Avengers, Time Runs Out, Vol 4 – Best Graphic Story

Avengers, Time Runs Out, Vol 4 – Best Graphic Story


(Sorry, this is more stream of thought than I planned, but I wanted to get it posted and couldn’t put it off any longer. Time ran out.)

This is the culmination of one of the best comic stories I have ever read. I grew up an X-Men fan and mostly stuck with all of those growing up until I slipped from reading comics for years. A couple years ago, I got back into and mostly gravitated to the various X-titles again, but with some branching out to independent and other material. Early last year, Marvel started hyping their big summer event of Secret Wars (another recommendation of mine, I normally don’t go for the big cross-over events, that one was really different and interesting). It was supposed to grow out of what was happening in Avengers and Secret Avengers – both written by Jonathan Hickman.

I was caught up on the X-titles I was reading, so through Marvel Unlimited I decided to start reading back issues of Hickman’s run on Avengers and Secret Avengers just to see what’s going on. I am incredibly glad I did, because it is easily in my top 5 comic stories I have ever read. Right from the start they are faced with an impossible problem and then spend the series (about 30-40 issues) trying to find a solution to this impossible problem and explore the implications so thoroughly I have considered using some of the stories in my ethics classes.

It all begins when Black Panther comes across another Earth appearing the sky, and when a strange person descends from that planet and then blows it up, everything changes for Black Panther and the rest of the “Illuminati” (the smartest Marvel characters who secretly meet to handle the big problems none of them can handle on their own). It ends up universes are collapsing on each other, and when this happens another Earth appears in the sky over a location with one of two results – either one of the planets is destroyed (and cascades to destroy the rest of that universe), or they collide and are both destroyed (including the universes). Once the planet appears, there is only 8 hours until the collision happens. So this can happen at any time, anywhere, and when it does, there is 8 hours to do something about it, or the entire universe is destroyed.

As we get further into the series, it obviously gets into massive cosmic issues with the Beyonders, creation of the universe, Dr. Doom takes his own approach that shows how incredible he is as a character (and that his super power is probably his incredible ego and ambition) etc. etc., but I’m a huge fan of stories that set up a simple but impossible problem and then just see how the characters handle it. (Run Lola Run is a great example of this in a movie.) The entire Avengers and Secret Avengers run by Hickman, I think, deserves a Hugo, but I also know 70-80 comic issues as a single story would be an unlikely Hugo winner as much I think it deserves it.

The Time Runs Out storyline is when, as you guessed it, time is running out. Nearly all of the universes have collapsed, characters have turned against each other as some are willing to go to lengths that others won’t, most of the Illuminati is on the run, some are missing, mysterious beings from other universes (as well as between universes) keep showing up, and the rate of incursions is increasing with fewer outs left. You have Captain America traveling into the distant future to see the impact of their decisions, you have Thor and Hyperion going on a likely suicide mission to find and confront the cause of all this, Reed Richards desperately looking for some answer – and the tension is incredible, and you really find out so much about who these people are and what motivates them. It’s a pity that the Fantastic Four and Dr. Doom haven’t had a better appearance in movies yet, because this storyline alone turned Reed Richards and Doom into some of my favorite characters.

Hickman took years to set up this endgame, and manages to have it live up to that setup. It’s amazing work and writing that is absolutely a superhero story through and through but shows that a massively superhero story can be so much more than fighting the villain of the month. Somehow, Hickman manages to make this story not just angst and depression. It’s easy to slide into the “heroes fighting each other, that’s so sad,” or “the world is going to end, we’re going to mope” cheap emotions. I think it’s because it’s a story about the end of the world that, rather than being depressing is about survival. It’s about not giving in, and clawing and scraping, and using all of your wit to find a way to keep going somehow, someway. With superheroes, time running out doesn’t lead to giving up, but to becoming more determined. Hickman captured that incredibly with the end to his epic Avengers and Secret Avengers run.

(Note: He also fits in brief recaps at the beginnings of issues, so it is possible to jump in later – even with the end of the story, and know what’s going on. Also, I’m wiling to bet that this is one of those stories, that even after reading the ending, it will just make you want to read the rest rather than being disappointed that the ending is spoiled.)


Invisible 2 – Best Related Work Recommendation

Invisible 2 – Best Related Work Recommendation

I’m a big fan of Jim C. Hines and his blog even before I found out we live in the same city. After I found that out, it created an odd sort of… I don’t know, maybe kinship? On the one hand, I have only ever met him at signings and only as frequently as other authors who live much further away. It’s a big enough city that I don’t ever expect to just run into him at the grocery store (and even if I did, I’d be polite enough to let him just continue shopping in peace). But at the same time, when he mentions local sites on his blog or in his stories, I know them in way many other readers won’t. I have been in the library that he [redacted for spoiler], and when one of his characters visits an apartment above a used bookstore (and mentions in real life he hung out there when in college, if I recall) – I’ve shopped in the bookstore and drive past it regularly. We see much of the same sites and know many of the same places – furthermore, seeing them in much the same way. I can barely remember what other stores are on that same block, but I know right where the used bookstore is.

This past year he ran the second in a series of guest blog posts on representation in science fiction and fantasy that he compiled into an eBook called “Invisible 2: Personal Essays on Representation in SF/F.” The guest posts are also available on his site still. The first thing that struck me about these essays is that they are about the same things I read and the movies I have watched and the same sites I have seen – but from a different angle. In many of the essays, they talked about stories that I was familiar with, but from seeing them from a different perspective, they often saw or read something very different than I did. For example, Annalee  Flower House’s identifying with Princess Leia as an assault survivor is particular powerful and informative.

A fascinating example for me was Alis Franklin writing about the Maxx – a series I loved as well. But Franklin identified deeply with Sarah, and I actually resonated more with the Maxx – someone trying to be a hero but mostly just kinda lost and confused in a messed up world. However, despite identifying with completely different characters, we still felt the same story and were apparently moved in similar ways.

This then brings me to the other fascinating aspect of these essays. As much as they are about  seeing the world differently, and seeing people like themselves (and much different from myself) in stories, there are also strong similarities and shared experiences. The essays aren’t lectures by any means, but instead explorations of their own experiences with SF/F stories and characters they did or did not identify with, as well as their own limitations and flaws. More than pushing a message or trying to persuade readers, these essays present complex human beings sharing their personal experiences. Unlike too many characters in SF/F, they aren’t one-dimensional, token representations of simple labels, but interesting people talking about familiar sites. The essays are a perspective that is both new and similar at the same time. I highly recommend them for a Hugo Award.


Illuminae – Best Novel Recommendation

Illuminae – Best Novel Recommendation

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff is a mindblowing experience. Although nominally YA due to the protagonists, as with many other sci fi YA works, I thoroughly enjoyed it as an adult. The basic premise is that in the distant future, a corporation launches a devastating massacre against a remote mining colony. Two teens (still dealing with having just broken up) manage to escape but quickly wind up on separate ships trying to flee a warship determined to leave no surviving witnesses.

As with the best of thrillers, from there, the situation starts to get worse, and then the situation gets to that “How the heck did it get this bad?!! They are all going to die!!!” state, and its magnificent (and also more of a horror story than I expected). Beyond a finely crafted story and relatable characters, what really lifts this book up above the rest is the format. Illuminae is told in a “found format” of chat logs between the two teens, computer logs, memos, and the like. This sort of alternative format runs the risk of coming across as trite and silly – but not here. Kaufman and Kristoff’s use of the format is extremely effective. One space ship battle nicely captures the chaos of dogfight spacecraft. Another 2 page spread – you will know it when you get to it – I could have easily just glanced and moved on, but instead and read every bit of it while almost in tears.

Moving away from standard prose is in a way a very artificial presentation, but in another way, it can convey raw emotion so much more powerfully. It reminds of musicals in that regard. Sure, breaking into song is unrealistic, but in the best musicals, the music can carry so much more emotional content than ordinary dialogue. The format of Illuminae is much the same way. I would honestly no guess at the actual word count of this book, but the emotional journey is easily as deep and powerful as any novel I have read.

The only weakness is actually when they slide into a more traditional prose. In several points there is someone describing actions from video footage which at times was a little forced and not my favorite. However, it wasn’t overdone and for some portions it is necessary and thankfully is still enjoyable.

Overall, it was one of the best novels I read last year and certainly award-worthy. It is the first in a trilogy and the set up for the next one puts things in an interesting place and looks to be moving in a new direction rather than repeating the same storyline but with bigger stakes as often happens in a series.

Welcome to Night Vale “Best Of?” – Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)

Welcome to Night Vale “Best Of?” – Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)

Welcome to Night Vale has rightfully earned its place as one of the most popular podcasts around. I am actually surprised it hasn’t been nominated for a Hugo already, and I chalk that up to the Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) being the “TV category” in people’s minds and little consideration of non-TV and especially non-film dramatic presentations.

For those unfamiliar with it, it is best summed up as Prairie Home Companion meets the Twilight Zone (with a more than generous helping of Elder Gods-style mythos sprinkled in). It is a community radio program hosted by Cecil Palmer (voiced amazingly by Cecil Baldwin) for the small community of Night Vale – a town descried in the opening words of the first podcast as

“A friendly desert community where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and mysterious lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep.”

Then Cecil proceeds to happily announce the opening of the new community dog park – where no one is allowed to enter. Hooded figures may be seen in the dog park. Do not approach the dog park! Do not look at the dog park!!

And right from the beginning, they captured this amazing vibe of a radio host who absolutely loves this town he lives in all the while completely accepting of the fact that it is utterly bizarre and home to many strange and inexplicable things. Some storylines grow over the course the series, and there are often references to past events, but to a large extent, each half hour episode stands well on its own, explaining needed references. This can get amusing as Cecil will refer to people in specific ways every. single. time. he mentions them. Like John Peters (you know, the farmer?) or Old Woman Josie who lives out near the car lot who is visited by angels even those by law, angels do not exist. These references are both funny and are sly way to inform you about the character very quickly.

It is hard to pick out an individual episode to nominate (especially since I’m a bit behind), but one that stood out for me in really capturing what makes Welcome to Night Vale so special is “[Best Of?]”. It is actually an atypical episode (although there are many that aren’t typical each year – “A Story About You” and the two-part “Sandstorm” are particularly great examples of this). This time Cecil I son vacation and former host Leonard Burton (voiced by James Urbaniak) comes out of retirement to host the show and play some recordings from Cecil’s early career. What happens over that half hour is really fun as we get glimpses of Cecil’s past as well as Leonard hearing about his own “retirement” all of which embraces contradiction and nonsense that actually makes perfect in the town of Night Vale. It is a great episode.




in iTunes podcasts.

Sense8 “What is Human?” – Best Short Dramatic Presentation

Sense8 “What is Human?” – Best Short Dramatic Presentation

[Note: This is a long recommendation, but much of the last half if explaining each of the 8 main characters in case someone wants to just watch this episode and skip the previous portion of the season.]

Sense8 on Netflix is one of those series that does work as one long season-long story, but strikes a balance of also having each episode work with a full story arc(s) as well. All too often, some of these shows with a strong season-long story wind up with individual episodes just being a piece of a story and not a story on its own. Sense8 manages to avoid that to a large degree.

The series is about 8 people who are mentally linked – able to visit each other telepathically, use each other’s skills, and the like. One thing I love about the series is that it not only explores the ramifications of the sci-fi concept of the story, but also deals with themes building off of it. So it’s not just about 8 people whose minds are linked, but it is about relationships between people – the connections that bring us together and choices that drive us apart. It also has this meta-thing going on (mostly in earlier episodes, I believe) with references to Jean-Claude van Damme, Conan the Barbarian, and Lito’s telenovelas that shows how even ridiculous fun of these stories can have deep, inspiring impact for people (and that even a sci-fi show about 8 people telepathically linked can touch and inspire us as well).

I recommend watching the entire series, it is great – although it is certainly adult. There is recreational drug use, nudity and sex (including heterosexual, homosexual, and what is best described as a psychic orgy early in the series), and violence that is occasionally, but not always bloody. However, if you want to jump to the episode I’m recommending (“What is Human?”), you don’t need a lot of background to understand it (see below).

I have heard some people talking about recommending the season finale “I Can’t Leave Her.” That is another very strong episode, but more than any other episode of the series, it is really dealing with the overall season-long story and that, in my opinion, is what makes it strong. If you aren’t invested in the story of the entire season, then the finale is probably only okay. It does have some great teamwork of the entire cluster of 8, but as a stand-alone, I wasn’t as moved by it as “What is Human?”

With “What is Human?” – the 10th episode of the 12 episode season – it shows off everything I love about this series. In particular, the emotional structure they build into the stories really works for me. I tend to prefer uplifting stories far more than depressing ones, and in Sense8 they emotionally manipulate me perfectly. They have this way of sinking into tragedy right before leading into a moment of triumph. Don’t know about anyone else, but it works for me. It makes the triumphs so much stronger, and has an overall, more hopeful feel to it while definitely avoiding being sappy, feel-good. The lows are certainly low, but they persevere. They survive. Definitely reminds me of The Shawshank Redemption in that regard (at least the movie, haven’t read the original story). Characters bottoming out in miserable conditions, and then soaring to triumph.

This episode also has a beautiful moment near the end at an orchestra performance. Thinking about it, that scene is completely irrelevant to the plot. However, thematically, it is striking and really brings them in touch with their own humanity, and humanity in general, and is a moment of beauty we rarely think about. Like the karaoke scene earlier in the series (which is, in my opinion, one of the best karoke scenes ever), it brings a touch of humanity and connection to the characters, and (to get grandiose) the viewers as well.

I greatly recommend it for a Hugo nomination. Even if I could only nominate one thing this year, I would push aside all the stories I have read, and nominate this episode.

If you want to jump straight to this episode without watching the rest of the series before it, I think the quick summary below should have it make sense. Of course, a lot more happens in the first 9 episodes, but this is enough for “What is Human?” to make sense. If you want to watch the whole series without spoilers, then stop reading now.

Continue reading “Sense8 “What is Human?” – Best Short Dramatic Presentation”

The Shaman – Best Short Dramatic Presentation

The Shaman – Best Short Dramatic Presentation

With decent special effects becoming easier and cheaper all the time, sci-fi short films appear to be booming. Although a fair number of them come across more as teasers and the bare beginnings of a story to entice studios to hire the filmmaker to make a feature, some do tell cohesive stories. Although they face stiff competition from TV episodes for the Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) Hugo award, I think some short films are as deserving of consideration as well. Unfortunately, their audiences tend to be massively smaller than, say, I don’t know – perennial nominees Game of Thrones and Doctor Who.

One short film that really struck me this year was The Shaman. It manages to strike a balance of hinting at a larger world and story but still being a complete tale itself. The summary from IMDB is:

The dark year 2204, in a world that has seen 73 years of continuous war. A Shaman is sent on a mission to convert the soul of a giant battle colossus.

The story is an amazing and seamless blend of ancient and futuristic with a shaman entering a netherworld to try and convert the soul of massive robotic engine of destruction. The worldbuilding really worked for me, and it definitely got me wanting to see more of this world, or even better yet, reading stories based in this setting. The film didn’t just rely on showing off their special effects chops, but instead went deliberately low key and psychological.

THE SHAMAN – a mind-bending short by Marco Kalantari from Marco Kalantari on Vimeo.

On a side note, One-Minute Time Machine is one that I wanted to recommend but unfortunately first came out in 2014. It’s not necessarily NSFW but has some innuendo and language. It does a great job of telling an amusing little story very simply.

Richard Anderson – Best Professional Artist

Richard Anderson – Best Professional Artist


When reviewing covers and other works for best pro artist, a couple jumped right to the top of my list (Empire Ascendant cover and Dinosaur Lords – especially interior art) and I quickly realized, they were by the same artist. Richard Anderson has a very distinctive, sketchy kind of style to his art that is actually extremely difficult to pull off. Making something look rough, loose, and active can very easily wind up looking rough, unfinished, and confusing. Anderson’s work does not do that.

His use of color with Kameron Hurley’s Worldbreaker series has drawn my attention even stronger than the reviews and blurbs I have read for the books (not discounting those, just the covers are SO striking!). Plus his work with Dinosaur Lords from the cover to the interior illustrations (just a few sampled below) capture the “knights riding dinosaurs” vibe so well when it could have gone so very, very wrong.

Looking over his work to see what works of his are eligible this year, I also noticed that he did the cover for Wesley Chu (Is Not Ken Liu 2016!!)’s Time Salvager. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but, as with all of Anderson’s covers, it uses light and dark as well as the color scheme to force your eye to go where he wants it to go, and conveys the kinetic action and rough settings these stories occur in. I’m now a definite fan.

On his site, Anderson has a gallery of a wide range of professional and non-professional work, but (as with many artists) not organized by year for easy award consideration. (Also, remember for Best Pro Artist – only work included in a professional work are to be considered.) At the very least, I know these 3 books have his work and are all 2015 published.


Empire Ascendant
(links to article about the cover reveal with comments by Hurley and Anderson)


Dinosaur Lords 
(links to article about Anderson’s artwork for the book)





Time Salvager