Not a Hoax! Not a Dream!


This issue, an X-Man dies!

They didn't use that cover line, as they didn't want to give it away, but at the risk of spoiling something thirty five years old, One Comic spends some time with the issue that gave the world the (first) death of Jean Grey: Uncanny X-Men 137. Double-sized and ending a story years in the making, this is one of the most famous Marvel comics of all time. But how does it hold up? And how much difference does the editorially-mandated change to the ending make?

And to round things out, we consider the best and worst of the X-Men retcons - mostly the worst, because they're all pretty bad.

Extended Memory: Captain Bible in the Dome of Darkness

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 12.04.54 PM

Game: Captain Bible in the Dome of Darkness (1994)
Developer: Bridgestone Multimedia Group
Original platform: DOS

I grew up in the Catholic Church, which feels exactly as an old religion should – austere, towering, kinda spooky. It’s got incense and chanting and gilded human bones. As a kid, mass was an experience that teetered between abject boredom and divine intimidation. There was nothing fun about it, nor should there have been. This was God’s House, and that meant serious business.

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Review Round-up: Planes, Fruit, Rags and Lions

Four oldish treats from the 1950s and 1960s. I suppose they're all sort of joined up by being "thrillers" in unconventional settings. But that's pretty spurious - they're really joined up by being four books that caught my eye recently; there's not much more pattern than that.

High CitadelHigh Citadel (1965), by Desmond Bagley, is a nice combination of survivalist horror and siege-porn. A small plane carrying a motley group of passengers is hijacked, and makes a crash-landing in the Andes. It turns out one of the passengers is politically important (the ex-President of a mythical South American country) and a group of Communist insurgents are keen to see him disposed of and out of the way.

But the Commies didn't count on American derring-do! The plane's captain, a former POW in Korea, shrugs off his burgeoning alcoholism and assembles the remaining passengers into a rag-tag group of freedom fighters. It is more fun (and less preachy) than it seems, as the team defend their mountain perch with a combination of medieval and jury-rigged weapons. And, in parallel, others try the murderous march over the mountains to get help - but with almost no supplies.

Although it tries, this isn't exactly a soaring novel of human triumph - the characters are mostly one-dimensional and the situation escalates far past the ability to suspend disbelief. But the detail is enjoyable, in a Robinson Crusoe Goes to War kind of way.

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Weirdness Rodeo

Star Wars

Pornokitsch is a producer of cat-related tweets that occasionally reviews

Scott Meslow on how Star Wars is a merchandise franchise that occasionally makes films:

In what might well be the single largest financial blunder in Hollywood history, 20th Century Fox allowed George Lucas to retain all the licensing and merchandising rights to Star Wars in exchange for a $500,000 directorial fee. In 2014, the overall value of the Star Wars franchise was estimated at $37 billion, with Episodes VII, VIII, and IX on the way — along with a slew of spin-offs — it will soon be worth much more. One research firm estimates that sales of Star Wars merchandise could exceed $5 billion in 2016 alone. That's more than the combined global grosses of every single Star Wars movie that has ever hit theaters — including several rounds of re-releases.

I've written about transmedia storytelling in the past - predominantly in regards to the convergence of books and RPGs - but there's something wonderful about the way this forces us to shift our perceptions. We associate particular properties with a particular media channel, but that is very often a complicated blind. To some degree, this happens every time a film is made: as much as readers pretend to have a sort of droit du seigneur, more people see the movie (or TV show) than read the books. There are a few exceptions (I'd love to crunch the numbers for Harry Potter or Tolkien), but not many. (And others, say, James Bond, where the secondary media - film - has unabashedly become the primary media with the passage of time.)

Marvel is a film studio that makes comics. Hell, four million people (including me!) play the Marvel click-farming Avengers Alliance game on Facebook. Maybe Marvel is an app producer that occasionally captures cut scenes as comic books. He-Man, famously, is a toy company that makes cartoons. Batman is a logo that appears on t-shirts, backpacks, wallets, duvets, children's kitsch and... sometimes... a superhero. And, now, Star Wars is a line of merchandise - with high-profile, long form video content marketing. Makes the whole Extended Universe debate a bit moot, doesn't it? Is your lunchbox canon?!

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Friday Five: 5 Noteworthy Pocket Books Star Trek Novels


There have been a lot of Star Trek novels over the years, from a number of publishers, dealing with every iteration of the franchise (yes, even the animated series) as well as many that fit no existing bracket.

Among the various pieces of thinly-disguised fanfic, the (surprisingly few) direct sequels to TV episodes, the attempts to do hard sci-fi that don’t quite work, and the inevitable attempts at inter-genre crossovers, there are some that I would call ‘noteworthy’ for one reason or another. Note that this is not always synonymous with ‘good’. Picking five from all of the possible options (even had I read them all) would probably be impossible, so I’m going to restrict myself to the Original Series novel range published by Pocket Books from 1979 to around 1990, at which point I stopped reading them as religiously as I had previously. 

Listed in no particular order:

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Pompidou Posse by Sarah Lotz

Pompidou PosseFreedom's just another word for nothing to lose.

And with that, Janis Joplin captures the beautiful/painful dichotomy of Sarah Lotz's Pompidou Posse. Vicki and Sage are seventeen and practically drowning in freedom. After an incident (fire, building, art college), the two friends make the only 'rational' decision: they run away to Paris. Armed with Pet Semetary, some 2000AD comics, a few of their favourite sculptures and, of course, their boots, the duo head to the city of love to find themselves. They're young, they're artistic; they've got enough money for at least two bottles of cheap wine... and, plus, they're together. What else do they need?

As it turns out: quite a bit. 

Pompidou Posse oscillates between the joy and the agony of perpetual freedom. Vicki and Sage are responsible to no one and to nothing; their anarchic existence is purely about scraping together enough money for wine, shelter and the occasional shower. Any excess is spent on, well... more wine (or other addictions). This is freedom: they're making art, they're making friends, and they're living beholden to no one.

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The Music of Nashville: TV's Only Country Fantasy Epic.

It’s not secret that I love Nashville. Hell, it seems to me like the half the SF/F community does too: it’s a fantastic country epic fantasy.

What makes Nashville such a great show isn’t the fast paced storylines or the addictive, soap opera style cliffhangers, intense relationships or the glamorous cast with gorgeous clothes and fantastic hair, or even the music itself. What makes it great is that it is essentially about two complex, intriguing, ambitious women, their careers and their relationship with their art. 

"Postcard from Mexico"

Created by Callie Khouri, who is perhaps best known for having written the screenplay for Thelma & Louise, Nashville is very much a show about two adult women whose main conflict isn't with each other (no cat fights here, just well timed snark), but with those who stand in the way of their careers and their independence. Complete control over their lives, that’s all they want. Why must it be so difficult? Well, because that makes for good songs along the way.

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Weirdness Rodeo


Self-publishing [Blue] vs Kindle publishing [Orange] vs Indie publishing [Red]

Has self-publishing peaked? I was initially surprised to see the slow decline on Google Trends, but then I realised that it may just be a matter of terminology. It isn't that self-publishing is in decline, it is that 'self-publishing' is.

My first guess was the rise of 'indie publishing', but despite the phrase's advocates, it doesn't seem to be taking off to any great extent. ('Independent publishing' has been in use for years, and has a different meaning.)

In fact, 'kindle publishing' seems to be the culprit - that term established itself only a few years ago, yet is already threatens to overtake 'self-publishing'. Which is one of the scariest signs of Amazon's industry dominance I've ever seen: the actual verb of publishing is becoming Amazon branded.

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Friday Five: 5 Best Deaths in Fantasy


Two things you need to know about this week's Friday Five:

1) It is written by Saad Hossein, author of Escape from Baghdad!which is easily one of the best books of 2015 - a brilliantly farcical romp that's like a contemporary fantasy version of Catch 22. Spectacular stuff. Saad also has a story in the brand-new The Apex Book of World SF 4, so, you know, there you go.

2) As you might guess from the title, ZOMG TEH SPOILERZ. Harry Potter, Sandman, the Mahabhrata, Malazan and the Broken Empire are all very much spoiled in this post. So, you know, click on, but don't say I didn't warn you. (If you're fussed about spoilers, just go mosey off yonder and get a head start on Escape! instead.)

And with no further ado, over to Saad...

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Fiction: "Killing Time" by Jennifer Moore


On the day Death came calling for her, Antonia Priver had already left. Clothes shopping, as usual.  Unfortunately, given the ever-increasing weight of his workload, Death had barely had time to skim through her case notes that morning, let alone analyse her spending habits. He’d clocked her age and address and committed her photo to memory (there’d be hell to pay if he took the wrong client by mistake) but the detailed lists of likes and dislikes had rather fallen by the wayside.

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