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THE FULL LID
23rd April 2021

Hi everyone! Welcome to The Full Lid, our Hugo-nominated (yippee!) weekly Friday at 5pm newsletter. Edited by the amazing Marguerite Kenner, written by myself. this is your double shot of pop culture caffeine. Everything we found interesting, weird or fun this week, direct to your inbox. Reviews! Analysis! Recipes! Alliteration! It's like email, but fun!

This week's interstitials highlight the fantastic finalists of this year's Sir Julius Vogel Awards, the genre fiction awards of New Zealand. 

And now, contents!

Contents

A Broken Darkness
Spookids
Stowaway
Signal Boost
Where You Can Find Me This Week
Signing Off / Playing Out

A Broken Darkness

 

Editor's note: Spoilers for both BENEATH THE RISING and this, its sequel. Discussion of apocalypse and survivor-related traumas including PTSD.


Just under two years ago, Johnny and Nicky saved the world.

Most of it.

Johnny is a child, 50 pounds of Doctor Who level genius in a 5 pound bag. She's incredibly fast, perceptive, insightful. She knows everything and what she doesn't know she can find out. Johnny developed a reactor that will solve the world's energy problems. Johnny has labs everywhere. Johnny consults with governments, rulers, secret societies. Johnny is 'BECAUSE I'M CLEVER!' screamed into the void and carved into space and time.

It's not enough.

Nick is stoical, put-upon, endearing, hard to kill. Johnny's best friend, Nick has always been the reliable sidekick, the empathic anchor needed to keep her brilliance connected to the world. In the first book, Nick found exactly why that is and the knowledge almost broke him. Here, Nick has some skin of his own in the game, starting at the lowest possible rung of a secret society and trying to work out how to balance looking after his siblings with closing the circle with Johnny, a possible girlfriend, and the guilt and rage that continues to threaten to break him in two.

Because Nick and Johnny didn't save the whole world last time. That knowledge of why they failed weighs on Nick with every passing day. But Johnny? Well, there's always another chance to get it right. Or at least, right enough...

Premee Mohamed (who we talked to at length last year about her first novel) accomplished several almost impossible tasks with A BROKEN DARKNESS. The first is to build on her precision-tooled nightmare generator of a world, showing the reader not just what happens after the world ends but what the process feels like. The controlled skid of guilt and horror binding Johnny and Nick is jet black, seething and hard to look at precisely because Mohamed refuses to take the easy route. They did good, but not enough. They saved people, but not everyone. The world is still over, still ending, even as the pair and struggle to cope with it all remains as Mohamed explores them in intensely brave, innovative ways.

Nick is somehow even more likable this time around. With new found knowledge of why he is like he is, the Society's newest member is desperate for control -- not of the world, but of his life. It being Nick, said control manifests in ways which complicate his life even further. His changing relationship with Johnny, now more fascinated horror than love, is especially well explored and Mohamed continually gives us enough to know what he's thinking but never quite why. Nick is a trauma survivor, a young man learning how to be himself again, a process agonizing, touching, familiar and beautifully realized here. He's the sad, still, strong, heart of the book and many of the best moments are his.

Johnny remains a monster. But now she's a monster with context. An uncontrolled Id wrapped in the body of a teenaged girl, Johnny is one of those people you lean closer to get a better look at even as you pray they don't make eye contact. She's never unprepared, and Mohamed sensibly hangs the books' major 'magic vs science' discussions off her. She's also painfully aware of what she's done and has zero intention of stopping. A gambler rolling the dice, a woman fighting for her life, a directionless monster of the intellect, a brain flailing and not caring about the destruction it leaves in its wake. A best friend in desperate trouble.

Mohamed's writing shines precisely because these many contradictions are all true. The damage caused at the end of the first book has rendered the world into mercury with constantly shifting alliances. You see it in Nick's growing deceptions, in Johnny's monstrous plans, and most of all, in the magical Society Nick joins. Set up in the first book as a somewhat traditional keeper of the secrets, here their true form is revealed: feral academics, hunched over their book piles like Smaug with suede elbow patches, monitoring a world they want to control but can't bare to connect with, trapped in the absurd and horrific throes of deck chair rearranging among the ashes.

A BROKEN DARKENSS is a brilliant sequel to last year's brilliant debut. It's kind and bloody-toothed, frantic and exhausted, hilarious and wracked with the sobs and laughs of survivor's guilt. It's a horror novel about teenage friendship and a teenage friendship novel about cosmic horror and you'll be hard pressed to decide which is more disturbing. Brilliant, essential, and available now.

Premee Mohamed can be found online and on Twitter.
BENEATH THE RISING and A BROKEN DARKNESS are available now.
As is her new novella, These Lifeless Things. As always, we recommend The Portal Bookshop for all your book-buying needs.
Selected 2021 Vogel Award Finalists: Best Short Story

For Want of Human Parts by Casey Lucas
published at Diabolical Plots August 17th 2020

Spookids

 

Editor's note: spoilers for issue 1 and for the final reveal in Dirty Rotten Scoundrals.


Look. There are things which will win me over pretty quickly. The smart use of a song in a trailer. A perfectly turned final card. Really good, expressive art. Moments of grace. All of these are, to quote the world's most ubiquitous nun, a few of my favorite things.

I did not know The Future Ghost of Bea Arthur was on that list until this day.

Spookids collects one page comic strips from Marc Jackson's Patreon. Marc is one of the UK comics scene's legitimate rocket scientists. He does not STOP. He's always writing, drawing, producing, promoting, running events and bending over backwards to not only push his own work but the idea of comics themselves. For Marc, like me, comics are a magic artefact, a door into the different ways other people create, the stories they build and why they look like they do. 
Eric's a genius. Bud is his buddy. Nellie is their friend. Eric has developed the Brain-Hat 5000. Bud's agreed to wear it. Stuff's gone a bit... weird.

Marc's bouncy, kinetic artwork is the perfect carrier wave for this 'kids on bikes do things!' vibe. Everyone looks unique, there are moments of just glorious comic timing ('Big 10-4, son' has been making me laugh for a week now). There's also that tangible sense of the intangible you got in all the best, weirdest Saturday morning shows. Down these streets Super-Gran once skateboarded, and was not herself mean. Down similar streets, the Hawkins kids discovered just how terrifying D&D can be. The setting is familiar but Marc's gloriously' skewed perspective (Fred Danson is a standout character) and sheer joy at making this story shines through and casts a unique shadow.

Plus, Marc has done a public service here and provided a guide to the 1980s for those of us fortunate to not be born inside the beige decade.

Oh and there's also a page of sort-of-cut-out-and-keep figures that bringd me back to my '80s cereal consuming child self being of pure joy.

Spookids is a delight. It's surprising and funny and intense and never once slows down except to pick up even more jokes. Marc's work is always great but, I mean it's the Future Ghost of Bea Arthur, how could you not?

Find Marc on Twitter here. Spookids is available, along with Marc's other work, for £5.00. And if like me, you found that underpriced, buy him a Ko-Fi or two to make up for it.
Selected 2021 Vogel Award Finalists: Best Professional Production/Publication

Aotearoa is Not Middle Earth by Alexander Stronach
published at The Spinoff

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Stowaway

Editor's note: spoilers


Directed by Joe Penna, best known for Mads Mikkelsen-centred survival fest Arctic, Stowaway is a considered, calm, melancholy examination of the problem at the heart of a classic sub genre of SF. Penna and regular collaborator Ryan Morrison, take a story that we've always been told is a cold, hard logistics dilemma and turns it into something more human and far stronger.

Marina Barnett (Toni Collette), is the commander of what's implied to be the first crewed flight to Mars. She's joined by David Kim (Daniel Dae Kim), the ship's biologist and Zoe Levenson (Anna Kendrick), the ship's medic. It's a two year flight, a textbook launch and all is going well. Until a launch engineer, Michael Adams (Shamier Anderson), is found to have been concussed in the launch and accidentally gone along for the ride. They can't turn back. They can't drop him off and at first it seems like Michael will simply be a welcome, if surprising addition to the crew. Until Barnett discovers the damage to life support...

They have twenty days to work out how to turn three people's oxygen into four. It will not be enough. They're going to try anyway.

It would be easy to view Stowaway as a spiritual successor to the 'sadstronaut' movies of recent years such as First Man and Ad Astra. There's certainly visual choices in common -- take Hanna locking us in the cabin for launch as we are for the nightmarish opening flight of First Man.

Likewise you could view Stowaway as a riff on infamous short story / polemic generator / contrarian blunt instrument The Cold Equations, written by Tom Godwin and originally published in 1954. There, Industry Banquo's Ghost John W. Campbell continually rejected the story until the stowaway couldn't be saved. For reasons which could politely be described as 'ill-defined'.


Editor's note: Those reasons are wafer-thinly veiled sexism; the stowaway in Godwin's original story was a woman.

Alec Nevala-Lee's superb Astounding has the shot. Jeannette Ng has the chaser, and that's the last anyone needs to talk about Campbell, least of all here.

Instead of going for cheap grim, Penna and Morrison choose complex and intimate.

Michael, deeply-nuanced and calm, is the sole carer for his sister. He is a charmingly, refreshingly normal man. The accident that got him here is going to stretch a little credulity for some, but the plight he and the others face casts a much longer shadow.

It's here that Daniel Dae Kim and Toni Collette do their best work. Kim's David is the most grounded and mature of the crew and also the first one to lose everything. He's Collette's trusted right hand man, literally responsible for the lungs of the ship, tormented by the knowledge of what he's sacrificing to keep them all alive just a little longer. Kim has long been one of the leading lights of his generation and there's a scene -- nothing more than him leaning against a tray of plants -- that breaks your heart without him saying a word. David has nothing but bad choices to make and like everyone here, he never stops moving, never stops working the problem.

Colette's Barnett is superficially the hardest of the crew. Revelling in her native accent, Collette is every inch the veteran astronaut, the sort of woman Jerrie Cobb would nod approvingly at down the bar. But just as David frantically tries to conjure oxygen out of thin air, Barnett is never off the line with ground control, frantically trying to Apollo 13 together some solution, any solution.

Kendrick's Zoe is, superficially, the least engaged in these efforts precisely because she's the most engaged in making Michael comfortable. Kendrick, a performer whose versatility people just never see coming, is excellent here as an astronaut with one foot in idealism and the other in pragmatism. Zoe never once expected to get the job but now she has it, and the stakes are set, she picks a track and does so quickly. In doing so she also maps perfectly onto the Apollo 13 ideal Barnett is trying to drag into life. Zoe's young enough to believe it can be done. Barnett's old enough to know what it'll cost even if it is successful.

It's also shot wonderfully. There's a tangible sense of place to the ship that Netflix's last space voyage -- Midnight Sky -- struggled with.

There are problems though and ones the movie struggles to work past. Michael is an understandably passive figure but in so being he lives on the knife edge of victimhood. Anderson is excellent in the role, and the script is smart enough to not push the button on a tropey romance between Zoe and himself, but there's still a sense of him being more a problem to solve than a human to save. As the only black cast member, that's not a good look. He's never marginalized, but he's also rarely the focus.

Stowaway is great stuff: chewy, complicated, emotionally honest and intelligent science fiction. Perfect for when you're in the mood for some deep space ethics (and a couple of cracking tense action sequences). And god knows we need as much of that as we can get.

Stowaway is available on Netflix now.
Selected 2021 Vogel Award Finalists: Best Collected Work

The Voyages of Cinrak The Dapper by AJ Fitzwater
published by Queen of Swords

Want More?

Signal Boost

Books

Comics

Podcasting

Gaming

Music

Public Service

  • Bailey M Bain has been doing an extraordinary job of tracking her journey with endometriosis on YouTube.

Stand Up Comedy

  • James Ross brings news of the triumphant return of Quantum Leopard! He says 'Quantum Leopard is a multi-award-winning, pay-what-you-like, gender-balanced-booking, no punching down comedy night in London. We have 3 more online shows before we open up for live ones, and those live ones are recorded with CWs for Patreon subscribers http://facebook.com/quantumleopardcomedy" They're on Twitch here and Patreon here.

That's this week's Signal Boost, folks. If you have a project you'd like to see here get in touch.

Where You Can Find Me This Week

 

Mostly Done Recovering. Mostly.

  • Almost back, folks! Just a lingering cough and the strangling frustration of energy levels still languishing behind. But progress -- I've almost finished both the Hubble and For All Mankind.

Twitch 

  • The Council continues! Marguerite navigates a character identity crisis and more as the game takes a hard left turn into something Otherworldly.
  • Premee Mohammed joins us to talk secret societies, cosmic horror and more in a barnstormingly fun interview!

Podcast Land


PseudoPod 754: Flash on the Borderlands LV: The Easily Digested Hurt

Find me on The Online

Website Website
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My Carrd My Carrd
Selected 2021 Vogel Award Finalists: Best Fan Production/Publication

Dramatic Chairing of the 2020 WSFS Business meeting by Darusha Wehm 
(Original photo credit)

Trust Darusha. Trust the gavel.

Award Voting


Hey everyone! Here are some award voting resources for you.

Signing Off / Playing Out


A week! An actual week! Hope it was a good one for you and even if it wasn't, take some time to stand down if you can. Weekend ahoy. We got you covered.

TFL returns next week. My Carrd shows you all the places you can find me, including the Team KennerStuart Instagram and the Twitters. Twitch streams have also resumed -- follow the channel to get notified when we go live.

This work is produced for free. If you like what you read please consider dropping something in the tip jar. And thank you!

Playing us out this week is a Jim Steinman-produced classic. Rest in Power Chords, sir.

Oh and this?
is a Full Lid.
Copyright Alasdair Stuart © 2021 -- All rights reserved

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Agathon Towers · Cheapside Road · Reading, Berkshire RG1 7AG · United Kingdom

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