Ranking Black Mirror Episodes, Seasons 1-3

Do you have a love/hate relationship with technology? Do you love TV shows like The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits? Then you should check out Black Mirror, currently available on Netflix. At first I wasn’t too intrigued by the idea of this series. I kinda expected each plot to devolve into the ending of Superman 3.

supermanIII

The most terrifying/ridiculous Superman moment ever

Sure, the plots are creepy and pessimistic on the whole, but there’s more to them than that. There are explorations of how mobile/social media and our surveillance culture speak to the seamy or sentimental sides of our human nature. In Black Mirror (I always pronounce it the way Arcade Fire sings it), technology is presented as 30% awesome, 70% revolting/dehumanizing. And we can’t turn away from that awesome 30%.

With that said, here is my ranking (in order of bestitude) of the episodes in Seasons 1, 2, and 3:     

#1
San Junipero
The premise:
I don’t want to give anything away. One of the great things about this very great episode is the mystery of it. This isn’t the first bit of science-fiction to explore this concept (It turns up to mind-blowing effect in Iain M. Banks’ Surface Detail). I will say if you’re still yearning for 80s nostalgia after Stranger Things, this will help scratch that itch.
My take: A rare optimistic episode. Some people will find it uplifting—some will find it uplifting and vaguely disturbing. But I don’t think you can deny that the story is bittersweet and beautiful. Maybe the story was particularly resonant for me because I feel like (pardon the self-promotion) my two Idyll trilogy books deal with this idea, a little (but in a more pessimistic way). Book 3, Exile, which I’m polishing now, will explore the concept further.

#2
The Entire History of You
The premise: Almost everyone has implants in their skull that record the video and audio inputs of every moment of your life. You can replay those memories at will, or project them onto a screen for others to see.
My take: I had a similar idea for a short story; I’m sure probably a lot of people have. But here, the writers take the idea and just kill it (in a good way). My story was going to involve a guy who become addicted to reliving his best days, so that he never makes any new memories. This story goes in a much better direction. Also, Robert Downey Jr. has bought the rights to turn this episode into a film.

#3
Fifteen Million Merits
The premise: More dystopian than the SNL’s The Group Hopper. Everyone wears gray sweatsuits. They pedal spin-bikes to create energy. They are inundated with screentime at every waking moment.
My take: Of all the episodes in the series, this one builds a world that is most different from our own. In fact, parts of it are a bit cartoonish. Then the episode reveals how this world deals with instant—and disposable—celebrity, and the story really takes off. Everyone is one step from becoming a reality show buffoon, one step from an American Idol superstar, one step from a porn star.

#4
Nosedive:
The premise: The world is so plugged into social media that every social interaction is logged in and rated. Social status is now absolutely quantified, and posted on Heads-Up feeds, so everyone can see where you fall on the popularity scale. If your score is high enough, it will help you qualify for loans and housing—low enough and certain places will bar you from entering.
My take: I had to stop this one midway through because it was stressing me out. Anything involving an airport snafu is like an immediate trigger warning for me. So the first half of this episode is lightly disturbing. Then the second half almost becomes a comedy, ala Road Trip or Wedding Crashers. Overall, the feel of ‘Nosedive’ is more like a parody than a cautionary tale. Ultimately, I don’t think people would buy into this concept of Facebookifying their entire lives. But 10% of the population would probably love it!

#5
Be Right Back
The premise: A tech startup can resuscitate the dead—virtually—by creating an artificial intelligence based their mobile and social media presence.
My take: Wow. The writers flesh out the characters, lay down the dynamite, and set up the viewer for a wallop. The story has some similar themes to Her and A.I.—except this ghost in the machine was an actual person at one point.

#6
Hated in the Nation
The premise:
This one is another mystery, so I won’t give anything away. A woman is murdered. And internet hatin’ is involved. At 90 minutes long, ‘Hated in the Nation’ is a movie-length capper to Season 3.
My take:
This was good. It reminded me of those buzzy, ‘viral’-type suspense movies (Nerve, Purge, Gossip) where characters get caught up in social phenomena. Also, there’s a bit of Seven in there. Now that I think about it… it might have been better if the main sci-fi element had been removed, and the story was more of a straight-forward serial killer mystery.

#7
Playtest:
The premise: A man volunteers to spend a night in a creepy house while hooked up to an augmented-reality gaming device that taps into your greatest fear. For the love of God… Why?!?!
My take: Good, straight-forward popcorn/horror fun. You can kind of see the big pay-off coming, but the path it takes has just the right amounts of twists in it.

#8
White Christmas
The premise: A bonus-length, Christmas episode that works in two sci-fi ideas: 1) digitally copying your mind to create your own digital house-slave, and 2) turning social media ‘blocking’ into a real-world thing.
My take: This is another very dark episode, and the concepts and core characters are pretty mean. If you know someone who’s freaked out by artificial intelligence, don’t let them watch this episode.

#9
Shut Up and Dance
The premise: Verrrrry dark. This episode feels close to modern times. A teenager has his laptop hacked, and he ends up being FaceTimed during his ‘personal’ time. The troubles only get worse from there.
My take: The characters’ decision-making seemed over-the-top for a lot of this episode. And did I mention this one is verrrrrrrrry dark? Then there’s a sort of hurried, garbled phone conversation that ends the proceedings with one final, icky cherry on top. Did I hear what I thought I heard? Is it true? Seemed a little confusing to me. Good use of a soundtrack, though.

#10
National Anthem
The premise:
Someone has kidnapped England’s most beloved princess, and they want to extort the Prime Minister to do something very embarrassing.
My take: A short episode, and not a whole lot to say about technology in general. Except that the web completely cuts through the reins that the British government’s try to put on their traditional news outlets.

#11
Men Against Fire:
The premise: High-tech soldiers fighting a mysterious hostile species called Roaches. I won’t give away anything else, because this one is also set up as a mystery.
My take: I feel like I figured out the mystery way too soon, then the story seemed to drag while I waited for everything to play out. An interesting idea though; and Doug Stamper’s in it.

#12
The Waldo Moment
The premise: A comedian who voices a vulgar cartoon bear finds himself mixed up in a national election.
My take: Again, Black Mirror takes on politics. This episode reminds me a bit of House of Cards, real people caught up in diabolical political schemes. Shadowy  strategists decide that an irreverent, populist cartoon bear is the perfect candidate, and their argument actually kind of makes sense

#13
White Bear
The premise: 90% of the population have mysteriously turned into gawkers. All they ever do is wander the earth mutely and record stuff on their phones. Society has broken down, and the remaining 10% of the population react to this new status quo in one of two ways. They go on Purge-style murder sprees, or they run and hide from the Purge people.
My take: A good start, but in my opinion, this is one case where the episode’s twist actually makes the story lamer.

Series Condition: Tokyo Ghost

I’m updating this post from June to note the Tokyo Ghost finale.

I’ve heard a lot of great things about the comics writer, Rick Remember. Nearly every one of his Image series has sounded cool enough to hook me in for at least the first issue. Unfortunately, Black Science, Deadly Class, and Low all felt too nihilistic, too ‘hair-trigger’ for me. Lots of bouts of sudden violence; lots of main characters or innocent bystanders being killed off. They were cool books, with great ideas and art, but I had difficulty finding something enjoyable or sympathetic to grab onto, something to make me hang on for the ride.

tg00That’s not the case with the thundering tank-cycle that is Tokyo Ghost. So far, I’m totally hooked for the ride.

Tokyo Ghost
Writer: Rick Remender

Artist: Sean Murphy
10 issues
Years: 2015 to 2016
Publisher: Image Comics

If anything, Tokyo Ghost should be the Remender book that I most hate, because it might be his most misanthropic premise. Here’s the description from Comixology: The Isles of Los Angeles 2089: Humanity is addicted to technology, a population of unemployed leisure seekers blissfully distracted from toxic contamination, who borrow, steal, and kill to buy their next digital fix. Getting a virtual buzz is the only thing left to live for. It’s the biggest industry, the only industry, the drug everyone needs, and gangsters run it all.

tg01To establish the setting, Remender presents us with a ton of carnage and depressing scenarios. Also, a couple of truly ruthless and depraved bad guys, including a kazillionaire (a Donald Trump stand-in) who’s so debauched, he spends most of his business hours Donald-Ducking it. (Word of warning: If you don’t like doodles of men’s diddles, or other bits of nudity and bad language, then this might not be the comic for you.)

Again and again, the book goes over-the-top to show you just how this potential future is nearly-completely awful. I think one of the things that pulled me through this section of the book was that the future Earth in my ‘Idyll’ novel has some similar things going on (i.e., crowds of people who are emotionally and physically reliant on indulgent technology).

Then we go to the Garden Nation of Tokyo, which is the one place on the planet that is off-the-grid. In my mind that’s when the story really gets good. We learn more about our two main characters, one of whom is finally forced to disconnect from the tech that has consumed him.

tg02bThe story is always moving, with something at the end of each issue that breaks the status quo established by the issue before it. Then in issue 5, Remender really pulls the rug out from under our heroes, just when they’re at their happiest point.

Besides Remender’s twisty plot, the other HUGE draw is Sean Murphy’s art. He has a new, fun, ‘scratchy’ kinetic style, (I like Otto Schmidt and Sanford Greene, too).  Murphy’s delicate scratchy lines manage to be both dynamic and meticulously rendered. His art is like the beautiful love-child of Bill Sienkiewicz and Alex Nino. Every other page, I had to stop reading and zoom in on my iPad to enjoy a rendering of a Zen Garden, or a kinetic kick, or just a reflection in water.

By Issue 6, the story has turned dark and nihilistic again, but I’m imagining that Remender has more surprises up his sleeve. I’d like to see more of Tokyo’s Samurai Shangri-La as opposed to being stuck in just another Cyberpunk Dystopia. Here’s hoping the story goes to more beautiful locations, to complement Murphy’s stunning art.tg03

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Update:

Issue #10, which came out in September of 2016, marked the end of the series. Murphy is moving over to DC Comics to work on ‘All-Star Batman.’ That should be pretty cool. It would’ve been interesting to see where ‘Tokyo Ghost’ might have gone, if it had stayed an ongoing series, but the story had a natural conclusion to it at the Issue-10 mark. Actually, it probably could’ve wrapped up by Issue 9. The plot seemed to tread water in issues 7-9. Perhaps the creators were trying to work out whether they should end the series or not. Also, the latter issues were pretty damn bloody and nihilistic, so a bit of the antithesis of what I liked about the first few issues.

I did like the finale, partly because it went into that sci-fi idea of just giving up on the physical world, uploading your brain into virtual reality, and living there forever. Idyll Book 3 deals with that idea, somewhat. Also, I don’t know if I’ve ever read a genre book that’s dealt so heavily with the theme of co-dependence. That’s the primary (internal) struggle that Debbie faces in the last issue: Does she have the strength to make a break for her independence? Should she want to?

So, next steps for me: Keep an eye out for Murphy’s ‘All-Star Batman.’ And I might check out Remender’s ‘Deadly Class.’

Idyll Chatter: False Start

I posted a few weeks ago about how I had started to write Idyll Book 3 from the middle out. (I’m sure the boys at Pied Piper would be proud!) Well, that was a over a month ago, and since then I’ve returned to the proper beginning of the book, and I’ve been treading forward, building characterization and tension (I hope) that will lead to that midway climax that changes the rest of the book.

I knew what characters I needed to inject into the story, where I needed them to be at the midway point, and what new scenarios I had to set in place. So I diligently set to work. Perhaps that was partly where I ran into a problem. Or at least my focus prevented me from seeing the problem, at least for a while. Unfortunately, after writing those first five-or-six chapter, I realized that the process was feeling a little too much like ‘work.’

The first few chapters were coming out boring!

Too much sci-fi exposition. Too much dwelling in the past. Honestly, probably too much characterization—too much angst and hopefulness and mushiness and all that stuff. And no action. In fact, my first outline contained a few twists and interesting reveals in the beginning, but the first real action scene didn’t happen till maybe 15% in.

So I backtracked and started again. And I think EXILE is going to be much better because of it. I’ve moved up the first big action scene, so it starts to happen while we’re still coming to grips with our heroes’ new status quo. And a few dangling, sci-fi-ish threads are twined together and explained (hopefully smoothly, in a way that won’t make more action-oriented fans lose interest).  Also, a critical new character is introduced during the action.

And another character was excised from the plot altogether. Readers of the series hopefully recognize the name ‘Arbiter.’ I had this character arrive in our heroes’ new home and spend a few tense (but wordy) chapters with our heroes before any action begins. Now, the Arbiter will have a much more scaled-back role (but still essential), and a portion of that story will be told through Interludes.

So there you have it! Thank goodness so far I’ve been working in a gap-writing style, so I didn’t waste too much time on my false start. I believe I’m back on track with a story that will be much more enjoyable, middle, ending, and beginning. I’m hoping to have the first draft done my the end of October.

I just read: Sleeping Giants

sleepinggiantsThe description for Sleeping Giants reminded me of Stephen King’s Tommyknockers. To me, that’s a very good thing, because Tommyknockers starts with one of my favorite high-concept openers ever: Woman finds a strange piece of metal stuck in the ground, starts digging, and digging, and digging, and eventually realizes it’s the lip of a gigantic, buried flying saucer.

In Sleeping Giants, it’s a young girl who stumbles upon a huge piece of long-buried alien technology. In this case, she finds a hand. But where’s the rest of the metallic body? It’s up to a shadowy government conspiracy to find it. The girl grows up and joins the shadowy government conspiracy, and soon her and her team are on a globe-spanning quest to find the pieces of their Giant (not unlike G.I.Joe searching for fragments of the Weather Dominator).

Overall, this novel has a fun ‘popcorn’ type feel to it, so a comparison to an afternoon cartoon feels very apt. I was also reminded of the movie ‘Pacific Rim.’ A giant robot? Check! Alien threat? Well, you’ll have to read the book to find the answer to that. But mainly I was reminded of Pacific Rim in the way that the Sleeping Giant is designed to be driven.

The feature of this novel that really helps it stand apart is the way it’s constructed in a sort of ‘found footage’ way. Most of the story is told through transcripts of interviews or communiques, or through descriptions of satellite footage, etc. I suspect some readers will love this type of storytelling, and others will hate it. It does make you work harder to understand what’s going on, and to keep track of characters. In fact, reading ‘Sleeping Giants’ is a bit like putting together your own mysterious puzzle. But this also creates a distance between the reader and the characters. Sometimes the author cheats with this technique to give us more of a perspective into the heroes’ personal lives, and some of these attempts are a bit cringe-worthy. For instance, in at least two separate occasions, agents are being interviewed by their superior and they end up describing sexual encounters with their coworkers.

I never felt fully immersed in a scene, although I was fine with that because I enjoyed the ‘piecing together’ aspect of the reading experience. I’m sure I’ve read other books that are primarily told by letters or transcripts, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t include a huge, drivable robot in them!

The story also takes some very unexpected, whip-fast turns, which was cool. My main beef would be that the ending is a bit anticlimactic—and it’s obvious that the author is setting up a bigger conclusion in Book 2, ‘Waking Gods,’ which doesn’t come out till April 2017. Wakey, wakey! I’m ready to see how the story ends.

“The Wilds and FREE” eBook Giveaway

Wilds_FREE_Promo_CoverTo celebrate the release of StoryBundle’s Weird Western compilation—and IDYLL’s inclusion in that amazing set—I’m now offering a free eBook copy of Book 2 of the Idyll Trilogy (THE WILDS) to anyone who signs up for my email newsletter.

All you have to do is email me at jderrywriter@gmail.com and let me know what eBook format you prefer (MOBI or ePub), and I’ll send it over to you!

So If you’ve just finished reading IDYLL (or you’re considering reading it), I’d love to hear from you and to send you a free copy of THE WILDS. I hope you’ll enjoy finding out what’s next for the Starboards and the Bridges. Here’s a hint: It involves a whole planet’s worth of trouble!

In return, I’ll send you eblasts (never more that biweekly) with updates and concept sketches for the Idyll Trilogy, plus news on my next SFF series. You’ll be the first to get info on the upcoming Book 3 of the trilogy (I’m about halfway through the rough draft) and the first to hear about other deals as well.

This giveaway expires on September 10th, so don’t forget that old bit of settler wisdom: “Quick is merciful!”

Don’t wait, sign up now!

Brand NEW! The Weird Western StoryBundle

So proud to be part of the Weird Western StoryBundle, launching today!

Boy Eating

Here’s the low-down from the Bundle’s curator, Blair MacGregor:

Welcome to our Weird Western Bundle, where wide frontiers, flintlocks, whiskey and revenge meet swords, airships, terraforming, magic, myths, and dragons. You’ll find stories here set in the snows of old Alaska and the heat of contemporary Arizona, post-Civil War San Francisco and post-colonization planets, and places the seem as familiar as any wooded mountain or wind-swept desert… until tigers and dragons and horses that are so much more than you might assume burst into the scene. The different aspects of the Weird Western spirit in this bundle will give fans of the genre something they haven’t seen before, and folks new to Weird Westerns a wide sampling of its fantastic offerings.

I was raised on a combination of SFF and Westerns. Star Trek and Gunsmoke, Asimov and L’Amour, Lonesome Dove and Battlestar Galactica. I was just as thrilled to shake the hand of Hugh O’Brian of Wyatt Earp fame as I was to meet Katherine Kurtz, author of the Deryni world. It’s been a joy discovering more writers combining the genres, raising their unique voices, and upsetting the familiar with the fantastic. The result is a Western setting that respects history and the people who created it while spinning in unique powers, esoteric challenges, and the terrifying magic of discovery.

You’ll learn the secrets behind the post-quarantined expanse of ranchland in James Derry’s Idyll, and the reasons the man of Joe Bailey’s Spellslinger is ready to make a stand. There’s the subterfuge and wild ride of Gemma Files’s Book of Tongues, and the smart, snappy adventure of Lindsay Buroker’s Flash Gold novellas

Dangerous wonders and determined enemies fill J. Patrick Allen’s West of Pale, and Steve White’s New Worldbrings chainmail and strange powers to the frontier. Kyra Halland puts rogue magery and danger in a dusty Western town in Beneath the Canyons, and Kenneth Mark Hoover gives us a time-wandering lawman in Haxan.

And I’m thrilled to share the debut of Judith Tarr’s first novel of a new series, Dragons in the Earth, set in present-day Arizona, and filled with horses and dragons and the power of the desert itself.

StoryBundle let’s you choose your own price, so you decide how you’d like to support these awesome writers and their work. For $5—or more if you’d like—you’ll receive the basic bundle of four great novels in DRM-free ebook format. For the bonus price of at least $14—or more if you’d like—you’ll receive all nine novels. If you choose, a portion of your payment will go toward supporting Mighty Writers and Girls Write Now.

The Weird Western Bundle is available for only three weeks. It’s a great opportunity to pick up the stories of nine wonderful writers, support independent authors who want to twist your assumptions about the West, and discover new writers with great stories along the way.

The initial titles in The Weird Western Bundle (minimum $5 to purchase) are:
•    Haxan by Kenneth Mark Hoover
•    Dead West Vol 1.: West of Pale by J Patrick Allen
•    Idyll by James Derry
•    Spellsinger by Joseph J. Bailey

If you pay more than the bonus price of just $14, you get all four of the regular titles, plus five more:
•    Hexslinger Vol. 1: A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files
•    Horses of the Moon Vol. 1: Dragons in the Earth by Judith Tarr
•    Daughter of the Wildings Book. 1: Beneath the Canyons by Kyra Halland
•    The Flash Gold Chronicles I-III by Lindsay Buroker
•    New World Book 2: Hair of the Bear by Steven W. White

And as special thanks to our newsletter subscribers, all of you who subscribe get New World by Steven W. White for free! Grab the free first book in the New World series before you start on book 2, Hair of the Bear, found in the bundle.

This bundle is available only for a limited time via http://www.storybundle.com. It allows easy reading on computers, smartphones, and tablets as well as Kindle and other ereaders via file transfer, email, and other methods. You get multiple DRM-free formats (.epub and .mobi) for all books!

It’s also super easy to give the gift of reading with StoryBundle, thanks to our gift cards – which allow you to send someone a code that they can redeem for any future StoryBundle bundle – and timed delivery, which allows you to control exactly when your recipient will get the gift of StoryBundle.

  • Why StoryBundle? Here are just a few benefits StoryBundle provides.
    Get quality reads: We’ve chosen works from excellent authors to bundle together in one convenient package.
  • Pay what you want (minimum $5): You decide how much these fantastic books are worth to you. If you can only spare a little, that’s fine! You’ll still get access to a batch of exceptional titles.
  • Support authors who support DRM-free books: StoryBundle is a platform for authors to get exposure for their works, both for the titles featured in the bundle and for the rest of their catalog. Supporting authors who let you read their books on any device you want—restriction free—will show everyone there’s nothing wrong with ditching DRM.
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StoryBundle was created to give a platform for independent authors to showcase their work, and a source of quality titles for thirsty readers. StoryBundle works with authors to create bundles of ebooks that can be purchased by readers at their desired price. Before starting StoryBundle, Founder Jason Chen covered technology and software as an editor for Gizmodo.com and Lifehacker.com.

For more information, visit our website at storybundle.com, tweet us at @storybundle and like us on Facebook.

 

 

Series Condition: Tokyo Ghost

I’ve heard a lot of great things about the comics writer, Rick Remember. Nearly every one of his Image series has sounded cool enough to hook me in for at least the first issue. Unfortunately, Black Science, Deadly Class, and Low all felt too nihilistic, too ‘hair-trigger’ for me. Lots of bouts of sudden violence; lots of main characters or innocent bystanders being killed off. They were cool books, with great ideas and art, but I had difficulty finding something enjoyable or sympathetic to grab onto, something to make me hang on for the ride.

tg00That’s not the case with the thundering tank-cycle that is Tokyo Ghost. So far, I’m totally hooked for the ride.

Tokyo Ghost
Writer: Rick Remender

Artist: Sean Murphy
7 issues (so far)
Years: 2015 to now
Publisher: Image Comics

If anything, Tokyo Ghost should be the Remender book that I most hate, because it might be his most misanthropic premise. Here’s the description from Comixology: The Isles of Los Angeles 2089: Humanity is addicted to technology, a population of unemployed leisure seekers blissfully distracted from toxic contamination, who borrow, steal, and kill to buy their next digital fix. Getting a virtual buzz is the only thing left to live for. It’s the biggest industry, the only industry, the drug everyone needs, and gangsters run it all.

tg01To establish the setting, Remender presents us with a ton of carnage and depressing scenarios. Also, a couple of truly ruthless and depraved bad guys, including a kazillionaire (a Donald Trump stand-in) who’s so debauched, he spends most of his business hours Donald-Ducking it. (Word of warning: If you don’t like doodles of men’s diddles, or other bits of nudity and bad language, then this might not be the comic for you.)

Again and again, the book goes over-the-top to show you just how this potential future is nearly-completely awful. I think one of the things that pulled me through this section of the book was that the future Earth in my ‘Idyll’ novel has some similar things going on (i.e., crowds of people who are emotionally and physically reliant on indulgent technology).

Then we go to the Garden Nation of Tokyo, which is the one place on the planet that is off-the-grid. In my mind that’s when the story really gets good. We learn more about our two main characters, one of whom is finally forced to disconnect from the tech that has consumed him.

tg02bThe story is always moving, with something at the end of each issue that breaks the status quo established by the issue before it. Then in issue 5, Remender really pulls the rug out from under our heroes, just when they’re at their happiest point.

Besides Remender’s twisty plot, the other HUGE draw is Sean Murphy’s art. He has a new, fun, ‘scratchy’ kinetic style, (I like Otto Schmidt and Sanford Greene, too).  Murphy’s delicate scratchy lines manage to be both dynamic and meticulously rendered. His art is like the beautiful love-child of Bill Sienkiewicz and Alex Nino. Every other page, I had to stop reading and zoom in on my iPad to enjoy a rendering of a Zen Garden, or a kinetic kick, or just a reflection in water.

By Issue 6, the story has turned dark and nihilistic again, but I’m imagining that Remender has more surprises up his sleeve. I’d like to see more of Tokyo’s Samurai Shangri-La as opposed to being stuck in just another Cyberpunk Dystopia. Here’s hoping the story goes to more beautiful locations, to complement Murphy’s stunning art.tg03

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