The Full Lid 12th April 2019


The Horror at Gallery Kay
The Silence
Different Kinds of War, Different Kinds of Peace
Banquo's Test Flight
Spotlight: Charles Payseur
So How's Work?
So Where Can We Find You?
Signing Off

Spoilers abound, please keep your limbs inside the email at all times and flash photography is permitted. Now, let's open the lid!
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The Horror at Gallery Kay

(This piece was originally published last week, but contained incorrect spelling and pronoun use. Many thanks to Abe Goldfarb for helping correct this and apologies to the cast and crew for the mistake).
Petra and Olive are breaking up. Petra (Maine Anders) is driven, focused and no nonsense. Olive (Rosebud) is intensely sweet and endlessly flakey. As a last ditch box ticking exercise, they visit Bozill (Brian Silliman), a relationship therapist. Olive is convinced it will work. Petra is checking her watch. And Bozill's phone keeps ringing...

Directed and edited by Abe Goldfarb from a script by Mac Rogers, The Horror at Gallery Kay is the sweetest body horror movie you'll ever see. Or it's the gooiest rom-com. Or the most politically insightful and angry story about the secret history of New York, true love and what happens when we become 'we' you'll ever see. Anyone familiar with Rogers' superlative work on Steal The Stars will have an idea what to expect here. True love, cynics whose hearts are melted, the price for that and something alien and vast impressing itself onto the world around the lovers until you can't tell if they're doomed or saved or both. However, here Mac is, if anything, on stronger ground than with Steal the Stars. Instead of the head on collision between private security and UFOlogy, we get two people fighting to save their lives, their relationship and slowly realizing that neither matter in the way they think they do. In fact. they matter much, much more. It's sweet and angry, tart and pugnacious writing that throws those glorious turns of phrase Mac excels at towards you ever few minutes. Rosebud, especially in the second half, uses Mac's dialogue like a Judoka uses their opponents' lapels; constantly putting the movie and you exactly where they need you to be. A space, by the way, infinitely larger than the small office and gallery the story itself plays out in.

That sense of scale and scope is landed by the other primary team members here. Goldfarb cleverly uses slow motion and modified lighting to heighten the reality of Bozill's office as we begin to descend into the story. Later, the stark lights of the Gallery double as a canvas for the oddest session Bozill has ever led to play out across. The claustrophobia of horror is harmonized with the soaring massive scale of Olive's love and the city that she and Petra discover they can both access. This is a story where love really is the answer. And, like the best answers, it leads to even more questions.

The cast help answer those questions with fierce and witty aplomb. Rosebud is the standout here, flowing effortlessly from a well-meaning and mildly ineffectual hippie to someone far more regal and alien in the second half. They get a lot of the best lines, some of the best laughs and manage, along with Kristen Vaughan's wonderfully chipper turn as a terrifying receptionist, to make the vast and otherworldly present in a small room. Anders is just as good in different ways, and Petra's journey here is from the comforting cynicism of life to the horrific realization she has everything she wants and what she has to do about that. Silliman impresses too, especially in the second half. No one has fun at the gallery but Bozill has the least fun and Silliman does his best work as a somewhat maimed, thoroughly pissed off and still deeply sweet therapist. Poor Bozill, and he only took the session as a favor too.

Ultimately Gallery Kay is a movie that arrives at the same place however you look at it, but takes different routes to get there. it's a story about New York's biggest secret, discovered by two people trying to figure out if they should stay together. It's a story about sacrifice as impediment and sacrifice as enhancement. It's a story about how we become less than we were and more than we can be. It's angry and tearful, hopeful and brutal, funny and disturbing. It's also the perfect double bill with Us, and in this newly Twilight Zone-enhanced era, deserves to find that exact audience too. It's just as rich and strange and far sweeter than you might expect.

The Horror at Gallery Kay is currently on the festival circuit. Find out more about the movie and where you can see it here.
I'm increasingly convinced The Kings have a Hall Pass excusing them from gravity.

The Silence

I am always there for a horror movie that dances the apocalypse two-step like it's a mosh pit. The opening 10 minutes of The Silence do exactly that, as a cave is unsealed for the first time in centuries and mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. And mere anarchy is feeling really bloody Hungry. In their way is the entire continental United States and specifically the Andrews family. Hugh (Stanley Tucci) is a precise, intellectual architect. Kelly (Miranda Otto) is caring for her mother Lynn (Kate Trotter) while kids Jude (Kyle Breitkopf) and Ally (Kiernan Shipka) get on with the business of being kids. They're an instantly likable group defined as much by what they don't say as anything else. Hugh's business is struggling, Lynn is hiding a medical condition from most of the family and thinks she's hiding her smoking from all of them. Everyone's still adjusting to Ally's hearing being lost in a car accident, except, perhaps, Ally herself. They're instantly complicated, instantly likable. A family minus its corners and completely unaware of what's coming.

That's where the Van Dyke's script, and Tim Lebbon's original book, not only come into their own but break ground horror too often ignores even now. These are smart people who make smart choices. They evacuate the moment it becomes clear they can't stay, they stock up on whatever they can, go off road when the highways cease up and it's still not enough. By the mid point Hugh in particular has had to make several tough choices (There is not good dog news in this movie. Not on screen thankfully but still, fair warning) and the family's modicum of peace comes at the expense of someone else's life. This is societal collapse from the ground up, the ragged edge of apocalypse meaning utilities fail at random, people miss the news that could save their life and danger is everywhere. The slow ticking clock of mortal necessity means the Andrews never stop running for the entire movie, their every control eaten away by the endless, ravenous hordes. If A Quiet Place was about adjusting to this strange new world, The Silence is about trying to survive long enough to adjust and not everyone does. One of those early gags folds into this far more than you might think and it's just one of the knives the movie is hiding behind its back. There is the single smartest weaponisation of sound I've seen in fiction here. while the ending, set up by a single, chilling note held up by a stranger, is the least Hollywood ending I was expecting. The miniature war that breaks out is untidy and savage as the family defend themselves at close quarters with all the panic and brutality you'd expect but never normally see.

Smart and tough choices abound here but they aren't universal. Both Trotter and Otto are given relatively little to do and the movie hit turbulence for the casting of Shipka, a hearing actress, as a deaf character. Director John Leonetti's defence of the choice has justifiably not sat well with anyone. For some, understandably, that's going to be a deal breaker. Representation matters and for it to be changing is fantastic. For it to be changing this slowly? Much less so.

However, if you can put that issue aside The Silence is great. It's an epic apocalypse that lives in the grace notes, a story about a family that never loses sight of that even as everything burns down. Smart, tough, brave and merciless, it's on Netflix now.

Different Kinds of War, Different Kinds of Peace

Monica Greatorex has done it all. A journalist, adventurer and public figure, her life has taken her everywhere. Now, as war gathers, it's taking her home.

Una McCormack's latest embodies everything the Tor novella program does right. Monica's story, Dorothy Parker by way of Halo Jones, runs in two directions at once. In the present, we meet her heading home with a jenjer companion as panic quietly sweeps human space. It's the panic of the first two beats of a fire alarm, all nervous laughter and self-consciousness. It's the panic that evaporates when you smell something burning. The second before the first scream, the first stampede, covered by polite jokes and willful, tissue-thin lies. A conspiracy of false hopes that Monica skates across as she heads out into the worlds accompanied by a representative of the very genetically engineered enemy preparing to sweep humanity off the board. Meanwhile, in the past, we meet Monica as a child of privilege at the exact moment that privilege is stripped away. As the armor of childhood innocence fades, we see her grow and start to become the woman we then meet travelling back to her roots in the present.

It's a tightly structured novella and McCormack revels in the chance to explore her protagonist from these two different viewpoints, as well as play with two different styles at once. There's a hint of the Western to Monica's past and a definite sense of space opera grandeur to her present and both are executed extremely well. McCormack also gets the specificity of a child's viewpoint with remarkable subtlety. Monica is more aware of what's going on than even she knows and the way her perception gradually slides into focus and emotional maturity is as impressive as it is disturbing. Trauma ages you, fast, and we see that happen here. There's hints of Graham Swift here too, with familial problems haunting generations and the polite, resigned compassion of being one of the only members of your family left standing. All of which gives the story a heart. A heart which the ending proceeds to explore and perhaps rejuvenate. It sees Monica talk directly to the genetically engineered servants who are coming for humanity and find something new in the unbeatable force arrayed against us. Whether it's hopeful or naive is something McCormack trusts us to decide for ourselves and the end result is haunting in the very best ways. it put me in mind of Childhood's End and that, here, is meant as a very big compliment.

This, ultimately, is a story about hope and whether we use it as a blanket to hide under or a tool to build with. Monica solves the mysteries of her past, or at least enough for her to be able to put them down. The ending is terrifying in what it implies and belligerently hopeful in what it represents. Much like Monica herself. It's a remarkable, punchy piece of work expertly written by McCormack and expertly edited by Hugo finalist Lee Harris and it absolutely deserves your time.

The Undefeated is available now
Yes, this is a Facebook page but trust me the interview is worth it.

Banquo's Test Flight

I am haunted by The Right Stuff this year. The fictionalized(ish) story of the first crewed US spaceflights, the movie makes a neat cameo in Us, an arguably neater one in Captain Marvel. It's crammed full of scenes that stay with you. Yeager, face maimed and grounded, walking away from his wrecked aircraft. The 'specimen scene' for very different reasons.  Several sequences involve a very young Jeff Goldbum being excited. It's a good time, and for me one that funnels down to this photo.
The original Mercury Seven, and another semiotic ghost that's haunted my career. It's the cover of a formative album for me, as well as the basis for a short story about the missing eighth astronaut, whose death mirrored the profoundly disturbing urban myth of the lost cosmonauts. And now, it's cycled back around to appear over the shoulder of Captain Christopher Pike.

Pike as played by Anson Mount has been a season highlight on Discovery this year. Throughout, we've been able to convince ourselves that the terrible fate coming for him wasn't going to be touched on in the show. Mount's Pike was too jovial, too much of a relaxed, confident, fundamentally kind figure to be broken like that. Last week's episode put the lie to that hope. In doing so, it showed us something harder and better. 

All the way through the season, Mount and the show's writer's room have explored Pike's survivor's guilt. Sequestered away during the Klingon war, ultimately because he and the Enterprise are essentially Starfleet's King Arthur, Pike is consumed with the need to do the right thing. An early standout moment sees him almost panic at the thought of not being able to rescue a fellow officer. A later episode sees him put himself in harm's way to prove a point. Crucially it also sees him admit that fact. Coupled with the knowledge his initial posting at Starfleet was as a test pilot, and Mount's instinctively straight-arrow, endearing performance, it re-casts Pike as something more nuanced than we've previously seen. This is a profoundly honest, compassionate man who is aware of his faults even as he steers into them. He backs down from nothing and welcomes the chance to do good with the time he has. He's Captain America in a Starfleet uniform. He's the original astronaut ideal, projected forwards into a future where his profession means what so many hope it eventually will. And he would fit right in on that photo.

Mount, in the excellent interview in the interstitial above, talks about this being a chance to see 'Act 2 Pike' transition to Act 3 Pike and he's absolutely right. An officer who has been conditioned by his own experience to believe there is almost nothing he can't solve is faced with an unsolvable problem. How could he say no to that? Plus this, unlike the war, is a bullet he can choose to step in front of, knowing full well the good it will do. The fact his future is notably kinder than he knows at this point is irrelevant. What matters is the Captain thinks aloud and knows exactly what conclusion to come to. What matters, in the end, is the right stuff. And Christopher Pike, especially this version, has that by the bucket load.

Star Trek: Discovery airs on Netflix in the UK and CBS All Access in the US. It somehow, as I write this, has two episodes still to run despite the vast stakes of the last couple of weeks.

Pike and the Enterprise's mission during the Klingon conflict will be detailed in The Enterprise War, by John Jackson Miller, released later this year.

Produced with Branan Edgens, Anson Mount's podcast The Well is fantastically good. Go check it out, especially the Ileana Douglas episodes. 

Spotlight: Charles Payseur

Best Fan Writer finalist (Like me! That still sounds AWESOME) Charles Payseur is a writer, poet and a major part of the ongoing redemption of short fiction as an art form worthy of discussion. That sounds a touch high faluting I know but it's true, short stories continue to enjoy a renaissance triggered by podcasting (Such as these fine shows) and the massive rise in digital magazines (Such as these fine magazines). The weird thing is that for the longest time that surging market has been largely overlooked by critics. Charles is not one of those critics.

Charles' method is great. Each review has AO3 style key words, a non-spoiler description and a spoiler-y review. it's instantly accessible, usable by anyone and is a real go to resource. Along with the work of critics like Merc Rustad and Maria Haskins, it's also turning the spotlight onto a medium that has long lacked, and longer deserved it. 

Charles does great work and you can find him at Quick Sip Reviews where he plies his trade. There's also full details of his fiction and poetry work there and a link to his Patreon which I've also put here. He's on twitter as ClowderofTwo.
This makes me laugh every single time.

And of course, here's my Ko-Fi.

So How's Work?

Look at my bucket!

So, here's the plan. By WorldCon:
  • Have 12,000 words of The Icarus Thread (New title! Same great Space Cop shenanigans) at 2nd draft and ready for agent inspection.
  • Have Project BESS outlined, initially as a publicity friendly duology with a short story in the middle.
  • Have one off horror novella Every Hungry Thing, outlined and drafted
  • Have a non-fiction pitch for a regular column ready to go.
  • Have applied to Viable Paradise.

Yep just said all that out loud.

The buckets are how I'm tracing my progress through the zero/first draft. As you can see, I'm pushing through to get the entire thing to first draft status before I circle back around for second draft. It's going...pretty well actually. The core of the thing is solid, I just have a couple of things that need moving around and possibly out. Plus Every Hungry Thing has a solid first outline and I know a lot more of what Project BESS isn't than I did yesterday morning.

So, this is my Tuesdays and Thursdays and the rest of the week is everything else. Aside from scheduling conflicts meaning I'm not heading out to a movie this afternoon, it's working pretty well. Go Team Words!

So Where Can We Find You?

At Eastercon!
  • For one Sunday morning only! I'm on The Current State of Podcasting at 10.15am on Sunday. I have opinions. Also metaphors. Come here them! Con details here.
On The Magnus Archives
  • I get such wonderful dialogue on Episode 134. The phrase 'grubby Jesus' especially although the glee I was able to wrap around 'Your pet murderer' is right up there:)
On my blog!
  • Here's the promised list of BookTubers. These folks are doing some fantastic work and chipping a positive, inclusive and vibrant community out of  the least welcoming digital biome that doesn't end in '...ddit'. Check them out.

Signing Off

So how are you all doing? Hope everyone's okay at the end of what's been a surprisingly high intensity week. Up next I've got the Kitschies, Brave New Words, Eastercon and more word buckets so it's not slowing down any time soon and I'll be writing about some of those next week no doubt. 

So if you're on a similar schedule to me at the moment, do me a favor? Drink water, move around, eat fruits and vegetables, go outside. I'm writing this as much to remind me to do that as anyone else so I'll make you a deal. I do it, you do it. Sound good? Great.

*throws up mildly exhausted thumb*

Did you enjoy this week's newsletter? Why not check out Escape Artists podcasts and the shared instagram of a writer and a lawyer at KennerStuart. He works too much! So does she! They fight crime! Which is also work!

Finally if you liked this week's newsletter, please consider buying me a coffee. I love doing this but I do also love coffee.

And now, to play us out, Syncopated Ladies with their salute to one of the all time greats. Because this?
Is a Full Lid.
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Agathon Towers · Cheapside Road · Reading, Berkshire RG1 7AG · United Kingdom

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