End-Stage Capitalism in Blackfish City

A lot of science fiction novels explore futures where economic and political ideologies reach their breaking point. The speculation is “what comes next?”

Few stories, though, dive as deeply into the intricate workings of the collapse. We’re talking the moment the system no longer works, the turning point.

Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller, published in 2018, is a perfect example of end-stage capitalism. It follows the progression of dissent among the citizens of Qaanaaq city, and ends with a blowout of a conclusion.

(Spoilers ahead for most of Blackfish City).

The Problems of Qaanaaq

In Blackfish City, the Earth as we know it has severely changed. Most established nations have fallen into chaos, and rising floodwaters have claimed many previously-inhabitable places. The story takes place on Qaanaaq, a floating city in the Artic. The city is powered by a geothermal vent deep under the water, which provides an endless supply of heat, and rotating screens protect the city from harsh winds.

Divided up into eight different Arms, Qaanaaq is a perfect example of class-structure. The poor—refugees, the sick, laborers—are forced to live packed into filthy houseboats or cramped apartments. The rich elite can afford lavish apartments and luxuries like real coffee instead of algae-grown substitutes.

Qaanaaq’s political and municipal systems are a bit murkier. Shareholders and landlords control the vast majority of the city’s workings. They leverage hidden apartments to raise rent and manipulate the poor. Municipal AI systems run the day-to-day of the city, and many consider them impartial governors, but they were built by the shareholders for their own purposes.

Crime syndicates have as much legitimacy as landlords, with some mob bosses being more magnanimous than their “lawful” counterparts.

Overall, Qaanaaq is an example of what happens when capitalism goes unchecked. There aren’t agencies or government officials who oversee landlords or corporations, so profiteering runs rampant, at the expense of the working class.

A Commentary on Capitalism

It’s clear that Miller’s Qaanaaq is a take on capitalist greed, with property politics at the forefront of the conversation. Being a landlord is a very profitable endeavor in our current system, and it’s largely unregulated. Rent rates can rise on a whim, maintenance isn’t overseen by a governing body, and the difference between a roof over your head or homelessness is up to the landlord’s digression.

Soq, one of the main characters in Blackfish City, comes to the realization near the end of the novel that “being a landlord was the biggest racket in town, in every town, in every city, across history.” And that sentiment is the culmination of 300 pages of strife for all the characters, struggling in different capacities against the system.

In the same scene, Soq also pieces together that their mother, a feared crime boss, isn’t that different than the evil shareholder she’s fighting against. While Go—Soq’s mother—might provide stability for wayward refugees and Qaanaaq’s lower class, her drive for more will end up hurting the very people she aims to protect.

Soq poses the question: “How would Go be different from Podlove (the shareholder), from every other rich and powerful player who sucked the blood of the poor, made them pay until they couldn’t pay anymore and then pushed them into the sea to sink? Soq doubted there’d be any difference at all.”

And that is the pinnacle problem that we ourselves are experiencing today. The people we hold in high regard—our government officials, spokespeople, corporate leaders, captains of industry—they’re all easily replaceable, but will their successors be any different?

It’s not a question of morals, personality, or individual willpower, it’s a consequence of money, greed, and power. Money, as Miller tells us, “is a mind, the oldest artificial intelligence. Its prime directives are simple, its programming endlessly creative. Humans obey it unthinkingly, with cheerful alacrity. Like a virus, it doesn’t care if it kills its host.”

Even the most well-intentioned person can turn sour when they get a taste of money and power, and that’s ultimately why Soq kills Go. Not because Go abandoned them at birth and left them to grow up on the streets, but because Soq saw down the line what Go would become. In the critical moment, Soq choose the good of Qaanaaq city over any kind of familial obligation they might have had.

And that violence, as calculated as it was, is not the mark of capitalism. It’s not matricide, or an act for power. It was a move for the benefit of the people.

What Comes Next?

After the final break down of Qaanaaq’s AI infrastructure, Go’s demise, and Podlove’s dethroning, there is a vacuum of power. While Miller doesn’t show us what comes after the end-stage capitalist free-for-all that was Qaanaaq, we get an inkling.

Soq has always dreamed of running things, of being a big shot, and they have a chance now to get a head of the game. They plan on recruiting Go’s people, and positioning themselves in a seat of authority.

I was a bit disappointed in this ending, to be perfectly honest. Soq feels responsible for the outcomes of their actions, sure, but the “play for power” and “claim to the throne” language they use makes it feel like a shadow of Go. Soq killed Go because they saw what she would become, but what will Soq become? How can they be trusted to take control and not become poisoned by the same money and greed that ended Go?

Despite the massive upheaval, it feels like a return to the status quo, which isn’t what I wanted to see at the end of Blackfish City.

But how do you think the story should have ended? Let us know in the comments below!

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?

Sci Fi Comic Book Review: Star Wars: Doctor Aphra Vol. 1

Personally, the most interesting Star Wars content doesn’t come in the form of a movie, TV show, or video game.

Peak Star Wars is the comic books. That’s right, the comics.

Specifically, Doctor Aphra. She’s such a neat character, and one that really can’t be captured fully on the big screen. If you’ve never read a Star Wars comic book before, then you’re in for a treat with Doctor Aphra vol. 1!

Some Background

Chelli Lona Aphra is an archaeologist/treasure-thief with a shoot-first, ask questions later mentality. Doctor Aphra’s first appearance was in the third issue of the Darth Vader comic book series in 2015. In that story, she worked for Vader as a rogue recruiter until he attempts to kill her. Aphra manages to escape, but has to remain undercover because the Empire thinks she is dead.

She appeared throughout various Star Wars comics until she got her own series in 2016, the Doctor Aphra series we’re looking at today.

Doctor Aphra vol. 1 was written by the character’s creator, Kieron Gillen, and was illustrated by Salvador Larroca. Gillen is well-known for his work in the video game community, as well as for working on Uncanny X-Men, and Young Avengers.

Larroca is kind of a veteran when it comes to comic book art. He’s worked on Ghost Rider, Iron Man, Ultimate Elektra, and a number of different X-Men comic books. His detailed style along with Gillen’s character-driven storytelling make Doctor Aphra a perfect fit for the Star Wars universe.

Under Gillen and Larroca, Doctor Aphra ran for three volumes, and was picked up by writer Simon Spurrier and various artists for another four volumes. The series ended in 2019, but was picked up again in 2020 under Alyssa Wong and Marika Cresta for another 5 volumes, the tail-end of which has yet to be released.

About the Characters

One of the best parts about Star Wars has to be their characters. While they tend to lean toward certain character archetypes—the rogue, the stout Imperial, the idealist, etc. –they make up for it with giving the characters unique quirks and memorable traits.

Doctor Aphra, for example, has the grit and guile of Han Solo, but she’s far less noble. Her interests are always centered around personal gain, and her morals are much more pliable than those of the classic Star Wars heroes.

Aphra’s often accompanied by her two assassin droids –000 (also known as Trip or Triple Zero) and BT-1—as well as the gladiator Wookie, Black Krrsantan, who also appears in The Book of Boba Fett TV show.

These four, along with a Aphra’s father, Korin, and a few other recurring characters, make up the crew of the Ark Angel II.

As usual, the combination of characters revolves around a human—Aphra—but the story isn’t hindered by the focus on human characters. While Krrsantan doesn’t get as much recognition in the first volume as I think he should, generally the whole thing is very balanced.

Doctor Aphra Vol. 1 – The Story

If you’re a fan of pre-Republic Jedi history and an intense race against Imperial forces, then Doctor Aphra is the comic book for you.

The story starts off directly after Vader attempts to murder Doctor Aphra, and she’s laying low from Imperial Stormtroopers. After a brief encounter with a loan-shark, Aphra attempts to sell the newest relic she’s stolen for enough money to pay back her debts.

Little does she know; her doctorate has been revoked and her credibility as an archaeologist is ruined. At that moment, her estranged father shows up and asks Aphra and her crew to go on a quest of the Ordu Aspectu, a faction of the Jedi order that died out long before the Galactic Civil War.

Doctor Aphra begrudgingly agrees to help her father, but little does she know that there are life-changing things in store for her and her crew.

The Verdict

As far as Star Wars stories go, I felt this one was simple, but with enough complex elements and emotional encounters to make it worthwhile.

Not everyone reads comic books hoping to get life advice or timely wisdom, but Doctor Aphra vol. 1 is a powerful lesson of duty, forgiveness, and loyalty.

Overall, I give the first volume an 8/10. The characters are fun and quirky, and the story is neat and fast-paced. There were times when I felt I was being bombarded with irrelevant lore about the old Jedi and the Ordu Aspectu, but it wasn’t terrible.

I look forward to seeing how Gillen’s Doctor Aphra different from the later version written by Spurrier and Wong.

If you like this comic book review, check out some of our others below!

Galaxy’s Edge Book Review Roundup: April 2022

In the March/April 2022 issue of Galaxy’s Edge Magazine (which you can read or buy here), there are stories by Harry Turtledove, Mike Resnick, Tai Yi, Torion Oey, Katharine Kerr, and more. Plus, Jean Marie Ward finishes up Part 2 of her interview with John Scalzi, talking about his new book, The Kaiju Preservation Society.

And as always, we have a selection of insightful science fiction and fantasy book reviews from Robert Chwedyk.

In this issue, he takes a look at:

  • Sweep of Stars by Maurice Broaddus
  • Star Eater by Kerstin Hall
  • Destroyer of Light by Jennifer Marie Brissett
  • The Reinvented Heart edited by Cat Rambo and Jennifer Brozek

Sweep of Stars by Maurice Broaddus

I’ve been waiting for this book for a while. I’m familiar with some of Broaddus’s other writings and was excited to see what he would do with a now-familiar form like a science fiction epic trilogy. I am not disappointed.

The beginning has the now-common lists of characters and time line that you’re going to skip back to later but you have no time for now. You want to see how the novel opens and if it will compel you to keep reading until you reach the final page:

Your name is Leah Adisa. For now.

Choosing a name for yourself is not something to be entered into lightly. It is a promise you make to the universe. Or it to you. A name is the story of yourself you present to the world, a label to define you. That is the entire point of the Naming Ceremony: you are finally of age to interpret yourself and into the Muungano community as a full free member.

The paragraphs that follow continue to orient you to a world you’ve not encountered in a novel before: the African-based hegemony (of sorts) of the Muungano people, which extends from Earth to Titan, and a little further to a mining colony named Oyigiyigi. We may be familiar with spacefaring empires extending to the outer planets, but we’ve usually seen them from a Western perspective, a sort of continuation of “American” middle-class culture, or how Octavia Butler once put it, “The same as now, only more so.” In this novel, we’re not just discovering new worlds but old worlds seen in new ways, from a new perspective. We’re discovering what, for we readers, is a whole new culture.

It’s not as if this hasn’t been attempted before, but Broaddus seems to have found the right angle or point of view from which to address we readers that neither frustrates us with opaque “strangeness” or presumes we are simpletons who need every little detail explained. The result is a clarity of narrative that is truly splendid.

sweep of stars

And that narrative is…complex. To say the least. You expect that in a trilogy. But that same angle or point of view, or better still, that voice, never leaves you confused as it shifts from setting to setting and person to person.

And I was intensely impressed with Broaddus’s focus upon his people. He has great insight into human concerns, their desires and needs, how they express them and how they attempt to conceal them. Some authors of this sort of work become so overwhelmed by their own world building, they can only manage to “populate” their novels. With Sweep of Stars, one gets the feeling this story began with the people. The world came later, or simultaneously, so the human scale is never lost.

Sweep of Stars exercises the best traditions of science fiction while providing new perspectives and redefining the expectations we place upon such works. Some readers may find it rough going, but I encourage them to stay with it. On rare occasions, even for science fiction readers, one encounters a book that truly changes the way one sees the world, yesterday, today and most certainly tomorrow. I believe this is one of them.

Star Eater by Kerstin Hall

Fantasy readers, I can guarantee you have never read a novel like this. I can extend that guarantee to everyone else who may be curious. The borders between fantasy, science fiction, and horror are here either discarded or ignored. And to you aspiring writers out there: remember all those things your esteemed writing teachers said you can never get away with? Well, Kerstin Hall gets away with most of them. Honestly, I don’t know how. I suspect she does it through a modicum of chutzpah and a great deal of skill.

Something about this novel reminded me of one of those profound pronouncements Marlow makes in Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”: about “The fascination of the abomination.” But not in a bad way. I will add, though, that some other reviewers have added trigger warnings to their comments, and they can be justified. There are some really rough scenes in here. Be warned.

star eater

But…what can be expected from a novel where, if someone were to ask you what it was about, you’d say something like, “Well, it takes place in a city that’s elevated over the world, because on the surface all the men have become zombies. In the city, there’s a sisterhood that acquires magic through cannibalism, and once they have it the magic is manifested in lace. Literally, lace. And that’s just the background for some really Machiavellian intrigue.”

And if this someone asks you further, “Well, who are the good guys?” you will most likely answer, “Well, I’m still trying to figure that out.”

The thing is, you’re still fascinated by these people, either because they have real human facets that accompany these atrocious activities, or because you keep turning pages, muttering to yourself, “They can’t possibly get away with that! Can they?”

They can, with Kerstin Hall telling the tale, and doing so with masterful precision.

Destroyer of Light by Jennifer Marie Brissett

As with Kerstin Hall’s novel, readers should take note that there’s some strong stuff here.

Aspects of this story will strike you as familiar, and I’m not referring to its reimagining of the Persephone myth. Aliens boot us off our planet, genetically modify us and relocate us to a world called Eleusis, where things go “not as planned” from the get-go. There are three habitable areas of the planet, named Day, Dusk and Night. Resources, material and intellectual, and some things more, are not equally distributed. And often, this situation, rather than encouraging cooperation, spawns greed and violence.

destroyer of light

We may have read versions of this kind of thing before (suddenly, I’m remembering a Bradbury story called “Frost and Fire”), but not in this way. The central character, Cora, is sympathetic enough, as you might expect, but also enigmatic, but not in any bad way. She is, after all, Persephone, and everything we encounter on Eleusis is a little bent, a little twisted, like what we might encounter through Lewis Carroll’s looking glass if it were being held by James Tiptree Jr. I’m not saying Brissett writes like Tiptree, but her vision shares that same uncompromising intensity.

When you’re dealing with myths, it’s difficult to be otherwise. To paraphrase R. A. Lafferty, the myths aren’t inside us; we are inside them, struggling to get out.

You won’t “get” this book on a first read. It will haunt you, though. And that’s likely one of the things in Destroyer of Light that goes exactly as planned, by Brissett.

The Reinvented Heart edited by Cat Rambo and Jennifer Brozek

Last November, when I went to Windycon, my first “in person” convention in what seemed like ages, I very often heard a word that I really hadn’t encountered much at conventions heretofore: “Romance.”

And that word being used in the denotation of a literary category: those books in the store with the label “Romance” on the spine. Many of us in fandom made fun of those books. We believed them all to have been built on a steadfast, indestructible narrative skeleton: young woman of modest means falls in love with a handsome young man of higher social status, or some other condition which seems to doom their relationship, though the young man reciprocates her feelings. Whatever, their hardships are overcome by the last page and the beautiful couple prepare for a lifetime of happiness. Thousands of novels were built on that skeleton, and billions of copies of those novels were sold. They were reliable. And predictable. And we made fun of them. Their fungible structure seemed a polar opposite of what science fiction was all about. They were allegedly more predictable than Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, or Tom Swift.

the reinvented heart

But the picture was never quite that simple. At least a couple of new generations of readers have grown up since we callow old fogies sniffed at the romance market. Many new science fiction readers began by reading romance novels, then switched over to several of the many “cross-genre” variations, like romances set in fantasy worlds or science-fictional universes. Not to mention the explosion of romances catering to a number of diverse, non-traditional audiences. And many of the newer writers in our field not only got their start in the romance market, but they maintain a presence in that genre while doing other work in ours.

All of that is to say that we should no longer be surprised at having romance fiction discussed at SF cons. It’s here. Get used to it.

And frankly, I’m not really sure if the preceding tangent of mine has any relevance to the brilliant anthology edited by Cat Rambo and Jennifer Brozek, The Reinvented Heart, but I started there, so be it.

The marvelous thing about this anthology is that it left me far removed from the simple definitions of what we’re talking about when we talk about “relationships,” romantic or otherwise.

In her foreword, Rambo quotes the call to authors she made for this book:

Science fiction often thinks about the technology without considering the ways social structures will change as tech changes—or not. What will relationships look like in the future when we have complications like clones, uploaded intelligences, artificial brains, or body augmentation? What happens when emotions like love and friendship span vast distances—in space, in time, and in the heart? And as we acknowledge differences in gender in a way we never have before, what stories are finally given the space in which to emerge?

Any sort of devoted reader of science fiction will no doubt immediately recall any number of stories—by Octavia Butler, or Sturgeon, or Delany, or Sheckley, or Le Guin, or Tiptree, to name just a few—that already address what Rambo and Brozek were looking for, but you’ll have to admit that those gems are rare—exquisite, but rare.

The marvelous thing about this anthology is how successful the editors were in their search to increase this number. This is all fine work, written with great skill, great intelligence, great wit and, perhaps most of all, a discerning and sympathetic eye for the way change can seem at once surprising and inevitable in this world (and any other world you choose to imagine). My favorites, not necessarily the best, works are by Rosemary Claire Smith, Lyda Morehouse, Naomi Kritzer, Fran Wilde, Lauren Ring, Sam Fleming, Xander Odell and Devin Miller. The three sections: “Hearts,” “Hands” and “Minds” are prefaced with poems by Jane Yolen. One need say no more.

Full disclosure: yes, it’s published by Caezik, but I would have grabbed up this anthology no matter who published it. Dozens of themed anthologies come out every year. This one is significantly a keeper.

If you’d like to read more of the great content that’s gone into the March/April issue of Galaxy’s Edge, you can find an issue at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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.

Moon Knight Review: Episodes 1-3

Leading up to Marvel’s new TV series, Moon Knight, I was pretty hopeful. Finally, we were getting the opportunity to see a new character, and one that hadn’t gotten much attention previously, too!

After reading a few of the Moon Knight comics in preparation for the show, I was intrigued by how different Moon Knight was from other Marvel superheroes.

Marc Spector was trying to reconcile his dark past, while his counterpart Steven Grant was just trying to live his life.

I was a bit skeptical about how the TV show would handle the character’s multiple personalities, but I have to say, Oscar Isaac’s performance has been spectacular thus far.

Here’s our Moon Knight review for the first three episodes!

(Spoilers for Moon Knight 2020 comic series and the first three episodes of the TV series).

Oscar Isaac Captures Steven Grant (and Marc Spector)

If you haven’t read our breakdown of the Moon Knight Comics (which you should read, by the way), here’s a quick recap of the characters:

  • Marc Spector is an ex-mercenary who was killed by in Egypt and brought back by the Moon God, Khonshu.
  • Steven Grant is a normal guy, and is one of Marc Spector’s personalities.
  • Mr. Knight is a superhero-ish consultant who resides in the Midnight Mission.
  • Moon Knight is the identity of Khonshu’s avatar, which is currently Marc Spector.
moon knight review

It’s a bit convoluted, but the show does a good job of keeping track of who is who. There’s a distinct shift in voice and tone when Oscar Isaac is portraying the characters. Steven is at a nerdy guy who struggles with insomnia, and when he speaks, he often poses statements as questions or rambles.

But when Isaac is playing Marc Spector, he’s much firmer and more confident, classic for an ex-merc.

The way the show has these two sides of Oscar Isaac’s characters interact is through the use of reflections. When one of the personalities has control of the body, they can talk to the other personality by looking at a mirror, shiny object, or still water. Visually, this provides a pretty interesting element. Whenever there’s a fight scene, there happens to be a reflective surface around, whether it’s broken glass, the hood of a car, or a polished dagger.

As the show progresses, we see Spector start to value Grant’s intellectual abilities and moral compass, and Grant starts to become more assertive. They take each other as rough role models, and with them inhabiting the same body, makes for a pretty neat character dynamic.

The Moon Knight Has Powers

For the most part, the Moon Knight of the comic books only has a few innate abilities. He’s tough, fast, agile, and gets resurrected when he dies (since he’s under Khonshu’s protection).

Marc Spector’s a fairly ordinary guy, you might say, kind of like the Batman of the Marvel universe.

But in the TV show, there is definitely a focus on the Moon Knight’s super powers, most of which come through Khonshu. Marc Spector is not only a badass, but he seemingly can’t die when wearing the suit. In the third episode, he’s impaled multiple times with spears, and gets up seeming no-worse-for-wear.

Plus, he acts as a conduit for Khonshu’s power, at one point he even helps alter the constellations.

The choice to add the super-power elements that are almost entirely absent in the comic books to the TV show just hints that there’s a larger plan for the Moon Knight. He’s on par to compete with the likes of Captain America and Spider-man at this point, and we’ll probably see Oscar Isaac’s entry into Marvel films soon enough.

What’s Up With the Plot?

At this point, we’re halfway through the Moon Knight mini-series, (all the shows on Disney+ keep getting shorter, don’t they?) and stuff is certainly heating up.

The TV show doesn’t focus on the origin story of the Moon Knight, instead it’s more about the journey Spector and Grant take in getting to know one another and inhabit the same body. At the same time, there’s a pretty ominous plot in the background with one of Marc Spector’s previous enemies working to unleash Ammit, an Egyptian god of judgement.

To be honest, this plot line is only secondary for me. Sure, it’s fine, but in six episodes can you really create an earnest conflict? The villain’s whole spiel is about judging everyone in the world based on whether they’ve committed evil or will commit evil.

It’s kind of frustrating that this kind of stock villain appears so often in mainstream media. The idea that the path to a more holistic society must be paved in blood is so overused and cliché. We know that genocide is evil, and after Thanos, Harrow just feels contrived.

For me, the real conflict is the moral dilemma that both Spector and Grant go through as a result of their actions. Grant is appalled that Spector’s a trained killer, and Spector starts to realize he doesn’t have to use violence for every problem. This evolution is definitely something to look out for as the Moon Knight show progresses.

Overall, I’d say that the first three episodes are pretty good. The fight scenes and cinematography are decent, and Oscar Isaac is certainly carrying the weight in this show. I wish that Marvel would take a new approach to villains, because the “final solution” era of villains is over, and frankly, was never that great to begin with.

To conclude this Moon Knight review, I give the first three episodes a 7/10.

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.

Back in Blaze: Ghost Rider 2022 Comics Start Off Hot

Ghost Rider fans certainly haven’t been lacking any new content in recent years. Every one or two years, there’s a new Ghost Rider appearance, mostly in comic books, including limited series like Revenge of the Cosmic Ghost Rider, and Mother of Demons. We even got to see a new live action Ghost Rider in the form of Robbie Reyes on the Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D TV show. And now, there’s confirmation Robbie Reyes will become a part of a new Avengers team in Avengers Forever #3, coming out March 2nd.

But it’s certainly been a hot minute since we’ve seen a clean slate Johnny Blaze, which comes to us as Ghost Rider Vol 10 by Benjamin Percy. As the first Ghost Rider 2022 comic book, “Breakdown” brings us back to old times with an eerie return to ‘normalcy’. Plus, this year marks the 50th anniversary of Ghost Rider, so bringing the story back to one of the original character was only fitting!

New Ghost Rider Volume in 2022

On February 23, the Ghost Rider issue 1 “Breakdown” was released, officially kicking off a new Johnny Blaze timeline. The tenth volume is headed up by Benjamin Percy, who has reached renown both inside and outside of the comic book scene.

He started off as an essayist, short fiction writer, and novelist. Some of his work includes The Ninth Metal and Red Moon. He’s had pieces published in many professional reputable journals, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Esquire, Time, Men’s Journal, and The Paris Review.

In 2014, Percy broke into the comic book scene with a Batman story, and soon came to write for Nightwing, Green Arrow, Wolverine, and X-Force.

This Ghost Rider volume is his first try at the supernatural motorcyclist, but with the help of artist Cory Smith and colorist Bryan Valenza, it starts off with a bang.

Ghost Rider 2022’s Blaze Character

As one of the fan favorite hosts for the Spirit of Vengeance, Johnny Blaze comes back to the page. When last we’d seen him, he was vying for the throne of Hell, but now he’s been transported to the sleepy town of Hayden’s Falls.

With a wife, kids, and a white picket fence, Blaze thinks that his life should be normal. At least, it seems normal to anyone looking in. But in the wake of a terrible motorcycle accident, his nightmares and hallucinations get worse, drawing him ever closer to the darkness he feels in his head.

This first issue of Ghost Rider is the perfect introduction for the fraught past of Johnny Blaze’s character. The whole first issue is a struggle for Blaze to find out what’s going on. We see the insomnia turn into psychosis into catharsis, coming full circle by the end.

And for readers that aren’t acquainted with the Ghost Rider story arc, “Breakdown” gives us a simple callback/summarization of Blaze’s past. The motorcycle wreck, the supernatural visions, all of it is reminiscent of the origins of Johnny Blaze.

Set Up For a New Jaunt Through Hell

It’s clear by the end of the first issue of Ghost Rider Vol. 10 that Blazes character is set to be pitted against some pretty terrible enemies, including the Night Magicians. These nasty guys have the power to brainwash whole towns for dark purposes, as we see in the very end of issue #1.

But even though we get a sense of the villain, there’s still no real confirmation. It wouldn’t be a Ghost Rider comic without a questionable performance from our anti-hero!

After reading the first issue, I wasn’t sure whether to pity or loathe Johnny Blaze. His predilection for violence and his poor coping mechanisms stand out, mainly as alcohol abuse. We find out by the end of the comic that most of Blaze’s memories are based on a lie, but his actions are still questionable at best.

Pick Up the New Ghost Rider Comic

All-in-all, I thought that Percy’s first attempt at Johnny Blaze’s Ghost Rider was admirable. He managed to capture the essence of the character while still giving us a unique take on him. I’ll definitely be looking out for the rest of the tenth volume, with the nest three issues already slated for release:

  • Ghost Rider Vol. 10, issue #2 – March 16th
  • Ghost Rider Vol. 10, issue #3 – April 27th
  • Ghost Rider Vol. 10, issue #4 – May 25th

Ghost Rider certainly represents something special in the Marvel universe, as it’s a mix of the mainstream superhero leagues, but it shows the dark side of power. Not many characters can handle the Spirit of Vengeance, and it shows that even though you might be influenced by evil, you can still put your power to use for the greater good. Morally, Ghost Rider might be one of the strongest characters, even though it feels weird to say that.

I hope that Percy can pinpoint that balance between good and evil in his new Ghost Rider comics, because that’s perhaps even more vital to the character than the flames and the chains!

If you liked this spec fic comic book review, check out some of our other comic book content!

Sci Fi Book Review: Constance by Matthew Fitzsimmons

Amazon has this program called First Reads, where each month they pick books from many different genres—cozy fiction, romance, mystery, sci fi/fantasy, etc. –and they make them free on Kindle for Prime members. (Alternatively, it’s $1.99 a month if you’re not a Prime member).

It was during January, I think, that I picked up Constance by Matthew Fitzsimmons from Amazon First Reads. The red fingerprint on the cover was a facsimile of the Rorschach comic book I’d just finished reading, and the premise of human cloning murder mystery had me intrigued.

So, I figured I’d do another sci fi book review and hope Amazon had picked a good book for me.

Awaken the Clones

Constance D’Arcy, Con for short, is a struggling musician living in D.C. Her band, Awaken the Ghosts, had broken up a while ago after a tragic car crash that left two members dead, a third in a coma, and the other two struggling to cope.

Con’s aunt, the woman responsible for the human cloning revolution in America, Abigail Strickling, had gifted everyone in Con’s family a clone. Typically, only the very wealthy could afford the luxury of extending their life after death, so Con jumped at the opportunity.

Little did she know her decision would set into motion a number of devious plans that would leave her original dead, and her clone on the run from some of the most powerful people in the country. With an eighteen-month gap of memory missing, Con’s clone hunts for the answers about her original’s death, trying desperately to avoid the same fate.

The Mainstream Sci Fi

After reading Constance, I did some research about the author, Matthew Fitzsimmons. I was surprised to find that he is actually a well-known thriller writer, and his work has made it to the Wall Street Journal Bestseller list.

I was kind of surprised that I’d never heard of Fitzsimmons before, but I think it’s because his primary work is the Gibson Vaughn series, a military/hacker thriller series.

Constance seems to have been Fitzsimmons’ first jaunt into sci fi territory, but the story he chose to tell fit his style well. Coming from a background of writing intense political and military thrillers, Constance pairs the concept of human cloning with the intense murder mystery in a palatable way.  

As far as science fiction goes, I feel like Constance is very much a work of mainstream sci fi. By this I mean it’s not over the top, out of this world, space ships and aliens and stuff.

It’s still very much relatable to our own world. Some changes we see in this 2038 America include self-driving cars that become part of a nation-wide network of traffic, 3-D printed meat, and the new cell phone replacement, LFDs, act as little personal holograms.

Aside from human cloning and the anti-cloning religious fanatics that follow, Constance’s America is much the same as we know it today.

In this way, Fitzsimmons creates a sci fi story that fits neatly into the mainstream because it’s not so far-fetched that casual readers will be unimpressed. I’d say that this is a great book for people that don’t read sci fi, because it’s largely a murder mystery, but with the subtle sci fi overtones.

The Verdict

I don’t often read thrillers because I find they lack a certain introspection and self-awareness, but Constance wasn’t like that. The book asked potent questions about the value of human life and the morality of cloning.

One of the most interesting interactions in the book is when Con meets Franklin Butler, the leader of the anti-cloning militants, the Children of Adam. The public perception of Butler was that he hated cloning with a passion, but in reality, he hated the idea of cloning, but had to make his argument more digestible for his followers.

That kind of nuanced thinking underlies the whole novel, and by the end, you’re left with a few more moral quandaries than when you started.

Overall, I thought the pacing was good and the characters were well-developed. There are a lot of characters in this relatively short book, but Fitzsimmons has a way of quickly making them unique and memorable.

I felt the book stumbled a bit as it approached the climax. Multiple chapters ended with Con being told “oh, you’ll change your mind when you see this,” and then we’re teased for another chapter. You could see the big reveal from a mile away, but it really isn’t that big of a problem.

At the end of the day, I enjoyed this book. It combines the sci fi genre with the thriller mindset in a way that makes it an easy book to pick up, no matter if you’re a sci fi fan or a Gibson Vaughn reader.

I’d give it an 8/10. The characters are well-developed, but the plot seems to drag on a bit near the end, and a few of the character motivations become unclear as we approach the last pages.

Plus, I found out after I’d wrapped up my read that Fitzsimmons is working on a second book featuring Con D’Arcy. Chance is set for release in November of 2022.

Chaos Walking: A Sci Fi Movie on Hulu

I had high hopes for Chaos Walking, a new sci fi movie on Hulu staring Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley.

The concept was great: a new planet where your thoughts permeate outside of your head, and a strange girl lands in a world where there seemingly aren’t any women. It paired a few clichés together, but it looked like it would be a good 2 hours of my time.

Space Western was one of the prominent themes of the movie, with everyone in cowboy hats and riding horses. But, in terms of substance, the film offered very little. Chaos Walking severely overpromised what it had to offer, and in the end, I was left disappointed and unsatisfied.

Some Background

I didn’t know this when I watched the movie, but Chaos Walking is based on a book by Patrick Ness, The Knife of Never Letting Go, published in 2008. Now, the book has received rave reviews, and even won the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, the Guardian Award, and the Booktrust Teenage Prize.

In 2011, a team of writers, including Ness, started writing a screenplay for the book, and in 2017, the film began production. This project was 10 years in the making, finally being released in 2021.

The film stars Daisy Ridley, Tom Holland, Mads Mikkelson, Nick Jonas, Cynthia Erivo, David Oyelowo, and Demián Bichir.

Despite a decade of preparation, the film flopped upon release. The film just barely made a quarter of the money spent to make it, and critics ripped it to shreds. The film has a 4.5/10 on Rotten Tomatoes, and multiple critics have bashed on the movie’s “generic characters” and lackluster plot.

Worldbuilding and Stuff

Before we slap a verdict on Chaos Walking, I want to talk about the worldbuilding.

Now, I’ve never read The Knife of Never Letting Go, so the movie could have obliterated the science of the world (hopefully not, considering it took Ness and 5 other people 6 years to write the screenplay), but I felt there was really something interesting about the setting. In New World, which is some non-Earth planet, I-don’t-really-know-they-never-explained-it, your thoughts become external, like a little blue halo-ish thing and a voice that says what you’re thinking.

This happens to all the men on the planet, and occurs naturally for the indigenous race, the Spackle. The women aren’t impacted by the Noise, as it’s called. People who have learned to control their Noise are able to manipulate their thoughts to create illusions. We see Todd, (Tom Holland) the main character, create a snake in the beginning of the film, and other characters cast illusions of real people later on.

Coincidentally, the whole mind-illusions premise reminds me of the mechanics of Brandon Bellecourt’s Absynthe, where soldiers were injected with a serum to allow them to communicate telepathically and craft illusions using their mind.

Despite the interesting concept, Chaos Walking does not make any effort to explain how the world works. There’s clearly something about the aura of the planet because we see as soon as Viola’s (Daisy Ridley) crew enters atmosphere, the men start to experience the Noise.

No explanation of the Noise, no real explanation of the Spackle, and not an inkling of how, who, when, or why humans settled New World to begin with.

From my perspective, world building certainly isn’t one of Chaos Walking’s strong suites. But, does it have any redeeming qualities?

The Acting Is Okay…?

For a sci fi movie on Hulu, I was surprised to see so many popular actors and actresses in Chaos Walking. Tom Holland has pretty much become the new Orland Bloom of his time, and Daisy Ridley, the new Kiera Knightley. It’s kind of weird to think that they both come from massive blockbuster franchises, Marvel and Star Wars, and ended up in a half-baked sci fi concept movie.

I’d say that the actors were limited by the one-dimensional aspect of the characters. I hate to lean into the criticism around the film, but I have to agree that the motivations of the characters are bland and generic.

sci fi movie on hulu chaos walking tom holland

And as an actor, there’s only so much you can do to break out of that mold. Mads Mikkelson plays great villains, but even his character lacks depth or purpose.

Is Chaos Walking The Worst Sci Fi Movie on Hulu?

It kind of blows my mind to think that Chaos Walking was in various stages of production for a decade, and yet didn’t even manage to bring in half the money the company spent to make it. For me, at least, if I’m working on a project, the longer I have to work on it, the better the final product will be.

Chaos Walking is the antithesis of that sentiment. If you watch it as a B-rated sci fi movie, it’s fine. You have to take a lot of things at face value, and be prepared to get confused at the ins-and-outs of the world.

But it really shouldn’t have ended up like that. Had the team focused more on developing motivations for characters, especially the villains, then I think the film would have done better.

At the end of the day, the villains—and to some degree, the protagonists—were driven by a single-minded goal that lacked complexity in a world that should have been very intricate. The Noise presented a great opportunity for developing character relationships, and yet, the writers fell back on the proliferation of random thoughts giving away secrets or upsetting people.

Overall, there was a good idea here for a movie, but the execution was severely lacking, so much so that even the collective acting expertise of the cast couldn’t fix it. I give Chaos Walking a 4/10, and the mantle of the worst sci fi movie on Hulu.