World’s Worst Trekkie: Plato’s Stepchildren, Wink of an Eye, and The Empath

“Plato’s Stepchildren”

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Oh shit, it’s this episode.

So, “Plato’s Stepchildren” is best known as the first time an interracial couple (or specifically, a white/Black couple) kissed on US television. Obviously, I’ve been waiting to see this episode, although it turns out I’ve been waiting to see “Plato’s Stepchildren” for different, less historic reasons, too. You see, I’ve often come across GIFs like this—

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—and of course—

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—and wondered, Okay, what the hell is happening here? When am I gonna get to this what-the-fuckery? Well, folks. We’re here, and let me tell you, “Plato’s Stepchildren” is 99.5% what-the-fuckery.

Basically, it goes like this: the holy OT3 beam down to some planet in response to a distress call. They find the Platonians, a telekinetic and functionally immortal alien species who are, uh, followers of Plato, I guess? Sure, I’ll go with it. Their leader, Parmen, has been gravely injured from a small wound, as these people have never had to deal with sepsis before. Bones cures him, so yay! Unfortunately, these people are also total assholes, and they want Bones to stay behind forever in case of any other medical emergencies. Bones refuses, and thus we get roughly 40 minutes of Parmen trying to make Bones change his mind by humiliating Kirk and Spock, psychically forcing them to do all sorts of weird shit: sing, dance, hurt themselves, put on little plays, etc. The absolute most bizarre shit is when Parmen makes Alexander (their servant, a dwarf without any telekinetic abilities) jump on Kirk’s back as he crawls around, making whinny noises. Yes. This is a thing that ACTUALLY HAPPENED.

The kiss comes about because Parmen uses his mind powers to A) beam Uhura and Nurse Chapel down to the planet, and B) force Kirk to kiss Uhura and Spock to kiss Christine. So, it’s, uh. Not at all consensual from anyone involved, which is kind of a bummer for such a historic television moment. Although it’s still pretty awesome that William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols deliberately fucked up any of the non-smooch versions, so the studio had to use the kiss take. On a character level, though, Spock kissing Nurse Chapel is much more interesting because she’s had this crush on him for so long now, and she never imagined (or wanted) their first kiss being anything like this. Poor Nurse Chapel. I wish the episode bothered to check in with her again afterwards, but unsurprisingly, they do not. (Apparently, in the original script, Spock was supposed to kiss Uhura, but then William Shatner intervened. I find the tiny glimpses of Spock/Uhura in TOS fascinating, so I find this a little disappointing, too.)

Anyway, our OT3 discovers that the Platonians get their superpowers from their food supply. Bones quickly synthesizes similar chemicals, and Kirk overpowers Parmen. And . . . yeah, that’s about the whole episode. And, like, there are a few things I enjoy besides the historical significance of that kiss. Uhura has a very pretty dress. Spock pisses off an alien by guessing her age at 35. (I definitely felt this moment, having once angered a coworker by guessing her age correctly.) I enjoy Spock suffering from emotions that are psychically inflicted upon him, mostly because I’m a monster. And I really like Michael Dunn, who plays Alexander. The character is much more nuanced than I would’ve expected from TOS, has a whole emotional arc and everything, and Dunn plays the part well. But that Kirk-as-horse scene is pretty fucking painful, and also the writers apparently couldn’t resist throwing in one “little” joke by the end at Michael Dunn’s expense, which, UGH.

Mostly, though, the episode is just . . . plotless and weird. I can kinda see how it might’ve worked on paper, like, maybe they were conceiving it as a fun, cracky episode à la “I, Mudd.” In execution, unfortunately, it’s mostly just uncomfortable and strange.

Chief Asshat: Parmen, obviously

MVP: Definitely Alexander. I’m so happy he  lived!

Grade: Rocky Road

Line of the Episode: 

“The release of emotions, Mr. Spock, is what keeps us healthy. Emotionally healthy, that is.”
“That may be, Doctor. However, I have noted that the healthy release of emotion is frequently very unhealthy for those closest to you.”

“Wink of an Eye”

The Enterprise responds to a distress call; once again, it’s a trap. I feel like that’s been happening a lot lately? Anyway, our bad guys this time are the Scalosians. Years ago, due to a series of devastating environmental catastrophes and tons of radiation, the Scalosians somehow became accelerated in time, like, they’re basically just stuck in the Speed Force nonstop. They move so fast that they’re invisible to the human eye, and the only evidence of their presence is an occasional high-pitched, insect-like noise. The Scalosians (presumably, just the men) also became sterile, so now they abduct people into the Speed Force and use their captives as breeding stock to propagate their species. Only human bodies aren’t meant to live at accelerated speeds, so even the smallest bit of cellular damage will eventually rapidly age and kill those captives. This happens to the Red Shirt that helps sabotage the Enterprise.

Deela (Kathie Browne) is the Queen of the Scalosians, and she is easily the best part of this episode. She wants Kirk to be her baby daddy, so she doses his coffee with Speed Force accelerants—I was wondering why we had a yeoman for the first time in ages—and then proceeds to spend half the episode sexy flirting with him. And while I find Kirk a boring choice for this storyline, I will say that “Wink of an Eye” is one of the rare episodes where his flirting doesn’t creep me out, probably because both characters are clearly using one another to get what they want. While Deela genuinely likes Kirk (because he’s stubborn and feisty and “pretty”), she also never falls head over heels for him, either, as is typical on TOS.  She never stops seeing Kirk as a means to an end, and I enjoy that. Deela is a calm and confident villain: cool, amused, and utterly unapologetic for what she considers necessary to save her people. It’s refreshing to see, honestly. Also, I think she’s got some serious Natalie Dormer vibes. Obviously a plus.

On the downside: Deela’s Jealous Scalosian Dude is very dull, I sorta wish Kirk had fallen under Deela’s spell (they imply it’s an inevitable side effect, hence Red Shirt’s brief betrayal), some of the timing seems a bit off (Scotty gets stuck in the same spot for like 80 years?), and the ending is . . . not great? See, Bones figures out how to accelerate Spock’s speed so he can go rescue Kirk. Spock also has the cure (admittedly, experimental) to get everyone back to normal speed. He has every opportunity to tell the Scalosians this, too; instead, Spock says nothing as they beam our bad guys back to their planet where they’ll inevitably go extinct. Only then do Spock and Kirk take the cure, and like, yeah, these people are the villains, and Red Shirt deserves justice and all that, but . . . wow, our heroes don’t even try to help. Spock and Kirk are just like, “Well, too bad these people are doomed to isolated annihilation, I guess,” and fuck off to the nearest star system with their miracle cure in hand. It’s fucking weird.

Chief Asshat: I mean, I’m giving it to Kirk and Spock because of that ending. But admittedly, Rael the Jealous Lover is a bit of a pill, too.

MVP: Obviously Deela

Grade: Vanilla

Line of the Episode: Hm, difficult. Kirk has a pretty great line when he says, “I can think of nothing I’d rather do than stay with you . . . except stay alive,” which is an excellent example of correct priorities. Deela, too, has a number of quotes I enjoy, from introducing herself as “Deela, the enemy” to coolly telling Rael, “Allow me the dignity of liking the man I select.” Still, this one might be my actual favorite:

“Why?”
“Because I like you. Didn’t you guess? Or are you so accustomed to being kissed by invisible women?”

“The Empath”

On today’s adventure, our Holy OT3 beams down to some science colony that’s been observing a sun about to go supernova. The scientists are missing, though; all our heroes find is a truly comical level of dust before they quickly get abducted themselves, taken somewhere deep underground where they find a mysterious mute woman who they decide to name Gem. Gem is our titular empath, and she’s . . . not great. She makes a lot of weepy faces and melodramatic body gestures and is pretty much impossible to take seriously. It’s also hard to know how much Gem actually understands. She doesn’t make much effort to communicate, and it’s insinuated at one point that she might not understand human speech at all, but if she doesn’t even know why she’s here . . . well, we’ll get there.

Soon, a couple of alien doctors appear. They’re doing a series of experiments, most of which involve torturing our heroes. Kirk, who gets tortured first, is told he can decide who will go next: Bones or Spock. Bones takes the choice out of his hands when he sneak-sedates Kirk, then quickly does the same thing to Spock and volunteers himself for almost guaranteed death. And indeed, Bones is in rough shape after his torture. His only chance of survival is Gem, who, as an empath, can also heal people, I guess? It does hurt her, though, and it’s unclear if such a serious healing could potentially kill her. But it turns out that’s the whole point of this experiment: to see if Gem will willingly risk her own life to save another.

See, the doctors have the power to save only one planet in this dying solar system. They’re considering saving Gem’s world, but only if she proves that her people are worthy of being rescued. Gem heals Bones, a little, but is too frightened to finish the job. She does go back, though, only this time Bones stops her, not willing to be saved if it means she might die. Spock argues that her offer should be enough to call the experiment a success, and Kirk accuses the doctors of being all intellect, no heart. (UGH). Eventually, the doctors agree—or at least, they agree to heal Bones. Gem and her planet’s fate are left a bit more ambiguous. One of the doctors scoops up the unconscious woman in his arms, and they all disappear.

And like, okay. Number one: can you imagine our entire planet depending on one asshole proving he’s a selfless person? What if the aliens abducted Elon Musk? Donald Trump? Your shitty coworker who clearly learned nothing at sexual harassment training? How are we possibly judging an entire species on a sample size of one? And for that matter, what happens if Gem does fail her worthiness test? Are we giving similar tests to other people in this system?  Remember, we’ve been presumably testing Gem for at least 3 months, considering that’s when the first scientists were taken. Could we maybe use this time more productively, like, IDK, figuring out a way to save more people? (Not to mention, the aliens insist that the scientists only died because of their own fears and imperfections, which, uh. Is that supposed to imply that these dudes weren’t as noble and self-sacrificing as our heroes, and thus Gem couldn’t learn from them? Cause one way or another, I’m pretty sure the scientists actually died from, you know. Torture.)

ALSO. Does Gem even understand that her people are depending on her willingness to become a martyr? Because we’ve been pretty unclear about how much language she comprehends in this episode. And whether or not she does understand, are we really condemning Gem as a shitty person just because she’s afraid to sacrifice her life to save three dudes she’s known for approximately 15 minutes? PLUS, are we really supposed to be okay with the fact that Gem’s been abducted and emotionally tortured for months just because these docs have ultimately good intentions? She doesn’t even go free at the end of the episode, at least not that we can verify! EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS WHOLE EXPERIMENT VEXES ME SO MUCH.

On the plus side, “The Empath” is basically someone’s H/C fanfic becoming canon, which I personally think is pretty great. Also, Bones gets to say, “I’m a doctor, not a coal miner,” and at one point, William Shatner has to move like he’s in slow motion, and that shit is hysterical. It so, so bad. So. Not a total loss, I guess?

Chief Asshat: Obviously, the alien doctors. They SUCK.

MVP: Bones. He’s a sneaky, heroic motherfucker.

Grade: Rocky Road

Line of the Episode: 

“Why did you let him do it?”
“I was convinced in the same way you were, Captain: by the good doctor’s hypo.”

World’s Worst Trekkie: Day of the Dove, For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky, and The Tholian Web

“Day of the Dove”

You know, this one is pretty fun: silly sword fights,  psychic manipulation, a bit of a mystery, etc. Our heroes respond to a distress call and beam down to some planet, only to discover zero evidence that anyone’s ever been there. Soon, a beat to hell Klingon ship appears, and the surviving Klingons, led by Kang, briefly capture the away team, insisting that the Enterprise attacked them. (They also say the Klingons and the Federation have been at peace for three years without incident, which seems, uh . . . wildly inaccurate?) Kirk surrenders, which infuriates Chekov because his brother Piotr was murdered by Klingons, which—wait, Chekov’s brother was murdered by Klingons? Holy shit, how did this not come up in The Undiscovered Country? Did we just transfer his familial angst to Kirk or what? (The answer is no, but we’ll get to why in a moment.)

Kirk, of course, is only pretending to surrender. He secretly signals Spock, who beams everyone up. The away team properly materializes on the Enterprise, while the Klingons are temporarily held in the transporter buffer, effectively shelving them in oblivion for a hot second, which—holy shit, we can do that on purpose? That’s horrifying. I’ve never wanted to write a Star Trek horror movie so badly IN MY LIFE.  Kirk lets the Klingons materialize again (despite Chekov’s protest) and takes them prisoner, but unbeknownst to everyone, a weird spinny light has followed them all on board.

And then shit gets weird. First the Klingons escape when a bunch of random objects suddenly transform into swords. Then Chekov openly defies Kirk to seek vengeance, but Sulu, who knows his bro (or boyfriend, shippers you do you), is all, “But Chekov . . . doesn’t have a brother, though?” And then almost everyone gets extremely irrational and aggressive, like, Uhura just seems a little upset, but Bones becomes weirdly racist about Klingons (it’s weird because it’s not Vulcans, see), and Scotty gets super racist about Vulcans, and even Spock gets quietly, ominously violent for a hot second there. Kirk, unfortunately, mostly just becomes increasingly melodramatic, wondering if they’re all doomed to become so wantonly violent, is this Armageddon, etc., (Kirk’s dialogue is easily one of the worst things about this episode; see also, the Klingons’ makeup, which is awful for, well. A multitude of reasons, really.) Chekov, meanwhile, isn’t just seeking vengeance for his imaginary brother; he also tries to rape Kang’s wife, Mara, which, WTF. This scene isn’t necessary at all, but I will say that Walter Koenig is surprisingly creepy in it. TBH, I kinda wish I’d seen him play a villain now cause damn.

The weird spinny light, it turns out, is basically an evil emotional vampire, creating and feeding on everyone’s negative emotions. Once Kirk convinces Kang that they’re being manipulated, they both order their men to stop fighting. They also laugh as they tell the alien to hit the road, which is pretty funny,  particularly when Kang smacks Kirk hard on the back, and Kirk, nearly falling over, has to keep laughing anyway. HA.

Chief Asshat: I mean. We’re told Chekov isn’t at fault for assaulting Mara, but it’s worth pointing out that he’s the only character who tries to rape anyone. Also—and this is obviously less important—he keeps holding his sword with one hand around the blade like, Chekov, my dude. What the fuck are you doing here?

MVP: Sulu, no question. He seems to be the only person who’s never affected by the alien, and he awesomely takes out one of the Klingons with a magnificent judo chop to the neck. (Though sadly, he rarely gets to use the sword he carries, which is just poor continuity, considering “The Naked Time” and all.)

Grade: Chocolate

Line of the Episode: Shit, this one’s hard. Kang actually has several great lines, like when Kirk tries to convince him that the alien is keeping anyone from dying, and Kang’s all, “Then no doubt you will reassemble after I’ve hacked you to bits.” Also, when he’s telling the alien to fuck off: “Out! We need no urging to hate humans!” (Kang is pretty great, TBH.) Still, this exchange with Chekov might be my actual favorite.

“You killed my brother!”
“And you volunteer to join him. That is loyalty.”

“For The World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky”

Whew. Look, I know I just sold a story that has a nine-word title and all, but goddamn. This one’s a mouthful.

So, this episode is . . . less great. The Enterprise successfully avoids a mysterious missile strike and discover that they were attacked by a 10,000 year old ship that looks like a giant asteroid. The asteroid-ship is on a collision course with a very highly populated planet. No lifeforms are detected, so Kirk, Spock, and Bones head down to the surface, where they are almost immediately captured by aliens who live underground. Whoops. Also? Bones is dying. See, just before beaming down, Bones reluctantly tells Kirk that he has some fatal disease and only has a year to live. (Kirk is sad about it, obviously, but also immediately asks Starfleet for a CMO replacement, and you just know that bullshit wouldn’t have happened if Spock was the one dying. I’m just saying.)

Anyway, it turns out these aliens are the descendants of the Fabrini, and they’ve lived on this generation ship so long that they believe they’re on an actual planet. Even the high priestess and leader Natira doesn’t realize this; she only follows the commands of the Oracle, a (sigh) secret supercomputer which actually runs everything. This complicates Kirk’s whole “let’s change the collision course” plan, particularly because these aliens aren’t allowed to do all sorts of things that might clue them into the fact that they’re on a spaceship. Climb mountains, for instance. If they do, a chip in their head (ominously known as the Instrument of Obedience) will quickly kill them.

Kirk and Spock get caught sneaking around and are sentenced to death. Thankfully, because Bones and Natira have (SIGH) instantly fallen in love, Kirk and Spock are allowed to return to the ship. Bones, however, decides to stay behind, get married, and enjoy what time he has left with Natira. He also allows her to put the death chip in his face— which, okay, NO—and finds out some secret info. He tells Kirk and Spock about it and immediately gets punished. Natira, too, gets punished when she questions the Oracle. Thankfully, Kirk and Spock (ignoring Starfleet Command) return and manage to stop the Oracle from killing anyone. They change the course of the asteroid-ship. They also happily find a bunch of lost Fabrini medical knowledge which lets them cure Bones. He decides to go back to the Enterprise, and Natira decides to stay on her ship, but they’ll likely rendezvous for a quick date in 300 or so days when the asteroid-ship finally lands at their original destination, a new home world.

And, like. There’s just a lot of dumb to go around in this episode. How about those missiles that instigated this plot? Yeah, they’re never mentioned again. Where the fuck were the Fabrini coming from that they couldn’t reach a new planet for 10,000 years? Is their destined home world even A) still habitable and B) unpopulated after all this time? Why does the Oracle try to slowly cook everyone to death when it previously just zapped the shit out of people—something to which neither Spock nor Kirk had any defense against? How is the Oracle still functional at all since apparently no one’s been maintaining or repairing it for a millennia? Also, why did we even create a five second obstacle with Starfleet Command when absolutely nothing came from it? I can’t even get into how awful the insta-romance between Bones and Natira is. Their whole relationship is sped through so quickly that the emotional beats don’t even make sense.

On the plus side, we do get some downright hilarious costumes to laugh at. Also, I do really like the scene where Spock finds out that Bones is dying, and also just generally DeForest Kelley’s whole performance in this one. It’s too bad that we didn’t get this subplot in a much better episode.

Chief Asshat: I’m giving this one to the Fabrini. Their planning skills are seriously lacking.

MVP: DeForest Kelley. It’s not his fault that Bones makes absurd decisions like, “I met a girl so pretty that I’ll let a suspicious super computer put a death chip in my head.”

Grade: Pistachio

Line of the Episode: 

“Bones, this isn’t a planet. It’s a spaceship on a collision course with Daran V.”
“I’m on a kind of a collusion course myself, Jim.”

“The Tholian Web”

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Ah. Good old Swear Trek. I regret to inform you that Bones does not actually talk about farting in this episode, but our heroes do wear space suits again! I think the last time we saw anything remotely like this was way back in . . . yeah, “The Naked Time.” Those were two-piece biohazard suits made out of shower curtains, and they were the most functionally useless things I’ve ever seen in my life. These new suits are A) a huge improvement and B) definitely another addition to my Star Trek Dream Cosplay List.

This episode is partly great and partly maddening, so pretty par for the course for TOS. We begin with the Enterprise finding the missing Defiant in an uncharted part of space where space itself seems to be, er. Thinning? Look, kids, l know science isn’t my strong suit, but I’m reasonably sure that space doesn’t do that. Anyway, the Defiant is drifting (and ominously green), and while everyone can see the ship, it doesn’t actually show up on sensors. An away team beams over to investigate and finds some absolutely creepy shit. Not only is everyone on the Defiant dead, it’s obvious that they all murdered each other. Some of the corpses are strapped down in Sickbay. Also, Bones tries to touch a few things and his hand goes through them. Like, Act I is some awesome space horror, and I am absolutely here for it.

Since the Defiant seems to be dissolving, Kirk orders everyone to beam back home. Unfortunately, the Enterprise is now having its own mysterious malfunctions and can only beam up three people at a time. Kirk is left for last, and the Defiant disappears before he can materialize on the Enterprise. Spock, though, thinks there’s a chance Kirk’s still alive in some alternate universe. They have to beam him back at exactly the right moment, and also not expend any energy that might disrupt the dimensional rift. Unfortunately, there are multiple problems with that plan. People aboard the ship begin to go crazy and attack one another. The Tholians appear, insisting that this is their space, and eventually attack when the Enterprise refuses to leave. The ship, now drifting, are helpless as the Tholians begin creating an energy field that will trap the Enterprise once completed. Also, Bones is just a massive dick to Spock the entire episode, only apologizing once they watch Kirk’s “In Case of My Death” message, in which Kirk essentially reminds them to chill the hell out and trust one another.

Spock now thinks that Kirk is dead, but Uhura briefly sees him in her mirror. She tells Bones, but she’s also  borderline incoherent and faints in his arms because, you know. Women. (SIGH.) So, everyone thinks she’s just hysterical. Eventually, though, other people see Kirk too, and Spock figures out the next interphase moment. They get just enough power to beam Kirk to safety and escape the Tholian web. Meanwhile, Bones figures out the antidote to Space Rage, which looks like tangerine juice and is actually some Klingon nerve gas diluted with alcohol. Finally, Spock and Bones troll Kirk by pretending they never even bothered to watch his final message.

And look, there are definitely good moments in here! The whole first act. More evidence that Sulu has heart eyes for Chekov. I genuinely like Kirk’s final message, as well as Bones and Spock trolling him about it. (Chekov, certainly, thinks it’s hysterical.) We get to see Uhura in off-duty clothes, which is cool, and Nurse Chapel subdues a guy attacking Bones, which is very cool.

Unfortunately, the conflict between Bones and Spock doesn’t work at all, mostly because Bones’s arguments are nonsensical even for him. He’s mad at Spock for putting Kirk ahead of the crew, despite the fact that he’s definitely chewed Spock out in the past for prioritizing the crew over Kirk. He’s mad at Spock for, IDK, being power hungry and hoping that Kirk is really dead, which isn’t just ludicrous; it’s almost the exact opposite of what Bones was arguing five minutes ago. Some of that could work, if you take grief and Space Rage into account, but these scenes never really play that way, and there are a lot of them. It’s incredibly frustrating to watch.

Also, it must be said that the Tholians are building the slowest and most worthless prison of all time. Whole generations were born and died in the time it took to create this fucking web, and one energy discharge is all it takes for the Enterprise to escape it. I know the episode is literally called “The Tholian Web” and all, but truthfully, this whole story would be better if our bad guys just weren’t in it.

Chief Asshat: Bones, no question.

MVP: Spock, for not punching Bones in the face. I know that kind of behavior is atypical for a Vulcan, but honestly? I think we all would’ve understood.

Grade: Vanilla

Line of the Episode: 

“The renowned Tholian punctuality.”

Triple Scoop Review: Death on the Nile, The Batman, and Appointment With Death

Death on the Nile

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Year: 2022
Director: Kenneth Branagh
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – HBO Max
Spoilers: YES, for both the film and the book
Grade: Rocky Road

I mean. It’s watchable?  It’s a little weird watching it, mind you, considering the public trainwreck of a cast, up to and including Possible Cannibal Armie Hammer. Still, I like Agatha Christie stories, and I’m always a sucker for a whodunit, so I didn’t have a bad time watching this, just, whew, some of the choices they make. Why?

Let’s begin with World War I and The Secret Tragic Mustache History of Mr. Hercule Poirot, a real sentence that I’m really saying right now. We get non-canonical flashbacks to our hero as a soldier, which is . . . fine, I guess, and see that Poirot is A) typically brilliant, B) too brilliant to become a farmer, which is, uh, apparently what he’s planning to do after the war? And C) clean-shaven, at least until he gets kinda blown up, and his nice fiancée suggests that he grows a mustache if he hates his facial scars so much. And, I mean. None of that’s awful. I probably wouldn’t blink twice at it in a non-Hercule Poirot story, but here it just feels so silly, like finally, AT LONG LAST, we learn the Secret History of the Ridiculous Mustache—a question that absolutely nobody was asking. (Also, at the end of the movie, Poirot shaves off his facial hair, which like, yay for acceptance of scars, but also . . . IDK, the Angst Beard has a long tradition in Hollywood, but the Angst Mustache is somehow just so much harder to take seriously?)

Anyway, what’s much worse is how Death on the Nile doubles down on one of my least favorite things about Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express: Poirot’s random dead fiancée, Katherine. The actress who plays Katherine is totally fine. But her tragic death is why Poirot, you know, Renounced Love, and became a great detective instead of a farmer, and how he can be so cold and removed and unfeeling, and ugh to all of this, especially this fucking line: “He told me how much he hoped you’d be happy one day, too. That you’d get tired of being just a pure cold detective. Be human instead.”

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Look, I’m sure you’re tired of hearing this. I know I’m tired of saying it. But it is VERY POSSIBLE to be both happy and human without romantic love in your life. And what’s funny is, I’m not even 100% against the idea of a Poirot Love Story, like, do I think that shit is necessary? Nope, not remotely. But I will say that—in one of the many, many deviations from the original text—Poirot and Salome (Sophie Okonedo) have this whole quiet, flirty thing where she’s all awesome and he’s kinda cutely awkward, and it actually does work for me? But Death on the Nile pushes so HARD on this idea that you’re not truly living without romantic love, and that bullshit is just annoying AF.

Other unexpected adaptational choices: killing off Buoc, a character who isn’t even in the original novel. Instead, he’s the comic relief from Murder on the Orient Express, and his death is both surprising and genuinely pretty sad. It’s funny because I did think Branagh was gonna change up the third victim here, but I was so sure it was going to be Annette Bening, not Tom Bateman. Buoc’s death is much more tragic, and on one hand, WAAAAH, but OTOH, I think this switch-up actually does play pretty well. Certainly, Poirot’s sorrow about his dead friend feels way more earned than it ever did about poor dead Katherine.

Death on the Nile is a bit hard to judge as a whodunit since I already know, well, whodunit. I do feel like it’s less rushed than Murder on the Orient Express, which is good . . . although it also takes quite a while before the murders begin, which is less good. The cast may have been a PR disaster, but they’re a decent bunch of actors, and I’m mildly amused by how almost everyone here is putting on a fake accent. (The American actors are playing English, the English actors are playing American or Belgian or French, etc.) Strongest players are probably Kenneth Branagh, Annette Bening, Tom Bateman, and Sophie Okonedo. (She’s the MVP for sure.)  Armie Hammer probably gets Worst Player, if only because, wow, I burst into laughter during his weepy scene, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t meant to be funny. If I hadn’t already known he was one of the bad guys, I definitely would’ve figured it out then.

Oh, this has gotten way too long. Some final random thoughts: A) JFC, the camera angles in this film have only gotten weirder, WHY, why are you doing this to me, Branagh? B) The CGI is also pretty terrible, like, that pyramid shot? Oh no. Oh, no. C) The sexy dancing in this movie seems incredibly forced to me, like, I am not always the best judge at what qualifies as steamy? But good Lord, this is just, like, lingering, awkward, faux-fucking on the dance floor. D) Some of the quippy dialogue is fun. I’m a simple girl, and I like a good quip. And E) I love, love, LOVE that Poirot straightens the dead woman’s foot. That might’ve been my favorite moment in the whole movie.

The Batman

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Year: 2022
Director: Matt Reeves
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – HBO Max
Spoilers: VERY MUCH YES
Grade: Vanilla? Or, IDK. Vanilla-chocolate swirl, maybe?

TBH, I was kinda dreading watching The Batman, mostly because of the three hour runtime (superhero movies, when will you stop), but honestly? I was pretty entertained. Like, I wouldn’t call it the Batman film I’ve been waiting for my entire life or anything, but I had a good time watching it.

I like that The Batman is a slow burn mystery, that we really do get more of a detective story than any of the previous films. I like some of the dark humor (thumb drive, heh), and I’m utterly grateful that we skip the Crime Alley scene. I also enjoy how the film really commits to its whole emo noir aesthetic. (Holy shit, does Bruce lives in a gothic cathedral now? WTF.) Did those emo vibes occasionally make giggle? You’re damn right they did. I was absolutely grinning through Robert Pattinson’s noir VO (though, TBH, I think we could’ve cut that down just a bit) and definitely at Nirvana’s “Something In The Way” . . . but IDK, even though I couldn’t quite get through that with a straight face, it still worked for me, somehow, particularly with Pattinson as a younger, reclusive, moody AF Bruce Wayne. It felt fitting. I think there’s only one moment in the hospital where I just couldn’t quite buy him; otherwise, I like RP just fine as Batman.

Most of the cast is pretty solid, honestly: Jeffrey Wright feels instantly correct as Jim Gordon, Zoë Kravitz is enjoyable as Catwoman, John Turturro works really well as Falcone, I like Andy Serkis’s take on Alfred, and though it’s a kind of a minor role, I really enjoy Peter Sarsgaard as D.A. Colson. Paul Dano and Colin Farrell, though, I have mixed feelings about. Dano, himself, chews scenery like no one’s business, which . . . IDK, kinda works for me, but also not always? I do like the parallels between Riddler and Batman, and I did love Dano singing the “Ave Maria,” but I also definitely started cracking up when he was all “NOOO!” and IDK. It felt silly and over the top in a way that—unlike Batman’s bangs or Kurt Cobain—just didn’t quite work for me. Meanwhile, I actually enjoy pretty much all of Colin Farrell’s line deliveries here; he’s kind of the comic relief and—to my very great surprise—the jokes aren’t generally about his size or appearance. (They’re more about him trolling Batman and Gordon for their mediocre Spanish, which I am absolutely here for.) Still . . . I hate the fat suit. I hate the prosthetics. Sure, Farrell is unrecognizable, but that doesn’t add anything to this story; mostly, it just kept distracting me. At least, this doesn’t piss me off the way that Dune did or anything; it’s just like . . . why? Why not just cast someone else?

With a 3-hour runtime, I expected The Batman to drag considerably, but I actually think it’s pretty well paced for the most part. I do wish Batman and Catwoman worked together more throughout the film, partly because their quasi-romance felt a bit forced to me, and partly because I just wish we had more time with Catwoman in general. Alfred, too, gets pretty much dropped after the hospital scene, which disappointed me, although at least they didn’t kill him. (Oh, I would’ve murdered people.) I do wonder if we could’ve trimmed the third act a bit and maybe given those two characters a bit more time?

It also must be said that I just can’t bring myself to give a shit about that Joker tease, like, no disrespect to the actor, but Christ, I could go another full decade without the Joker; I am begging you. Still, I genuinely like that Batman ends this movie realizing that being vengeance isn’t enough, that he needs to be a symbol of hope as well. (Side note: I kinda loved the Vengeance name, if only because I kept thinking of this song and wanting people to come up to Batman and be all, “What’s up, Vengeance?”) The idea of Batman as a symbol of hope as well as a symbol of fear interests me, maybe because it’s kinda the whole antithesis of movies like The Dark Knight and is actually something I’d love to see explored in a sequel, should a sequel  be made. I am all about character growth, and if we could actually get a compassionate Batman in a live action film, not just in cartoons like JLU? IDK, that could be pretty neat to see.

Appointment With Death

Year: 1988
Director: Michael Winner
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – ScreenPix
Spoilers: Some
Grade: Vanilla

And we’re back to Agatha Christie! Funny story: I’ve been wanting to check out Appointment With Death for actual years now, only it’s not an easy film to find, streaming or otherwise. However, while working on the Death on the Nile review above, I found myself looking up a list of obscure whodunit movies, and while looking up Green for Danger (number #1 on the list), I stumbled across the fact that Appointment With Death was available on ScreenPix. A free one week trial later, and here we are!

Peter Ustinov will never be my favorite Poirot, but I enjoy watching his movies well enough, and while Appointment With Death definitely isn’t knocking Evil Under the Sun from its top spot, I had a decent time watching it. This movie is, truthfully, a bit on the forgettable side, but I also feel like I have less glaring problems with it than I did with Branagh’s Death on the Nile—although that isn’t to say there aren’t flaws to be had because oh, there are. For one, we wait quite a while before anyone gets murdered—although admittedly, this does allow us more time with Piper Laurie, who excels in this film as the cruel Mrs. Boynton. For another, the insta-love between Dr. Sarah King and Raymond kinda kills me, although I’m pretty sure Agatha Christie is the one to blame for this. Insta-love is pretty common in these mysteries. There’s also the fact that Appointment With Death is about a bunch of white, snotty, British and American people in Jerusalem; there are definitely a few cringey moments, up to and including how little anyone cares about Hassan, a boy who tries to give Poirot critical information and ends up getting murdered for it. This immediately leads to a scene where Sarah, who initially looks guilty of Hassan’s murder, is briefly menaced by a bunch of silent men with brown skin, and it’s . . . yeah, it’s not great.

On the upside, this cast. Along with Peter Ustinov and Piper Laurie, we have Carrie Fisher, Lauren Bacall, and Hayley Mills, all of whom I had fun watching. Hayley Mills doesn’t have a super interesting role, but I enjoyed seeing her all the same, having grown up on the 1961 version of The Parent Trap. I like Carrie Fisher in this (I mean, when do I not like Carrie Fisher), and Jenny Seagrove is good, too. Honestly, all the women in this movie are more interesting than the men, but it’s Piper Laurie and Lauren Bacall who are the true standouts here. I would’ve paid, like, so much money to watch a film solely about these two squaring off. They are both an absolute delight.

Anyone who doesn’t generally enjoy whodunits is not gonna be won over by Appointment With Death, which is, well. Pretty formulaic in the long run. But since I’m a person who is deeply comforted by dysfunctional murder families, secret wills, and detectives who insist on giving dramatic reveals for absolutely no good reason, well. I’m ecstatic that I finally managed to track this one down.

World’s Worst Trekkie: And The Children Shall Lead, Is There In Truth No Beauty, and Spectre of the Gun

“And The Children Shall Lead”

Ah, I see it’s time for another episode of Kirk vs. Creepy Children!

In this particular episode, the Enterprise responds to a distress call from some science colony and finds A) a bunch of dead scientists who’ve died by suicide, and B) the scientists’ very alive and disturbingly cheerful children. Bones is concerned that the children won’t cry or otherwise acknowledge their dead parents and thinks they’re in traumatic shock. He insists that Kirk shouldn’t interrogate them until they’re seen by a child specialist, and like, I am genuinely happy that Bones is a strong advocate for kids here, but as we don’t have a child specialist on board the ship, FFS, yes, we should still probably question them about what the hell happened to their very dead parents.

Well, it turns out that the kids are secretly in contact with  an “angel,” AKA, this malevolent alien entity who’s been giving them psychic powers so they can take over the Enterprise. The five children are able to do this absurdly easily, mostly by making our crew hallucinate shit they fear. Like, Uhura sees herself as a super old and wrinkly woman (sigh), and Sulu sees, er. Giant floating space swords? (They’re hysterical.) Kirk, meanwhile, is infected by an overwhelming anxiety that he’s losing command, so obviously Spock comes to the rescue by dragging him from the Bridge and meaningfully murmuring Jim into his ear. It’s fantastic. I mean, it’s also hilarious because Shatner is overacting, per usual, but come on. The ship. The SHIP.

Kirk then saves the day by emotionally torturing the children with happy home movies juxtaposed with recordings of their parents’ corpses and graves. This makes the kids cry and turn their back on the entity, who gets all melty/gross and quickly fades away. Bones insists that—with the children finally experiencing their grief—they can be helped now and everything will be okay! Personally, I think he might be calling victory a mite early, because these kids are absolutely gonna be traumatized for life.

“And The Children Shall Lead” is often considered one of the worst episodes of TOS and, like. Yeah, it’s not good. Characters make wild leaps in logic, the kids take over the ship far too easily, and also they do this whole “shake their fist in the air” routine whenever they use their magic powers, which gets old real fast. Also, uh. The Enterprise tries to beam two officers down to the planet, only due to magic fuckery, they don’t realize they’ve long left orbit, so I think . . . I think they just beamed two dudes into space? And no one ever mentions it again? Holy shit. Still, I’m pretty sure this wouldn’t even crack my Top 5 Worst TOS Episodes. Remember, I just watched “The Paradise Syndrome.” This show’s gonna have to work pretty hard to top that bullshit.

Chief Asshat: I mean. Psychologically terrorizing small children isn’t great, but Kirk kinda had to do it to save everyone on board and all. Still, he could probably stand to feel a little worse about it afterwards, instead of standing around like a smug asshole.

MVP: George Takei has to pretend to be afraid of giant floating space swords. I’m giving this one to him.

Grade: Rocky Road

Line of the Episode: “Humans do have an amazing capacity for believing what they choose and excluding that which is painful.”

“Is There In Truth No Beauty?”

First, it needs to be said that these red visors are nothing short of glorious. Move over, “Spock’s Brain” because I’ve got a whole new dream cosplay.

Fashionable visors aside, I actually think this is one of the more interesting TOS episodes I’ve watched in a while. The Enterprise has been tasked with escorting Ambassador Kollos to his home planet. Kollos is a super highly evolved alien, basically a bunch of weird psychedelic light in a box, and this physical appearance is apparently so ugly that if any human were to look upon him, they’d instantly go mad. Only Vulcans can manage it, and even then, only if they’re wearing the proper “warding off insanity” visors. BTW, guess what these aliens are called? Medusans. SERIOUSLY.

Assigned to the ambassador is Dr. Miranda Jones, AKA, Diana Muldaur, and I like her an awful lot here. (Way more than I liked Pulaski in TNG and more than I remember liking Mulhall in “Return to Tomorrow,” too.) Miranda is human, but she’s also a born telepath and has studied on Vulcan for several years for the chance to achieve a true mind link with Kollos. It’s her passion and life’s work, and she has absolutely zero time for romance, which will not stop literally every dude listening to this bullshit toast—

“How can one so beautiful condemn herself to look upon ugliness the rest of her life? Will we allow it, gentlemen?”

—from nodding along in agreement. Creeps. It also doesn’t stop Bones from kissing Miranda’s hand or Kirk’s usual icky flirting or this other dude, Larry, from declaring his extremely unrequited love. Ugh, this guy is so gross. This is apparently like his sixth unwanted confession, and he kisses her without asking, and whines shit like, “Why did I ever meet you?” This petulant fucker even manages to whine when Miranda, psychically intuiting his murderous impulses, still kindly offers to listen to him and get him psychological help. (I would’ve run screaming in the other direction, myself.) Larry’s response: “Great psychologist. Why don’t you try being a woman for a change?” THROW THIS WHOLE MAN INTO A FIRE.

Thankfully for everyone, Larry soon dies. He tries to murder Kollos, gets an eyeful of THE HORROR, loses his mind, and drops dead. (We get an honest to God, “He’s dead, Jim!” and I was so happy!) Unfortunately, Larry also briefly gained control over the Enterprise before dropping dead, speeding the ship up super fast and stranding them in some completely uncharted space—because weird shit happens on Trek when you go faster than warp 9. The Enterprise’s only hope is to achieve a mind link with Kollos, who has the superior knowledge to navigate them back home. However, Kirk and Spock decide that Miranda can’t make the link herself because she doesn’t know how to operate the ship—which kinda seems like bullshit to me, personally. I mean, there are plenty of people onboard who could help with that. This feels like it could’ve been a group effort. Furthermore, they don’t even bother discussing the situation with her because Miranda’s had (an admittedly pretty obvious) chip on her shoulder about Spock and Kollos interacting so far. (She wouldn’t have received the position if Spock hadn’t previously turned it down, see.) Thus Kirk decides to distract her with his Sexy Seduction Skills, while Spock secretly mind melds with the ambassador.

To my absolute delight, Miranda is wholly uninterested in Kirk’s creepy flirting and psychically senses what Spock’s up to. She insists that she can do the job. However, Bones tells her that while she can do almost anything a sighted woman can do, she can’t pilot a starship if she can’t see the controls. It turns out that Miranda is blind and that the elaborate beading on all her dresses actually provide this super sophisticated sensor web, which is just awesome. It’s extremely exciting to see far-future vision impairment and mobility aids, and combining them with fashion? YES. Also, Miranda’s quietly angry monologue here about pity is pretty fantastic. Unfortunately, it’s decided that Miranda’s blindness disqualifies her, which . . . IDK, maybe it’s cause I grew up on TNG and I’m used to Geordi doing all sorts of neat shit, but I just feel like they could’ve made this work. I’m seriously bummed for Miranda.

So, Spock does the mind meld with Kollos, allowing Leonard Nimoy the chance to smile, which is, admittedly, always delightful. They successfully navigate the Enterprise back home, but oh noes! Spock forgets to put his red visor on before he and Kollos break the mental link, so naturally, Spock goes mad. There’s only one chance to save him: Miranda must psychically connect to Spock and restore his sanity.

. . . And sadly, here is where the episode kinda goes to shit because when Miranda—not currently wearing her sensor web, BTW—says that she can’t save Spock, Kirk insists that she secretly wants Spock to die. He accuses her of psychically causing Spock to forget the visor in the first place and then full on manhandles her, like, throws her up against a wall and everything. Yup, that’s Kirk, our hero, just blatantly assaulting a disabled woman. He seems to regret it pretty quickly, but less because it was a terrible thing to do and more because it’s a pretty stupid way to treat the only person who can save your first officer/boyfriend/BFF.

Of course, Miranda does save Spock, and vexingly, thanks Kirk for his violent assault, telling him that he was right about her motivations, which just—doesn’t feel even remotely true. I mean, sure, she was jealous of Spock. I get that and, TBH, actually like it—people are flawed, after all—but nothing in this episode has convinced me that Miranda is so goddamn petty that she would’ve either attempted to MURDER Spock or happily allowed him to die. It’s frustrating because Miranda is otherwise such a fantastic character: intelligent, disabled, reserved, compassionate, envious, confident, and potentially aromantic. (Fuck it, that’s my headcanon, anyway.) So, I’ve chosen to raise my hand and wave this bit of blatant fuckery away because, without it, “Is There In Truth No Beauty” easily makes my TOS Top 10.

Chief Asshat: I think both Larry and Kirk are taking the crown here. Assholes.

MVP: Diana Muldaur, obviously. She’s absolutely fantastic in this.

Grade: Chocolate, if you subtract the last five minutes.

Line of the Episode:
“Bones, why hadn’t you told me?”
“She’d have told you herself if she wanted you to know.”

“Spectre of the Gun”

Well. It’s the Wyatt Earp episode, I guess.

The Enterprise has orders to enter Melkotian space and make contact, but the Melkotians are all, “GTFO, invaders, we don’t want you here.” (In fact, they’re like “GTFO” in every language, which is honestly pretty cool.) You’d think the Federation would respect that, but . . . nah. They’re more like, “Look, if a non-space faring species needs our help, we can’t do shit, but if an advanced species says, ‘Fuck off, we don’t want you here” . . . well, obviously, we have no choice but to ignore them.” So, Kirk’s all, “Well, I’ve got orders, so I guess we’re gonna go ahead, anyway,” which, IDK, like . . .

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Kirk, sadly not nearly as cool Samuel L. Jackson, ends up beaming down to the planet with Spock, McCoy, Scotty, and Chekov, where they are quickly confronted by a Melkotian, who looks kinda like a giant rock head with glowy eyes, and is also (pretty rightfully) pissed off. Our heroes, sentenced to death, are seemingly transported to Tombstone, Arizona in 18-whatever. Everybody there is convinced that they’re members of the Clanton gang, which is obviously unfortunate, since the Clantons are destined to die at the hands of the Earps later that night. And if you’re thinking, gosh, this seems like a really random and unlikely execution method, well, you’re not wrong. I mean, it’s kinda neat that our telepathic aliens devise punishments based on the memories they uncover, but come on. The year is 2268. Wyatt Earp, really? Besides, think how neat it would’ve been to see our heroes act out some old Vulcan tragedy or something. That would’ve been WAY more interesting than watching Kirk run around, trying to convince everyone he’s an interstellar traveler from the future.

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Our heroes try to escape, but can’t. Chekov isn’t quite as bummed as the others because he’s got a girlfriend here; unfortunately, he dies while defending her honor. (Kirk displays regret for half a second, all, hey, maybe I shouldn’t have ignored the Melkotians’ warning. Like, yeah, MAYBE NOT.) Happily, since Chekov died hours before he should’ve, the gang realizes their futures can be changed. They try making a sedative to use against the Earps, but their test run fails for seemingly no reason, causing Spock to realize that this is all an illusion. Chekov didn’t die because he was shot by real bullets; he died because he believed the bullets were real. Since our heroes will also die if they have even a smidgeon of doubt, Spock mind melds with each one of them, instilling the belief that nothing here can kill them. It is kind of interesting to see Spock do, like, conveyor belt mind melds, though—per usual—I wish this led to some kind of cool side effects or consequences. It’s also at least mildly interesting that the Earps are portrayed as full on villains here. I mean, it’s been an admittedly long time since I watched Tombstone OR Wyatt Earp, but I feel like the whole town isn’t usually quite so supportive of the Clantons?

Anyway, the away team obviously survives the climactic gunfight. They have the chance to kill the Earps, but Kirk refuses to take it, which of course impresses the Melkotians enough that they decide to allow for some friendly chitchat, after all. And everyone’s magically returned to their ship, including Chekov, who is—not surprisingly—still alive.

Chief Asshat: Kirk, for obvious reasons, but also Bones and Scotty, too, who are absolute dicks to Spock about his typically reserved reaction to Chekov’s death. (Thankfully, they at least look mildly chastised when Spock reminds everyone that he is, in fact, half-human. But man, sometimes, I really wanna slap Bones.)

MVP: Leonard Nimoy, mostly, because Spock’s the only character here who doesn’t piss me off. But also, whoever designed the Melkotians, cause sure, they’re kinda hilarious, but also, it’s pretty fun seeing aliens who actually look very alien.

Grade: Hm. Vanilla?

Line of the Episode: “Captain, since we have seen that death is the one reality in this situation, I seriously suggest you reseat yourself immediately.”

Now Announcing: You Fed Us to the Roses – A Collection of Short Stories Written By ME!

I don’t usually post much on the weekends, but I have a pretty exciting announcement today: Robot Dinosaur Press is going to publish my debut short story collection You Fed Us to the Roses on October 18th, 2022! It will consist of ten contemporary horror and dark fantasy stories, including one original that’s written exclusively for this collection.

You can read more about You Fed Us to the Roses here, including some early buzz (which, NGL, made my whole morning) and links for pre-order. Right now, pre-order is only available for the ebook version, but the collection will also be printed in paperback and hardcover as well, and I’ll update here when those links are ready.

Also, just. LOOK HOW PRETTY THIS COVER IS.

Evangeline Gallagher provided this gorgeous cover art, and if you have not had the opportunity to check out their work before, you should absolutely do so, because it is stunning. I feel so incredibly lucky that they agreed to this project, and am just as fortunate that Merc Fenn Wolfmoor (whose writing I’ve adored for years) acquired and edited this collection for Robot Dinosaur Press. Truly,  I’m feeling pretty blessed today.

Triple Scoop Review: Seo Bok, Scream, and Along With the Gods: The Two Worlds

So, I’ve basically been ignoring movies in favor of marathoning television for the past three months, but hey! Here are a few films I’ve watched recently!

Seo Bok

Year: 2021
Director: Lee Yong Joo
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Viki
Spoilers: Not directly, I don’t think, but inferences can probably be made
Grade: Rocky Road

Whew. That was . . . yeah, a bit darker than I was expecting from a “jaded ex-agent has to protect the first human clone” movie. Although sometimes, that can be kind of a fun thing about watching foreign films: genre expectations are not necessarily universal, so sometimes, damn, you get a surprise.

Truthfully, I haven’t quite made up my mind about Seo Bok just yet. There are parts that I genuinely like. The acting, in particular: Gong Yoo and Park Bo Gum are  strong leads—I mean, obviously, they’re like 95% of the reason I watched this movie in the first place. I especially enjoyed Park Bo Gum, who was giving me some serious Hello, Monster nostalgia, but I was also happy to also see Jo Woo Jin (who I really enjoyed in Happiness) and Jang Young Nam (who I quite liked in It’s Okay to Not Be Okay). The action is fun. Some of the shots were rather lovely. Some of the thematic material works well for me.

However, not all of it does, and I’m still trying to pinpoint why that is, exactly. Admittedly, the basic thesis of this movie—we’re not meant to be immortal—has never been one of my favorite morals in the world. Still, I think my bigger problem isn’t so much the message but its execution. Seo Bok feels murky, convoluted. Too much going on and not nearly enough time to explore it. I often felt that characters—particularly the antagonists—were making decisions that felt nonsensical and inauthentic. Our heroes are essentially caught between dueling villains here, and I quite like the idea of that; however, that structure can go somewhat awry when you have villains with nebulous motivations making pretty dubious choices.

 Seo Bok is certainly not meant to be an upper; in fact, to me, it sorta feels like the nihilist answer to Space Sweepers. Still by the end, I feel like I was perhaps left with an even stronger sense of futility than the film actually intended. I don’t regret watching it at all, but I also feel like there’s a stronger story here, waiting to be whittled free.

Scream

Film Horror GIF by ScreamMovies - Find & Share on GIPHY

Year: 2022
Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Paramount Plus
Spoilers: ABSOLUTELY
Grade: Chocolate

I admit, I was pretty excited when news of the latest Scream movie was announced, considering it’s probably my favorite horror franchise of all time, and I figured the guys who did Ready or Not might be a good fit for it. But I was also a bit nervous because, you know. It’s probably my favorite horror franchise of all time, and there comes a point when you just really don’t want to see certain characters die. For me, that specifically meant Sidney. I am emotionally invested in Sidney Prescott’s survival. Fortunately, I have good news: she makes it!

Overall, I enjoyed Scream. TBH, I enjoy all the movies in this franchise. Even Scream 3, which is probably the worst of the bunch, surprisingly has more to recommend than I’d initially remembered. Which isn’t to say I don’t have criticisms because, well. Me. My biggest problem here is that Melissa Barrera does very little for me as Sam. I wish I liked her more, I really do. I adored Jenna Ortega as Tara and spent the majority of the film wishing she was the primary Final Girl. Actually, I really like most of the cast. Jack Quaid being a villain isn’t exactly, er. Surprising? But I don’t even care because he’s hilarious, and I’ve really liked this actor in everything I’ve seen him in thus far. Also shoutouts to David Arquette, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Mason Gooding, Dylan Minnette, Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, and Skeet Ulrich—but NOT to Skeet Ulrich’s CGI because good Christ, stop. Just stop.

And I really do love the idea of our Final Girl being cheered on by hallucinations of Evil Daddy Billy Loomis. The scene where Sam stabs the shit out of Richie is easily her best in the whole film. Still, I would’ve loved it so much more if I ever bought Sam or had any investment in her character. I also think Scream might have some second act problems, but I’m not quite sure yet where I think it missteps. I do feel like Tara’s friends get dropped too long, which makes the Amber reveal a little underwhelming. Wes and Judy’s death scenes are good, but feel a bit disconnected from the rest of the film. (I still can’t bring myself to give a shit about Judy, but I do feel sorry for Wes.)  And I’m still trying to decide how I feel about Dewey’s death. I don’t mind that it happened, exactly, just . . . it’s so obvious that he’s gonna die when he goes back that it ends up feeling like a stupid move to me. IDK. I’m still thinking on it.

(Also, FFS. Is the hospital a 9-5 gig? Where are ANY of the employees here? Or for that matter, other patients? Hollywood continues to drive me crazy with this nonsense.)

Overall, though, I was pretty entertained. I had fun guessing suspects and motives and how many killers there would be this time around. Toxic Fandom is the Real Killer here feels pretty apropos for this franchise, and almost all of the dialogue and in-jokes worked well for me. (Poor Courtney Cox is never gonna live those terrible bangs down.) I also enjoyed the step up in gore, and while I may find Sam very dull, I’m always happy to see sisters survive. (See also, Sidney and Gale—I know, not actually sisters—who I really liked in this movie.) I do wish Kirby had come back, but it’s nice that we got confirmation she’s alive! (Though I admit, I absolutely missed said confirmation when it happened.) This movie isn’t perfect, no, but compared to some other horror franchises and their dismal ass sequels? Yeah. The Scream movies still got it.

Along With the Gods: The Two Worlds

Year: 2017
Director: Kim Yong Hwa
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Viki
Spoilers: Nah
Grade: Vanilla

So, this is a Korean fantasy-action film about a firefighter who dies and is escorted through the afterlife, facing seven trials in seven hells to see if he can be reborn. It’s a fun premise and an overall great cast with several actors I’ve enjoyed in other shows. Joo Ji Hoon from Kingdom. Kim Hyang Gi, who was (briefly) in Space Sweepers. I’m currently watching Kim Dong Wook in The Guest, and—like presumably many Americans—first saw Lee Jung Jae in Squid Game. Also D.O. (Hello Monster—yes, I know he’s also in EXO, but I know him from Hello Monster), Kim Soo An (Train to Busan), Ye Soo Jung (also Train to Busan), and a half a dozen other people I’ve seen pop up here and there. This is actually the first thing I’ve seen Ha Jung Woo in, but I enjoy him here, too.

My main problem with this film is easily Kim Ja Hong (Cha Tae Hyun), our firefighter, who is just . . . boring. He’s so boring, just zero personality whatsoever, and it feels like half his dialogue is incessantly calling after his mom. Literally everyone around him is much more interesting. My personal favorites are Joo Ji Hoon, who gives a very funny performance that’s wildly different from his work in Kingdom, Kim Soo Ann, because the God of Deceit is just the Best, and Kim Dong Wook, whose performance here alongside Ye Soo Jung provides the movie its heart. I’m probably supposed to feel moved by Ja Hong, too, but unfortunately . . . yeah, no. That’s partially because the character is so boring, but also because we learn some things about this guy that, well. I don’t want to get too deeply into spoilers, but let’s just say that the movie really wants me get into this heartwarming redemption, and I just couldn’t quite get there.

I do think the script could be tighter, and I wish the visual effects did justice to the premise (cause the CGI here is, uh, hilarious), but I also probably enjoyed the film enough to check out the sequel, especially since my least favorite character isn’t in it. Man. I wish that happened in more films. Like, give me Scream 6 without Sam. Or Guardians of the Galaxy 3 without Peter Quill, or Jurassic Whatever without Owen Grady, or . . . yeah, feel free to just pass up Chris Pratt at any opportunity in favor of Chris Pine, Chris Evans, or Chris Hemsworth, please and thank you.

TV Superlatives: December, January, February – 2021/2022 – PART TWO

And we’re back! Welcome to Return of the Winter TV Superlatives: The Big Spoiler Edition. A reminder of the shows I’ve been watching for the past 3 months.

Midnight Mass
Guardian
Hawkeye (Episodes 4-6)
Nancy Drew (Season 3, Episodes 5-13)
Running Man (Episodes 36-49 and Episodes 582-593)
The Expanse (Season 6)
The Witcher (Season 2)
The Silent Sea
Ted Lasso
Yellowjackets
Happiness
All of Us Are Dead
Beyond Evil
Star Trek (Season 3, Episodes 1-3)
Last Week Tonight (Season 9, Episodes 1-2)

SPOILERS will start off light, but we’ll be getting to the plot twists and secret villains and such very quickly, so read carefully, my friends! (Seriously, read lightly if you’re even considering watching shows like Beyond Evil—WHICH YOU SHOULD. Remember, the Honorable Mentions are spoilers, too!)

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TV Superlatives: December, January, February – 2021/2022 – PART ONE

Now that we’ve hit March,  it’s time to discuss the last three months of television! Here are all the shows I’ve been watching.

Midnight Mass
Guardian
Hawkeye (Episodes 4-6)
Nancy Drew (Season 3, Episodes 5-13)
Running Man (Episodes 36-49 and Episodes 582-593)
The Expanse (Season 6)
The Witcher (Season 2)
The Silent Sea
Ted Lasso
Yellowjackets
Happiness
All of Us Are Dead
Beyond Evil
Star Trek (Season 3, Episodes 1-3)
Last Week Tonight (Season 9, Episodes 1-2)

A quick reminder for how these work: superlatives may be bestowed upon any show I’m watching, no matter whether said show is currently airing or not. As always, I will do my best to clearly mark all awards with appropriate spoiler warnings. I may discuss events from past seasons, however. Which is to say, I won’t spoil The Witcher, Season 2, without a heads up, but any Major Revelations from S1 are totally fair game. (Though that’s just an example, like. NGL: The Witcher didn’t exactly get a lot of love here.)

Also, I apparently had a LOT to talk about because by the time I was finished writing this post up, it was already over 8,000 words, which some might consider, you know, excessive. Thus I decided to split my TV Superlatives in half, which is . . . well, still an excessive word count, honestly, but that’s just how it goes at MGB. Part I is generally spoiler-free. The Big Spoiler Stuff will all be in Part II.

Let’s get started, shall we?

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World’s Worst Trekkie: Spock’s Brain, The Enterprise Incident, and The Paradise Syndrome

Well, hello. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? It’s definitely been a while since I finished watching Season 2, but now that I’m back, I’m making a pledge: I’m finally, finally going to finish TOS by the end of 2022.

First, a quick reminder about my ratings system, which I changed last year. These are the new grades:

God-Tier – Chocolate Salted Caramel
Really Enjoyed This – Chocolate
Enjoyed This Okay – Vanilla
Technically Proficient, But Not My Thing – Strawberry
Well, I Liked SOME of It – Rocky Road
I Actively Disliked This Movie – Pistachio
I Could Not Finish This Movie – Mint Chocolate Chip

Obviously, this wasn’t initially intended for TV episodes, but to hell with it, right? Right. With that settled, let’s begin with the first three episodes of Season 3!

“Spock’s Brain”

Oh, yes. Yes, I’ve been waiting for this moment. “Spock’s Brain,” one of the most infamously awful episodes in all of Star Trek. (It’s also, FYI, been on my list of Silly Dream Cosplays for a while now. Maybe someday, DragonCon!) While I’ve seen a good chunk of this episode before, I’ve never actually watched it the whole way through, and . . . wow, it’s really bad, maybe even worse than I remembered.

The premise is gloriously, ridiculously bonkers: aliens steal Spock’s brain. Not his memories, not his sanity, not his considerable intellect. Aliens literally steal Spock’s brain right out of his skull. Thankfully, this procedure is so scientifically advanced that Spock can remain alive for 24 hours before all hope is lost. All Kirk has to do is track down the missing brain-thieves and get Spock’s grey matter back so that Bones can somehow figure out how to reinsert said grey matter without killing the patient. Easy-peasy. Also, lest you be under the false impression that perhaps Vulcans just aren’t as reliant on their brains as humans are, let me assure you the opposite is true: Vulcans somehow need their brains more. Let me also assure you that I am still laughing about this whole scene, not to mention any moment where our heroes make Spock’s brainless body walk around via remote, like he’s an actual goddamn toy.

Everything that follows is equally absurd but, unfortunately, not quite as fun. It turns out that our alien thief lives in a subterranean facility on a Stone Age planet with a bunch of other “childlike” women who aren’t intellectually capable of stealing anyone’s brain. Kara, the thief, was only able to do so with the help of this Magic Smart Helmet (AKA, The Teacher), which temporarily gives her all the ancient knowledge of the Builders. NGL, I can’t remember if the show ever explains who the Builders are. I’m just gonna assume they were some all-powerful alien species who, for reasons unknown, provided these ladies with both this facility and the Controller, which has been running this place for 10,000 years. Spock’s brain is supposed to be their replacement Controller; as you can imagine, Kirk has some Feelings about that.

Bones ends up wearing the Magic Smart Helmet so he can re-insert Spock’s brain—with a big assist from Spock himself, since the MSH’s powers unfortunately wear off mid-surgery. Spock supposedly goes back to normal (TBH, he actually seems uncharacteristically enthusiastic to me), Bones gripes that he should’ve kept Spock mute, and Kirk assures Kara that her people definitely won’t die without the Controller. No, they’ll just have to go live on the surface with all the cavemen dudes, and their society will evolve naturally as it should, rather than staying stagnant down here where they’ve been so pampered that their minds have literally atrophied or some shit. And like, far be it for me to demand that Kirk put the lives of these brain thieves over his boyfriend’s, but also, “Let’s take a bunch of women completely incapable of taking care of themselves and force them to live with a bunch of cavemen who’ve never seen a woman before” seems like . . . well, like the kind of lack of responsibility and foresight I’ve come to expect from Kirk’s command, honestly.

Chief Asshat: I mean. Kara does just hop aboard the Enterprise and steal Spock’s brain. That’s pretty rude.

MVP: Hm. I think I’ll give this one to Bones, although I do love how bitchy Spock can be even as a disembodied brain.

Grade: Rocky Road

Line of the Episode: “BRAIN AND BRAIN, what is BRAIN?!”

“The Enterprise Incident”

This trailer is a thing of beauty.

You know, I enjoyed this one. We begin with Kirk acting like an unreasonable dick—not entirely unprecedented—snapping at his crew, ordering the Enterprise to cross the Neutral Zone into Romulan territory, etc. Of course, they’re captured pretty much immediately, and Kirk and Spock beam over to the Romulan ship. The Romulan Commander (we never hear her name) interrogates them, and Spock quickly and accurately throws Kirk under the bus, admitting the captain’s been acting irrational lately and is alone responsible for the Enterprise’s actions. (Kirk responds by overacting, shouting, “I’LL KILL YOU, I’LL KILL YOU!” LOL.)

While Spock gets the wine and dine treatment, Kirk gets thrown into the brig, where he promptly launches himself into a forcefield. Bones beams over to treat him and helps the Commander confirm that Kirk isn’t fit for command. Kirk then attacks Spock, and Spock, surprised, unleashes the VULCAN DEATH GRIP, killing Kirk instantly. Whoops! Guess that’s over then! J/K, Spock and Kirk are on a secret mission to steal the Romulan’s cloaking device. (The Vulcan Death Grip is not a real thing, unfortunately, but I sincerely hope that someone has named a cocktail after it, anyway. Also, a yoga pose. Also, a geek metal band.)

I won’t deny that Kirk and Spock’s plan here has, like, a BUNCH of holes. (I’m not even getting into the whole Disguise Kirk as a Romulan nonsense, although I will say that Deanna Troi wore it better.) Still, as far as TOS insta-seduction stories go, I think Spock/Commander is honestly one of the better ones. I do wish there was more time for their quasi-romance to breathe, like, it would make for a hell of a three-episode arc, if that was something TOS actually did. But I also think they have better chemistry than Kirk and literally any of the women he’s ever seduced; also, Leonard Nimoy just doesn’t come off as weird and creepy like William Shatner usually does in these stories. And I like that the Commander is trying to manipulate Spock, too. I mean, it’s obvious that her feelings are real, but they’re also both definitely trying to use one another to their advantage, which works for me. I genuinely like Joanna Linville’s performance, and her last scene with Spock is pretty great.

Chief Asshat: Kirk, although admittedly, that is part of the plan. (But it’s a pretty bad plan, so. We’ll still go with him.)

MVP: Joanna Linville. I particularly love when she immediately tells the Romulans to destroy the Enterprise, even though she’s currently onboard, quickly foiling Kirk’s backup plan.

Grade: Chocolate

Line of the Episode: “It is not a lie to keep the truth to oneself.”

“The Paradise Syndrome”

Well. That was quite possibly the worst episode of all time. Definitely in the Top 3 for sure. Margaret Armen wrote the screenplay, and Margaret, Margaret. We gotta talk.

This is just . . . stupid, and racist, and stupidly racist. While investigating a strangely advanced obelisk on yet another planet that looks just like Earth, Kirk accidentally manages to fall through a trap door and get zapped by a “memory beam,” giving him amnesia. Spock and Bones can’t find him and are forced to abandon the search because an asteroid, two months away, is hurtling towards the planet, and they only have a 30 minute window to arrive at the correct coordinates to deflect it—which definitely begs the question of what the fuck they were doing dicking around here in the first place, like, Christ, I give myself more time to catch the fucking bus. The Enterprise basically breaks their engines trying to make the deadline, and their initial deflection attempt fails, so Spock decides to try and split the asteroid in half for . . . Reasons? Like, IDK, my dude. Even if that worked, I’m not sure how helpful it would be, considering this asteroid is nearly as big as the fucking MOON. Anyway, the Enterprise is now (very slowly) racing the big space rock back to the planet, and the only hope of saving everyone is if Spock can translate these mysterious symbols he saw on the obelisk and hope they have a miraculous solution.

Meanwhile, what is Amnesiac Kirk doing on this planet for two months? Well. The people who live there are apparently American Indians. Yes, literally. Specifically, they’re people from the Navajo, Mohican, and Delaware tribes, something Spock can apparently tell at a far-off glance, not that anyone makes any attempt to discuss these tribal differences ever again. A few of the American Indians see Kirk emerge from the obelisk as Has Been Foretold, and they immediately assume this random white guy is a god, and—yeah. Yeah. It’s awful, just all of it. The white savior narrative, the brownface. William Shatner’s VO and general overacting, which seems to hit new unprecedented heights in this episode. (Seriously, the pauses have never been this egregious, have they?) It feels icky and gross to watch Kirk almost fetishize this “simple” way of life, especially when the American Indian characters are written to be so incredibly stupid. Also, seeing Kirk in basically all of these costumes, just . . . whew, this is atrocious.

Anyway, Kirk takes the role of medicine chief and marries Miramanee, according to tradition. (Miramanee’s now-ex-fiancee is pissed, which is understandable, but he’s also The Worst, so.) Miramanee gets preggers, which means she has to die. Specifically, she gets stoned to death. See, according to that prophecy, Kirk is supposed to open the obelisk and escort everyone inside during the big storm, but he doesn’t actually know how to do that. Miramanee’s Ex gleefully decides this is the proof he’s been looking for and gathers a mob to stone Kirk for being a false god. Miramanee stands by her man and dies for it. But never fear! Spock, who has since translated most of the alien symbols, returns in time to save Kirk and perform the “Vulcan mind fusion,” restoring his memories. Kirk manages to open the obelisk (the trick to doing so is about as nonsensical as everything else here) and activate it. See, the obelisk is actually a broken asteroid deflector. It was left here forever ago by a super advanced alien species known as the Preservers, who brought the American Indians to this planet in order to save them. ( Hopefully, they agreed to this?) I can only assume the Preservers and the Builders from “Spock’s Brain” are like first cousins. Anyway, everyone lives happily ever after. Except Miramanee, of course, and anyone else who suffered through watching this episode.

Chief Asshat: Oh, Margaret.

MVP: Bones and Spock, mostly because their interactions are the only good things about “The Paradise Syndrome.” I kinda adore Spock’s little rock demonstration of the asteroid problem, and I obviously like when Bones yells at Spock to get some damn sleep. There are a few lovely emotional H/C moments here, and I’m so bummed they’re in this dumpster fire of an episode.

Grade: Technically Pistachio, but if anything deserves Mint Chocolate Chip, it’s this bullshit.

Line of the Episode: “My bairns. My poor bairns.”

All My Favorite Books of 2021

Last week, I posted a list of all the novels and novellas I read in 2021. This week, I’ll be discussing some of those books in a bit more detail, with categories like Fastest Read, Favorite Horror Novel, Favorite Sci Fantasy, etc.

As always, any book I read in 2021 is eligible for these superlatives because if I only discussed books published in 2021, well. Let’s just say this would be a much shorter list.

FASTEST READ

Truly Devious, The Vanishing Stair, and The Hand on the Wall – Maureen Johnson

This YA mystery trilogy (well, okay, it’s not technically a trilogy anymore) is delightful, and I quickly powered through each of these three novels. I want Ellingham Academy to be a real place, even though definitely nobody should ever go there because, yeah, all the murders. Still! Stevie is a great heroine and teen detective, and I really enjoy most of the supporting cast, particularly introverted writer Nate, who speaks the language of my fucking soul. The concept is fun, the humor is great, and I just really had a good time reading these. I’m definitely looking forward to checking out The Box in The Woods sometime later this year.

Honorable Mentions: Think of England – KJ Charles; The Poisoned Chocolates Case – Anthony Berkeley; Finna – Nino Cipri; The Final Girls Support Group – Grady Henrix; The Inugami Curse – Seishi Yokomizo; Network Effect – Martha Wells; The Decagon House Murders – Yukito Ayatsuji; Bryony and Roses – T. Kingfisher; Rock and Riot – Chelsey Furedi

FAVORITE BOOK THAT MADE ME CRY

The Memory Police – Yoko Ogawa

Oof. This one sits heavy in the chest. I can’t really discuss why without spoilers, but I can say that this is a story about loss, and each loss here is more strange and terrible than the last. The imagery is really quite lovely, and the ending ties the whole novel together so well. The Memory Police is fantastic, and I’m genuinely glad I read it, but damn, I was one big bundle of Existential Feels after finishing this book. Read with a comfort snack, or six.

FAVORITE GRAPHIC NOVEL

Rock and Riot, Vol. 1 – Chelsey Furedi

When I found this graphic novel, I didn’t initially realize that it had begun life as a web comic, but I figured that out when I devoured Volume 1, immediately tried to buy Volume 2 and 3, couldn’t find them anywhere, cried, and then found the whole series here to read for free—and read it, I did, all in one night. (I mean, I know that’s not a huge accomplishment—this is not a dialogue-heavy comic—but I appreciate anything that makes me feel that sweet must keep reading, must keep reading rush.)

Rock and Riot is about The Aesthetic. It’s a queer, 50’s, greaser romcom set in high school, and it is adorable; oh my God, is it cute. I love the main ship, I love all their friends, and the ending with the Prom is such pure perfection. 2021 was often pretty bleak, but this comic was a great pick-me-up.

Honorable Mentions: Die, Vol. 2: Split the Party – Kieron Gillen & Stephanie Hans; Goldie Vance: Volume One – Hope Larson & Brittney Williams; Princeless – Raven: the Pirate Princess – Book One: Captain Raven and the All-Girl Pirate Crew – Jeremy Whitley, Rosy Higgins and Ted Brandt; The Wicked + The Divine, Book 3 – Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie

FAVORITE NON-FICTION

Ace: What Sexuality Reveals About Desire, Society and the Meaning of Sex – Angela Chen

One of my favorite things about this book is that it doesn’t approach asexuality from a narrow perspective. Angela Chen interviews a wide variety of people from all over the spectrum and specifically delves into the various experiences, stereotypes, and challenges that aces with intersectional identities come up against. The book also explores some really interesting ideas about compulsory sexuality and how experiencing sexual attraction in today’s society isn’t just considered the default; it’s automatically assumed to be superior to experiencing little to no sexual attraction, a perspective that’s omnipresent and needs to change in both queer and heterosexual communities. It’s a well-researched book, and I’m really glad I read it.

Honorable Mentions: Women Make Horror: Filmmaking, Feminism, Genre – Alison Peirse (edited by); Romancing the Beat: Story Structure for Romance Novels – Gwen Hayes

FAVORITE MIDDLE GRADE

Root Magic – Eden Royce

I didn’t read many middle grade books this year, but I’m so glad I picked this one up because the Gullah-Geechee rootwork here is just so interesting, and it’s exciting to read a fantasy novel set in this culture by an author who actually is Freshwater Geechee. Root Magic felt innovative to me, different than many of the MG fantasy books I’ve read before, and it’s something I wish I’d had the opportunity to come across when I was a child. I particularly like that this story gives multiple characters space for some moral ambiguity. People aren’t perfect here, but they do care, and I like that. There are also just some fantastically creepy moments in this book that I adored. I definitely hope to read more by Eden Royce in the future.

FAVORITE YA

The Valley and the Flood – Rebecca Mahoney

I initially discovered this novel because I love the author’s fanfic, and I’m so happy I did because it’s such an odd, fascinating, and moving story about surviving and living with trauma. It’s also funny as hell, and I love pretty much the entire cast of characters. I am, admittedly, a sucker for magical stories about weird little towns (this one has multiple prophets who are rated by their accuracy, it’s great), but I also really love just how much time and space is given to Rose’s emotional journey here. I wish someone would pick this up for a limited series because I would watch the hell out of it. So, like. Get to work, Netflix!

Honorable Mentions: Truly Devious – Maureen Johnson; The Vanishing Stair – Maureen Johnson; The Hand on the Wall – Maureen Johnson;  Elatsoe – Darcie Little Badger; Summer of Salt – Katrina Leno; Raybearer – Jordan Ifueko; Iron Widow – Xiran Jay Zhao; Loveless – Alice Oseman

FAVORITE ROMANCE

One Last Stop – Casey McQuiston

So, I really enjoyed this. It’s a very queer, very living-in-your-20’s kind of story, and I ship our main romance, which is obviously huge. (One of my biggest problems with love stories—within ALL genres—is that I either don’t care if the couple gets together or, worse, I actively don’t want them to get together. It happens more often than I’d like.) August, though, is pretty great (and another true crime solver—someone needs to write me the One Last Stop/Truly Devious crossover fanfic immediately), and I like Jane, too. I don’t know if time travel romances will ever be my bag, but trapped-and-displaced-in-time punk heroines from the 1970’s? Yeah, I’m here for that. Plus, I really love how this book dedicates so much time to August’s platonic relationships, too, primarily with her roommates Niko, Myla, and Wes. I was 1000% invested in all their friendships.

Honorable Mentions: Paladin’s Grace – T. Kingfisher; Frederica – Georgette Heyer; Think of England – KJ Charles; The Midnight Bargain – C.L. Polk; Bryony and Roses – T. Kingfisher

FAVORITE HORROR

Night of the Mannequins – Stephen Graham Jones

Oh, wow. Night of the Mannequins is a morbidly funny delight from beginning to end. It is also, hilariously, not quite the book I’d expected when I started reading the story because I must have misread or misremembered the back-cover blurb somehow? Honestly, though, I think that surprise actually made the novella even better, the slow unfolding as I realized, Oh, wait, are we—oh, SHIT, we’re doing THIS. It’s my FAVORITE NOVELLA I read this year, and such a perfect combination of weird slasher and disturbing psychological horror all in one. In the unlikely event I ever teach a class, and I want to do a lesson on voice? Night of the Mannequins will be one of the assigned texts.

Honorable Mentions for Favorite Horror: The Bayou – Arden Powell; The Final Girls Support Group – Grady Hendrix; The Secret Skin – Wendy N. Wagner

Honorable Mentions for Favorite Novella: The Bayou – Arden Powell; Finna – Nino Cipri; Here, The World Entire – Anwen Kya Hayward; Burning Roses – S.L. Huang; And What Can We Offer You Tonight – Premee Mohamed; The Haunting of Tram Car 015 – P. Djèlí Clark; And This is How to Stay Alive – Shingai Njeri Kagunda

FAVORITE MYSTERY

TIE!

The Poisoned Chocolates Case – Anthony Berkeley
The Decagon House Murders – Yukito Ayatsuji

Both these mysteries surprised me for different reasons, although it’s hard to explain exactly why without spoilers, which I’m reluctant to include even in the case of The Poisoned Chocolates Case, which is literally almost 100 years old. I first discovered this book while reading The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards, and I’m so glad I picked it up. The format is so interesting. There’s very little actual investigation on the page; instead, it’s a group of self-styled detectives discussing their proposed solutions to a recent unsolved murder, and it’s an awful lot of fun, witty and engaging and rather meta in its “let’s poke some fun at these tropes” humor, which is extremely in line with Golden Age mysteries. I had a ball reading this.

Meanwhile, it’s no surprise I checked out The Decagon House Murders because any book with such a fun And Then There Were None premise is always an automatic read for me, but I have to give special kudos to this novel because the twist is so GOOD. I know some writers always get mysteries correct, but the truth is, I don’t: I have a tendency to overcomplicate things while puzzling out the many ways a story could go. Hell, I didn’t get The Poisoned Chocolates Case correct. (Parts, damn it. My theory seemed so sound, too!) But I’m not usually, like, stunned, either. The Decagon House Murders stunned me. It’s been a long, long while since I felt so blown away by a twist I didn’t see coming at all, and that was very exciting for me. One of the best surprises of the year. Also, yeah, I kind of want my own decagon house now.

Honorable Mentions: The Inugami Curse – Seishi Yokomizo; The Honjin Murders – Seishi Yokomizo; Truly Devious – Maureen Johnson; The Vanishing Staircase – Maureen Johnnson; The Hand on the Wall – Maureen Johnson; Fortune Favors the Dead – Stephen Spotswood

FAVORITE SCIENCE FICTION

Chaos Vector – Megan O’Keefe

The sequel to Velocity Weapon, this is an absolute doorstop of a book and also a wild ride, full of twists and turns that are like, Oh, shit. OH. SHIT! You’d think I’d be prepared for that after the first book, but damn. Specifics are difficult to discuss without giving anything away, but this is a fantastic space opera with a great lead heroine and several supporting characters that I’m invested in. There are still so many mysteries left to uncover in the third and final book, which is already in my To-Read pile—and like, not even my metaphorical someday pile. It’s in the stack of physical books towering over my desk. Enticing me. Intimidating me. Reminding me silently we’re heeeere.

Honorable Mentions: Network Effect – Martha Wells; The Galaxy, and The Ground Within – Becky Chambers; Finna – Nino Cipri; Riot Baby – Tochi Onyebuchi; The Memory Police – Yōko Ogawa; And What Can We Offer You Tonight – Premee Mohamed; The All-Consuming World – Cassandra Khaw

FAVORITE SCI FANTASY

Harrow the Ninth – Tamsyn Muir

Yes, it’s true, I did read Harrow the Ninth roughly a year after the rest of the world, but I got there eventually, damn it! And it’s an awesome read, one which definitely activated the Mystery Lover part of my brain, only in this case, the primary mystery is less all right, who killed this dude and more like, okay, but for real, though, what the FUCK is going on? I had an awful lot of fun trying to figure out, indeed, what the fuck WAS going on. (I got, IDK. Half of it?) Reading Harrow’s super traumatized, wildly unreliable, and goth as hell POV was pretty great, too. All of the characters are fantastic, TBH, and while this is—as one is legally obligated to point out—a very different book from Gideon the Ninth, it is still just as witty, wild, and fantastically weird as its glorious predecessor.

Honorable Mention: Iron Widow – Xiran Jay Zhao

FAVORITE CONTEMPORARY FANTASY

Piranesi – Susanna Clarke

I enjoyed Piranesi well enough while I was reading it, but it wasn’t until I reached the end that I truly fell in love with it. This is definitely one of those novels that throws you into the deep end right away, but it’s interesting to slowly piece things together, and that bittersweet conclusion just makes everything which came before that much more powerful. The prose is absolutely lovely, and I really like our MC, too, his kindness, how he takes care of the dead, his deductions—even when they’re wildly wrong. The whole story is gently melancholic, but I don’t find it unbearably tragic, either; in fact, I’ve actually been considering buying the book to reread it, which is very rare for me. (It may not happen because of the aforementioned towering TBR pile, but still. I’m seriously considering it.)

Honorable Mentions: Elatsoe – Darcie Little Badger; The Memory Collectors – Kim Neville; The Valley and the Flood – Rebecca Mahoney

FAVORITE NOT-SO-CONTEMPORARY FANTASY

The Once and Future Witches – Alix E. Harrow

I read this book relatively early in 2021, and I knew that no matter how many other awesome novels I read in the upcoming months, The Once and Future Witches was definitely making it on my Top Ten. I’m not always drawn to historical fantasy, but a story about witches and sisters and suffragists? Particularly one written by Alix E. Harrow, who writes some of the best, most striking prose in the business? Obviously, I was here for that. And the book is written beautifully, of course. There are so many good lines here. I became very invested in the relationships between the three Eastwood sisters, and I love all the rhymes and spells and stories. If you haven’t had the opportunity to read this one yet, you should definitely check it out.

Honorable Mentions: The Midnight Bargain – C.L. Polk; Paladin’s Grace – T. Kingfisher; Under the Pendulum Sun – Jeannette Ng; The Haunting of Tram Car 015 – P. Djèlí Clark; Bryony and Roses – T. Kingfisher; The Empress of Salt and Fortune – Nghi Vo; Raybearer – Jordan Ifueko; When The Tiger Came Down the Mountain – Nghi Vo

TOP TEN FAVORITE NOVELS + NOVELLAS OF 2021
(not in any particular order)

1. Piranesi – Susanna Clarke
2. Night of the Mannequins – Stephen Graham Jones
3. Chaos Vector – Megan O’Keefe
4. The Valley and the Flood – Rebecca Mahoney
5. The Once and Future Witches – Alix E. Harrow
6. Network Effect – Martha Wells
7. The Decagon House Murders – Yukito Ayatsuji
8. The Poisoned Chocolates Case – Anthony Berkeley
9. The Memory Police – Yoko Ogawa
10. The Bayou – Arden Powell

Because my system is imperfect, I always have at least 2 or 3 books on my Top Ten that I don’t have a specific superlative for, despite how awesome they are. I refuse to only discuss 8 of my 10 favorite stories of the year, though, so I’m also here to recommend the following fantastic novels and novellas:

Network Effect – Martha Wells

Okay, no one actually needs me and my readership of, like, 4 people to recommend Martha Wells. It is a well-acknowledged fact that Murderbot is The Best. But just in case you’re also playing catchup, Network Effect was an absolute delight to read. I am 150% here for the humor, the relationships, and all the Feels—you know, the ones that Murderbot pretends to not experience. IMO, Murderbot continues to possibly be the most relatable MC of all time, and I’m looking forward to reading Fugitive Telemetry sometime later this year.

The Bayou – Arden Powell

Would you like a spooky, queer, Southern gothic novella set in the 1930’s? Of course, you would, and that’s great because I have one for you right here! The Bayou is a super quick read and atmospheric as hell, and that ending, damn. Everything comes together so beautifully at the end of the story when All is Revealed. The horror is just so good here; also, I absolutely loved the writing, like, just so many good lines. This is the first work I’ve read by Arden Powell, and it will definitely not be the last.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

The Empress of Salt and Fortune – Nghi Vo; When The Tiger Came Down the Mountain – Nghi Vo; Harrow the Ninth – Tamsyn Muir; One Last Stop – Casey McQuiston; Here, The World Entire – Anwen Kya Hayward; Paladin’s Grace – T. Kingfisher; Fortune Favors the Dead – Stephen Spotswood; The Galaxy, and the Ground Within – Becky Chambers; Truly Devious – Maureen Johnson; The Vanishing Stair – Maureen Johnson; The Hand on the Wall – Maureen Johnson; Raybearer – Jordan Ifueko; Iron Widow – Xiran Jay Zhao; And What Can We Offer You Tonight – Premee Mohamed; Loveless – Alice Oseman

Yes, well, the plan was to only list 5 Honorable Mentions, but very obviously, I failed. Look, I read a lot of awesome books last year, okay? Be happy I kept it under 20.

Here’s to hoping 2022 is filled with even more fantastic reads!