Bernie and the Wizards, by Steve LeBel / ****

51wztyx-8ll-_sy445_ql70_One of my favorite scenes in the (wildly uneven) film adaptation of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy finds Arthur Dent in the showroom of a firm that designs planets. It’s a scene that’s pretty fun in the novel, and instantly familiar to anyone who’s read the book – familiar maybe to the point of taking it for granted. But seeing that scene on the big screen gave it a sense of awe and wonder I’d never really considered before. What kind of universe is this, where planets are crafted by designers? And what kind of being would it take to create something like that?

In many ways, Steve LeBel’s Universe Builders series has been a wonderful, charming effort to think about that question. Starting with Bernie and the Putty and now continuing in his followup, Bernie and the Wizards, LeBel has created a world of gods. No, not necessarily “gods” in the Christian, or even Roman, sense of the word; rather, these are more or less people, with egos, doubts, talents, personalities, foibles, and their own thoughts. And in his series protagonist, Bernie, LeBel has found a winning mixture of qualities – a god whose talent is undeniable, but whose self-confidence is lacking; a god whose concern for his creations makes him an oddity in his world, where gods create planets and treat them like…well, like projects, or like product.

Indeed, that’s the central conceit of Bernie and the Wizards, which finds Bernie working as a troubleshooter of sorts for a world designing business. See, when gods need things – for example, certain kinds of plants – they get people to create universes and planets for them, letting the lifeforms of the planet cultivate and harvest the plants. And in this case, the people aren’t producing anymore. The easy thing would be to wipe out the life on the planet and start over. But that’s not Bernie’s style – not when he feels that any creations have as much right to life as he does. And so, Bernie starts traveling back and forth between his world and this one in an effort to figure out what’s going on.

Much as he did in Bernie and the Putty, LeBel juggles wonderfully the macro and micro views of world creation, giving us a sense of how a planet has to be physically designed with its ends in mine, from climate to distance from the sun, from terrain to moon rotation speed. But this time, LeBel – and Bernie – spends more time among the people on these creations, seeing what life is like for the tiny life forms that the gods have made as plant delivery systems. It ends up being a clever way into the book’s central question: what does it mean to be alive? And where do we draw the line between something that’s created and something that’s simply alive – or is there no line at all?

LeBel makes exploring that question a lot of fun, wrapping it up not only in the intriguing story of what’s going on with this planet, but in Bernie’s day-to-day life, as his reputation continues to grow, even as he continues to feel a bit out of step with the world around him. LeBel plays back and forth between his two worlds, letting Bernie’s worries about his job and his place and society find some traction in the world he’s fixing, and vice versa. Even better, he does all of that while still finding time to give us a sense of the imagination and scope that goes into creating a world – and in fixing those worlds once they go bad.

Like so many books these days, Bernie and the Wizards closes with a tease of what’s to come, giving us a sense that there’s a bigger story LeBel is working on. But on the whole, he manages to both give us the tease and deliver a satisfying, self-contained, complete work, one that tells stories across two entirely different universes, but manages to make it all work. It’s a real treat to read – fun, imaginative, charming, and just plain great to read and lose yourself in.


Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America, by Robert Charles Wilson / ***** 

51enpomf6alHaving read a pretty large swath of Robert Charles Wilson’s bibliography, I feel pretty comfortable in saying that I generally know what to expect from him. Wilson is a big picture kind of author; he takes what could easily be pulp sci-fi conceits – one day, the stars all disappear, all over the world; a series of monuments appear commemorating the future victories of a despotic warlord; aliens arrive at Earth and extend the offer of immortality – and explores them in remarkable depth, watching what would happen to society in the wake of such world-changing events. He explores religious, social, cultural, and even political ramifications, watching how a single moment can change our pictures of ourselves and our society.

And yet, while that aspect of Wilson is completely evident in Julian Comstock – this is, as the novel’s subtitle suggests, a novel of the 22nd century, set in an America that survived after oil ran out by turning back the technological clock, and at the same time, turned itself into a religious theocracy – this is also a wildly different book for him, one that feels more character-driven, more personal, and less sprawling. It’s a story more intimate than any I’ve really seen from Wilson before, and for all of its rich ideas and worldbuilding, at its core, it’s the story of two friends and their lives in this world so clearly inspired by ours, whether for good or for bad.

That different feel is evident as soon as the book’s structure reveals itself as a memoir – and more importantly, the memoir not of our main character, Adam Hazzard, but of his friend, the famous Julian Comstock. It follows our heroes from their unlikely boyhood together, through their times in war, all the way to the source of Julian’s fame – or infamy, depending on who you ask. It’s a humble-feeling book, one that feels like a tribute to a friend, and an effort to humanize an icon. But it’s also a great adventure story, and a coming of age story, as we watch these two boys become men and grapple with their place in the world.

If that sounds more conventional than you might expect from Wilson, well, that’s okay; rest assured, Wilson brings his usual gift for worldbuilding and scope to bear in his setting, as we come to understand more and more not only what 22nd-century America is, but how it came to be. We see how the oil shortages became rebranded as a “Tribulation,” and how the government and church came to unify. We see how the class system shifted, revolving around indentured servitude rather than freedom, and how ideas like science and Darwinism faded from the public conscience – but never went away. And that’s where Wilson finds much of his drama, as Julian becomes a crusader for science and rationalism in a world that doesn’t always welcome it.

All of that would be more than enough for most books, but Wilson brings even more to the book in the voice of our narrator, Adam Hazzard, a sheltered, less rebellious figure who doesn’t always fully appreciate the gap between what he thinks he knows and what’s really going on. (A tip: keep Google Translate handy for any passage of foreign language; the play between what people are saying and what Adam knows is always fun, and sometimes surprisingly illuminating.) Wilson plays with Adam’s naive perspective beautifully, letting him not always pick up on the subtextual relationships between people, or sometimes completely misread a situation – something Wilson never goes out of his way correct. It all works to make Adam a winning, endearing character, one whose sheltered worldview and warm, if naive, perspective give the book a rich flavor all its own.

Julian Comstock may not have the impact or scope of some of Wilson’s best works, but in the end, it may be his richest, warmest, and most accessible book. What he’s gotten away from in scope he’s picked up in characterization and vibrancy, making this one of the first books of his I’ve read that invested me more in the characters and their lives than it did the ideas and impact of its story. It’s a great read from one of the best science-fiction authors working today, and a nice reminder of how great it can be to find those moments when authors step out of their comfort zone to do something different.


Samurai Jack (Season 5) / *****

samurai-jack-posterI won’t lie to you: my first reaction, as the credits rolled over the last episode of Samurai Jack that we would ever get, was disappointment. Oh, sure, we got an ending, but it was a weak one, tucked into an episode that felt rushed and hurried. No, I didn’t mind the Pyrrhic nature of the victory, and I loved the beautiful, haunting final minutes of the episode. But that final showdown – was that really how it ended? It was…well, it was anticlimactic, and a bit hurried, and just…I dunno. It was a bit of a fizzle.

But then, right after the credits rolled, Adult Swim ran a promo for the marathon they were going to do of this entire final, revived season – a season that we had had no reason to ever expect, a season that gave us closure on a show that I, along with many others, had thought would simply fall between the cracks of time. And as this long promo ran, and recapped the great season, it drove something home to me: to focus too much on the ending of Samurai Jack is to miss the greatness of this final season, and to miss the joys that this show brought me, week in and week out.

See, Samurai Jack was never a show about its story. Nominally, yes, it was the story of a samurai trapped in the future, where the warlord he opposed had become the cruel ruler of the planet. But in reality, it was a show that lived and died by its style, that succeeded not because of what was happened, but how it all happened. This was a show that eschewed dialogue, that let everything be conveyed visually, that wasn’t afraid to embrace dark screens, or stylized animation, or to toss out visual gags when unexpected. But more than anything else, Samurai Jack was a show about style – about the way it told its story. (The example I always fall back on is the episode about the blind archers, in which Jack learns to fight blindfolded – a feat the show conveyed by letting the screen go black, only to have the elements fade in as he heard them and identified them by noise. You can watch the clip here, if you’d like.)

And really, season 5 was no exception to that; it was a triumph of astonishing style, with multiple sequences every week that took my breath away. From the jagged shadows of a bloody Jack being tended to be a wolf to an underground cavern scored to a Morricone-inspired tune, from the haunting and beautiful final images to the oil-style painting that capped the penultimate episode, Samurai Jack made its way by telling a story visually, letting animation do the heavy lifting and letting the voice actors support the images, rather than the other way around.

Nonetheless, season 5 of Samurai Jack told a rich story, following up on a hero whose isolated, lost nature has only become more pronounced and haunting since the last time we met him, with madness settling in around the edges. This is a hero who cannot return home, who cannot protect his family, and who seems destined to forever wander the earth, isolated and alone. And over the course of season 5, we watch as Jack struggles to figure out his purpose, and what his quest even means. We see what first appears to be fan-service cameos, only to realize that what showrunner Genndy Tartakovsky is doing is showing us that Jack has changed this world, and for the better. And best of all, we watch as Jack finds an equal – another outcast – and for the first time, meets a kindred spirit.

And yes, it all built up to a fight that was somewhat anticlimactic. But the longer I’ve thought about that, the more okay I am with that fact. Aku may have been the villain of this story, but he was never Jack’s true nemesis. Indeed, Jack’s greatest nemesis of season 5 may have been himself – a warrior version of himself cast into doubt, into questioning, into a sense of hopelessness – and into a funk where he couldn’t even be sure he was the hero any longer. Tartakovsky drove that question home beautifully, as Jack’s sword, for the first time, began to slice not just robots, but also human beings. That’s heady, complex fare, and Tartakovsky doesn’t give us easy answers to it all, showing both the brutality of the fight and its necessity.

And so, by the time Jack fights Aku, it’s all over but the shouting. Jack has unified himself, found a purpose, pulled himself together, and realized his meaning. Why shouldn’t the fight be fast? This was never about Aku vs. Jack. It was about Jack’s journey, and what it would make of him by the end – a choice that makes the finale’s final moments of quiet and peace all the more effective. For all of the drama, for all of the action, for all of the imagination, the show’s final moments give us closure on Jack itself – and it’s the perfect way to end it.


Get Out / *****

get-out-new-posterThere’s a lot that I love about horror, but one of my favorite aspects of the genre is the way that it so often reflects the fears and worries of a society. From the way that Vietnam influences so many horror films of the sixties and seventies to the way that technology becomes a source of influence into itself in modern times, horror is often a response to our worries, and a way of making clear fears that we’re already suffering. That’s led to a burst of great horror novels as of late that grapple with racial fears in the guise of horror novels, from Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom to Matt Huff’s Lovecraft Country.

And now, you can add to that mix Jordan Peele’s Get Out, a superb, taut piece of horror filmmaking that’s not always as scary as the best horror, but manages to wring astonishing tension and unease out of its premise, beautifully satirizes and makes explicit its commentary and worries about race relations, and does it all while telling a fantastic story and delivering a brilliant, tight script that only floors me more and more as I pick it apart.

In its early going, Get Out is only a horror film in terms of the discomfort and awkwardness it raises, as it follows an interracial couple home to meet the (white) girl’s family. Once they arrive, things get uncomfortable quickly, although not in the way you might expect. There’s no overt racism here; indeed, the girl’s parents are liberal, and go out of their way to make her African-American boyfriend feel comfortable. They praise Obama, they talk about Tiger Woods, they bring up NBA…in other words, they end up being every bit as racist, condescending, and uncomfortable as more overt racism might be, and the discomfort and awkwardness is so thick you could cut it with a knife. And in the able hands of Jordan Peele, who’s making his feature debut here, we’re immersed in the perspective of Daniel Kaluuya’s calm, exasperated male lead, giving even (and maybe especially) well-meaning white audiences a taste of what it’s like to put up with this sort of garbage. It’s a bravura piece of directorial work, and does a bang-up job of making its points clearly and carefully, and using its unease to maximum effect.

Because there’s more to Get Out than just this racial discomfort. There’s also the few other African-Americans Kaluuya sees in his time with the family, all of whom are unfailingly kind, and servile…and strange. There’s an awkwardness to them, an unnaturalness that’s hard to pin down. But it adds to the discomfort, as we, like Kaluuya, are forced to wonder, is this just a truly awkward, really bizarre, ultra-white family get together? Or is there something else going on here?

Peele has been vocal about the way he’s using The Stepford Wives as a tonal inspiration for the film, and it shows here, giving us a weirdly placid society that seems like it would be utopia for some people, but truly unnatural for others. And like Stepford Wives, much of the film’s unease comes from that careful balancing act, where we’re never quite sure if the film is going to become a true horror film, or if the horror is more personal and less actual, if that makes sense. That’s a tough balance to strike, but Peele does a masterful job here, foregrounding his character’s unease, answering questions satisfyingly but leaving doubt, and turning the screws carefully but unrelentingly.

Because, yes, Get Out isn’t ever quite truly scary, but it’s monstrously tense and unsettling, with some true knockout scenes that work like gangbusters (my favorite is the bizarre image of one of the servants doing his running at night, although Peele’s visualization of the therapy session with his girlfriend’s mother is a beautiful, spectacular image). More than that, Peele has a gift for pacing, letting our discomfort and unease with the racial tensions build, then pushing into more and more upsetting moments before finally giving us some elements that feel beyond what could easily be explainable.

I don’t want to get into what is or isn’t going on; suffice to say, though, that Get Out ends up being a thematically rich film, one where there’s so much metaphorical and thematic depth that you could unpack it for days. Even beyond the satire of well-meaning liberalism, there’s material here about cultural appropriation that’s pretty stunning, to say nothing of the way the film engages with historical and contemporary racial flashpoints. That the film does all that is spectacular; that it does so while never forgetting that it’s telling a story, and a thriller, is even better. The film holds its metaphor together tightly, trusting the audience to pick up on the themes it’s laying down without ever feeling the need to hold our hands. That goes doubly for some of the film’s rich, complex foreshadowing, which delivers payoff after payoff, often so subtly that you won’t realize them until afterward.

(At this point, I’d like to pause and say how much I recommend The Next Picture Show podcast’s episode about Get Out, which features not only some incredible analysis and discussion of the film, but unpacks much of the script’s cleverness, and left me sitting with my jaw agape half the time at the brilliance of it all. And as I read more and more about the film, I realized not just that every single moment is weighted with meaning, but that it’s the rare film that never hammers home its points, trusting its audience to unpack its secrets and be rewarded.)

Yes, Get Out is ultimately a little more successful as a dark satire than it is a horror film. But given how rich that satire is, how thoughtfully complex it is, and best of all, how well executed it is – from the directorial choices to the great acting, from the brilliant script to the tight pacing – it’s hard to complain too much. I loved it when I finished watching it, but as I’ve gotten further and further from it, and thought about it more, I’m all the more swept up by it, and just want to see it again to take it all in a second time. And the fact that Peele says he has several more horror films to come – as well as a TV series based off of Lovecraft Country? Even better.


The Killbug Eulogies, by Will Madden / ****

34596837There’s something great about a book that embraces a constricting, careful conceit and finds a way to make it work, telling a story that couldn’t be told any other way. (For a great example of this, see Joe Hill’s superb short story “Twittering from the Circus of the Dead”.) What’s even better is when the conceit is instantly appealing, and Will Madden’s The Killbug Eulogies manages to do both. The idea here is simple: in a war initially reminiscent of that in Starship Troopers, soldiers are asked to deliver eulogies for the fallen, and the book consists solely of those eulogies, with no outside context. That’s a great idea from the get-go, but Madden really runs with it, creating, in effect, a series of short stories that collectively make up a larger arc, story, and novel.

Even better, though, the disconnected nature of the novel allows Madden to take on a wide variety of modes, tones, and ideas, ranging from hilarious to darkly satirical, from reverent to melancholy, from profane to sacred, and sometimes all of them at once. Within pages of the first eulogy beginning, we’re introduced to a soldier½ named Oogo (whose name was supposed to be Hugo, but the letter H was under strict rationing for the war) whose addiction for video game achievements leads to his death as he strives to cap the leaderboard for harvesting the left hand of the bugs. The result is gloriously silly and funny, making digs at so many social trends while still building its world, but it doesn’t prepare you for the next one, or the one after that, or the one after that, each of which finds their own voice, their own themes, and their own sensibility.

Sometimes, that can be a problem. Madden occasionally lets his eulogies turn into exposition, and it feels like he loses track of the thread, particularly in a late eulogy which gets into a long story thread about a captured bug who serves as a poet of sorts. It’s a great story, but gets away from the book’s conceit, and feels like it’s information he wanted to convey but couldn’t quite do organically. Similarly, those disconnected stories can lead to confusion – it’s not clear for some time that each of these eulogies is actually done by the same soldier, even when the tone and verbiage changes drastically in some of them.

And yet, those are both forgivable flaws, given how engaging, how funny, how rich these stories all are. Taken as a whole, Madden’s creating a complicated world, one that only slowly reveals its nuances and unreliability as it goes along. What seems like a cut and dry military conflict reveals itself to be something messier and more savage; the bugs rapidly become more than just cannon fodder; and our heroes…well, there may be a reason there’s so much depravity in these stories. And all of that doesn’t even get into the final chapter of the book, where Madden changes our perception of the whole book with some great – but completely fair – revelations that pull together all sorts of loose threads into a coherent whole, all without ever dodging the dark and silly humor that the book does so well.

The Killbug Eulogies isn’t just great science-fiction, though it’s undeniably that; Madden may seem like he’s just making jokes at first, but by the time you reach the end, you’ll realize just how sprawling, how complex his world building has been, even if it’s only carefully revealed. No, it’s also fantastic – and genuinely funny – satire with a dark bent, a thoughtful take on war, and a great piece of writing, one where form and function are intertwined in a way that leads you to realize that this book couldn’t have been done in any other way – at least, not without being this good, this fun, and this rich.


Logan / **** ½

logannewposterWhen I was a kid, I absolutely loved the X-Men comics. And sure, there were the powers, and some great fights…but honestly, I found myself more swept up in the stories, and the way they seemed to be introducing me slowly to bigger, more universal, more adult themes. No, not sex, really, but themes like discrimination, hatred, parent-child relationships, forgiveness, mercy. These were big ideas, and in the best X-Men issues, the stories and the characters worked together to convey those ideas.

I say this because seeing Logan – not only the best Marvel movie to date, bar none, but a legitimately good movie, full stop – helped clarify for me much of what I’ve found frustrating about the Marvel films on the whole. When your stories are entirely focused on some bland “big bad,” there’s no substance, no ideas. It’s all empty flash and style, and while that can be fun for a while, it loses something quickly. It’s why even the best Marvel films – Iron Man 3Guardians of the Galaxy – often fall apart during the requisite “final battle”. There’s no ideas, no themes, no moral battle – just superpowers being hurled at each other. And who cares anymore?

Which brings us back to Logan, a superhero film that succeeds by having almost no interest in being a superhero film, and instead, just wants to be a film. There are no costumes, no heroic speeches, no villains in a column of light destroying the world. (Indeed, the film’s biggest villain is all the more unsettling for his calm rationality and his lack of any physical threat. His threat comes in the form of ideas.) And our hero here…isn’t a hero. And I don’t mean that he’s an antihero, like Deadpool, or lovable rascals like the Guardians. No, when the film opens, Logan is old – there’s grey throughout his beard, he wears glasses to read, he limps, and he drinks. He just wants to be left alone, and live with his sins. And Charles Xavier, the once proud mutant leader? He shows signs of dementia, and is kept locked away from the world for not his own safety, but the safety of others. No, our heroes aren’t heroes anymore. They’re old men, and they’re nearing their deaths, and need to reckon with their lives.

Hugh Jackman, James Mangold, and numerous others have been quick to point out how much Logan feels like the Marvel universe’s take on Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, and the resemblances are obvious. Logan is undeniably a Western, with its bleached desert settings, its rugged heroes, its one-on-one showdowns. But there’s another touchstone that Jackman has named, and it’s equally important to understanding Logan – Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, which follows a broken, beaten professional wrestler who’s still doing his best to make his way in a job that he’s rapidly getting too old for, and making his peace with the broken relationships he’s left behind. And to me, that’s the more important touchstone for Logan, because Logan is not a typical Marvel movie. It’s melancholy, and bitter, and feels like a paean to a once-iconic figure who’s trying to figure out what his life was even all about, now that he’s nearing the end of it. In other words, it’s a film about aging and mortality, and never shies away from that fact.

It is also, like Unforgiven, a film about violence and the toll it takes on you. When Logan‘s R-rating was first announced, I wondered if it wasn’t going to fall into the “grimdark” category – being basically a generic superhero film, but full of angst and over the top violence without purpose. Instead, Logan is merely unflinching. The violence is undeniably brutal, but it’s never glamorous, never fun. We’re not meant to cheer as Logan disembowels these men – it’s just a sense that violence is his life, and all he can do anymore. Like Clint Eastwood’s aged gunfighter in Unforgiven, he’s a man who’s made his way with violence, and has learned to live with the consequences.

What all this adds up to is a legitimately powerful, rich Marvel film, a film that’s not just good as a comic book movie, but good as a film. There are no tie-ins, no set-ups for the next story, no cute in-jokes. There’s humor, but it springs from the characters, and their rapport. (Jackman and Stewart are a joy together in this film, and it makes me wish that Logan wasn’t so clearly a final chapter in this story; this pairing of them feels human and rich in a way that almost no Marvel movie ever has to me, and single-handedly elevates the film to another level.) Yes, there’s a plot, but it’s a simple one, like Unforgiven – an iconic figure, trying to hide from the world, gets drawn into the fight one last time – and one that’s more interested in its characters than it ever is in its story. (Indeed, I love how the brief explanation we get of the villain’s plan is almost entirely in the background, as though it barely matters.) And yes, there’s a final fight, and in many ways, it’s the least interesting aspect of the film, although the symbolic importance is obvious in how it’s handled.

But really, what lingers with Logan is the mood and tone of it all – the hushed, melancholy, elegiac feel as characters look back at their lives and question what it means. That’s a hard set of questions, and far scarier than any supervillain who’s trying to destroy the world. What’s more, how do we keep fighting for a world that’s largely moved on without us, and doesn’t seem to want our help – or care what it does to us? Logan takes these on and takes them seriously, giving us a comic book film that’s interested in telling an adult story – not in a childish or ridiculous way, but in a thoughtful, effective one. It’s a reminder of why I loved comic books in the first place, and a rich piece of filmmaking, showing that not every comic book movie has to be all quips and cosmic stakes. After all, what’s far scarier is being faced to wonder whether you’ve ever been the hero everyone thought you were.


The Girl with All the Gifts, by M.R. Carey / ****

the_girl_with_all_the_giftsYou could be forgiven for passing on The Girl with All the Gifts – after all, don’t we have enough zombie fiction out there already? Hasn’t pretty much every version of this story been told, to rapidly decreasing returns? And yet, I’ve been hearing nothing but positive reactions to The Girl with All the Gifts in both its film and novel forms for a while now, giving me the sense that this was something new and fresh, a zombie story that breathed fresh life into the genre. And by and large, those reactions were correct, at least for the novel; while Girl has some flaws and shortcomings, it’s gripping and imaginative, and so much fun – and so different – that it’s not hard to overlook them in favor of the great book you’re getting.

Exactly how much to reveal about the plot of Girl seems to be up for debate – indeed, many would argue that even revealing that it’s a zombie novel is a spoiler, despite it being revealed within the first few chapters of the book. But in the interest of playing cards close to the chest (even though I’ll say I knew the basic premise of the book going in, and it ruined nothing for me), I’ll simply say that Girl opens in a school setting, with a series of students going through their lessons. But it doesn’t take long to realize how much is off about these lessons – not just the lessons, but the sealed off military base in which they’re occurring, or the cells to which the children are carted – yes, carted – when the lessons finish. Yes, something is odd about this, but it certainly seems like a safer place than beyond the fences. Of course, that’s before classmates start vanishing one day.

That’s probably enough to get you started, but don’t worry – if you think you know where this is going (and again, I did before I even read it), Carey’s smart enough to never be too precious about his reveals, or to draw things out for too long. Instead, Girl constantly evolves and changes in front of you, doling out its reveals and reversals at a great pace, and letting the dynamics constantly change, keeping the reader on their toes without fail. Whatever the status quo is at any point in the book, don’t get too comfortable; Carey’s plotting is going to keep it changing and shifting, and keep the book compelling.

And yet, the book never feels episodic; thematically, it’s rich fare, with questions being raised about the nature of the zombie virus, and the distinction between us and the. That’s a classic zombie trope, but Girl echoes Richard Matheson’s essential I Am Legend in the way it approaches those issues, diving into the zombie virus with a love of scientific explanation that pleased me to no end, and giving me a biological reasoning behind zombies that was so obvious it stunned me no one had used it before that I could remember. But not content with using Matheson’s ideas about science-based horror, Carey also blurs the lines between zombies and humans, raising questions about our actions, morality, and where the line between monster and hero really comes – and delivering a knockout ending that took the book from “good” to “pretty dang great” in its perfection.

Look, for all of that, Girl undeniably has some faults, most notably in some of the supporting cast that work fine, but never great (I’m thinking especially here of the book’s chief antagonist, who needed just a little more tuning to keep her from being cartoonishly evil; as it is, you can see what Carey was going for, but it doesn’t quite work), and the action sequences are passable, not much more. But for all of that, it’s a blast to read, and more than that, it’s a reminder that even the most tired of genres can still be brought back to life with enough imagination and a fresh take.