Reading The Dresden Files Book 1 after 22 Years

Two years ago, it was the 20th anniversary of Storm Front, The Dresden Files book 1 by Jim Butcher. There was a special release of the book and all this stuff, and I was mildly interested. 

I picked up a mass market paperback of Storm Front while I was traveling and started reading it on the plane. I got about 100 pages in and couldn’t handle it anymore. 

Harry Dresden was kind of a snob, and the portrayal of women in the novel seemed to lean totally toward their physical appearances. I seem to recall I’d just come off a long stretch of reading pretty dense high-fantasy (The Grace of Kings, perhaps?) and The Dresden Files was a bit too watered down for me. 

But, recently, I was stranded at my new apartment after my car broke down and only had a few books at my disposal. My paperback copy of Storm Front still had the bookmark in it from where I’d stopped before. So, I decided to give it another shot, and here’s what I thought about The Dresden Files book 1, twenty-two years after it was published. 

Is Harry Dresden a Chauvinist Pig?

Like I mentioned, one of my biggest complaints with Storm Front was the portrayal of women, or at least, how Harry portrays women. His views usually revolve around their looks or their sultry voice, or something of that nature. 

When I started my re-read, I paid close attention to these details because I knew they were what bothered me the first go around. But, what I came to notice was that I had pegged Jim Butcher as the one making the portrayals before, when in reality it’s Harry Dresden. The book feels like it could very easily be in third person narration–about Harry–and it’s because things happen so quickly that you might not necessarily be paying attention to the narration. 

I remember distinctly at one point about halfway through the book, I read a part where “I” is used a few times in quick succession. I paused, flipped back through the few chapters I’d read, and thought, “wow, I can’t believe I didn’t realize it was first person.” 

Dresden and Bob

So that all leads up to the point that Harry Dresden is the one who is painting the outdated portrayals of women in the story, not Jim Butcher. 

What I think really helped me accept Harry as this kind of character was his self-awareness. Near the end of the novel, he makes an observation about Karin Murphy’s soft, dainty hands, which he follows up with a thought about how she’d call him a chauvinist pig. So it’s clear that Harry knows he’s kind of a prick, and that makes the narration more palatable. 

In my first read through, I hadn’t gotten far enough to see Harry’s self-awareness, and that’s why I only got 100 pages in. 

No Sense of Time

One of the things I like to do when reading an older book is look for tells of the time period it was written in. Now, for Storm Front, that was only twenty years ago, so not much has really changed. Sure, technology is far better today than it was back then, but is it enough to make a difference?

After thinking about the tech of now versus the tech of the 2000, I realized there were no cellphones in Storm Front. Harry almost exclusively uses payphones, or the phone in his office. And I didn’t notice that detail until I was already finished with the book. I thought, “huh, he really likes his pay phones,” and it clicked that, duh, he had to use pay phones. 

But there’s something about pay phones that added to the vibe of the story. It’s meant to be a noir-ish paranormal detective story, and pay phones have long been a part of noir or crime fiction. 

Plus, one of Harry’s traits as a wizard is that all the technology he’s around starts to go haywire. Radios don’t work, cars stall out, elevators lose power–he’s a walking menace. That little detail was genius on Jim Butcher’s part. Not only does it create a reasonable explanation for Harry’s distrust or disuse of technology, it also helps to extend the life of the series. (Full disclaimer here, I’ve only read Storm Front, so I could be proven wrong by other books in the series). 

There’s no need for Harry to get a smartphone or Bluetooth headphones or any of that stuff, because he can’t use it anyways. So whether you read Storm Front on day-one release or 50 years later, you’ll still be able to relate. 

It’s Urgent – Always

A final point I want to make about Storm Front is the acute attention to urgency that Butcher has. The most important part of a mystery novel is the increasing sense of urgency. It drives the plot, it motivates the characters, it paves the way for the climax and the conclusion. 

Harry’s whole journey in Storm Front happens within the span of three or four days, but it feels like it speeds by much quicker. For most of the novel, Harry’s running from place to place, uncovering clues about the case, and with each clue or realization, the stakes get higher. The mission becomes more impossible, but even more urgent. 

All of it leads right up to the massive storm at the end of the novel, which I believe was intentional. The building storm motif was apparent throughout the book, and its a nice touch. 

But the urgency in Storm Front really makes that climax hit home hard, and that’s the mark of a good detective novel, be it paranormal or not. 

So, after reading The Dresden Files book 1 all the way through, what did I think? I thought it was pretty good all things considered. I had to curb my expectations and just let the story develop, and that was honestly the best thing I could have done. The characters are fun and interesting, the plot was action-packed, and the writing wasn’t watered down like I previously thought, instead it was fast, funny, and softly-detailed. 

I’m excited to continue reading The Dresden Files, and I’ll certainly be at it for a while. With the 17th and 18th books slated for release very soon, I have a lot of catching up to do. 

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.

Galaxy’s Edge Interviews Martha Wells

Martha Wells has become a household name, especially among the science fiction and fantasy community. Her books have explored fantastical worlds and the far-flung futures of our own world. She’s won multiple awards for her work, particularly the Murderbot Diaries. Books in the Murderbot Diaries have won Hugo, Locus, and Nebula awards!

Jean Marie Ward sat down with Martha Wells to talk about her writing process, fandom, and much more!

If you’d like to read this interview in print, check Issue 56 of Galaxy’s Edge Magazine.

Galaxy’s Edge: You said that you were always a reader. When did you realize you wanted to become a writer?

Martha Wells: Really early on. I remember telling my parents when I was in high school that I wanted to be a writer and them not having much reaction to it. At the time, I think I wanted to major in journalism when I went to the university, because that was the only way I could conceive of being a writer at that point. I didn’t know how you went about being a fiction writer. That’s not something I figured out until I went to Texas A&M and took a writing workshop with Steven Gould and started going to conventions and learning about how you actually do become a fiction writer.

Galaxy’s Edge: You just mentioned conventions, which is a great lead into my next question: What role did fandom and fan fiction play in your journey to publication?

Martha Wells: A huge, huge role, because the reason I picked Texas A&M University was they had a student science fiction and fantasy group. I’m not sure I knew at that point that they also ran conventions. I’d actually been to ArmadilloCon in Austin when I was in high school. I somehow convinced my parents to take me and a friend down there to go to this convention—ArmadilloCon—on Saturday. This was back when it was teeny tiny—the dealer’s room was basically the size of a hotel room. And that really made me want to continue to see conventions.

Also, the friendship and the people I met working on the student convention, AggieCon, were hugely important to me. I’d been reading fanfic for a while. I think I discovered it probably around 1983, I think … no, it was 1980 when Empire Strikes Back came out. So, I’d been reading fanfic for a while already and trying to write … I was first starting to write when I was in high school and college. I worked on fanfic and met a lot of people in fandom through that too. It was hugely important for me.

Galaxy’s Edge: And you ran AggieCon at least one year.

Martha Wells: Yeah, I worked on it for the whole four years I was in college and the last year I [chaired it]. I believe it was 1986. It’s been so long.

Galaxy’s Edge: That’s what it said in Wikipedia.

Martha Wells: Yeah, I was running the convention. And it was great. It was a huge learning experience. It was exhausting and incredibly stressful and anxiety-inducing. But later on, you’re like, Yeah, that was really great.

Galaxy’s Edge: I would imagine it gave you an interesting perspective on conventions and the business of conventions from a writer’s standpoint.

Martha Wells: I think it did. It also let me meet a lot of writers and hear a lot about publishing and a lot of discussions about the technical and creative aspects of writing and how everything worked. That was really important.

Galaxy’s Edge: What influence did your college major, anthropology, have on your first novel, The Element of Fire, and subsequent works?

Martha Wells: I think it’s had an influence on a lot of my work because of the worldbuilding. Being able to look at how cultures develop over time and the things that go wrong, and looking at the material culture of a city or a civilization and trying to take a holistic approach to worldbuilding and all the things that you have to know—even if you don’t put them on the page—about how your city works, your culture works, all those things, that was hugely helpful to me.

Galaxy’s Edge: I imagine, especially when you’re dealing with non-human characters such as those in The Books of the Raksura, that knowing how the pieces fit, sociologically speaking, would be a great help.

Martha Wells: Yeah, and the kind of things the people would have when you’re dealing with an alien character. What kind of culture would create that character? What does that mean? What’s important to them? What kind of material goods would they have? What does where they live look like? What kind of environment would this be happening in? All that kind of stuff.

Galaxy’s Edge: You have incredible worldbuilding in all your series, whether it be Ile-Rien’s early industrial culture, the worlds of the Raksura, and of course, the Murderbot Diaries. Is anthropology the secret to that, or is there something else?

Martha Wells: I think it’s your character point of view, and really thinking, trying basically to run their software on your hardware, and trying to really see things through their eyes and what is important to them, what do they want to do, how has their world shaped them. I think that’s the key.

Galaxy’s Edge: You’ve mentioned in various interviews that you’re not athletic, yet you create these very complex and brutal fight scenes. In The Murderbot Diaries you literally have multiple points of view in a single character’s head, because Murderbot is pulling in all of these feeds from drones, from artificial intelligences, anything that it can, in real time. So, the reader sees the action from a lot of viewpoints, and they’re all very, very intense. How do you as somebody who has, essentially, one point of view, deal with that? How do you deal with being a relatively peaceable woman who doesn’t go out and commit mayhem, whether in a dojo or in real life? How do you create these battle scenes?

Martha Wells: Well, I watch a lot of TV and movies, and I pay a lot of attention to fight scenes. Actually, when I was younger, I did take tae kwon do, and I did fencing for a little bit. It’s not something I can do anymore, though I try to exercise. When we’re not in a pandemic, I can actually go to the gym and things like that. But again, it’s the character point of view, getting the physicality of the character in your head and what they can and can’t do. Also, the parameters of the fight as you have set them for yourself, like a sword fight or a knife fight. A fistfight is so very different from a fight where the characters are actually armed with some kind of weapon, especially a single-shot weapon or an automatic weapon. Or like Murderbot when it can bring in all these different views of the scene and can use all these different ways to attack whoever is attacking it.

So yeah, just keeping all that straight and, again, really getting into the [character’s] point of view and thinking about that. That’s one of the reasons Murderbot often takes a long time to write. Having to do those multiple viewpoints is really complicated and often takes a long time to put together. Just the logistics of the stories are very different from any other kind of logistics for the other things I’ve written. Even though I mostly write adventure fiction, Murderbot is just so much more complicated in what happens, even though it might not feel that way to the reader. And yeah, watching a lot of TV and movies and watching people … watching fight scenes for years and years, and looking at what people do, and what it’s possible to do. That’s another fun thing about Murderbot: you can have the character do a lot of things that’s not possible for a human to do or even an alien character to do. That’s basically it.

Galaxy’s Edge: And Murderbot can take a lot of damage that an entirely organic being cannot do and remain itself. Speaking of Murderbot and its abilities, you worked in software development for a while. What role did your professional experience in software development play in the creation of The Murderbot Diaries and the development of Murderbot’s personality, abilities, and outlook?

Martha Wells: It played a big role because that was my primary experience with IT when I worked there. A lot of people think that I must know a lot about artificial intelligence. I don’t know anything about real AI. What I know about is the fake AI I invent for my books. But the way Murderbot often solves problems, answers questions, and solves mysteries is usually by manipulating data, which is one of the things I did when I worked for … well, I don’t want to name them. But when I worked in IT. I built databases and wrote programs—in COBOL, that’s how long ago it was—for databases for user interfaces, basically. So Murderbot uses that a lot to solve problems, and that’s the viewpoint I try to look at it from. I think that’s one reason why people think the character feels realistic as a machine intelligence, because it does look at things in terms of: What is the data we have? How can it be manipulated to give us answers?

Galaxy’s Edge: Murderbot and a lot of your characters are outliers and odd persons out. What draws you to characters who are isolated or find themselves in this position?

Martha Wells: I was a really isolated little kid. I probably have some still undiagnosed issues that back then people just didn’t understand or have any concept of. It made me live in my head a lot. I have a sister who’s nine years older than me, so there was usually nobody around my age. Where we lived there were no other kids on our street. There were some nearby, but the way the traffic was and where we lived and everything, it’s not like I could go out and play with kids every day like a lot of people were able to in other neighborhoods. So just feeling very different, always feeling very different and isolated, is just something that I’m still dealing with all my life. I guess you just get it kind of imprinted on your consciousness early, and it’s not something that never leaves you.

Galaxy’s Edge: It’s something we can all relate to. At some point, I don’t care how extroverted you are, you will be alone and say to yourself, What do I do now? Where am I? Who am I? And how do I fit in? How can this square object fit into these round holes that everybody else is fitting in?

Martha Wells: Pretty much so.

Galaxy’s Edge: While we’re still, more or less, on the subject of Murderbot, is there anything that you want people to take away from the series? What do you want them to know about it?

Martha Wells: One of the things I noticed people get wrong a lot—and I think that’s because it gets reprinted in reviews and things—is that Murderbot did not have consciousness before it hacked its governor module somehow. And it’s like no, all the SecUnits are conscious. I was trying to make that clear in Network Effect. They’re all conscious, all the time. It’s just that they’re enslaved. They’re mentally enslaved, and there’s not much they can do that we know without activating the governor module and getting killed, basically. And it is slavery. I’ve also seen reviews try to argue that somehow the humans are nice to them, and it’s not slavery. It’s like no, it absolutely is. It’s intentional. That’s what it is.

Galaxy’s Edge: It’s rather like that line from The Twelve Chairs, My master, Ippolit Matveyevich Vorobyaninov. He was a Marshal of the nobility. I loved him. He hardly ever beat us.

Martha Wells: Yeah. Also in Thor: Ragnarok, the prisoners with jobs.

Galaxy’s Edge: That notion seems to be really hard for some people to understand for some reason. Personally, I cannot imagine how you can lack consciousness and still hack your governor module. To me, the question was a non-issue. Since the SecUnits were, for want of a better term, conscious entities, it was obvious this was some kind enslavement.

Martha Wells: It’s a mental gymnastics that people do and it’s just … I don’t know why people don’t want to admit that human beings enslave other human beings and would continue to do that if allowed to. I don’t know why they’re willfully blind on that point. Looking at history, or current affairs, or anything would seem to, you know, get [that point] through to them. But no.

Galaxy’s Edge: You just won the Hugo Award for Best Novel and Best Series. This is just one little cluster in the many, many awards you’ve been nominated for or won throughout your career in science fiction and fantasy. How important are awards for the career of a writer in science fiction, fantasy, or any genre?

Martha Wells: Actually, before Murderbot, I’d only been nominated for a Nebula Award. That was for The Death of the Necromancer, and you know, I didn’t win.

Galaxy’s Edge: You were nominated for the Compton Crook and Crawford Awards for The Element of Fire.

Martha Wells: Yeah, I guess I should say I’ve only been nominated for one major award. I did get nominations of some other minor ones, but only a few really. Before Murderbot, I was pretty much off the radar as far as awards were concerned, which is fine. I never thought I would even have a chance at being on the Hugo ballot, let alone revel in the Hugo long list, let alone, you know, win them. I think it’s kind of hard to say how much impact they have. They do have, I think, a big impact within the genres in how people see you.

I think the impact of the Hugo Awards has changed a lot in the past ten years or so, since more people started to get supporting memberships so they could nominate, and we started having a more diverse ballot that better reflected what people were actually reading and what people were considering was the cutting edge of science fiction and fantasy. So, I think it’s had more impact since then.

I think there is what’s known—especially for the novels—as a bump in sales from just being on something like the Hugo ballot or the Nebula ballot. For me, the biggest impact was validation of 25 years or however many years of work to get to this point. It was a validation of the fact that I didn’t give up when it would have been really easy and probably smart to, at certain points, just go get a different job. So, it was hugely important to me personally, and I think it’s made a big change in how I’m treated just in fandom and the genre.

There are some exceptions, but usually women my age who are still trying to be working writers are not treated very well, either at conventions or in general in the genre, because we’re fading out and so need to not clutter up the landscape by still existing and still writing. It’ll be interesting to see what happens after this. I haven’t seen much …. Because of the pandemic, of course, everything’s just slowed down. So, we’re not gathering at conventions and events and things like that.

But, yeah, most of the impact has been personal, I would think. You kind of can’t measure other ways. The publisher can probably answer a lot more accurately about [the effect on] sales and things like that.

Galaxy’s Edge: Increased sales are good, and validation and recognition are also good. Speaking of good things, in 2021 you signed a six-book contract with Tor, which will include at least three more entries in The Murderbot Diaries. The first announced title in the contract is a second-world fantasy called Witch King. Can you tell us anything about Witch King, and what’s next for Murderbot?

Martha Wells: It is a completely new secondary world fantasy, kind of epic in scope. It’s my take on epic worldbuilding, and I was trying to do something different with it. Hopefully, people will like it. It’s going to come out in 2023. It was originally intended for this year, but it’s gotten pushed back because of everything that was going on. The book was actually finished late last year, but I’m working on the revision right now. Hopefully, everybody will enjoy it.

Galaxy’s Edge: I’m looking forward to it. Human characters or non-human characters?

Martha Wells: A mix of both. Again, it’s a different world from anything I’ve done before, with a mix of kind of humans and magical humans, like demons and other different types. It should be a lot of fun.

Galaxy’s Edge: Cool! Finally, the soapbox question, is there anything you’d like to add? Anything you want to talk about?

Martha Wells: Probably Murderbot, because I am doing another Murderbot novel. I’m writing one right now. I see a lot of people asking about it. It’s about halfway finished. It’s due in the summer, so I should have it done by then. After this novel, there’ll be at least one more novella and a novel, but I’m not sure what order they’re in. They’re going to take place after Network Effect. And in fact, this novella starts up right not very long after the end of Network Effect.

Galaxy’s Edge: Great! We’re all going to be looking forward to that. Thank you very, very much.

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.