Author: Michael Cook

A theatre kid dabbling in the art of reviewing the things he reads, watches, listens to, and sees.

REVIEW: “Lovecraft Country” by Matt Ruff

Lovecraft Country was one of those books I always meant to read but never got around to doing so. I love revisionist takes on old genres, especially ones that bring something new to the table. In Lovecraft Country’s case, that was prioritizing the stories of Black Americans by placing Black characters as the leads in various genres that have often underserved them. But I just never got around to reading the book. Until now. In light of the imminent premiere of HBO’s adaptation of the book, it seemed exactly the right time to finally read it. And, man, I’m so glad I finally did. I really wish I’d done so earlier. Reading Lovecraft Country is like watching a season of a great show contains elements of serialized and episodic storytelling. There is an overarching narrative at play, but each story stands alone while being wholly entertaining, quite frightening, and extremely poignant. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: There may be mild spoilers for Lovecraft Country.)

Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff
Chicago, 1954. When his father Montrose goes missing, 22-year-old Army veteran Atticus Turner embarks on a road trip to New England to find him, accompanied by his Uncle George—publisher of The Safe Negro Travel Guide—and his childhood friend Letitia. On their journey to the manor of Mr. Braithwhite—heir to the estate that owned one of Atticus’s ancestors—they encounter both mundane terrors of white America and malevolent spirits that seem straight out of the weird tales George devours.

At the manor, Atticus discovers his father in chains, held prisoner by a secret cabal named the Order of the Ancient Dawn—led by Samuel Braithwhite and his son Caleb—which has gathered to orchestrate a ritual that shockingly centers on Atticus. And his one hope of salvation may be the seed of his—and the whole Turner clan’s—destruction.

A chimerical blend of magic, power, hope, and freedom that stretches across time, touching diverse members of two black families, Lovecraft Country is a devastating kaleidoscopic portrait of racism—the terrifying specter that continues to haunt us today.

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REVIEW: “Project Power”

I love a good twist on a familiar trope. We see so many superhero movies these days that it’s hard for any of them to feel particularly unique. It’s not as simple as just making a serious one or a comedic one; you have to find a new twist to explore with superheroes, otherwise, it just feels like more of the same. This is where Project Power comes in. Premiering recently on Netflix, Project Power is a superhero movie that focuses less on the super-heroics of the story and more on how individual characters might react to living in a world where superpowers are not only common but easy to obtain. It’s a new spin on a familiar genre that prioritizes the voices of characters often underrepresented in the world of superheroes, and it’s well worth a watch. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: There may be mild spoilers for Project Power. You have been warned.)

Project Power (written by Mattson Tomlin, directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman)
On the streets of New Orleans, word begins to spread about a mysterious new pill that unlocks superpowers unique to each user. The catch: You don’t know what will happen until you take it. While some develop bulletproof skin, invisibility, and super strength, others exhibit a deadlier reaction. But when the pill escalates crime within the city to dangerous levels, a local cop (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) teams with a teenage dealer (Dominique Fishback) and a former soldier fueled by a secret vendetta (Jamie Foxx) to fight power with power and risk taking the pill in order to track down and stop the group responsible for creating it.

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REVIEW: “The Intergalactic Interloper” by Delas Heras

I love a weird, quirky sci-fi book. There’s just something so inherently fun about weird sci-fi  – it often doesn’t take itself very seriously, freeing the author to let their imaginations run wild. It’s usually a lot of fun and I frequently find myself drawn to these kinds of stories – which is exactly why I ended up reading The Intergalactic Interloper. With a summary promising missing cats and two-headed alien turtles, I was immediately on board. And, having finished the book, it was well worth the read. While light on plot, The Intergalactic interloper is packed with fun and weird ideas and is immensely enjoyable. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: An advanced copy of the book was provided in exchange for a fair review. Additionally, mild spoilers for The Intergalactic Interloper may follow.)

Ollie, a young East Village musician, woke up on the proverbial wrong side of the bed: His cat is missing, he is in trouble with his boss, and his friends all think he has lost his mind. This last one may have something to do with the story he tells them about spying a giant two-headed turtle from outer space on a nearby rooftop. But he swears it’s the truth. Ollie’s bandmate Zara is skeptical, but she still signs on to help him track down his vanished pet. Together they follow a trail of clues that lead them to a bird-watching neighbor, who—spurred on by the ghost of a Civil War colonel—may be out for blood.

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REVIEW: “Regenerations” – A Doctor Who Charity Anthology

Doctor Who has a long history of charity anthologies. For decades, fans have combined their creativity and generosity into these anthologies, telling new stories in the Doctor Who Universe while raising money for numerous charities. The anthologies may technically be unauthorized, but they’re one of my favorite aspects of the Doctor Who fandom. Which is where Kenton Hall and Chinbeard Books’ latest anthology, Regenerations, enters. When Hall reached out to offer a copy for review, I jumped at the chance. I love Doctor Who anthologies and I love the War Doctor. And, having finished the book, it’s well worth the read. It’s a unique, clever Anthology that loving you played with Doctor Who canon while raising money for the charity “Invest in ME” – a UK-based charity that researches Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. (4 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: The publisher provided an advanced copy in exchange for a fair review. All thoughts are my own.)

Regenerations edited by Kenton Hall
The Time Lord formerly known as the Doctor has been fighting the Time War for as long as he can recall. His previous lives — all those triumphs and tragedies — have been boxed up and filed away, too painful to revisit. That is until something — or someone — begins tugging at the thread of the Doctor’s past. As familiar stories twist and shift, threatening the stability of the universe itself, the reluctant Warrior finds himself with only one option. He has to save the Doctor. 

A charitable anthology of twisted tales, raising money for Invest In ME .

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REVIEW: “The Living Dead” by George A. Romero and Daniel Kraus

the living deadZombies 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.

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REVIEW: “The Vast of Night”

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.

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REVIEW: “The Umbrella Academy” Season 2

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.

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REVIEW: “Doctor Who – The 13th Doctor, Volume 4: A Tale of Two Time Lords”

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?

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REVIEW: “Axiom’s End” by Lindsay Ellis

axiom's end

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.

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REVIEW: Audible’s “The Sandman”

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.

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