REVIEW: “You Feel It Just Below the Ribs” by Jeffrey Cranor and Janina Matthewson

Imagine an alternate twentieth century. One that’s been plagued by a deadly pandemic, a multi-decade-long war, and a ton of social upheaval. Imagine that in the wake of all of this chaos, a unifying global government rises to power. And imagine that you’ve played a part in the development of one of that government’s key policies. That’s the world of Jeffrey Cranor and Janina Matthewson’s You Feel It Just Below the Ribs. Taking the form of an in-universe memoir, You Feel It Just Below the Ribs explores the history of this New Society through the eyes of a scientist who worked for them, Dr. Miriam Gregory. At times, it’s a bit meandering. The pacing is all over the place, and there’s often a lack of urgency. But at its heart, it’s an emotional, thought-provoking reflection on the fragility of memory and the importance of trying to do the right thing. (3.5 out of 5 wands.)

NOTE: I received a review copy of You Feel It Just Below the Ribs from Harper Perennial/HarperCollins and Edelweiss+. All thoughts are my own.

You Feel It Just Below the Ribs
Written by Jeffrey Cranor and Janina Matthewson
A fictional autobiography in an alternate twentieth century that chronicles one woman’s unusual life, including the price she pays to survive and the cost her choices hold for the society she is trying to save.

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QUICKIE REVIEW: “Dune” (2021)

For years, Frank Herbert’s Dune has been considered unfilmable. And having seen Denis Villeneuve’s new adaptation, maybe the problem with all of the other Dune adaptations really is the source material itself. Dune: Part One, as the movie repeatedly calls itself, adapts roughly the first half of Herbert’s novel. And it shows. For most of its runtime, Dune feels less like a movie and more like a two-and-a-half-hour trailer for a different movie. And instead of reaching any kind of climax, the film just ends. Like it’s an episode of an ongoing serialized TV show, coming to a sudden cliffhanger to entice you to tune in the following week.

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REVIEW: “Truth of the Divine” by Lindsay Ellis

Alien first contact stories are a dime a dozen. They always focus on the immediate impact of extraterrestrial contact – how does humanity survive that first encounter? But what about the aftermath? What happens months later when the dust has settled and the shock dissipates? What are the long-term impacts of knowing humanity isn’t alone in the universe? This is the question at the heart of Lindsay Ellis’s Truth of the Divine. Picking up where the first book, Axiom’s End, left off, Truth of the Divine simultaneously expands the world introduced in that first book while delving even deeper into the psyches of its characters – human and alien alike. Truth of the Divine takes everything that worked in Axiom’s End and makes them even better. And it’s a thrilling, thought-provoking read that stays with you long after the first page. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)

(Note: I received an ARC of this novel from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. Additionally, mild spoilers for both Axiom’s End and Truth of the Divine follow.)

Truth of the Divine
Written by Lindsay Ellis
The human race is at a crossroads; we know that we are not alone, but details about the alien presence on Earth are still being withheld from the public. As the political climate grows more unstable, the world is forced to consider the ramifications of granting human rights to nonhuman persons. How do you define “person” in the first place?

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REVIEW: “Doctor Who: The Wonderful Doctor of Oz” by Jacqueline Rayner

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like if Doctor Who met The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, then look no further. Jacqueline Rayner’s The Wonderful Doctor of Oz is exactly what it sounds like. After traveling to 1939 LA to see the world premiere of The Wizard of Oz, the Doctor and her friends are shocked to learn nobody’s ever heard of the film, the book, or its author. Even more shocking is when a tornado carries the TARDIS (and all of its occupants) away to a suspiciously Oz-like land. To escape, the Doctor, Graham, Yaz, Ryan, and a stowaway named Theodore have to act out the events of the book and find the Wizard of Oz before the mysterious Wicked Witch gets to them. It sounds like it’s gonna be a big gimmick, but it’s surprisingly emotional. The Wonderful Doctor of Oz is a quick, fun read that exemplifies the endless possibilities of Doctor Who. (4 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: Mild spoilers follow. Read at your own risk.)

Doctor Who: The Wonderful Doctor of Oz
Written by Jacqueline Rayner
When a sudden tornado engulfs the TARDIS, the Thirteenth Doctor and her fam find themselves transported to the magical land of Oz. With a damaged TARDIS and an unexpected stowaway from the 1930s, their only hope of getting home is to follow the yellow brick road.

But when an army of scarecrows ambushes them, they quickly realise that everything is not as it should be, and they’re thrown into a fight for survival against a mysterious enemy. As each of her companions becomes a shadow of their former selves, only the Doctor is left standing.

Desperate to save her friends, she must embark on a perilous journey to seek help from the mysterious Wizard of Oz – and stop whatever forces are at work before she and her friends are trapped in the fictional world forever.

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REVIEW: “Rabbits” by Terry Miles

A mysterious game found only in the darkest, most obscure corners of the internet. A game that ties together a multitude of conspiracy theories. A game that might be killing its players and lead to the end of the world. It’s a pretty great hook for a book, right? Thankfully, Rabbits, Terry Miles’ debut novel, lives up to its promising premise. It’s a fast-paced, twisty, mind-bending read. But it closest itself some to vagueness and underexplained ideas, resulting in an uneven climax that doesn’t quite bring its mysteries to a satisfying conclusion. (4 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: I received an early copy of the novel from NetGalley and Del Rey. All thoughts are my own.)

“Rabbits”
Written by Terry Miles
Rabbits is a mysterious alternate reality game so vast it uses our global reality as its canvas. Since the game first started in 1959, ten iterations have appeared and nine winners have been declared. The identity of these winners are unknown. So is their reward, which is whispered to be NSA or CIA recruitment, vast wealth, immortality, or perhaps even the key to unlocking the secrets of the universe itself.

But the deeper you get, the more deadly the game becomes. Players have died in the past—and the body count is rising. And now the eleventh round is about to begin. Enter K—a Rabbits obsessive who has been trying to find a way into the game for years. That path opens when K is approached by billionaire Alan Scarpio, the alleged winner of the sixth iteration. Scarpio says that something has gone wrong with the game and that K needs to fix it before Eleven starts, or the whole world will pay the price.

Five days later, Scarpio is declared missing. Two weeks after that, K blows the deadline and Eleven begins. And suddenly, the fate of the entire universe is at stake.

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QUICKIE REVIEW: “Home Sick Pilots, Volume 1: Teenage Haunts”

A punk rock ghost story sounds pretty cool, right? Home Sick Pilots often lives up to its cool-sounding premise, but the plot and characters surrounding that premise are a little too thinly sketched for the comic to work as well as it could—for now, anyway. Simply put, volume one of Home Sick Pilots is a promising start to an ongoing series, but it’s not a home run. On paper, all of the elements are there. The artwork is great, the premise is intriguing, the pacing is solid, the broad strokes of the plot work well, and even the characters are interesting. The problem is just that not enough time is spent on any one thing, so everything feels a bit glossed over as though this volume is more of a prologue than a first act.

Home Sick Pilots, Volume 1: Teenage Haunts
Written by Dan Watters, illustrated by Caspar Wijngaard
In the summer of 1994, a haunted house walks across California. Inside is Ami, lead-singer of a high school punk band- who’s been missing for weeks. How did she get there? What do these ghosts want? And does this mean the band have to break up? Expect three chord songs and big bloody action as Power Rangers meets The Shining (yes really), and as writer DAN WATTERS (Lucifer/COFFIN BOUND) and artist CASPAR WIJNGAARD (Star Wars/Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt) delve into the horrors of misspent youth.

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REVIEW: “Doctor Who: The TV Movie” by Gary Russell (Target Novelization)

Most movie novelizations end up being a not-quite-final draft of the film’s script converted into prose. There’s the occasional deleted scene or expanded character backstory, but it’s mostly just a book version of the film, as you’d have seen it. Doctor Who: The TV Movie is precisely that kind of novelization. It’s well written, sure, and Russell’s prose adds a fair amount of depth to the story that a ninety-minute TV film simply can’t have. But it’s still a very safe, very standard novelization. It’s a little disappointing compared to how different some of the other recent Target novelizations are to their original stories, but I’m kind of okay with Russell’s adaptation being as faithful and safe as it is. I have quite the soft spot for the TV film, and Russell’s novel does a great job of capturing what works about the film. (4 out of 5 wands.)

NOTE: This review features mild spoilers for Doctor Who: The TV Movie and its novelization. Read at your own risk.

Doctor Who: The TV Movie
(written by Gary Russell)
It’s December 1999, and strange things are happening as the new millennium nears. A British police box appears from nowhere in San Francisco’s Chinatown and the mysterious man inside it is shot down in the street. Despite the best efforts of Dr Grace Holloway, the man dies and another stranger appears, claiming to be the same person in a different body: a wanderer in time and space known only as the Doctor.

But the Doctor is not the only alien in San Francisco. His deadly adversary the Master is murdering his way through the city and has taken control of the TARDIS. The Master is desperate to take the Doctor’s newly regenerated body for himself, and if the Doctor does not capitulate, it will literally cost him the Earth… and every last life on it.

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REVIEW: “Doctor Who: The Crimson Horror” by Mark Gatiss / “Doctor Who: The Witchfinders” by Joy Wilkinson (Doctor Who Target Collection)

The Target range of Doctor Who novelizations has long held the ability to transform an otherwise average-to-bad episode of the show into a memorable and enjoyable book. Sometimes, what doesn’t work on screen is destined to work on the page, and granting the original screenwriter the opportunity to expand upon their script often yields exciting results. This is the mindset I approached the latest wave of the range with. Neither “The Crimson Horror” nor “The Witchfinders” are bad episodes of Doctor Who, but they are decidedly average ones, which means there’s quite a lot of room for them to be bettered in a novelization. While “The Crimson Horror” doesn’t really achieve this feat, “The Witchfinders” does. And, to be fair, both novels are immensely enjoyable and should prove pleasing to any Doctor Who fan who decides to read either story.

“Doctor Who: The Crimson Horror” by Mark Gatiss
Something ghastly is afoot in Victorian Yorkshire. Something that kills. Bodies are washing up in the canal, their skin a waxy, glowing red… But just what is this crimson horror? Madam Vastra, Jenny and Strax are despatched to investigate the mystery. Strangely reluctant to assist their enquiries is Mrs Winifred Gillyflower, matriarch of ‘Sweetville’, a seemingly utopian workers’ community. Why do all roads lead to the team’s old friends Clara and the Doctor? Who is Mrs Gillyflower’s mysterious silent partner Mr Sweet? And will the motley gang be in time to defeat the mysterious power that threatens all the world with its poison?

“Doctor Who: The Witchfinders” by Joy Wilkinson
The TARDIS lands in the Lancashire village of Bilehurst Cragg in the 17th century, and the Doctor, Ryan, Graham and Yaz soon become embroiled in a witch trial run by the local landowner. Fear stalks the land, and the arrival of King James I only serves to intensify the witch hunt. But the Doctor soon realises there is something more sinister than paranoia and superstition at work. Tendrils of living mud stir in the ground and the dead lurch back to horrifying life as an evil alien presence begins to revive. The Doctor and her friends must save not only the people of Bilehurst Cragg from the wakening forces, but the entire world.

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QUICKIE REVIEW: NBC’s “Debris”

If you’re a sci-fi fan and you’re not watching Debris, you’re missing out on a fun show. Debris is one of those weird experiments in how little exposition a show can get away with giving. The pilot episode drops viewers in the middle of the action, with Brian and Finola having been tracking debris for several weeks already. It’s a gutsy way to start such a high-concept series, for sure. But it’s honestly a breath of fresh air in a genre that usually spends an unwieldy amount of time setting premises up before anything interesting happens. It’s nice getting right to the action, especially when the action involves a new piece of Debris each week that lets the writers explore a multitude of science fiction ideas. Want a story about clones? Check out episode two. Want something involving wormholes? Episode three’s your bet. Want to see an episode where old people can become young again? Watch episode six. I’m not always the biggest fan of procedural shows, but Debris offers a nice balance between fun cases of the week and an intriguing ongoing mystery—there’s some kind of terrorist group trying to find the pieces of debris before the various governments can and they seem to be up to no good. The mystery needs some development, but it’s enough to keep you coming back each week to see the newest strange case.

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REVIEW: “The Future is Yours” by Dan Frey

Have you ever read one of those books that immediately envelops your interest? One that just grabs your attention and holds it like a vice, daring you to put the book down? There’s nothing quite like reading a book like that. It’s a high that all readers chase as often as they can. Reading Dan Frey’s newest sci-fi techno-thriller, The Future is Yours, created just that experience for me. The Future is Yours is an epistolary novel and tells its story through writing found within the novel’s world (like emails, text messages, blog posts, transcripts of congressional hearings). As a result, it creates a reading experience unlike those found in prose-based novels. The Future is Yours is a face-paced, thrilling read that asks what might happen if humans could access information from the future and then thoroughly unpacks all the reasons why humans shouldn’t be allowed to do that. It’s a nuanced page-turner with fully-fleshed characters and a well-executed premise that’s well worth a read for all sci-fi fans. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)

NOTE: I received an ARC of this novel from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own. Additionally, this review is spoiler free.

For Ben Boyce and Adhi Chaudry, the answer is unequivocally yes. And they’re betting everything that you’ll say yes, too. Welcome to The Future: a computer that connects to the internet one year from now, so you can see who you’ll be dating, where you’ll be working, even whether or not you’ll be alive in the year to come. By forming a startup to deliver this revolutionary technology to the world, Ben and Adhi have made their wildest, most impossible dream a reality. Once Silicon Valley outsiders, they’re now its hottest commodity. 

The device can predict everything perfectly—from stock market spikes and sports scores to political scandals and corporate takeovers—allowing them to chase down success and fame while staying one step ahead of the competition. But the future their device foretells is not the bright one they imagined. Ambition. Greed. Jealousy. And, perhaps, an apocalypse. The question is . . . can they stop it?

Told through emails, texts, transcripts, and blog posts, this bleeding-edge tech thriller chronicles the costs of innovation and asks how far you’d go to protect the ones you love—even from themselves.

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