of a crowdfunded franchise is hard to pass up. 

NFTs not only act as a means for making money, however, they’re also a powerful marketing tool. I for one would love to get in on a project like this early, and have a chance to have my ideas heard. That might be one of the primary selling points for the NFTs, aside from any monetary reward you gain from selling it down the line. 

Of course, NFTs aren’t a perfect solution to ending the big media overlords. They’re powered by the Ethereum blockchain, which, as I’ve talked about before, isn’t the most environmentally friendly. If NFT-funded franchise projects become the norm, what will that do to the environment? Rampant energy use is a big problem right now, and NFTs, if unchecked or unmodified, can drastically worsen the problem. 

But, Caldwell and Earl state that they aim to make the process as carbon neutral as possible, and hopefully other creators enact the same protocols. 

Honestly, The Fringe is a project that has a lot of potential, and is already gearing up to be an alternative to mainstream media. Hopefully that’s a sign that independent artists and communities of artists can start to take back some of the power from the Disney’s of the world. That way, we can start to see content that’s not just designed to make money, but to tell a story and have a purpose. 

The Obi-Wan Kenobi Series is Format Star Wars

Now that Disney’s largely in charge of the Star Wars franchise, we’ve seen a lot more content hitting Disney+. In the past few years, we’ve had a few animated shows, The Book of Boba Fett, The Mandalorian, and now, we have Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Again, the Star Wars team is sticking to their guns, relying on the popularity of their big-shot characters to carry their shows instead of exploring a story outside of the Skywalker saga.

That being said, the first half of the Obi-Wan Kenobi series isn’t bad—it’s just ordinary.

(Spoilers ahead for Parts I – III of Obi-Wan Kenobi).

Summing Up The Obi-Wan Kenobi Series

The Obi-Wan Kenobi show takes place ten years after the events of The Revenge of the Sith, with Ewan McGregor’s Ben Kenobi hiding out on Tattoine. Ben works a normal job at a meat factory-thing, taking occasional trips to watch over Luke on Owen’s farm.

The Imperial Inquisitors turn up on Tattoine looking for Jedi, and the fall onto Ben’s trail. From there, Ben manages to escape Tattoine, continuing on a journey to find a young Princess Leia, who was captured from the palace grounds on Alderaan.

Ben’s movements catch the attention of the Grand Inquisitor, and later, Darth Vader. On Mapuzo, another desert-like planet, Vader catches up with Ben, and they have a very on-sided duel, which almost ends in Ben’s demise.

Did We Need An Obi-Wan Kenobi TV Series?

I find myself asking these questions a lot: “Did we need this show? What does it add to the universe?”

For example, when watching Moon Knight, I asked that question, but largely I decided that Moon Knight was a necessary show, and it added some variation to the MCU.

But, after watching the first three episodes of the Obi-Wan Kenobi series, I felt like I honestly couldn’t come up with an answer for those two questions.

And here’s why.

The Star Wars timeline places many of the TV shows and one-shot films between the large cinematic movies. The era when Obi-Wan Kenobi takes place is between The Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope.

But Obi-Wan Kenobi isn’t the only treat situated between the prequel films and the original trilogy. Nope, this is the area that Star Wars overloaded.

Between TRotS and ANH, we have Solo, Rogue One, Star Wars Rebels, and The Bad Batch. That’s a lot of screentime for the same era, and honestly, I think this period in Star Wars has been beaten to death. We know the Empire’s bad, we know people are still struggling with the fallout of Order 66 and looking for revenge and all that. I don’t think there’s much else to riff off in this section of Star Wars, but they continue to do so.

obi wan kenobi series

The Future Is Already Written

Another problem that I have with shows like Obi-Wan Kenobi is that as much as the series might try to create urgency, drama, or a cliffhanger, it just falls flat, at least for me.

And it falls flat because I already know what’s going to happen.

For example, in Obi-Wan Kenobi, Princess Leia gets captured and her life is in danger. But not really, because we know she lives on for at least another 60 or 70 years.

Obi-Wan struggles in a battle against Darth Vader, and the tensions are high! Well, not really. We know Obi-Wan survives (as does Vader), and they’ll resume their fight in A New Hope.

If I were a new viewer, and I had started at the very beginning of the Star Wars cinematic timeline, and Obi-Wan Kenobi was a follow-up to The Revenge of the Sith (without me having any knowledge of the future movies), I’d say it’s pretty enjoyable.

You still have cool alien characters, new places to explore, politics between peoples, and classic Star Wars stormtroopers. It’s an entertaining show, and I think it might add some value for people just getting into Star Wars.

But, as a long-time viewer, the Obi-Wan Kenobi TV series is blatantly format. Pitting a beloved, outcasted hero against an infamous villain in the vein of the original Star Wars trilogy, but without the high stakes. It’s interesting, but unremarkable.

Why “Pusher” Is The Best X-Files Episode

The X-Files is filled with great episodes, and after nine seasons (and two reboot seasons), it’s hard to pick-and-choose.

However, one episode stands out above the rest as the best X-Files episode, and that’s “Pusher”, episode 17 of season 3.

Because of its intense cloak-and-dagger plot and the uniqueness of the villain, “Pusher” has to be my favorite episode of X-Files, ranking even higher than this episode.

But there’s a lot more to it than that. Let’s get into it:

The Plot of “Pusher”

The episode kicks off with Robert Patrick Modell shuffling through a grocery store, while being tailed by FBI agents. He eventually blows their cover and is arrested for a series of murders dating back to 1994.

While in the back of the squad car, Modell, known as Pusher, uses his psychic ability to make the officer driving the car pull out in front of a speeding 18-wheeler.

As the episode progresses, Modell uses his abilities to influence a federal judge into ruling in his favor, sneak into the FBI headquarters, and prompt a secretary to assault Assistant Director Skinner. Plus, he urges a SWAT officer to set himself on fire and induces a heart attack in the lead detective on the case.

The whole episode is about Modell trying to find a worthy adversary for his games, which ends up being Fox Mulder. As Mulder and Scully start to unravel Modell’s history, they find that he has a brain tumor that has likely triggered his psychic ability.

At the end of the episode, Modell forces Mulder into a game of Russian Roulette, but when Scully pulls a fire alarm to break Modell’s concentration, Mulder shoots Modell and he’s apprehended.

Reception

“Pusher” is one of the highest rated episodes of X-Files, having made multiple lists of the best episodes. IGN ranked it the third best standalone episode, and Den of Geek puts it at number seven.

When it aired, the episode received rave reviews, and raked in over 16.2 million viewers.

It’s understandable why so many people like “Pusher”, as it certainly stands as one of the best Monster-of-the-Week episodes, even after the famous Eugene Toomes episode in season 1.

But there’s more going on in “Pusher” than a lot of people realize.

What Makes “Pusher” The Best X-Files Episode?

Up to this point in X-Files, we’ve seen monsters like Eugene Toomes, who is driven purely by his physical need to feast on the human body. Other monsters are driven by similar urges, few of which exhibit the inherently sinister nature of Patrick Modell.

By the end of the show, Mulder and Scully discover that Modell’s brain tumor developed in 1994, and remained operable for two years. However, Modell refused surgery, instead using his newfound psychic powers to wreak havoc on his community.

This dynamic solidifies a theme that Chris Carter and other writers of the show played with throughout the first few seasons, and that’s the mundane nature of evil.

Modell wasn’t a bad guy before the tumor. He was ordinary in every sense, and never managed to excel past a minimum wage job. He failed to pass the psych evaluation to become an FBI agent, and was deemed to be a narcissist in the same evaluation.

The only thing that set him apart from every other lower-class worker was his haunting ability to influence other people into hurting themselves, and he decided that instead of live out the rest of his life deep in medical debt, he’d rather, as Mulder puts it, “go out in a blaze of glory”.

In many ways, Pusher felt that he rose above the societal and class restrictions that kept him as a supermarket employee with his new powers. He described himself as a ronin, a masterless samurai. A lone ranger, or more aptly, a wolf without a pack. He carves out a new life, one of shadows and blood, as a contract killer.

This is why “Pusher” is the pinnacle of X-Files‘ societal commentary.

For many people, the corporate, governmental, and medical powers that be are the prime culprits of their misfortune. Low wages, bad housing, expensive medical treatments, and lack of mental health assistance make it difficult to rise out of the lower class of American society. Even today, we still see the same problems.

And for these people struggling to get by, sometimes their only option is to turn to darker channels: drugs, theft, fraud, and for Modell, mercenary work.

In the end, Mulder and Scully claim that Modell is just a little man who wants to feel big. I feel like their conclusion is true, but far from the whole truth. I think there were multiple factors that lead Modell to his ultimate breaking point, and the eventual murder of authority figures—police officers, doctors, security guards, and detectives.

Perhaps the conclusion should not have been “he wants to feel big”, but rather, “he’s the evil we made.” Sure, Modell made his own choices, but the tumor that brought him his abilities was perhaps one of the best things to happen to him in his life, which is sad. Could Pusher have been avoided if Modell had access to mental health treatment? Affordable healthcare? Opportunities to climb the social ladder?

What Can We Expect From Russian Doll Season 2?

I just finished watching the first season of Russian Doll, and I have to say, it was a wild ride. Natasha Lyonne’s performance was spectacular, and the slow burn style of the series left me with questions all the way up to the last episode.

But we have Russian Doll season 2 coming out today, so here’s a break down of what happened in the first season and what to expect with the second season.

The Road So Far…

If you haven’t seen the first season of Russian Doll, there will be some spoilers in this article, so you can skip to the section “Russian Doll Season 2 Preview”.

In the first season of Russian doll, we ‘re thrust into a weird, mind-bending, time-altering jaunt that gives a new take on the Groundhog Day repetition sequence. Natasha Lyonne’s character, Nadia, attends a birthday party thrown for her, and at one point dies, only to wake up in the bathroom back at the party. This scene, no matter how many times it’s shown, never gets old.

For a few episodes, Nadia navigates through repeated deaths, each time getting farther from the bathroom at the party, venturing out to look for her cat, get a haircut from a homeless man, and visit the deli around the block.

There, she meets Alan, another person stuck in the death loop. The two team up and start to puzzle out what’s happening to them. Their relationship has a great dynamic, with Nadia’s brusque, offhand pessimism, and Alan’s quiet, demeanor.

Eventually, they realize that to get out of their constant loop, they have to right a series of wrongs they committed in the past. For Nadia, it’s meeting her ex-husband’s daughter, and for Alan, it’s being honest with his girlfriend about their relationship.

Despite the repetitious nature of the dying-waking up-and-dying-again sequences, the show never gets stale. Unlike some other shows that play with time, Russian Doll is hard to predict. Even moments away from the end credits, it’s hard to discern what will happen next, and that’s what I like about the show.

Nadia’s gradual descent into frustration is parallel with the overarching themes of past wrongs, both personal and global. The intense symbolism and dramatic elements highlight societal struggles while also maintaining their place as visual aspects of the series.

If I had to rate Russian Doll, I’d give it a 10, hands down, so that gives me high hopes for the second season.

Russian Doll Season 2 Preview.

A while ago there was a teaser for Russian Doll season 2, but only recently did we get to see a full trailer. And as you can see for yourself, it’s even more trippy than its predecessor.

While looking deeper into the second season of Russian Doll, I learned that Natasha Lyonne not only plays Nadia, but is also the showrunner. Working on the series has been, as Lyonne describes, “the happiest I’ve been in my life,” in an interview with Indie Wire.

In the same interview, Lyonne sheds some light on the focus of Russian Doll’s second season. She says that the show becomes about Nadia reckoning with her European heritage. In real life, like in the show, Lyonne’s grandparents were Hungarian Holocaust survivors, and she’s wrestling with questions of history and trauma.

She says, “How is historical, familial, epigenetic trauma present with us in the room even when you’re…you know, whatever, like, telling some guy you’re not ready for a relationship.” We’ve already seen some of this reflected in Nadia’s character in the first season, but Lyonne has made it a primary focus of the second season.

From the trailer, we see that the characters embark on yet another time-warping journey, this time on a train. Trains have long been a staple of mystery and time-travel fiction, and it’s another trope that Lyonne is playing on here, much like her Groundhog Day inspirations in the first series.

I’m certainly looking forward to see what Lyonne has in store for Nadia and Alan as they traverse the blowback of their traumatic first season.

The first episode of Russian Doll season 2 premieres today, April 20th on Netflix.

If you liked this article, consider checking out some of our other content on SFF TV shows, movies, and books. And if you’re a science fiction fan, consider subscribing to the Galaxy’s Edge magazine, which brings you short fiction from new and established authors alike, as well as poignant interviews and book reviews.

Rereading “Shattered Sidewalks of the Human Heart” by Sam J. Miller

I’m a big fan of Sam J. Miller’s work, particularly his short stories. They’re always poignant and something I find myself coming back to read more than once.

One story I really love is “Making Us Monsters”, which Miller co-wrote with Lara Elena Donnelly for Uncanny Magazine in 2017. It’s a heart-wrenching novelette about Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon during WWI, and is definitely worth a read.

However, a story I’ve come back to more than a few times is “Shattered Sidewalks of the Human Heart” which appeared in Clarkesworld Magazine in 2019. And I’d like to try and uncover why.

Some Context

“Shattered Sidewalks of the Human Heart” made its appearance in Clarkesworld Magazine’s 154 issue, and was later included in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror.

The story takes place in New York City in the 1930s, and in this reality, King Kong is real. Or, was real.

The events and characters of the 1933 film King Kong are all factual and real in this world, running alongside the actual history of German aggression in Poland and the Great Depression in the US.

Aside from the fact that Kong was real—having climbed the Empire State Building, been shot, fallen, and died—the rest of the world is very similar to our own. The story revolves around the change in mindset of the American people after Kong’s death, and Miller contrasts that with the horrible history of the Third Reich across the Atlantic.

Why the Story Is So Compelling

The story starts with Solomon the taxi driver picking up Ann Darrow on a Friday night in downtown New York. This is the same Ann Darrow that ventures to Skull Island and befriends Kong. The same Ann Darrow who was in Kong’s grasp as he climbed the Empire State building.

We quickly become acquainted with the two characters. Solomon is a liminal space, as a Jew and a homosexual in the 1930s, and Darrow is disillusioned by all that surrounds her.

And right out of the gate, Miller makes it clear that there’s a connection between the American collective, Kong’s death, and the rise of fascism in Europe, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Part of the reason I like this story so much is because it’s complex. On the surface, it’s might seem like it’s just a new take on a movie from a long time ago. But underneath, Miller really hints at the American mindset and succeeds in characterizing New York City in a way I’ve never seen done before.

Sure, we’ve all seen the movies where the gruff New Yorkers come together to defend their city or something like that, but in the wake of Kong’s demise, Miller’s New Yorkers release a collective wail.

At one point, Solomon thinks, “Which one of us wasn’t Kong, a king among ants even as they destroyed us?” Living in the Depression, embedded in a broken system, really solidified the togetherness of these people, and when an event like Kong took place, it solidified the community.

But in the same sense, Kong’s death and the subsequent events solidified both Solomon and Darrow’s hatred for the city.

1933 king kong movie

A Love/Hate Relationship

There’s a lot of polarizing emotions going on in this story. Solomon pinpoints the feeling when he agrees with Darrow about hating New York, but follows up by saying “even if I also love it.”

On the one side of the spectrum, people changed their ways after Kong’s death. A large portion of the population became vegetarians after Kong’s death and animal abuse legislation was fast-tracked. But at the same time, people “changed in bad ways too.” City officials refused to reimburse anyone for property damage caused by Kong and the new wave of vegetarianism put slaughterhouse employees out of work.

Toss that on top of the Depression era suffering, the whole scenario was a wash in emotions. Kong’s plight was in many ways representative of the millions of people who felt cheated and forgotten by the powers that be. And Kong’s death was yet another example of how the “rich men fucked up.”

But, in classic Miller style, it’s more than just a love/hate relationship with the city. Solomon and Darrow both run through the gamut of emotions.

Darrow, a once popular actress, was no longer able to put up with the glitz, glamour, or shallow nature of the New York elite. And Solomon, shunned in so many ways, sees himself as a monster and an outcast without a voice. His three grandparents are still in Poland, hiding from Hitler’s Nazi invasion while America stands by and watches.

I’m not really sure how I can express what all these things do when they’re pulled together on the same page. The parallelism between Kong, the city, and the dynamic between Solomon and Darrow all work together in a unique way. It’s eerie, and I’m still going to keep reading this story until I can pinpoint exactly what it is that makes it so interesting.

Conclusion

But what I do know is that today, more than ever, this story speaks out.

The fact that New Yorkers—well, most of them—can come together over this “act of God”, and see Kong as more than just a giant monster seems almost shallow compared to the genuine plea for help from Jews in Poland.

What does it take for Americans to join together and make a difference? Sure, animal rights are important, but why couldn’t they recognize that there were more important things to deal with across the ocean?

And the same goes for today. I look at the news and I think about the situation in Ukraine. What must happen for us to stand up and demand action? Must another King Kong climb the Empire State Building and be shot out of the sky for us to do something?

This is not so much a political question as it is a question over American ideals. What compels us to fight for certain things over others that seem far more pressing? Perhaps reading “Shattered Sidewalks of the Human Heart” again will give me a better idea.