The Full Lid 24th May 2019

Hi! I'm Alasdair Stuart, professionally enthusiastic pop culture analyst, podcaster and 2019 Best Fan Writer Hugo finalist. This is The Full Lid, my weekly pop culture enthusiasm download.  Welcome!

So, what's on deck this week?


Errand Boys
Your MONARCH Briefing: Godzilla (2014)
Knock Down The House
Signal Boosting
 Hugo Spotlight: Me
So Where Can We Find You This Week?
So How Was Work?
Signing Off/Playing Out
Spoilers abound and sharing is caring so if you enjoy this issue, let your friends know. Now, let's open the lid!
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Errand Boys

Jace is an errand boy. He's basically a Retrieval Specialist with none of the skills, far more luck and a growing sense that the job shouldn't always be this hard. Working for Bear, a vast sort-of crab alien as part of the Bearands agency, Jace plays things fast and loose. No plan as such just charm, good looks and a winning smile.

It's going SO badly.

It gets even worse when he finds out his father and step-mother have been killed in an accident. Jace is now the sole legal guardian of Tawnk, his gentle, kind, half-alien stepbrother. Tawnk needs to be in school. Jace needs money for that. Jace and money aren't really speaking. So Tawnk joins the family business.

The creative team behind Errand Boys is a who's who of people whose work I pick up, sight unseen. DJ Kirkbride and Adam P Knave are two of the best writers and editors in the business and Frank Cvetkovic is one of the best letterers. They're joined by a raft of artists whose work is unfamiliar to be but is all massively impressive, kinetic and fun. The book feels like a European SF movie looks. You can smell the noodles. see the dust getting kicked up, hear Jace's long suffering gasps as he screws up and has to run for it yet again. Nikos Koutsis' loose, flowing style is perfect for a book like this and there's no hint of the stuff or rigid feel SF can sometimes have. Instead, like Jace, Errand Boys hits the ground running and, unlike Jace, never stops.
That's why the book works so well; that fluidity and textual manouverability runs through every element of it. The art by Koutsis and back up strip artists Manos Lagouvardos, Giorgos Konstantopoulos, Alkis Kampouris and Vasilis Dumopoulos shares a barely contained joy of motion that matches the scripts beat for beat. Kirkbride, edited by Knave and EL Anderson here, has a delightfully arch approach that makes each issue feel less like an episode more like an anecdote. They regularly finish with 'Hey, end of the issue!' and the backup strips spotlight everyone from Jace's occasional partner in crime to the bird of prey Jace and Tawnk are sent to 'retrieve' in one story. Jace is light fingered but the book is lighter on it's feet and it's a joy to read.

But what really makes the book work is that for all his refusal to grow, that's exactly what Jace ends up doing. Kirkbride expertly uses the cases the two men work, and the consequences of them, to force Jace and Tawnk to realize two things; that they are family and that it's okay to slow down. That leads to a fifth issue which hits that almost impossible target that sits between grief, maturity, comedic mayhem and the quiet joy of still being around to appreciate your life. I read a lot of comics. Very few have impressed me more than that one issue especially.

Errand Boys is currently a five issue mini-series which is increasingly hard to find in print. That's a real shame as there is infinite potential for other stories in this world and i'd love to see them. I think you would too so if you like the sound of the book, you can find it on Comixology for an absolute steal. 
No fancy resonance or subtle reason for this other than it looks amazing and I'm going to make it and then eat it.

Your MONARCH Briefing: Godzilla (2014)

Next week, Godzilla: King of the Monsters stomps onto screens worldwide. If you've never seen the previous two movies in the Monsterverse, or indeed weren't aware they existed, I've got you covered. This week, we're taking a look at the Gareth Evans directed Godzilla from 2014. Next week we've got Jordan Vogt-Roberts' Kong: Skull Island from 2017.

Look I know there's the obvious joke:
'these films are just TOO BIG to fit into one piece!'
 I know it's there. You know it's there. We both know I'll pick it up. Let's just assume I have and move on. Cool? Cool.

Before we dive into all this though, two quick recommendations. The original Godzilla and 2017's Shin Godzilla are an essential double bill. The first is arguably the greatest monster movie ever made. The second is, at least, the second best monster movie ever made. But these are both super fun too.

2014's Godzilla, directed by Gareth Edwards, has the single best credit sequence in movie history and a tangible sense of dread that carries the movie through its weak points. It opens with a nuclear disaster that claims the life of engineer Joe Brody's wife and destroys the Janjira power plant in Japan. Fifteen years later, in the present day, Joe's son Ford has become an Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) officer specializing in making nukes safe. Joe, convinced that the catastrophe at the plant was intentional, has become a full on bananapants murder wall conspiracy theorist.

And it turns out, he's absolutely right.

When Joe and Ford break into the zone contaminated by the plant they find no radiation whatsoever. Worse still, they discover that the plant itself has become a classified research facility built around a vast chrysalis. One that eats radiations and transmits the exact same seismic pattern Joe spotted fifteen years ago minutes before the disaster. A call that has now been answered...

If this all sounds great that's because it is. The first hour or so of Godzilla does an amazing job of building and escalating a constant sense of dread. Aaron Johnson does a good job as Ford, giving him the right combination of All-American chestmeat and increasing concern while Bryan Cranston's Joe is the best thing in the movie by a mile. How good is he? Well the first big scene involves actual radioactive ladymurder, which is in a sense perpetrated by Joe. It's an absolute credit to Juliette Binoche's cameo as Sandra Brody and Cranston's work as Joe that it feels not only earned but completely heartrending. Joe literally screams with grief as he condemns his wife to death in the accident and because Cranston could find nuance in a crisp packet, the moment lands like a hammerfist to the jaw.

Then two the MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) in the chrysalis wakes up and the movie splits its attention to the detriment of both sizes of cast. The monster action is often very well done, and has a sense of scale that helps land every scene. Edwards, whose debut Monsters demonstrated his eye for this, shoots the creatures in a way that spills over the frame for the first two acts. They're too big, too unprecedented and it's only once this unusually horrifying singularity is public that we get to see the creatures in their entirety. It's why I love that shot up top so much and the movie is full of moments like that. Humanity facing the unthinkable and trying to render it down to a scale it can be dealt with before it eats us.
Despite this, the second half is noticeably lumpier than that great first hour. Godzilla was famously (and to my mind unfairly) criticized on release for being an almost Godzilla-free Godzilla movie. Worse, that issue eclipses what's, ironically, a far bigger problem with the human cast. Cranston aside, none of them are given enough to do. Elizabeth Olsen is given so little as Ford's wife Elle she could safely be replaced by a cardboard standee looking sad. Ford fares a little better, and Johnson has a nice line in emotionally reserved compassion, but the movie never settles with anyone long enough for us to care about them. Joe is taken off the board way too early. David Strathairn, as the movie's incarnation of Admiral Military Industrial Complex is stern. Sally Hawkins is given five minutes of exposition and does so little else I had to look up her character's name. As a result, Edwards' trick of grounding the action with the humans, often by cutting away to them, sometimes feels like the movie is shoving you where it wants you to go rather than guiding you there, For some, that's going to make the movie a frustrating viewing experience, especially coupled with how coy it is with showing Godzilla himself off.

All that being said, it does all come together. The third act, opening with the nightmarish HALO drop into what's left of San Francisco set to Gyorgy Ligeti 's well known apocalyptic banger 'Requiem' pictured above, is amazing. An early shot which reveals Godzilla's vast size as flares fall past him is jaw dropping. The rolling fight between Godzilla and the MUTOS is a Cthonic dream come true; massive engines of destruction tearing at each other with total abandon and abject brutality. There's even a bleakly funny moment where Godzilla and Ford, both down, neither out, share a moment of weary, bloodied solidarity. All in turn wrapped up in the knowledge that this is a world changing event. A clawed singularity. There can be no cover up, no explanation. The Titans are real and awake.

That's the primary take home from Godzilla for the franchise; that the world is changed forever.  The existence of the Titans, the existence of MONARCH and the sense of the old world receding into the distance, dwarfed by the vast creatures that stride across the new. It's usually good, often great but feels very much like a broad strokes introduction. To get more specific, we need to head to Skull Island and meet the King. Which, next week, is just what we'll do.
See?! Best credits EVER.

Knock Down The House

We watched this last night. This morning we watched Theresa May resign, evoking everything she didn't do as something she did and ignoring her years long systemic failure in favor of a romanticized view of the nightmarish slog her premiership has been. Serendipity is a hell of a drug.

Rachel Lears began her documentary the day after Donald Trump was elected. She reached out to community organizations to find female candidates who weren't career politicians but had been galvanized to run by the US side of the never ending political crapnado we all live in. In doing so, she found Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Amy Vilela of Nevada, Cori Bush of Missouri, and Paula Jean Swearengin of West Virginia.

They're an extraordinary group, united by a combination of drive and, bluntly, righteous fury. Swearengin is from a coal mining family and rightly states that the miners of West Virginia have been viewed as collateral damage so the country could keep running. Vilela is a deadpan Nevadan driven by the death of her daughter due to a lack of health insurance. Bush is a Ferguson activist challenging for a seat that has literally been handed from father to son. Ocasio-Cortez, now a household name, challenges a democrat who doesn't even live in the city he represents. In one of the film's best moments, we see her at her first debate with him. Or rather, the female counsellor he sends in his stead. Cowardice has rarely been louder.
The movie is full of moments like this and all of them work because Lears gets out of the way and lets the personalities of these four women speak. Swearengin and family hack weeds off a bandstand before giving an address there. Bush jokes about how well the photographer uses her melanin. Vilela uses her grief and anger as fuel even as she banters with her staff about the mess they leave. Ocasio-Cortez has to physically psyche herself before her first debate. None of them are droning career politicians. All of them are people damaged by a system which is designed not to care about anything other than it's own continued existence. All of them have compelling stories. One of them makes it. 

That narrative is compelling enough but Lears constructs a more familiar, less interesting story. In doing so, she gets in the way in the exact way the first half avoids and the movie suffers for it. We see the primaries in a different order to how they actually unfolded, giving Ocasio-Cortez a frisson of Rocky-like determination as the others lose. In reality, she won two months before Bush's contest and flew out to canvas for her. That's a far more compelling, and less masculine, narrative than the 'last one standing' story we're told. It's a real shame Lears and crew felt the need to do this because it presents as uncomfortably close to the exact kind of dishonesty and complacency these four women have suited up to fight. It's doubly ironic that this choice should be made for a documentary about an industry built on the importance of apparent action over actual action. Even more so when, in the almost entirely Ocasio-Cortez facing third act we see her skewer her opponent for that very thing in one of the few debates he deigned to attend.

Even then, Knock Down The House is an intensely inspiring, at times moving piece of work that captures the birth of what deserves to be a major political sea change in the Democratic party. It's compelling, humane and funny. But, despite how it's presented, it's not quite the real story and demands further research. Perhaps that's not a failing but a lesson; trust but verify. In God we trust, but when it comes to filmmakers, check the sources.

Knock Down The House is on Netflix now and is absolutely worth your time.

Signal Boosting

Sometimes art is complicated and precise. And sometimes art is placing your camera on a sushi boat and capturing tiny, beautiful snippets of a dozen irridiscently normal lives.

Hugo Spotlight: Me

It felt a little Connor4Real for me to profile myself here so, this week, we have a guest writer. The incredible Sarah Gailey is a Hugo winner in this category, a novella-ist, a novelist and an all round excellent human. Please check out their newsletter Here's The Thing, and go say hi on twitter at @Gaileyfrey. And now over to them. Thanks Sarah!:)

Best Fan Writer finalist Alasdair Stuart sticks with the Best Fan Writer Nominee theme of wearing every hat at the haberdashery. He is a brilliant genre fiction writer, pop culture analyst, and game writer. He co-owns the Escape Artists Podcast Network, which publishes short science fiction, horror, fantasy, and young adult genre fiction. Alasdair personally hosts the horror podcast, PseudoPod.

Alasdair's work pops up in every corner of the internet, and has an impact on every variety of genre fiction. His essays have been published by, Uncanny Magazine, and Barnes & Noble. He's also published two collections of essays from Pseudopod. His weekly newsletter, The Full Lid, discusses pop culture. This is just a small sampling of the vast expanse of Alasdair's work, all of which is uniquely reflective and thoughtful. Alasdair discusses cinema, literature, music, television, and culture with equal respect and enthusiasm. His essays examine the personal and the professional, craft and consumption, and the relationship between art and society. His work contains a sense of open appreciation for the world of genre fiction, and his unyielding support of short fiction has helped to shape the field.

You can find Alasdair on twitter at @AlasdairStuart. That same handle will take you to his Instagram and his Medium. If you like good things, you will love his entire blog.

And of course, here's my Ko-Fi.

So Where Can We Find You This Week?

At the blog!
  • A Sunday Moment of Zen courtesy of the Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt team which is metafictionally complex, emotionally pure and elegant all the way through.
At Escape Pod! On The Chauncey DeVega Show!
  • Chauncey and I cover everything from which spot in the MCU seems to be there purely for female characters to sacrifice themselves at through Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker and what happens when you share stories. Always a pleasure to do this show.
At SciFi Bulletin!
  • The last month of any given season of Legends of Tomorrow is normally the time the show goes full tilt bananas in the best of ways and this year is no exception. 'Egg Macguffin' is a sweet, cautious romance which is also an elaborate supernatural farce. 'Nip/Stuck', with a straight face, combines a demonically possessed man nipple with an Invasion of the Bodysnatchers riff. SUCCESSFULLY. Finally, 'Terms of Service' balances a deeply enthusiastic pair of attempted jail breaks with a surprisingly insidious evil app plot and sets up an ending which promises to be just as glorious as 'Beebo Voltron versus Evil' from last year. 
  • 'Legacy' plays a lot like a series finale for The Flash even though we know it isn't. Cisco de-powers himself, Nora sacrifices herself, Thawne escapes and the Crisis is almost here. But for all those big notes, it's the little character beats that really help this land. The show's always excelled at those and this episode is full of them. Plus a nice chunky hint that next year's Crisis on Infinite Earths is going to impact the show very heavily.
  • I'll be at the Tor brunch at MCM London on Sunday and then spending some time at the audio fiction table that a bunch of amazing people have put together. Come say hi and check out the fancy map below!

So How Was Work This Week?

So there's this early West Wing episode I really love. Celestial Navigation opens with Josh as a guest lecturer at a college class and flashes back to the...interesting 36 hours the White House has had. This includes an unscheduled root canal, a massive scandal two other characters are on their way to try and head off, Josh not understanding that when his mouth moves it's usually bad and lots, lots more. It's one of the first episodes where the show embraced both the constant maelstrom of it's plot and the comedy inherent in putting a lot of very smart people in situations they can just about handle. I have friends who yell 'BWIEFING!' at me to this day because of this exact episode. 

The thing I love about it is the structure. It all dovetails to a moment at the end where Josh gets some great news, the scandal is headed off and everything returns to the same level of amiable chaos it was before the start of the episode. It finishes with him apologizing to the class that he can't quite talk about what's been going on but the next time he sees them he'll definitely be able to.

And (minus the scandal, and the root canal) that's how work was this week.

Signing Off/Playing Out

Well that was a week, huh? Who knows what awaits us around the corner, although honestly I'm pretty sure it's Saturday and possibly oatmeal pancakes for me. Then a trip to MCM, then a trip to a new covered market! There will be cake! And possibly new plants! And maybe a movie! 

Regardless of how your weekend goes, take some downtime. You've earned it. You've earned it simply by making it to the end of a week in this maelstrom of a time. You're doing great. You've got this. And you know what? So do I.

Did you enjoy this week's newsletter? Great! If so, why not check out Escape Artists podcasts and the Instagram page I share with Marguerite Kenner, the light of my life and the other half of the dynamic duo at KennerStuart?

Oh and if you can, please consider buying me a coffee. It's like Limitless just without the burning need for a second season.

Playing us out this week is 'Heavy for You' by The Heavy, coming soon to 15,000 adverts and at least one show about soldiers. It's from their new album Sons, it's the exact sort of wide-band, entrance music rock I love and once you've heard it you'll realize two things. Firstly, it is pretty good. Secondly, this?
Is a Full Lid.
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Agathon Towers · Cheapside Road · Reading, Berkshire RG1 7AG · United Kingdom

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