by Michael D. Pederson
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.
by Michael D. Pederson
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.
After 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!
by Michael D. Pederson
ConGregate 4 / DeepSouthCon 55
July 14–16, 2017
High Point, NC
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.
by Michael D. Pederson
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.
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!
by Michael D. Pederson
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.
by Michael D. Pederson
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.
In no way do I consider myself to be an actual artist. I’m a professional graphic designer who just happens to be pretty good with Photoshop and Illustrator and sometimes I find myself in need of an illustration that a real artist doesn’t have the time to create.