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Behind You: One-Shot Horror Stories

Behind You: One-Shot Horror StoriesBehind You: One-Shot Horror Stories by Brian Coldrick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Charmingly macabre — or would that be macabrely charming? — this collection of Brian Coldrick’s creepy, droll artwork is compiled from his popular Tumblr “The Hairs On the Back of Your Neck.” Each piece of art is a single panel accompanied by a single caption, evoking a ghoulish scene that could easily be taken from the middle of an excellent horror story. The subjects of Coldrick’s pieces tend not to know what’s right behind them, whether it’s a spirit, a monster, or an uncanny and inexplicable representation of their own id, but for the reader there’s a joyful thrill in imagining what will happen next, in conjuring a full story from just a single image. Highly recommended for horror fans, but also for fans of artists like Charles Addams and Edward Gorey.

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The House on the Borderland

The House on the BorderlandThe House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Now that I’ve finally read THE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND, another in a long line of classic horror novels I’ve been meaning to read for decades but somehow never got around to, I can see why H.P. Lovecraft called it, “A classic of the first order.” It’s full of cosmic mystery and hints at something much larger than our human narrator, known only as the Recluse, can comprehend. The novel is trippy — psychedelic, even — with the amazing imagery the Recluse encounters during his visions/astral projections/whatever they are. The first half of the novel, in which the Recluse’s house is attacked by creatures from another dimension (or another planet, or another time, or maybe all three), is gripping and right up there with the best weird fiction. The second half, which makes use of time travel and consists mainly of the Recluse watching the accelerated end of the Earth and the coming of the Green Sun from his study window, is much drier, and I’ll admit my mind sometimes wandered during the long patches of monotonous description.

I wish there were something at the end of the novel to tie it all together, but we’re left only with more mysteries, which definitely was Hodgson’s intention but which I found somewhat unsatisfying. If you read THE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND, I’d recommend doing so for the novels’ astounding imagery and the breathtaking originality of its ideas, rather than for the narrative itself. I enjoyed it, and some of the imagery will definitely stay with me, but for better or worse THE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND is more acid trip than novel.

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The Daily Show: An Oral History

The Daily Show: An Oral History as Told by Jon Stewart, the Correspondents, Staff and GuestsThe Daily Show: An Oral History as Told by Jon Stewart, the Correspondents, Staff and Guests by Chris Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As someone who watched THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART from its first episode to its last, I loved this book. Of course, I’m the target audience! Journalist Chris Smith presents a very sympathetic view of Stewart and the program itself — you can tell he’s a fan, too, and shares Stewart’s political leanings — but this is an oral history, and that means there’s a good share of warts-and-all to be found here as well, such as the time Stewart threw a newspaper at producer Madeleine Smithberg in anger, and the details behind Stewart’s behind-the-scenes conflict with Wyatt Cenac, incidents that don’t always paint Stewart in a great light.

But Stewart is hardly a monster. In fact, many of the stories I learned from the anecdotes in this book paint him as someone worthy of admiration, from paying his cast and crew out of pocket during the writers’ strike to make sure they could keep paying their bills, to his tireless work to get the Zadroga bill passed on behalf of 9/11 first responders, to the volunteer work he quietly did for veterans away from the cameras. But what really stuck out for me was just how hard everyone on the show worked. They made it look so easy on television, but these folks crafted a show four days every week based on current events — in some cases extremely current — and they knocked it out of the ballpark more often than not. The days were long and the work was often grueling. But the love so many of the people interviewed in the book have for Stewart and the show is evident, and that makes it a really touching read. (Even John McCain — who was a good friend of Stewart’s until they had a falling out over the senator’s wooing of the far-right base, whom McCain had previously always criticized and stood against, during his presidential run in 2008 — has nothing but good things to say about him here.) I teared up once or twice, and I don’t even know these people!

I never watched THE DAILY SHOW WITH CRAIG KILBORN, and I never really got into THE DAILY SHOW WITH TREVOR NOAH because it felt like it was targeted more toward the generation after mine, but THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART was must-see television for me. If you were a fan of the show, too, or even if you were just a casual, once-in-a-while viewer, I think you’ll really enjoy this book. There are lots of great behind-the-scenes anecdotes and plenty of revelations, all of which I found fascinating, but mostly I enjoyed being around people like Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Mo Rocca, Samantha Bee, Jason Jones, Kristen Schaal, Larry Wilmore, and Lewis Black again, even if I’m only reading their words. (Their often very, very funny words!) It felt like visiting old friends.

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Doctor Who: “Twice Upon a Time”

The latest Doctor Who Christmas special, “Twice Upon a Time,” has come and gone, bringing us another rousing Christmas-themed adventure while also marking the long-awaited regeneration of the Twelfth Doctor. And although the episode is charming and full of heart, it also felt very much of a kind, as if I’d seen it all before.


In a way I had seen it before, or at least elements of it. Testimony’s plan to upload everyone’s memories into a database at the moment of death so they could be downloaded later into glass avatars is strikingly similar to Missy’s plan with the Nethersphere in season 8, where the uploaded memories of the dead were held until they could be downloaded into Cybermen for some reason (to be honest, I’m still iffy about why, considering the fact that those memories were immediately subsumed once they became Cybermen, but let’s not go over well-trodden ground again). The First Doctor leaving at the end of the episode, secure in the knowledge that he doesn’t need to be afraid of who he will become, and entering his TARDIS to regenerate into the Second Doctor is almost identical to the end of the 50th anniversary special, “The Day of the Doctor,” where the War Doctor leaves at the end secure in the same knowledge and regenerates into the Ninth Doctor. And of course, this is the third time in a row that we’ve seen the TARDIS start to crash while the Doctor is still disoriented from regenerating. I’ve long held the opinion that Steven Moffatt’s time on Doctor Who has been spent telling the same stories over and over again, and I’m definitely ready for Chris Chibnall to hopefully take the show in a new direction.

But that doesn’t mean there weren’t parts of the episode I loved. In particular, for someone like me who is a fan of classic Who, it was a real trip to see Ben and Polly again! They’re hardly memorable companions, and I doubt they’re anyone’s favorites, but it still made the fanboy inside me happy to see classic companions return, even if only briefly. David Bradley as the First Doctor is a far better recasting of the late William Hartnell than Richard Hurndall was in 1983’s twentieth anniversary special “The Five Doctors.” Bradley nails every line, while Hurndall never seemed to understand the lines he was supposed to say. (Although one could say the same about Hartnell sometimes!) The reappearance of Rusty the Dalek from the season 8 episode “Into the Dalek” was clever; I didn’t realize how much I’d missed Bill until she showed up again; and I practically cheered when Nardole returned (“Now I’m all made of glass, not just my nipples!”). The interplay between the two Doctors is delightful — where Moffatt has always excelled is in those small, humorous moments between characters, something he’s much better at than melodrama, even on Sherlock — but to be fair, the First Doctor was never portrayed as quite that sexist. Although he did order Tegan into the TARDIS kitchen to get everyone something to eat in “The Five Doctors,” so maybe I’m wrong about that!

Still, the First Doctor’s reactions to the sonic screwdriver (which he didn’t acquire until his second incarnation), sonic sunglasses (which the First Doctor dislikes almost as much as I do, although the “browser history” joke was great), and updated console room (“It’s a flight deck…not a restaurant for the French”) were all quite funny. Mark Gatiss does a great job as the Captain (although the revelation of his surname didn’t surprise me and therefore felt a bit stale), and I think it might be the best role he’s played over the course of his long association with Doctor Who. The Christmas Armistice scene was really touching. I was pleased to see a snippet of Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor at the end, although it was too short to judge how she’ll be in the role. And who didn’t love “Previously on Doctor Who…709 Episodes Ago”?

Things I didn’t like about “Twice Upon a Time”? The reappearance of Clara, mostly. I’m over her, and I wish Moffatt were, too. I felt similarly about the reappearance of Amy during the Eleventh Doctor’s regeneration scene, to be honest. There’s no need for these “blast from the past” moments. Also, I was pretty sure the Doctor’s memories of Clara were back already, considering there was a mural of her on the side of the TARDIS at the end of the season 9 finale “Hell Bent,” a mural that happened to look exactly like the woman he was just talking to in the diner! But anyway, his memories of Clara are back, that’s nice, can we please move on now? I also didn’t like that we never really get clued into the Doctor’s thought process about why he chooses to regenerate instead of dying. The line “Well, I suppose one more lifetime won’t kill anybody” doesn’t really cut it. I wanted something deeper in that moment.

Overall, I thought it was an enjoyable episode, but one that, by treading such familiar ground, reminded me how ready I am for the show to go in new directions. I will, however, greatly miss Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, and Matt Lucas. They were a great trio with impeccable comic timing and real chemistry, a trio I think may even rival that of Patrick Troughton, Wendy Padbury, and Frazer Hines.

And now the part I’m sure you’ve all been waiting for: some fun Doctor Who neepery! When the First Doctor tells Testimony that the Earth is a level five civilization, that’s a classification that dates all the way back to one of Romana’s lines about how primitive Earth is in the 1979 Fourth Doctor serial “City of Death.” The Doctor says, “Snap,” to the First Doctor when revealing himself to be a future incarnation, which is apparently a useful, agreed-upon code because the Sixth Doctor said it to the Second Doctor in 1985’s “The Two Doctors,” and the Tenth Doctor said it to the Fifth Doctor in 2007’s “Time Crash.” The Captain says his death will be a big shock for everyone back in Cromer, which is both a location Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart mentions in the 1973 Third Doctor serial “The Three Doctors” and the name of Kate Stewart’s file for multi-Doctor encounters in “The Day of the Doctor.” Among the many names that Testimony has for the Doctor is “the Shadow of the Valeyard,” the Valeyard being the big bad in the 1986 umbrella season “The Trial of a Time Lord” and who was, according to the Master, an amalgamation of the darker sides of the Doctor’s nature, taken somewhere between his twelfth and final incarnation. In other words, he’s the Doctor’s dark side, extracted from his psyche like Mr. Hyde from Dr. Jekyll somewhere toward the end of his life (it’s interesting that the Master said final incarnation instead of thirteenth). The Valeyard never showed up again, which I think is a good thing, but I like that they keep making references to him.

Villengard, the planet where Rusty lives, is located at the center of universe, which means it can’t be too far from Terminus, the medical space station in the 1983 Fifth Doctor serial “Terminus,” which was also located at the center of the universe. We get to see the First Doctor regenerate into the Second Doctor, including the use of existing footage from the end of the 1966 First Doctor serial “The Tenth Planet,” although they make it look like he’s alone in his TARDIS when this happens. He’s not. Ben and Polly are there, too, and would continue traveling with the Second Doctor for a time. The Twelfth Doctor’s ring slipping off his finger after regenerating doesn’t just show that his body has changed in size, it’s also a callback to the very first regeneration: the First Doctor wore a ring that no longer fit the Second Doctor’s hand.

And now, the biggest, nerdiest bit of neepery of them all. Seriously, you have to imagine me pushing my glasses up my nose as I say this. It may in fact be the nerdiest thing I’ve ever written about Doctor Who in the many years since I’ve been doing these write-ups. Ready? Deep breath.

The First Doctor has already met several of his future incarnations, and most importantly has retained those memories, so the whole premise of him not wanting to regenerate out of fear doesn’t make sense! (I mean, I went with it, but the nerdy fanboy inside me kept asking pointed questions!) Here’s what I mean: In 1973’s “The Three Doctors,” the First Doctor meets the Second and Third Doctors, and together they defeat Omega inside his black hole and then are sent back to their proper time streams. But in 1983’s “The Five Doctors,” all three of those original Doctors remember having met before! In fact, the line that’s used in “Twice Upon a Time,” when the First Doctor says, “The original, you might say,” that’s from “The Five Doctors,” when he’s talking to the Fifth Doctor’s companion Tegan! So if the First Doctor is at the end of his life in “Twice Upon a Time,” he’s already had those experiences and would presumably still remember meeting his future selves! Plus, he’s quoting himself from when he met them! So, since he knows what’s coming, surely he would not be against the idea of regenerating! The only answer to this would be to retcon it so that when Rassilon sends all the Doctors back to their proper time streams at the end of “The Five Doctors,” he also removes their memories of having met each other, so that now the First Doctor no longer remembers either of those occasions. (We can presumably discount the First Doctor meeting all his future incarnations in 2013’s “The Day of the Doctor,” when they work together to send Gallifrey into the pocket universe, because it’s explicitly stated at the end of the episode that the time streams are all messed up and only the Eleventh Doctor will remember what happened.)

Okay, everyone shout it with me now: “Neeeeeeeeeeeeeerd!”