Tag Archives: Ruminations

Escape from New York

Sorry for missing an entry (again) last week … I have really been struggling to find things to write about that aren’t somehow pandemic-related or at least pandemic-adjacent, and still determined not to have this become a pandemic blog for however long the situation lasts. Normally I can always write about my writing, but as I mentioned a bit ago, I’m not actually writing anything right now. So, uh, thus the struggle.

To avoid another missed week (and utterly breaking the habit of writing this thing, which I still think is valuable), I clutch at the following straw: I was doing my marking this week and some music from the Escape from New York soundtrack came on, which got me to thinking about a time a while ago where I found out a clever friend of mine had never seen Escape from New York, and after I made them watch it, their response back was basically “Why do you like this movie, exactly?”

Which is fair, because it is an extremely low-budget move from 1981 that can seem like such a cooke-cutter action movie (except, again, so low budget) that it’s easy to wonder why this movie is absolutely one of my favourites. Part of it is that I am a huge fan of John Carpenter, who (to me, anyway) does an absolutely great job at creating moods in his films, uses tension extremely skilfully, and tells fairly straight-ahead SF/horror stories that I basically always enjoy. (Yes, even Ghosts of Mars)

Some of the ‘cookie cutter’ nature of Escape is a bit unfair because, again, it’s a really old movie. So a lot of the action movies that a modern audience has seen do all this stuff were made after it. This is not really to argue that Escape was exactly cutting-edge (although, in terms of special effects on a budget, it kind of was) but coming to it now and feeling that you’ve seen it done a bunch of times before is sort of flipping the timeline backwards, unavoidable though it may be.

What’s fair is that the film is extremely basic in its premise and its cast of characters. We have a grim antihero protagonist who (not accidentally) is just about a cartoon version of the Action Hero. We have a ticking clock scenario, with impossible odds in the way and (literally) the fate of the world in the balance. Carpenter (I would argue) plays out that string adeptly and spins out a tale that is fun to watch, so long as your tolerance for ‘done on a budget’ is reasonable.

But, why is it one of my favorites? Well. The thing is that there’s more thought behind the film than you might initially think, and that’s what continues to give it impact for me. Carpenter imagines a world that completely abandons any sense of responsibility for the victims of a world economic collapse, literally kicking criminals ‘out of the world’ to fend for themselves in the ruins of an abandoned New York. We have a President of the United States who clearly does not give even the slightest fuck about the people he governs, and is only interested in the office for its own sake.

And our hero, Snake Plissken (really!), ex-war hero turned outlaw, ultimately decides (spoiler alert) that the institutions holding his troubled society together are simply not worth saving, based in no small part on their lack of regard for the ordinary people who perish helping him rescue their feckless President.

Carpenter says he wrote Escape in reaction to the Watergate scandal, and you can certainly see that, but I don’t think you have to squint very hard to see parallels to some of the situations we inhabit 40 years later, either. So, I feel like this is an old tale that still has some resonance for modern viewers.

Anyway. I didn’t have a real good answer for my friend when they asked, but that’s what I should have said.

Thanks for reading.

Catch you next week. Honest.

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Baseball, Stories

So, a day late on this one again, mostly because I couldn’t think of anything to write that wasn’t pandemic-related, and I have been determined not to make this All About The Pandemic, because frankly I already do more than enough thinking along those lines anyway, and I’m sure you’ve got all the pandemic content you could ever want or need as well.

But then (as of course often happens) as I was lying down to sleep, an idea occurred to me, because I was thinking about baseball*. Now, why was I thinking about baseball, in this odd season where major league ball is not being played, and gives no particular sign of being played? Partly, this doesn’t mean that there’s no baseball being played at all – the Korean league is playing in front of empty stadiums, and I have adopted the SK Wyverns as my team to follow from a (great) distance. Korean league baseball is a delight, with bat flips and teams named the Heroes and parts of the stadiums labelled ‘EXCITING ZONE’, but of course the Wyverns are terrible and it’s still all very far away.

So that wasn’t why.

I have also just finished reading a really excellent baseball book, Joe Posnanski’s The Soul of Baseball, which you should really give a read if you have even a tiny piece of affection for the sport. I would argue that a lot of people will probably enjoy it even if they’re not into baseball, but I can’t imagine a baseball fan not liking it.

But that wasn’t why, either.

The real reason is that one of the ways I have been passing some of my extra time in seclusion has been to get out my old tabletop baseball game (Avalon Hill’s Statis-Pro Baseball)** and playing out a little league with teams from 1985. Now why 1985? Because that’s not the year I bought the game, and in fact I ordered these cards special.

Well, if you’re a Blue Jays fan (or, I suppose a baseball historian) you may know that in 1985, the Jays had finally turned into a good team, good enough to win their division and get to the American League Championship Series, and even lead it 3 games to 1. The ALCS being a best-of-seven, they needed to win just one more game to go to the World Series. Instead of doing that, they would lose three straight, and the Kansas City Royals advanced to the championship, won it, and (with apologies to Joe Posnanski) I have loathed them ever since.

So, 1985 is a bit of a tantalizing ‘oh, what if’ in the minds of the right vintage of Jays fan, the sort of thing that games like Statis-Pro are somewhat uniquely suited to exploring. But, despite the heartbreak of how 1985 (and, really, all the efforts of those 1980s Blue Jays teams) ended up, I have a lot of affection for it because that’s more or less when I started becoming a fan of the team.

By which I mean, having an active interest in the team itself and hoping they would win rather than just watching a baseball game because it was something my father put on in the living room. I had favourite players (Jesse Barfield and the late Tony Fernández), and although I had tons to learn about how baseball really worked, I would watch the games and hope to see my heroes do well and (since they were pretty good that year) see them do some pretty amazing things.

Bit of a shock how it ended up, which is really the point I am (eventually) getting to. 1985 was also the year when (coming to this realization perhaps a bit late in life, but I have generally been behind the curve in various kinds of learning) the difference between sports and a story in a book, or a movie, came home. Because of course, had it been a book (or at least, the kind of books I would have been reading at the time), ‘the good guys’ wouldn’t really lose three straight games to their rivals, and they wouldn’t really not go to the World Series. Maybe they’d lose two, and then win the last vital game in dramatic fashion, but they’d never really fail utterly the way the Blue Jays did in 1985 (or the way they did an arguably even more heartbreaking thing in 1987).

One of the main reasons I enjoy watching sports is that you do get wonderful, exciting, amazing stories played out in front of you that challenge the limits of the imagination and would strain suspension of disbelief if someone did make them up that way. You genuinely cannot predict what might happen, no matter how well you know the conventions of drama and character and plot, because none of them apply.

But, of course, that’s also one of the strengths of the stories we write. We can tell the tale we want to tell, or want others to experience. Unless it suits our purpose, we don’t need to have our heroes, or our readers, experience their own 1985. That’s a big part of why I think fiction is always my first love, both for entertainment purposes, and as something I will always come back to creating***. Being able to tell, and to read, or watch stories where things end up as they should is such a powerful and important thing, and perhaps especially so during times where the ends appear uncertain.

.Keep creating, and keep reading.

Thanks for being here.

*-I did not leap out of bed and go write it, right then, thereby getting it published ‘on time’ because although deadlines are definitely a thing for me, I am just sane enough to recognize that the world does not exactly turn on the writing of this blog. Also, it was just past midnight anyway.

**-For the unfamiliar (thus, virtually everyone), Statis-Pro and games like it were simulations of baseball from the time before computers became ubiquitous. Each player has a card that rates their effectiveness at hitting, fielding, running the bases, and pitching, and with these and a bunch of arcane charts you can play out all these imaginary games. You can use the teams as they existed, or switch the players around and create new ones. If you have cards from different seasons, you can have pretend matchups that break the laws of time. It was exactly the sort of thing that would naturally appeal to a quiet kid with a good imagination who was also a baseball fan. I played a lot of Statis-Pro.

***-I was going to write a whole thing on this, but again, I don’t want to dwell too much on the pandemic situation. So: as I mentioned on my friend Jay Odjick’s podcast, I started out my seclusion period thinking about how much writing I would get done. For a variety of reasons, that hasn’t happened, and in fact, I have written exactly zero words during this time. I have, at times, felt very badly about this, especially while seeing writers I know be very productive. Most times, though, I feel able to recognize that there are good, legitimate reasons why I’m not able to write right now, and I know in my soul that I’ll get back to it.

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Little Claw

When I was young(er?), I had pretty serious asthma, to the point that when I was (even) small(er), I nearly died a couple of times. It wasn’t that bad most of the time, but it was one of those things I always had to be thinking about when I was growing up.

One moment I particularly remember was telling my asthma doctor, a nice man named Dr. Singh, about what it felt like when my lungs were acting up. I said that it felt like a little claw grabbing on to the bottom of my lung. (Always the right one, for whatever reason) From his expression, that wasn’t something he was used to hearing from elementary school aged patients. But, that’s exactly what it felt like, some kind of long-clawed talon (always red in my mind, for some reason) snagged on some part of my interior.

Being the kid with the iffy lungs was not always a great role to have growing up, but by and large I was very fortunate. I got good medical care, and I had encouraging people around me who always told me to do as much as I could, but to know when enough was enough and respect my limits. (Which, honestly, is not a bad rule for a lot of things in life) With the exception of one spectacular example that left me with a substantial scar on the back of my head, I did pretty well at that. I did grow up (to a degree) and my lungs got stronger and stronger, to the point that I rarely think about my asthma, anymore.

Now here we are in these, uh, unusual circumstances, and my gym is closed, so to do my running I am obliged to do it outside, in considerably colder weather than I would usual run in. It’s been mostly fine. But a few days ago, I was doing some hill training, and it was, to say the least, brisk. Cold air has always been one of the triggers for the asthma, and to my surprise, right at the end of my training, the little claw was back.

Felt just the same as ever.

It wasn’t anything serious, and I still remember what to do, so a few minutes later, I was fine. Not something I had expected to ever experience again, though. I suppose the little claw will always be a part of me.

As I’ve had time to think about it, I’ve decided it doesn’t bother me all that much. That weakness will evidently always be a part of me, but it doesn’t define my life, and I’m sure that having grown up with asthma has shaped me in all sorts of ways I’m not aware of. Generally I think I turned out all right, so I wouldn’t change it. The little claw is as much a part of me as the toenail that grows all weird, and most of the time we have an understanding.

I think many of the unfortunate things that are in all of our histories are similar. In the end, just a part of who we have turned out to be, and that is all right.

So I am at least content to know that the little claw is still out there, where-ever it hangs out.

And I did finish that hill run.

Thanks for reading.

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Enormous Cave

Short one this week, I fear – my energy level is kind of in the sewer and my seasonal allergies are not treating me well, but I am really trying to get back on a regular schedule with the blog again.

And thus.

This week I ran across a story about this enormous cave in B.C. that had been sealed up for thousands of years by ice and has only recently opened up, probably due to climate change. I mean first of all, there’s a fantastic setup for a horror, SF, or fantasy story if I’ve ever heard one, right?

It’s also always kind of amazing to me that we are still discovering such truly huge things about the world we live on. (Yes, the reason why this particular one came to light is Not Great) In our age of GPS and satellite photos and Google Street View it is easy enough to think that the world is thoroughly known and understood, and that we have discovered nearly everything that is out there to find. Neil Gaiman has a good bit in one of his short stories (which I am far too lazy to chase down) about all the wonderful imaginary places that got chased off the map by people travelling around the globe and proving they weren’t there.

And yet. Here’s this frankly huge thing that – at least outside of First Nations culture* – we know very little about. And that’s pretty cool, that there are still huge and wonderful things out there to be found. It makes the world seem a little bit more magical, and I think in our current situation, it’s also good to have some reminders that as tough as the world kind of is right now, there’s still wonderful things out there in it, too.

I do like a good cave story.

Thanks for reading.

*-In my admittedly brief research for writing this, the best I could find was that it’s possible the site is known and had significance for First Nations people who live in the area, but nothing conclusive. I welcome more information, if you have it.

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Chain of Discovery

Reaching a bit for a non-current events related topic (because I really don’t want to do a stream of those) and this is what I’ve got.

I was thinking this afternoon about what to write on the blog and had some music on. As is frequently the case these days, it was a lady blues singer called Joanne Shaw Taylor. I’ve got a bunch of her stuff now and it’s currently my default ‘I should throw something on to listen to’ option.

Now, even just a few weeks ago, I would not have recognized the name*. What happened? Well, it’s a bit of a trip. I watched an episode of an old TV show I like a lot, Justified. More or less, as I recall, it was serving as the audio-visual equivalent of comfort food. Anyway, there’s a song that plays behind a particular scene that I’ve always liked a lot.

No, it’s not Joanne Shaw Taylor.

It is by Otis Taylor, but they’re not related**. I tracked down some of his stuff, and I like it a lot too. On some of the tracks, there’s a female backup singer whose voice really kind of grabbed me.

No, still not Joanne Shaw Taylor. It’s Otis Taylor’s daughter Cassie***. A little more progress down the rabbit hole and I discovered Cassie Taylor has some records of her own****. I listened to them, and I liked them too.

This got me to thinking that I was a little light on lady blues singers in my collection, and further research. And, thence, through various sources of varying levels of helpfulness, to Joanne Shaw Taylor. Who is, I should say, a highly acclaimed musician and so I claim no particular credit for this ‘discovery’, I just thought the route whereby I arrived to it was, once I thought about it, more than a little curious, and heavily reliant on pretty fragile connections.

I love those kind of seemingly random chains of discovery that can lead us to reading a million increasingly obscure webpages in an afternoon or stumbling on an artist I didn’t know about before. It also gets me to thinking about all the random blorps of chance that have to happen for an artist (even an acclaimed one) to come to the attention of someone new to their work. Sure, if your stuff is up on the internet, theoretically a huge number of people can get it, but because that’s true of so many artists, what are the odds that any one of them will ever even know it’s there?

I feel, therefore, profoundly lucky that anyone has ever found my work to give it a shot, and even more strongly that one of the best things you can ever do for an artist you admire is tell people about them. It doesn’t have to be pushy, or a hard sell. Just, to people who you think might genuinely dig it, a little mention.

It’s not necessarily the best relying on those chains of discovery to cascade down.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see about having a less squirrely topic next week.

*-it turns out that I did, retroactively, recognize a couple of her songs as ones that used to play on a local radio station, back when it was still playing blues and not the infinitely more bland crap they switched over to. The name had never stuck in the spongy confines of my brain though, obviously.

**-The song is ‘Ten Million Slaves’.

***-In the song where I really noticed her bit for the first time, aside from liking the song, I was also struck by how different Otis’ voice sounded. Well of course he’s not singing that one, he’s just on the banjo. The singer, as I immediately kicked myself for not figuring out, is Keb Mo, another of my favourites. It’s a weird web out there.

****-Here I reveal, to some degree, exactly how old I am, because I’m not even sure the concept of an album is even a thing any more, much less calling it a record.

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Christmas (?) Cactus

First of all, I flat-out forgot that yesterday was ‘write a blog entry day’ until I was just about to go to bed, and with my usual struggles in getting my brain to turn off and let me sleep, I decided not to take any chances. Obviously things are a little weird right now, my schedule is all messed up, and hopefully we’re all making allowances for ourselves as a result. And I’m going to get back on the ‘Tuesdays’ schedule going forward, as best I can.

However, this is also kind of perfect based on what I wanted to write about on the blog this week.

My Christmas Cactus.

No, seriously.

See, I have had this plant for quite a long while now, and right up front I’ll admit that I’m quite sure it hasn’t been in ideal Christmas Cactus conditions (mostly due to me not really knowing what those are). Mostly it has been a nice little splash of green that survived the rather iffy lighting conditions of a series of apartments.

It hadn’t bloomed for the past two Christmases, and I pretty much figured it wasn’t going to, any more.

Then, a little while ago, I noticed it had buds.

It is, you will note, April.

My first instinctual reaction (and this is not to my credit) was ‘Man, this cactus is bad at it’s job. Doesn’t bloom for two years and then finally produces some in the springtime.’ I was going to make a Hilarious Internet Post about it.

But then I thought a little more, and you know, there’s a lot to be learned from this cactus. It is not, as I said, in ideal conditions. It’s not producing what is expected on the expected schedule, nor at the rate of other similar cactii.

But, by the gods, it has produced something, and (one has to assume) done the very best it was capable of. This is much like many of us, including myself. I don’t write as much as a lot of other people I know, I definitely don’t do so with any kind of predictable regularity these days, but I plug away. I like to hope eventually something will come of it.

And really, this is all any of us can do. We are all in our own situations, unique to ourselves, and if we do the best we can, then we have no reason to feel in any way ashamed of the results.

By all appearances, my cactus’ flowers are going to be lovely.

It’s great at its job.

Thank you for reading.

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On Vacation

I am writing this on vacation, which so far has been very nice.

Taking some time to go away on a trip was perhaps not the most practical decision in terms of use of time (or, no doubt, financially) but I can’t maintain an endless level of grind. As the last couple of weeks have shown, eventually it wears to the point that even time spent ‘on task’ becomes so unproductive that I do very little.

Counterintuitive though it may be, taking a space of time to do nothing works out to me being more productive in the long term. So that’s what I’m doing this week. I did bring a ridiculous amount of reading with me (because of course) and I already had one solid idea for my writing project, so I think this is already paying off.

We’ll see. Still on vacation at the moment.

(I have already finished, and enjoyed, Ann Leckie’s The Raven Tower, which is a very clever and unusual kind of fantasy story that I find personally comforting because although it is a really good tale, it is also not what you would call packed with action. Which tends to be what a lot of the stuff I write is, so it’s encouraging re: marketability. Which we’re not thinking about. Because we’re on vacation.)

Back on the job next week.

Thanks for reading.

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Just Checking In

Not much to say this week – or last, as you may have noticed. I’ve been feeling very low energy in a number of different ways lately and haven’t been feeling either confident or inspired enough to write on any particular topic. I kind of thought about leaving it for another week, but that’s getting dangerously close to breaking the habit of writing this thing, and most of the time, I do find it valuable.

So. I’m busy right now with teaching related stuff, which does suck up a lot of available time and energy. Writing is not going real well, both because of the above and the aforementioned lack of confidence. I need to compare myself less to what other people are getting done right now and let some of my batteries recharge.

On the other hand, we’re recording some episodes of the podcast, and another Secret Project is puttering along, so there’s bits and pieces of progress being made. I’m still shopping around Heretic Blood, a little, and had a bit of a nibble the other day, so some stuff is happening. I just don’t have the mindset or the bandwidth for much of it right now. The pace will pick back up when I’m ready to do it.

I have a week off teaching coming up shortly, so that’s probably well-timed. Hopefully I’ll come out of that feeling a bit more ready to tackle some creative stuff again.

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What Just Happened on ‘Doctor Who’?!?

I wasn’t at all sure what I was going to write about tonight, until I watched the latest episode of Doctor Who. (‘Fugitive of the Judoon’, incidentally) I had kind of kicked around the idea of writing about the return of Doctor Who after BBC shenanigans gave us another extra-long break, but I didn’t have too too much to say.

(There are about to be some spoilers, if you’re not caught up on Doctor Who)

I had mixed feelings about the return of the Master – Sacha Dhawan gave us a fun take on the character and seemed to be having a great deal of fun, but (as I went through in a previous entry) I really enjoyed the wobbly path towards redemption – and being the Doctor’s friend again – that we saw Michelle Gomez’ Missy take, and loved the poignant end to her incarnation. Dhawan’s Master at least seems to undo all of that (it’s at least possible that his Master comes in between the previous incarnations we saw and Missy, due to time travel nonsense, but then having his TARDIS appear as a flying house did seem to be a shot at Missy), which I regret a bit.

At the same time, this is what almost always happens with villains who ‘turn good’ – they’re so much more useful to the plot of an ongoing story as baddies than ancillary heroes that it’s very hard to resist flipping the switch back over. The Master is nearly always a fun foil for the Doctor, Dhawan did a great job as a particularly expressive version of the character, and he wore Patrick Troughton pants. It was pretty awesome.

After that the episodes were just pretty ok, and I lost much sense that I had anything to write about here, until ‘Fugitive of the Judoon’. Holy boats, the series abruptly made a hard turn into some delightfully puzzling territory. Captain Jack was back, that was cool. We have another incarnation of the Doctor, who we’ve never heard of before, and who doesn’t seem to fit into either the character’s past or present as we’ve known it. Maybe Gallifrey is gone and maybe it isn’t. Something truly, gloriously weird is afoot.

If I stop and think about it, I don’t love every aspect of this storyline. I especially think they’ve gone to the ‘fate of Gallifrey’ well a few too many times now. Either destroy the place or leave it be, but there’s not a lot of impact to yet another change in status for the home planet the Doctor basically never visits. The puzzle-box plotline is likewise a frequently used tool in the box for the writers of the revived series, and it hasn’t always paid off.

However.

This is a truly intriguing mess they’ve thrown in our lap (and, incidentally, how cool did Jo Martin’s TARDIS interior look?) and I really can’t wait to see where the ship is going, now that it’s veered onto this unexpected course. If nothing else, I’m glad to see the writers doing something truly bold in terms of direction with this series – even if they don’t end up quite sticking the landing, they certainly haven’t played it safe this time, and that, I enjoy.

Thanks for reading.

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Finally, that Expanse blog

Well, looks like we’re finally going to fire up that blog entry with my thoughts on Season 4 of The Expanse, which I realize I didn’t exactly advertise well last time out. Ah well. Here they are. I should note that I haven’t read any of the books that the show is drawing from, which may affect how I see things somewhat, so take that for what it’s worth.

Obviously, spoilers ahoy for those of you who haven’t watched Season 4 yet.

On the whole, I liked it quite a lot. I have seen a lot of comments online about this season being slower or not ‘accomplishing’ as much as previous seasons. What I mostly saw was some writers who knew they weren’t getting cancelled at the end of the season and knew they could start spinning out some strands of story that would extend into those upcoming additional episodes they now know for sure are coming. So, I guess I would agree that Season 4 didn’t quite wrap up into as neat an ending as the previous ones did, but on the whole (again) I trust the creatives behind this story that we’re going in an interesting direction.

A big part of the reason I trust them come from characters like Klaes Ashford. When he first appeared in Season 3, I got kind of braced for what I thought was a very obvious storyline where Ashford would undermine Drummer (another character I love) at every opportunity, and turn part of her crew against her, leading to a Dramatic Showdown. And while we kind of did get that storyline a bit, it wasn’t because of Ashford. Instead, here was a guy who recognized that Drummer was a good leader and (more or less) becomes her second-in-command in fact as well as in theory. We might not agree with all the decisions Ashford made in the last parts of Season 3, but they made solid sense coming from a crafty, practical Belter pirate (and not the cartoon villain he initially seemed like he was going to be)

Ashford the politician in Season 4 was even more impressive to see – here he is now recognizing that the time to help his people as an outlaw is gone and that something else is required. Again, he’s not always exactly right, but there was so much depth and growth from a character I initially thought I was really not going to like. I was truly sad to see him die in the season’s final episode, symbolic and dramatic though the moment was.

So, yeah, the people who brought us Klaes Ashford get a big benefit of the doubt from me.

They didn’t hit on everything, I thought. Murtry was a fun, easy-to-hate villain, but (contrast to Ashford) he was entirely what you thought you were going to get. As soon as we met him, you knew he was going to be an awful fucker, and he absolutely was. Sometimes you do just need a black-hearted villain, but it was a bit of a surprised on a show that has usually gone out of its way to give everyone multiple dimensions.

The recast of Arjun Avasarala was a bit jarring as well, not so much because the actor was replaced (these things happen) but because it also seemed to come with a rewrite for the character. I can only imagine it’s very hard to recast someone and maintain a lot of consistency in how the character comes across, but this really seemed like a completely different dude. That, combined with the writers having a bit too much fun with Chrisjen’s freedom to swear a lot more, made that storyline my least favourite.

But now I’m kind of nitpicking. Overall, I thought the season was great. We had an exciting, complete story of what happened on Ilus, the rather poignant end of Miller, and several longer-term arcs starting to spin out. For my money, The Expanse is one of the best rides you can currently jump aboard for SFF on ‘TV’ (is episodic the better term now?) and the only bad thing about the whole season coming out in one massive chunk is that I burned through it too fast and am already eagerly awaiting Season 5.

Thanks for reading.

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