My top 10 favorite sci-fi & fantasy books of the decade

I’ve been so busy getting caught up on all my TV viewing (see my two previous blog posts) that I haven’t really had time to get started on my decade faves, but better late than never, I always say! Here are my top 10 favorite books of the decade. (I will post my favorite movie and TV series lists soon.)

51-qQ2TbIPL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_1. “Station Eleven,”  the award-winning, post-apocalyptic novel by Emily St. John Mandel, made me feel grateful for everything I have, in a “well-at-least-everyone-I-love-hasn’t-been-killed-by-a-superbug-and-everything-hasn’t-turned-to-complete-shit” sort of way. It’s reportedly being adapted for TV, as a 10-episode miniseries on HBO Max, and will star Mackenzie Davis and Hamish Patel. You can read my review of the novel here: Award winner ‘Station Eleven’ is a haunting, addictive novel

ready-player-one-book-cover2. Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One,” the novel on which the 2018 film is based, is about a teenage gamer named Wade who escapes from his crappy reality by pluggging into an online, virtual reality where anything is possible. He enters a 1980s themed contest, so as you can imagine, there are tons of fun ’80s pop culture references.

3. “All the Birds in the Sky,” by Charlie Jane Anders, is the Printstory of a girl named Patricia who discovers she can understand what the birds are saying. As someone who’s always wanted to talk to animals, the premise sucked me into this apocalyptic adventure that blends magic and technology when Patricia becomes friends with a computer genius kid named Lawrence. I also enjoyed Anders’ book of short stories, and her other novel, “The City in the Middle of the Night,” which has been optioned for series development by Sony Pictures Television.  

250px-Saga1coverByFionaStaples4. “Saga,” written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples, is the best comic book series in the past 10 years, and I’m guessing it made lots of people’s best-of lists. Its central characters are Marko and Alana, lovers from warring planets, and their daughter, Hazel. The family is chased across the galaxy by an assassin whose sidekick is a giant, hairless, lie-detecting cat; a TV-faced robot prince; and Marko’s ex-girlfriend. See my review of the comic here: ‘Saga’ leaves you wanting more but you’ll have to wait

5. “Circe,” by Madeline Miller, was a treat for me because I largeenjoyed reading “The Odyssey” in college, so I was familiar with a lot of the characters already, but you don’t need to have any prior knowledge of Odysseus, or even Greek mythology, in order to enjoy the book. You might want to know that it reminds me of Maleficent in that it’s told from the villain’s side of the story. Circe is a sorceress who turns men into pigs in “The Odyssey,” but here, we find out why. I loved it and I’m hoping it will be adapted to the big screen.

image16. “Monstress,” a comic by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda,  was introduced to me recently by a family member so I’m not even caught up yet, but what I’ve read so far, I love. And it’s adorable; it’s about a teenage girl who is possessed by a demon. Oh wait, that’s not the part that’s cute – it also has a little girl and a talking cat.

7. “Rat Queens,” a comic by Kurtis J. Wiebe and illustrated by512+UBiq1HL Tess Fowler (see note below), is a medieval fantasy about four women mercenaries who go on always-exciting (and sometimes raunchy) adventures. By the way, all three of the comic books on this list are published by Image Comics (and also are not for kids).

8. “Salt Slow” is a collection of feminist fairy tales and ghost stories by Julia Armfield. The characters evoke the spirits of old-fashioned monsters from Greek mythology, Grimm’s fairy tales, and classic horror movies, but with an original and modern twist.

9781476733951_custom-77e5513ca3d99086fbaa65d783932017b7a41600-s6-c309. “Wool,” by Hugh Howey, is the first book of “Silo,” a post-apocalyptic series. It takes place in the Silo, a city that goes 144 stories under the surface of the Earth. The series is reportedly being adapted to telesvision, as is another of Howey’s series, “Beacon 23.”

10. “How to Stop Time,” by Matt Haig, is a sort of time-traveling tale, but our protagonist is not using a time machine – heimg_0276 (1) is 400 years old. His body ages more slowly than the rest of us so he only looks like he’s in his 40s. I know, you’re wondering if they are making this into a film and the answer is yes! It has been reported that Benedict Cumberbatch will play the main character.

Note: Ryan Ferrier took over “Rat Queens” in 2019, and Priscilla Petraites is now the artist. Roc Upchurch, Stjepan Sejic, and Owen Gieni have also illustrated the series.

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‘I am woman, hear me roar!’ New tales of monstrous women to read and watch

original_400_600I was at the library for “Monstress” (more on that later) when I picked up Julia Armfield’s book, “Salt Slow,” on impulse. I had never heard of the author (it’s her first book), and I was pleasantly surprised to discover it’s a collection of feminist fairy tales and ghost stories!

Armfield’s characters are not what they seem; they subtly become sinister, evoking the spirits of old-fashioned monsters from Greek mythology, Grimm’s fairy tales, and classic horror movies, but with an original and modern twist.

A wolf dressed in a pinafore calls to mind an image of the Big Bad Wolf in Grandmother’s nightgown. A woman is visited by her undead lover. City dwellers become a population of insomniacs when they’re separated from their “Sleeps” – wraith-like creatures who take on lives of their own.

Because short stories aren’t usually my thing, they have to be special to be worth my time, and these qualify. One benefit of the medium is that you can enjoy the book in bite-sized pieces, saving the rest of the package for later, instead of finishing it all at once. I savored the stories of “Salt Slow,” and look forward to reading more of her work.

Monstress

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I’m late to this party, but that just means I don’t have to wait for the next installment of this awesome comic, set in a matriarchal world of sorceresses and magical creatures. The title character is Maika Halfwolf, a teenager who is bonded to/possessed by a powerful demon.

monstress-volume-4Maika embarks on a journey of discovery and revenge, and … well, I’m only on Vol. 2 but I like the story so far and will report back when I’m all caught up! I’m trying not to rush through the series.

Written by Marjorie Liu and illustrated by Sana Takeda, “Monstress” is published by Image Comics, which also publishes two of my other favorite comics, “Rat Queens” and “Saga.” 

Like “Saga,” “Monstress” deals with the big stuff: racism, war, etc. The comic has won several Eisner and Hugo awards, which is not surprising: It has a fresh, original (and grisly) story, and beautiful art.

Volume Four, which collects issues 19 through 24, was published in September.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

“Maleficent,” released in 2014, was a remake of “Sleeping Beauty,” told from the villain’s side of the story. It was clever and beautiful and I loved it. So I ignored the sequel’s score on Rotten Tomatoes, and I’m glad I did.

The new movie is – like the first one – a visual masterpiece, which makes up for the fact that the story is not quite as good as the first.

Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning reprise their roles as Maleficent and Aurora. The sequel picks up a few years after the events of the first film.

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Maleficent is once again maligned/feared/hated, all the old rumors swirling, but this time in the neighboring kingdom of Ulstead, the home of Prince Phllip. Phillip’s mother, the queen, is played by Michelle Pfeiffer.

Phillip has been recast but is about the same level of interesting as the prince from the original. The women are the MVPs here, but I do love Diaval, the loyal man/raven played by Sam Riley in both films. (Perhaps he is the ideal man – one who can be controlled with a snap of one’s fingers!)

There were mixed reviews even among my own party, so I guess this film isn’t for everyone. Maybe you have to be in the right mood, and I was in it. If you could use a dose of girl power, take your daughter, your niece, or your besties, and go see it.

Credits: “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” and “Maleficent,” Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; “Salt Slow,” Julia Armfield, Flatiron Books, October 2019; “Monstress,” Image Comics. 

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News & musings: ‘Expanse,’ ‘Oddfits,’ ‘Ready Player One’

I have been wanting to write about the new Syfy series “The Expanse,” but it took me a while to process my thoughts and feelings about it. I was wary at first, as the show was being compared to my all-time favorite TV series, “Battlestar Galactica.” How can anything live up to that hype? And I found the name distracting because the entire third season of “Star Trek: Enterprise” is set in the Delphic Expanse, which was usually referred to as “the Expanse.”

But I gave it a try. I needed a good show to tide me over while “Game of Thrones,” “Orphan Black,” “Vikings” and “The Last Kingdom” are on hiatus.

I found the first couple episodes of “The Expanse” confusing, and I wondered if the books (which I haven’t read) were just not translating well to the screen – something seemed to be missing. Or at least, I felt I was missing something. I’m hearing impaired and use closed-captioning, and sometimes get lost when the action and/or dialogue are fast-paced, so that might have had something to do with it.

But I was intrigued enough to stick with it, and I reminded myself new series sometimes take a few episodes to hit their stride.

Here’s what you need to know: In the future, mankind has colonized the solar system, and there are three groups at odds with each other – Earthers (from Earth, duh), Martians (people who have settled Mars – not little green men), and the oppressed, working class “Belters” – people born in the asteroid belt. It gets more complicated than that, but I don’t want to give it all away.

Once I figured out what was going on, I was hooked. There’s all sorts of stuff going on in this show – mystery, political drama, and outer space action/adventure. (I will also confess that I like some comic relief in my science fiction. They had me at “donkey balls.”)

I love the complex characters, there’s a talented cast, and the special effects are amazing. The two-hour finale was crazy, in a good way, and left me feeling sad that the season is already over.

If you haven’t been watching, I recommend you check out season one (you can watch on syfy.com or Hulu). If you have been watching, I would love to hear what you think! Comment here or on the Earth to Shawna facebook page:

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Books

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I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately (see my last blog post, in which I reviewed Jessica Chiarella’s “And Again” and Kate Mulgrew’s memoir “Born with Teeth”).

I just started “The Oddfits,” by Tiffany Tsao. It’s about this misfit kid named Murgatroyd Floyd (how cool is that name?) and there’s this huge freezer called the Great Freezer, which contains 736  flavors of ice cream, including Sunset, Quiet, Darkness, Rainbow, and Stars (shown on the book cover above), which tastes like violets, chocolate, warm honeyed peaches, coconut milk, and the sensation that the universe is a very vast place. (If magic ice cream doesn’t make you want to read this book, nothing will.)

I’m picking up hints of “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” “Doctor Who,” “Twilight Zone,” and also something new that I can’t quite identify … but so far, I find it very palatable.

What are your favorite new sci fi titles?

‘Ready Player One’

Speaking of books, I’m super excited about the new, Spielberg-directed film adaptation of Ernest Cline’s dystopian novel “Ready Player One,” to be released in April 2018. (The film was previously slated for December 2017, but it was announced Tuesday that it has been pushed back – to avoid a box office clash with the next “Star Wars” movie.)

I loved the book, about a futuristic, ’80s-themed competition. The winner inherits the fortune of the contest’s creator, who has been dead for five years.

Olivia Cooke has been cast as Art3mis. (Cooke played Rachel in “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” – an excellent movie. Check it out if you haven’t seen it.) Ben Mendelsohn is reportedly in talks for the lead villain, and Nick Robinson is reportedly a favorite for the role of Parzival.

The film has launched a worldwide casting call for three of the main roles: Wade, Shoto, and Daito. The deadline is Feb. 16, so if you’re an aspiring actor who fits the part, you have five days to upload an audition:

http://www.readyplayeronemoviecasting.com

When the book was released, Cline announced that the book contained an Easter egg, a clue which formed the first part of a series of staged video game tests, similar to the plot of the novel. A DeLorean was awarded to the contest’s winner. I wouldn’t be surprised if another contest will be announced when the movie is released, so keep your eye out!

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Olivia Cooke (“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”) has been cast as the female lead in Spielberg’s adaptation of Ernest Cline’s dystopian novel “Ready Player One.”

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New Star Trek series

It has been announced that the showrunner for the upcoming Star Trek series (which is not related to the 2016 film) will be Bryan Fuller, who wrote “Pushing Daisies, “Hannibal,” “Dead Like Me,” and “Wonderfalls.” He has also written for “Voyager” and “Deep Space Nine” so he’s no stranger to the Star Trek franchise.

In a 2013 Den of Geek interview, Fuller said he would love to see Angela Bassett as captain and Rosario Dawson as first officer. How cool would that be? Of course, that was three years ago, and the series has not yet been cast, so I’ll try not to get my hopes up.

The new show is set to premiere in January 2017 on CBS before moving to All Access.

‘Battlestar Galactica’ 

And last, but definitely not least, my fav show ever may be turning into a feature film! Let’s not get too excited – this might be a case of “all of this has happened before and will happen again.” (Yes, that’s a BSG quote.)

The newest news on the matter involves producer Michael DeLuca (“The Social Network”), Bluegrass Films (“Battleship”), and Universal Pictures. Nothing else has been announced thus far, but stay tuned and I’ll keep you posted.