Looking Forward to 2022

After a fallow year for entertainment in 2020, genre came back with a vengeance in 2021, and 2022 is going to be just as packed with new content.  Here’s what I’m looking forward to:

TELEVISION:

10. WILLOW.  I have a lot of fond childhood memories of the movie, and a very vague memory of reading the sequel novels written by Chris Claremont of X-Men fame.  I’m hoping this will be a big budget and epic follow up.

9. MOON KNIGHT.  I don’t have a particular connection to the character from the comics and it looks like a dark and brooding street level hero, but MCU always does it right.

8. MS MARVEL.  Another street level MCU series but I’m sure it’ll be fun.

7. SHE HULK.  This should be a really interesting mashup between a superhero show and a legal drama/comedy, and with all the returning movie stars, I’m hoping it’s great.

6. SECRET INVASION.  This is my most anticipated MCU show for the year.  Samuel L is back and we’ve got Talos from Captain Marvel as well!  I also enjoyed the comic it’s based on.  I’m really curious to see how this story unfolds since the comic was a huge summer crossover starring the Avengers and a major alien invasion, which this will obviously not be.

5. BOOK OF BOBA FETT.  I always loved Boba Fett so this should be great, though the “replacing Jabba as a crime lord” premise is a little odd.

4. MANDALORIAN S3.  Anticipation is high after the astonishing S2; can they meet that level?

3. ANDOR.  I dearly love Rogue One and I am very excited for a prequel series showing the Rebellion’s black ops unit.

2. OBI WAN.  I didn’t expect to be that excited about this…. until I learned Obi doesn’t just hang out in the desert the entire time, and he fights Hayden Christensen as Vader again!

1. LORD OF THE RINGS.  This could easily end up being a massive disappointment, but LOTR is one of my all time favorite book and movie series.  Hell, I even unironically love the Hobbit movies.  So the chance of seeing Sauron in his physical form corrupting Numenor is extremely exciting for me.

MOVIES:

10. THE BATMAN.  I’m sure it’ll be great, but it’s hard to get terribly excited about the endless Batman reboots.

9. BLACK PANTER 2.  I loved the first one.  But Chadwick is gone, raising a great number of questions about how good the sequel could possibly be.  If the rumors of Namor being the villain are true, I’ll be much more interested.

8. SPIDER-VERSE 2.  The first one is amazing and I can’t wait for more.

7. FANTASTIC BEASTS 3.  As problematic as some behind the scenes aspects of this series are… I still really want to see the Dumbledore vs. Grindlewald war.

6. AQUAMAN 2. The first one was so much better than I could have ever expected, so here’s hoping the sequel can live up to it.

5. THE FLASH. I still can’t believe this movie finally happened.  While I’m not terribly excited about this version of the Flash or yet another Flashpoint adaptation, I am very jazzed over the celebrity guest stars.

4. DR STRANGE 2. I didn’t love the first movie but I did love his subsequent appearances.  Throw in Sam Raimi and Scarlett Witch and America Chavez and who knows what else, and this is destined to be something special.

3. THOR 4. Ragnarok is a stupendously fun movie and Taika is back!  Along with Natalie as Lady Thor!  This is going to be amazing!

2. JURASSIC WORLD 3. Loved the first one.  Hated half of the second one.  But dealing with dinos in America plus the full-time return of the original Jurassic Park cast is going to make this another special crossover nostalgia fest, even moreso than the first one.

1. AVATAR 2.  No, that’s not a joke!  I love the first one.  People dump on it now, but for over a decade it was the highest grossing film in history for a reason.  The story wasn’t terribly original, but the visual splendor remains absolutely mind-blowing.  I also have a particular love for the Pandora land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  Never bet against James Cameron!  He’s got the Midas touch!

Star Wars Books (Disney Era)

This week saw the release of Star Wars: The High Republic: The Fallen Star by Claudia Grey, marking a full year of the High Republic era within the Star Wars publishing franchise.  This imprint has been a real breath of fresh air for the Disney EU.  While it initially sounded very exciting in 2012 with everything being canon and “counting”, as the years went on it quickly became apparent the books and comics were fundamentally nerfed from being consequential since the movies had no pre-planned trajectory.  The books just didn’t have anywhere to go.  But by creating an entire line 200 years before the Prequel Era, the High Republic can tell its own story with importance and consequences.  This is the most invested I’ve been in Star Wars books since 2012.

There have been other good books in the Disney Canon as well though.  Here’s my Top Ten:

10. LOST STARS.  This is a lot of people’s favorite, and it’s well told, but having the story star a pair of background players can only do so much for me.

9. LEIA PRINCESS OF ALDERAAN.  It’s a small YA story but it does a marvelous job of showing how great Leia was even as a teenager.  Also, it made me actually care about Bail Organa and his wife for the first time.

8. MASTER AND APPRENTICE.  A solid Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan pre-TPM adventure.

7. LORDS OF THE SITH.  Honestly I don’t remember this one well but it stars Vader and Palpatine on the run so that’s fun.

6. AHSOKA.  While a small story, Ahsoka is one of my favorite characters and it was wonderful to see her life post Order 66.
5. REBEL RISING.  After seeing Rogue One I was desperate for more Jynn Erso content and this book gives you everything you could ever want.  Her entire life story!

4. BLOODLINE.  Easily the most consequential Sequel Era book or comic, it actually showed us the emergence of the First Order and explained the nature of the New Republic and it’s politics, something the movies never did.  And it’s yet another great showcase for Leia.

3. DARK DISCIPLE.  An adaptation of unfilmed Clone Wars episodes, this actually was a major event of that era and a great story.

2. THRAWN TRILOGY (the new one- no, not the new-new one).  Thrawn is a beloved EU character and getting him re-introduced into the new canon was delightful.  I particularly enjoyed the second book teaming him up with Darth Vader and Prequel Era Anakin and Padme.

1. THE HIGH REPUBLIC.  There are comics, middle grade books, young adult books, and adult books!  I focus mainly on the adult books.  It’s just so great to get an entirely new era and cast set in a time with multiple Jedi.  While I was initially disappointed with the villains being Mad Max space pirates, their leader Marchion Ro has turned out to be a great mystery box.  The other projects also do a good job of rounding out the larger world.  It’s almost like the good old days of the pre-2012 EU all over again!

2021 Year in Review

While in the real world 2021 had all sorts of horrible things happening, including me getting COVID, in the world of fiction it was a pretty great year.  After an entire of year of next to no new content, we were inundated with fresh movies and tv series.  On our last episode of the Sci-Fi Pubcast we went over our favorites for the year, so I thought I’d put it out here as well.

BOOKS:
I can barely remember what I’ve read this year but I think it was mostly older titles.  I do know I finally dove back into Star Trek novels this year in the hopes of catching up.  I was about a decade behind!  The reason was this fall’s release of STAR TREK CODA, a trilogy that forever closes out the serialized continuity running in the books since DS9/VOY/TNG Movies ended.  While some books are better than others, it’s a towering achievement for tie-in fiction.  And unlike the Star Wars Extended Universe (my first love!), this franchise got a proper send-off.  I can’t wait to finally, eventually, get to it.  I’m sure it’s great.

Speaking of franchises ending, on the exact same day as the final Star Trek novel, LEVIATHAN FALLS came out.  The ninth and final chapter of The Expanse series.  I was a slow convert to loving the tv series but it eventually got me into the books.  The tv show is great but the books are even better, and just kept improving.  The closing trilogy was the best of the series, and the final book was one of those rare endings that did not disappoint.  Highly recommended!

Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child released their latest Pendergast book this year, BLOODLESS.  The last several books in this series have been merely good for me, but this was a delightful return to form.  This was the best Pendergast book in years!  It finally dipped back more into the genre content the series began in, after many years of mundane real-world killers.  

TELEVISION:
It was the year of Marvel on Disney Plus and all five (!) shows were solid.  I absolutely loved LOKI.  Not only was it fun, funny, and absolutely crazy with the comic book ideas, it was also a vital piece of the larger MCU.  Never in a million years did I think the overarching villain of the next five years would be introduced in a television show!

WHAT IF? was another pleasant surprise.  I expected an animated series to be less important and not in continuity, but this series was a ton of fun, had great animation, and looks like it’s going to directly feed into future movies.

HAWKEYE was a perfectly charming street-level Marvel show and Kate Bishop was instantly great.  WANDAVISION was a great mystery box that had a lot of fun with the sitcom parodies in addition to telling a wonderful story.  FALCON WINTER SOLDIER was the most traditional series and had a few missteps, but was still a great show.

I want to give a special shout out to the latest (shortened) season of DOCTOR WHO.  Jodi Whittaker has always been a wonderful Doctor, though sadly I found her first season full of very unmemorable stories.  Her second season was a vast improvement, and this final third year was even better.  It told a single serialized story over six hours, full of plots and villains, and it was the best thing the franchise has done since the 50th anniversary movie.  I’m very sad Jodi is leaving after such a short stay, but I am very excited to see Russell T Davies returning as showrunner.  His first four years on the show remain my favorite era.
The final season of THE EXPANSE is great so far.  STAR TREK DISCOVERY and LOWER DECKS have both been great.  Even THE FLASH is doing some of the best work since the Arrowverse peaked with Crisis on Infinite Earths two years ago.

MOVIES:
10. Matrix Resurrections.  I get what the director is going for, but everything about this movie was good but not great for me.  A far cry from my beloved original trilogy.  Yes, I even loved the sequels!

9. Raya and the Last Dragon.  Excellent Disney animated fantasy adventure film.

8. Fast Nine.  I love the Fast movies, but this one didn’t quite do it for me.  I much preferred 5 6 7 8.

7. Ghostbusters Afterlife.  I enjoyed this more than expected.  The new characters were great, the returning characters were great, and the story was a great mix of horror and comedy like the original.  Still, I’d like to see the next movie set in NYC and not a cornfield…

6. Free Guy.  Biggest surprise of the year!  This was a hilarious and delightful action/comedy!

5. Godzilla vs Kong.  I thought Godzilla 2 was a better film over all, but this was still a ton of fun.  I love the idea of a hollow earth filled with titanic monsters and want more from that, but there some parts that were just plain silly.  But we all know what you to go to see a movie like this for.

4. Black Widow.  A solidly entertaining Marvel movie.  Yelena is a wonderful new character.

3. The Suicide Squad.  James Gunn made a hilarious and bloody comic book movie full of delightful characters (so many!) and action.

2. Shang Chi.  Another big surprise.  Marvel is always solid but this one really exceed my expectations on every level.

1. Spider-Man No Way Home.  Wow!  I had high expectations and this movie exceeded them.  A success on every level, an all-timer for the MCU, and the best Spidey movie ever made.

https://scifipubcast.space/scifi-pubcast-46

Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

I talked about the Pendergast series last month, but these two authors have many other excellent novels.

Before Pendergast overtook their careers, they co-wrote some incredibly engrossing thrillers: RIPTIDE, THUNDERHEAD, and THE ICE LIMIT are amazing page turners I have read many, many times. Riptide is a pastisch of the Oak Island Money Pit and every single chapter pulls you in. Thunderhead is about discovering a lost Anasazi cave city out West and the mysterious killers who try to keep it secret. Ice Limit is about an expedition to retrieve a strange meteor from the Arctic Ocean.

There are two co-written series spinning off from the Pendergast series starring Gideon Crew and Nora Kelly respectively. While not as good as the main series, they are still definitely worth a read. I particularly loved THE LOST ISLAND for going full on genre for the first time in years. But the best of all is BEYOND THE ICE LIMIT, a sequel to a novel from 16 (!) years earlier I’d been dying to read.

Of Douglas Preston’s solo works, my favorites would be THE CODEX, IMPACT, and particularly BLASPHEMY. The later is about a particle accelerator test that enables the scientists to speak to an entity claiming to be God. Hi-jinks ensue. The Codex is an old fashioned adventure quest to find a lost treasure buried in South America. Impact is about mysterious meteors hitting the Earth that could wipe out humanity.

Of Lincoln Child’s solo works, my favorites are UTOPIA, DEEP STORM, and the THIRD GATE. Utopia is ‘Die Hard at Disney World’ so that hits all sorts of buttons for me. Deep Storm is an engrossing deep sea thriller about the discovery of an alien artifact at the bottom of the ocean. And Third Gate is a great thriller about discovering an ancient Egyptian tomb that is literally haunted.

My favorite stories by these two authors are invariably the ones that lean into their sci-fi/fantasy sensibilities. When it’s just a mundane killer story, I tend to lose interest, but even those are always expertly written.

Leviathan Falls

Last night I finished the ninth and final book in The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey.

So many series, be it books or movies or television, have disappointing finales. There’s a very short list of good endings to long running series, and this is absolutely in there!

My introduction to The Expanse was the first season of the television series. It didn’t really hold my interest until the very last scene that introduced an alien goo taking over people. Before that it just felt like generic grim-dark sci-fi to me. That ending intrigued me enough to dig into the books… and I immediately fell in love with the story. The second season on of the tv series was of course excellent as well.

What I love about the books in particular is that in the midst of all these sci-fi events and crazy plot twists and conspiracies and battles we had a cast of very down to earth and funny characters. The books are actually pretty damn funny in between the life and death moments. And the story consistently went into unexpected places. Each book fundamentally altered the state of humanity in a major way, steadily taking us from a small little sci-fi noir/conspiracy tale to extra-dimensional dark gods from beyond trying to wipe out humanity. And the evolution was so subtle and well done it never felt out of place.

I won’t go into spoilers on how the series ends, but I found everything about it to be dramatically satisfying. The characters ended up in good places, dramatically speaking. It’s a shame the authors will never return to this franchise outside of a short story in a March collection. I’d love to see where things go from here, but they absolutely left it at the perfect stopping point.

Agent Pendergast Book Series

The vast majority of what I read is SF/F, but one of my all time favorite book series are the Pendergast books by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. The series has been around since 1995 (!) and I’ve been reading for most of that time. It’s a modern day Sherlock Holmes series that’s mostly a detective mystery/thriller, but there are occasional SF/F elements involved. Unfortunately the genre concepts have mostly gone away in the later half of the series to be replaced by serial killers, which of course I’m not as interested in.

There have been a whopping TWENTY books staring Pendergast, not to mention even more spin-off novels, not to mention solo novels by Preston or Child taking place in their own continuities. The first decade of the Lincoln/Child books are stupendous page turners with a heavy X-Files vibe and I’ve read them several times.

I just finished reading the newest entry, BLOODLESS, and I loved it! This is without a doubt the best Pendergast book in almost a decade. It truly felt like a return to form for a series that had increasingly just become generic serial killer tales.

If anyone is interested in an engrossing mystery thriller, I highly recommend this series. It begins with THE RELIC in 1995, which was made into a very disappointing big budget movie that ruins the story. Not only does it completely change the monster in a ridiculous way… it omits Pendergast from the story! The star of the twenty book series! I remember reading this book as a teenager and being absolutely creeped out by the monster. And the premise of a creature stalking the night halls of the NYC Museum of Natural History is such an irresistible idea. (The movie, of course, was set in Chicago instead of NYC!)

The first three books in the series, THE RELIC, RELIQUARY, and CABINET OF CURIOSITIES, are all incredible thrillers. Their first trilogy, BRIMSTONE – DANCE OF DEATH – BOOK OF THE DEAD, are also excellent. I do feel the series never quite hit those highs again, but the middle books are pretty fun. And even the worst Preston and/or Child book is still absolutely worth a read!

Babylon 5 What If?: Four Seasons!

Disclaimer: This will only interest deep seated B5 fans.

Back in the late 90s one of my favorite time wasting mental exercises was reimagining Babylon 5 into different formats to take out some of the lesser episodes in Season 1 and 5, and also to add in intended material from the movies or the original run time. Now that JMS is rebooting the series on the CW in the fall, I took another crack at it. Here’s B5 in four seasons with all the chuffah cut out!

Season One (“The Coming of Shadows”)

  1. The Gathering Part One
  2. The Gathering Part Two
  3. Midnight on the Firing Line
  4. Soul Hunter
  5. The Parliament of Dreams
  6. Mind War
  7. And The Sky Full Of Stars
  8. Deathwalker
  9. Survivors
  10. By Any Means Necessary
  11. Signs and Portents
  12. A Voice in the Wilderness part 1
  13. A Voice in the Wilderness part 2
  14. Babylon Squared
  15. The Quality of Mercy
  16. Chrysalis
  17. Points of Departure
  18. Revelations
  19. The Geometry of Shadows
  20. A Race Through Dark Places
  21. Soul Mates
  22. The Coming of Shadows

Season Two (“Severed Dreams”)

  1. All Alone in the Night
  2. GROPOS
  3. Acts of Sacrifice
  4. Hunter, Prey
  5. There All the Honor Lies
  6. And Now For a Word
  7. Knives
  8. In the Shadow of Z’ha’dum
  9. Confessions and Lamentations
  10. Divided Loyalties
  11. The Long, Twilight Struggle
  12. Comes the Inquisitor
  13. The Fall of Night
  14. Matters of Honor
  15. Convictions
  16. A Day in the Strife
  17. Voices of Authority
  18. Passing Through Gethsemane
  19. Dust to Dust
  20. Messages from Earth
  21. Point of No Return
  22. Severed Dreams

Season Three (“Into the Fire”)

  1. Ceremonies of Light and Dark
  2. A Late Delivery From Avalon
  3. Sic Transit Vir
  4. Ship of Tears
  5. Interludes and Examinations
  6. Walkabout
  7. War Without End, Part One
  8. War Without End, Part Two
  9. Grey 17 Is Missing
  10. And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place
  11. Shadow Dancing
  12. Z’ha’dum
  13. The Hour of the Wolf
  14. Whatever Happened to Mr. Garibaldi?
  15. New Standalone
  16. The Summoning
  17. New Standalone
  18. Falling Toward Apotheosis
  19. The Long Night Part One
  20. The Long Night Part Two
  21. Into the Fire Part One
  22. Into the Fire Part Two

 Season Four (“No Surrender, No Retreat”)

  1. Thirdspace Part One
  2. Thirdspace Part Two
  3. Epiphanies
  4. Atonement
  5. Racing Mars
  6. Moments of Transition
  7. No Surrender, No Retreat
  8. The Exercise of Vital Powers
  9. The Face of the Enemy
  10. Intersections in Real Time
  11. Between the Darkness and the Light
  12. Endgame
  13. Rising Star
  14. The Very Long Night of Londo Mollari
  15. Darkness Ascending
  16. And All My Dreams, Torn Asunder
  17. Movement of Fire and Shadow
  18. The Fall of Centauri Prime
  19. The Wheel of Fire
  20. Call to Arms Part One
  21. Call to Arms Part Two
  22. Sleeping in Light

Dune and Foundation

Glad to hear we are getting a second Dune movie, because the first one really does just abruptly end in the middle of the story.

I definitely enjoyed the movie and it looked gorgeous, but nothing can top the deep level of childhood nostalgia I have for the David Lynch version. It’s just so iconic and weird in every single moment, full of really interesting visual designs and performances. Nothing in this 2021 version made an impact in quite the same way. Shout out to the 2000 SciFi mini-series as well!

I have finished reading the seven book Foundation series. It had its up and downs and was definitely “of its time”. The original trilogy was very clearly 1940s early sci-fi, and the 80s/90s prequels/sequels still had some clunky and problematic elements. Still, it was an interesting read and I didn’t remember anything from reading it as a kid.

My initial excitement for the television series has been dropping off with each episode. It’s so wildly different from the books as to be almost unrecognizable. Which is not in itself a bad thing, but I find some of the creative choices bizarre. Why is half the runtime taken up by the cloned Emperors, characters who do not even exist in the books? I’m guessing it’s because they (and Demerzel) are going to end up being the only characters to survive in future seasons as the timeline jumps forward centuries?

The show is ignoring what to me is the most fascinating aspect of the story, Hari Seldon himself, his life on Trantor, the love of his life, and his mysterious benefactor. That is what the first season should have been focusing on!

Also, the entire conceit of the Foundation series is that the heroes solve their problems non-violently. So to see main characters gunning down enemy soldiers left and right in the show feels like a step against the entire point of the franchise…

I feel the same way about the Y the Last Man television show, which was unfortunately cancelled. It ended up getting further away from the comic as time went on, which is a shame.

Terminus and Terminus

I’ve resumed writing Book Seven (of Fourteen!) of my sci-fi series TERMINUS. At the same I’m also rewriting the series outline and timeline for the first time in ten years. I’m sure I’ll be making some improvements!

Speaking of Terminus, I’m up to reading the seventh and final novel of the Foundation series. I’m still pretty sure I thought of the name Terminus before I ever read this… The books have been interesting but not astounding. I am curious to see how the series ends; I don’t remember it at all except for one big thing.

Speaking of Foundation, I’m afraid I’m losing interest in the television series. I was invested in the Seldon story and he appears to be permanently gone after the second episode. I’m also surprised to find nearly half the runtime occupied by the cloned Emperors, who are not even in the books.

Along a similar line, I’m enjoying the television adaptation of Y the Last Man, but I definitely prefer the comic book.

Writing Update

I reached a major milestone this week. I finished doing a second pass on every single book I’ve ever written. That’s eleven, count ’em, eleven, unpublished novels! I’ve got five finished books in my fantasy series (six intended) and six finished books in my sci-fi series (fourteen intended).

My next step is to update my episode-by-episode summary for the sci-fi series, which hasn’t been done in ten years. I’ve got dozens of pages of notes from over the years, but nothing coalesced into something anyone other than I could understand.

After that… back to original writing! I basically stopped writing a year ago to focus on editing the existing books. Kind of hard to be creative in these dark times.

The high fantasy series, DYNASTY, has five finished novels. The first book is the only thing others have actually read and it’s been rewritten many times over. That’s my first finished novel from way back in 2005.

The sci-fi series, TERMINUS, is my real dream project. I’ve been planning it since 1993 when I was a little kid. It’s supposed to be a seven year tv show, but in an unfortunate bend to reality, I’m writing it out as novels instead. Fourteen novels, with each book representing one half season (eleven hour-long episodes). It’s prose, but in five act episode structures.

I just finished writing the 70th episode of the series. Season Four, Episode Four. Which means I am 70 episodes into a 154 episode run. 46% finished writing my dream project! Hopefully one day someone else will actually see it!

There is also a ten book prequel series to Terminus and a trilogy as well. So I have a grand total of 33 novels planned, 11 completed. I’m one third done with my entire life’s work!

I’ve submitted queries to dozens of literary agents this year. Just got to keep plugging away…