MIB: International dir. F. Gary Gray (2019) More of the same from the MIB franchise. Although there are some genuinely funny lines, much of the humour is done a disservice by the film’s knowingly frivolous tone. A more serious approach would tweak the sci-fi fun beyond its current fluffiness.
Star Wars: Last Shot by Daniel José Older (Del Rey, 2018); audiobook read by Marc Thompson with Daniel José Older & January LaVoy (Random House, 2018) The audiobook reading of Last Shot gives fervent and overly dramatic voice to everyday situations. This exposes not only the mundaneness of Older’s writing but also the more general propensity (Star Wars house style?)…
Fire Dancer by S. A. Bolich (Sky Warrior Books, 2011) A slow-burning fantasy where the rules of the world emerge through story rather than exposition, and the problems grow organically. Bolich pits elemental magic against prejudice and self-doubt. She invests time in setting and character, yet never at the expense of readability.
Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds (Gollancz, 2004); audiobook read by John Lee (Tantor, 2010) The two storylines (alternative 1950s Paris detective; far future SF archaeologist) are compelling enough while juxtaposed. Once they conflate, however, the intrigue gives way to a longwinded, slow-moving and ultimately unrewarding exploration of premise, considerably less than the sum of its parts.
Hunted created by Frank Spotnitz (BBC, 2012) A moody and morally ambiguous espionage drama with murky storyline and high production values, the cast ably led by Aussie actress Melissa George. Whereas the acting is suitably understated, the plot swims in circles to be abstruse. The conclusion is, inevitably, nonsense.
Doctor Who: Scratchman by Tom Baker with James Goss (BBC Books, 2019) A novelisation of the film script that Tom Baker and Ian Marter wrote back in the 1970s. The content is dark verging on horror, yet the tone is very much Baker’s latter-day staple of bemused, gently deadpanned, Doctor as lost man-child comedy.
Black Hole by Charles Burns (Pantheon, 2005) [collecting Black Hole #1-12, Fantagraphics, 1995-2004] Burns goes all out in this shadowy and grotesque, trippy mix of 70s teen culture, body horror and sexually explicit allegory (self-identity; belonging). The plot is deliberately abstruse, and though the black-and-white artwork is striking, some characters are hard to tell apart.
Reaper, Season 1 created by Michele Fazekas & Tara Butters (The CW, 2007-2008) A formulaic but appealing comedy. Sam Oliver’s parents have sold his soul to the devil. Still working his menial job, he must become also—reluctantly—a supernatural bounty hunter. Tyler Labine steals the show as Bert ‘Sock’ Wysocki, Sam’s irrepressible super-slacker friend.
The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin (Orbit, 2015) Fantasy as it should be: immersive and original, with bonus marks for pitching diversity (of age, race, gender) as the default. The world-building is complex; yet, amidst all the soaring layers of imagination, Jemisin avoids pandering to or pointlessly bamboozling the reader.
Don’t Tell Mum I Work on the Rigs, She Thinks I’m a Piano Player in a Whorehouse by Paul Carter (Allen & Unwin, 2005); audiobook read by Paul Carter (Bolinda, 2012) Less the story of life on the oil rigs, more a series of anecdotes celebrating the lifestyles (on, away from, and in transit) of those who work them. Carter…