Interstellar Ring Cycle — The Expanse: “Delta V”

This week’s episode of The Expanse, “Delta V,” shook up its usual storytelling style to jolt us into a new plotline. I think it worked well, although it did take me a few minutes to catch up—I’m guessing those of you who have read the books were on firmer footing.

But we got some fantastic shake up, a gruesome special effects setpiece, and a couple of my favorite Amos scenes so far.

So what did everyone think? The Ring is freaking terrifying. I’m so excited.

I should also note, The Expanse still isn’t quite saved yet, so keep up your enthusiasm on various platforms, and hopefully I’ll be able to report good news soon!

We begin with a prologue that I honestly thought might be a dream for a few minutes. It’s been a little more than six months since Pastor Anna exposed treason and Holden captured Jules-Pierre ...

Post-Apocalyptic Roadtrip to Nowhere: Philip K. Dick and Roger Zelazny’s Deus Irae

Thus far I’ve liked most of the books I’ve read for TBR, and even found things to admire in books I didn’t exactly enjoy, like Anna Kavan’s Ice. This one, though…I respect what it was trying to do? I found the basic plot fascinating. But I don’t tihnk I can actually recommend reading Deus Irae as anything other than a record of a very different time in SFF.

As I’ve mentioned, the idea with TBR Stack is that I’m literally pulling things down from my “to be read” shelf and diving in. Every once in a while there will be some external impetus (I’d been meaning to read The Confessions of Max Tivoli, so when author Andrew Sean Greer won the Pulitzer a few weeks ago I figured that was a good nudge) but normally my selection process ranges anywhere from “random” to “haphazard.” Hence, ...

Unstuck in Time: Andrew Sean Greer’s The Confessions of Max Tivoli

Welcome to TBR Stack! As of last week, this column is one whole year old! And speaking as someone who is terrible at both commitment and deadlines, I’m pretty proud of this fact, hence the exclamation points.

Realizing that I’ve been at this for a year has also made me think a whole lot about time, and it’s passage. I’ve been meaning to read Andrew Sean Greer for a while now, and since he just won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction last week for his comic novel Less, I figured that was a great excuse to dive into an earlier work of his that carefully walks the litfic/specfic divide. The Confessions of Max Tivoli follows the life of a man who ages backwards through time. He’s born with the mind of an infant but the body of a wizened 70-year-old, and as he simultaneously ages and de-ages, he and ...

Avengers: Infinity War is a Reminder that Pop Culture Won’t Save Us

Many people have been name-checking Empire Strikes Back in their comments on Avengers: Infinity War. But as I left the theater this weekend, I found myself thinking about The Last Jedi, and… Frodo? I will talk about Infinity War a lot but I have to work through a couple of points about pop culture heroism in general first, so come along with me on a journey through multiple franchises, won’t you?

(SPOILERS for Avengers: Infinity War and The Last Jedi.)

The heart of the anti-Last Jedi backlash was the treatment of Luke Skywalker. Sure people complained about the (great, imo) decision to make Rey a Nobody from Nowhere, and yes, people were annoyed by the sidequest to free the Chocobos of Canto Bight. But the beating heart of people’s frustration with Last Jedi is the fact that everybody’s hero, good-hearted Luke Skywalker, orphaned son of a cursed ...

Where to Start with the Works of Martha Wells

Martha Wells got her start writing Godzilla fan-fiction  as a small child, creating enormous, detailed maps of Monster Island on typing paper. After spending her college years writing and attending workshops like Turkey City, she made her first sale in 1993, when Tor Book accepted her novel, The Element of Fire. Over the course of a twenty-five-year career, Wells has jumped between high fantasy in the Raksura series, court intrigue and magical knavery in her Ile-Rien books, and far-future tech conspiracy in the Murderbot Diaries. She’s written Star Wars tie-ins, and expanded the world of Magic: The Gathering, as well as writing wonderful YA and two innovative, highly original stand alone fantasy novels for adults.

Whether you like snarky droids or intricate magic, whether you prefer sprawling series or self-contained stories—Martha Wells has written something that belongs on your bookshelf. But when you go a little deeper in Wells’ ...

Celebrating Thirty Years of My Neighbor Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies

Two Studio Ghibli classics are turning thirty this year. One is Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro, and the other is Isao Takahata’s devastating Grave of the Fireflies. We initially planned to rerun this article in celebration of this anniversary. Sadly, we are also now honoring the iconic Takahata, who passed away on April 5th at age 82. In addition to mentoring the younger Miyazaki and co-founding Ghibli, Takahata produced all-time classics of Japanese cinema, pushing animation in new directions, and working tirelessly to perfect new forms. From Only Yesterday to Pom Poko to the stunning Tale of Princess Kaguya, all of his films deserve your attention.

But now we return to the studio’s seemingly strange choice to premiere My Neighbor Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies as a double feature in Japan. (I do not recommend recreating this experience!) Together, three decades ago, Miyazaki and Takahata gave ...

Grave of the Fireflies

Keanu Reeves’ Constantine is a Terrible Hellblazer Adaption, But a Damned Good Modern Noir

When Constantine briefly shone on NBC, one refrain was that no matter how bumpy the series’ run was, at least it wasn’t the Keanu Reeves version. But really, on re-watching 2005’s Constantine, I found it works—for all the reasons it shouldn’t. The fact that the actors were all given scripts that varied wildly in tone? Shouldn’t have worked. Casting Gavin Rossdale? Shouldn’t have worked. The costuming? OK, the costuming all works perfectly—Gabriel and Balthazar have both matched their socks to their ties! And the pocket squares… I can’t even think about the pocket squares.

But the biggest way Constantine works is by using Hellblazer as a jumping-off point, rather than a stone-carved outline to be slavishly followed. In doing so, it creates a moody piece of modern, metaphysical noir.

The film draws on Garth Ennis’ classic Dangerous Habits arc, which diagnoses Constantine with terminal lung cancer. In a theological ...

Constantine and Gabriel
Stormare as Lucifer

Mothers, Love, Bones: Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt

Any author who wants to write horror has a decision to make. Supernatural? Splatter? Is this horror featuring men with rusty weapons who chase down helpless people, or is this a ghost story by a campfire? Is there a cosmic battle driving humans mad? Is there a curse? A serial killer? A hook hand? Revenants? Demons?

Samantha Hunt’s third novel, Mr. Splitfoot, is a horror story, though the kind of horror that tends to bob and weave with the reader. This review will be split, like a cloven hoof. I will speak in vague generalities for about five paragraphs, and then I will dig into spoiler territory. This is a book that relies on surprise and plot twist, so if you haven’t read it, and would like to, be warned.

Mr. Splitfoot is a rural Northern Gothic—which is basically a southern gothic but with more snow ...

The Gospel According to Monty Python

Easter looms on the holiday horizon! And as it falls on April Fool’s Day this year, my thoughts naturally turned to history’s greatest meeting point of religion and humor: Monty Python’s Life of Brian. But as I looked at the movie, and the controversy around it, I came to a startling realization.

Life of Brian can teach us how to live.

Unfortunately, a lot of the controversy around the film’s original release overshadowed its message. Because, unlike most Python movies, or most great comedies, it does have a message.

First, a caveat. I’m not in any way here to disparage the actual Gospels, Psalms, Shewings of Julian of Norwich, Ramayana, Hadith, or Deuteronomy, simply to point out a couple of valuable morals hidden within one of the greatest comedies of all time.


A Brief Historical Interlude

I assume, if you’re on this site, that you know plenty about Monty Python, ...

Brian Colle as Jesus in The Life of Brian

The Most Realistic Surrealism I’ve Ever Read: The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington

Leonora Carrington was a surrealist painter and writer. She lived from 1917 to 2011, making her the last living surrealist. Here’s a thing, though: I’m not so sure she was a surrealist?

Like previous TBR Stack author Anna Kavan, Leonora Carrington went mad for a while, did a stint in an asylum, and wrote about it later. How many creative women have gone mad? And is it madness when you fall into despair at the state of your world? In Carrington’s case because her lover, Max Ernst, 26 years her senior, ditched her and fled into the American arms of Peggy Guggenheim when the Nazis invaded France.

I mean I can’t entirely blame him? If the Nazis come for me I don’t know what I’ll do—but I hope I’ll have the good grace not to leave a trail of terrified people in my wake. I hope I’ll find a ...

All of Us Are in Search of An Author: Lacking Character by Curtis White

Lacking Character is author Curtis White’s first work of fiction in fifteen years. The veteran surrealist has written books including Metaphysics in the Midwest, Memories of My Father Watching TV, and The Science Delusion: Asking the Big Questions in a Culture of Easy Answers—ranging from short fiction to novels to essays. His new outing is a novel-adjacent philosophical exercise. What counts as character? How do we delineate one individual from another? What divides man from beast, guinea pig from feral infant? Lacking Character dresses these questions up in thought experiments, humor, sex, and some really hilarious literary parodies, and like the best of these types of books, never comes to any conclusions about the state of the human mind—instead White lets readers draw their own conclusions.

There seem to be three polestars in the book. One is the Queen of Spells, a magical woman ...

How Could I Forget the Liberating Weirdness of Madeleine L’Engle?

Madeleine L’Engle was my first sci-fi. Maybe also my first fantasy. I read her before Lewis, Tolkien, Adams, Bradbury. I was 11 when I read A Wrinkle in Time, and I quickly burned through all the rest of her YA, and I even dug into her contemplative journals a bit later, as I began to study religion more seriously in my late teens.

My favorite was A Swiftly Tilting Planet (I’m embarrassed to tell you how often I’ve mumbled St. Patrick’s Breastplate into whichever adult beverage I’m using as cheap anesthetic to keep the wolves from the door over this past year) but I read all of her books in pieces, creating a patchwork quilt of memories. I loved the opening of this one, a particular death scene in that one, an oblique sexual encounter in another. Bright red curtains with geometrical patterns, The Star-Watching Rock, hot Nephilim with ...

Duncan Jones’ Mute is the Weirdest Witness Fan Fiction I’ve Ever Seen

I saw Witness for the first time when I was about nine years old. In case you’ve never seen it, grumpy detective Harrison Ford has to go undercover in an Amish community, and naturally falls in love with both barn-raisings and Kelly McGillis, because who wouldn’t. It’s a great film, with a surprisingly vulnerable performance from Ford—but that’s not what I’m here to talk about. The reason the movie is called Witness, and the reason Ford has to go undercover, is that a tiny, shy Amish boy witnesses a gruesome murder in a train station. A man’s throat is slashed, and the boy stares in horror as he fights and falls to ground, blood gushing from his throat. This made a huge impact on me because it was the first time I realized that a person didn’t just die instantly if something like that happened. It took a long ...

Beauty and Terror Collide in Alex Garland’s Annihilation

I’m honestly not sure what to say about Annihilation. The best I can come up with is: what if the worst parts of Contact had a child with the best parts of Arrival, which then had a torrid affair with The Fountain? The resulting progeny might look a lot like Annihilation. Which is to say: the parts I loved I really loved, and the parts that didn’t work for me nearly jarred me right out of the film.

An attempt at a non spoiler review lurks below.

Annihilation is Alex Garland’s adaptation of the first novel of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy: Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance. I have only read the first novel so far, and loved it. It had a beautiful blend of Lovecraftian weirdness, Floridian weirdness, and ecological horror that exactly meshed with my own reading sensibilities. Everyone go read the book!

This adaptation is ...

Books Make the Best Home: Ruthanna Emrys’ Winter Tide

Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys

I missed Winter Tide when it was first published—the simultaneous blessing/curse of working in publishing meaning that I am drowning in books at all times. I was excited to finally delve into Ruthanna Emrys’ debut novel, and not only am I glad I did so, but I’m hoping I get to the sequel a lot faster.

Because here is a book that understands the importance of books.

Lovecraft’s Mythos is particularly ripe for cultural commentary and exploration of otherness because the eldritch gods are themselves so deeply, horribly other. Especially since Lovecraft himself was so extra about his racism, it makes it all the more interesting to probe the racial assumptions, weirdness, and hatefulness in his work. Hence The Ballad of Black Tom, which tells a story of racist police violence wrapped up in a riff on “The Horror at Red Hook,” and Winter Tide, which ...

Be the Angel You Want to See in America: The World Only Spins Forward by Isaac Butler and Dan Kois

Twenty-five years ago Tony Kushner’s Angels in America came to Broadway. It was an audacious work of theater, somehow meshing a realistic depiction of the havoc AIDS wreaks on a body, complex discussions of American political history, pissed-off angels, and Mormonism. The ghost of Ethel Rosenberg was a character, as was Roy Cohn. Gay and straight sex happened onstage. Audiences were confronted with both Kaposi’s Sarcoma lesions and emotional abuse.

And somehow, miraculously, the show was hilarious.

Now Isaac Butler and Dan Kois have undertaken the herculean labor of creating an oral history of the play, made up of interviews with hundreds of people, from Kushner himself all the way to college students studying the play. The result is an exhaustive look at creativity and theater that is nearly as exhilarating and fun to read as the play itself.

Let’s begin with a tiny bit of backstory. ...

When No One Else Will Stand Up and Fight the Obvious Evil: The “Unchosen Ones” of Fantasy

Rey The Last Jedi

It is a truth long acknowledged that an epic quest needs a Chosen One. The One Character, Chosen by Fate, Long-Prophesied, riddled with Marks of Great Portent, whose Birth Was Foretold, and Who Will Bring Balance/Right Wrongs/Overthrow Injustice.

But what about those heroes who aren’t chosen? Who see all of their friends, all of their world, go quiet in the face of an obvious evil? What about those who take up the lightsaber, the armor, the Ring, knowing all the while that, at any moment, they could be revealed as frauds? Or die without making anything better?

Today, we’re celebrating the “Unchosen Ones”.


Vin and Kelsier (Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson)

Vin Kelsier Mistborn Marc Simonetti art

Art by Marc Simonetti

Vin and Kelsier live in a world of extreme injustice, swarming with monsters and mist, curated by the all-powerful Lord Ruler. There is no resistance. Resistance always fails. As thieves, Vin and Kelsier know ...

Hitting the Road with Bored of the Rings

In 1969 Doug Kenney and Henry Beard, editors of the prestigious comedy magazine The Harvard Lampoon (and soon-to-be creators of the National Lampoon) co-wrote a deeply silly parody of Lord of the Rings called, wait for it, Bored of the Rings. It turns out that a long, debauched scene at the book launch for Bored of the Rings features prominently in David Wain’s (somewhat fictionalized) recent biopic of Kenney, A Futile and Stupid Gesture. While I was watching the film I realized that (a) I had the book, and (b) I had somehow never read it. And thus this week’s TBR Stack is born!

I have to say, I was shocked by how many interesting comedic thoughts Kenney and Beard stuffed in under all the silliness.

As a comedy nerd I’ve been maybe a little obsessed with the Lampoon. I’ve always been interested in the fact that a ...

New Deadpool 2 Trailer Gives us An Intimate Moment with Cable

Deadpool is back, and he’s ready for—oh, actually, the trailer isn’t quite done yet. But that’s OK, Mr. Pool is known for his improv skills. Click through for a gloriously profane Deadpool 2 trailer with looks at Cable, Domino, a bunch of action figures, and an unmasked Wade Wilson.



THIS IS THE BEST MEET-CUTE. Deadpool 2 hits theaters on May 18th, which feels so terribly far away.





Check Out a New Trailer for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom!

The new trailer for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is here to terrify us! And as long as life keeps, uh, finding a way, we will keep glorying in the sight of helpless humans quivering like jelly before the wrath of awesome dinos.

Click through for the full trailer!

We’re rooting for you, Blue. Leave these silly humans and start your own franchise! Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom hit theaters on June 22, 2018.