Alien: Covenant – A Review

Let me start this review by stating that Alien is perhaps my favorite film of all time, and Ridley Scott is my favorite director, so there was a decent chance I would come out my viewing of Alien: Covenant happy with what I’d seen. As a horror writer, I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from Alien, and I hoped Alien: Covenant would be similarly inspiring.

With that out of the way, here’s the spoiler free part of this review. In my opinion, Alien: Covenant is a good film, not a great film, but a solidly entertaining one that doesn’t shame (much) the truly great movies in the franchise. It has some issues, which I’ll get into in more detail below, but as sci-fi horror goes you’d be hard-pressed to find a better film in the last ten years (one of you will almost certainly remind me of a better one I’ve forgotten). If I had to give it a letter grade, I’d give it a solid B. On a star scale, 3.5 stars out of 5.

Okay, now on to the review proper. I’m going to assume that everyone knows the plot of the film by this point. I mean, there were only like, what? Thirty separate previews of this movie? If you do need a summation of the film’s plot, just head on over to Wikipedia, where you’ll find a good one.

Oh, lots and lots of spoilers ahead. Obviously.

Things I Liked:

  1. Visually stunning. Ridley Scott has a knack for making films that are beautiful to look at, and Alien: Covenant does not disappoint in this department. From the sweeping natural vistas of the Engineers’ planet to the gloom-shrouded necropolis where David exterminated them, there is a haunting majesty to the whole thing.
  2. Music. I’m pretty sure a lot of the music is lifted straight from Alien, and at first I thought that might bother me, but, in the end, it’s just a good score, and I didn’t mind hearing it again. Certainly, there are new pieces, but the old music invoked a pleasant sense of nostalgia and was as effective at conveying urgency and terror as it was in Alien.
  3. David: The android David is an effective villain, and he’s played to perfection by Michael Fassbender. He’s a cross between HAL 9000 and Hannibal Lecter, and his ghoulish laboratory in the dead Engineer city is one of the most horrifying part of the film. One of the best things about Covenant, is that it looks like David is going to be a prominent villain going into the next movie(s). I’m all for that.
  4. The Neomorph. Good god, these things were gnarly. These proto-aliens, which are sort of precursor to the Xenomorph we all know and love, are created when spores from fungus-like pods in the corrupted biosphere of the Engineers’ planet enter a human host. They gestate quickly and burst out of their host pretty much anywhere that’s convenient. In the film we see one tear it’s way out out of a man’s back and another come out of a victim’s mouth. The birthing sequence is far worse than the traditional chest-burster, as the neomorph is born in a pink amniotic sack that looks a lot like a massive length of intestine. It’s gross in the best possible way. The adult Neomorph is even better, with its sickly white skin, weird clicking and chirping noises, and a bulbous head that seems to lack a mouth until the thing decides to literally chew someone’s head off. The Neomorphs are scary in the way the original Xenomorph was. They’re weird, completely alien, and just kind of awful to look at (in a good way).
  5. Some of the crew: Certain members of the crew were great. For starters, Danny McBride’s Tennessee was a very pleasant surprise. McBride showed a range with his acting that, frankly, I didn’t think he possessed. I would very much like to see him do more dramatic roles. Katherine Waterson’s Daniels is also very good. At first blush, you might think she’s simply a Ripley clone, but she isn’t. There’s a depth to her character that Ripley lacked in Alien (though she gained it in Aliens). Her motivation is different from Ripley’s as well, and it goes beyond simple survival. Finally, Michael Fassbender in his dual role as the android Walter and David, the older version of the same android, is probably the best performance in the film. Fassbender’s ability to play them in a way that makes them feel like completely different individuals, down to their unique accents and physical affectations, is superb.
  6. Disturbing. I wouldn’t say Alien: Covenant captures the horror of the original Alien, but it is definitely disturbing in a way that’ll make you squirm in your seat. A lot of this hinges on David’s ghoulish experimentation on the fauna of the engineer’s planet and, horrifically, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw. His laboratory in the dead engineer city, festooned with his ghoulish anatomical drawings of his many experiments with the black goo, is downright nightmarish. As far as monsters, the Neomorphs were the stars of the film, and they definitely upped the creepy factor in a major way.
  7. Brutal: The gore in this one is pretty intense, but it’s not cheesy or over-the-top in my opinion. It’s used primarily to demonstrate just how fucking crazy dangerous the Neomorphs and Xenomorphs are. In past films, a lot of the Xenomorph kills happen off-screen, but here you get to see what one motivated parasitic monstrosity can do to a human body, and it ain’t pretty . . . but it is kind of cool.

Things I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Xenomorph. Yep, I’m sad to say that the classic Xenomorph is old news, and when it finally shows up in this film, I was pretty underwhelmed. The CGI is superb, as I’ve said, but I had a real problem seeing the old Xeno walking around in broad daylight. It worked so well in Alien because you didn’t see it. It was the shadowy monster in the dark that you glimpsed but never saw completely. Despite the excellent CGI that allowed the Xeno to move in ways that were strange and unnatural (like going from bipedal to quadrupedal smoothly), not to mention doing justice to its bizarre anatomy, it, honestly, wasn’t scary. The Neomorphs, which are frighteningly original, simply outclassed the Xeno in this one. That’s not a good thing for a movie with “Alien” in the title.
  2. Sped-up Xenomorph lifecycle. Yep, they went ahead and monkeyed with the classic Xeno’s lifecycle, speeding it up and removing the worm-like embryo stage. Now it takes, like thirty seconds for the little monster to gestate and it emerges fully-formed but in miniature.  Oh, and the Xeno grows to full-size in something like five minutes. Come on, Ridley, this is the kind of shit I expect from Alien vs. Predator not from you, the guy who directed the original Alien.
  3. The rest of the crew. All the actors did a fine job in the limited time they were on screen, but most of them had little purpose other than to be ripped to shreds by alien nasties. It was especially disappointing with Billy Crudup’s Oram and Demián Bichir’s Lope, both of which showed us tantalizing hints at interesting characters but whose talents were largely wasted. Oh, and if there was a reason James Franco is in this film for the ten seconds we seem burn alive in his hypersleep pod, it’s completely lost on me.
  4. Stupid, stupid decisions. Like in Prometheus, the “professional” folks (and, yes, all of them are pros in one field or another) in this film made some really head-scratchingly dumb decisions. Some of this is because the entire flight crew was composed of married couples, so a lot of the bad decisions were based on a character’s emotional attachments to his or her spouse. It’s exactly why no one in their right mind would ever compose a crew like that. You know bad decisions are going because people will not be able to think clearly and pragmatically when their loved ones are about to be torn apart by aliens. Also, some characters seem to be making bad decisions just to further the plot. For example, when David leads Captain Oram into the Xenomoprh egg chamber, Oram, who is armed at the time, by the way, blithely stares into the churning pink innards of an open egg for what seems like minutes at David’s urging. This is especially irritating because at this point in the movie Oram has figured out that David is one unhinged motherfucker, yet he still follows David’s instructions, which are basically, “Hey, stare at this egg for a long time and hold still.”
  5. Dr. Elizabeth Shaw. Man, did she get the shit-end of the stick. When it’s revealed that David has killed Shaw, and we see her mangled corpse, on which David has performed some kind of unspeakable vivisection/experiment, it’s initially awful and disturbing. But, I felt like I did when I first saw Alien 3 and learned Hicks and Newt had been killed off-screen. I would have very much liked to have seen Shaw, surviving, Newt-like, after David destroys the Engineers. Then, she could have met up with the crew of the Covenant and relayed what had happened to the Engineers, which would have been a much more realistic way to get that information than the series of strange flashbacks that are supposed to be David’s memories. Sure, you can still kill her off at the end of the film if you must, but I think her presence would have strengthened the film.
  6. A little too much like Alien. The set-up is practically a carbon copy of Alien. Crew awakes from hypersleep, gets a mysterious transmission from an alien planet, go to investigate, discover derelict ship and horrible aliens, etcetera, etcetera. I know the filmmakers were trying to give folks what they want (another Alien), I just wished they could have been a little more original with how it all came together.
  7. Kind of unnecessary. I’ve stated this elsewhere, but the basic premise of Alien: Covenant (and Prometheus to a lesser extent) rankles me a bit, and after seeing it, I feel even more strongly that it’s a film no one really needs. Basically, I DO NOT CARE WHERE THE ALIENS COME FROM. In fact, this film, as good as it is, hurts the legacy of the first two films in the franchise in my opinion. What made Alien so effective was the unsettling unknowable, the dread mystery of the derelict spaceship and the horrific monsters in its hold. The more you pull back the curtain on something like that, the less effective it is. Like I said before, the Xenomorph in Covenant is, honestly, a little boring. I know too much about it now to really be scared of it. I’m all for more Alien films, but I would have preferred Ridley make sequels that furthered the stories of his characters rather than, well, potentially ruining the legacy of what may be his greatest film.

So, in summation, Alien: Covenant is a good movie with some effectively disturbing scenes and one terrifyingly original monster that, unfortunately, we’ll probably never see again. In the pantheon of Alien films it ranks third for me, after Alien and Aliens. Admittedly, some of my critiques of the film are based on what I want out of an Alien movie, and I know there are folks who absolutely want to know more about the Engineers and the origins of one of Hollywood’s most famous beasties. So, as with any review, this is one man’s opinion and should all be taken with a grain of salt.

What’s your take on Alien: Covenant? Tell me about it in the comments.

Guest Post: Simon Berman and Problem Glyphs

When last I blogged on this hallowed page, Aeryn had invited me to promote my then-current project The Book of Starry Wisdom. I know for a fact a number of Rejectomancy readers backed the Kickstarter, so let me first say thank you! Aeryn and I go way back at Privateer Press where we worked together on a number of projects, and it’s a pleasure to see he’s gaining a loyal and adoring audience—even if they seem to be tuned in mostly to see his rejections—but I digress!

Since last I blogged here, my own career has taken a path somewhat parallel to Aeryn’s as an independent author. The success of The Book of Starry Wisdom resulted in a number of other projects falling in my lap, and I’ve subsequently launched a publishing company to support them. Strix Publishing is my new baby, and while I’m currently neck-deep in getting it off the ground, I’ll be blogging about my experiences as an independent publisher later this summer.

At the moment, my current endeavor is in support of an art book for Eliza Gauger’s Problem Glyphs project. Gauger is an established and prolific author who has collaborated with numerous high-profile creators, including Warren Ellis and Jhonen Vasquez. You may remember the original “baby head” logo for iO9, which was one of her earliest commercial works. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Gauger for several years on a not-quite-ready-for-prime-time comic book Black Hole Wizard and the gasmask-chic role-playing game of neo-Victorian horror Unhallowed Metropolis, about which I will have more news soon, but again, I digress.



Problem Glyphs is a project I’ve had the privilege of observing since its earliest nights as something of a whimsical experiment with illustration software in the autumn of 2013. Since then, Gauger has crafted over two hundred sigils in response to the deepest, darkest problems submitted anonymously online by thousands of individuals. Drawing upon her background in fine art, mythology, and the occult, Gauger responds to these problems by creating intricate, symbol-laden glyphs that are published online with an accompanying descriptive title, free of charge

Gauger approached me about working on an art book sometime ago, but it was only after founding Strix Publishing that I felt confident I could produce a book to the standards required by a project that is not just illustratively beautiful but also emotionally important to thousands of people.

After months of discussion, mockup layouts, and printer samples, we settled on a format we think will do the project justice.

The Problem Glyphs art book contains 100 glyphs and their associated submissions, accompanied by an introduction by Eliza Gauger and a foreword by award-winning writer Warren Ellis. Problem Glyphs will be a premium edition, display-worthy art book, measuring 10″ x 12″ and featuring a Smyth-sewn, genuine clothbound hard cover with gold foil-stamped cover illustrations. The estimated 220 interior pages will be printed on beautiful matte coated art paper. Tremendous care has gone into every aspect of the book, from its binding to its typography, the beautiful and storied Doves Type. The choice of Doves Type was particularly special due to the strange circumstances in which the Type was thought lost in the depths of the Thames only to resurface nearly a decade later.  I’ve blogged about it elsewhere, but it may be of interest to anyone fascinated by typography or just stories that could come straight out of an Edgar Allen Poe tale.



As a thanks to Aeryn for letting me shamelessly promote here, and as a thanks to Rejectomancy’s readers for their support of my previous project, I’m happy to end this blog with the first excerpt from Gauger’s introduction to the Problem Glyphs art book. I hope you enjoy it and perhaps take a look at our Kickstarter.


—Simon Berman

Introduction from Problem Glyphs by Eliza Gauger

“I don’t know how to explain Problem Glyphs.

Usually I tell people I’m a career illustrator, and that I’m running a project where I “make drawings in response to problems sent in by the audience.” It started November 2013, making it my longest continual project. As of this writing, there are over 200 glyphs, each with a name and origin, almost all of which have accompanying problems submitted by the audience. That’s roughly twice the size of a standard tarot deck. The first glyph, [I STAND MY GROUND], was posted to the blogging platform/social network Tumblr on November 3rd, 2013. That’s about two glyphs per week. Each glyph takes between 5 minutes (the very earliest, simplest ones) and 5 hours (the most recent, complex ones), including research and an artist’s obligatory staring-into-space time. I use a specialized, free drawing program called Alchemy, and sometimes Photoshop. That’s the nitty-gritty. There’s a tutorial on the Problem Glyphs site if you want to know more.



Although you’re holding a book in your hands, my long term plan is to make the glyphs into a deck of cards, something like a tarot. To this end, they have five “humours”, like suits, for which I owe entire credit to my friend Ada Darwin, who writes a lot of music I listen to while drawing glyphs. She suggested humours as a system of classification and contributed the majority of the grunt work towards determining what those humors should be.

So every time I get the next glyph request, I start research. Here’s the one I’m working on now:

I am mildly manic-depressive, and I regularly fuck up my relationships by being incredibly sweet one minute and then sinking into a depression the next. When depressed I tend to start ring emails to my girlfriend blaming her for my problems. I always regret it: she’s great at helping me face my moods in person, but she’s devastated when she gets my angry email tirades. I need a reminder that it is wise to take a breath, take time out, and stay away from the keyboard when I feel like shit.

—Anonymous, July 9th 2014, 6:43:00 pm

This is how glyphs start: I mull over my own experience with the problem, and recall how it feels. How it feels to fuck up, or to be fucked up. To be frustrated enough to ask for help. In this situation I always feel “radioactive”, as if my presence was enough to sicken and wither the people I loved. And it is, sometimes. I have learned to avoid people, or excuse myself, when I feel it coming on. I opened four or five tabs about radiation sickness, radioactive half-life, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. Nuclear fiction is a passion of mine, Fallout 2 being one of my earliest obsessions. I remembered a PDF I read once about a think tank that had to come up with a way to warn intelligent beings, 12,000 years in the future, to stay away from the nuclear waste we are burying now. I looked that up. I spent hours reading the PDFs on the Waste Isolation Pilot Project and Yucca Mountain websites. I looked at official biohazard and radioactivity warning insignia, clicked through dozens of Wikipedia articles, sifted through forums and official archives. Then I sat still, and thought about it for a few hours.

Warren Ellis calls this the “compost heap” method of writing: You shovel enough garbage into a midden and it’ll start to stew; come back a few weeks later and something useful will be there. He’s right, although in my case it’s more like a garbage fire . The finished glyphs are the last pulsing coals, raked over and ready to be walked across.

I don’t agree with platitudes much, particularly “it’s going to be okay” or “this too shall pass”. Sometimes—most of the time, you could argue—it’s not going to be okay. It won’t pass. It stays exactly the same, or it gets worse. Medications don’t work sometimes, or they stop working. Sometimes we can’t afford them in the first place. People change, or die, or stop talking to us. We break up, we divorce, or, best case scenario, we get to watch the person we love most in the world die of old age.



There’s a lot of gloom in Problem Glyphs, which is an odd admission from someone who’s more or less running an advice column. I’m not prescribing despair, though, nor resignation. “Acceptance” also doesn’t feel like the right word, although it’s close. My message is more berzerk than zen. What I want to convey is that pain and illness, and realism, even fatalism, are not incompatible with ambition, success, love, or happiness.

I was eleven years old when I accidentally told an adult I was thinking about killing myself. Sent to a child psychologist, I learned two things: that people who really wanted to help me (and were qualified to do so) sometimes couldn’t, and to stop bothering people with my problems. I tried therapy, and a variety of different medications , during various times in my life. They simply weren’t effective, or the toll was too high; in one of medical science’s cruel little jokes, many antidepressants cause a total loss of creativity. For someone with a typical job, that feeling of numbness or “zombification” with which some people react to SSRIs can sometimes be tolerable, or even a relief. But for someone who trades off their ability to draw from imagination on demand, the loss is catastrophic. It is, without hyperbole, my entire life. The compost heap won’t digest, the fire won’t light. Eventually, I aged out of my family’s insurance coverage and stopped having access to medical treatment at all. If I wanted to survive (and I did, usually), I had to try something else.

That “solution” was to own suicide – keep it like an ace up my sleeve.

Decades later, I still think about suicide a lot. But I’m still here, and will be until I decide otherwise. There are a few glyphs about that. [FORGIVENESS OF DEATH URGE], [LET’S DIE ALONE TOGETHER], and especially [DEATH WAITS WITHOUT RANCOR], which was one of the earliest glyphs that got “popular”.

If Problem Glyphs has any kind of agenda, it’s to meet Doom with eyes, arms, and mouths wide open. Legs, too.

Eliza Gauger

Simon Berman is the owner and founder of Strix Publishing. He has worked as a staff writer for Privateer Press on the award-winning miniatures war games, WARMACHINE and HORDES, and the Iron Kingdoms Full Metal Fantasy Roleplaying Game, winner of 4 ENnies awards, as well as the ENnies nominated roleplaying game, Unhallowed Metropolis. He has also worked as a social media manager on Kickstarter projects for WARMACHINE: Tactics, Widower’s Wood, and The Book of Starry Wisdom. He currently lives in Seattle, Washington.

Eliza Gauger is an established freelance artist who has produced illustrations and flavor text for magazines, books, and role playing games. She has collaborated as an illustrator with Jhonen Vasquez and writer Warren Ellis, and has written for WiredKotaku, and Destructoid. She has taken part in solo and collaborative fine art shows in Berlin and Munich, including STROKE festival, and her work is in the permanent collection of the Hatch Gallery Berlin.

Daredevil Season Two: A Spoiler-Light Review

In the past, I’ve warned that I might occasionally use this blog as a vehicle to showcase my other interests, especially those of the nerdish variety. This is one of those times. So let’s take a little break from rejection and writing and such, indulge our inner nerds, and talk about goddamn superheroes!


Like many of you, I just finished binge-watching the entire second season of Netflix’s Daredevil, and I generally enjoyed it. What follows will be a fairly spoiler-light review of the second season. Note, I haven’t read a single Daredevil comic (or that of any of the other characters in the show), so my review will not address how well the show sticks to the source material and whatnot; it’ll simply be based on the Netflix’s adaptation of it.

Like I said, my review is spoiler-light, but if you’d rather not know anything about the season, stop reading here.

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Quick & Dirty Synopsis

The second season primarily revolves around the escalating violence in Hell’s Kitchen, due in large part to a continuing (and expanded) storyline from season one and a couple a new storyline introduced for season two. The continuing storyline deals with the Hand, the shadowy group of ninjas Daredevil encountered toward the end of the last season. Stick returns and a new character (to those who aren’t familiar with the Daredevil comic), Elektra, is introduced. The Hand is after some super weapon called the Black Sky, and there is much ninja-fightin’ shenanigans as they tear the city apart looking for it, drawing Daredevil into a whole mess of mystical ninja mojo and forcing him to deal with some of the demons of his past (see Elektra).

The new story line is Frank Castle, a.k.a., the Punisher. He’s a former special forces military badass seeking revenge against the criminal organizations responsible for the death of his wife and children. He’s a pull-no-punches, scorched-earth type dude, who basically murders the shit out of those he believes have wronged him. Obviously, Daredevil is not too keen on all the killing, even if it is a bunch of bad guys he’s hasn’t managed to get rid of himself. So he scraps with the Punisher, gets his ass handed to him a few times, and as the season progresses, we learn more about who Frank Castle really is and what is really driving him.

Foggy and Karen are back as well, aiding Matt Murdoch mostly with the Frank Castle storyline and adding more emotional turmoil to make Daredevil’s life more difficult.

The Good Stuff

This season has a lot going for it, and it’s generally quite good all the way through. Here are my three favorite things:

1) Frank Castle/The Punisher. Holy shit, what a character. The Punisher is played by veteran character actor Jon Bernthal (you might remember him from The Walking Dead), and he simply hits it out of the park. Frank Castle is brutal yet sympathetic, and his story is at times downright heartbreaking. He is the epitome of the antihero, and, honestly, this is Emmy-winning stuff right here. Bernthal gets the Punisher’s physicality down to a tee as well, and his action scenes are some of the best of the series. There’s a scene in a prison that is one of the most brutal five minutes of TV (in a good way) I’ve ever seen. Frank Castle also delivers the best lines in the season, and there’s a couple of scenes that just crackle with emotion and depth. He’s by far my favorite part of the series so far.

2) Elektra. Another complex and emotionally charged character, Elektra, who is played by actress Elodie Yung, presents an interesting complication in the life of Matt Murdoch. She’s a window into his past, and through her, we learn a lot more about his training with Stick, and, more importantly, its purpose. Like Frank Castle, she’s a bit of antihero, and there are some good scenes with her and Matt, as they are often at odds with their approach to fighting the bad guys. She kills; he doesn’t. There’s a romantic relationship here that works much better than the failed attempt to create one with Karen, which rang a bit hollow for me. Elektra’s action scenes are quite good, and seeing her and Daredevil fight as a team can be fun at times. The performance put in by Elodie Yung is solid and believable, though it doesn’t approach the majestic mayhem of Bernthal’s Frank Castle. In short, she’s a good add to the series.

3) Foggy and Karen. In season one, Foggy annoyed me to no end; his goofy demeanor just grated on me. He is much improved this season largely because they’ve given him something to do, and he is no longer simply attached at the hip to Matt Murdoch. We see Foggy developing into a character with a little more depth, especially when he’s calling Matt Murdoch/Daredevil on his bullshit, specifically for not being there for the Murdoch & Nelson law firm and generally fucking up some of the good things Foggy is working on.

I liked Karen last season, though I thought she was underused. They fixed that this time around, and she has a major part to play in the story. Her scenes with the Punisher, for example, are very good, and the connection between them is believable as she tries to keep Frank Castle from becoming the monster everyone (including himself) believes him to be.

The Not-So-Good Stuff

There were definitely some missteps this season, and I found certain elements to be either boring, irritating, or both. Here’s my top two:

1) Daredevil/Matt Murdoch. Sadly, he’s just not as interesting as the secondary characters, especially Frank Castle, who absolutely outshines him in every scene they share. He’s also irritating because of his “code,” that prevents him from actually killing anyone. There’s a scene where The Punisher accuses him of being a “half measure” because Daredevil “hits them and they get back up,” where as he “hit’s them, and they stay down.” There’s a simple and brutal truth to this, and one that is explored quite a bit in the second season. Even Karen, who is not exactly prone to violence, wonder at one point if the Punisher’s way isn’t the more effective way.

The problem is that Daredevil suffer from the Batman syndrome. His code actually impedes his ability to fight crime in Hell’s Kitchen because the super-powered bad guys always come back. In this season, for example, with all the crazy cult ninjas, just beating them up really doesn’t do much, and let’s face it, there isn’t a prison cell that could really hold them. (We also see all the bad shit that can happen when you do actually manage to put a super villain behind bars. It ain’t good). So, if you’re like me, you are put into a situation where Daredevil comes off a bit dense because he can’t see that killing these fanatical ninjas is really the only way to stop them. The showrunners must understand this too because they let Elektra and The Punisher do all the killing for Daredevil, which makes him character look weak and ineffectual if you ask me. I know the whole no-killing code can be somewhat controversial in comics, and your mileage may vary here, but I really got tired of Daredevil reminding everyone not to kill the crazy murderous ninjas trying to kill them about halfway through the season.

2) The Hand and its one million ninjas. You’d think a bunch of ninjas might be fun and interesting, but after what seemed like endless battles in dark underground places with a ton of faceless assassins, it really wasn’t. It became rote, and the bad guys never really felt like much of a threat (unlike Wilson Fisk in season one). Their leader, Nobu, also bored me in that “we’ve seen this all before” kind of way. In addition, the Hand’s shadowy mission really isn’t adequately explained, and it felt more like the showrunners were being intentionally obtuse rather than trying to build up tension for a big reveal, which never really happened (at least to my satisfaction).


In all, season two was solid, and I’d rate it a solid B or 3.5/5 stars. The best part of it for me was Frank Castle, and I really hope Netflix gives us a Punisher series. There’s so much dark, ugly emotional goodness to explore there, and the Punisher’s merciless brand of justice really does it for me. (Again, your mileage may vary here.) Bernthal’s excellent portrayal of the character only makes me more eager to see what he can do with his own show.

So, that’s my take on season two. Tell me about yours in the comments.

Rose Blackthorn – “Worthy Vessel” Interview

I recently spoke with kickass horror writer Rose Blackthorn about her latest release “Worthy Vessel,” a novelette published by Skull Island eXpeditions/Privateer Press and set in their Iron Kingdoms universe. This was Rose’s first whack at writing media tie-in, so I asked her about the process of writing “Worthy Vessel” and how it differed from the other fiction she’s written.


Full disclosure: This was one of the last projects I spearheaded during my tenure at Privateer Press, and I specifically targeted Rose to write it. She’s one of the best horror authors I know, and I figured the Nightmare Empire of Cryx, with its oodles of undead, soul-sucking sorcery, and general nastiness would be right up her alley.

Here’s what Rose had to say about “Worthy Vessel.”

1) Give us the details on your new novelette “Worthy Vessel.” What’s it about? Why is it awesome?

Set in the Iron Kingdoms, a world of steam-powered sorcery, “Worthy Vessel” is about Darragh Wrathe, who starts out as a pirate and sorcerer before becoming a commander and necromancer serving under Lich Lord Terminus in Cryx. This novelette explores his decision to leave pirating behind and make the journey–physically and mentally–from his old life to the possibility of a new one. This isn’t an easy trip, on any level, and he has to prove himself worthy of becoming more than just a man.

I think it’s awesome because it provides a glimpse into the inner workings of a character who might be perceived as rather two dimensional. Darragh isn’t just a weapon used by the Lich Lords; he is a person who has his own fears and doubts, and follows a progression to overcome them and reach his goal. In many ways, although he is kind of a ‘bad guy’ like most of those in Cryx, he has his own honor and is willing to devote himself to the things he believes in.

2) What was your experience with media tie-in fiction before writing “Worthy Vessel?” Had you read any WARMACHINE fiction?

I have read quite a bit, including books set in the Star Wars, Alien, and Darkover universes. I have read some WARMACHINE fiction including Into the Storm by Larry Correia, “On a Black Tide” by Aeryn Rudel, and a handful of short stories. From what I have seen, there is a huge range of fantasy available in the Iron Kingdoms: swashbuckling adventures, mercenary warriors, magic, both dark and light, many races of beings from humans to dragons, and anything in between. I think any fan of fantasy literature could find at least one section of this world they would love to visit. Being (mostly) a horror writer, I was drawn to Cryx.

3) I know this is your first foray into writing media tie-in, so what did you expect from the process? What were the surprises?

Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect. Considering that for the most part I’m a “pantser”, meaning I usually fly by the seat of my pants and rarely plan out the plot. Even just writing up an outline to submit with my pitch was a brand new thing for me!

Part of the challenge was I wasn’t very knowledgeable about the Iron Kingdoms. The timeline alone is staggering (and somewhat terrifying, depending on what you’re trying to encompass). I was very happy to be given the opportunity to write in Cryx, though. It’s interesting, and somewhat gratifying to take a character generally viewed as a villain and explore his internal processes. I don’t think anyone ever thinks they’re the bad guy, and it was actually quite enlightening to crawl into Darragh’s psyche.

4) The Iron Kingdoms, a world that encompasses the award-winning games of WARMACHINE and HORDES, is massive, with tons of existing characters, a history spanning millennia, and so on. How did you tackle all of that in your story? How much did you feel was necessary to learn?

It was a bit daunting. Seriously, the timeline and noted history in Caen is many times our own in the real world. When it became clear I would be writing about Darragh before he became the necromancer and commander he is now, I was able to zero in on a specific time and place in this world. I tried to bring in enough of what would be “current history” to make it feel grounded. I spent a lot of time just reading about Cryx and its history before I started writing. Toruk the Dragonfather is so ancient and so much larger than life, he seems like a dark cloud hanging over this island kingdom. But the history of his coming, and the way he changed and elevated the Lich Lords is fascinating. I’d like to read stories and books about all of them, and how they came to where they are in the present timeline. I personally have interest in ancient history in our world, and reading about the history of the Iron Kingdoms holds the same power over me. That being said, I probably did more research than was strictly necessary for what I wrote. Not wasted time, however. I hope that everything I assimilated just adds to the complexity and background of the story.

5) You’re an accomplished horror writer, and “Worthy Vessel” definitely deals with horrific subject matter, so how did you infuse your style into the Iron Kingdoms?

I guess I can only write as me. I am generally character driven, and so I got to know Darragh as well as I could. But there were other characters who I liked and enjoyed writing as much as the main character. Kutzov, the insane necrotech, just kind of skittered out of my mind whole, already fully realized and with his own history. I was completely taken with the Satyxis haruspex, Elsevin Hemeshka. She could have absconded with the whole story if I had let her!

The most difficult part of this process, in my opinion, is not having the freedom to just run with a plot line. Most of these characters, with the exception of Kutzov, were already described, named, and given a backstory. So I had to make sure to stay within the lines of what would be allowed for the larger world in which they are confined.

6) What advice would you give to writers who might want to try their hand at writing media tie-in?

If there is a world or universe that you love to read about, make an effort to see if you can add to it. If you have the opportunity to write in a world that maybe you’re not so knowledgeable about, don’t let that hold you back. This was a great experience for me. It was a way for me to stretch as a writer, to get to know and really come to love some characters I might never have met otherwise, and to explore a vast and many-faceted world like nothing else I’ve written.


“Worthy Vessel” can be purchased as an e-book from the following retailers:

Rose Blackthorn lives in the high mountain desert with her boyfriend and two dogs, Boo and Shadow. She spends her free time writing, reading, being crafty, and photographing the surrounding wilderness. She is a member of the HWA and her short fiction and poetry has appeared online and in print with a varied list of anthologies and magazines. Her first poetry collection Thorns, Hearts and Thistles was published in February 2015. Follow rose on Facebook, Twitter, her blog, or her author pages at Amazon and Goodreads.

The Book of Starry Wisdom

If you have a look at the “about me” page, you’ll see I promised to use this blog as a shameless promotional vehicle. Of course, I meant for it to be a shameless promotional vehicle for me, but as it so happens, I have a lot friends and colleagues who are doing all kinds of awesome things I really want to talk about. So, I’m spreading the shameless promotion around, starting with Simon Berman, my friend and a former colleague at Privateer Press, who is doing something super fucking rad. He’s taking his unnatural love for all things H.P. Lovecraft and turning it into a tangible artifact of lunatic obsession via the occult magic of Kickstarter. The project is called The Book of Starry Wisdom, and I recently spoke with Simon about how this must-have book for fans of Howard Phillips Lovecraft came to be.

Starry Wisdom Product

1) So I hear you got yourself a Kickstarter campaign. Tell us all about it.

My entire life is being consumed by the eldritch forces of social media summoned in support of my project, The Book of Starry Wisdom. I’m a tremendous fan of H.P. Lovecraft’s work, and this book is a direct result of that obsession. When I first encountered Lovecraft’s stories as a teenager, I was captivated by his description of hoary tomes of forbidden knowledge. I was always a little disappointed that the only way to read his stories was in the form of cheap paperbacks. This was the early 90s, and while I loved those old Del Rey editions with Michael Whelan’s fantastic cover art, I always wanted something more substantial.

The Book of Starry Wisdom is my pet project, a way to collect Lovecraft’s specifically Cthulhu-related stories in the kind of portentous book they deserve. The heart of the book are those three stories, “Dagon,” “The Call of Cthulhu,” and “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” I’ve arranged to have the stories fully illustrated and bound in a faux-leather, hardcover edition accompanied by essays that relate to the original stories. I want this to be a book that looks awesome on your bookshelf, whether it’s in your living room or your ancient and forbidden library.

2) What’s the significance of the title The Book of Starry Wisdom?

It’s a reference from Lovecraft’s story “The Haunter of the Dark.” While the original reference is to a cult worshiping Nyarlathotep, I felt it was evocative of one of the pillars of the Cthulhu Mythos, namely that of the Stars Coming Right. I wanted this collection to have a title that felt immersive, like something that might be used by a real cult. This sort of gentle breaking of the fourth wall is a major theme of the entire project.

SW Header

3) There are some really talented writers involved on this project, including Orrin Grey, whom I’ve interviewed on this very blog. Tell us a bit about the writers and what they’re contributing.

I selected my writers with great care. All of them are talented authors or game writers of note. Frankly, I was spoiled for choice given how many stellar and often award-winning writers I’m lucky enough to call colleagues. One thing I wanted to ensure was a diversity of perspective. In addition to seasoned horror writers like Orrin Grey—who has submitted a brilliant and twisted essay exploring Cartesian philosophy, Lovecraft, and the films of John Carpenter—but also people like the poet Bryan Thao Worra, a Laotian poet of note and a huge fan of Lovecraft. All of the essayists were instructed to examine some aspect of the three Cthulhu stories and then shed light on them in some new way. As well, I requested they not write anything like literary criticism. I want the volume to be totally immersive, so all of the essays treat the stories as if they are non-fiction, or, at least, not entirely fictional in origin. My deepest hope is that a copy ends up in a Salvation Army used books bin in twenty years and scares the living shit out of some teenager who happens to buy it on a whim.

4) You’re also working with a very talented artist, Valerie Heron. Tell us about her contributions to The Book of Starry Wisdom.

I originally became acquainted with Herron’s work about a year ago. She had illustrated t-shirts for Pacific NorthWEIRD and Rifftrax, and through the small world of the internet I realized we had a number of people in common. I was starting to plan The Book of Starry Wisdom in earnest this past spring, even though it had been kicking around in my head for a couple of years. Having looked at Valerie’s deific artwork in the pagan community, I knew she’d be an excellent choice for this project. Aside from her obvious skill as a fine artist, I recognized that she also had an understanding of occult principals and symbolism that would lend itself well to the immersive qualities I wanted in my book. Herron is producing thirteen interior illustrations as well as other prints exclusive to the Kickstarter. I’m incredibly excited at what she’s been drawing, I think it’s going to be a fantastic-looking book.


5) I know this isn’t your first go-around running a Kickstarter campaign. What experience do you have with crowdfunding?

That’s correct. About two years ago I was one of the principal architects and managers for the WARMACHINE: Tactics Kickstarter. It was highly successful, and I learned many lessons that I think are scaling down well to my current project. I’ve also run some smaller crowdfunding projects for local artist Tom Dewar and his Supercharger Press Kickstarter, as well as managing the ongoing Patreon for artist Eiza Gauger’s Problem Glyphs project.

6) Who are the people who fucking need to run over to Kickstarter and back The Book of Starry Wisdom right this very second? (I mean, besides aggressively nerdy, oft-rejected writer types like myself.)

Those who have heard the Call. Those who wish to be blinded by the revelations of the new dark age. The mad, the dead, and the Damned. Ia! Ia!

Simon Berman is a writer and the social marketing manager at Privateer Press where he has contributed to the award-winning games WARMACHINE, HORDES, and the Iron Kingdoms Full Metal Fantasy Roleplaying Game. He lives in Seattle and in his spare time attends to the whims of his fat and bitter cat, Chud.

Duck Snorts & Worm Burners

I’m going to take a little break from rejection today (we’ll hit the hard stuff again first thing Monday morning) and talk about two of my favorite subjects: baseball and weird slang. Happily, the two go together.

Baseball is one of the oldest organized professional sports in the Unites States, and the first professional game was played way back in 1869. In nearly 150 years, baseball has picked up a bunch of strange slang terms to describe various elements of the game. I love these things, so I thought I’d share a few of my favorites with you. Hopefully, these will be of interest to both my fellow word nerds and baseball aficionados.

  1. Can of Corn. You hear this one a lot, and at first blush it makes absolutely no sense because what it means is a high, lazy, medium-depth fly ball that gives the outfielder plenty of time to settle underneath it. It’s an easy catch. But why call it a can of corn? Remember, baseball is an old game, so some of its lingo originated over a century ago and was drawn from things that make little sense to the modern fan. The origins of this one are debatable and probably lost to time, but this article over at Baseball-Lingo presents one of the more plausible explanations I’ve read.
  2. Cup of Coffee. Another one you hear all the time, a cup of coffee is when a minor league player comes up to the majors for a temporary stint, sometimes just a single game. The idea being the player is up only long enough to have a cup of coffee. Some players, however, seem to never get anything more than that, repeatedly bouncing from the minors to the majors over the course of many seasons, treating the show like some sad version of an MLB Starbucks. Apparently, even professional baseball players have opportunities to earn Rejectomancy points.
  3. Duck Snort. Yeah, I swear, this is a real, honest-to-god baseball term. Anyway, a duck snort is a shallow pop up that manages to elude both outfielders and infielders, often landing between them as they race toward one another to catch it. The duck snort is often the culprit when outfielders and infielders  collide with one another chasing down the ball. Apparently the duck snort was originally called the duck fart, which is even stranger (and funnier). I have no idea what duck snorts and farts have to do with softly hit fly balls, but such is the enigma of baseball slang. The duck snort is known by many other names, including but not limited to, the bloop, the dying quail, the flare, and even the Rick Flare (yes, in reference to the wrestler).
  4. Frozen Rope. One of my favorites, the frozen rope is a hard-hit line drive with very little “hump” in it. The idea behind this one, I guess, is that a real frozen rope would be pretty damn straight, just like this type of line drive. This term is sometimes also used to describe a particularly strong throw from an outfielder.
  5. Seeing-Eye Single. The seeing-eye single is usually a softly hit ground ball that, through blind luck or the grace of the baseball gods, manages to avoid every infielder, often by bare millimeters, and find its way into the outfield. It’s one of those weak, almost embarrassing hits that prompts baseball announcers to use the oft-repeated phrase, “Well, it’ll look like a line drive in the box scores tomorrow.” The seeing-eye single is a close cousin to the excuse-me single, which is one of the more humorous ways a hitter can add to his batting average. It usually occurs on a check swing, where the ball hits the batter’s bat by accident, resulting in a swinging bunt that catches the infielders entirely off guard and allows the batter to leg out an infield hit. The excuse me part comes from the invariable expression on the batter’s face when he makes accidental contact with the ball, a strange mixture of embarrassment and horror.
  6. Worm Burner. This one cracks me up every time I hear it. A worm burner is a hard-hit ball that hugs the ground, theoretically torching any hapless worms in its path. Not to be confused with the dreaded worm killer, which is a pitch, usually a breaking ball of some kind, that hits the dirt before reaching home plate, possibly slaying the unsuspecting worms there who showed up to watch the game.

I hope you enjoyed this little sojourn into the weird world of baseball slang. I really just scratched the surface, and there are dozens and dozens of even stranger terms that can be found with a simple Google search.

Are you a baseball fan? Got any favorite bits of baseball slang? Tell me about them in the comments.

General Nerdery: Jurassic World Wish List

Although this blog is primarily about writing and the business of writing, it also belongs to a giant nerd, and giant nerds like nothing more than to pontificate about their favorite nerdy subjects. So, from time to time, expect to see me blathering on, very specifically, about things like medieval weapons, martial arts, and, sigh, dinosaurs.

Yep, one of my particular areas of nerd expertise is paleontology. I’ve been fascinated with dinosaurs and other prehistoric critters since I was wee tyke. So, as you might guess, the most recent entry into the Jurassic Park franchise, Jurassic World, sent me into paroxysms of nerd rage. Don’t worry; I’m not gonna bore the shit out of you with a tedious rant about dinosaurs with feathers. Instead, I’m going to be positive and talk about a few prehistoric monsters I’d like to see in a JP movie.

The five critters I’m going to talk about don’t get a lot of press, and you’ve probably never heard of most of them. The other thing to keep in mind is that none of the animals I’m going to talk about are dinosaurs. I feel justified in that decision based on the fact the JP franchise has recently introduced prehistoric critters that aren’t dinos, specifically, pterosaurs and mosasaurs. That said, the following five prehistoric animals check all the usual boxes for inclusion in a JP movie. They’re all predators, they’re all the biggest in their particular group, and they’re all really cool.

So let’s get started:

1) Sarcosuchus imperator

This one is a no-brainer for me, and it’s the only one on the list I think might have an actual shot at making it into a JP movie. Sarcosuchus is the largest crocodilian that ever lived. It’s a 40-foot, 8-ton crocodile that, no shit, probably ate dinosaurs. Let me repeat that. It fucking ate dinosaurs. Pretty cool, huh?

The other thing Sarcosuchus has going for it is it lived 112 million years ago, right in the Cretaceous period, and since the Jurassic Park franchise has a serious hard-on for the Cretaceous (not the Jurassic, oddly), ol’ Sarchy should fit right in. In all seriousness, though, crocs make for great drama. They’re some of the best ambush predators around, and, well, you can probably imagine a scene in the next JP movie (Jurassic Galaxy: The Feathering). A lone Velociraptor (Can I just call it a Utahraptor? Please?) comes to a tropical lake, bends down for a quick drink, and BAM! Eight tons of scales and teeth explode from the water, and not even the nimble raptor can avoid the jaws of death. The Sarcosuchus clamps down, pulls the raptor  into the water, and both disappear, leaving only a crimson stain on the lake’s surface. Later in the movie, Chris Pratt can saddle up and ride the giant croc into battle against the evil geneticist Dr. Henry Wu and his army of cloned flying raptor piranhas.

2) Andrewsarchus mongoliensis

As I said earlier, a running theme in the JP franchise is new critters need to be the biggest and the baddest. Well, Andrewsarchus is both. The largest mammalian carnivore in the books, Andrewsarchus is big, mean, and really, really weird. Some estimates put this vaguely wolf-shaped critter at 15 feet long and nearly 2 tons. That’s like twice the size of the largest grizzly bear. On top of that, Andrewsarchus had a massive skull with jaws that could produce some of the greatest bite force of any mammal, so it could crack bone with the best of them.

Andrewsarchus hails from the Eocene period, about 40 million years ago. It was one of those times when evolution took a couple of strange turns. For example, Andrewsarchus is a contender for the largest mammalian predator of all time, but here’s the weird part, it’s only living relatives are ungulates. In fact, it’s thought Andrewsarchus had hooves. That’s right, the largest mammalian predator of all time had hooves and is related to fucking sheep. Cool, huh?

I think a giant wolf monster with hooves is just too cool to pass up, and I can easily see them in a JP movie as part of the petting zoo or something.

3) Phorusrhacos longissimus

Yeah, I know that’s a mouthful, so let me simplify it for you. You can just call this critter and its relatives by the totally metal moniker “terror birds.” What’s a terror bird? Well, take an ostrich, cross it with a giant eagle, sprinkle in a liberal dash of baddassitude, and then crank that fucker up to eleven. That’s a terror bird, and Phorusrhacos was one of the biggest. I’m talking about an 8-foot-tall, 300-pound flightless bird armed with a beak sharper than a goddamn samurai sword and talons that’d put holes in Kevlar.

One of the other things that makes terror birds really cool is how long they were around. They showed up in the early Paleocene, like 62 million years ago, right after the extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs. In fact, they were likely some of the first large predators to evolve after the dinosaurs (although, to be technical, terror birds are dinosaurs). They stuck around until as recently as a couple million years ago, which means actual human beings just missed being bird food by a few hundred thousand years.

Phorusrhacos is great for the JP franchise because it’s an actual bird, not one of those silly non-avian dinosaurs, so, you know, you could put feathers on it and not have to worry about the public actually learning something.

4) Dunkleosteus terrelli

What do you get when you cross a giant shark, a tank, and a jumbo–sized staple remover together? You get one of the most badass monsters ever to swim the oceans. Now, I know I could have hit the easy button and chosen Carcharodon megalodon, the massive 50-foot shark you’ve all likely heard about, but I’m gonna get all hipster and shit and talk about a monster that was awesome way before giant sharks were cool.

Dunkleosteus lived a long, long time ago, in the Devonian period. We’re talking like 400 million years ago, in a time where most critters lived in the sea and animals had just begun to colonize the land. Dunkloesteus was the largest member of a group of weird armored fish called placoderms, and it was designed to be a cannibal. Its massive jaws were like a pair of industrial shears, designed to cut through the armored plates of its fellows.

In my opinion, Dunkleosteus is perfect for the JP franchise. It’s huge (30 feet long and 4 tons), looks like a nightmare concocted by a coke-addled Pokémon designer, and they could make up all kinds of shit about the strength of its jaws. I mean, by the time JP is done with it, the government will be cloning them to chew through enemy submarines to get at the tasty meat filling inside.

5) Jaekelopterus rhenania

For my final choice, I’m gonna stay with aquatic horrors and go with a creature that is the largest member of a group of terrifying monsters called sea scorpions. These arthropod nightmares swam the oceans, lakes, and rivers of the world as early as the Ordovician period (460 million years ago) and as late as the Permian period (250 million years ago). That’s a span of some 200 million years, which means sea scorpions are one of the most successful organisms in the history of organisms. I mean, shit, humans have only been around for like 200 thousand years. We’re barely a blip on the geological time scale.

Sea scorpions generally look like someone crossed a lobster with a crab during a really bad acid trip. The biggest, Jaekelopterus, was over 8 feet long with pincers that extended another 3 feet or so. I’d rather face down an entire school of sharks than deal with just one of these things. A shark would at least give you a nice, clean death. One chomp, and you’re done. A sea scorpion would tear you into bite-sized nuggets, giving you the distinct pleasure of drowning and getting eaten alive.

Jaekelopterus and the rest of the sea scorpions would fit right into JP. They could serve the little ones up like lobsters in the overpriced park restaurants, and then feed irritating secondary characters to the big ones to up the stakes and let all the moviegoers know shit just got real.

Anyway, thanks for taking a trip with me down Nerdery Lane. If you share my enthusiasm for weird prehistoric critters, tell me about one of your favorites in the comments.