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

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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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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!

TV Superlatives: September, October, November – 2021

It’s December, which means–well, a bunch of things, really, but today it means that I’ve come to talk about all the television I’ve been watching for the past three months. Here are the shows:

What If . . . ? (Episodes 1-5)
Star Trek: Lower Decks (Season 2, Episodes 4-10)
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Season 8, Episodes 7-10)
Running Man/Classic Running Man (Random Episodes)
Black Spot (Season 2)
Last Week Tonight
Nailed It! (Season 6)
Squid Game
Slasher: Flesh and Blood
Yumi’s Cells (Ep. 1- 7)
Evil (Season 2)
The Great British Bake-Off (Collection 9)
Nancy Drew (Season 3, Ep. 1 – 7)
Hawkeye (Ep. 1-3)

A quick reminder for how these work: superlatives may be bestowed upon any show I’m watching, no matter whether it’s 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, without such a warning. Which is to say, I won’t spoil any of Nancy Drew, Season 3, without a big heads up, but any Major Revelations from S1 or S2 are totally fair game.

Shall we begin?

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2021: Award Eligible Work and Recommended Short Fiction

Well, 2021 is nearing its end–it’s absurd, right?–so it’s officially That Time again. First, I’ll discuss my own writing; then, we’ll move onto my favorite short stories of the year.

In regards to my own work:

Forward, Victoria” – The Dark – April 2021 – (3900 words)

Ah, my latest slasher. TBH, I’m pretty fond of this one. There are a lot of obvious horror movie references here, but I was primarily inspired by the shifting lore of the Friday the 13th franchise. I wanted to play with legends and monsters and how they both evolve over time. (Also, I just really wanted to write my own Teenage Girl as Unstoppable Masked Killer story.) You may enjoy this one if you’re interested in queer horror, undead girls, angry girls, second-person POV, fatal high school reunions, and a variety of violent kills.

An Ever After Diverged” – Daily Science Fiction – March 2021 – (1000 words)

Ah, my latest fairy tale. I see I’m very on brand this year. This is a short, angry little piece about seers, bodily autonomy, and how quickly women’s lives are considered disposable. You may enjoy this one if you like upended fairy tales, feminist fairy tales, quick reads, reverse storytelling, visions, prophecies, and alternate endings.

Only Circles in the Sea” – Mermaids Monthly – August 2021 – (250 words)
I Am Not Your Tragedy” – Mermaids Monthly – August 2021 – (250 words)

The tiniest of mermaid stories! The quickest of reads! 2021, truly, was the Year of Flash Fiction for me. I’ve never been so lucky selling such short stories. (In fact, I have two more flash pieces coming out sometime next year. One in Nightmare, one TBA.)

“Only Circles in the Sea” is my prophetic mermaids story, and you may enjoy it if you like stories about loss, reunions, and the unfathomable magics of the sea. “I Am Not Your Tragedy” is my cyborg mermaids story, and you may enjoy it if you’re interested in rejecting ablest narratives and stories where sharks are bitey jerks. Both stories will take you less than five minutes to read and come with absolutely fantastic artwork by Clare McCanna.

All of these stories are eligible for Best Short Story in most major awards (World Fantasy, the Nebulas, the Hugos, the Shirley Jackson Awards, the Bram Stoker Award, etc.) Well. Okay, don’t nominate the mermaid stories for the Shirley Jackson or Bram Stoker Award. I haven’t written a murderous mermaid story. Yet.

With that out of the way, let’s continue. In no particular order, here are . . .

My Favorite Short Stories of 2021

1. “Eating Bitterness” – Hannah Yang – The Dark

Oh, wow, this story. There’s so much that I love here: the inherent creepiness of the second mouths, the disturbing burdens that mothers are expected to bear, the multi-generational attitudes and approaches towards duty, pain, and what it means to grow up. This story is dark, stunning, and gorgeously told.

Every evening we tie Mama down.

2. “Of Claw and Bone” – Suzan Palumbo – The Dark

I mean, goddamn. This one is fascinating, powerful, and goth as hell. We’ve got bone magic. We’ve got mobiles made out of tiny animal skulls. We’ve got the kind of abusive family dynamics that always kick me straight in the Feels. This one is all about mothers and daughters and validating different types of power and strength. I’m obsessed with it.

Your own skull is still in pieces, kept flexible to withstand the compression of the birth canal. There is no guarantee what kind of woman you will fuse into.

3. “Proof by Induction” – José Pablo Iriarte – Uncanny

So, this story is all about grief and mathematics, and while I can’t pretend to know anything about the latter, I really appreciate how this one handles loss, particularly when you’re not processing it the way people think you should. There’s a pragmatism to this story that greatly appeals to me; also, the bitter truth that no matter how many chances you get at a last conversation, it won’t be, cannot be, the closure that you’re looking for. A fantastic story all around.

“The Coda cannot change in the way that a person can, however; it cannot learn or grow.” Her eyes meet Paulie’s. “Your father’s soul is not in there. Your father has moved on.”

4. “We, The Girls Who Did Not Make It” – E.A. Petricone – Nightmare

I am, and forever will be, a sucker for a dead girl story. Or, as the case may be, the story of many, many dead girls. I love how this one gives so much time and space to meet each and every girl who was murdered, to know them both individually and as a collective group. This story is angry and unapologetic, and I like the fierceness of its resolution.

We wish we were she-demons with long claws. We wish the full moon rose and our stories ended with us picking our captors out from between our teeth. We wish we’d been stronger. We wish we’d lived.

5. “The First of Many Lies You’ll Tell Her” – Kelly Sandoval – Daily Science Fiction

I adore Kelly Sandoval’s prose. I’m sure I’ve said it before, but she always packs so much emotion, so much regret, melancholy, and love, into even the shortest of stories. Her work is outstanding. This particular story is all about the perpetual fear that goes hand-in-hand with being a parent, and while it took maybe three minutes to read, the words lingered inside my brain for much, much longer.

When they first lay her in your arms, you will relearn what it means to fear.

6. “A House Is Not a Home” – L. Chan – Clarkesworld

I’ve never bothered to make an actual Most Beloved Tropes And/Or Premises List, but if I did, “sentient houses” would definitely make the Top Ten. And this is easily one of the best sentient house stories I’ve ever read. It’s both a quick read and a gradual unfolding, and I just wanna give Home a big hug. A wonderful read with a perfect conclusion.

It is the truth that Home tells because Home has no choice.

7. “Pathfinding!” – Nicole Kornher-Stace – Uncanny

Ah, more of my favorite tropes: super soldier kids who are abducted/experimented on/raised by nefarious government agencies! The characters in this one are great: I love 06’s defiance, 22’s pragmatism, and the deep, utterly platonic bond between them. I love all the dark humor, particularly concerning the Director’s warped sense of her own heroism. This story is engaging, extremely quotable, and an overall delight.

They are fifteen years old, which each of them wears differently. 06: defiance, nobility, misplaced nostalgia, surgically precise rage. 22: indifference (false).

8. “One and a Half Stars” – Kristen Koopman – Baffling

Laugh out loud funny. This one is hilarious, biting, a pitch perfect satire of . . . shit, a whole bunch of stuff, TBH. How gynecological pain is brushed off as natural, harmless, insignificant. How ridiculously complicated basic troubleshooting and tech support can be. What does and doesn’t count as healthcare even though it is very obviously healthcare. And that last line? Jesus. Absolute perfection.

Before anyone considers buying this uterus, let me share a little story.

9. “Taking Control of Your Life in Five Easy Steps” – P H Low – Nightmare

Oh, I adore this story. It’s both darkly funny and deliciously unsettling, and I love the repetition, the absolute precision of the prose. This one is so sharp and concise, and some of these lines just snap. If you’re looking for a creepy sendup of unhelpful self-help articles, you have come to the right place.

Understand that your life is confusing because you are only a ragged reflection of a true person in a true world.

10. “Teeny, Tinman’s Fourth Wife” – Liza Wemakor – Anathema

I must admit that I’ve never seen The Wiz (at least, not in its entirety), but that didn’t prevent me from enjoying this story in the slightest. I love how Teeny talks about her own body. I love that she’s never ashamed of herself or her size; it’s just that she’s had the misfortune to fall in love with someone ashamed of his desire for her. Teeny struggles with her feelings for this tin-man who never deserved her, and the whole thing is a great read with a fantastic closing line.

When we heard the skin-girl and the scarecrow around the corner, I played dead per our protocol.

Finally, because I read WAY too many great stories this year, here are a bunch of Honorable Mentions:

Laughter Among the Trees” – Suzan Palumbo – The Dark
The Family in the Adit” – A.T. Greenblatt – Nightmare
From Witch to Queen and God” – L.D. Lewis – Mermaids Monthly
Ootheca” – Mário de Seabra Coelho – Strange Horizons
If the Martians Have Magic” – P. Djèlí Clark – Uncanny
Dragons” – Teresa Milbrodt – Strange Horizons
Six Fictions About Unicorns” – Rachael K. Jones – Uncanny

Triple Spooky Scoop Review: The Funhouse, Friday the 13th, and Halloween

Well, my friends, Horror Bingo has reached its conclusion and I’m afraid to say that my two-year winning streak has also met its end.

Oh, The Watcher in the Woods, alas. We came so close.

Before we get to the wrap-up, though, let’s discuss our last three movies.

The Funhouse

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Year: 1981
Director: Tobe Hooper
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Peacock
Spoilers: Yep
Grade: Pistachio

Most of the movies I’ve watched this year for Horror Bingo have been somewhere between decent and awesome. Even my least favorites have been pretty watchable; The Funhouse, however, is the first movie I’ve actively disliked.

For starters, it’s slow as hell. It takes roughly 80 years for anyone to die, and while a slow build can totally work, like. You gotta do something interesting with that screen time. Give me some character development. Give me some funny dialogue. Give me some deeply unnerving atmosphere. I think The Funhouse is trying to accomplish that last one, but mostly, I was just bored. The atmosphere isn’t so much creepy as it is . . . seedy, especially considering this particular carnival seems right out of the 1930’s. Which, hey, I wasn’t alive in 1981, so possibly this is period accurate? Still, it all felt a bit contrived and over the top to me, only not in a fun way.

I’m also just not really into the whole Deformed Killer thing, a trope which often has icky ‘the outside reflects the inside’ implications, even when said character is supposed to be pitiable. The Disposable Sex Worker isn’t my favorite trope, either (I would argue Zena counts in this context), and quite frankly, raises some deeply disturbing questions about what Gunther wanted from the Girl Scouts that he murdered prior to this movie. We also spend way more time than I wanted with Evil Gunther’s Evil Dad, and JFC, the final showdown between Gunther and Amy went on for another 80 years. Yes, that’s 160 years total. I am a dusty corpse now. Give me an RIP in the comments.

There were a few things I did genuinely enjoy, like, IDK if anything has ever made me laugh so hard as watching the Final Girl assure her date that, no, no, she got the joke. (People. The authenticity.) I also enjoyed the opening credits, which had some serious Halloween vibes, and the poor dude who got hanged before getting an axe to the head. I also laughed at how Gunther carried Buzz’s body out like he was the Virgin Mary holding Jesus. (Gunther’s makeup, BTW, is–uh–something. He looks like the secret murderous lovechild of Sloth from The Goonies and the Dancing Alien from Spaceballs.)

It appears that when The Funhouse came out, it received pretty decent reviews, and while art is obviously subjective, I have to admit I’m surprised. I mean, motherfucking Siskel and Ebert liked this movie, and I thought they’d have rinsed their mouths out with bleach before ever admitting they enjoyed a slasher.

Friday the 13th

Year: 2009
Director: Marcus Nispel
First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – HBO Max
Spoilers: Yep
Grade: Rocky Road

As far as Friday the 13th movies go, the sequel/remake is pretty middle of the road for me. Watchable but a bit boring, probably because I don’t care about either of the potential Final Girls. In other roles, I like Amanda Righetti and Danielle Panabaker well enough (particularly Panabaker, who I liked as Killer Frost on The Flash), and I should totally be rooting for these two. Sadly, neither Jenna nor Whitney are allowed even the smallest scrap of personality. (It’s especially unfortunate with Whitney, who I wish had more on screen interactions with Jason.) I get slashers are not well known for their in depth character work, but we can still do a lot better than this.

I do remember being surprised by Jenna’s death the first time I watched this, though it’s hard to say if it would surprise me as much now, being more familiar with the Jason mythos. At the time, though, I thought it was kinda cool Clay and his sister lived, rather than Clay and his potential  love interest. (Well. We do end on a last second surprise attack–sigh– so maybe I should be saying “survived the longest” rather than “lived.”) I kinda like the idea of a more territorial Jason, too, like, this isn’t the Jason who hops on cruise ships towards Manhattan. This guy’s just killing any outsider who gets too close to home. But it doesn’t seem entirely consistent to me (like, why did Scuzzy Donnie have to die), and I wish the film did something more with it. Maybe the cops could’ve been sacrificing tourists to their local drowned god? On the upside, I did wholeheartedly enjoy the Updated Sleeping Bag Death! I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone who likes The New Blood, but by God, we all love the Sleeping Bag Death.

Finally, a scattering of random thoughts:

A) Trent is The Worst, but I must say that Travis Van Winkle really commits to Rich Yuppie Asshole, like, this is solid work. I have no idea why Jenna would date this guy, but I suppose I’ve thought that about women in RL, too. Meanwhile, Lawrence, who just wanted to save his buddy Chewie, deserves better. Poor Lawrence.

B) Wow, I don’t know if I can think of anything that sounds more uncomfortable than topless wakeboarding. Slamming my naked breasts into water at, IDK, 20 miles an hour when I inevitably wipe out? I mean, that just sounds painful.

C) Hey, Pamela Voorhees is played by Nana Visitor! Hi, Homicidal Kira!

D) Seriously, why did Whitney and Clay dump Jason’s body in the lake anyway? That would’ve made sense for characters in previous films, sure, but it makes no sense here. They literally had to drag him all the way there! The cops are likely to be dubious! I don’t understand!

E) If Whitney does survive her last second surprise attack, she’ll learn that her mom died, and that she missed the funeral. Damn, Whitney’s life is bleak.

Halloween

Year: 2018
Director: David Gordon Green
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yep
Grade: Vanilla

Mekaela won Horror Bingo with The Funhouse, but I had one more space in this Triple Scoop Review, so we each picked a film and played roshambo for it. Mek won, and thus we watched a different sequel/remake: Halloween.

This is okay. I definitely enjoy parts of it, but I’m not in love with the film, either, which is, well. Pretty in line with my feelings on this franchise, TBH. Some things I genuinely enjoyed: the opening credits, a lead female character in a horror movie who’s over 60 years old, Judy Greer’s face when she says, “Gotcha,” Laurie Strode’s whole death trap house, the many times we see Laurie echoing Michael Myers from the first movie (Laurie standing outside her granddaughter’s classroom, Laurie disappearing when Michael looks for her dead body, etc.) I also think it’s really interesting, watching multiple generations of the Strode/Nelson family dealing with the fallout from one terrifying night in 1978 . . . but I still think the movie could do more with it. Specifically, I’d like to see more of Laurie and Karen’s relationship, like, we definitely get the broad strokes, but I feel there’s room for more depth and nuance.

As far as what doesn’t work for me, well. I’m still trying to puzzle that out, so I apologize if the rest of this review is a bit murky. I have a vague idea that part of my problem stems from how much these characters seem to buy into, hm. Let’s call it meta knowledge. Laurie Strode knows Michael Myers is coming back for her. She’s been waiting for it her whole life. And I think we’re supposed to agree: for one, Michael obviously does find Laurie, but also, we get Dr. Sartain’s theories about Laurie and Michael, as though they’re inextricably linked, not to mention Allyson goes to class and literally learns about fate. It all feels pretty Thematic, only here’s the thing: Michael pretty much goes wherever he’s taken. I don’t see much evidence that he’s specifically gunning for Laurie, particularly because we’ve erased every instance that he’s done so out of canon. (Not to mention, goodbye the whole sibling connection.) Honestly, it’s a bit sadder if Laurie’s spent her whole life believing in this Final Girl vs. Boogeyman destiny, but really, she’s just traumatized and has incredibly shitty luck.

And to be fair, Halloween doesn’t actually rule out that interpretation. Still, I can’t entirely shake the impression that this movie feels haunted by the canon it erased. The podcasters, particularly the dude, feel pretentious to the point of absurdity. When Aaron’s shaking the Michael Myers mask around (LOL to his convenient friend at the attorney general’s office, BTW) and asking, “You feel it, don’t you?” Like, I don’t buy any of that, and not just because this dude never seems to realize he could easily walk around the square and actually face his interviewee. Officer Hawkins running over Michael Myers could theoretically work, given that he was around in 1978, but the movie doesn’t give much space to his trauma, definitely not enough for me to buy Actually, Murder is the Best Approach Here from him. And while I’m sorta relieved Dr. Sartain is evil because I was getting real frustrated by his whole Michael Myers fanboy ass, he also just feels . . . weirdly artificial to me, like his dialogue could’ve been taken straight from some Pop Culture & Philosophy essay. Which is something I would totally expect from the Scream movies, but not so much here.

Halloween is entertaining enough, and I’ll probably see the sequel eventually (if only to see what’s causing these seriously mixed reviews), but there’s just something that, on a first viewing, feels oddly disingenuous to me.

(Finally, a few quick last minute things: A) I need Halloween: The Multiverse in my life immediately, where the various Laurie Strodes all face one another, and Karen meets the other two kids who were written out of continuity, B) I’m goddamn amazed that Cameron lives; also, Sheriff Barker, C) sadly, poor Vicky never had a chance, and neither did the Sandwich Cops, who legit were the best, D) much as I like Karen’s “gotcha” moment, I really wish it had more room to breathe, and E) Michael killed a child to show this movie isn’t fucking around, but didn’t kill the baby because, apparently, even Evil has limits.

THE GREAT HORROR BINGO 2021 WRAP UP

Of the films I’d never seen before, my favorites were easily The People Under the Stairs and A Quiet Place Part II.

My least favorite movie, OTOH, was definitely The Funhouse, with Till Death as a very distant runner up. The Funhouse was this year’s Dream Home. Or Mandy.

Movies I’m Most Disappointed We Didn’t Get To: Pontypool, Lake Mungo, and One Cut of the Dead have become the redheaded stepchildren of Horror Bingo. We keep throwing them in, and they stubbornly refuse to be chosen.

Movies I’m Most Likely to Add to 2022 Horror Bingo, assuming I don’t watch them before: As the Gods Will, The Call, Bit, and maybe The Fly. (Last year’s nominees were Mayhem, Anna and the Apocalypse, Hereditary, and Cube, which. Well, hell, that was damn accurate.)

Triple Spooky Scoop Review: Happy Death Day 2U, Cube, and Mayhem

Okay, I know. Halloween is over. Guess what? Horror Bingo continues until there’s a winner, and so far, it’s still neck and neck. The stakes are high! (There are literally no stakes of any kind.)

Happy November. Let’s twist this.

Happy Death Day 2U

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Year: 2019
Director: Christopher Landon
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yep
Grade: Vanilla

Happy Death Day 2U is an interesting sequel in that it slightly genre hops from “horror comedy with an SFF plot device” to “SFF comedy with vague slasher leanings.” I don’t know that it totally works for me, though. I really enjoy the embrace of parallel dimensions–it’s always fun to see what’s the same and what’s different in any given universe–but I’m also a tiny bit bummed by just how much of a backseat the whole slasher part takes. I was also a little disappointed when I realized that only Tree would get caught in the parallel dimension time loop. That’s what I’d been initially expecting, mind you, but then we began the movie with Ryan caught in his own time loop, and I had just long enough to think, Oh, that’s so INTERESTING, before we essentially just restarted Happy Death Day in Earth 2.

That being said, Tree’s reaction to realizing she’s back in the loop? Priceless. I still like Jessica Rothe as Tree, and a lot of the humor still works for me. (Some, admittedly, is a bit goofy for my tastes.) The emotional beats work too, mostly: I like that Tree is tempted to stay, though sometimes the swelling background music is trying way too hard; also, I definitely don’t care enough about Tree/Carter to make the World Where Mom is Alive vs. World Where Carter is My Boyfriend even remotely a debate. I also enjoyed getting to see the nicer, less homicidal Lori, though I do wish we had more time to spend on Comic Relief Scientist Friends.

I’m also still a little unsure about, well, most of the time/dimension mechanics, honestly. Why, exactly, was Ryan in a time loop again? Tree got stuck in hers when the quantum machine went off, but I don’t think it went off again, so . . . not sure? Also, while Alternate Ryan is interesting, I don’t know if he makes much sense, especially considering we get 2 Ryans in Earth 1, but only 1 Tree in Earth 2. I’m curious, too, about Alternate Tree, like, I get that her mind went traveling when our Tree came into the picture, but did she actually come back? Does she remember what happened to her? Would she have been stuck forever if our Tree decided to steal her life? It’s possible I missed some of these explanations, and even if I didn’t, I’m sure many would consider them nitpicks. But IDK. In some ways, Happy Death 2U is kinda intriguing; in other ways, I feel like there’s just so much more it could’ve played with and explored.

Cube

Year: 1997
Director: Vincenzo Natali
First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yes, in this paragraph and in the trailer above
Grade: Vanilla

Cube came out when I was about 12, and I haven’t seen it since I was, IDK. 13? 15? It’s the first horror film I can think of, offhand, that uses an escape-the-booby-trapped-room set up; it’s also the oldest film I can remember that uses the Razor Floss death trope, which became popular a few years later. (Though if you can think of older films, please do let me know in the comments.) It’s definitely influential, and I can see why it’s gained something of a cult following. (Plus two sequels, neither of which I’ve watched.)

Some parts of this movie hold up better than others. I won’t pretend I can speak expertly about good autistic rep, but everything I’ve ever read suggests that the autistic savant character is a frustrating stereotype, one that’s become dominant in film and television since Rain Man. Some of the scene transitions are kinda laughable. Also, some of the actors are notably better than their costars, though I did have fun playing spot the actor. When I first watched Cube, the only person I knew was Nicole de Boer, who was on DS9. Now, I also recognize Nicky Guadagni from Ready or Not, David Hewlitt from Stargate: Atlantis, and Julian Richings, That Guy who pops up in every SF/F/H show that’s filmed in Canada. (You may also remember him from Urban Legend, which I just reviewed a few weeks ago.)

Still, it’s a fun concept and easily watchable, if you don’t mind how awful some of these characters are. Leaven, in particular, is so much worse than I remember, both incredibly whiny and also just a total jackass to Kazan. I enjoy how Quentin, a cop, is initially presented as the calm Good Guy, only for him to slowly reveal his true nature: namely, Sexist Murderous Dick. After all, the traps only kill 2 people; Quentin, himself, kills 3. I also like the twist that the rooms themselves are moving around. (Which, uh, the trailer just straight up spoils? Way to go, trailer.)

Cube is never gonna hit my personal Top Ten, but its influence cannot be denied, and it’s worth a watch if you also enjoy this type of horror. (Also, there’s apparently a new Japanese remake? Ooh, I hope it becomes available in the US. I want to check it out!)

Mayhem

Year: 2017
Director: Joe Lynch
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Shudder
Spoilers: Only mildly
Grade: Vanilla

I mean, look. I could watch Steven Yeun and Samara Weaving running around being chaotic neutral all day. They’re pretty delightful here, talking metal bands and Dave Matthews Band in between murdering people with power saws. This premise promises, well, mayhem, and it certainly delivers on that front. There were definitely moments I laughed out loud, although annoyingly, I’m having trouble remembering specific ones right now. I did love the moment when Derek confronts The Reaper in his office. Also, Ewan asking, “Do you think I like the taste of kale?” Heh.

As an actual satire, I do feel like it’s missing something. Maybe it’s because I feel like there’s something of a missed opportunity with all the other mistreated coworkers, who are by and large just around for background gags or to act as no-name henchmen. Maybe it’s because almost everyone on the board of directors acts normal, despite the fact that they’ve also been infected. The only person really acting any different is our chief villain, John (AKA, The Boss), and even then he’s mostly just yelling more and doing a lot of cocaine. The film would be stronger, I think, if none of the bosses were infected, especially if they proved to be just as violent without the excuse of an infectious, inhibition-removing disease. I also can’t help but feel like Derek Cho is resting a lot on the legal precedent of one case, as if America’s justice system is just gonna automatically treat a person of color the same as some white guy.

So, yeah, I do think the satirical aspects of this script could be stronger. (Also, the accents, which is totally not a big deal, but like. Couldn’t this just have been an international company?) OTOH, if you’re mostly watching to see Steven Yeun absolutely flip his shit or Samara Weaving add another notch to her Fun Violent Ladies On Screen belt–and let’s be real, that’s absolutely why I watched it–I mean, yeah, it’s totally a decent movie to check out.