Television Review: 12 Monkeys

12 Monkeysby Michael D. Pederson

 

12 Monkeys
Syfy, Streaming on Hulu

Whenever my friends and I would compare notes on current shows that we were watching I could never find anyone else who was watching 12 Monkeys. Now that the show has finished its original run it is a perfect time to correct that. Based on the 1995 Terry Gilliam movie of the same name (itself based on a short French movie), the show ran for four seasons on the Syfy network (2015–2018).

As a fan of the Gilliam film, I was skeptical that they could pull off a faithful television adaptation. And, for the most part, they didn’t. Not, however, because they failed but because they changed the show enough that it became its own entity that stands on its own merits apart from the movie. Like the movie, the show begins with a time traveller from the future who goes back in time to stop a terrorist group (the Army of the 12 Monkeys) from releasing a plague that destroys civilization as we know it. As the first season progressed the show moved further and further away from that plot—changing characters, adding new villains, and throwing every crazy twist imaginable at the audience. By the end of the first season it had moved into completely original territory with the heroes now racing to stop a rogue group of time travellers from destroying time itself.

The ideas were crazy but well executed and the story moved at a fast pace so things never grew boring. At it’s heart, like many of the best television shows, 12 Monkeys became a show about family—a very broken, very disfunctional and, frequently, a very violent family. The main characters—James and Cassandra—were played by reliable and generically attractive actors (Aaron Stanford and Amanda Schull) who effortlessly grounded the show. It was the secondary characters that made the show come alive though. Kirk Acevedo’s intense Ramse, Barbara Sukowa’s irritable Jones, Todd Stashwick’s charmingly unpredictable Deacon, and especially Emily Hampshire’s insanely original interpretation of the offbeat Jennifer make the show a must see. And the wild non-stop plot twists make this the perfect show to binge. It may even be better that way.

 

Book Review: Good Guys

Good Guysby Michael D. Pederson

 

Good Guys
by Steven Brust
Tor Books, 316 pp.

Steven Brust is best known for his (mostly) fantasy Vlad Taltos series. I know him as the author of one of my favorite science fiction romps, Cowboy Feng’s Space Bar and Grille (1990), so I was pretty excited to see him venturing into new territory. Good Guys is a straight-up urban fantasy that in many ways reads like a techno-thriller (thauma-thriller?)

Much like Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, Good Guys is set in a world where magic exists but is kept secret. There are strict rules about how and when magic can be used and two major magic-using factions; one believes it’s ok to use magic for profit the other is quite a bit stricter. Our heroes work for the stricter group (The Foundation) which is run very much like a corporate bureaucracy—expense reports, middle management, red tape, and everything else that goes with that territory.

When low-level employees of their rival organization (the Mystici) start turning up dead by magical means, our minimum wage-earning heroes are called on to investigate. Part mystery and part magic adventure, it’s a fast-paced story that makes for a perfect summertime beach read. A nice light read like this also makes a great starting point for a new series (I’m hoping!). A world where magicians deal with such a mundane work environment makes for one of the most relatable urban fantasies I’ve read. I would definitely love to see more of this world.

 

We’re on Patreon!

FishInWaterAfter many months of planning, digging through slush piles, finding new material, and plotting schedules we’ve finally rolled out our new Patreon page. Let’s talk about what you can expect with the new changes.

For starters, we will be posting new fiction to this very website every Tuesday and Thursday. Fans on our Patreon page will get bonus stories every other Saturday, too. These bonus stories will include sneak peeks at the next issue of the zine, old stories with new artwork, and exclusive content that hasn’t been posted before. Every couple of months we will collect our best stories into a new issue. The new issues will look just like what we’ve been publishing for the past few years, with all the great fiction and features that you’ve come to expect. We currently have over four months of stories prepped to run online and have the next two issues planned out. 

Why Patreon? So that we can start paying our contributors. Plus, Patreon is the perfect 21st century twist on the old-fashioned subscription model. Now instead of a one-size-fits-all annual subscription our readers will have the ability to choose the level of support they want to invest in us. You can still read all of our great new issues for free right here on our website or you can opt into one of several bonus levels that each come with their own rewards. You can get anything from a simple shout-out of recognition to editing services to print copies to swag packs. It’s all your choice!

The most important part of this plan is that as our donations increase we will be able to give back more and more to our wonderful contributors, all the writers and artists that have toiled behind the scenes for years to provide us a steady flow of material to produce a quality zine. 

What are our long-term goals? We want to be one of the top paying zines in the market. We want to start a video podcast to report on the world of fandom, past and present. We want to start providing audio broadcasts of some of the best fiction that we’ve published over the past 16 years. We want to create full-cast audio dramas featuring the best of the best from the zine. We’re also thinking world domination, but that’s still many many years down the road. 

Please visit our Patreon page and see what we’re offering. If you like what you see, then please subscribe. Besides, I really really want to do those audio dramas. Support the arts!

Visit us on Patreon 

 

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! 

 

More Hallways!

by Michael A. Ventrella

 

Darvin stared at the floor. It was better than trying to meet the eye of the king. His right knee shook against the plush carpet, and he was certain he would tip over if he did so much as breathe. What if not looking at the king was an insult? What if His Majesty decided he had had just enough of this ridiculous architect and was waving to his executioner who was on his way at that very moment to turn Darvin into two distinct parts?

“Oh, stand up already,” King Franklin said.

Darvin rose, heart beating steadily, arms clutching his latest drawings.

The king stood before a massive oak table bathed in sunlight from the high windows in the royal meeting room. The table was barely visible under a pile of papers held in place by weights shaped like little knights in battle. Darvin recognized some of his designs partially hidden under notes covered with scratchy, primitive sketches that made his hair stand on end. Doesn’t this person know how to use a straight edge?

“I’ve made some improvements on your drawings,” his liege said. “Here, come see.”

Darvin shuffled closer to stare at His Majesty’s work.

“I wanted the best and safest storehouse for my treasure vault, but your design missed key features we need.” King Franklin stroked his gray beard and nodded proudly at his own work. “For instance, you didn’t have enough hallways.”

“Hallways, Your Highness?”

“Yes, hallways. I want lots of hallways! Hallways that go on for great distances and then end for no reason. That’s what we need.”

“But Your Majesty…”

“And then you have windows,” he said, throwing his arms up to emphasize the ridiculousness of the situation. “We don’t need windows! This entire thing must be completely underground, like a dungeon.”

“But the cost…”

The king ignored him and jabbed his finger into one of his drawings. “Over here is where we’ll have a room for the treasure guards. Another room will be over there. And we’ll put orcs in one room and trolls in the other, all armed and armored.”

Darvin swallowed. “But Your Majesty, won’t they just fight each other like they always do? And how will you feed them? Plus, you haven’t put in any privies…”

“Of course, we’ll save the best armor and weapons and place them in chests located randomly around the halls,” King Franklin continued, ignoring Darvin’s protests. “And the final touch will be this great room at the end of the last hall. That’s where we’ll place the treasure. It’ll have massive metal doors with unpickable locks and thick walls to prevent unwanted entry.”

“Oh.” Darvin let out a sigh of relief. “Well, that’s a good—”

“And off to the side here, on the wall, we’ll place the riddle.”

“Riddle.”

“Yes, of course. The riddle. So that when you figure out the riddle, the door will open, allowing you to get the treasure.”

Darvin reached behind him blindly, found the arm of a chair, and sat, risking angering the king. “Your Majesty, I have to ask. Hallways that go nowhere, underground design, monsters that wait, treasure randomly scattered in chests, and a riddle to get the treasure? Surely you can’t be serious.”

King Franklin looked down his nose at the timid architect. “I am deadly serious!” he bellowed. “What do you think this is—a game?”

 

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.

 

A New Website!

 

FishInWater

 

So much to talk about! Yep, the website is FINALLY finished. It’s been a long, hard road but we’ve finally moved 14 years worth of content onto the newly designed website. It’s taken a bit longer than originally anticipated but I’m very happy with the results.

What’s new? All of the interviews, features, reviews, convention calendars, editorials, and artwork that originally appeared in the zine but was never on the website is now on the new and improved nthzine.com. We’ve also added new features like this very blog. As a convention runner and fanzine editor I frequently have things to comment on and now I have a spiffy new blog to do just that.

What’s coming up in the zine? In the next week we’ll start running new Featured Stories twice a week. And we’re already hard at work on the next issue of Nth Degree. Issue #26 will feature new stories from our good friends C.J. Henderson and Bud Webster who passed away while we were creating the website.

Also, reviews will be more timely now. I’ve already posted a few reviews to the website that will be included in the upcoming issue. Being able to preview them on the website will let us feature items more regularly than our quarterly update schedule previously allowed.

I’m also planning on rolling out a Patreon page soon. If that goes well we’re hoping to be able to start paying for fiction. Ideally I believe that we can turn Nth Degree into one of the top paying markets in the industry. We’ve published a lot of quality material from many talented creators over the years and I feel like we’ve just barely skimmed the surface of what we’re capable of producing.

Please be sure to let all of your friends and followers know about all of the exciting changes here at the new and improved Nth Degree!

Thanks for reading!

 

 

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.