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Doctor Who: “Extremis” [May. 22nd, 2017|12:59 pm]
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“Extremis” is one of those episodes where the more I think about it, the more it collapses under the weight of its own logic holes. There’s plenty love in “Extremis”: the hilarious scene where the Pope interrupts Bill’s date, the secret Vatican library of heretical books, an ancient text called Veritas that causes anyone who translates it to commit suicide, and of course the mind-blowing revelation as to why they commit suicide: the text reveals to them that this world isn’t the real world. But it’s in that last, very cool bit where things fall apart.

If the world of the episode is actually a simulation run by aliens planning an invasion of Earth, I find myself with a lot of questions: If you’re planning an invasion, wouldn’t you focus your energies on simulating Earth’s defenses? Why waste your time replicating every single person on Earth as well as their complete, lifelong memories? How would the aliens, who know nothing of Earth, which is why they’re running the simulation, know what memories to program the replicants with? And how would they be able to accurately replicate a being as complicated as the Doctor, who shows up in different time periods with different faces, and somehow also include memories of his off-world adventures, which presumably they wouldn’t know anything about? If the Veritas text stands to destroy the integrity of their simulation, why allow it to exist in the simulation at all? Why not remove it after the very first translator kills himself? It’s clear the aliens are able to remove people from the simulation, so why not objects? Are they just not paying attention? And if the Doctor is a computer simulation along with the rest of this world, then surely his sonic shades* would be a simulation too and incapable of emailing the real Doctor in the real world. None this makes sense. As enjoyable as the story is, it’s rife with episode author and showrunner Steven Moffat’s classic style over substance approach. (The cartoonish sticks of dynamite hidden under the tables in the CERN cafeteria was particularly laughable.)

There’s a nod to Pope Benedict IX being a woman in disguise, which is cool, but of course the Doctor has to mention that he had a romantic relationship with her. It’s not enough anymore for the Doctor to simply know famous women from history, he has to sleep with them, too. (I’m so ready for someone new to take this show in a new direction!)

We also learn that it’s Missy in the vault. Unfortunately, this comes as no surprise, although the manner in which she gets there does. We haven’t seen her since she was trapped on Skaro with the Daleks in last season’s “The Witch’s Familiar,” and it’s intriguing to wonder what happened between then and now. She mentions the Daleks were abuzz with news of the Doctor’s retirement — which makes me wonder why they didn’t try to take over the universe again while the Doctor was out of commission — so it sounds like she and the Daleks came to an understanding. But now she’s being executed either for a new crime or her many crimes, and her body is supposed to go in the vault. The Doctor fast-talks his way around the execution part but he does have to keep her in the vault and guard it for 1,000 years. So far so good. But then the vault rises up out of the water on the executioners’ planet for the Doctor to put her in, and I start having questions again: Why does the Doctor bring the vault to Earth afterward? Why bring it to a university where he’s forced to take on the role of teacher in order to explain his presence there? Why doesn’t he go somewhere remote in case Missy breaks out so she won’t endanger an entire university of young students, let alone an entire planet of human beings? I’m hoping for an explanation down the road, but I’m not holding my breath. Moffat tends to leave plot threads dangling. (Whatever happened to Madame Kovarian in season 6? Why was the Doctor going around erasing himself from memory banks in season 7? Etc., etc., forever.) Of course, all of this could have been explained away if the executioner had simply asked if the Doctor had a place for her body and he said yes, he knows of a place and it’s all prepared. It’s the moving of the vault to Earth, as opposed to the vault already being on Earth, that raises all these questions for me.

Continuing the Doctor’s blindness is a bold move. I don’t know where they’re going with it, but I respect it. His sonic screwdriver is back, although that may have only been in the simulation. Nardole is great in this episode because he isn’t being a nag; he has a chance to be funny and do important things. Logic holes and my obviously mounting frustration with Moffat aside, “Extremis” is an enjoyable episode and I’m eager to see how things develop over the second half of the season.

And now for some Doctor Who neepery! If Missy and the Daleks did come to some kind of understanding, it wouldn’t be the first time they’ve worked together. In the 1973 Third Doctor serial “Frontier in Space,” the Master and the Daleks become allies in order to start a war between the universe’s two most powerful empires, Earth and Draconia, hoping they will destroy each other and allow the Daleks to become the rulers of the universe with the Master getting part of it for himself. The plan fails, of course, and that spells the end of the alliance. In fact, at the start of the 1996 TV movie, the Master is executed by the Daleks on Skaro! (Of course, he’s not really dead, but there’s no indication that the Daleks were in on the ruse.) Also in this episode the Doctor mentions that he is a Time Lord of the Prydonian Chapter. We first learn that there are several different Times Lord chapters, including Prydonian, Arcalian, and Patrexes, in the 1976 Fourth Doctor serial “The Deadly Assassin,” which is the first story to take place entirely on Gallifrey. And of course I have fond memories of the infamous Prydonians of Princeton, the Doctor Who fan club from the ivy league university that were always answering phones in the background during the Doctor Who pledge drives on WNJN, the public TV station out of New Jersey!



* Yes, the sonic shades are back. But at least they serve a purpose now that the Doctor is blind and relying, Daredevil-like, on their electronic input in order to “see,” unlike last season when the Doctor just thought they were cool. Ugh.

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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2017 Summer Schedule [May. 21st, 2017|09:17 am]
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I’ve got a pretty busy summer coming up with lots of appearances around the Northeast. Here’s where you’ll find me in the coming months:

Saturday, June 10th, at 12 PM – Speaking to the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers at the Old Bridge Library in Old Bridge, NJ. My presentation is called “No Way To Slow Down: Writing Fast-Paced Novels That Will Keep Readers Turning the Pages” and is open to the public!

July 13th-16thReadercon 28 in Quincy, Massachusetts. The schedule isn’t set yet, but you can expect to find me on panels as well as doing a live reading and possibly a kaffeeklatsch.

July 20th-23rdNecon 37 in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. The schedule isn’t set yet, but you can expect to find me on panels as well as co-hosting the annual Necon Roast with Jeff Strand.

Saturday, August 5th, at 3 PM – Reading at the Line Break Reading Series at Q.E.D. in Astoria, Queens. I’m excited to be reading with Olena Jennings, Rajan Khanna, and some other great writers!

August 17th-20thNecronomiCon Providence in Providence, Rhode Island. I’ll be attending this one as an interested and excited audience member, not as a programming participant, so you’ll likely find me milling about or in the bar.

I’ll update the list if more events and appearances are scheduled. In the meantime, please come on out and say hi! I’m always happy to meet readers and sign books!

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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Doctor Who: “Oxygen” [May. 15th, 2017|08:35 am]
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We’re approaching the halfway mark of Peter Capaldi’s final season in Doctor Who, and so far the season has been pretty strong. “Oxygen,” the fifth episode, is quite good, but it could have been great except for the fact that, like “Knock Knock” before it, it suffers from not having the courage of its convictions.


A hypercapitalist future where oxygen is sold to space workers instead of freely provided leads to a lot of great worldbuilding: space stations where there’s no oxygen except for what’s provided by the automated company space suits you’re forced to wear; distances measured not in meters but in how many expensive breaths would be used up on the journey; what human labor (and life) means to an emotionless bottom line when people can be replaced by automation. We’ve had episodes featuring the walking dead in space suits before, of course (the two-parter “Silence in the Library”/”Forest of the Dead” springs immediately to mind), but this is handled in an original enough way not to feel repetitive. There’s a lot of great character work going on in “Oxygen”: the discussion of prejudice with the blue-skinned alien, Bill asking what happens if you throw up inside a space helmet, Nardole getting to be a part of the action (although I’m still not liking what a nag they’ve made him), the Doctor and Nardole arguing the proper sound a space door should make, and of course the Doctor’s sacrifice to save Bill’s life in the vacuum of space. His blindness, presented as a temporary side-effect, is played in a very understated and organic fashion, at least until the end when it is revealed somewhat over-dramatically that the treatment hasn’t worked and he’s still blind, a fact he’s hiding from everyone but Nardole. It’s interesting stuff, and it will be interesting to see where it goes. Doctor Who has never tried something like this before.

We also get some more tantalizing clues as to who is in the vault. Thanks to Nardole’s dialogue at the end of the episode, we know that they will be able to sense and exploit the Doctor’s condition, and somehow they pose a threat to, as Nardole puts it, the Doctor’s “precious Earth.” I still think it’s the Master/Missy, but I’m more than willing to be surprised.

So it’s generally a good episode, but, in my opinion, “Oxygen” does something so egregious it’s hard to forgive. It kills Bill in the same manner that the rest of the station’s crew was killed, through the suit she’s forced to wear, but then, through some handwaving nonsense about her suit’s low battery power, brings her back again none the worse for wear. And of course the Doctor claims he knew she wouldn’t really die — although the other crewmembers really are dead, so it’s just Bill who is somehow only fake dead, despite looking and acting exactly like the other bodies. Was she only unconscious? Was she in a coma? Was she hanging on to life by a thread? The script doesn’t bother to explain or elucidate. It’s such a bullshit move it very nearly ruined my enjoyment of the episode as a whole. Either have the courage of your convictions to actually kill her off (which I don’t want them to do, I’m liking Bill) or do something else altogether. But relying “she’s not really dead because of [handwave]” is frustrating and ridiculous.

And now, some Doctor Who neepery! In this episode, the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver is destroyed by one of the space suits. The screwdriver was destroyed by the baddies before in the 1982 Fifth Doctor serial “The Visitation.” A Terileptil blasts it with a weapon, upon which the Doctor states, “I feel as though you’ve just killed an old friend.” In fact, that was the last time we saw the sonic screwdriver during the classic series. After “The Visitation,” the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Doctors all traveled without it. It wouldn’t make a reappearance until the Eighth Doctor in the 1996 TV movie. We also know from the classic series that Time Lords can survive in the vacuum of space longer than humans can, thanks to the 1982 Fifth Doctor serial “Four to Doomsday,” in with the Doctor gets stranded briefly in space between an Urbankan spaceship and the TARDIS. (Astonishingly, he bounces a cricket ball off the side of the spaceship, then catches it and uses its momentum to push him the rest of the way to the TARDIS!)

The next episode, “Extremis,” looks interesting, with its Da Vinci Code setup involving Vatican secrets, a book that kills everyone who reads it, the Doctor’s continued blindness, and the possible return of Missy.

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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Doctor Who: “Knock Knock” [May. 12th, 2017|11:35 am]
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I don’t have a lot to say about “Knock Knock.” It’s not a bad episode but it’s not a great one either, it’s just sort of…middling. The idea of a house seeming to be haunted due to alien activity is nothing new to Doctor Who — the Seventh Doctor serial “Ghost Light” did it very well back in 1989 — and “Knock Knock” certainly gets the spooky atmosphere right. (I love how Shireen calls the mansion “a freaky Scooby Doo house.”) The story, though? Well, this is another one of those episodes it’s best not to look at too closely or you’ll wind up with a whole lot of questions: Why is Pavel’s demise different from everyone else’s, getting sucked into a wall when all the other students were swarmed and eaten by the Dryads? In the past, when the Dryads were brought to Eliza’s sick room, why didn’t they eat Eliza? How and why did they turn her into an undead wooden person instead? Will Bill’s foster mother Moira, introduced in the episode “The Pilot,” ever be seen again, or will she simply disappear like Clara’s charges in season seven or Amy’s other friend Jeff from “The Eleventh Hour”? The questions go on.

One thing I really liked about “Knock Knock” is that it separates the Doctor and Bill and allows each of them to deduce what’s going on individually, which means we get to see how smart and resourceful Bill is when she’s on her own. She’s definitely not someone who just exists to be rescued or ask the Doctor questions on behalf of the audience. Also, it’s fun to see the Doctor running around the house with Harry instead, which reminds me how much I’d love to see a male primary companion again someday. Where “Knock Knock” drops the ball, though, at least in my opinion, is in not having the courage of its convictions. Bill’s friends are physically devoured by the Dryads and their energy is presumably funneled to Eliza to keep her alive. (There’s no explanation how this works. It’s all rather handwaved away.) So how on earth are these dead characters “returned” at the end? There shouldn’t have been anything left of them. Negating their deaths in such a quick and nonsensical way gives “Knock Knock” the feel of an episode of the old Goosebumps TV show rather than Doctor Who, as if to reassure children that there’s no need to be so frightened. It’s a crucial misstep in an otherwise okay episode.

And now for some Doctor Who neepery! When the Doctor asks the Landlord who the Prime Minister is, there’s a nice mention of Harriet Jones, a recurring but now deceased character who dates all the way back to the very first season of the revival and became Prime Minister in the second season. The Doctor finally reveals to Bill that he’s a Time Lord, not a human, and there are some funny lines about Time Lords’ big, fancy collars. The Doctor also mentions that Time Lords can regenerate, perhaps to foreshadow what’s to come, although he doesn’t elaborate on it. We see the vault again at the end, with its unseen inhabitant playing the piano inside as the Doctor arrives with food and the promise of interesting stories to tell. I’m now more convinced than ever that it’s the Master inside the vault, either as his John Simm incarnation or as Missy. I kind of want to be wrong, though, because I want to be surprised.

I’m still not enjoying the increased antagonism between the Doctor and Nardole. I don’t know why they’ve decided to make Nardole such a nag when he could be much funnier instead. Free Nardole!

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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American Gods [May. 8th, 2017|10:05 am]
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American GodsAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Gaiman has fashioned a novel full of great characters, incredible world building, well researched religious and mythological history, and smooth, marvelous prose…all, alas, in search of forward momentum. For a novel this packed with wonderful ideas, very little actually happens. I did enjoy it — these characters will definitely stay with me — but I found its lackadaisical, meandering structure and the protagonist’s mostly passive role in the story frustrating. More than one hundred pages pass before we’re clued into any of the characters’ goals or given any idea of what’s at stake, which made it hard for me to feel invested. As a result, I found the novel very easy to put down and wasn’t always in a rush to pick it up again. I’m glad I did, because the novel definitely picks up in its final third, but for me it was a slog getting there.

The middle of the novel, when Shadow is tucked away in the town of Lakeside, is particularly frustrating. Way too many pages are spent with Shadow simply trying to pass the time, from visiting library sales to chatting with his new neighbors, while Mr. Wednesday is off, unseen, doing things that are presumably more interesting and important to the story. Gaiman himself seems to recognize this issue and adds a last-minute mystery to the Lakeside community for Shadow to solve, and though Gaiman’s instincts are right in this regard, his fix is wrong. The Lakeside mystery is kept too distant from the main storyline, its resolution coming only after everything else is already finished, and as a result it all comes off feeling like an unnecessary addendum. It would have made a fine, separate novel, though.

A war between the gods should be exciting, but since we don’t get to see much of it at all the novel doesn’t reach the level of excitement I was hoping for. You couldn’t call AMERICAN GODS a fast-paced or tightly-plotted novel, but despite my issues it is a worthy one. I can see why it’s so beloved by so many — there really is a richness to the world and the characters Gaiman creates — but it just didn’t resonate with me that strongly.

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Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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Rave Review of IN THE SHADOW OF THE AXE in Locus Magazine [May. 4th, 2017|02:08 pm]
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The May issue of Locus Magazine contains a rave review by Bram Stoker Award-winning author John Langan of my novel In the Shadow of the Axe! It’s a remarkably in-depth analysis in just four paragraphs of the novel’s storyline as well as themes that run through my body of work as a whole, but I can’t reprint it all, so here are the highlights:

As Laird Barron writes in his introduction, Nicholas Kaufmann’s In the Shadow of the Axe could have appeared as a Hammer film during the heyday of the studio’s horror productions….Kaufmann’s affection for the material is obvious, and it lends a richness to his conception….[He] skillfully builds his narrative’s momentum…It is Nicholas Kaufmann’s finest work.

Wow, my finest work! If you’d like to read it and decide for yourself if that’s true, here’s a handy ordering link. The link goes to Amazon, but the novel is available wherever e-books are sold. Right now, In the Shadow of the Axe is only available as an e-book, but hopefully the print edition will happen soon. Keep watching this space.

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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Doctor Who: “Thin Ice” [May. 1st, 2017|06:55 pm]
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“Thin Ice,” the third episode of Doctor Who‘s tenth season, continues the pattern of strong, standalone stories we’ve seen so far. “Thin Ice” is actually a better, more cohesive story than last week’s “Smile,” while still allowing plenty of room for the Doctor and Bill to get to know more about each other. Things take a more dramatic turn in their relationship when Bill witnesses her first death and has an important conversation with the Doctor about how he can see so much death and keep going. It’s a good scene, and though I’ve grown tired of the trope of companions getting angry at the Doctor when he can’t save someone (despite all the people he has saved), I very much liked Bill confronting him about whether he has ever killed anyone himself. She doesn’t let him make excuses, either. She makes him own it, which actually brings them closer together.

Another thing I liked about “Thin Ice” is that the speculative element turns out not to be an alien enemy so much as an animal just doing what animals do, namely eating, without any malice or plans of domination. There is a real villain, of course, someone who is exploiting the animal in question, and that’s how it should be in a story like this. (In fact, there are echoes in “Thin Ice” of “Smile” and “The Pilot,” with both previous stories featuring a speculative, non-human element that is potentially deadly without truly meaning harm.)

The script by Sarah Dollard is a strong one, taking the time to address both racism and representation in Regency England, which is not something Doctor Who often takes the time to do. When the Doctor clocks Sutcliffe for calling Bill a “creature” who should show respect for her “betters,” it’s a pretty great scene, both humorous and cathartic. There’s a funny joke about an imaginary companion named Pete who erased himself from history by stepping on a butterfly. We get a scene involving the psychic paper again, which is something we haven’t seen in quite a while. We also learn a little more about the vault, namely that, thanks to some knocking from the other side of the door, it’s most likely a person inside, which I predicted back in episode one. At this point, I’m wondering if it will be Missy. The only thing I didn’t like about this episode was that Nardole is grumpy and moralizing again. Grumpy, moralizing Nardole doesn’t work for me. Matt Lucas is hilarious; they need to let him be hilarious. I’d love to see Nardole be as funny and disaffected again as he was in last Christmas’s otherwise forgettable special, “The Return of Doctor Mysterio.” More funny Nardole, less grumpy schoolmarm Nardole!

And now a small bit of Doctor Who neepery! In conversation with the pie man at the frost fair, the Doctor asks about a man with a ship tattooed on his hand and attempts to bond with the pie man by sharing his disgust of tattoos. But, a little-known fact: the Doctor himself used to have a tattoo! Back in the very first Third Doctor serial, 1970’s “Spearhead from Space,” the Doctor is shown showering in a hospital bathroom and we see a tattoo on his forearm. (This is the only time we ever see the Doctor without a shirt on, until the 2010 Eleventh Doctor episode “The Lodger,” which revealed the tattoo is no longer there. Edited to add: A reader pointed out my oversight that the Ninth Doctor is shown shirtless in the episode “Dalek” in 2005. Notably, the tattoo is also not there.) The reason the Third Doctor has a tattoo at all is because the actor Jon Pertwee got it during his Navy days. Why it wasn’t covered up with makeup for the scene is anyone’s guess, so now the Doctor’s tattoo is canon! The tattoo itself is of a cobra, although when seen upside-down it looks remarkably like the question mark that would become a regular symbol upon the clothes of the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Doctors.

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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Doctor Who: “Smile” [Apr. 25th, 2017|11:22 am]
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“Smile,” the second episode of the new Doctor Who‘s tenth season, is a pretty good episode. It’s not an instant classic or anything, and there isn’t much plot going on until the last ten minutes or so, but the episode exists mostly to give the Doctor and Bill an opportunity to continue bonding and learning about each other, and in that regard it absolutely succeeds. The mentor relationship between the Doctor and Bill works so much better for me than the “space boyfriend” dynamic Doctor Who has been trafficking in since the revived series began, and as a result this season feels like a breath of fresh air. Peter Capaldi continues to shine as the Doctor — his performance is so assured it rises above even the weakest material — and I continue to hate the fact that he’s leaving at the end of this season. I don’t know what’s going to happen afterward, or for how long Doctor Who will stay on the air, but I’m convinced Capaldi will go down as one of the best new Doctors.

As I mentioned, the plot isn’t all that special, and it’s definitely one of those stories you don’t want to examine too closely or the logic will fall apart. For instance, the Vardy don’t really show many signs of self-awareness, and you’d figure the vital mechanical interface of a new colony would have some form of self-defense program anyway just in case the colony was attacked. Rebooting the system and wiping the Vardy’s memory doesn’t remove their knowledge of money, in particular pounds sterling, even though it removed everything else. The Vardy are construction microbots, so how exactly do they “eat” people down to the bone? What would make the Vardy then decide to use those bones as calcium fertilizer for the gardens? The questions could go on, but as I said, this episode was more about the Doctor and Bill than about the story happening around them.

There’s not a whole lot of Doctor Who neepery to share for this episode. The basic plot has some similarities to the 1988 Seventh Doctor serial “The Happiness Patrol,” which also involves the execution of colonists who aren’t happy all the time, although that story was really much more a response to Thatcher’s England. There are also a few superficial similarities to the 2008 Tenth Doctor episodes “Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead,” with microscopic-sized creatures eating people down to the bone, and the 2005 Ninth Doctor episodes “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances,” with nanotechnology gone awry. And I suppose the Vardy are in some way a truly Moffat-era antagonist — we’ve had “don’t blink” creatures and “don’t breathe” creatures and “don’t turn around” creatures, and now we’ve got “don’t stop smiling” creatures. But that’s all I’ve got. There are surprisingly few callbacks to the classic series this time around. (Although ending this episode with what is basically the start of the next is a very classic series thing to do!)

We have another mysterious mention of the vault the Doctor has promised to guard without leaving Earth, although no more clues as to what’s in it or why he made that promise. There’s a funny joke about the Doctor not being Scottish, just very cross, and another about how Scottish colonists seek independence on every planet they inhabit. The Doctor claims he is 2000 years old now, which I found quite surprising. When the Doctor says to one of the interface robots, “I’m happy, hope you’re happy too,” my mind immediately went to the 1980 David Bowie song “Ashes to Ashes” — an earworm that grew so insistent I actually had to listen to the song later. (We know Capaldi is a fan of Bowie, so I doubt this was merely a coincidence.) My only real complaint is that Nardole is basically sidelined for this episode, and I suspect he won’t be in the next one, either, since it appears to be set in the past. I want more Nardole, please! (Also, it didn’t feel quite right that he was jealous of Bill’s presence in the TARDIS. Less of that, please.)

We may only be two episodes in but season ten is looking to be a strong one, thanks to solid scripts, good actors, and especially the rapport between Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie.

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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The Scariest Part: Mark Matthews Talks About GARDEN OF FIENDS [Apr. 25th, 2017|07:00 am]
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This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is author and editor Mark Matthews, whose new anthology is Garden of Fiends. Here is the publisher’s description:

The intoxication from a pint of vodka, the electric buzz from snorting cocaine, the warm embrace from shooting heroin — drinking and drugging provides the height of human experience. It’s the promise of heaven on earth, but the hell that follows is a constant hunger, a cold emptiness. The craving to get high is a yearning as intense of any blood-thirsty monster.

The best way to tell the truths of addiction is through a story, and dark truths such as these need a piece of horror to do them justice.

The stories inside feature the insidious nature of addiction told with compassion yet searing honesty. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental deaths, and some of the most incredible names in horror fiction have tackled this modern day epidemic.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Mark Matthews:

In certain ways, the scariest part of Garden of Fiends: Tales of Addiction Horror is that it is a reflection of the modern day epidemic of opiate addiction. Certain dark truths of our world require a piece of horror to do them justice. Facts aren’t always felt, but stories are, and fiction makes the reader feel the true devastation of addiction. Such is the case with these stories, where some incredible names of horror have portrayed addiction in all its brutal honesty. Jessica McHugh, Glen Krisch, and Max Booth III (as well as my own tale) feature heroin and opiate addiction, while Kealan Patrick Burke, John FD Taff, and Jack Ketchum tackle the insatiable, unquenchable thirst that is alcoholism.

On a more personal level, the scariest part is that addiction will remain in my own subconscious no matter how many years it has been since my last use.

I’ve used every drug that appears in this anthology, and it nearly killed me, but I’ve been clean over 24 years, and, after going back to school to become a licensed professional counselor, have worked in the field of addiction treatment for much of that time. Working with other addicts has helped me keep my own sobriety, but dealing with the cravings that remain never stops. I still dream about drinking. I still feel a jolt of lightening in my spine when I watch someone snort cocaine or crystal meth in a movie. I’ve come to expect the cravings and learn to live with them, and when I write dark fiction, the culture and pathology of addiction pervades, and writing is incredibly therapeutic.

I am so thrilled at the list of writers who appear in Garden of Fiends to portray this affliction. This anthology is a way of bearing this burden to the world. Not just my burden, but the burden of sick and suffering humans everywhere. As you read this, someone just shot up for the first time, and soon their body will be aching for heroin the way a vampire thirsts for blood. Someone right now is buying a half pint of vodka with shaky hands at the liquor store, trembling with terror. A mother just identified their daughter’s overdosed body at the hospital. Another is writing their son’s obituary. Everyday we hear horror stories such as toddlers found in the back-seat of a car with overdosed parents in the front or a batch of fentanyl-laced heroin killing scores of people over a single weekend.

The scariest part is that what’s inside this anthology is a mirror of our world, not a teleporter to another.

Here’s a brief summary:

A Wicked Thirst — Kealan Patrick Burke
An alcoholic’s incessant thirst for drink has caused a trail of devastation in his path. A blackout one night puts him face to face with the specter of his past. A powerful opening punch and quite simply vintage Kealan Patrick Burke.

The One in the Middle — Jessica McHugh
“The best way to take atlys is to inject it straight into the testicles,” thus begins Jessica McHugh’s excerpt from The Green Kangaroos, which blew my freaking mind (cliché as that sounds). Captures the tone, lifestyle and craving for heroin in a wonderfully transgressive fashion. William Burroughs himself would be proud.

Garden of Fiends — Mark Matthews
The father of a heroin addict is tired of his daughter relapsing, so he takes drastic measures to protect her. He thinks he’s cut out her disease, but he’s only made it spread. Pretty soon, there are addicts all over the city of Detroit trying to get his daughter high.

First, Just Bite A Finger — Johann Thorsson
This flash fiction piece is a lightning shot across the page. An addict keeps convincing herself she can quit her bizarre addiction — “She could quit if she wanted to, and she did, and went until Thursday evening.”

Last Call — John FD Taff
Last Call is about the type of alcoholic I am quite familiar with — one who frequents AA meetings, can’t stay sober, and often shows up drunk. His sponsor offers him one last chance at sobriety by visiting the most unusual of places: a liquor store. A perfect illustration of the family legacy of alcoholism.

Everywhere You’ve Bled and Everywhere You Will — Max Booth III
Max Booth’s story is about a recovering heroin addict who relapses after a bizarre turn of events and an infatuated (and quite creepy) girlfriend. It includes a bleeding penis, spiders, a Walmart worker, and Max’s unmistakable wit. Your jaw will drop.

Torment of the Fallen — Glen Krisch
Scarecrows, rats, syringes, and heroin are the ingredients for this Glen Krisch story. When you see real demons, sometimes the demon of addiction is all that will hold them back.

Returns — Jack Ketchum
Ketchum didn’t write this short story to serve as the perfect ending to Garden of Fiends, but he might as well have. This is a sweet, somber story about a Ghost visiting his alcoholic ex-lover, watching her drink herself to death, and trying to find his purpose for this return to his old life. I’m so grateful to have another one of my writing heroes included in Garden of Fiends.

Mark Matthews: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Goodreads / Amazon Author Page

Garden of Fiends: Amazon / Barnes & Noble

Mark Matthews is a graduate of the University of Michigan and is a licensed professional counselor. He is the author of On the Lips of Children, Milk-Blood, and All Smoke Rises. He lives near Detroit with his wife and two daughters. Reach him at WickedRunPress@gmail.com.

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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Doctor Who: “The Pilot” [Apr. 18th, 2017|10:44 am]
International Bon Vivant and Raconteur
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The Doctor Who revival series has made it to its tenth season! To me, this feels like almost as much of a milestone as the series’ overall 50th anniversary, and as it turns out the 10th season premiere, “The Pilot,” is a worthy start. In fact, I’d say it’s the best Doctor Who season premiere since “The Eleventh Hour” back in 2010.

I took to new companion Bill Potts very quickly, quicker than I thought, perhaps because she is so different from Clara in exactly the way Clara herself was not very different from Amy. Bill also has a good rapport with the Doctor, one that’s based on a shared intellectual curiosity, which is a nice change of pace from companions who have a crush on him or who are simply thrilled with the adventure of it all. I continue to be amused by Nardole’s presence as the Doctor’s de facto butler, even if he didn’t have a whole lot to do this episode. I hope he sticks around and becomes a more active player in future episodes. I adored the collection of old-time sonic screwdrivers on the Doctor’s desk, as well as the picture of his granddaughter Susan. I was intrigued by the mysterious vault the Doctor is guarding. What’s inside it? It must be something pretty important for the Doctor to give up traveling and disguise himself as a university professor for the past fifty years to keep an eye on it. (Then again show runner Steven Moffat is pretty terrible when it comes to season-long arcs, so I’m halfway expecting to be disappointed when the vault finally opens.)

But mostly I came away from “The Pilot” mourning the knowledge that this is Peter Capaldi’s final season as the Doctor. I think he is superb in the role, a monumental step up from Matt Smith (come at me, Smith fans, I will fight you!), and when the Doctor is written right, as he is in “The Pilot,” Capaldi stands shoulder to shoulder with the likes of John Pertwee and Tom Baker. I wish he would stay longer. This “three seasons and out” pattern the actors seem to have fallen into is too bad. We barely get a chance to know a Doctor before the next one comes along, with the unfortunate side effect that the regeneration episodes become trite, formulaic, and expected.

“The Pilot” was written by Moffat, so it does suffer from a few annoying Moffatisms. We get a fat joke right up front when Bill describes what happened after she continually gave her crush extra chips in the cafeteria. Plot threads are raised and then immediately dropped (Bill notices the Doctor’s reflection in the old photographs of her mother but never asks him about it). There’s a needless riddle (“What’s the one thing you never see when you look at your reflection?”). The antagonist’s powers remain just undefined enough to let Moffat do whatever he thinks will make for a cool scene instead of something logical (how and why does it shapeshift into a Dalek? A Dalek can’t look down into a puddle’s reflection, and changing into a Dalek has no strategic importance anyway for a creature that can’t be destroyed by their weapons). The Doctor’s electric guitar and (sonic?) sunglasses make a cameo at the start of the episode, which hopefully will be the only time we see them this season because ugh, enough already. And of course the power of love saves the day, because Moffat can never seem to resist treacle.

There’s not a whole lot of Doctor Who neepery to share this time. I already mentioned the old sonic screwdrivers and the picture of Susan. But one marvelous bit that was only seen briefly made me smile, and that was the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it return of the Movellans, a race of alien androids with silver dreadlocks last seen in the 1979 Fourth Doctor serial “Destiny of the Daleks.” The Movellans were locked in a never-ending war with the Daleks, and in fact it was this war that made the Daleks return to Skaro to resurrect their creator, Davros, whom we saw again as recently as last season.

“The Pilot” is a promising start to a milestone season. Longtime readers of these reviews will recall that I thought last season was a strong one, perhaps the best since Moffat took over, and I’m hoping this season will continue the upward trend. With a cast of characters this strong it ought to. However, the next episode features robots that only speak in emojis, so…


Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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