Rat Queens, Vol. 7: The Once and Future King

The Once and Future King (Rat Queens #7)The Once and Future King by Ryan Ferrier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another fun romp through the Rat Queens’ D&D-on-crack world, this time under the guidance of new writer Ryan Ferrier. The transition from Kurtis J. Wiebe’s writing to Ferrier’s is seamless. The characters, settings, and absurd adventures remain instantly recognizable. This volume starts with a standalone adventure called “Swamp Romp” that’s fun, charming, and had me laughing out loud. I promise you’ll never look at unicorns the same way again. The adventure that fills the rest of the volume, which involves the invasion and takeover of Palisade, is fun, too, but “Swamp Romp” might just be my favorite RAT QUEENS issue in some time. Violet is notably absent in the main adventure, having stepped away from the Rat Queens to start a family with Orc Dave and been replaced by young, nerdish Rat Queens fan Maddie. Maddie is a fun and interesting character with a lot of potential, but I still missed Violet. The art by Priscilla Petraites is excellent, although there were a few panels where I lost track of who was doing what or who was speaking. Not a major issue, but somewhat frustrating in the moment. I continue to enjoy the adventures of the Rat Queens and eagerly await the next volume!

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Doctor Who: “Ascension of the Cybermen”

***MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD***

This episode is a very exciting first part of the two-part season finale, but it’s also something of a mixed bag. I liked it, but there are a few things that didn’t work for me. Let’s start with the things I liked.

The Cybermen are back! It’s always fun to see one of Doctor Who‘s greatest and longest-running foes (the first Cyberman episode aired back in 1966!) show up again, but what makes “Ascension of the Cybermen” so much fun is that it’s not your run-of-the-mill Cybermen story. The action takes us to the end of the Cyber Wars, when there are very few Cybermen left (and very few humans, too). What we get are Ashad, the half-converted Cyber zealot who was introduced in the last episode with a total allegiance to the idea of rebuilding the Cyber empire, and two beat up old Cyberguards, and they’re still enough to pose an enormous threat to the human survivors!

In fact, everything having to do with the Cyber Wars is what lifts this episode above others of its kind. There’s a great scene of what is essentially a space graveyard, with hundreds of dead Cybermen (and loose parts) floating in space near the wreckage of one of their biggest battles. It’s a striking image, and one that will stay with me for a long time. I was also very pleased to see classic series-style Cybermen among the revival-style Cybermen on the troop carrier. The scene toward the end with all the Cybermen awakened from their “tombs” and marching through the corridors of the ship strongly reminded me of a similar scene in  the 1982 Fifth Doctor serial “Earthshock” in which awakened Cybermen march out of the hold of a space freighter toward the bridge.

One interesting bit of information we learn is that human survivors have been escaping through the Boundary, a wormhole to the farthest reaches of the galaxy, or perhaps beyond, where the Cybermen can’t follow them. I have to admit, for most of the episode I assumed it was going to be a Logan’s Run situation where the Boundary is actually a trap and everyone who goes there winds up dead! The Boundary is guarded by a lone, older, wizard-looking human named Ko Sharmus, who keeps telling the Doctor to walk closer to the water’s edge to activate the Boundary. I thought for sure Ko Sharmus was going to spring a trap and possibly reveal that he has survived all this time through cannibalism. It didn’t happen that way, and I’m glad because the actual reveal — and the episode’s excellent cliffhanger that made me want to watch the next episode immediately — is that the Boundary appears to lead to Gallifrey!

And of course, out pops the Master, who has obviously escaped from the Kasaavin in the way the Master always escapes his fate. So what does all this have to do with the Timeless Child and the Master’s destruction of Gallifrey (and maybe even Doctor Ruth)? We’re about to find out. Next episode now, please!

I mentioned “Ascension of the Cybermen” is a mixed bag, and indeed there are a few things I didn’t like. The Cyber Drones, which are basically just flying Cyberman heads that can shoot lasers, are the stupidest-looking things I’ve seen on Doctor Who since the Dalek agents that suddenly sprouted Dalek eyestalks out of their foreheads. The idea of Cyber Drones is a good one, and could have been a chance to show how Cybermats — small, rodent-like machines the Cybermen use to infiltrate their targets, which first appeared in the 1967 Second Doctor serial “Tomb of the Cybermen,” and later as the updated Cybermites in the 2013 Eleventh Doctor episode “Nightmare in Silver” — have evolved into something new and more destructive. Instead we just get flying heads, which made me groan rather than worry.

When the survivors’ dying gravraft (great name!) makes one last thruster push in order to make it to another ship in the space graveyard, they don’t appear to have much control over where they’re going, but instead of crashing haphazardly into the side of the ship the gravraft flies right into its perfectly-sized docking bay with the ease of a puck sliding into the goal in air hockey. It was lazy writing and could easily have been fixed with a two-second scene showing one of them desperately trying to pilot the gravraft into the dock instead of crashing it. (And it came as zero surprise to me that the ship was actually a fully-stocked Cyber troop carrier, but that’s probably because I’m a jaded lifelong Doctor Who viewer.)

I wondered what Ashad was doing when he and his two Cyberguards go after the sleeping Cybermen in the troop carrier with what appear to be buzz saws. Afterward I figured this is how he reprogrammed them to follow his orders, but it struck me as a strange way to go about it. Wasn’t there some computer he could tinker with instead? How does cutting into them like that help reprogram them, unless he just needed to switch some wires around? (One theory is that he isn’t reprogramming them, he’s cutting out their emotional inhibitors, but there’s no evidence of this, at least not in this episode.)

What was up with Brendan, the abandoned baby who grows up in 1950s Ireland to become a policeman? Why doesn’t that robber’s bullet kill him? I had several theories as I watched the episode: Brendan is the Master reborn after Missy’s death. Brendan is Ashad. Brendan is the Timeless Child. None of them seem to be accurate, especially in light of that final scene with an older Brendan retiring from the force and being greeted by his somehow unaged father and boss who proceed to forcibly mind-wipe him with a device that looked sort of like a Chameleon Arch, but maybe isn’t? (Alexa’s theory is that Brendan is actually a Cyberman, that 1950s Ireland is his dream while he’s in stasis, and that the mind-wipe is Ashad reprogramming him before waking him. It’s as good a theory as any!)

And now for some Doctor Who neepery! At the refugee outpost, Yaz sets up a particle projector to spray gold dust at the Cybermen, claiming that they’re allergic to it. This is a reference to something that was first mentioned in the 1975 Fourth Doctor serial “Revenge of the Cybermen,” in which we learn Voga, the Planet of Gold, was instrumental in winning the Cyber Wars by discovering gold dust choked Cybermen’s respiratory systems. Gold is used as the Cybermen’s weakness in every classic-series appearance after that. The Doctor offers Ryan a humbug out of a paper bag for his motion sickness. While certainly reminiscent of the Doctor offering people jelly babies out of a similar paper bag throughout the classic series, mostly during the Fourth Doctor’s tenure, it should be noted that the Fourth Doctor did once offer a humbug to someone instead of a jelly baby in the 1977 serial “The Sun Makers.” (I had to look that one up. I’m nerdy, but not that nerdy!)

Really looking forward to the next episode, promisingly titled “The Timeless Children”!

The Dead Girls Club

The Dead Girls ClubThe Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Damien Angelica Walters’s THE DEAD GIRLS CLUB is a thoroughly engaging and enjoyable thriller. Given how breathlessly I zoomed through the last third of the novel, I wouldn’t hesitate to call it a page-turner, either. Walters’s narrative strength really shines in the flashbacks to narrator Heather Cole’s childhood, writing about girlhood and its close, intense friendships with heartfelt authenticity. The mystery that occupies Heather’s present, with its links to her past and its spooky overtones, hooked me and kept me guessing throughout. THE DEAD GIRLS CLUB is a well written and well executed thriller that stands shoulder to shoulder with Gillian Flynn’s GONE GIRL, Paula Hawkins’s THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, and Sarah Pinborough’s BEHIND HER EYES. Don’t miss it!

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New Edition of CHASING THE DRAGON Now Available!

Rising from the ashes of the ChiZine Publications scandal, the Shirley Jackson Award-nominated and International Thriller Writers Award-nominated Chasing the Dragon is now available once again courtesy of Crossroad Press!

“A tight, focused narrative…Chasing the Dragon is unlike any other novel I’ve read, and easily one of my favorite reads [of the year]. It is definitely worth checking out if you like fantasy, horror, stories about the darker side of things (cuz heroin addiction is pretty dark) and deep, unique character work.” Black Gate

Chasing the Dragon moves like a bullet. As blood-soaked and thunderous as a Sergio Leone western, and grimly referential to classic pulp horror, Kaufmann turns the screws and steadily escalates the tension. A gory, thoroughly rollicking thriller–not to be missed.” — Laird Barron, author of Blood Standard and Black Mountain

Chasing the Dragon is currently available as an e-book. A new paperback edition is coming soon, but you can buy the e-book right now from:

Kindle

Nook

Google Play

Smashwords

Crossroad Press is also the publisher of my novel In the Shadow of the Axe and my collection Still Life: Nine Stories, and I’m thrilled to be working with them again to bring Chasing the Dragon back to life!

 

 

News & Updates

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  • 08/11/2020 — The Scariest Part: David Mack Talks About THE SHADOW COMMISSIONThis week on The Scariest Part, I’m delighted to host my good friend David Mack, whose latest novel is The Shadow Commission, the third volume in the Dark Arts series. …Read more »

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