Monday, October 31, 2022

Book Review: What Moves The Dead by T. Kingfisher

"What Moves The Dead" by T. Kingfisher 

"I did not know how to deal with this sort of death, the one that comes slow and inevitable and does not let go. I am a soldier, I deal in cannonballs and rifle shots. I understand how a wound can fester and kill a soldier, but there is still the initial wound, something that can be avoided with a little skill and a great deal of luck. Death that simply comes and settles is not a thing I had any experience with." 

"Headache is always preferable to heartache, and if you’re focusing on not throwing up, you aren’t thinking about how the friends of your youth are dying around you."

"I am not the solider I was. None of us are what we were." 

Alex Easton is a retired lieutenant who hasn't heard from Madeline Usher or her twin brother Roderick for many years. When a letter arrives from Madeline, expressing she believes she is dying and wishes for Alex to come visit, Alex is unsure what to expect. Upon arrival at the Usher mansion it becomes quite clear the house is in terrible shape. Seemingly rotting from the inside out, the land doesn't appear much better. The only thing worse is the state that Alex finds Madeline and Roderick in. Both are emaciated and substantially ill but Roderick won't travel without his sister and Madeline is in no state to do so. 

Weirder than the house is the fungi that grow about and the hares that limp around. Even the lake appears to glow. 

Alex is certain this strangeness knows no bounds, until the dead begin to move. And what moves the dead you may ask? Only Madeline seems to know. 

Poe has been a lifelong love of mine which made me leary to read this retelling. I wondered how anyone could write the story about the Usher's better than Poe did. While this story touches on much of the original, it also stands on its own. 

I thought the inclusion of a non binary character to this story was incredibly unique. Even more unique than Alex's character are the original sets of pronouns that are discussed in the book. This was wonderfully done and not at all what I was expecting. 

The fungi descriptions and explanations are everything that I didn't know I was missing from Poe's original. The mushrooms offer a very scientific explanation for the sickness that has overrun the Usher's and their mansion and I appreciated so much that this author chose to give us the ending we didn't receive in Poe's story, as many who have read it know that its ending is very open ended. 

Both the hares and the fungi reminded me deeply of Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland", which is another favorite classic of mine. I felt such disbelief and wonder at the same time while reading Alex's experience inside the mansion. The Gothic type setting and language and the nod to Hamlet were especially my favorite. It's definitely made me reconsider the DNF choice I made in regards to "Mexican Gothic". I might have to give it one more try. 

Also, once you read this book, nothing beats its title. I love that moment in a book when you realize why it's called what it is and this story's realization is both stunning and disturbing. It deserves to be read an entire second time. 

Thursday, October 27, 2022

5 Podcasts Perfect for Halloween
 There's a long back story that has to do with the pandemic and me losing my ability to sit still and focus on traditional written media for long stints. Lounging around with a book was something I used to enjoy but don't so much anymore.  I still love books and stories but found I do better with audio books and podcasts because I can consume stories while also doing a busy activity such as chores, exercise, or crochet.

My developing affection for audiobooks also lent to me becoming more interested in podcasts. Well... that and my basic-middle-age-white-lady fondness for true crime. I became really familiar with the world of podcasting in my time as Associate and then Assistant Editor at Cast of Wonders, a young adult, speculative fiction podcast. But it was really over this past year that I found my podcast groove and started expanding my personal collection of favorite shows.  Today I want to share a few (five, to be specific) of my favorite podcasts that I think are a perfect fit for the most Spooktacular holiday on our American calendar: Halloween!

For a few reasons, I generally listen to my podcasts on the Stitcher platform, but the links I'm sharing below should lead you to the podcast's general website where you can find your favorite platform such as Spotify or Apple Podcasts.


"These are the stories of impossible encounters with impossible creatures in the wildest corners of North America. A wolf man with bat wings thirty feet across. An enormous eel in America’s most popular lake. A frog half the size of a man. Something terrible that howls in the Ozark nights. We’ll travel the country, sit around campfires and talk about that thing that ran across the trail in the middle of the night, just beyond the beam of your flashlight. Come closer to the fire. Let’s hear the next legend."

At a superficial level, it would seem these are pretty run of the mill stories, but if you listen to them in the dark, at night, when you're winding down for bedtime...well, if you let your imagination run wild a bit, then these stories are good for a little thrill without being too terrifying. This would be a great podcast for a family, but I've been enjoying them on my own as a perfectly rational adult who is not too afraid of the dark...most or the time.


Monster in the Mirror will be a limited series by CUNY English professor, Lucas Kwong, presented by my favorite political podcast, Straight White American Jesus (aka SWAJ).

The regular hosts are Bradley Onishi and Daniel Miller, two ex-evangelical ministers who are now religion scholars and liberal political commentators. For Halloween, they've invited Lucas Kwong to host a limited series for SWAJ  on the "gothic genesis of Christian nationalism in late Victorian fantastic fiction."  The first episode will air on October 31st, so maybe it's unfair to list it as a favorite, but I generally enjoy everything SWAJ produces so I expect this new series to be both fun and informative and maybe a little scary, too, considering the growth of Christian Nationalism in American politics.


I mentioned earlier, and in previous posts, about my time serving on the editorial staff of Cast of Wonders. Well, Pseudopod is Cast of Wonders' creepy, tentacled sibling that specializes in short horror fiction in audio format. They've been around for a decade, so they've produced A LOT of stories, but for new listeners, they've assembled a list of thirteen episodes that show off the strength and diversity of their offerings: 

But of course I  suggest that you start off your Pseudopod journey by listening to "Laughter Among the Trees" by Suzan Palumbo, a ghost story of sorts, hosted by yours truly:


 "Old Gods of Appalachia is an eldritch horror fiction podcast set in an Alternate Appalachia, a world where these mountains were never meant to be inhabited. This world feels eerily similar to the hills and hollers we’ve grown up with, but there are some tell-tale differences. Names of towns and counties may be altered. Historical events slide forward or backward in time. And then, of course, there are the monsters..."

A few weeks ago, an account on Twitter called Bookish Sea Witch had this to say about the Appalachian Mountains:
As someone with deep connections to Appalachia, I MUST agree with the points that the podcast and this tweeter were making. You don't venture into those hills and hollars without eventually getting a sinister feeling. Yeah, maybe they're not as tall as the Rockies, but Appalachia has been around and it has  SEEN some things, and The OLD GODS OF APPALACHIA does a great job of capturing that eldritch atmosphere.

"The Magnus Archives is a weekly horror fiction anthology podcast examining what lurks in the archives of the Magnus Institute, an organisation dedicated to researching the esoteric and the weird. Join new head archivist Jonathan Sims as he attempts to bring a seemingly neglected collection of supernatural statements up to date, converting them to audio and supplementing them with follow-up work from his small but dedicated team.

Individually, they are unsettling. Together they begin to form a picture that is truly horrifying because as they look into the depths of the archives, something starts to look back…"

I learned about The Magnus Archives and Rusty Quill from some of the folks associated with Escape Artists, the parent company that owns and produces Cast of Wonders and Pseudopod (and Escape Pod and Podcastle and Cats Cast). The Magnus Archives is not affiliated with nor is an Escape Artists product, but they shared some voice talent, which is how I learned about it. Anyway, this is a fun anthology of stories, but one of the best parts is that it's complete. So you can binge the whole thing from beginning to end right now!

So, that should be enough horror content to fill out not only your Halloween, but maybe the rest of your year! Give them a listen if you have a little time, alone, at night, maybe sitting by the campfire... Or maybe in the middle of the day when the sun is brightest and your house or car or office is full of nice, safe, people to help protect you from your fears. Happy Halloween, y'all!

Monday, October 24, 2022

Merrimack Valley Halloween Book Festival Autopsy

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

Hey, kids!

I had a very bad week last week (I may talk about that in a future post) so this actually feels like ancient history, but a little over a week ago I attended a brand-new-to-me event, the stunning Merrimack Valley Halloween Book Festival in Haverhill, MA!  (Forgive me if I informally refer to it mostly as "Haverhill" from here out.)

Haverhill has largely been the brainchild of author Christopher Golden, and is a one-day event.  I rarely do one-day events, and almost never travel for them, but Haverhill is legendary in the horror community at this point for being well worth the effort.  I managed to finagle a half-day slot this year, which gradually expanded into a full day-slot at the half-day table after a few inevitable cancellations.

So, fellow central PA stalwart Wesley Southard and I hopped in the car around 7:30 am on Friday morning and buckled in for our seven plus hour drive to Massachusetts.  

We tackled all of the important questions on the ride up of course: Penny or Bernadette, is "Jersey Mike's" just called "Mike's" in New Jersey, why is everyone so pissed off about "Halloween Ends," and so forth.  Then, an exciting sign post!

That's right!  "That" Tarrytown, New York.  A perfect portent for some Halloween shenanigans in the Northeast.

We stopped briefly in Connecticut and then arrived in Massachusetts around 4:00 or 5:00 pm.  I haven't actually been to Massachusetts since probably my visit to Plymouth Rock in fifth grade.  (As far as I can recall from when I was eleven, the state hasn't changed a bit.)  So, naturally we did what everyone does when coming to New England for the first time: went out and got Mexican.

The event started bright and early (who even knew there was a 10:00 "in the morning?") so we headed over to Haverhill Public Library to set up right after continental breakfast.  (And in case you're wondering: yes, it was extra continental.)

As I mentioned, I was at the half-day table, but for the whole day, so I got to spend the first four hours hanging out with Erin Underwood, who I admire for her efforts to try to bring sci-fi and fantasy back to the playhouse.  Erin also runs BosCon in Boston, so I was happy to familiarize her with a few of the people present such as "that guy with the huge line" (Jonathan Janz.)  Then I spent the back half of the day with John Durgin, who is making big waves with his debut, THE CURSED AMONG US.  And I also got to spend the whole day sitting next to Clay McLeod Chapman on the other side, who some of you will remember from Christian's interview right here on ATB a few weeks back.

I was very excited to get to see some superfans I've never met in person!  First, Erica Robyn stopped by and had to check her list (I didn't much care if she checked it twice) to see which books of mine she didn't yet own.  I told Durgin if he was smart he'd make friends with her, because Erica will be your biggest promoter imaginable online.

Then I got to meet some of the Books of Horror denizens in real life.  First, Donna.

Then, Spike and Steph.

I'll go by my usual blogging rules and not "out" anybody who isn't a public figure, but suffice it to say that all three of these lovely folks are major contributors to BoH and the rest of the indie horror stratosphere.  I sent Spike with a big sloppy Roman kiss to visit our good friends Aron Beauregard and Daniel J. Volpe who were vending down in Monstah Mania the next day, but I never did hear if that was ever delivered.  Ah, well, I guess I'll follow up next time I see them in person.

I also got to see Char of Char's Corner of Horror, but I'm not sure if we got selfies, or, at least, I haven't seen them online yet.  (Yes, I know, I should probably take some photos of my own at these events, but I just never remember.  Be happy you got the Beastie Boys pastiche.)  In any case, Char was a huge booster for the "Summer of SKINWRAPPER" in particular, and of my work in general, so that was another Haverhill highlight for me.

Around 12:30 I broke for my only panel of the day, "Extreme Horror" with Eric LaRocca, Wes, Michael Seidlinger, and Jonathan Janz.  Several people told me it was their favorite panel of the entire festival, and considering we had to go up against a rolling convoy beeping in support of a teacher's strike right outside, I'm surprised that was the case.  But maybe the regular honking kept us all from bloviating on too long and broke up the tension, so maybe it all worked out in the end.  In any case, it was easy for me to moderate, I just had to make the connection between the audience's questions and the panelists' (except Wes) boundless knowledge.

Overall, sales were robust (read: "dollar dollar bills, y'all!") and I'm glad I did finally sit down to write this autopsy, because it reminded me to make a donation to the library.  They were hosting us free of charge, after all, and public libraries are vital to the entire reading ecosystem, and Haverhill Public Library is a particularly nice one.

We packed our now much lighter crates into Wes's car and headed to the after party.  Wes and I sat down initially with Michael Clark and ordered some beers (or, in Wes's case, apple juices.)  We were soon joined by Rio Youers and Sadie Hartmann (aka "Mother Horror.")  I'd never met Sadie before, but she was also a big booster of SKINWRAPPER and THE PERFECTLY FINE HOUSE in the early days of both of those releases, and it was great to finally meet her.  I actually think I'm the first person she ever interviewed, so that's probably how I'll earn my footnote when Grady Hendrix writes the history of this era in horror.

Now I have met Rio before, and we spent a long time going back and forth about the pros and cons of traditional publishing, and I felt like I had to act as a translator between Wes and Rio, having dipped my foot in both the indie and traditional realms at one time or another.  But hopefully everyone was a bit clearer on all of the asymmetrical ways that accountants can fuck over authors in both massive and tiny settings.  Rio also prepared me for the trip I'll be making next year to Kayleigh's wedding in Cardiff.  He advised me that everyone in Cardiff spends all of their time fighting, and that there will probably be three or four fights during the wedding itself, so I am looking forward to some Dothraki-style nuptials next year.

We were soon joined by Josh Malerman, Cat Scully, and a new person to me, Olaf Buchheim of Cemetery Dance Germany.

I've never met Olaf before, but I told Sadie and Rio how I'd reached out to German-language publishers in the past, hoping that my background as a Germanist might make a difference to them, but had always received a firm "Not for our lists right now" back.  But, then introductions were made and I attempted to dust off my German, which I probably haven't spoken regularly since I quit translating at the company that inspired BILLY AND THE CLONEASAURUS over a decade ago.  Hopefully I didn't make too big of a fool of myself.  I did at least get to dust off my old "Herr Stefan" chestnut.  

See, at the American company I used to work at, our script always had us introduce ourselves by our first name, but Germans always introduce themselves by their last name, sometimes without even a "Herr" or "Frau" in front, so I always ended up halfway through conversations being addressed as "Herr Stefan" instead of "Herr Kozeniewski" and by that point it was too embarrassing to correct anybody.

Perhaps you had to be there.

In any case, we all had a lovely time and I can't wait until next year.  Thanks to everybody that came out and I'll see you all back here same time next month!

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Google Search: Halloween

I don't have much to say this time around. 

At first, I was wondering if I should do a google search about google search, to basically explain what's changed regarding search and search engine optimization. How so many businesses depend on it more than ever, and how the algorithm landscape has changed as Google's become even more dominant than ever before. 

Then, I realized, I don't think people super care about that.  Halloween is just around the horizon. And I should probably be focusing on that instead...

I should stress that Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. Yet this year, I'm not entirely thrilled or in the spooky mood for Halloween. I think the world has become a bit of a scary enough place on its own. I'm also not seeing too many great Halloween-themed series. Minus some TV series such as Dahmer, and I guess if we're going there, The Midnight Club (though I think Midnight Mass was infinitely better). 

I'm at a bit of an end regarding what to say. Because I was assigned a google search, and so I figured, why not just see what shows up on my first five search trends, as a way of fulfilling that I did something posted on here regarding google search, while also, having celebrated the spooky scaries. 

So here goes.

Halloween Ends:    

The newest and final horror movie in the Halloween series. I don't really know what happens, but also... I don't really care? I do find it strange that Mike Myers has failed to kill his teenage sister 50 almost fifty years later. I also find it strange, given how many times he's been shot and stabbed and blown up to kingdom come, that he doesn't have some sort of arthritis or health problems? He doesn't seem like a person who's in good health given he probably has, for likely the entirety of his life, chased a singular idea. So I can't imagine he's too good up there.  

Halloween Costumes:

I've actually never really bought costumes before as an adult. I sort of stopped in my childhood and in college and didn't really attend as many Halloween parties because I was mostly focused on school. I did, however, buy one for comic-con recently, where Mary Fan and I dressed up as Boba Fett and Fennec. Which was neat.

Halloween Date:

I don't have one but I do plan on being at DerpyCon, which will be my last convention of this year. I also haven't told most people yet but there's a pretty good chance it's my last convention for a while, as I'm sort of doing a life change pretty soon.

Halloween Kills:

Is another Halloween movie that came out, I believe, just last year? Whereas 2021 made sense given everyone's reluctance to be a person again, 2022 is completely different in that I think everyone is mostly all for going back to normal. Besides that, I just know of it as yet another Halloween sequel in the series.

Halloween Movies:  

There are a couple of good ones out right now such as Smile, Nope, Werewolf by Night, The Watcher, Bodies, Bodies, Bodies, and Prey (technically a horror movie). In terms of revenue, horror is absolutely slaying it as the low-cost and high-profit margins make it a pretty solid genre, despite the lack of accolades. Still... I wonder when we'll get a real true horror movie that wins an Oscar again. 

And that's all I have. I'll try and do something stuffier for Thanksgiving.




Monday, October 17, 2022

Back-Jacket Hack-Job - FIRESTARTER by Stephen King

Happy October everyone! And in advance, Happy Halloween! What a great month.. I love this season - the change in weather, the decorations, the colours - it's one of my greatest loves. Most of all, I love that everyone and their pearl-clutching mother knows that this is the month for horror, so here I am with a Back-Jacket Hack-Job of another Stephen King book.

FIRESTARTER... what a classic!

Charlie McGee just won't stop setting fires.

When her parents betray the Government faction - The Shop - that they volunteered for in the first place, things go south and Charlie's mum gets herself killed. Instead of doing the honorable thing, her dad irresponsibly takes off with his daughter, to live on the run forever rather than face the consequences of his selfish actions. The Shop is concerned about Charlie.. and they should be.

She is no ordinary child... she is a child with Hell itself in her eyes! Imagine the average kid having a tantrum... now imagine the tantrum with added flames. Charlie doesn't get her way? FIRE! Charlie can't have that snack before dinner? PREPARE TO GET TOASTY! Charlie misunderstands the intentions of the nice Government agents? BLAZING INFERNO!

Can this little devil ever be stopped? Will The Shop manage to stomp out those terrifying, unruly embers? Find out in FIRESTARTER.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

10 Creature Features from the Last 10 Years

 Spooky season is here! What better way to celebrate then by binge watching horror movies? My particular genre of choice is the classic Creature Feature. Something about an animal or beast menacing people just brings the primal fear out of all of us. There are many classics - JAWS, King King, Cujo...the list goes on, but there are several unique new monsters joining the ranks in the last ten years that I thought deserved some recognition. Here are 10 of my recent favorites.


The Ritual

 The Ritual UK poster.png

A bunch of hikers in Sweden get more than they bargain for when they come across some freaky Nordic runes, animal sacrifices, and strange villagers who worship an ancient God known as Modor. This monster is one of the freakiest things ever imagined. It really goes beyond description, and is really unsettling.


Nope (film) poster.jpg

A brother and sister who own a horse breeding ranch begin to see strange things in the sky. Their horses start going missing, and odd occurrences around the farm lead them to believe they are being watched by an alien space craft. Jordan Peele outdoes himself with this one. It's a unique take on the classic alien visitor story. The ending is unexpected, and the slow burn suspense had me clutching my seat.



I love a good animal attack movie, mostly because it can and does happen in real life. Beast follows a widowed father and his two daughters on a trip to Africa gone wrong. They are stalked and terrorized by a pissed off lion that has lost his entire pride to poachers. The CGI in this is on point, and the brutal man vs. beast story line is awesome if you love watching nature get revenge.



This one got a lot of hype, and for good reason. The last couple of Predator movies were a bit of a wash, but this new concept worked extremely well. In the 1700s, a less evolved Predator lands in the old west and starts hunting down a group of Comanches and fur trappers. The main character, Naru, uses mainly her wits to fight back, and the result is a heart-pounding success.



Pennywise, the evil dancing clown and titular character, is holding one red balloon, with Georgie Denbrough, the yellow raincoat boy, is walking into It. The background, clouds, air and the road are all black and grey.

 Though this is a remake based on the well known Stephen King novel, It doesn't disappoint. It is actually two movies, Chapter 1 & 2, and I like to focus on Chapter 1, since I found it to be far more terrifying and downright brutal. An evil being from another dimension takes the form of a clown called Pennywise, and literally feeds on the fear and suffering of children. If It doesn't get you sweating, nothing will.


 Krampus poster.jpg

Okay, so technically this is a Christmas movie, but it works equally well for Halloween. Based on the German anti-Santa demon who punishes bad children at Christmas, this story has a really dark take. It's also funny, so if you like sick humor, this is a good one for you. The ending stuck with me for a long time after this one.

A Quiet Place

 A Quiet Place film poster.png

Aliens that hunt by sound have taken over the world, and this movie follows the story of one family as they try to survive in utter silence. The whole movie is one long held breath. It's bloody, its disturbing, and it's a unique concept of the alien invader story. There are some pretty shocking and cringe-worthy moments.

The Monster

 The Monster poster.jpg

 Okay, so the actual monster in this movie is kind of hokey, but the story set-up around the arrival of the creature is horrific in and of itself. It follows the story of a mother and daughter with a chaotic relationship who get stranded in the woods on the side of the road. A terrifying unexplained creature begins to stalk them, and they have to rely on each other for survival. This one is a bit triggering. It deals with substance abuse, child abuse, and other touchy subjects.



Werewolf movies are always a go-to for me. When I learned of Wer, I was on it in a heartbeat, and surprisingly, I wasn't disappointed. A lot of werewolf movies are hokey and kind of silly, but this one is stone serious and reveals the curse of the werewolf as a sort of genetic disease that doesn't cause a transformation in the traditional sense. I actually screamed at a few of the jump scares, and that's hard to do to me nowadays. 




I didn't know what to expect with Antlers. I had a feeling it had to do with a Wendigo, which it did. But most of the horror comes from what happens around the Wendigo's arrival. It deals with mental illness, neglect, bullying, and other real life subjects, and the horror aspect of it is really hard to watch. If you like your horror on the disturbing side, you'll enjoy this one.

Monday, October 10, 2022

Going to NYCC as Press

Hey everyone! Mary here, and forgive me for being a bit scattered... I've written five articles in four days while also attending New York Comic Con (and I still have one more interview to transcribe and article-ize...). That might not sound like a lot to some people, but oof, it's a lot for me! Over the summer, I started writing for culture website The Workprint, just for fun. And then we got press passes to New York Comic Con, and I couldn't say no.

Last year, I was at NYCC as part of Artist Alley, and let me tell you, they worked us hard. Artist Alley was open from 10AM to 8PM Thursday through Saturday, and to 5PM on Sunday. That's a lot of hours. The more famous artists and writers dip in and out as they please, knowing their adoring fans will return (and their tables were complimentary). Those of us who are unknown and also paid hundreds for our table? Every moment spent away represents a lost opportunity, because you never know who might've bought your stuff because they talked to you and liked your face (we call them "I like your face" sales). So you work that entire 10-hour shift.

Going to NYCC as press, then? LUXURIOUS by comparison. I could roll in at noon, attend a panel, retreat to the press lounge to transcribe quotes, go shopping if I felt like it, and leave when I was tired. I could eat when I felt like it, and I didn't have to spend every waking moment trying to "engage."

Don't get me wrong... I was still plenty tired. But the difference was, I could retreat. I left the show early one day because a wave of tired hit me. When it hit me in Artist Alley? All I could do was put my head in my lap... then pop up with a smile when someone walked up to our table.

So, what does a gal with her very first press pass to NYCC do? This being my first time as press (and my approval coming quite late and as a surprise), I didn't do a whole lot of planning. Most of the others attended roundtable interviews with creators plugging their work, or special events by brands who'd sent out advance invitations. I applied for one roundtable interview but it ended up getting canceled due to scheduling conflicts.

Being in Artist Alley means being anchored to your table. Having that anchor taken away is... disorienting. When I went to NYCC, Artist Alley was my first stop because it was so familiar, I interviewed some creators, looked around a lot, bought some things... Even after I made it up to the main exhibitor hall, surrounded by distractions, I still felt adrift. What do you mean I can do whatever I want and don't have to sell-sell-sell the whole time??

I ended up cosplaying and hanging out with some friends, just browsing the show floor, in between attending panels / conducting interviews and retreating to the press lounge (I guess that's "home base" when you're press). When I first showed up with my press pass, I thought I'd have to be working the whole time... finding more people to interview or something. But that's not the case. Sure, you have your assignments, but you also get to just be an attendee. Which is really, really nice.

Friday, October 7, 2022

In Praise of Filler

Recently I was watching an episode of the excellent new series, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. It’s the most recent Trek series and a throwback to the original show, and it’s rapidly become one of my favorite shows on TV.

The episode in question - Episode 5, Spock Amok - is a comedic one. The Enterprise is at a star base for repairs, and the crew is off having various low-key adventures. Nurse Chapel is seeing her hookup boyfriend, there’s an Enterprise scavenger hunt, there’s some tense diplomacy, and Spock and his fiancee somehow manage to switch bodies during a mind meld. And it’s a super fun episode, with lots of hijinx! (Spock even comments, “I hate hijinx.” It’s great.)

My mind to your mind...

And then it struck me. As delightful and breezy as this episode was, it did not contribute to an over-arching narrative. If you skipped it, you would not have missed out on any serious plot developments. There was no compulsion to make this fit into a grand plot. There was no need to make this a “ten-hour movie” (a phrase I have come to loathe). Nope, it was a straight-forward one-off episode, where the characters had room to stretch and develop. Is.. is that even allowed these days???

And it was glorious. It was a classic filler episode.

Since the rise of prestige cable, and especially with streaming services, TV structure has changed dramatically. Back when I was a lad, fending off the roaming wooly mammoths with my Trapper Keeper, TV seasons were typically 22 or 24 episodes long on the broadcast networks. With that much time in a season to fill, the so-called “filler” episode became common. 

A filler episode is commonly defined as one where nothing much happens to advance the plot. And that’s not a bad thing! Just like a plot heavy episode can be bad (see: the back half of the Game of Thrones final season), a filler or a breather can be great, if written well. Of course, bad filler makes the fans scream online that “nothing happened this week!!!”

Now that a season of TV is more commonly 13 or 10 or 8 episodes, there really isn’t a lot of room for this. Everything is a push forward to advance the plot. That can lead to some breakneck narratives, but it can also lead to a series where the only reason a character does something is because the plot demands it. (Again, see the back half of the last season of Game of Thrones. No, I’m not obsessed. Stupid King Bran.)

Let’s stick with the Star Trek franchise for an example. Most Next Generation fans will tell you that two of the very best episodes are the Best of Both Worlds, Parts 1 & 2. These are the ones where Captain Picard gets kidnapped by the Borg and assimilated into a half-borg, half-human hybrid to serve as their avatar. The episodes are justifiably praised as tense, exciting, and thrilling. 

I am Locutus of Borg

But what’s also a great episode is the one that came immediately after it, Family. This is literally an episode where the crew of the Enterprise takes a breath. The Enterprise is docked near Earth, which gives the crew a chance to visit their families. Jean-Luc goes to see his brother’s family on the Picard family vineyard in France, Worf’s adoptive parents come to see him, and Dr. Beverly Crusher has to deal with some personal effects of her late husband. 

Compared to the events of the season 3 cliffhanger and the season 4 opener, not a lot happens here. There are no alien attacks, no warp cores overheating. No, it’s just a bunch of people trying to process their traumas and connect with their families. Jean-Luc has to come to terms with the things he did while the Borg were controlling him and reconcile with his prickly brother. Worf accepts that his human parents have unconditional love for him. Beverly has to decide if she wants to play a message for her son that his father recorded before he died. Nothing happens, and yet everything is different. The characters have evolved and changed and grown by the end of 44 minutes, plus commercials. 

These are increasingly rare these days. Back when networks needed an audience to actually park themselves in front of the TV at the same time each week, episodes were more self contained. Audiences couldn’t just catch up on Hulu or binge it all in a weekend, so it was rarer to have a show that demanded you watch every episode from the beginning. (“Oh you missed Episode 1 of Law & Order? Well, episode 326 will make no sense until you see the first 325.”) So there had to be more self-contained episodes, ones that didn’t mention larger plot points. 

It’s kind of a lost art now. One of my all-time favorite shows is The X-Files, and they were masters at mixing the Monster of the Week episodes with ones that advanced the larger alien conspiracy. And if you ask an X-Phile what their favorite episodes are, chances are they’ll tell you it’s one of the self-contained ones that don’t mention aliens, like Clyde Bruckerman’s Final Repose, or Squeeze, or Home, or (my favorite) Humbug, where Mulder and Scully need to investigate a series of bizarre murders around a town a retired sideshow performers in Florida. 

Must have been something I ate... IYKYK

Maybe that is why I was so thrilled to see Spock engaged in some low-key hijinx on Strange New Worlds.  Since that show is very much a throwback to the original Star Trek,it was nice to see them throwback to some classic tv structure as well. Hopefully, a few more shows can follow their lead and give viewers a chance to get to know the characters a little more.

Victor Catano lives in New York City with his wonderful wife, Kim, and his adorable pughuaua, Danerys. When not writing, he works in live theater as a stage manager, production manager, and chaos coordinator. His hobbies include coffee, Broadway musicals, and complaining about the NY Mets and Philadelphia Eagles. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @vgcatano and find his books on Amazon


Monday, October 3, 2022

Book Review: Fang Fiction by LM Kaplin

"Fang Fiction" by LM Kaplin. I was sent my copy in exchange for a honest review. 

This collection surrounds around one theme: vampires. There are eleven stories total, all of them perfect for Halloween. 

Out of these stories I chose a top three: "The Vampire of Notre-Dame", "Free Lunch", and "Factory Farm".

"The Vampire of Notre-Dame" was by far my favorite. It was the most creative take I've ever read on Quasie Moto and Esmerelda. I appreciated that a lesser known Disney story was focused on as well because I feel most times the Disney princesses are who steal the show. "Free Lunch"will guarantee I never look at blood donation the same again and "Factory Farm" was the scariest story of them all. Given today's world, it's not so far fetched to believe one day we'll be the weaker race. 

 The story "Born Again" also has an incredibly disgusting scene involving a tampon and I don't think I'll ever be the same 😅 

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