Terrific Fantasy Novels, Cheap

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A few years back, I entered The Way into Chaos into SPFBO, the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off, a reviewer-based competition for self-published novels only. My book made it into the finals but didn’t win, due mainly to readers liking the other entries more. Still, I was hoping that a respectable finish would provide a short-term boost in sales and bring in new readers long term.

It didn’t.

I think that last link is pretty interesting, if I do say so myself, and I recommend you check it out if you’re at all interested in book sales and promo.

Still, I don’t regret entering the contest. As I mentioned in the “It didn’t” linked post, some authors got real value from it, mainly by the social groups they formed.

And, there’s an opportunity for cross promotion, like this:

SPFBO graphic

Only some of the books in the sale

Maybe I’m burying the lede here, but what the hell. All the 30+ books in this list are either winners for finalists for SPFBO, and all are only $0.99 for one week. They’re all fantasy, but subgenres include:

humor
military
dark
epic
YA
urban
historical
apocalyptic epic

And so many more. (Guess who that last one belongs to.)

We’ve got a pandemic. We’ve got civil unrest in the US. We’ve got economic turmoil and widespread unemployment. Isn’t now the time to find some fun, affordable fantasy novels for yourself. Even better, wouldn’t they make great gifts for your friends and loved ones? The answer is clearly YES.

Click through and check them out. You’re sure to find a few things you like.

Somebody Has to be the Outsider: Spoilerish thoughts on WW84 and WONDER WOMAN

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“I have thoughts about the new Wonder Woman movie. I should blog about them!”

::one week later::

Let me try to get this all down:

First thing: Patty Jenkins keeps making superhero movies with plots that can’t be resolved with punching and that’s sort of a problem.

In the first movie, Diana (since the words “Wonder Woman” are never spoken in either movie, it feels weird to call her that) is determined to fight and kill Ares, because she believes that will end all war. Obviously, this is nuts but, for his own purposes, Steve Trevor (and his pals) basically go along with her.

Steve spends much of the movie trying to convince Diana that she doesn’t understand the new world she’s entered. Diana, meanwhile, believes that she sees it very clearly, and that she has the moral agency to change it. Diana changes the world just by being in it. It’s true that she can’t stop all wars and remake the world of men into a paradise through the act of killing her half-brother, but her insistence that she can drives the movie and keeps in in-genre.

And I have more to say about that, but it doesn’t fit here.

In the second film, it’s Steve who becomes the outsider, learning about the new and wondrous world of 1984. Except there’s no dramatic tension there. When Diana enters WWI-era London, she’s expecting to see another paradise and to meet warrior generals like the ones she left behind in Themyscira. She very much doesn’t. When Steve jumps 70 years into the future, he’s simply wide-eyed and delighted. There’s no dramatic conflict between his expectations and his environment.

Personally, I really liked the joy in those scenes. My wife was bored as hell.

Steve also gets a complimentary outfit montage that Diana got in the first movie, but again, the scene doesn’t really convey anything about the relationship between his character and the world he’s found himself in. It’s just played for laughs.

The first movie spent a lot of time talking about what people deserved. Did the world of men deserve an army of Amazons riding out to save them? Did it deserve Diana herself? Do people deserve to be saved? Does “Dr. Poison”? And let’s not forget “May we get what we want. May we get what we need. May we never get what we deserve.”

Diana herself starts off the film believing that people would be good if Ares were killed, and finds herself reluctantly allied with thieves, smugglers, liars, etc. They’re good people doing bad things for good ends, and she’s convinced that she can save them.

The second movie centers itself on capital tee Truth, and I’ve seen a lot of viewers confused about why having a wish come true is equivalent to a lie. I want to try to break down the argument the film is making:

* Want: Baby Diana wants to win the race
* Truth: Baby Diana misses one of the markers by taking a short cut
* Outcome: Baby Diana is not allowed to win because, in truth, she did not run the full race.

* Want: Barbara wants to be confident and popular
* Truth: Barbara is not those things.
* Outcome: Barbara becomes confident and popular without doing the honest work of changing herself

* Want: Adult Diana wants Steve back
* Truth: Steve is dead
* Outcome: Bringing Steve back via wish is a denial of the truth that he is gone.

Which, according to the logic of the movie (as I understand it) a wish makes untrue things true. Which is dishonest. And being dishonest means you told a lie.

Although if you want something you don’t have and work hard to get it, that’s a truthful way to make an untrue thing true, I guess?

Note: I’m explaining the reasoning here, not justifying it. It’s a weak driver for the story–so weak, in fact, that they had to add in the Monkey’s Paw aspect, which wasn’t even established as part of the wish-making until way too late in the story. When Max Lord was granting wishes and telling people what he’d take in return, I was playing catch up, wondering what the hell he was talking about.

Poor “Wish I had a coffee” guy. The stone took his most valued possession in exchange for a cup of joe.

Anyway, I wouldn’t be nit-picking all of this if WW84 were a better movie, and I suspect it would be a better movie if all this was simplified and integrated better. I would say I wish it had been, but there’s literally nothing of value I would sacrifice for that wish to be true.

Plus, there’s that awful shit about Steve taking over someone else’s body, fucking someone with it, and putting it in mortal danger. Did Hallmark Movie Guy consent to all that? I’m sure he didn’t.

Not to mention the ending, which gives Diana someone to punch (poor Barbara) for the penultimate conflict, but used empathetic pleading to win the final conflict.

And honestly, it’s more believable that the daughter of Zeus could show up with a magic lasso than that every human being could see nuclear missiles rocketing skyward and not one of them would choose to let the world burn. Have these people never opened Facebook?

Part of me was convinced that the plot would be resolved when Diana killed Max (like in the comics) but the Patty Jenkins version isn’t like that. Her Max is another mislead mortal who needs to be loved, and to put his love for his son above everything else.

The movie would have been better served by a plot problem she could punch. Even if she ended up battling Max, because he’s the dreamstone now and has to be destroyed, and Max is wildly empowered with the strength and life force of half the world. And they’re smashing around the room before finally coming into contact with the golden particle tube. Then Max sees his son and wants to save him with a wish, or with the power he has stolen. But Diana, who is losing this fight, holds him in place. The whole world is going to die, and it’s Max’s fault.

Which is when Max renounces his wish, effectively destroying the dreamstone and saving the world.

I’m sure someone working on the film thought of that ending but discarded it. I’m also pretty positive they ditched it because they wanted the emotional uplift of an ending where everyone in the world is moved by Diana’s words and comes together for the greater good. Sadly, they sent a movie about that world into the one I live in, where large percentages of the population are narcissists and psychopaths.

I can look past unrealistic fantasy worldbuilding for the sake of a fun story (see: Lucifer) but WW84 hadn’t won me over and couldn’t reach me with this ending.

Before I wrote and posted this, I wanted to watch it with my wife. I’m pretty sure she’s never read a Wonder Woman comic and I’m definitely sure she didn’t know who Cheetah was, let alone Max Lord.

Her take: It was awful. Too long. Not visually interesting enough. No exciting fight scenes. Too much Max Lord and not enough Barbara Minerva.

I liked it more than she did, in part because it wasn’t nihilistic like the early DCEU films, in part because I enjoyed the joyful parts of the performances, in part because I just like superhero movies.

Anyway, I’m glad Jenkins is making a third WW movie, even if the sophmore slump was painful. Sorry to say I can’t see myself watching this one again.

Five Things Make a Pre-Giftmas Post

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I’ve tried to cut back on my Twitter time so I have an actual life, but I’ve also been neglecting my own spaces. So here goes. As you can guess from what’s below, these have been building up for a while now.

  1. Long ago in the misty dawn of time, my friends would get together on the day before Thanksgiving for the Turkey Bowl, which was a game of “touch” football, (with sarcastic quotes around the word touch, obviously). Then I moved to Seattle and slowly fell out of contact with most of my circle of high school friends. 

Well, last month, on the day before Thanksgiving, I got a call from the high school/college buddy that I still game with. He invited me to a Turkey Bowl zoom call, where I got to say hello to some people I hadn’t seen in many years.

Honestly, it was great. I got to see their grownup homes in the background, and they got to see our dinky apartment with the oil painting of a naked man’s back and backside on the wall behind me. We’ve led different lives, but it felt incredibly comfortable to hang out again. Hope to do it again before  another 10-15 years passes.

Oh, and I was the fattest of the group, but we all knew it would be that way.

2. One of my friends on that zoom call admitted that, until the previous day or two, he’d been planning to travel to his parents’ house to have a big Thanksgiving meal with the whole family.

Online, I’ve seen people like him portrayed as braying, deluded conspiracy theorists, openly mocking scientific conclusions and common sense. But it wasn’t like that for my friend. He had people he loved pleading with him to visit, and he felt himself being pressured to take a risk in the hopes that everything would turn out okay.

Luckily, one of his sons talked him out of it, but it took someone else who loved him to break that spell. Just something to think about when we see people behaving recklessly during the pandemic.

3. As I mentioned in the first note, I’m still in touch with one of my friends from high school–through ttrpgs–and this past weekend we finished up an eight month Liminal campaign.

First, it’s a terrific game. The system is simple and quite effective. Not as open as a PbtA system, which we play a lot of, but still terrific. Even better is the setting, which is contemporary fantasy in London (with the option to move the action elsewhere, if you have to.) There’s lots of interesting factions and NPCs, plenty of plot hooks, the whole deal.

The game book also physically beautiful. Seriously.

One problem we had was that the game is designed to be episodic. The characters form a crew, they get “cases” and they take on small dangers. If there’s a longer plot line, it’s meant to surface as a subplot each case, building to a climax, like Person of Interest or Veronica Mars.

Our group doesn’t play that way. Our campaigns are like movies, with constantly escalating stakes and a big conflict at the end.

That meant we couldn’t access one of the ways to gain experience, which was to solve a case, and we had a hard time healing up, because starting a new case erases the damage you’ve suffered. Without that latter rule, it was hard to recover from fights.

(We can argue about whether or not that’s realism and also whether it’s the sort of realism that’s welcome in a ttrpg–actually, you can have that argument if you like, because this isn’t the sort of realism that interests me. In this context, anyway.)

But the game was a lot of fun and the system let us make characters that we could really dig into. I wanted to add a romance subplot but it didn’t really work, mainly because I didn’t work hard enough to integrate it.

Anyway, fun game. Check it out.

4.

Arrogant Bastard Ale again

For The Iron Gate

5. The Iron Gate is almost complete. I have to do another polish before I arrange to have it copy edited, and I’m letting it rest right now while I brainstorm The Flood Circle.

It’s weird. I have a little tickle at the back of my brain telling me there’s something about TIG that doesn’t match the overall 20P mythology. What’s wrong there? What is that tickle trying to tell me? 

No clue. That’s why I let my work rest for a bit. 

The Twenty Palaces novels have always been the most difficult of my projects, although I’m not sure why. One Man was more complex. Key/Egg had a voice and a tone that was challenging for me. But writing anything 20P just eats up time, as I work through character moments and plot twists, jumping around in the story because I realized I missed something here. And there. And also there.

Plus, I gotta say this is a weird book, and I’m not sure how well it’s going to go over with… anyone, really. Sorta nervous about it, actually, in a way I haven’t been nervous in many years. Not that these worries will stop me.

Okay. I need to do a bit of Christmas food prep, and figure out how to create a new evil rich person for The Flood Circle.

Enjoy your holidays, stay safe, and find joy where you can.

Binge-demic 4

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Let’s keep working backwards through the shows I’ve binged during the pandemic: 

SHE-RA AND THE PRINCESSES OF POWER

Confession time: I knew nothing about She-Ra before watching this show. The original show came out when I was too old (and too young) for cartoons and all I knew was that The Usual Creeps were upset by the new character design because this version of She-Ra didn’t have big boobs.

Nothing about the show tempted me, either. It looked like sword & planet for little kids, and really, life is too short. 

But again, I kept seeing a lot of enthusiasm for the show as the fifth and final season came up, and once I realized Noelle Stevenson was the showrunner, I decided to give it a try.

Turns out that it’s fun and funny. It’s full of strong characterization (which is not the same as strong characters, obvs) and is just as charming as Nimona and Lumberjanes.

LEVERAGE

This is the rare show that starts strong right from the first scene. There’s no stumbling around, as they try to hone the characters and concept. They hit the ground running, and it’s fantastic.

The first time I watched this show, it was with my family, and we lost momentum somewhere in the fourth season. Not sure why, except that the show seemed to want to mix up the formula, and we really liked that formula. This time, watching by myself, I kept going through the episodes where the actors played other characters and/or the con was a backdrop for some other drama (and yeah, it seems a shame to cast Danny Glover on your show and *not* make him into some sort of criminal genius).

But still, this show puts everything together in exactly the right way. The characters are great, starting off as exaggerated one-note personality types–grumpy, wacky, sad, sensible, etc–and gradually becoming more complex as they form strong relationships. The plots are clever, the villains are awful, and jokes actually made me laugh. 

And like I said, I really liked the plot engine of the show, where a group of crooks ruin the corrupt and powerful. That never got old.

STRANGER THINGS

I don’t have to talk at length about this show again, do I? I like it. It’s good. 

THE KIRLIAN FREQUENCY

An anthology of odd, animated horror shorts out of Argentina that does its best to make a virtue of an extremely low budget. It’s only five episodes, each between 8-10 minutes long. Does it count as a binge if the whole season is less than an hour long? I say sure, why not. 

The stories center around a radio DJ who broadcasts only at night. Each episode introduces a premise, then delivers the twist, and there’s not much more to it than that. 

THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY

I really feel that I should like this show more than I do. My wife loves it, though.

—–

FYI: if you haven’t taken advantage of the Kindle Monthly Deal for One Man, a City of Fallen Gods Novel, this is the last day. If you want to check out a creepy high fantasy crime thriller set in a city built within the skeletons of two dead gods, act now.

Upcoming: Avatar, and The Letter for the King, I Am Not Okay With This

Circle of Enemies Audiobook Available Today

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Cover art for Circle of Enemies audiobook

Fiery!

If I had any brains, I would have posted this much earlier, and started sending the announcement newsletter at midnight last night. Unfortunately, today is Blursday, and yesterday was Blursday, too, so I lost track of the date.

Note to self: write rent check.

So, yes, the audiobook for Circle of Enemies is available today, for the first time ever. You can grab a copy from online vendors:

Audiobook.com
Audible
iBooks

Or wherever you prefer to get your audiobooks.

There will be more Twenty Palaces audiobooks, but not until I finish The Iron Gate. Once this book is fully revised and edited, it’ll be combined with The Twisted Path and released as a set. Until then, I’m not going to have much to release.

Also, remember that the Kindle Monthly Deal for One Man expires at the end of the month. Until then, you can pick up an ebook for yourself or a friend for only $1.99.

Binge-demic 3

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Continuing my Binge-demic posts, let me move backwards to the show I watched before Veronica Mars.

STRANGE LUCK

It’s weird that this show has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Not that it’s bad. It’s not. You could even call it pretty good. Still, a hundred percent? If I had to guess, it’s a distortion created by the fact that the show predates the site, but a number like that promises more than Strange Luck can deliver.

Simply put: It’s the 90’s, and every place anyone goes to is actually Canada, where they hose down the streets at night so the puddles reflect the multi-colored lights. Chance Harper is a freelance photojournalist who drives all over the city in his beater, snapping pictures of the stories he stumbles across. And he tries to help people.

As the sole survivor of a plane crash–in fact, he had no injuries at all–Chanse has been cursed by powerful luck. Not good or bad, but powerful. Where ever he goes, weird and/or dangerous shit happens, and he does whatever he can to help (and get a shot he can sell). To quote main character: “If I go to a restaurant, somebody chokes. If I walk into a bank, it gets robbed.”

I’ve said one thing over and over in in these posts: one of the most important aspects of these shows is the relationships between the series regulars. Strange Luck has only two regular supporting characters: his ex, the hot newspaper editor who buys Chance’s photos and the hot owner/operator of his favorite cafe who has a crush on him. And they’re both fine, although the cafe owner gets more interesting story lines.

Anyway, there are a lot of pitfalls for a show built on a premise of coincidences, but Strange Luck avoids all of them. It’s too bad it only lasted one season. With a larger, crunchier supporting cast, I think it would have done well. Past time for a remake, I think, with shorter seasons and the obligatory modern mythology.

Finally, at least one person has asked me how I watched the show, since it’s not available anywhere to stream. Sadly, I had to go to YouTube. It wouldn’t be my first–or my fifth–choice, but it wasn’t available elsewhere.

KIPO AND THE WONDERBEASTS

I knew what I was hoping for when I put on this show (based on online recommendations–all the new shows that I watch, esp the cartoons, drop into the schedule because people rave about them). I expected what I got. But I didn’t expect I would get so much, or that it would be as fun and charming as it was.

Let me clarify: I expected a kid-friendly apocalypse, unusual “monsters”, and a heroine who makes the world better by doing what everyone around her thinks is impossible: finding common ground with her enemies. What I got was exactly that, but in a charming, inventive, and enjoyable way.

BREAKING: Cartoons are so much better now than they were when I was a kid. Maybe it’s because modern shows have to compete with video games, so they can’t half-ass it the way they used to? Or maybe the half-assed cartoons are still out there, invisible to an old like me because they’re aimed at very young viewers, but modern creators trust older kids with more complex story lines?

But there’s no way that kid-me would have been offered a show with astronomy-loving wolves lead by a wolf named Billions (voiced by John Hodgman) and a second wolf named Billions (voiced by GZA). Nor would I have gotten a surprisingly good song listing everything the wolves have learned about the stars.

The visuals are solid. The circle of regulars have great relationships. The music is a goddam delight. If you have any stomach at all for kids animation, check this out. The third and final season comes out in less than a month.

BLACK LIGHTNING S3

I was going to keep this to two shows per post, but what the hell.

I also binged the latest Black Lightning season once it hit Netflix. Here’s the thing about this show. The actors are great. The premise of a family with several members having/struggling with superpowers is absolutely solid, and the series regulars have that powerful web of relationships I keep talking about.

Also, the overall plot of the season, involving a government crackdown on the small city of Freeland, where the show is set, is just right for this particular political and cultural moment.

I’ll admit that I’ve mostly given up on the DC superhero shows. At least, the 20+ season, one-a-week broadcast shows like Arrow, Supergirl, or The Flash. Those shows started off with a touch of joy to them. Even Arrow, which was grim from the start, had moments where Oliver used his skills in a way that gave the audience a little thrill. After all, part of the appeal of the superhero genre is power fantasy.

New shows like Stargirl brim with that sort of joy. Doom Patrol subvert the power fantasy expectation in funny and interesting ways. Black Lightning has always done a good job managing the precarious balance between enjoyable power fantasy and credible threat to the main characters.

This third season, with its government occupation, illegal experimentation, and foreign superpowered commandos, leans heavily toward the latter.

Still solid, though. I’m waiting for season four.

Also, in case you didn’t know it, there are only a few days left to pick up ONE MAN, my dark fantasy crime thriller, as a $1.99 Kindle Monthly Deal. If you like books about desperation, magic, intrigue, expeditions to mysterious islands, giant skeletons, people living inside giant skeletons, creatures made of burning iron, vampire hobbits, and also the fear of failing the one person in the whole world who relies on you, take advantage of that deal right away.

Also, redux, the audiobook for Circle of Enemies drops on the 29th. More on that, including links, when I have them.

Binge-demic 2

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Continuing my Binge-demic posts, let me move backwards to the show I watched before Korra.

BURN NOTICE

There was every reason for this show to be a forgettable one-and-done gunfight and bikini action series. It was on the USA network, it’s set in Miami, fills scene transitions with shots of beautiful young girls in swimsuits walking near water, and follows all the Action TV Show Gunfight Rules. 

Some of those rules:

  • Concealment = Cover, except those times when Concealment =/= Cover is cooler.
  • Everyone has terrible aim, except highly trained badasses (and their pals).
  • It’s pretty much impossible to shoot someone while they’re running, even with automatic weapons.
  • Every gunman, no matter how angry, sadistic or psychotic, will give their enemy time to say one more thing before pulling the trigger.

Person of Interest, mentioned in the previous post, had some of this too, but even that show didn’t compare to the number of bullets and bombs unleashed on Burn Notice. 

What makes Burn Notice a great show is, first of all, Jeffrey Donovan. He’s electric in the lead, and to this day I don’t understand how he didn’t immediately pivot to a starring role in something else. Maybe the dude was tired and needed a break. Maybe he found greater creative fulfillment as a character actor in supporting roles, and in a Hulu series that I’ve never had the chance to see. [Added later: he was exhausted when Burn Notice ended. He was in most of the scenes, did a lot of his own fights and stunts, and was utterly worn out by the time the series wrapped.]

The premise is straight forward: Michael Weston was a spy until the CIA burned him, freezing his bank accounts and cutting off all contact. He has lost the work that defined his whole life. The subplot of each season concerns Michael’s efforts to clear his name and get himself reinstated. For the main plot In each episode, Michael uses his skills as a spy to help some ordinary person in trouble. 

That makes it a heroic con artist show with car chases. 

Plus, at a time when Jack Bauer was still running around interrogating people under threat of torture, the makers of Burn Notice put a little more effort into it than that. They made it clear that these weren’t bad guys being bad for good ends. When Michael and his friends were forced to do something terrible, the show never portrayed that as heroic, and the characters always paid a price.

I love the second-person voice over, the split screen sequences, the humor, the whole deal. Gabrielle Anwar is great, once she drops the accent they asked her to do in the pilot. Sharon Gless is great as Michael’s chain-smoking mother. Bruce Campbell is great and also, on occasion, subtle (if you can believe it). 

So great. Love this show.

VERONICA MARS

But not as much as this show. 

I have all of Veronica Mars–original series, film, revival series–on disc, (rare for me–I was never a collector of dvds) and I used to own the two terrible novels. (I donated them to the library, which is how I throw away books.) One of the benefits of watching the discs is that the pilot episode is slightly extended, starting at the no-tell motel (first line is Veronica in voice-over saying I am never getting married.) instead of the school parking lot, and for once the extra scenes don’t feel like a waste of my precious time.

And yeah, that first season is iconic. The pilot has a little too much backstory to set up, and the second episode is marred by a bit of stunt casting, but both are still great. After that, it takes off running and doesn’t look back. 

It was renewed for two more (excellent) seasons, despite being near the bottom of the ratings every year. I sort of hated the way the third season ended, but this was a show that put its characters through the ringer. If the last thing it made me feel was Veronica’s regret at a harm she’d caused that could never be made right, that was perfect for the overall tone of the show.

Then came the Kickstarted movie. The show had been a critical darling and retained a dedicated fanbase, so the fundraising campaign was a rousing success. And sure, people complained that the movie that came out of it had too much fan service, but it would have made a fitting (and happier) ending to Veronica Mars’s story. 

But I guess the success of the crowdfunding campaign convinced someone there was an audience to be micro-marketed to, so we got two terrible novels that did not seem to understand the appeal of Veronica Mars as a character, then a new series on Hulu featuring Veronica as an adult.

Unfortunately, by the end of the Hulu series, every aspect of the original show had been brushed aside except for Veronica’s profession and her relationship with her father. Gone was Neptune High as a place where the young rich collide with the young poor. Gone was unincorporated Neptune, the place without a middle class. Gone was Wallace, Veronica’s first healthy peer relationship on the show, who is left behind in Neptune when she drives up the coast to a new case. Gone was Logan, the OTP that obsessed the most dedicated fans of the show. 

Killing off Logan seems to have squelched any hopes of a fifth season. The fans were furious, and I can’t really blame them. Thomas seemed to think that the romance elements were supposed to be a C-plot, bringing a modicum of soap opera conflict to contrast with the mystery plots. No one seemed to believe Logan could function as a support character like Keith, so out he went. 

Which is a shame. The setting and network of relationships are a big part of what we love about a show. You can’t just strip away that context and expect the character to thrive. If you want a brilliant, tough female private investigator in a new context, create a new one.

But still, Veronica herself is a wildly appealing character. In those first three seasons, she’s not just brilliant and funny, she’s fearless, too. Not, I mean, physically fearless. Threats of violence still terrify her, as they should. No, she’s been socially ostracized and come through it with exactly zero fucks left to give. Even when mortifying things happen to her, she refuses to be made ashamed or to back down.

That’s a powerful thing, especially for people of high school age (and near-high school age). I remain convinced that’s the secret sauce of Veronica’s appeal.

Anyway, I recommend the show, obviously. The first three seasons are genius, and the movie makes a nice little bow tie at the end. And, if you still want more of Veronica and Keith and Logan and Leo and so on, season four is only eight episodes long and has all the brilliance and wit of the previous incarnations, even if it does fundamentally break the old show and create a new one in the last twenty minutes or so. 

Up next: Strange Luck and Kipo and the Wonderbeasts

Also, in case you didn’t know it, there are fewer than ten days left to pick up ONE MAN, my dark fantasy crime thriller, as a $1.99 Kindle Monthly Deal. If you like books about desperation, magic, intrigue, expeditions to mysterious islands, giant skeletons, people living inside giant skeletons, creatures made of burning iron, vampire hobbits, and also the fear of failing the one person in the whole world who relies on you, take advantage of that deal right away.

Binge-demic 1

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Here’s my COVID lifestyle: I wake at 9am, then stumble out of bed for coffee and breakfast. With any luck, this involves some sort of sandwich. I’m a big fan of sandwiches.

Then it’s chores and writing. I’m currently revising The Iron Gate, and if I hit my daily goal, I reward myself with a little writing on something else, like bluebooking for a tabletop rpg or brainstorming The Flood Circle which is the next Twenty Palaces novel. Then, a little reading.

After dinner, my wife and I settle in and watch a few shows. My wife hates binge-watching anything. Occasionally, she will watch two episodes of a show on one night, but I only rarely. Too much of one show bores the shit out of her.

At 9:30, she goes to bed at 9:30 and I get my alone time. Which I need. At the end of the day, when I’m alone in my darkened living room, I binge-watch shows. 

And I feel an inexplicable urge to talk about them. So, for a couple of blog posts, I’m going to write about them, starting with the most recent and working backwards.

Person of Interest:

I was talking about the characters on Person of Interest with someone on Twitter, and I was admiring the way the show used exaggeration in building its characters. Reese isn’t just hired muscle, he was once the CIA’s most deadly assassin, an American James Bond (on a TV-crime-thriller budget). Finch isn’t just a computer guy, he’s the reclusive genius who spent his whole adult life living under false identities and who created an artificial intelligence capable of monitoring everyone on Earth.

Reese knows very little about computers. Finch suffers from an unhealed injury he won’t discuss, which leaves him unable to fight or sprint. So it’s not just that each is an expert in their respective roles. They’re also incapable of filling each others’ roles. They compliment each other perfectly. 

It’s the same for the two cops on the show: Fusco is a corrupt homicide detective under the thumb of other corrupt cops, and Carter is the honest, empathetic one. One is being blackmailed into helping Reese. The other wants to arrest him. Both are extremes and opposites, and that naturally creates drama.

The person I was talking to called the characters archetypes, which I don’t think is a good description. To me, calling a character an archetype is an insult. It means they’re a copy of another thing, not an individual in their own right. If these were archetypes, I wouldn’t like the show as much as I do.

In its first season, PoI plays out as a well-made CBS procedural with an unusual and intriguing premise: A surveillance AI called, simply, “The Machine” sends Finch the social security number of a person who will be involved in a murder, either as victim or perpetrator. The team has to work out what’s happening and save a life, possibly several. There’s no season-long subplot, but the seeds of upcoming subplots are planted here and there.

In the second season, the extended story arcs begin, and by the third season, the show becomes positively addicting. The procedural elements are slowly, season by season, eclipsed by the underlying story of The Machine itself, the dangerous bureaucracy around it, and the battle with a rival AI. It’s tremendous fun.

Normally, I’d suggest skipping ahead so you could jump to the fun stuff, but I already tried that myself. As the show was airing, people in my timeline were praising the second season so I tried to jump in at the third. It didn’t work. PoI trades on the relationships between the characters formed over the previous two seasons, and without that background, it’s hard to care. If you’re tempted to watch this, don’t skip ahead.

I know that sounds like weak praise. “It gets good after [X] episodes” is the death song of many a Netflix show. But the early episodes are very good. The later seasons are fantastic. 

I just wrote way more about this show than I intended.

On Netflix until 9/22. If you’ve never seen it, it’ll take a mighty binge to finish it before then. Me, I have the last four episodes set aside for tonight. 

Before that: The Legend of Korra

I originally let this show pass by because I heard good and bad things about it. Fans liked/hated the main character. They hated that Aang, as a grownup, made mistakes and was not the greatest father in the world/or they were comfortable with that level of fallibility. They loved/hated the pseudo-steampunk setting. They loved/hated the way the show expanded the magic and world-building. So I wasn’t in any rush to watch this.

Honestly, I don’t understand what people are complaining about. I thought it was genius, and I’m currently re-watching it with my wife (one episode a day, as I mentioned above).

It’s gorgeous. It’s funny. The fight scenes are inventive, which is no small feat over so many episodes. Korra herself is flawed in the best way, making the show inherently more complicated and interesting than the original (even if it isn’t as charming). I loved it. 

Of course, the ending of the series is famous now. I knew the final scene where Korra and Asami head off to start their lives together as a couple was coming, but I didn’t know what to expect. When I saw it, all I could think was, “That was it?” Considering the attention that ending got, overwhelmingly but not exclusively positive, I thought for sure there’d be a kiss or something. Maybe just the two characters leaning toward each other, fade to black before their lips touch. 

Nope. This is the level of representation that LGBQ fans had to be satisfied with back in 2014. Just six years ago, it was considered brave and groundbreaking. 

I probably should have watched this before I watched She-Ra. 

Coming up next time: Burn Notice and Veronica Mars

Also, One Man is currently the Kindle Monthly Deal. If you read ebooks and think you’d enjoy a high fantasy crime thriller, check it out. 

One Man is the Kindle Monthly Deal, now only $1.99

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Keeping this one short, because there’s not much to say:

One Man is a Kindle Monthly Deal for September. It’s only $1.99.

It’s a dark crime thriller in a dark fantasy setting, and I think it’s the best thing I ever wrote.

The description:

One Cursed City. Two Dead Gods. Ten Thousand Murderers and Thieves. One Orphaned Girl.

As a child, Kyrioc was groomed to be the head of one of the most powerful noble families in Koh-Salash, a city built inside the skeletons of two murdered gods. Kyrioc himself dreamed of becoming head of the High Watch, the highest political position in the land.

Those dreams have turned to dust.

Presumed dead after a disastrous overseas quest, Kyrioc now lives in a downcity slum under a false name, hiding behind the bars of a pawnshop window. Riliska, a nine-year-old pickpocket who sells stolen trinkets to his shop, is the closest thing he has to a friend.

When a criminal gang kills Riliska’s mother and kidnaps the little girl, Kyrioc goes hunting for her.

He doesn’t care about the forbidden magic the gangs are fighting over–the severed ear of a glitterkind, a creature whose flesh contains astonishing healing powers. He doesn’t care about the bloody, escalating gang violence. He doesn’t care about the schemes of power-hungry nobles.

In a raging city on the verge of civil war, Kyrioc only wants to save his friend. He will risk anything for her, even awakening the powers that murdered the gods so long ago.

“One Man is a superbly realised story set in a rich and fascinating world. The horror grips, the fantasy delights and the characters remain vivid and real to the end. I bet there’s more to come, and I will be reading it.” — Justina Robson

 

Cover for One Man

Get your copy here.

And please spread the word, if you can.