Uncanny X-Men, Part 20: Iron Fist, Blame Canada, and Some Strike-Outs

Saturday, September 26th, 2020 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

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This Quixotic blog series of my reread of the Uncanny X-Men has gotten to twenty posts! When I started in December, I wasn’t sure how long I could do this, but it’s been a lot of fun! In this post, I’m going to go over two gems from 1977: the Canadian Invasion in Uncanny X-Men #109 and the dinner party gone bad in Iron Fist #15. Then I’m going to take a bit of a higher level look at a few swing-and-a-miss guest appearances and another issue where a fill-in art team mangled an issue.

You’ll recall that at the end of X-Men #108, the X-Men, along with Princess Lilandra, had just come home after Phoenix saved the universe. Except for their vacation-trap in issue #101 this is basically the first break the X-Men get since issue #98. #108 is the first issue in over a year that didn’t end with some kind of a cliffhanger!

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Fantasia 2020, Part XXVI: Sanzaru

Saturday, September 26th, 2020 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

SanzaruThe Japanese image of the three wise monkeys is as early as the 16th century: one monkey with hands over eyes, the next with hands over ears, the third with hands over mouth. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil; thus the monkeys’ names, Mizaru, Kikazaru, and Iwazaru, ‘not-seeing,’ ‘not-hearing,’ and ‘not-speaking.’ There’s a pun in Japanase on zaru, not, and saru, monkey, so collectively the trio’s simply ‘three monkeys,’ or sanzaru.

Thus the title of Sanzaru, an American horror movie that played at Fantasia. It’s one of several ghost stories from this year’s festival: one of several films about a house, and an old person dying, and the family that returns to them. In this case, though, the point-of-view character is the patient’s nurse. Dena Regan (Jayne Taini) is an old woman dying in her Texas estate, and a Filipino nurse named Evelyn (Aina Dumlao) has moved in to care for her. Along with Evelyn comes her young nephew Amos (Jon Viktor Corpuz); also present on the estate is Dena’s son Clem (Justin Arnold), and as well Dena’s daughter Susan (Tomorrow Shea) visits for a minor part in the story. Things go missing; Clem sinks further and further into depression; Dena’s mind deteriorates; old secrets come to life. And there are presences in the house from beyond the grave.

We know from early on that there are ghosts; we get their perspective in an early scene. We know that one of them is named Mr. Sanzaru, but the relevance of the name doesn’t become clear until much later in the movie. And it is then we understand or fully feel the themes of the story: the importance of knowing and confronting wrong things, not just to stop wrong things from happening but to be able to move on from them.

The number of ghost stories at Fantasia 2020 gave me the chance to see how similar material takes different shapes in different stories; to see how the genre works. Every story has a specific tone, partly a mechanical function of pacing and lighting and editing rhythms, and partly from the character of the specific haunted location. But different stories have different themes, different things on their mind. Sanzaru’s interest is in secrets and how they come out; in how dark things in the past, left to fester, can limit the future.

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D.M. Ritzlin on the Ten Greatest Sword-and-Sorcery Stories by Robert E. Howard

Saturday, September 26th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Covers by Brian LeBlanc, Sanjulian, and Margaret Brundage

Dave Ritzlin is the mastermind behind DMR books, publishers of the Swords of Steel anthologies, The Infernal Bargain and Other Stories,  the 2020 anthology Renegade Swords, and many other volumes of adventure and weird fantasy. He’s also a fine blogger and Robert E. Howard enthusiast, and this month he produced one of the most interesting articles on REH I’ve read in many years — The Ten Greatest Sword-and-Sorcery Stories by Robert E. Howard.

This lengthy and entertaining piece features all of Howard’s most famous creations, including Kull, Solomon Kane, and of course Conan the Cimmerian. Here’s Dave on “The Gods of Bal-Sagoth.”

The heroes of “The Gods of Bal-Sagoth” are two renegades: Irishman Turlogh O’Brien, outlawed from his clan, and the Saxon Athelstane, who has thrown in with a group of Norse Vikings. The two have a history together, but they meet again when the Vikings attack a ship on which Turlogh is a passenger. The Saxon recognizes Turlogh in the stormy sea battle and takes him alive. Shortly thereafter the Vikings’ ship in blown off course and destroyed by a tempest. Athelstane is knocked unconscious, but Turlogh manages to save him. The two are the only survivors, and they wash up on a mysterious island (a classic sword and sorcery set-up!)…

In addition to being a spectacular sword and sorcery tale, “The Gods of Bal-Sagoth” also inspired the name of one of the most amazing metal bands of all time. Byron A. Roberts, vocalist of Bal-Sagoth, is a talented sword-and-sorcery author as well.

Read the entire thing at The DMR Blog — a fine place to learn about new and classic fantasy of interest to REH fans old and new.


Fantasia 2020, Part XXV: The Born of Woman 2020 Showcase

Friday, September 25th, 2020 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

BlocksBy Day 10 of Fantasia I’d started to skip the panels and special presentations. They all looked interesting to greater or lesser degrees, but while the movies were only available while the festival was still going on, the panels would stay up afterward. Still, Day 10 was an exception, with my schedule free for a panel I was particularly interested in: “New York State Of Horror,” hosted by author Michael Gingold. It took a look at how and when New York City became a setting for horror films — something unusual in the early decades of filmmaking, when horror was typically set in ancient European locales. King Kong (1933) was an obvious exception, but Gingold observed that Rosemary’s Baby was the real trail-blazer for New York horror stories in film, followed in the 70s and 80s by more tales of urban terror. It was a good discussion, with contributions from directors Bill Lustig and Larry Fessenden (Depraved). You can find it here.

Following that came the 2020 edition of the “Born of Woman Showcase,” a collection of short genre films by women filmmakers. Previous editions had presented exceptional work, to the point I’ve come to see these showcases as highlights of Fantasia. This year had nine movies, ranging from science-fiction to crime to horror.

The first film was from the United States: “Come Fuck My Robot” was directed by Mercedes Bryce Morgan, and written by Morgan with Reuben Guberek, Katrina Kudlick, and Hunter Peterson, “based,” as the credits say, “on the original Craigslist ad.” A nervous virginal young man (Nicholas Alexander) answers an ad from an oddball engineer (Ian Abramson) who’s seeking a male to have sex with a robot the engineer’s created (Catherine Tapling). Absolutely nothing about the scenario unfolds as either expected. A charming, funny story about identity and consent, and about AI and gender, it’s well-acted and comedically well-timed.

Next, also from the US, was “Blocks.” Written and directed by Bridget Moloney, it follows Ashleigh (Claire Coffee), a mother of young children, who begins vomiting Lego blocks. We see her going about her daily life with her husband (Mark Webber) and friends and her friends’ kids as the vomiting becomes more common and the number of blocks grows accordingly. Anchored in a very realistic depiction of Ashleigh’s everyday life, in which the block-vomiting is the one irreal aspect, the movie works because it’s observation of Ashleigh is so sharp — whether she’s chatting with her friend about sex toys or going to other childrens’ parties or reading to her kids about intersectionality. In other words, there’s a life to her beyond the status of ‘mother,’ which helps prepare us for the conclusion of the film and what she does with the blocks, an understated but effective choice.

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Future Treasures: The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume Five edited by Neil Clarke

Friday, September 25th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

The Best Science Fiction of the Year- Volume Five-smallThe 2020 pandemic has thrown a wrench into publishing schedules this year, and no mistake. Seems like less than half the books I was looking forward to this summer appeared at all. So I’m relieved to see that this year’s class of Year’s Best anthologies — edited by Rich Horton, Jonathan Strahan, Paula Guran, John Joseph Adams, and others — are still in the pipeline. A little delayed maybe, but none the worse for wear.

Jonathan’s volume arrived on Sept 8; next on the docket is Neil Clarke’s The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume Five, which will be published by Night Shade Press late next month. It contains fiction by N.K. Jemisin, Cixin Liu, Tobias S. Buckell, Gwyneth Jones, Dominica Phetteplace, Alastair Reynolds, Vandana Singh, Ann Leckie, Annalee Newitz, Alec Nevala-Lee, Aliette de Bodard, Carolyn Ives Gilman, Yoon Ha Lee, Indrapramit Das, A.T. Greenblatt, and many others. Here’s the description.

From Hugo Award-Winning Editor Neil Clarke, the Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year Collected in a Single Paperback Volume

Keeping up-to-date with the most buzzworthy and cutting-edge science fiction requires sifting through countless magazines, e-zines, websites, blogs, original anthologies, single-author collections, and more — a task that can be accomplished by only the most determined and voracious readers. For everyone else, Night Shade Books is proud to present the latest volume of The Best Science Fiction of the Year, a yearly anthology compiled by Hugo and World Fantasy Award–winning editor Neil Clarke, collecting the finest that the genre has to offer, from the biggest names in the field to the most exciting new writers.

The best science fiction scrutinizes our culture and politics, examines the limits of the human condition, and zooms across galaxies at faster-than-light speeds, moving from the very near future to the far-flung worlds of tomorrow in the space of a single sentence. Clarke, publisher and editor-in-chief of the acclaimed and award-winning magazine Clarkesworld, has selected the short science fiction (and only science fiction) best representing the previous year’s writing, showcasing the talent, variety, and awesome “sensawunda” that the genre has to offer.

Here’s the complete Table of Contents.

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Goth Chick News: When Halloween Lives Out One of Its Own Plot Lines

Thursday, September 24th, 2020 | Posted by Sue Granquist

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A global pandemic with no known cure rages across the globe claiming lives, forcing people to shelter in place, and turning main streets into ghost towns. Is this the plot of the movie 28 Days Later, Patient Zero or even World War Z? Nope, welcome to the reality of the year 2020. We have already seen our vacations ruined, our social lives decimated and several holidays lost. However, the onset of Fall has us contemplating a new set of challenges, compounded by the prospect of s time of year generally marked by parties and celebrations; starting for me, with Halloween.

Now before you get totally bummed out, consider this. If the movies have taught us anything, its that we humans are resilient and adaptable. We can figure out a way around just about any obstacle, especially when it comes to having fun. So even though the CDC has warned against parties and traditional door-to-door Trick or Treating, I found it hard to believe we were going to collectively give up on Halloween this year.

What I discovered is, we are definitely not.

Like everything else in 2020, Halloween is going to look different. But the innovations are impressive. Here are a few ways how “normal” October activities have evolved.

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Fantasia 2020, Part XXIV: Milocrorze – A Love Story

Thursday, September 24th, 2020 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Milocrorze‘Weird’ is less of a concrete descriptor than might at first appear. There are multiple subcategories of weird, and different things called weird can produce very different experiences. This is especially so when a work of weirdness mixes different weird things.

Thus Milocrorze – A Love Story (Mirokurôze, ミロクローゼ), a 2011 film written and directed by video and performance artist Yoshimasa Ishibashi. The winner of Fantasia’s awards for best director and most innovative feature film in the year it premiered, it was revived for this year’s festival, where I saw it for the first time. It is not like most other films, for both better and worse.

It begins by following a boy named Ovreneli Vreneligare who lives in a brightly-coloured eye-popping wonderland with a talking cat, and who falls in love with a woman named Milocrorze (Maiko). He hatches a plan to seduce her, it briefly works, and then things go astray. This leads to a dramatic shift in tone, as the movie leaves him to follow a TV huckster named Besson Kumagai claiming to give young men infallible relationship advice; the first of three roles played by Takayuki Yamada, Kumagai’s a 70’s lounge lizard who bursts into dance routines at odd moments. While dancing behind the wheel of a car, he blows into a group of people, and then we leave Kumagai and start following one of them.

Specifically, we follow a wandering samurai named Tamon (Yamada) who is seeking his lost true love. This becomes the longest part of the film, as we follow Tamon in and out of flashbacks (and through a tattoo studio featuring renowned director Seijun Suzuki in an extended cameo part) to a climactic fight sequence in a brothel and gambling den. Then we return to Ovreneli Vreneligare, now an adult played by Yamada, as he finds Milocrorze again.

You can look at the connections between these stories in a number of ways, but the first thing that has to be said is that the movie is consistently pleasurable to look at, in at least three different tones. Ovreneli Vreneligare’s candy-coloured dreamland is the most striking. The hyperactive modern world of Kumagai is a needed burst of energy. Then that’s followed by the melodramatic, weirdly-lit, deeply artificial world of Tamon, centred around its extended fight scene that drops in and out of slow and fast motion. There’s always something happening in this movie.

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Destroying a Vast Empire From Within: The Masquerade Series by Seth Dickinson

Thursday, September 24th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Covers by Sam Weber

Whenever a fantasy trilogy wraps up, we bake at cake at the Black Gate rooftop headquarters. But what if it’s not clear if the series is complete?? In that case, a crack team of literary forensic analysts assesses whether the series is likely to continue, before we fire up the cake mixer. (I’m joking, of course. Like we’d let a tiny detail like that get in the way of cake!)

So we’re here today to celebrate the arrival of the third book in the Baru Cormorant series… pardon me, The Masquerade series by Seth Dickinson. The Tyrant Baru Cormorant arrived from Tor last month, and it wraps up the trilogy (maybe? who knows!) with a bang. At NPR Amal El-Mohtar called the first book “literally breathtaking,” and at Locus Online Paul Di Filippo labeled it “a tasty blend of C.J. Cherryh’s early planetary romances and Samuel Delany’s revisionist Nevèrÿon fantasies.” Tor.com provides a handy refresher on the first two volumes if you’re the kind of person who likes to dive right into the third book in a series (i.e. a weirdo). But my favorite coverage of this series is Publishers Weekly‘s starred review of the third volume; here’s an excerpt.

The dense but brilliant third volume of Dickinson’s The Masquerade series… sees Baru Cormorant, haunted by memories of the woman she loved and lost, pushed even further into her self-destructive, all-consuming quest to save her family. In Baru’s effort to destroy the Imperial Republic of Falcrest from within, she has risen to the position of cryptarch, part of the invisible cabal that controls the Throne from the shadows. But as Baru pretends to serve her master, Cairdine Farrier, in his attempts to conquer the empire of Oriati Mbo, she privately plots against him. Baru has discovered the secrets of the Cancrioth — a cult of cancer worshippers secretly ruling Oriati Mbo — and the plague they’ve weaponized to wipe out their enemies… This staggering installment pushes the series to new heights and expands the fascinating fantasy world.

We covered the first book here, and Unbound Worlds selected The Monster Baru Cormorant as one of the Best Releases of October 2018. The Tyrant Baru Cormorant was published by Tor Books on August 11, 2020. It is 656 pages, priced at $25.95 in hardcover, and $16.99 in digital formats. See all our recent coverage of the best new fantasy series here.


Fantasia 2020, Part XXIII: The Dark and the Wicked

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2020 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

The Dark and the WickedOne of the fascinating things about art is the way it speaks to its exact moment. That’s even more fascinating with film, which has such a long gestation time; write a movie, shoot the movie, then edit the movie and work on it in postproduction, and it’ll come out years after it was conceived. Which is why it was fascinating to see so many films at this year’s Fantasia that revolved around haunted houses. Occasionally the haunted building might be something like a school (as in Detention), but there were a lot of stories this year about people trapped in a structure, often with family, perhaps in a family home they’d returned to. Which strikes me as resonating with many situations I’ve heard about these past few months. The first movie I saw on Day 9 of the festival, The Block Island Sound, was an example of this trend. So was the second.

The Dark and the Wicked was written and directed by Bryan Bertino, and set on an isolated farm in Texas (Bertino’s own family home, in fact) where an old man (Michael Zagst) is dying. His wife (Julie Oliver-Touchstone) tries to tend him, with the assistance of a visiting nurse (Lynn Andrews). But he’s going to die soon, and his adult children Louise (Marin Ireland) and Michael (Michael Abbott Jr.) have returned to be with him. Only to find some other supernatural force also lurks in the dark farm. Horrible things happen. An old priest (Xander Berkeley) comes by to offer assistance, but is rejected. Louise and Michael will have to find the power to deal with the darkness on their own. If they can even understand what they’re dealing with.

The first thing to understand about this movie is that it is purely a horror movie. It’s not horror mediated by some other aspect (like the dark-fantasy fairy-tale feel of Detention, or the family drama of The Block Island Sound). This is a movie about a place that has become the locus for clearly supernatural evil, and the story and look of the film follow from that. It’s drenched in lovely dark shadows. Natural vistas have an element of the sublime in the last light of the sun, but are empty of human life. We watch the characters flail about in this landscape, and know there will be no happy endings here.

There is in fact a good sense of balance to the mystery and the rules by which the supernatural evil operates. The dreamlike half-understood logic of the wickedness is a specific and effective horror on its own. We have, in fact, almost no idea what that logic is. But it does exist, and the characters’ refusal to try to understand it, their reluctance to accept anything supernatural is happening, is terrifying on its own. I would say that this feel fades a bit at the end, as the effect of the supernatural crescendos and the feel of rules that limit it fades. For much of the movie, though, there is a sense that the evil cannot simply wipe the characters out at any moment; that it can be fought, and indeed that it can be understood, but that the characters are choosing not to do either.

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New Treasures: Entanglements edited by Sheila Williams

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Entantglements-small“Entanglement,” one of the more fascinating concepts underpinning quantum theory, tells us that particles may be inextricably linked — never truly behaving independently, no matter how far apart they are. It’s a powerful idea that, of course, has powerful parallels in the non-quantum world of human relationships, which makes it irresistible to science fiction writers.

Sheila Williams, editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction, has assembled an enticing new anthology that invites ten of the best writers in the field to explore the idea: James Patrick Kelly, Mary Robinette Kowal, Nancy Kress, Rich Larson, Ken Liu, Sam J. Miller, Annalee Newitz, Suzanne Palmer, Cadwell Turnbull, Nick Wolven, and Xia Jia (translated by Ken Liu). Entanglements also includes art by Tatiana Plakhova, and a number of non-fiction pieces. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly says “Readers will be captivated.” Here’s a sample from the Science review by Esha Mathew.

The world-building in this compilation is frequently full and often insidiously terrifying, particularly in those stories that use the familiar as breadcrumbs to lure the reader in. The very first tale, “Invisible People” by Nancy Kress, begins with a mundane morning routine and carefully layers in a story about two parents reeling from an unsanctioned genetic experiment on their child. In “Don’t Mind Me,” Suzanne Palmer uses the shuffle between high school classes as a foundation on which to build a story about how one generation uses technology to enshrine its biases and inflict them on the next…. It is chilling how entirely possible many of the fictional futures seem….

This volume balances darker-themed stories with those in which technology and people collide in uplifting and charming ways. In Mary Robinette Kowal’s “A Little Wisdom,” for example, a museum curator, aided by her robotic therapy dog–cum–medical provider, finds the courage within herself to inspire courage in others and save the day. Meanwhile, in Cadwell Turnbull’s “Mediation,” a scientist reeling from a terrible loss finally accepts her personal AI’s assistance to start the healing process. And in arguably the cheekiest tale in this compilation, “The Monogamy Hormone,” Annalee Newitz tells of a woman who ingests synthetic vole hormones to choose between two lovers, delivering a classic tale of relationship woes with a bioengineered twist…

The 10 very different thought experiments presented in this volume make for a fun ride, revealing that human relationships will continue to be as complicated and affirming in the future as they are today. I would recommend the Netflix approach to this highly readable collection: Binge it in one go, preferably with a friend.

Here’s the complete table of contents.

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