Zombies are one of my favorite horror story “monsters.” There’s something so haunting about a threat that is basically humanity but slightly… off. Zombies don’t have a motive; there’s no reason why they do the things they do. They simply operate off a basic needs-based system. They’re the very definition of id: they need to feed and they need to feed now. There’s something scary about a foe that looks exactly like us but cannot be reasoned with or stopped. But, all that aside, the most interesting thing about zombies is the way the stories that feature them force us to take a good look at ourselves. A common theme in most zombie stories is how the plague turns humanity into the real monsters. It’s one of my favorite tropes of the genre and something I love to see various storytellers sink their teeth into. Nobody was better at this than George A. Romero. His films pioneered the modern zombie genre by focusing their lenses on the intimate human stories rather than the epic, action-packed survival stories we might see today. Romero seemed most interested in how individual people react to zombies rather than what, specifically, caused them or how they might be defeated. It’s what made his films interesting and it’s what makes his novel, The Living Dead (completed by Daniel Kraus after Romero’s passing), interesting. The novel is more epic in scale than any of Romero’s films but feels no less intimate than the best of his work. It’s a brilliant achievement in the career of a man who had many brilliant achievements and it’s quite possibly one of the best zombie novels I’ve ever read. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)
(Mild spoilers for the novel follow!)
The Living Dead by George A. Romero and Daniel Kraus Set in the present day, The Living Dead is an entirely new tale, the story of the zombie plague as George A. Romero wanted to tell it. It begins with one body. A pair of medical examiners find themselves battling a dead man who won’t stay dead. It spreads quickly. In a Midwestern trailer park, a Black teenage girl and a Muslim immigrant battle newly-risen friends and family. On a US aircraft carrier, living sailors hide from dead ones while a fanatic makes a new religion out of death. At a cable news station, a surviving anchor keeps broadcasting while his undead colleagues try to devour him. In DC, an autistic federal employee charts the outbreak, preserving data for a future that may never come.
Everywhere, people are targeted by both the living and the dead. We think we know how this story ends. We. Are. Wrong.
Better late than never, eh? There’s something about alien stories set during the 1940s-1960s that appeals to me. Maybe it’s that whole “things were simpler back then” trope or the fun that comes with watching or reading an alien story set during the height of the nation’s obsession with UFOs. Whatever it is, I often enjoy stories set during this period. And I also enjoy stories that focus on old-timey radio/TV production. In this context, it should be no surprise that The Vast of Night immediately appealed to me. I hadn’t heard much about it, but the moment Amazon Prime suggested it to me, I was eager to watch it. In theory, it touched on a lot of things I love and it looked pretty darn good. Having seen it, it is pretty darn good. The Vast of Night is easily one of my favorite films of the year. It’s both modern and retro and is filled with charm, great performances, great direction, and a solid story. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)
(NOTE: Mild spoilers for The Vast of Night may follow.)
The Vast of Night (written by Andrew Patterson and Craig W. Sanger, directed by Andrew Patterson) In the twilight of the 1950s, on one fateful night in New Mexico, a young, winsome switchboard operator Fay (Sierra McCormick) and charismatic radio DJ Everett (Jake Horowitz) discover a strange audio frequency that could change their small town and the future forever. Dropped phone calls, AM radio signals, secret reels of tape forgotten in a library, switchboards, crossed patchlines, and an anonymous phone call lead Fay and Everett on a scavenger hunt toward the unknown.
I enjoyed the first season of Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy. Sure, it wasn’t entirely faithful to the comics, but they did a great job at capturing what felt like the spiritual essence of what Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá did in the comics. And a lot of the character work in the first season was excellent. So, of course, I was excited to see what a second season of the show would look like. After all, season one’s ending had departed so far from what the comics did that I genuinely had no idea where the show would go after that. Well, as it turns out, season two would go on to loosely adapt the comics’ second arc, Dallas, to mixed results. It retains all the positives and negatives of the first season, with the positives being even better and the negatives being more blatant. It’s an enjoyable, if flawed, watch. (4 out of 5 wands.)
Five warned his family (so, so many times) that using his powers to escape from Vanya’s 2019 apocalypse was risky. Well, he was right – the time jump scatters the siblings in time in and around Dallas, Texas. Over a three year period. Starting in 1960. Some, having been stuck in the past for years, have built lives and moved on, certain they’re the only ones who survived. Five is the last to land, smack dab in the middle of a nuclear doomsday, which – spoiler alert! – turns out is a result of the group’s disruption of the timeline (déjà vu, anyone?). Now the Umbrella Academy must find a way to reunite, figure out what caused doomsday, put a stop to it, and return to the present timeline to stop that other apocalypse. All while being hunted by a trio of ruthless Swedish assassins. But seriously, no pressure or anything.
There will always be something devilishly fun about multi-Doctor stories. I don’t know if it’s the knowledge that, in-universe, they’re just not supposed to happen or if it’s the joy of witnessing multiple incarnations of the Doctor interacting with each other at the same time. Whatever it is, it’s fun to witness. So, the moment I heard that Titan Comics’ ongoing 13th Doctor line would feature an arc where the 13th Doctor, Yaz, Graham, and Ryan meet up with the 10th Doctor and Martha Jones during the events of Blink, I was super excited. It sounded like a bucket and a half of fun. And, having read the arc, it was exactly as much fun as I’d have liked – though, as always, I wish it was a bit longer. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)
(NOTE: There may be mild spoilers for A Tale of Two Time Lords ahead.)
Doctor Who: A Tale of Two Time Lords (written by Jody Houser, illustrated by Roberta Ingranata) The Thirteenth Doctor is back with her friends – Yaz, Ryan and Graham – in a brand new time-travelling adventure. This time she faces the horrific Weeping Angels – who else can help her out but one of her previous incarnations: the Tenth Doctor himself! Landing in the swinging 60s, the Thirteenth Doctor and fam are stranded in the middle of a territorial battle between the Angels and the creepy Autons, all the while having to avoid her former self and causing the universe to implode! What could go wrong?
I don’t normally watch video essays on YouTube. It takes a very specific kind of personality to get me interested enough to watch anything on YouTube for more than 10 minutes – especially something that’s just analyzing something else. But Lindsay Ellis is one of those YouTubers who can get me to watch an hour-long video and enjoy it. So, when I heard about her debut novel, Axiom’s End, I was excited to give it a read. And I was even more excited about it when I heard it was a science fiction/alternate history novel about humanity’s first contact with an alien species. That kind of story is one of my favorite kinds of science fiction stories and I was eager to see what kind of a take Ellis would have on it. Having now read the book, I can say that it wasn’t really what I expected at all. Ellis certainly puts her own spin on the first-contact genre, weaving a pretty interesting tale and delivering a book that, while a bit difficult to initially get into, makes for a compelling and enjoyable read. (4 out of 5 wands)
(Note: I received an ARC of this novel from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own and have not been influenced. Additionally, mild spoilers may follow.)
Axiom’s End by Lindsay Ellis
It’s fall 2007. A well-timed leak has revealed that the US government might have engaged in first contact. Cora Sabino is doing everything she can to avoid the whole mess, since the force driving the controversy is her whistleblower father. Even though Cora hasn’t spoken to him in years, his celebrity has caught the attention of the press, the Internet, the paparazzi, and the government―and with him in hiding, that attention is on her. She neither knows nor cares whether her father’s leaks are a hoax, and wants nothing to do with him―until she learns just how deeply entrenched her family is in the cover-up, and that an extraterrestrial presence has been on Earth for decades.
Realizing the extent to which both she and the public have been lied to, she sets out to gather as much information as she can, and finds that the best way for her to uncover the truth is not as a whistleblower, but as an intermediary. The alien presence has been completely uncommunicative until she convinces one of them that she can act as their interpreter, becoming the first and only human vessel of communication. Their otherworldly connection will change everything she thought she knew about being human―and could unleash a force more sinister than she ever imagined.
Making an audio adaptation of The Sandman seems like a great idea. There’s a lot of ways to convey fantasy settings using just sound and it feels like the perfect medium for The Sandman. I mean, it’s a series about the power of stories and what better way to experience the story than to close your eyes and let the sounds wash over you, right? And, in all honesty, that’s basically what Audible’s adaptation of The Sandman is – though, I’d argue it skews a bit closer to an audiobook than a true audio drama, but for most people, that’ll be just fine. For me, I enjoyed the adaptation but I wish it embraced the power of audio dramas a bit more than it does and relied less on narration to explain the “missing” visuals. (4 out of 5 wands.)
(NOTE: Mild spoilers may follow.)
The Sandman (written by Neil Gaiman, adapted by Dirk Maggs) When The Sandman, also known as Lord Morpheus—the immortal king of dreams, stories and the imagination—is pulled from his realm and imprisoned on Earth by a nefarious cult, he languishes for decades before finally escaping. Once free, he must retrieve the three “tools” that will restore his power and help him to rebuild his dominion, which has deteriorated in his absence. As the multi-threaded story unspools, The Sandman descends into Hell to confront Lucifer (Michael Sheen), chases rogue nightmares who have escaped his realm, and crosses paths with an array of characters from DC comic books, ancient myths, and real-world history, including: Inmates of Gotham City’s Arkham Asylum, Doctor Destiny, the muse Calliope, the three Fates, William Shakespeare (Arthur Darvill), and many more.
I don’t normally review screenplays – and I especially don’t normally review screenplays that were never produced. But I am making an exception here. Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman has had a long road to being adapted for another medium. A film version languished in development hell for 20-some years before finally getting turned into an upcoming Netflix TV series and an Audible audio drama. One of the writing teams attached to the film was Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio, most famous for writing Shrek and the Pirates of the Caribbean series. In 1996, they wrote a draft of a Sandman film. That draft is publicly available for reading on their website, Wordplayer. It is for this reason that I feel comfortable reading and reviewing the script – the writers have put it out there and, at that point, it’s fair game to be looked at. And, in all fairness, I actually think their attempt at adapting The Sandman is a relatively good one. Obviously, those comics are better suited for a TV series, but as far as film adaptations go, it’s pretty solid. (3.5 out of 5 wands.)
I really enjoyed An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, the first novel in Hank Green’s The Carls duology. It was one of those books that ticked off so many items on a theoretical checklist of what I like in science fiction. But, of course, it ended on a pretty killer cliffhanger. So, when the sequel, A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor, was announced, I was utterly excited to give it a read. Was it even possible for the sequel to be as good as the first book? Could Green bring the whole story to a satisfying conclusion? In short: yes. Yes to all of that. A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor is about as good as any sequel could hope to be. And I loved every second of it. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)
NOTE: There may be mild spoilers for A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor. You have been warned.
The Carls disappeared the same way they appeared, in an instant. While the robots were on Earth, they caused confusion and destruction with only their presence. Part of their maelstrom was the sudden viral fame and untimely death of April May: a young woman who stumbled into Carl’s path, giving them their name, becoming their advocate, and putting herself in the middle of an avalanche of conspiracy theories. Months later, April’s friends are trying to find their footing in a post-Carl world. Andy has picked up April’s mantle of fame, speaking at conferences and online; Maya, ravaged by grief, begins to follow a string of mysteries that she is convinced will lead her to April; and Miranda is contemplating defying her friends’ advice and pursuing a new scientific operation…one that might have repercussions beyond anyone’s comprehension. Just as it is starting to seem like the gang may never learn the real story behind the events that changed their lives forever, a series of clues arrive—mysterious books that seem to predict the future and control the actions of their readers—all of which seems to suggest that April could be very much alive. In the midst of the search for the truth and the search for April is a growing force, something that wants to capture our consciousness and even control our reality.
From the first time I read Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman in 2013, I adored the series. It felt like this beautiful mixture of traditional prose literature and graphic novels and it was something I hadn’t seen in any of the comics I’d read to that point. The series is as much a story about Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams, and his other siblings as it is about stories, themselves. It’s one of those series that has remained popular over the 30 years since it first debuted – and for good reason. So, in light of the imminent release of Audible’s audio adaptation of the series, I felt it a good time to go back to those first few volumes (those that are being adapted for the series) and take a look at how they read seven years after I first read them. In short, they still hold up remarkably well, even if parts of them haven’t aged the best. The Sandman is a great series and it’s impressive how much of its magic is present in these first twenty issues.
(NOTE: There will be mild spoilers for the first 20 issues/three volumes of The Sandman.)
A rich blend of modern myth and dark fantasy in which contemporary fiction, historical drama and legend are seamlessly interwoven, THE SANDMAN follows the people and places affected by Morpheus, the Dream King, as he mends the cosmic–and human–mistakes he’s made during his vast existence.
Anyone who knows me knows that I went through a pretty hardcore Hamilton phase when that musical first hit Broadway. I played the album all the time, I knew the vast majority of the lyrics. I adored that show. And I still do, even if I think In the Heights is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s superior show. So, naturally, when the news broke that Disney+ would be debuting the live capture of the show, recorded just before the original cast departed, over a year earlier than expected, I was devilishly excited. I’d only seen bits and pieces of the show, having never had a chance to see it in person, and I was so ready to finally see this show that I loved. Well, now that I’ve seen the film, how do I feel? I mean, it’s Hamilton and I love Hamilton. But, to be honest, this capture is a bit of a mixed bag. (4 out of 5 wands.)
Hamilton (directed by Thomas Kail, written and composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda) An unforgettable cinematic stage performance, the filmed version of the original Broadway production of “Hamilton” combines the best elements of live theater, film and streaming to bring the cultural phenomenon to homes around the world for a thrilling, once-in-a-lifetime experience. “Hamilton” is the story of America then, told by America now. Featuring a score that blends hip-hop, jazz, R&B and Broadway, “Hamilton” has taken the story of American founding father Alexander Hamilton and created a revolutionary moment in theatre—a musical that has had a profound impact on culture, politics, and education. Filmed at The Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway in June of 2016, the film transports its audience into the world of the Broadway show in a uniquely intimate way.