This is the personal site of Chris Roberson, writer of stuff and things. My bio is here, my bibliography is here. Below is my blog where I mostly talk about books and cartoons and TV shows that I enjoyed, The Good Stuff, but from time to time I also post about my own work, Stuff I Wrote, or interesting things that I’ve encountered while roaming around the internet, Interesting Stuff. I’m leaving up the old blog archives below, which for the last several years of the previous incarnation were largely announcements about signings and convention appearances, but farther back are very much this kind of stuff. (And the static archive of really old posts from the pre-WordPress days are still lurking back there, going from 2010 all the way back to 2005.)
I finally had a chance to watch The French Dispatch over the weekend (or to be more precise, The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun, to use the full title), and of all of the Wes Anderson movies that Wes Anderson has ever Wes Andersoned, that was the most Wes Andersony. And I absolutely loved it.
Anderson has been responsible for several of my all time favorite movies, and while The Life Aquatic and The Fantastic Mr. Fox probably still occupy the top spots, The French Dispatch has secured a slot somewhere very near the top of the list. It is a joyful celebration of the written word and French films and The New Yorker and the act of storytelling and the creation of art itself, and I look forward to watching it again very soon. And like all of his best movies it left me in a mood to go work on one of my own stories, the creative sparks firing off behind my eyeballs.
As is always the case with Wes Anderson movies, The French Dispatch has a fantastic soundtrack, but in addition to two accompanying album releases, one for the soundtrack and one for the original score, there is another album released in connection with the movie. Jarvis Cocker, of Pulp fame, recorded an entire album of French pop song covers in character as the fictional pop star Tip-Top who is mentioned in the film’s dialogue. I’ve only sampled the first few tracks so far, but the mere notion of an entire album of French pop songs by a fictional character from a Wes Anderson movie is probably enough to let you know if it might be for you. (And it is definitely for me…)
I feel like an apostate who has just experienced a religious revival, like my faith had lapsed for years and years and was suddenly reignited.
I have read and reread Frank Herbert’s Dune many times over the years (though I haven’t revisited any of the sequels in quite some time), most recently about a decade ago. I was in the theater on opening day for David Lynch’s adaptation in 1984, and still have the one page “Glossary” that was handed out to moviegoers at the door. I watched the Sci Fi channel miniseries, and liked them well enough. But I haven’t thought about Dune much in recent years, and even after seeing the trailer for Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation last year I didn’t really get my hopes up, despite having loved Arrival and Blade Runner 2049. Then I watched the movie on Friday.
I’ve spent the two days since then listening to Hans Zimmer’s three soundtrack albums (The Dune Sketchbook, featuring long moody pieces of atmospheric music from the film, is probably my favorite of the three), getting my hands on a copy of the book to replace the many copies I have sold or traded in over the years, and clearing room in my To Read pile to dive into a lengthy reading project. I don’t know if I’ll make it all the way to Chapterhouse: Dune for the first time since the 80s, but I’m going to give it my best shot.
I absolutely loved Villeneuve’s adaptation. The casting was perfect. The music and sound design was sublime. The cinematography and visual effects, the production design and wardrobe, the all of it and everything, just fantastic. And I’m overjoyed to see that it is connecting with viewers, both longtime fans of the books and general audiences who are experiencing Herbert’s world for the first time. I’m glad that a sequel seems likely, and delighted to learn that a prequel series focusing on the Bene Gesserit is in the works for HBO Max, with Diane Ademu-John attached as writer and showrunner and Villeneuve onboard to direct the pilot.
I know a lot of my friends have already watched the movie multiple times over the weekend, but I’m waiting to watch it again next week, when I introduce it to my kid who will be watching it with fresh eyes. I’m curious to see what he makes of it, and will be ready and waiting to answer any questions he has about the world of Dune.
I’ve been reorganizing books shelves and back issues boxes the last few weekends, restocking the spinner rack in my office with my favorite comics from middle school, and I keep thinking about the truism that I’ve come across many times over the years: “The golden age of comics is twelve.” Because, for me at least, it really seems to hold true. The comics that I first read between the summer of 1982 when I turned twelve and the summer of 1983 when I turned thirteen were foundational in the development of my tastes and interests, and I can draw a direct line between them and the kinds of stories that I am writing now. But as true as the sentiment is, I got to wondering where it originated.
I’d always known that the phrase was a play on an older aphorism about “the golden age of science fiction,” but wasn’t sure just who had originally said it, and where. This morning I took to Google to see if I could find the answer, and ended up falling down a deep, deep hole.
The short version is that the quote is popularly attributed to a fan in the 1960s, Peter Graham, possibly in the pages of the fanzine “VOID,” but the long version turns out to be a bit less clear. The website Quote Investigator has done some fairly exhaustive digging, and while they haven’t yet found a definitive source, the notes of their investigation make for interesting reading with appearances by many of the biggest names in SF/F in the mid- to late-20th Century.
There’s has been a lot of ink spilled in recent months about the absolutely amazing Ted Lasso, and justifiably so (it’s one of the best things I’ve watched in years, and substantially altered my emotional state in ways that have stayed with me ever since I finished watching the first season and all the way through the second), but I think that there is another Apple TV+ series that more people should be talking about, and that is For All Mankind.
To say too much about the specifics would run the risk of spoiling some key plot points, so I’m keeping this vague, but here goes: For All Mankind is a science fiction series created and written by Ronald D. Moore (of Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek fame), Matt Wolpert, and Ben Nedivi, that imagines an alternate history of the Space Race. The divergence from real history happens in the opening moments of the first episode and I don’t intend to spoil the reveal here, but in the subsequent episodes we follow a number of astronauts and administrators and engineers at NASA as they push to go much further than simply landing a man on the moon. The characters are a mix of fictional, fictionalized-versions-of-real-people, and real historical figures, and the setting and the era (mostly Houston in the 60s and 70s, and the moon, I suppose) are brilliantly rendered.
It’s gripping as a drama, and clever as a piece of hard science fiction, but as a work of alternate history it might just be unrivaled in television, as I struggle to think of another example of a series getting quite this granular about how minor changes might have increasingly profound changes to how history unfolds.
Two full seasons are currently available to stream on Apple TV+ with a third on the way, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
I’ve been meaning to do a better job of sharing my thoughts about books and shows and movies that I enjoy here, but I’ve been extremely derelict throughout The Present Crisis. My last capsule review was the better part of a year ago. Now that my kid is back in school in person and my workdays have a little more normal structure, I’m intending to be a little better about sharing my thoughts here, not just about the media that I’ve been enjoying but about writing and life in general. So I’ll start with a cartoon that I like, which is a long-standing tradition on the site.
I heard from a lot of people over the last couple of years that I should really check out the Harley Quinn adult animated series, which launched on the DC Universe streaming service and has since moved to HBO Max. Developed by Justin Halpern, Patrick Schumacker, and Dean Lorey and based on the character originally created for Batman The Animated Series by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, the series has a stellar voice cast, great character designs, and is gorgeous to look at, but beyond that it’s also incredibly clever and very, very funny. The designs most closely resemble the characters from the late period Bruce Timm series like Justice League Unlimited, but with some nice tweaks and refinements. I’ve seen the series compared favorably to shows like The Venture Bros, and I think those comparisons are apt, but where other series deal with tropes and types the makers of Harley Quinn have the advantage of getting to mine the rich continuity of the DC universe for material. There are some nice deep cut references, and clever takes on long established characters that I don’t know that I’ve seen before.
I’ve only watched the first season so far, but I really, really enjoyed it. I would say that I regret waiting so long to check it out, except now I have two full seasons to enjoy all at once, which is welcome as we continue to endure These Uncertain Times. If you haven’t watched it yet, I recommend checking it out. (While noting that it is VERY much Not For Kids. They take pains in the first episode to firmly establish that this is not family friendly viewing, and is very much just for mature audiences.)
It’s been a LONG time since I posted anything about one of my own projects here, but something that I was extremely thrilled to get to do has just been announced and I felt like sharing. Stranger Things Winter Special, due out in November 2021.
Stranger Things Winter Special Chris Roberson (W), ABEL (A), Steve Morris (Cover A), and Jonathan Case (Cover B) On sale Nov 3 FC, 48 pages $6.99 One-shot
The winter holidays are upon us and the kids of Hawkins are in full spirit. As they recall stories from their childhood to teach Eleven about Christmas, tensions run high as Dustin swears he saw something lurking in the forest outside.
I was exactly the age of the younger characters on Stranger Things back in the time that the story is set, and I’m now the age of the adult characters, so every time I rewatch the series I find myself in a strange echo chamber, remembering what it was like to be those kids while understanding what their parents are now going through. And getting the chance to navigate all of them through some of my favorite holiday stories was simply too much fun.
I’ve had the fourth season of Pamela Adlon’s Better Things sitting on my DVR since lockdown started, waiting to find the right moment to watch it. The series has been a personal favorite of mine since it started airing on FX back in 2016, and I usually rush to watch it whenever new episodes start airing. But my experience with the previous seasons is that my emotions are usually put through the wringer a LOT when watching it, and while the show has brought some moments of transcendent joy there have also been more then a few times when scenes were difficult to get through. As a parent, the struggles that Adlon’s character Sam Fox goes through raising three daughters on her own in Los Angeles resonate with me quite a bit.
So I’ve been holding off watching the new season until I felt like I was in a good space to do so, both emotionally and psychologically. And in the early months of the covid-19 lockdown, I most definitely was not in that headspace. But then as the summer wore on and the election drew near, I had a whole other set of anxieties and stress to contend with. It wasn’t until this past Saturday, when the election results came in and the race was finally called for Joe Biden, that I felt like it was time to dive in. Then I did something that I hardly ever do: I binged watched the whole thing in two days.
Normally I like to savor the shows that I enjoy. I start at the beginning, and watch one a night until I reach the end. I like to spend my time digesting the stories, spending as much time with the characters as I can.
Not this time. Saturday night after my kid went to bed I started in on the first episode of the new season, and watched four episodes back to back. Then on Sunday afternoon I watched the other six episodes over the course of a few hours, taking occasional breaks to do laundry or cook. And while I normally prefer to take my time, I feel like this viewing benefited from being done all at once, as there were a lot of plot threads that were teased out gradually over the course of the whole season, and that I might have lost track of if I’d been going through them more slowly.
I’ve raved before about how much I admire the lack of a traditional narrative structure in Better Things. Rather than episodic stories that fit into neat half-hour time slots, instead it feels like we’re just dipping into the lives of these characters for a few days and weeks at a time. Characters and conflicts are introduced, then seemingly not resolved, only to turn back up years later in another season. (This piece by Phillip Maciak for the LA Review of Books includes some really insightful analysis of how the show is structured, while focusing on the spiritual and supernatural elements of the plot.)
(One aspect of the viewing experience that was more than slightly surreal was the fact that the recordings on my DVR dated from the beginning of March to the end of April. Those first episodes aired before the pandemic really hit and the latter ones were from a few weeks into full lockdown. The commercials shifted from the Before Times to These Uncertain Times around episode four or five, and the last episode featured an introduction by Adlon herself over a Zoom call exhorting viewers to stay home and wash their hands. The whole show was like a time capsule, both capturing the world before the pandemic as well as what it felt like when it finally hit.)
I absolutely adore this series, and love spending time with this family. If you haven’t sampled it yet yourself, all four seasons are available on Hulu. And if you’ve seen earlier seasons but haven’t yet tried out the new one, you are in for a treat. As for me, I think I’ll be going back and watching the whole thing from the beginning again soon. I think I’m in the right headspace to enjoy it again.
Beginning in December of 2018 and continuing through last year and the first part of this year, I tried to make it a habit to update my personal site on a regular basis, sharing positive thoughts about books and movies and TV series that I enjoy. Back in January I wrote about the Disney+ documentary on Imagineering, and shared my excitement for our upcoming trip to Disneyland in February. I had intended to write about our trip when I got back, but then the world shut down in March and the time just never seemed right to rave about how much fun we’d had at the happiest place on Earth when there was so much… well, so much 2020 going on.
Now it’s October and 2020 just keeps on happening. This year has been stressful and scary and exhausting and it just… keeps… happening, but I’m still here. Still reading books and comics that I enjoy, and escaping into movies and TV series every night. I’m getting work done, too, as it gradually became a little easier to be productive when Everything Is Awful just became the New Normal.
I’m going to try to update this site on a more regular basis, in the defiant hopes that we’ll all get some good news in November and we’ll slowly start heading back to a better timeline. I’ve been watching a LOT of Star Trek the last few months (and reading a lot of Star Trek comics, and Star Trek novels, and playing some Star Trek video games…), so maybe I’ll share some thoughts about why I’m finding that franchise to be such a source of comfort and inspiration in our present difficulties. Or maybe I’ll just talk about my favorite episodes. But in any event, this post is intended to serve as a signal buoy, to mark that I’m still here, I’m still enjoying media despite all of the awfulness, and I’ll be around.
Finally had a chance to watch The Imagineering Story documentary series on Disney+. Directed by Leslie Iwerks, the six-part series covers the history of Walt Disney Imagineering and the Disney parks from the earliest days of Disneyland in the 1950s through the opening of Galaxy’s Edge this past year. I have always been a fan of the Disney parks, but as the years have gone on I’ve become increasingly obsessed with them. I’ve done a lot of reading about how the various rides and attractions were developed, and hunted down interviews with the Imagineers responsible for my favorites. So I went into The Imagineering Story with high hopes, because it seemed to be extremely relevant to my interests.
I’m happy to report that it did not disappoint. If anything it was even better than I was expecting, and was surprisingly emotionally affecting at times. I’m taking my kid to Disneyland next month for their sixteen birthday, and watching The Imagineering Story has left us both even more excited about the trip than we already were. Even if you don’t have plans to visit a Disney park anytime soon, I highly recommend checking out the series.