Movie Review: Ready Player One

Ready Player Oneby Sean CW Korsgaard

 

Ready Player One
Director: Steven Spielberg
Warner Bros. Pictures

Depending on who you ask, Ready Player One is either a fun science fiction adventure and loving tribute to the nerd culture of the 1980s, or the personification of everything wrong with modern geek culture and nostalgia. Regardless, the moment Steven Spielberg announced he would be doing a movie adaptation, I was intrigued. America’s greatest living filmmaker, the man who made turning airport novels into generational cinematic touchstones, tackling a book that partly serves as a love letter to nostalgia for an era he helped define, it made one hell of a selling point, at least if Spielberg could stick the landing.

Luckily, with Ready Player One, not only does Spielberg stick the landing, he delivers a rip-roaring adventure that may be the most entertaining movie he’s made in over 20 years.

Ready Player One follows Wade Watts, or as he’s known in the virtual reality world of the OASIS, Parzival, as he joins the ranks of millions of gamers questing to be heir to the throne of the world’s late trillionaire creator James Halliday. Alongside a group of his friends, he makes the first breakthrough in the contest, making him the most famous player in the OASIS, and the biggest target of corporate suits like Nolan Sorrento who seek to win the contest and twist the OASIS to their own ends. Risking fame, fortune, the fate of the world, and their very lives, Wade and his friends are in a race to the finish, and on the journey of a lifetime.

There are some bits that Ready Player One changed from the book that I liked, such as making the challenges for the keys more streamlined and cinematic, as well as giving characters like Art3mis and Daito more to do. There are other things I didn’t like that they changed, with the major one being really downplaying the dystopian aspects of the novel, the world of Ready Player One in the movie never feels like the broken, impoverished dying world people needed an escape from in the OASIS. That said, Ready Player One absolutely nails the most important thing, the OASIS being this vivid virtual world where the only limits are your imagination, and making it a place worth fighting for. There are some bits of coincidence in the movie that raise questions, but the movie moves at a brisk enough pace that it can be forgiven.

Part of that comes from the fact we’ve got a motley crew of heroes and scenery chewing bad guys who act and feel like they’re straight out of a classic Spielberg movie.

Tye Sheridan is charming enough as Wade/Parzival, and he really shines playing off the other members of the cast. Olivia Cooke gives Samantha/Art3mis some sass and personality that she was occasionally missing in the books, and she steals any scene she’s in. My personal favorite though was Lena Waithe as Aech, though I am somewhat disappointed that the movie downplays the big twist from the novel with the character.

Ben Mendelsohn is clearly having fun as scowling corporate suit Nolan Sorrento, and between this and Rogue One, is cementing himself as great actor for such villains. T.J. Miller and Hannah John-Kamen acquit themselves well as two of Sorrento’s henchmen.

Really, the only big disappointment among the cast is Mark Rylance who plays James Halliday, the deceased creator of the OASIS. In the book, Halliday comes across as a mix of Steve Jobs, Howard Hughes and Willy Wonka, but for whatever reason, Rylance has chosen to play him as a borderline autistic weirdo, and he just drags down ever scene he’s in. I’m not sure what dirt he has on Spielberg to keep getting lead roles, but I’m getting tired of Mark Rylance dragging down every Spielberg movie by playing bored, tired old men who mumble their dialog.

That said, the most important thing here is that Spielberg was clearly firing on all cylinders for Ready Player One. As huge as nostalgia for the 1980s has been in pop culture in recent years, Spielberg clearly took Ready Player One as a chance to thumb his chest a little, and scream “I INVENTED IT!”, as well as acting as both a love letter and an evaluation of such nostalgia.

There are moments in Ready Player One that are utterly jaw-dropping—a race scene in the first ten minutes of the movie, and the climactic final battle are worth splurging on IMAX 3D alone. The movie is colorful and creatively designed from start to finish, the action scenes are frenetic and creatively staged, and the references, when they drop, are a joy to watch unfold.

Ready Player One isn’t a perfect movie, anymore than it was a perfect book, but much like the Ernest Cline novel, it’s some of the most fun I’ve had at the movies in ages. I had a gigantic grin on my face from about the five minute mark onward, and I’ve already made plans to see it again with friends. I don’t care if you’re a nut for nostalgia, or are just looking to have a blast at the movies, Ready Player One is just what you’re looking for.

 

Con Review: MystiCon 2018

MystiCon 2018by Erin Ashley

 

MystiCon 2018
February 23-25, 2018
Roanoke, Virginia
http://mysticon-va.com

This regional convention attracted some great names this year! Joe Lansdale, Tommy Dreamer, Clare Kramer, Zach Callison, Shawn Durington, Bella Morte, The Vailix, the Geek Radio Daily crew, Tha True Original GATA, Allen Wold, and many others attended. The organizers seemed to keep the lines for signings, panels, etc. well in hand.

The gaming section kept busy. With rooms set apart for Live Action Roll Play (LARPing), video games, and tabletop games, a con-goer could find whatever game desired and a space to engage in it. Video game consoles ranged around the room. Con-goers could kick it old school on the Atari or Nintendo, or play more up to date games on Xbox and Playstation, and everything in between. For tabletop lovers, multiple games ran at any given point in time—Magic to GURPS and Pokemon to Dungeons & Dragons. Organizers also scheduled some larger, long-running games for interested con-goers.

MystiCon provided multiple panels and workshops for those interested in costuming, robotics, and crafts as well. I didn’t personally get to attend any of these, but I heard good feedback for these tracks from other con-goers.

Some great cosplayers were in attendance. Costumes varied from kids characters and superheroes to gaming characters and wrestling celebrity look-a-likes. MystiCon provided costuming workshops of different levels of expertise for anyone who was interested in beginning or improving their cosplay participation.

The literary track panels received a lot of great feedback from audiences. MystiCon ran a great programming schedule and kept to the schedules well. Panels ranged from character creation and anti-heroes to podcasting and self-publishing and marketing. A number of panels focused on women’s contributions to film and fiction, which received some overwhelmingly positive responses from the audience and panelists. Programming also provided some very inventive panels, including author-reader speed-dating and creative marketing ideas for self-publishing authors. While some were more serious and others more playful, the audience loved them.

Outside of programming, the organizers and convention hotel worked hard to make the experience great for all of the con-goers. The hotel arranged for multiple shuttles to run from three or four nearby hotels to transport attendees safely around the busy area. The Holiday Inn stands near a major shopping center with numerous grocery stores, restaurants, and other stores within easy walking distance. Many of the local businesses work with the convention and give con-goers discounts! Just remember to mention that you are going to MystiCon when you order. Numerous other fantastic restaurants are within driving distance as well. (Check out Review Alley on Askaforensicpsychologist.com for some local restaurant reviews.)

All in all, MystiCon 2018 was well-organized and engaging. I highly recommend attending and checking out the Roanoke area while you are there. If it’s possible, consider coming in a day early or staying a day later and getting to know the local area. I recommend the Roanoke Pinball Museum, hiking in the Carvin’s Cove Nature Reserve, and driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s worth it.

See you next year at MystiCon!

 

Movie Review: Black Panther

Black Pantherby Sean CW Korsgaard

 

Black Panther
Director: Ryan Coogler
Marvel Studios

Ten years into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, everytime you think they’ve peaked, they’ve proved us wrong, yet with Black Panther they very well might have outdone even themselves. Where delivering the black answer to Iron Man would have likely been enough, instead they’ve done far more with Black Panther, delivering an Afro-futurist James Bond with the level of mythos and background characters usually reserved for something like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. It’s grand, it’s great, and brother, let me tell you, it more than delivers on the hype.

Following the events of Captain America: Civil War, Prince T’Challa, the Black Panther returns to Wakanda to bury his father, and assume the throne as the new king. He takes control of a kingdom facing a crossroads, and a decision on which path to take for the future of the isolated African nation—to continue the centuries of isolation, or to open Wakanda to the world, for good and for ill. The path will not be an easy one, with foes like Ulysses Klaue and Erik Killmonger taking shots at T’Challa abroad, and the sins of the father being laid bare at home, one thing is for sure: uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

At its simplest level, Black Panther is a Shakespearean family drama, where even the most familiar beats can be forgiven thanks to an ensemble cast that brought their A-game and a director whose capable hands at the helm and visionary style elevate the film to an entirely new level. Toss in some bold political subtext ala Captain America: Winter Soldier and the Marvel Cinematic Universe may have delivered one of the best comic book movies ever made—let the debates on just where it ranks begin in earnest now.

That cast is truly remarkable in a number of ways, and the least remarkable may be the one everybody has fixated on, that for all but three white guys (one of whom is Stan Lee), the entire cast is black. The more remarkable thing for me is that ensemble casts this large that work this well together are damned rare, and it’s a treat to see a movie deliver so many memorable performances that mesh so well together.

As one of the breakout stars of Captain America: Civil War—and not to toot my own horn, an actor I have been hyping up since he played Jackie Robinson in 42—Chadwick Boseman really gets to shine as T’Challa, in a performance that showcases not only the warrior king in a super suit, but a range of human emotions from jovial to mournful. Marvel has always had a gift for highlighting the human side of their movie superheroes, and Black Panther is well served by Boseman reminding the world T’Challa is more than just a man in a vibranium catsuit.

The ensemble cast is remarkable as well, the one two-punch from Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia, an idealistic spy, and Danai Gurira’s Okoye, the head of the royal guard, who enjoy a back-and-forth with T’challa that is equal parts comic familiarity and undeniable badassery being a particular joy. Daniel Kaluuya, who some of you may remember from last year’s Get Out, sticks the landing in one of the film’s more complex roles, and Andy Serkis gets to enjoy himself outside of motion caption as the madcap arms dealer Klaue.

The movie’s two biggest breakout stars though may be Letitia Wright as T’challa’s sister Shuri, and Winston Duke as the boisterous and proud M’Baku, who both steal every scene they’re in, mostly thanks to some wickedly funny scenes they get to be front and center for.

Yet even they may pale in comparison to Michael B. Jordan’s chilling performance as the merciless Erik Killmonger. While I don’t want to spoil too much about the film’s central villain, let’s just say somebody took Magneto and turned the Malcolm X parallel up to 11, and that Jordan, once more proves himself to be the best Millenial actor in Hollywood with a performance of terrifying intensity. Much ink has been spilled talking about Marvel’s so-called “villain problem”—a conversation that should have ended by the time of Loki’s first scene in The Avengers—but after Black Panther, I think all but the most vocal Heath Ledger fanboys will be silent.

If there was ever any doubt that Coogler was the best director of my generation after Creed, it should be erased after Black Panther. He once again proves himself an absolute master behind the camera—lots of single-shot long takes, some expertly choreographed fight scenes, and really pulling the most out of his ensemble cast. From the first frame to the last, you can really tell Black Panther was a labor of love for him, and the film is a much richer place for it. If somebody at Warner Bros isn’t getting fired for letting Ryan Coogler jump ship to Disney over how they treated him for Creed, I would be surprised, because he once again went above and beyond the call of duty with Black Panther.

Visually, Black Panther is almost unlike anything ever realized in a Hollywood movie, certainly on this scale. Never before has a movie been so undeniably and unapologetically African, and love of the continent’s peoples and cultures is steeped throughout the film, from the colorful costumes including touches like lip plates and neck rings, and the fictional Wakandan language incorporating the clicks of the isiXhosa language of South Africa. If Black Panther doesn’t inspire a generation of worldbuilding to look closer at Africa for inspiration, I will be surprised and disappointed, and the Afro-futurist aesthetic is almost worth a ticket by itself.

While I’m probably not qualified to speak of its cultural importance—though I would say it’s probably too soon to say just how important Black Panther will be regardless—as a movie in its own right, Black Panther is about as good as they come. It effortlessly juggles a range of genres and tones from family drama to action thriller to science fiction. The entire cast delivers one of the best ensemble performances seen in ages, and a number of careers will likely be born or bettered by being here. From a directing standpoint, Coogler has more than proved himself as a generational talent, and visually, the movie will probably end up as big a genre milestone as Lord of the Rings or The Matrix.

If those early box office predictions are any sign of things to come ($192 million opening weekend), I don’t need to tell you, but I want to say it anyway—Black Panther is an absolute must see that I cannot recommend highly enough.

 

Soldier, scholar, writer and freelancer, Sean CW Korsgaard is a US Army veteran, award-winning journalist, and freelance writer.
www.korsgaardscommentary.com

 

Con Review: AWCon2018

by J.M.R. Gaines

 

AgileWritersCon 2018
January 27, 2018
Sandston, VA
http://agilewriters.com/conference-2018/

Organized by Richmond-based Agile Writers at the Holiday Inn at Richmond International Airport, this inter-genre activity for beginners, mid-level, and experienced writers featured eighteen seminars that included science fiction, fantasy, and speculative work, as well as romance and other fields, including several devoted to promotion and publishing for indies and small and large market authors. Attendance at individual sessions varied from ten to forty, since all sessions shared time slots. For only the second year of operation, it was very sophisticated and smoothly run, thanks in part to a helpful group of staffers. The venue was convenient and comfortable, especially since lunch was available on the premises and parking facilities were adequate, with handicapped accessibility to all meeting rooms. Abundant coffee and water were provided free and the final sessions were followed by a happy hour in the hotel. Wi-fi and a networking room made for easy communication. Participants took advantage of a book sale with services provided by the hosts, as well as several information tables for other cons and activities in the lobby.

The keynote speaker was Lani Sarem, author of Handbook for Mortals, speaking on “How I Navigated the New York Times Best Seller List.” Among the guests of honor in speculative fiction who gave seminars were Chris Kennedy, Lee Savino, Jack Heckle, Charity Jones, Bishop O’Connell, and Scott Allison. The session on “Inter-building Planets and Alien Characters” was particularly animated, with four break-out groups proposing some amazing suggestions for aliens as products of alternate evolutions.

Most of the participants hailed from the Mid-Atlantic Region and a good number of them were interested in Greg Smith’s “Six-Month Agile Writing Method,” which was one of the conference themes. Several were also associated with the Richmond group James River Writers, which sponsors its own annual convention. Another AWCon for 2019 is currently in the planning stages.

 

Con Review: Salt Lake Comic Con 2017

Salt Lake Comic Conby Erin Ashley

 

Salt Lake Comic Con 2017
September 6–8, 2017
Salt Lake City, UT
http://saltlakecomiccon.com/slcc17/

This was an extremely large comic con for being so young. Only four years old, this convention already books major guests like Patrick Stewart, Nathan Fillion, Dick Van Dyke, Val Kilmer, Christopher Lloyd, Chris Sabat, Sean Schemmel, Zachary Levi, Eliza Dushku, Will Wheaton, Gates McFadden, Brandon Sanderson, Jim Butcher, and numerous other big names from movies, television, cosplay, literature, and artistry. They had numerous tracks for fandom and a mini-con for kids! There were short mini-panels, question and answers sessions, and craft areas for the kids to enjoy. 

Yes, you can start your little cosplayers early and let them get their pictures taken with Picachu, Malificient, fairy princesses, Bob the minion, the Red Queen, and many others. 

For adults, they had a wide array of the usual booths featuring your favorite authors, book sellers, gamers, artists, t-shirts, and all sorts of vendors to meet your fandom paraphenalia and costuming needs. As a new-to-me addition, they provided a speed-dating room every day. You could go in as yourself or in your costume and have fun meeting people. All of this was in addition to Celebrity Row, where you could get your favorite actors’ autographs, selfies, photo-ops, and generally spend a little time with some of your favorite famous people. The feature presentations with one or two celebrities were well organized and interesting. Most were pretty funny too. Jokes ran rampant.

There was also a Delorean from Back to the Future available for photo-ops (all proceeds went to charity) and Baby, the 1967 Chevy Impala from Supernatural. And these are just a few of the attractions that were available. 

I attended a number of the writing panels and found them very well put together and informative. Panels covered everything from generating story ideas to characterization to how to talk to editors and how to publish or self publish. They discussed writing short fiction, long fiction, comics, and screenplays—providing a sampling for most everyone and appealing to most everyone’s writing level. Writingexcuses.com recorded a few episodes during the convention as well. Sorry, but no spoilers here. They’ll publish it all next year for everyone. Don’t worry. It’s worth the wait.

There was also a gaming section, but next year will be the start of Salt Lake Gaming Con in connection with the Comic Con. Hold on tight. These folks are expanding quickly. Can’t wait to see who they attract for this.

All in all, it was a great convention. Reportedly, over 60,0000 people attended. But where else can we all get together and give directions like “just walk about a hundred yards, take a left at the TARDIS, and when you see the Orc statue you’re there!” It’s well worth a trip out to Utah. As the convention has been held at the Salt Palace, it lies right in the middle of Salt Lake City, with numerous hotels, restaurants, and other attractions in walking distance. Just in case you want to stay an extra day and check out the city.

 

Con Review: ConGregate Premier—Stackpole & Zahn Writing Workshops

by Erin Ashley

 

Greetings from ConGregate 2017, where Michael A. Stackpole and Timothy Zahn were both on hand to run the convention’s writing workshops. Con-goers who wanted to attend could pay for all nine of the classes in advance for a discount or pay $10 per class when the convention started. Either way, we received our money’s worth. 

Mr. Stackpole’s classes included Finding The Story, World Building 101, 21 Day To A Novel, Characterization, Advanced Characterization, Plotting, and Writing Serial Fiction.

  • Finding The Story: Mr. Stackpole gives a number of basic plot recipes. While this might sound formulaic, it’s more about discovering the pieces that you MUST have in a certain type of story to give the readers the experience that they want. Then your particular characters, settings, and twists give your manuscript its unique flavor.
  • World Building 101: Mr. Stackpole explains how civilizations have historically developed and how to use that knowledge to build your own societies. Then, he takes it a step further, helping young authors find the conflicts inherent in the worlds that they build, how the different levels of society interact with different parts of the world, and how the power gradient flows between different people and levels in the world. 
  • 21 Days To A Novel: This is not how to write an entire novel in 21 days (that’s NaNoWriMo on steroids). It’s 21 days of exercises to help develop the characters, plot, setting, and conflict that you need to get your story rolling. So, it’s more 21 Days of Planning A Novel. Even if you already have your novel planned or are an avid discovery writer, these exercises are great diagnostic tools, if you should find yourself stumped or hitting writers’ block. 
  • Characterization and Advanced Characterization: If you decide to take the classes a la carte, I recommend taking both of these together. They flow and combine together easily, and you (the class member) get even greater ideas on how to characterize well and in a hurry. Mike gives the class a number of characterization systems and explains the pros and cons of each. He also explains the need for characters to have growth arcs and how to show them to the reader. Mike gives the class a list of specific traits that the most enduring characters have, and how to impart them to your own characters. In case you get writer’s block during character creation, he gives you a series of questions and exercises to help shake things loose. These exercises also help build conflicts into and around your characters to make them more effective in the story and more interesting to readers. 
  • Plotting: Mike takes a specific story idea and walks the class through building the story. He shows the tropes, pitfalls, and cliches (so easy to fall into) and how to use them to trick the reader into looking one way, while you build the story in another. He also shows how to seed the little bits of information through the story, so that when the twist comes it is “surprising and inevitable”. If you are having trouble twisting your plots together to achieve the effect on the reader that you want, you need this class.
  • Serial Fiction: Mike explains how the internet is changing the industry to incorporate more serial works. While we all enjoy a great book series, there are also serialized short story pieces—like newspapers produced more than 100 years ago. Now, that market is open on the internet again. Think Serialbox.com and similar sites. With that in mind, Mike teaches you how to break longer works into shorter ones, plot a series (even a book series) in advance, seed the little story nuggets that pull the reader through one episode into another, and more. Continuity is king here! Readers will notice if you accidentally switch a newborn’s gender in a romance series, etc. Few things kick a reader out of the story faster. 

Mr. Zahn’s classes included 101 Ideas In An hour and I Have An Idea-Now What?.

  • 101 Ideas In An Hour: Mr. Zahn helps you find and work through different ideas, created on the fly in the class. Any aspect of any story might be covered, including characters, plots, science fiction, technology, fantasy, magic systems,  alien cultures, and more. He helps you get into the “writer mindset” of questioning, researching material, and extrapolating the possible advances or consequences of the ideas. The class discovers how small changes in technology, magic, culture, etc. can impact society, religion, politics, economics, and so many other parts of a world and its people. 
  • I Have An Idea Now What?: In this workshop, Mr. Zahn provided a basic prompt (genre, time period, and very basic technology idea) and led the class through a series of questioning and creative exercises to evolve that first prompt into characters, viewpoint characters, plot, setting, conflicts in the world and between individual characters, the conflicts and economics of industry, and more. He also described particular characters you would need to tell the specific genre of story you wanted to tell. A fantastic exercise!

In addition to their knowledge of the craft and industry, I was impressed by both Mike and Timothy’s down to earth and helpful attitudes. They obviously remember what it was like for them at the beginning of their careers and want to help new authors find their way in as well. These are the kind of “celebrities” you can kick back and have a beer/soda with. 

My recommendation: Take the classes. Ask any questions you have. Visit with Mike and Tim for a few minutes before/after class or at their dealer’s tables. Even ask them to take five minutes to help you work through a specific problem you are having in your work. They are exceptional at it! 

 

Con Review: ConGregate 4 / DeepSouthCon 55

ConGregate 4by Michael D. Pederson

 

ConGregate 4 / DeepSouthCon 55
July 14–16, 2017
High Point, NC
www.con-gregate.com

Only in it’s fourth year, it was great to see ConGregate stepping up to host a DeepSouthCon. And they did a great job with it!

This year’s Guests of Honor were Barbara Hambly (Writer GOH) and Alan Pollack (Artist GOH), as well as Michael A. Stackpole, Toni Weisskopf, and Timothy Zahn. I was quite pleased to get panel time with all of this year’s GOHs and can testify that they were all very friendly and approachable. With over 70 guests booked (for just a 450-person convention) they were able to offer a very full and varied slate of panels (seven tracks of programming). And I definitely like the way that ConGregate categorizes their panels; panels are either Audience Participation (AP) or Experts Talk (ET). About two-thirds of the twelve panels I was scheduled for were Audience Participation and they all had good turnouts and active participation. More conventions should think about stealing this idea. (Yes, we do all shamelessly steal ideas from each other.)

For a change, I actually got a chance to hear several of the bands that were performing. I was able to see White Plectrum, Gild the Mourn, and Valentine Wolfe. Gray Rinehart and Angela Pritchett also performed (sadly I missed both of their shows) which made for a nicely eclectic selection of music for the weekend—goth rock, traditional filk, and ukulele!

As DeepSouthCon 55, ConGregate was responsible for presenting the Rebel and Phoenix awards. The Rebel is an award for fans who have contributed the most to Southern fandom while the Phoenix is an award for professionals who have done the same. I was on hand to collect a much-deserved posthumous Rebel award for my friend Bob Ellis. Bob was a long-time con goer who spent the last fifteen years of his life becoming more and more involved with the running of Virginia and Carolina conventions. Nobody disliked Bob; I was more than honored to collect his award for him. Surprisingly, I also received a Rebel myself. Two Phoenix awards were given out as well; one posthumously to Aaron Alston and one to the very alive Simon Hawke. A Rubble award (for the individual who has done the most TO Southern fandom) was also awarded to the Chattanooga Choo-choo Hotel for closing down and leaving LibertyCon without a venue. At the DSC business meeting ConCarolinas won the bid for DeepSouthCon 57 in 2019.

All in all, a very fun intimate convention with plenty to do.

 

Book Review: Invasive

Invasiveby Michael D. Pederson

 

Invasive
by Chuck Wendig
Harper Voyager, 329 pp.

Genetically engineered ants are out for blood in Chuck Wendig’s latest thriller, Invasive.

When a body is found in an isolated cabin, stripped of its skin and surrounded by dead ants, FBI consultant Hannah Stander is called in to investigate. The investigation leads her to the Hawaiian laboratory of a billionaire inventor/philanthropist. And then all hell breaks loose.

Who in the lab is responsible for creating the killer ants? What’s their motivation? And can Hannah stop them before the ants are released on the world? It’s a plot that unfolds like a standard Crichton novel (only without the “science is evil” overtones) and reads very much like Jurassic Park with very tiny dinosaurs. The body count is pretty high and a lot of it’s rather gory, the more sensitive readers may find this somewhat disturbing, horror fans will love it though.

As exciting as killer ants are (I grew up in the seventies so I have a soft spot in my heart for stories about killer bugs run amok) the real attraction of the novel is Hannah. Raised by survivalist parents, with a backstory that’s left her scarred and fearful of life, Hannah has a background that makes her capable of dealing with harsh situations and a psychological depth that makes her interesting to get to know. I tore through this novel quickly and seriously hope that it’s just the first of many in a series of Hannah Stander novels.

 

Television Review: The Tick

TheTickby Michael D. Pederson

 

The Tick
Amazon Video

Amazon Video recently rolled out the pilot episode of it’s latest incarnation of Ben Edlund’s The Tick. As part of their pilot season, they debut three separate shows and let the audience response decide which one will be picked up. I’ve followed the Tick through all of his incarnations—comic, cartoon, and live action sitcom—and, so far, I think that this one could be the best version yet. I say “could” because I’ve only seen the one episode so far, and even though it was missing some key elements (particularly the fellow heroes that the Tick frequently interacts with, who they might be depends on which of the three sources they pull from) the basics were all there and the pilot left me craving a full season binge.

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. No, Peter Serafinowicz isn’t a big, burly mancake that looks just like the cartoon version of the Tick. He’s no Patrick Warburton, but damned if he isn’t the Tick. Watching him casually stroll into danger you believe that he’s nigh invulnerable in a way that you never did with Warburton’s Tick. Serafinowicz’s performance channels the goofy confidence of Townsend Coleman’s animated delivery by way of an ultra-upbeat Adam West. It’s nothing short of perfection. Where Warburton brought a charmingly naive innocence to the role, Serafinowicz reminds us that the Tick is mentally deranged (but in a good way).

The pilot episode (bookended by opening and closing narration by the Tick) is primarily an origin story for Arthur. Yes, he gets a requisite tragic back story but it’s served up in a way that manages to be both poignant and mocking of over-the-top cliches at the same time. Since his origin event, Arthur has spent the past twenty years obsessing over the Terror, a criminal mastermind that everyone believes to be dead. Arthur believes otherwise and has a Wall to prove it. We get a brief flashback scene of the Terror in Arthur’s origin story that whets your appetite for more. As played by Jackie Earle Haley (Watchmen), the Terror is both comical and terrifying and it’s this tightrope balance of silly and serious that makes the episode work so well. Edlund clearly learned a thing or two about camp while writing for Gotham. In The Tick, he’s created a serious world, populated by real people that just happens to have some very weird characters in it. And it works.

Making Arthur the POV character rather than just a sidekick makes the show a lot more approachable to the average viewer than some of its past incarnations. Whenever Serafinowicz is on screen though, the screen just explodes. Exuding a contagious enthusiasm while bellowing catchphrases and pontificating about destiny, Serafinowicz makes you believe that he’s an animation come to life.

If you want more (and I sure do) you’ll need to go to Amazon Video and fill out their survey.

 

Book Review: Dark Matter

Dark Matterby Michael D. Pederson

 

Dark Matter
by Blake Crouch
Crown Publishers, 340 pp.

As science fiction continues to become more and more mainstream, I predict that we’ll start to see more novels like Dark Matter. From the author of Wayward Pines (Blake Crouch), Dark Matter is one-hundred percent pure science fiction, but written in a very approachable, mainstream fashion. It’s also being marketed as a “Thriller” instead of as an “SF” novel. And I’m fine with that. Because it’s good. Really good.

Crouch’s main character, Jason Dessen, has a good life; he’s a physics professor in Chicago with a loving wife and a teenage son. Jason and his wife both gave up promising careers (he in experimental physics and she as an artist) to raise their son, and they’re happy with their choices and happy with each other but they still sometimes wonder “what if?”. When Jason is abducted one night and shanghaied to an alternate universe (like I said, pure science fiction) he has that question answered for him. Most of the first third of the book is Jason coming to terms with his abduction and the remaining two-thirds cover his attempts to return home to his family. Halfway through Jason’s quest through the multiverse, Crouch writes an important character out of the story—they just wander off and are never heard from again—and I wish we could have had a better resolution for her story line, rather than just using her to merely advance Jason’s story, but that’s my only grievance. All of the characters are well drawn and the plot can’t help but suck you in.

More important though, Crouch addresses the questions raised by the existence of a multiverse: What is home and how do you define “self” in a sea of possible alternate homes and alternate selves? Never settling for the option of “close enough” we see over and over again how our hero becomes his own worst enemy, frequently in frighteningly literal examples. It’s a fast-paced story that has a thrilling twist in the final act that works brilliantly and has a very cinematic feel to it. Highly recommended.