Sunday, May 29, 2016

Near-Apocalypse

I caught X-Men: Apocalypse last night. Opening weekend meant the seats were pretty full so I had one of those less than ideal angles for 3-D watching. Still, besides the curious hallucinogenic after-images that appeared whenever the camera moved to a deeper field, I think I got the basic experience. An apocalypse, smoothly delivered, always a beat too slow to really land with the impact the film-makers wanted.



As always, I try to go into these experiences with an open mind and a forgiving heart. When you pay $16, you tend to find ways of salvaging enjoyment. Or I do at least, maybe someone else could get more worked up about the movie.

There are some great scenes. The final confrontation between the resurrected Egyptian god Apocalypse and his mutant adversaries is well done and impressive.

They have another way-OP moment with Quicksilver, also set to a period specific song. This one goes on longer than it should but still has enough light-hearted moments to carry it through the patchy special effects.

I also liked how the spectacles set-up any number of side-projects I'd definitely spend another $16 to see. Look, I've been on team mutant since the beginning so seeing a credible version of what the comic looks like still warms the receptive places in my heart.

The problem, as near I can figure, is that even being the sixth X-men movie and ninth or tenth movie within the X-Men Universe, X-MEN: Apocalypse happens too soon. Let's focus for a second on what the titular villain of the movie represents within the comic book for a second - after decades of strife between the X-Men and a fairly stable cadre of villains, Apocalypse was introduced as the primary enemy of X-Factor, the spin-off X-title including all of the original Silver Age mutants. Whew!

Anyway, Apocalypse was conceived at that point as being an arch-nemesis who transcended and surpassed the previous X-Foes like Magneto or Brotherhood of Evil mutants. In order to really feel the impact of this particular character, a reader needs to have a working knowledge of the rest of the X-Men continuity. In other words, Apocalypse enters into a world that's already sort of settled into a status quo, one with established characters and storylines. See where I'm going with this?

After all of the sequels, prequels, reboots, and side-projects, I felt myself constantly doing a mental checklist whenever a character entered the movie. Is this a new character or an old character, or a new character to this continuity? Professor X, Magneto, and Mystique are all basically the same character as previous movies, but Angel (previously seen in Last Stand) is reimagined as a cage-fighting Angry Bird. We last saw Storm as portrayed by Halle Berry as a resourceful but catch-phrase challenged American, but here she is an Egyptian street urchin using very minor storm-summoning powers to help commit petty larceny. Then the movie also gives us Psylocke - a very cool character relegated to the background.

The movie serves up an origin story of Cyclops and Jean Grey which basically makes sense within the prequel continuity and the original trilogy while still containing several annoying ambiguities. For example: when Jean Grey helps (SPOILER) recover his memories, is that why he is so obsessed with her in the original trilogy? But if that's part of the larger continuity, why doesn't Scott Summers recognize him?

There's just too much. The first half of the movie does an admirable job introducing all of these people (plus Apocalypse) and advancing the stories of the established characters without really giving enough time to SELL them. Without emotional investment, the slow parts really drag and the loud parts seem curiously bloodless and consequence free.

Avengers, the first one, was so successful because all of the pieces were already on the table by the time of the first act - the movie just had to throw them together in interesting ways. Civil War introduced a bunch of new characters but kept the story focused on the big drama of Captain America vs. Tony Stark. Apocalypse picks up two heaping handfuls of characters, throws them to the wall with the hope enough of them stick.

One final positive observation because despite all of what I've written above, I did enjoy this movie. This was funny. Maybe not quite as witty and knowing as Civil War, but certainly more amusing than anything I've seen from DC. And you know, when you've got people shooting lasers from their eyes, maybe that's not such a bad idea.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Speculative Leverage

I enjoyed the AoS finale. It was epic, exciting, and built with vigor on the developments of the previous season. After two hours I was still interested in what happens after one more careful reset of the series (one or two every season apparently). Something about the events of the finale and the teaser at the start of the first half promises AoS will serve as a valuable bridge between the Earth-bound and Galactic corners of MCU.

AoS Collage, Morgan Crooks 2016
The finale also serves the useful function of highlighting how much the Marvel Cinematic Universe has changed over the years.

When MCU first started, we had a rich dude who sold weaponry in a world not all that different from our own. Tony Stark was certainly an out-sized personality playing with versions of technologies not present in our own world but, for the most part, Phase One of the MCU painted in the conservative tones of late 00's techno-thrillers. No supervillains, just out-of-control versions of the heroes.

Over time, Marvel's approach has shifted. Avengers One was the first chance movie-goers got to experience the quintessential point of shared superhero universes, which is not origin stories or five second cameos, but known, developed characters fighting along side each other in cataclysmic spectacles. Yet, even with the aliens and floating helicarriers, Avengers felt within the understood boundaries of the real world. So much so that the second Captain America film could set what amounted to an updated version of the Parallax View inside MCU.

Those days are receding into the rear view mirror.

The third Captain America was a mix-match of realistic (although amped up) cinema with the pure four-panel punch-up of the airport fight. Doctor Strange promises a further drift into the more fantastical realms of Marvel's universe. The season three finale of Agents of Shield also brings the ostensibly lower power heroes of MCU into space and beyond.

Power creep has already begun.

That's why the Netflix Marvel series (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage) are so important for the continued viability of MCU. I'm sure there's a better term to use to discuss the developments with in MCU but basically this is speculative leverage. Speculative because Marvel, in all of its forms, is a projection of fantasies, nightmares, and wonderings endemic to the human mind. Leverage because after nearly a decade of franchises, movie goers have become used to and accustomed to ever more extreme leaps from reality. AoS, Agent Carter, and the Netflix series serve to ground the other properties. Like leverage in the Stock Market, a growing divide between what is actual and what is fantasy invites collapse. In the case of the 2008, the collapse demolished our economy. In the case of MCU, it means diminishing returns and an impending round of reboots. 

Has Marvel reached that tipping point? The two-part Agents of SHIELD finale, along with Captain America's Civil War, contains much of what is right and wrong with this shared universe.

There were problems with the finale. I wish, for example, that they had had the production budget to really sell the "Primitive" terrigenesis. The concept of one SHIELD agent after another being dragged off screaming to their fates was the right kind of appalling. It's part of why I've been in favor of the Inhuman story-line from the start - that interesting sense that while the powers of each Inhuman might follow a plan, that plan is unconcerned with the people going through the transformation. That said, the terrigen mist looked it came from a fog machine. Not exactly impressive.

"Absolution/Ascension's" story felt secondary in the same way that bothered me about Avengers 2. There was a lot of set-up, some pay-off, and dialogue that felt rote and perfunctory.

In addition, I respect how they ended Grant Wards storyline without being terribly excited about it. Partly this has to do with how Grant has been in the process of leaving this show for most of the run of the show. Dalton did a fantastic job portraying Hive, filling him with the calm, self-righteousness similar to how he played Ward in the first season but tempered by some awareness of the fragility of humans and their plans. But in the end, the true end of Ward happened where the show said it did, back on the Blue Planet when Colson squeezed the life out of him. The scene of Hive and Lincoln floating in a doomed Quinn Jet, awaiting their fates felt superfluous, as though each had already reached their ultimate conclusion and were now just waiting for the writers to return from a coffee break.

I don't mean to say that all is rotten in Stan Lee's Denmark. Far from it. Even after a second viewing, I really liked Civil War. Agents of Shield has gotten better and better at doing what it does. Doctor Strange (casting issues aside) looks like the Inception sequel no one knew they wanted. But Marvel has a tough choice ahead: do they continue to ask, as Tony Stark does in Civil War, "anybody on our side hiding any shocking and fantastic abilities they'd like to disclose?" or do they embrace the classic storytelling of Daredevil and Jessica Jones, or the wrenching battle between Steve Rodgers and Tony Stark. If the purpose of hanging on to Grant Ward was to kill him off in ever more elaborate ways, I'm not sure if that qualifies.

Ultimately, I am a fan of comic books stories, which is more than just one shocking surprise after another. It's about wanting to know more about how Daisy dealt with the events of the finale than why she's wearing goth webbing. It's about wondering why Coulson joined SHIELD in the first place and what his early career was like. It's about being glad that Fitzsimmons survived because, seriously they're awesome.


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Then and Now


Radiohead and PJ Harvey produced some of the first albums I ever bought. To varying degrees both musicians have stayed with me. I own just about every full album each ever released and when both of these artists released a new album this past month, I snapped them up.


It's strange listening to bands for this long. Especially in the case of PJ Harvey, the music contained within The Hope Six Demolition Project seems very much of the same cloth as other music she's released. "A Line in the Sand" sounds like a B-side from "Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea." And yet, the music has deepened over time - matured - to grasp the most obvious word. Harvey's vocals curl around the layered instruments, howl when it's time to cut loose, press right up against the ground in a sinister whisper. This is one of Harvey's more stripped-down albums. In comparison to Let England Shake, the riffs are simple and blocky, the rhythms martial and abrupt. Her first album, Dry, was like this - minus the studio craft unavailable to a independent musician back in 1992. The guitar here has the same loping, feral quality of that early album.

One big change is PJ's perspective seems to have broadened over time. Dry was at once jarringly personal and mythic - the kind of music so intense and claustrophobic it could implode Stonehenge. Hope Six is looser but more traveled. It weaves in vignettes of a walk through the National Mall and the street life of Kosovo and Afghanistan. This is music drenched in terror. Apocalyptic imagery has always existed in PJ Harvey's work, but a global accounting seems very near. "This is how the world ends," Polly Jean sings, the music pounding terrain already leveled by bombs and indifference.



Radiohead, for me, still seems an unlikely survivor of the early 90s alternative moment. Their most famous single (still?) "Creep," seemed one more self-loathing, improbably catchy grunge anthem in a year lousy with them. To be clear, I love "Creep," and listen to it without the slightest twinge of embarrassment. I struggle to enjoy my favorite Pearl Jam singles so effortlessly.

Perhaps this British band's true talent was finding a sound in nearly every album that captured the feeling of a certain moment without ever seeming captured by it. OK Computer still sounds fresh and Kid A is perhaps more timely now then when it was released. Their new album achieves a similar effect.

"Moon Shaped Pool," is a great record. There's nothing here with same force as "Karma Police," "Optimistic," or "Bodysnatchers," but the music finds new ways of mesmerizing, of grabbing hold. The first track, "Burn the Witch" has a scorched earth title without ever pulling out the flamethrowers. Staccato strings replace guitar pummelling, and Thom Yorke's vocals hover in the seconds-away-from-full-panic-attack mode he basically trademarked. The key difference here from the songs mentioned above - the song never quite gives way to full release. The song builds, swells into a shattering crisis, and pulls back. Instead of verse and chorus, Radiohead ride waves of anxiety, ripples of dread. The song ends on a crumbling crescendo - as if the song is dissolving beneath the flailing singer.

That's what has me hooked at the moment - the fact that each song can be so many things but retain a coherent statement. In less confident hands, these songs would be a mess - but Radiohead has enough experience to hold the collage together. There's something of Talk Talk in this album, songs that don't reject convention so much as trade them in for new patterns.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Dark Realism


At the nadir of despair, Freya, the protagonist of Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora begins asking the advanced artificial intelligence running her generation starship, conveniently named Ship, for uplifting suggestions to keep up the morale of survivors of a failed interstellar colonization effort. The Ship dredges up accounts of similar survival situations, describing an entire genre as Dark Realism, a term it uses for literature incorporating a style of pessimistic naturalism. Examples such as Ernest Shackleton's ill-fated expedition to Antarctica among others describe a style of narrative concerned with survival against incredible odds, where every misstep might invite disaster.




Robinson's idea of Dark Realism stuck with me this past year. Perhaps it’s the tenor of the times but I've found myself increasingly interested in apocalyptic themes and dystopias. It's always been an interest of mine but one that has increasingly occupied my creativity for the past two years.

Dark Realism, as I've come to understand it, is a body of literature, some of it self-aware, other parts of it operating in isolation, that describes a pitiless, inhospitable universe in direct opposition to human existence. A big thread of this would be familiar to any fan of Cosmic Dread but I've been working to investigate more traditional speculative genres as well. I plan to do more work on this concept as the year goes on, but at the moment I offer up this essay as an introduction to what I think Robinson was getting at.

First off, the idea that the universe is an implacable foe of humanity and life in general is obviously a very old one. Skim through the Old Testament and find any number of examples of God having it out for his own creation. Nihilistic urges run through classics as diverse as the Illiad, Medea, and Chekhov's Three Women.

However, the body of literature I'm attempting to describe reaches it full flower in the wake of Weird Fiction's invention (Blackwood, Machen, and, of course, Lovecraft) of Cosmic Horror. As expressed in works as varied as "Willows," and "Mountains of Madness," this literature describes mankind's insignificance in the face of vast, impersonal forces that control the universe or await in precarious slumber. Later science fiction authors such as Arthur C. Clarke and James McDevitt wove those elements of existential dread into work that might be considered a bit more plausible than the workings of Elder Gods with unpronounceable names.

One early example of this is the 1954's "The Cold Equations" by Tom Godwin. The short story itself concerns the fate of a young girl who stows away on the wrong space ship and has generated a fair share of discussion and criticism over the years. The basic criticism of the story, that it represents an egregious failure of engineering rather than any universal "nature's law," holds water with me. And yet, the aesthetic experience of the story, the idea that comparatively small mistakes are punished with fervor by physics and mathematics, transcends its icky political subtext.

In more recent years, this strain of science fiction has cropped up in one of my favorite writers - Peter Watts. Watts is a complicated figure in modern SFnal literature. His nihilistic worldview makes for depressing reading, and his version of the future is largely unadulterated  by gestures towards piety and sentimentality. And yet, for the purposes of this essay, it's also instructive as a catalog of what Dark Realism looks and sounds like.

Watts, as a Dark Realist, portrays a world seized by entropy, marked by decline and erosion of meaning. As the universe slides farther and farther into disorder, the only revelation is how little the universe cares for human assumptions. Sentience, free will, and value of catharsis are laughable concepts to the author and the universe he describes, barely worth the effort of derision.

More recently, Dark Realism seems to have embraced two big topics. The first is the Fermi Paradox and the other is Global Climate change.

The Fermi Paradox is the mystery of how, in a world filled with countless stars and planets, it should be that we have no evidence of life out there. Where are all the aliens? One cannot scrape the surface of this question without being confronted with the humbling scale of the universe and the terrifying possibilities its apparent emptiness suggests. Is there some force, or Filter as some term it, that culls advanced civilizations before they have a chance to spread out to the stars? Or is there something innate in the nature of life and intelligence that suppresses it?

Watts answer was blunt: intelligence is not the same thing as sapience and the universe prefers the former.

Stanley's Aurora gave an answer that still strikes me as horrifying, plausible, and somewhat reassuring for all of that. Also add as examples the Ship's realization that many human bromides such as "every bit helps," have little traction in the harsh reality of Newtonian physics.

In his Academy Series (Engines of God, the first novel, is the only one I've read) James McDevitt goes with a force that actively destroys civilizations, a power attracted by one of the most basic products of intelligent beings. In addition, Engines of God includes an updated Cold Equations scenario.

Liu CiXin, the author of Dark Forest, rivals Watts in his grim appraisal of the universe. Unfortunately, his central argument is bound up heavily in the resolution of his second novel so I'll simply say that Dark Forest is one of the best hard science fiction depictions of Cosmic Dread I've read so far.

To be clear, Dark Realism is something distinct from apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, and dystopian literature, and from cosmic horror. The first three genres tend to include dark and nihilistic themes but are mostly concerned with comparing our world to some horrific vision of an alternate reality. Dark Realism describes the universe itself as being hostile. And while this is close to Cosmic Horror, Dark Realism bends more towards the plausible, using existing science to point out the ways in which our world is not as human-friendly as we tend to think.

I've got my work cut out for me. I hope to collect together work towards the end of this summer to offer a more complete appraisal of this body of literature but for the moment I'd strongly suggest anyone interested in this idea to read one or all of the works mentioned above.


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Catch-up

So it's happened. Trump has triumphed. The GOP has been Trumped. America is awaiting its turn.



There have been many, many reactions to this development already. Honestly I had things pegged for a contested convention but his win in New York had a bigger impact than I guess anyone expected. Apparently the average GOP voter does take its cues from those infamous "New York values."

Personally, despite a few tightening polls, I'm managing to stave off panic. I do feel depressed. This entire year has been and continues to be a long cautionary tale about the power of hucksterism. Trump sells dreams. The Wall, America Great Again, the insults, and the simple solutions he spouts every single day, they're all dreams that some significant portion of this country enjoys having. Perhaps Trump really could gun down some hapless supporter in the street and get away with it. You don't question dreams. You understand they possess their own logic, their own message. If you enjoy the dream, then you ignore all of the unicorns and visits from dead relatives. The experience of flying, or winning the lottery or the whatever it is -- that's all that's important to you.

On the other hand, if you are like me, and the words spilling out of his mouth seem monstrous and depraved, you start to look for a way to wake up. I hope by the end of this, enough people will realize they are not going to actually get their fondest dream with this man and they will react in disgust and horror at the creature we've allowed a megaphone for the past year. I hope that we don't need the kind of parenting SF writer Peter Watts suggests.

But maybe we do.

At this point in the year, I'm sort of surprised this kind of thing doesn't happen ALL the time. Or maybe I'm being naive and selective. Reagan was certainly viewed as a kind of freak-show outlier initially. I know FDR got accused of all sorts of demagoguery. Is Trump just one more novelty that America will come to accept and cherish? Or does he represent something far darker?

At this point I can honestly say, I am looking forward to voting against this man. I'm going to vote against him for everything he's said, who he represents, and the damage he will do. I will also happily vote against John Miller or Barron.

I will enjoy voting against Trump nearly as much as I enjoyed voting for the current president.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Rough Drafts versus Final Copy

Three episodes into the current season of Game of Thrones, my opinion of the show has solidified: this is the rough draft of the story George R.R. Martin will hopefully finish.
It's a very promising rough draft. I like the basic outline of the plots the show pushes beyond the cliff-hangers of "Dance of Dragons," the last version of the book we know about in completion. The characterizations make sense and the action moves along at a good clip. We're seeing mysteries solved, inevitable developments and a few genuine surprises. The fights have all been been better than anything in the Watergardens.



But I can't shake the feeling something's missing...


This is not me giving up on the show. Far from it. The second episode, "Home," gave plenty of great GoT moments and, after surviving last years slog, I think I'm in for the long haul. 


But think back to the high moments of the show. The truly surprising, shocking, and amazing moments: The Red and Purple Weddings, Daenyrs saying "Naejot memēbātās!" and even last season's "Hardhome." There was depth in those moments. The audience could enjoy the scene on a myriad of levels. The Purple Wedding, to pick just one example, was the end of a hated villain, a major shift for half a dozen main characters, and an amusing exercise in 'whodunit.'

Compare that to one of the high moments from the current season - the final witnessing of the Tower of Joy fight from last Sunday's "Oathbreaker." After years of speculation about what happened in the battle and how Ned survived the fight and whether or not the fight even happened, what we were left with is a well-staged but fairly straight-forward sword duel.

I was left underwhelmed. Not disappointed exactly but personally certain that when this scene finally appears in Martin's prose, it will be better and resonate more deeply than anything this show can put on air. Maybe the way the fight goes down is exactly how Martin envisioned it but I just don't think so. 

Also, this:


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Captain America: Civil War

I thought I was going to post a few thoughts on Facebook about this movie but ran out of time Sunday. So, assuming you haven't already seen it, here a few reasons to see Captain America.

Three main characters of Civil War: Bucky Barnes A.K.A The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), Tony Stark A.K.A Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), and Steve Rogers A.K.A Captain America (Chris Evans)

The fight sequences are very, very well done. The entire opening sequence works as a kind of James Bond before the credits set-piece but is high-energy, tightly paced, and has stakes that far exceed anything I've seen in recent Bond movies. Full disclosure - I was convinced to see this movie in "4-D," which I'm not sure if I'll repeat. I enjoyed it. 4-D certainly didn't take away any of my enjoyment, but it's a lot of money to spend for a movie like this that would have been just as exciting on a non-quaking chair.

Last year the idea of "Bayhem" or "Chaos Cinema" got a lot of attention. Fury Road's acclaim, in part, came from  the classically blocked and choreographed fight sequences that flowed from cause to logical effect. Call Civil War a kind of middle-ground between Fury Road and Transformers. The opening had lots of quick cuts and whip pans to keep the action moving but sacrificed comprehensibility in favor of rhythm. I suspect this is the kind of movie that might squeak past purists, though. The airport fight - which I'll discuss in a second - was even more impressionistic. Character swooped, jumped, charged, and straight up hovered where ever needed from moment to moment. It was cool but I defy you plot out exactly how Black Panther got from one place to another.

But you know what? Who cares? This movie had heart and laughs. Early on in the opening sequence, Black Widow zapped Crossbones with a taser dart to no effect. "I don't work that way no more," the villain growled. It's a throw-away line but the delivery hinted at the playfulness that threaded throughout the movie. In a story about revenge and the messy consequences to best intentions, it was nice to see Marvel heroes and villains embracing the pulp fun of their source material.

The big set-piece for the movie was the airport confrontation. The Civil War of the title comes from the clash of two sides of heroes, and featured extended cameos from Ant-man, Black Panther, Black Widow, War Machine, Vision, Scarlet Witch, and Spiderman. In contrast to last year's second Avenger movie, none of these characters seem wasted or pointless. Each character gets his or her three to five minute character development point, their moment to shine.

The airport fight itself is awesome because other than the two big set pieces from the Avengers movies, this is the first time we get to see a full-out superhero versus superhero battle. And man, is it glorious. Straying from classical action techniques probably helps here because it allows the audience to focus on the characters, not so much the this-then-that. I guess another way of saying this is, each superhero causes the movie to behave in a certain way; the camera loping after the athletic Black Panther, swooping past along with Spiderman and pulling way back for Ant-man's big surprise.

I loved the way this movie introduced two new heroes - Spiderman and Black Panther. Tom Holland is absolutely my favorite version of Spiderman I've seen so far - garrulous, inventive, and generous, I cannot wait for "Homecoming," the hero's first movie in MCU.

Black Panther is just as impressive. Black Panther is an interesting character. He's not quite the standard Marvel superhero but he's also not really an anti-hero like Wolverine or The Punisher. The relationship Black Panther has with his country, history, and abilities brings a complexity I'm not sure many other Marvel films have explored before. The idea of a hero who is also a king and a defender of an ancient tradition promises some unique conflicts that I hope his debut movie embrace. From what I saw, Chadwick Boseman is going to an amazing job in the role.

Finally, I appreciated that for all of the action, fighting, and bombastic set-pieces. The final confrontation between Captain America is constrained and kept human-sized. In the last Cap movie, the climax involved heli-carriers falling out of the sky onto downtown D.C. Here, we get a small room, and two men backed into a fight neither can afford to lose.


Monday, May 9, 2016

What I Read in April

Being the start of May, it must be time to suggest a few stories to read from last month. As chance would have it, some of my favorite stories from the year so far appeared within the past 30 days. If you are a fan of speculative fiction, consider some of the offerings below:
  • "All the Red Apples Have Withered to Grey" by Gwendolyn Kiste (Shimmer). Damn fine story. Sort of a fairy tale, taking elements from a few different sources, set in a realm that seems vaguely European medieval but could also be Pennsylvania. I know what I prefer. The idea of young women being sold off to an apple orchard keeper for the chance a prince might come to waken them from a sleep is handled exceptionally well. The pay off is ambiguous while still providing considerable pay-off for the story. This is a story that had me within the first few lines and never really let me go. This is probably my favorite work of hers since "Ten Questions."
  • "Touring with the Alien" by Caroline Ives Gilman (Clarkesworld). This adventurous and entertaining novella reminded me of "Way Down East," a Tim Sullivan story I read in Clarkesworld last year. In both stories, aliens are used as a metaphor for loss and longing, and the irreducible distance between individuals. Gilman knows her way around neurobiology, though, and uses a chummy and breezing narrator to talk about things that make Peter Watts write blog posts. Another story that is greatly helped by a bold and unexpected ending.
  • "The Girl Who Escaped from Hell" By Rahul Kanakia (Nightmare). This was a real heart-render. The genius of this piece is its delicately woven ambiguity. Although all the pieces are laid out in plain view there is a subtle design to their placement that leads the reader to places of wonder and doubt. This is not a horror story but a meditation on dread and grey failure. The protagonist, the father who provides a safe home for his trauma scarred daughter, slowly damns himself with his own words. Rarely has a story communicated the hell of diminished expectations and inevitability like this story. 
  • Reaper's Rose by Ian Whates. (Nightmare) Cleaver-like story, first notch sinking deep, each whack at the same target only bringing it closer to the inevitable separation. This is a story with a singular impression in mind, a single simple idea. The conclusion comes into view quickly - inevitable, and unstoppable. The fact that the ending has been cantilevered into place beneath you is the only reality needed. Do we need to know what's going to happen after the final line. Do we need to know who the narrator is or who she is speaking with? No and no and no.