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This movie was written before the pandemic, which makes it an unsettling coincidence that its main theme concerns an evil mastermind looking to unleash a bio-weapon (virus) upon the world – a ‘smart’ virus that can be programmed to kill certain individuals, certain family lines and certain races! The showdown takes place in The Poison Garden, which is a microcosm of the wider world (God’s creation), in which it is humans who wreak such death and destruction upon both nature and themselves, becoming victims of themselves. Yes, this film is about consequences, individual, social and political. Even Bond suffers consequences for the things he does and has done.
Was the film worth the wait, because the pandemic saw its release delayed by a year or two? Yes, indeed. And it’s worth the wait of the 2hrs43mins running time, too. When you see it, you’ll see why it has to be that long, to tell both the individual’s story and the wider-world’s story. You’ll also see why they insisted it be shown at cinemas (rather than rushing it out on Netflix), because the cinematography is breath-taking.
It’s a great way for Daniel Craig to sign off as Bond. But I reckon I’ll leave it there, to avoid spoilers, init. The movie scores a debonair 9 out of 10 from me. (Why not a 10? Well, Rami Malek as the bad guy has a nonsense of an accent, and some of his cryptic pronouncements were just poor scriptwriting, actually (and clearly not the bits written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge.) My partner actually wants to go see it again, so it was clearly doing something right, eh?
I was lucky enough to get a sit-down interview with Nozomi concerning the story ‘Solomon’s Prime Key’. Here’s how it went down!
1. How did you learn to become a writer? Any major advice?
I’ve been writing for about as long as I can remember, across a whole bunch of different projects. It’s only recently that I’ve found stories that are worth telling, and folks who are willing to take a chance on them (thanks again!).
In terms of advice, the fundamentals are always important, and you can find them anywhere. Write habitually, consume voraciously and so on. What’s been helpful for me, especially over the last 18 or so months, is to take that reading a step back and get to grips with the ideas behind the work that you love. I’ve done a lot of reading centred around different philosophies, histories, and modes of thinking, which has really helped me keep a firm grip on what I’m trying to say, and keeping me out of the weeds of aimless storytelling. If I ever get stuck on what I want to say next, I can revert back to that framework and figure it out.
2. What in particular inspired your story ‘Solomon’s Prime Key’ in The Book of Demons?
I think a lot of tales paint demons as inscrutable forces, inflicting their blessings on those who are brave (or foolish) enough to entreat them. I wanted to paint a different picture, and figure out what it would be like to slot demons into a world that is as close to ours as possible. How different would it be if, rather than call a service desk, you made an offering to a demon?
As it turns out, not very!
3. What have been the high and low points of your writing endeavours to date?
A lot of my lowest moments have been coupled with periods of manic creativity; escapism to deal with whatever’s going on in the real world, as it were.
As for high points, well – this interview is certainly one of them! I’ve never had the opportunity to answer questions about my writing before.
4. Has your own writing been influenced by any particular authors? How and why?
I want to show off some pretty nerdy influences here, so bear with me!
I can credit Phillip Pullman and Lemony Snicket as getting me into writing when I was a lot younger. Their stories made me want to tell stories of my own.
In terms of those voices who have most helped me hone my craft recently, I have to point my finger not at authors, but at writers in other media. Yoko Taro, for one, has a unique relationship to the craft of storytelling that encouraged me to take a view on how I was constructing my stories.
I’d also like to point my finger at Natsuko Ishikawa, as a woman who has created some of my favourite stories in the past few years. They’ve been a continual source of joy and inspiration during some, shall we say, troubled times.
Finally, I’d like to credit the work of Abigail Thorn for helping me be more honest about the kinds of stories I want to tell, why I want to tell them, and what they mean to me.
5. Why do you think fantasy and horror are so popular?
Abnegation is a powerful feeling, and it can be very tempting to point that way when it comes to fantasy’s popularity.
I think they both create spaces to explore alternatives to what our world has to offer, both for goor or for ill.
6. What’s your next writing project going to be?
I have two on the burner at the moment, a science fantasy novel and a more contemporary fantasy piece of work. I haven’t figured out the best way to get them out there, but keep your eyes peeled!
7. How can you stay in touch with me?
Twitter is the best place to say hi, ask questions, and generally keep up to date with my online stuff. You can find me @NozomiOkumura.I also have a site that will serve as a hub for the majority of my writing; you can find that here!
Here’s a wheeze: my new publication has made it into The Bradford Times… Bradford in Canada, that is, rather than the one in the UK. LOL. Anyway, here’s the link: https://www.bradfordtoday.ca/local-news/local-writers-work-included-in-new-tome-the-book-of-demons-4235210?fbclid=IwAR1b3e101Jr2194NQDiBkVIQRmpU16n3E8m0BxxB3q1vVCAW553kpiAyaps.
Just finished watching the first spooky season of Evil. It stars Mike Colter (of Marvel’s Luke Cage fame) as a priest-in-training tasked by the Catholic Church with examining possible cases of demonic possession. He is ably assisted by a sceptical psychologist played by the feisty Katja Herbers. Think in terms of Mulder and Scully from the legendary X-Files and you won’t go far wrong. Certainly, there’s plenty of chemistry between the leads in the style of Duchovny and Anderson. Things get decidedly hot under the (priestly) collar, that’s for sure, especially when a dastardly demon (played quite deliciously by Michael Emerson) decides that our two investigators either need to be morally corrupted or removed from the game-board entirely. It’s just the fate of all humanity at stake, after all. I’m happy to say the series is far from formulaic, however: some episodes really are quite disturbing. It scores a nearly divine 8.5 out of 10 from me. And if it sounds like your sort of thing, you might also want to check out my new title, The Book of Demons, which provides you with a history of demonology and considers why the number of exorcisms being conducted today is on the increase: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Book-Demons-J-Dalton/dp/1913562247/ref=sr_1_1?crid=AIITVR4LEM4R&dchild=1&keywords=book+of+demons+dalton+kristell+ink&qid=1628844655&sprefix=book+of+demons+dalton%2Caps%2C165&sr=8-1.
Review by Nadine Dalton-West, T @andiekarenina, nadinedaltonwest.com
It’s been a high-stakes few months over at Marvel Towers. Big cinema releases have been hammered by the pandemic. Long-form TV shows have, somewhat counter-intuitively, become disposable eyeball-filler for a world that has spent far too long on the couch. It’s hard to make a seismic television event when your beautiful fantasy epic is binged and forgotten somewhere between Queen’s Gambit and Prodigal Son, consigned to “watched it at some point during lockdown” oblivion. It’s hard to get people’s attention when their attention spans are broken.
When you serve up the dry biscuit of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier as an hors-oeuvre, it’s even harder.
So both TV show Loki and movie Black Widow had rather a lot on their to-do lists: re-enthuse a jaded fanbase, convince people there’s life beyond the Infinity Stones, re-assert the very purpose of the MCU. And – as we will see – it’s worth remembering that the actual purpose of these stories is just that: to tell us stories. Stories which make us care, stories which give us some of that wonder we got when we were children, and our comics came out weekly, and we craved that “but what will happen to these people?” moment like a good narcotic. For me, Black Widow succeeded on these fundamental terms; Loki failed. This is why. Spoilers abound herein – don’t read on unless you’ve seen both Loki and Black Widow!
Now Loki has some good qualities. Aesthetically, it’s a triumph: the TVA’s Soviet-spliced-with-Mad-Men styling is gorgeous; the cartoon clock called Miss Minutes is deliciously sinister; the brutalist concrete set looks like an endless nightmare where you’re trapped in The Barbican and can’t find the lifts. Tom Hiddleston does his best with the material, and his best is decent, although I’d like to put in a personal request to the producers to let the guy wash his hair: I’m not sure the god of mischief would be any the less compelling if the poor lad was allowed a bottle of Head & Shoulders once in a while. Owen Wilson is fine. There is, it’s true, an alligator.
…And I’m out. Seriously, that’s it. This entire series screams “wasted opportunity” from start to finish. Firstly, the timey-wimey stuff is so crass and poorly handled that you realise there is zero jeopardy. No one dies: everyone comes back. Every fight therefore ends with someone being vapourised but then lo, here they come again, because timey-wimey and multiverses, yeah? Ditto the time doors: wanna crank up the suspense by stranding our protagonists on a doomed planet where – as they tell us about seventeen times – NO ONE GETS OFF THE DOOMED PLANET? We literally sit there waiting, as do the protagonists, for someone to open the time doors just behind them, just in time. Infinite multiverses and timelines? Ok, so tell me why I should care. This specifically ISN’T our Loki (it’s a 2012 Loki who jumps out of the MCU main timeline), and neither are any of the other Lokis, literally none of whom is any good whatsoever. There is a whole episode which looks about to revel in the playfulness of having a hundred different possible Lokis and then pours it all down the drain for a running gag about a reptile and Richard E. Grant in a costume only fractionally more silly than everyone else’s. The Timekeepers are so obviously not real to anyone who has seen any tv show or film ever in their lives that the so-called reveal is thunderingly dull (and is one of several moments where the writers of Snowpiercer might fancy calling their lawyers.)
The One who Remains? Fundamental storytelling rule 101: why on earth should we care? We haven’t met him. We haven’t even had him foreshadowed. He’s a Crapus-ex-Machina. And he’s also an example of how appallingly this series treats its Black characters: they are evil or disposable, with paper-thin development, there to simply throw the focus back onto a tedious white couple who have less chemistry than a rock and a slightly different rock.
Now when we examine Black Widow, we can actually see a few key similarities. Both works are “dead end” narratives: they don’t advance the MCU’s storytelling. (Falcon and Winter Soldier and Wandavision, on the other hand, are entry-points into key new developments for Captain America and Doctor Strange respectively – they are connecting narratives for what comes next.) Loki and Black Widow are not: they are backtracks which tell discrete stories in little cul-de-sacs within the main narrative. Black Widow fills in a set of Natasha Romanov backstory beats, but still leads to the same graveside, just as Loki takes a possibility from one moment where Loki grabs the Tesseract and follows that sidebar, a sidebar which stands alone. In this sense, both works have a bit of “but what are they FOR?” syndrome about them.
Where Black Widow works is this: its humble purpose is in telling us a human story (and maybe Loki got it right all along in that being burdened with “glorious” purpose is a curse, not a blessing.) We care about this family. From the opening scene which is as exciting and suspenseful as any Marvel pre-credits sequence I’ve seen, we are positioned alongside two children who want simple things – their “parents”, their favourite song, to watch lightning bugs – and who are dragged apart by a harrowing series of events. When that family is thrown back together more than 20 years later, they have to figure out what they really mean to each other. This then develops one of the entire MCU’s key and recurring themes: found family. From the Avengers to the Guardians, this is how comics actually hook their nerds – we are all oddballs who eventually find people who are our tribe, and those people are not normally our biological family. This concept has universal resonance, underpins so much of MCU storytelling, evokes real emotion, is tender and poignant and is whatever Loki and Sylvie’s strange onanistic relationship is not.
Furthermore, when Black Widow throws you a big bad, Taskmaster, the character is seeded, developed, absolutely terrifying as a fighting machine, and a genuine threat to our protagonists. All of this, from the start, alongside THIS big reveal being foreshadowed and earned, and indeed genuinely necessary for Natasha’s redemption arc. And there’s more: the chase scene through Budapest is as huge and crash-bang as any action sequence Marvel has served us, the Moonraker nods are clever and really well-followed through in the climax, and the banter is funny. Red Guardian’s big speech pomposity is repeatedly punctured by those around him; Yelena points out that real superheroes probably don’t take ibuprofen; Johannsen’s “stick your butt out” landings are thoroughly mocked.
Fundamentally, though, Black Widow makes you genuinely worry about a collapsed pig called Alexei. Loki just puts antlers on an alligator and points at it, over and over, shouting “look at the alligator”, with ever diminishing returns.
When I heard that this movie was coming out, I had to ponder the question ‘What’s it for?’ I mean, was it really gonna offer anything new, anything that hadn’t already been done in Marvel movies? Turns out, I should have had more faith. Where the Captain Marvel movie has similar themes to Black Widow, to be sure, Captain Marvel is quite confused in terms of genre, and the plot sees the lead become ludicrously omnipotent at the end (leaving it nowhere to go after that). By contrast, Black Widow seems much more grounded and authentic. I know, it’s an odd thing for me to say such a thing, especially when the movie’s full of impossible action sequences, and so on, but there’s more integrity and continuity to the emotional trauma and character development in Black Widow that makes the SFX of far less immediate concern. Indeed, there’s nice humour ridiculing the very choreographed, ‘posed’ and voyeuristic (‘male gaze’) style of action sequence that’s typical of Hollywood and traditional Marvel movies.
There can be little argument that Black Widow might/should be described as a feminist movie. It revolves around the central relationship between two sisters, exploring the nature of ‘sisterhood’. They’ve been stolen, emotionally neglected and physically abused by an evil patriarch (General Dreykov, played by Ray Winstone, with a very dodgy Russian accent indeed) who is hellbent on producing an army of obedient female super-soldiers so that he can rule the world. Yes, it’s a very cliched scenario (hence the movie doffing its cap bigtime to the Bond movie Moonraker). And, yes, the way I’m describing its themes risks making it sound like a very dogmatic or preachy affair. BUT fear not! The movie has a light touch (not much clunky exposition or lecturing at all), typical Marvel bantz (Joss Whedon style) even in emotionally fraught moments, and some nicely arranged fight sequences (ironically/knowingly done).
The ‘male’ tradition of superheroes is affectionately mocked – the Red Guardian character is an anachronistic scream. There’s no soppy hetero love story getting in the way. There’s only female drive and a lack of apology. And the story of the wider MCU is actually moved along. This movie pulls off a lot (with style) and represents a valuable contribution to the oeuvre. 8 out of 10 from me! Hurrah!
Well, despite the global pandemic/zombie apocalypse, the convention circuit has risen from its grave, from the ashes, whatever metaphor you’d like. I’ve now fully updated this website’s listings, all the way through to late 2022! Check it our here: UK conventions and festivals: scifi, fantasy, horror and comicbooks | Metaphysical Fantasy (wordpress.com)
Sammy HK Smith is the author of the new smash-hit novel Anna. I blackmailed her into giving us this exclusive interview. It’s full of insight and secrets on how to become aninternational fantasy author – or your money back. Enjoy!
1. Sammy, your new book is pretty hefty. How much does size matter in fantasy, do you think?
So ANNA comes in around 100k, so not too hefty in size, but certainly hefty on subject matter. I’ve covered sexual abuse, PTSD, coercive behaviour, narcissism, murder, all in a pretty cover with a pretty name! Looks can definitely be deceiving…
With the actual word count of fantasy, no, I don’t think size does matter. If your story is told and it evokes the emotions/response you want – it’s done. I LOVE long over-arching storylines and worlds that go on and on, but equally those standalone novels and short stories are just as satisfying.
2. Of all your books and short stories, do you have a favourite… or do you love all your children equally?
Hmmm, I think I can comfortably say I love them in different ways! In Search of Gods and Heroes (ISOGAH) was my very first novel and so, as if the way with the eldest, it holds a special place in my heart. ANNA was my second and so vastly different that it’s impossible to say whether I love one more than the other! Technically, I would say ANNA is more focussed as it’s entirely one POV, whereas ISOGAH is told from 8 interweaving viewpoints…
3. Readers always ask authors where they get their ideas or inspiration. Do you have a muse? What’s your secret?
No real muse (God, I’m boring!) but I draw influence from everything around me: real-life work, politics, history, TV, literature, you name it! I love to think ‘what if…’ and mash ideas together.
With In Search of Gods and Heroes I thought ‘What if the goddess of Love was a masochist?’ and started to develop the character that way.
With ANNA, I initially wanted to write a light-hearted dystopia with revenge and romance… but it became something much darker and as I work investigating domestic and sexual abuse I started to realise that I could write something different. I drew on my experiences at work and the story unfolded from there.
4. Who’s your favourite fantasy author now deceased? Why them?
I think I’ll bypass some of the more famous authors and go for Sara Douglass. The Axis Trilogy was released during my teen years, and I think it was around 2000 I picked up the series and fell back in love with fantasy. It’s ‘old school’ in plot and pace, but it’s nostalgic and I love it.
5. Who’s your favourite living fantasy author and why (apart from Tom Lloyd or A J Dalton)?
Hmm, tough one. I have two favourites. Jacqueline Carey and Ian Irvine.
Jacqueline’s use of language is just beautiful and poetic, and her world-building is second to none, whereas I love how Ian can merge science fiction and fantasy seamlessly. They’re both ‘epic’ fantasy writers, though.
6. What’s the best thing about being an author?
Creating new worlds and characters that feel alive. It gives me a mini god complex! Oh the power!!! *evil laugh*
7. And the worst?
The crippling self-doubt, the knock-backs and rejections. It’s tough out there, especially for newish authors like me. I’ve been exceptionally lucky so far in that Rebellion publishing took my novel direct from me as I’m unagented.
8. What are you currently working on that you can tell us about without then having to kill us?
I’ve had loads of projects in various stages of development for years. Having kids stalled all of them! However I’m slowly flexing my writing muscles again and working on a standalone novel in the same world as ANNA but this time we focus on someone who is outwardly strong but inside they’re falling apart. We have drugs, slavery, murder, bit of romance, disabilities and a world of grief.
9. If people want to find out more about you, what sites do you maintain and what’s your handle on Twitter?
So I’m a technological luddite, so my sister has created a cool site for me at www.sammyhksmith.com but I’m on all the usual social media platforms for the @Sammyhksmith handle.
10. What question have I not asked you that I should have done? And what’s the answer?
Why should we read ANNA?
ANNA is unique. I don’t say that out of ego. It really is. I couldn’t find a book to compare it to that covers PTSD and sexual abuse so closely in the fantasy arena. There are some outstanding novels that cover childhood sexual abuse in a fantasy setting, but not many that delve into domestic abuse and the trauma that Anna goes through.
It’s hard-hitting. It’s not an easy read. I make no apologies for that. Rape isn’t easy for a survivor and I want people to think about how Anna behaves and the path she takes. It really is proving to be a Marmite love/hate novel and I find it interesting how it sparks of such strong feelings one way or another.
If you’re looking for something revenge-driven, Rambo style shootings and loud displays of vengeance, then this probably isn’t for you.
If you want something that makes you think, and draws out emotions, then give it a try.
Oddly, I ended up caring more about the Zombie King more than the two-dimensional human characters in the new Army of the Dead movie on Netflix. It opens with a US military convoy carrying a ‘dangerous cargo’ out from the Area 51 base in the Nevada desert. There’s an accident and our Zombie King breaks free! He promptly begins to infect and recruit an army to overrun Las Vegas (cue the comedy-horror to a modern soundtrack).
The US government fails to quell the zombie outbreak (yes, it’s all fairly covid-y) and, instead, seals off the city. The government is tempted to nuke the entire place, but there are humanitarian activists who create a fuss and everything gets a touch delayed.
A mercenary group of humans then decides (for various individual backstory reasons) to break into the city in order to retrieve a load of cash from under one of the mega casinos. It basically becomes a bit of a heist movie at this point.
It’s the politics of this movie that set it apart from the norm. We come to realise that the zombies aren’t just mindless invaders who should be destroyed – as they seem to have a social hierarchy and a language. Indeed, they just seem to want a place to live – it’s apparent that they could break out of Las Vegas if they wanted, but they’re content simply to have a home. See the politics? Indeed, given how poorly the human refugees of the city are treated by their own government in a holding camp, we understand that the true monsters in this movie aren’t the zombies. The zombies actually make the humans look bad. And we come to appreciate just how poorly the Zombie King has been treated (experimented on in Area 51, humans terrorising his city and ‘family’, etc)!
Is it full of silly gore? Yes. Is the tone of the movie entirely haphazard? Yes. Is it one helluva lot of fun? Abso-zombie-lutely! And the cast isn’t too bad. If you’re a fan of the genre, this movie has something a tad different to offer. Worth a look. 7 out of 10 from me!