Tuesday, 18 September 2018

In Thrall Of The Blockbuster

Part 1 of 2 on Best Dramatic Presentation 2019
Infinity War is emblematic of a trend
 in which mediocre movies with big
budgets get a lot of attention from
Hugo nominators. Please don't include
it on your ballot.
(Image via DigitalSpy.com

We have started to think of the last decade as the “Marvel-movie era” of science fiction filmmaking, partly because the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation - Long Form shortlist has shown a significant bias towards high-budget, effects-driven productions… aka blockbusters.

Over the past ten years or so, the average budget of a movie that makes the Hugo shortlist is in excess of $140 million — and during that time, only three movies with budgets smaller than $20 million have been on the Best Dramatic Presentation - Long Form ballot.1

Coming in with a relatively minuscule budget of $4.5 million, Get Out is the cheapest Hugo-shortlisted film since before the Dramatic Presentation category was split into short-form and long-form. It would be hard, however, to describe Get Out as anything other than a blockbuster, as it was produced by Universal Studios, was released on 2,713 screens, and grossed of more than $175 million.

Year over year, the average budget of Hugo-shortlisted movies has been trending upwards, outpacing inflation by about 10 per cent over the past decade. That may have to do in part with the blockbusterization of movies in general, but it might also indicate that when it comes to the Dramatic Presentation - Long Form category, Hugo voters are trend followers not trend leaders.

The Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form ballot in 2014 is a case in point, with the average production cost amongst the finalists at $107 million. This may be the lowest-average of the decade, but the smallest-budgeted movie to make the shortlist was the winning movie Looper, a $30-million film starring Joseph Gordon Levitt, Bruce Willis, and Emily Blunt.

That same year, the $180-million budget The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey — which Slate
Would you like an insufferable
number of dwarves? The Hobbit:
An Unexpected Journey
will give
you that.
(Image via DenOfGeek.com)
Magazine praised as an “exercise in deliberately inflicted tedium” — was also on the Dramatic Presentation Long Form shortlist. It would be hard to argue that The Hobbit stands the test of time better or was more worthy of inclusion on the Hugo shortlist than contemporaneous lower-budget movies like Robot and Frank (budget $2.5 million), Chronicle (budget $12 million), or Dredd (budget $30 million). This was a wasted opportunity, in that even shortlisting any one of those excellent movies might have helped it reach the wider audience it deserved, while putting The Hobbit on the shortlist made Hugo members look like followers.

Over the past decade, there have of course been many excellent big-budget blockbuster movies that have been included on the ballot — Fury Road and Interstellar come to mind. But in general, it seems that there is a overly strong correlation between the size of a marketing campaign and a presence on the Hugo ballot.

This bias towards the big-budget wide releases is understandable — these are the movies that are most accessible to the average Hugo Award voter. Robot and Frank was released in 2012, but unless you attended a festival screening or an arthouse cinema, you wouldn’t have been able to see it until the middle of 2013 when it became available for digital download. In short, the movie became easily available to Hugo nominators after the deadline to nominate had passed.

But despite accessibility obstacles, I would argue that we (as Hugo nominators) should attempt to explore genre movies more widely than simply what is being advertised at the multiplex. Last night, a few members of this book club watched the new independent horror-fantasy movie Mandy, and while it is unlikely to make our 2019 ballots, it was worth the effort. Thanks to the Internet, it is actually easier than ever before to watch smaller-budget movies with more diverse voices.

Those who attend the Hugo Awards ceremonies will know that the award for Best Dramatic
The team from Edge of Tomorrow were
at the 2015 Hugo Awards, and they were
totally awesome.
(Image via Olav Rokne)   
Presentation - Long Form is usually presented to an empty podium. It was a pleasant surprise to discover that the production team behind Edge Of Tomorrow cared enough about being on the 2015 Hugo shortlist to actually attended the ceremony. If you care about the award you will make an effort to attend the ceremony (note earlier comments about the size of movie budgets).

We would argue that the three most deserving Hugo Award winners in this category during the Marvel-movie era have been the ones with the smallest budgets — Looper, Moon, Ex Machina and Arrival. These are the ‘real’ science fiction movies, made for people who think about, love, and appreciate the genre.

The tendency of Hugo Award nominators to seemingly shortlist works because they are already financially successful might be an unfortunate reality for a passive society of consumers, but we like to think that Hugo members can do better. Get Out there and find innovative, interesting science fiction cinema.

Next week, we’ll share our thoughts about some of the sci-fi cinema gems we’d love to see on the Hugo ballot in 2019.
  1. This calculation does not include METAtropolis, since it is not a movie. Likewise, the calculation does not include any TV series. 

Friday, 14 September 2018

Showcasing the strength of Mexicanx Science Fiction

Post by Book Club member Kateryna Barnes. The reviewer received a copy of the anthology as a gift from the creators. 

In a time where the American government separates and imprisons migrant families, hearing from
The anthology includes a wide range of
perspectives and tones.
(Image via Fireside Magazine
those who live and engage with the Mexico-US borderlands on a personal level couldn’t be more relevant.

Fresh off the presses in time for WorldCon76, the Mexicanx Initiative’s bilingual anthology Una Realidad más Amplia: Historias desde la Periferia Bicultural/A Larger Reality: Speculative Fiction from the Bicultural Margins celebrates the diversity of Mexicanx writers who create science fiction, fantasy and horror. Born of a Kickstarter project, the book includes twelve short stories and one comic in both Spanish and English, with an ebook version on the way. 

Considering Mexico’s rich collection of cultures, folklores and history, there’s plenty of room for imagination. As such, demonstrating the variety of the creators was the goal of the anthology, one that it achieves resoundingly. Diversity of creators (be it gender, age, Mexican or American), writing styles, perspectives, moods, themes, story length and genres are on display in this collection. Clocking under 100 pages, readers are invited into worlds that range from superhero comedies to alternate realities to monsters and zombies to psychological horror. 

While each contribution is a worthy read, some of the standouts include:
Members of the Mexicanx Initiative
at Worldcon 76
(Photo by Kateryna Barnes) 
  • David BowlesAztlán Liberated–– a quick-paced, doomsday sci-fi story that feels like a scene from an action flick 
  • Julia RiosA Truth Universally Acknowledged–– an introspective alternate reality exploration into the “what ifs” of human relationships 
  • Raquel Castro’s Ring a Ring o’ Roses–– What happens when a young girl gets a pet zombie for her birthday? She brings it to school, of course! 
  • Alberto Chimal’s It All Makes Sense Here–– There be monsters here...or are there? 
  • Gabriela Damián Miravete’s Music and Petals–– Psychological horror meets family secrets in a short story that’ll make you want to avoid your basement for the foreseeable future 
  • Andrea Chapela’s Clean Air will Smell like Silver Apricots–– an imaginative look at childhood grief in a near future

As a microcosm of The Mexicanx Initiative, the anthology shows the strength of this aspect of the global science fiction and fantasy community. Considering editor Libia Brenda’s experience in editing magazines, fanzines and books, it’s fair to suggest that Una Realidad más Amplia: Historias desde la Periferia Bicultural/A Larger Reality: Speculative Fiction from the Bicultural Margins could help earn her a place on a future Hugo Award ballot in the Best Editor (Short Form) category*, and some of the contributions should also be considered for the Short Story category. 

The strength of this work also begs the question: when will Mexico get the chance to host a WorldCon? That’s a convention I’d like to attend.

*Editor's note: a previous version of this blog post erroneously implied that Brenda might already be eligible for a Hugo. We regret this error. 

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Hollywood has a mixed history adapting Hugo-shortlisted works

Last week, Apple announced that it has greenlit a high-budget TV series based on Isaac Asimov’s
For us, this series of covers
is one of the best works based
on the Foundation novels.
(Image via michaelwhelan.com) 
Foundation novels.

Should this announcement be greeted with trepidation or enthusiasm? After all, Hollywood has a long and storied history of screwing up adaptations of Hugo-shortlisted works.

By our count, there are 15 movies, eight television series, and two standalone television episodes based on Hugo-Award-winning textual works. There are an additional five television series and 14 movies based on textual works that were shortlisted, but did not win the Hugo Award. (The list we’ve compiled is at the end of the article – additions or corrections are welcome.)

These dramatic presentations are at best a mixed bag and few have aged well. While a handful of adaptations of Hugo winners have themselves been shortlisted for a Hugo Award, no movie or television show based on a Hugo winner has itself won a Hugo for dramatic presentation.

The earliest of these adaptations is “The Two Worlds of Charlie Gordon,” an episode of The United States Steel Hour that aired in February of 1961, based on Daniel Keyes’ 1958 Hugo-winning short story Flowers For Algernon. The episode is actually well-made for the time, hews closely to the original work, and keeps the emotional core of the story (though it adds a ray of hope at the end). It was on the shortlist in 1962.

Flowers For Algernon is probably the Hugo-winning work that has been adapted most often. On top
Even Mick Jagger can't make the
costumes in Freejack look cool.
(Image via Yahoo.co.uk
of various stage productions, there were four movies including one that won an Academy Award, a Tony-nominated musical, and a video game. Several of these adaptations — such as the 1968 movie Charlie — seem to have been produced with an understanding of what made the original resonate with audiences.

But for every decent Flowers For Algernon adaptation, there’s a Bicentennial Man: The Movie.

One of Asimov’s robot stories, Bicentennial Man won best Novella in 1977, and in 1999 was turned into a maudlin Robin Williams vehicle complete with Celine Dion soundtrack. Unfortunately the film ignored Asimov’s meditations on whether or not mortality makes us human, and on what rights a sentient non-human might have. The film is largely a failure.

There’s 1997’s Freejack (based on Robert Sheckley’s 1959 shortlisted novel Immortality, Inc.), and Kevin Costner’s The Postman. There’s the 2013 adaptation of Ender’s Game. There’s Millennium, based on John Varley’s shortlisted novel of the same name. This is not a list that fills one with confidence about Hollywood’s ability to adapt great works of science fiction.
At least Bicentennial Man was a more
faithful adaptation than I, Robot.
(Image via Youtube.com) 

It could be that the Hugo-shortlisted works that have worked best as adaptations (Slaughterhouse Five, American Gods, Arrival as examples) are the ones that are smaller in scope and focus on personal stories of self-discovery. The great works of science fiction that are more epic in scope – Dune, To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Three-Body Problem – have often been Hollywoodized into mindless action-adventure works, stripped of what made them great.

Which brings us back to Isaac Asimov’s most epic work: Foundation. Winner of the Hugo Award for Best Series in 1966. Winner of a Best Novel Hugo in 1984. Winner of a Retro Hugo for best short story at the most recent Worldcon. This is a work that has enduring value to the science fiction community. It continues to draw in new readers from outside the community and is credited by Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman with inspiring his career. If ever there was a work that deserved a faithful and respectful adaptation, this is it.

But Foundation presents at least one major challenge for screenwriters: selecting a focal point. Producers can choose to focus on the classic trilogy or on the novels that were published later. The main stories (the original trilogy) tell a cohesive story but use an ever-changing cast of characters. More recent Foundation novels offer a cohesive cast of characters, but tell a story that is unlikely to engage the typical Hollywood consumer. Both options seem to have their quandaries.

The quality of an adaptation matters because a mediocre – or wildly divergent – film adaptation
A surprising number of people know our genre primarily
through Hollywood's adaptations of the classic works.
Mediocre adaptations make it easier  for non-fans
to dismiss the great works of science fiction.
(Image via Facebook)
can undermine the cultural value of a great work. For example, some fans of the movie Starship Troopers are unaware that it is based on a novel, while others believe it’s loosely adapted from Ender’s Game. When speaking to everyday non-fans about the work Bicentennial Man, how many of them are likely to believe that it’s actually an excellent novella, given that they’re probably familiar with the Robin Williams movie?

Those concerns aside, there is some room for hope with the adaptation of Foundation. Of the Hugo-winning or shortlisted works that were adapted into a TV series in the past decade, several have arguably lived up to the original works — American Gods, Game of Thrones, and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell come to mind as examples of this. It is possible that television is a better medium for science fiction adaptations than cinematic releases.

We are cautiously hopeful for Foundation: The TV Series and will attempt to judge it as it comes. We are also hopeful that irrational exuberance about the prospect doesn’t get in the way of seeing the series for what it is.

Film adaptations of Hugo-winning and Hugo-shortlisted works
(Compiled by Olav Rokne - Corrections and additions welcomed.)

Thank you to David Shallcross, Stuart Hall, Greg Hullander, Scott Ellery, Bill, JJ, Cassy B, and Kevin Xu for pointing out omissions that have now been corrected. 
Film Adaptation
1959 (Shortlisted novel)
Immortality, Inc.
Immortality, Inc. (1969 episode of TV series "Out Of The Unknown") 

Freejack (1992)
1960 (Short Story winner)
Flowers For Algernon
Five: The Two Worlds Of Charlie Gordon (1961 — shortlisted for the Best Dramatic Presentation Hugo), Charlie (1967), Flowers For Algernon (2000), Les Fleur Pour Algernon (2006), Algernon ni Hanataba (2015)
1960 (Novel winner)
Starship Troopers
Starship Troopers (1997) 
Shortlisted for Best Dramatic Presentation Hugo

Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles (TV Series 1999-2000)
1961 (Shortlisted novel)
The High Crusade
The High Crusade (1994) 
1963 (Novel winner)
The Man In The High Castle
The Man In The High Castle
(TV Series 2015- present)
1964 (Shortlisted novel)
Cat’s Cradle
Between Time and Timbuktu (1972) 
1966 (Novel winner)
Two: Dune (1984) 
Frank Herbert’s Dune (2000)
Both shortlisted for Best Dramatic Presentation Hugo
1968 (Shortlisted novella)
Damnation Alley
Damnation Alley (1977)
1970 (Shortlisted novella)
A Boy And His Dog
A Boy And His Dog (1976) Hugo-Winner Dramatic Presentation
1970 (Shortlisted novel)
Slaughterhouse Five
Slaughterhouse Five (1972) Hugo-Winner Dramatic Presentation
1972 (Shortlisted novel)
The Lathe Of Heaven
The Lathe Of Heaven (1980)
Shortlisted for Best Dramatic Presentation Hugo

The Lathe of Heaven (2002)
1972 (Novel winner)
To Your Scattered Bodies Go
Riverworld (TV series 2010)
1974 (Shortlisted novella)
The Girl Who Was Plugged In
The Girl Who Was Plugged In (Episode of TV series “Welcome To Paradox” 1998) 
1977 (Novelette winner)
The Bicentennial Man
The Bicentennial Man (1999)
1978 (Shortlisted novelette)
The Screwfly Solution
The Screwfly Solution (2006)
1978 (Shortlisted short story)
Air Raid
Millennium (1989)
1980 (Novella winner)
Enemy Mine
Enemy Mine (1985)
Shortlisted for Best Dramatic Presentation Hugo
1980 (Novelette winner)
The Sandkings
“The Sandkings” – Pilot episode of 1995 TV series The Outer Limits.
1981 (Shortlisted novella)
The Brave Little Toaster
The Brave Little Toaster (1987)
1981 (Shortlisted novella) 
Nightflyers (1987)
Nightflyers (2018 TV Series) 
1982 (Shortlisted novel)
2010: Odyssey Two
2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984)
Hugo-Winner Dramatic Presentation
1986 (Novelette winner)
Paladin of the Lost Hour
Paladin Of The Lost Hour
(Episode of the Twilight Zone 1985) 
1986 (Novel winner)
Ender’s Game
Ender’s Game (2013)
1986 (Shortlisted novel)
The Postman
The Postman (1997)
1991 (Shortlisted novella)
Over The Long Haul
Override (TV episode 1994) 
1995 (Novelette winner)
The Martian Child
The Martian Child (2007)
1999 (Shortlisted novella)
The Story Of Your Life
Arrival (2016)
Hugo-Winner Dramatic Presentation
2000 (Shortlisted novel)
Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban
Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
Shortlisted for Best Dramatic Presentation Hugo
2001 (Novel winner)
Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire
Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire (2005)
Shortlisted for Best Dramatic Presentation Hugo
2002 (Novel winner)
American Gods
American Gods (TV series 2017 – present)
2003 (Novella winner)
Coraline (2009)
2004 (Shortlisted novella) 
Just Like The Ones We Used To Know
Snow Wonder (2005) 
2005 (Novel winner)
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (TV series 2015)
2001, 2006 & 2012 (Shortlisted Novels)
A Storm Of Swords

A Feast For Crows

& A Dance With Dragons
Game of Thrones (TV series 2011-present)

Episodes of the series were shortlisted for Best Dramatic Presentation Hugos in 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2017
2007 (Shortlisted short story)
How To Talk To Girls At Parties
How To Talk To Girls At Parties (2017)
2010 (Novel winner)
The City & The City
The City & The City (TV series 2018)
2012 (Shortlisted novel)
Leviathan Wakes
The Expanse (TV series 2015 – present)

Episode of the series was shortlisted for Best Dramatic Presentation Hugo in 2017
2015 (Novel winner)
The Three-Body Problem
The Three-Body Problem (2016)
2015 (Shortlisted novel)
Skin Game
The Dresden Files (TV series 2007)

*Not a direct adaptation as TV series was based on novel series of which shortlisted work was the 15th in publication order.

Note: This list excludes Retro Hugo awards, as often those were awarded *after* the film adaptation was made, as well as all Graphic Novels and comic book adaptations.

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Künsken has a talent for imagining new unfreedoms

On one level, The Quantum Magician is a straightforward heist novel that might be compared to an
(Image via Goodreads)
Ocean’s Eight set in space.

But there’s far more going on under the hood of this well-engineered machine than that reductive description conveys. It is a novel about self-identity, about colonialism, about being handcuffed by our own instincts, and about the subversion of human freedom.

Derek Künsken’s debut introduces the reader to con-man protagonist Belisarius, who gathers up a rag-tag group of his former associates to pull a scheme worth billions.

These associates include his childhood love, his dying mentor, an outcast from the Puppet society, a zany demolitions expert, and an AI that thinks it’s the reincarnation of a Catholic saint. To be fair, some of these characters seem like they’re straight from central casting, but for the most part their relationships and dialogue are engaging and enjoyable.

Belisarius’ scheme, which involves helping a small fleet of warships successfully pass through a heavily fortified transport hub, is somewhat grandiose, but it provides Künsken some interesting chances to comment on colonialism and economic justice.

The planning, execution, twists and turns of the heist are interesting enough to make the book worth your time. But it’s the interplay between human and transhuman motivations that elevates The Quantum Magician.

Central to what makes the book so enjoyable is the character of Belisarius, the Homo Quantus.
It would be easy to imagine a
young Michael Cane as
(Image via Mirror.Co.Uk) 

Genetically engineered as part of a project to create a human capable of understanding quantum mechanics, he is able to enter various trance-like states in which he redirects portions of his brain that are usually dedicated to social skills or motor functions.

He is, however, a reject from the genetic engineering project, incomplete and unable to fulfill his instinctive need to understand. To distract himself from his inabilities, he focuses his prodigious intellect on understanding human motivations and working as a con artist.

It is a difficult task for those of us who have standard-issue brains to write believably about the thought processes of those who are neuro-atypical, but Künsken pulls it off admirably. Some of the best portions of the book are those in which we get a window into how Belisarius’ brain is constantly churning with mathematics, a need to count items, and to grind away at even minor quandaries.

One of the other real highlights of the book are when Künsken uses the plot and the setting to take readers on a tour of a variety of ways that genetic engineering might lead humanity on a road to unfreedom: the engineering of people like Belisarius whose instinct for curiosity is so tweaked as to be inescapable; the creation of benthic monstrosities Homo Eridanus that cannot escape the task that they were designed to do; and finally, the citizens of the Free City of Puppets.

Two hundred years prior to the events of the novel, The Puppets were designed to be slaves. Genetic engineers boosted their ability to feel religious fervor, and coded them to worship a breed of master humans. By the time that The Quantum Magician takes place, the society of the Puppets has devolved into something strange and awful.

Although they aren’t front-and-centre, the particular form of unfreedom embodied by the Puppets is
Derek Künsken offers new ideas about
how freedom could be subverted.
(Image via DerekKunsken.com)  
affecting, viscerally repugnant, and creepy.

More than anything else, it’s the subplots about the Puppets that might place The Quantum Magician into a grand tradition of dystopic science fiction novels that warn about the subversion of human rights. The work I was reminded of most often when reading this book was Vernor Vinge’s A Deepness In The Sky, and the particular unfreedom embodied by Emergent focus.

Science fiction is often at its best when imagining new forms of tyranny. It is clear that Künsken has a talent for imagining oppressions. On the strength of that alone, The Quantum Magician is well worth picking up, and may end up on some of our nominating ballots.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Not On The Shortlist

Every year there are more worthy works than could fit on any Hugo Awards ballot. There will therefore always be works that are not included, no matter how great they may be. Inspired in part by an upcoming panel at Worldcon 76, some of the members of our book club have selected the works they wish could have made this year's ballot.  


The Marrow Thieves 

by Cherie Dimaline

(All cover images
via Amazon)
The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline may have gotten significant attention in Canada with CBC’s Canada Reads and The Governor General’s Young People’s Literature Award, but it’s lack of presence for either Best Novel or Best Young Adult Book categories is disappointing.

The book’s imaginative dystopian world ravaged by climate change, the loss of the ability to dream and genocide sound dark, but the book’s characters remain hopeful. Despite the tragedy, there is love, reconciliation and the will to stand against tyranny is never extinguished. Dimaline lets Indigenous youth, a demographic subject to high suicide rates, murder, and other trauma, be the heroes in this story. These characters are relatable, realistic and flawed as humans, not as literary devices. The book may look like a dystopic future, but it’s also a message for today with memories of a colonial past.

Just because it was written with YA in mind doesn’t mean you should shy away from picking up this tightly-written book.


by Jeff Vandermeer

More than a few of the panelists I heard at Worldcon75 spoke highly of Vandermeer’s work,

prompting me to pick up Borne. This hopeful-dystopian novel explores the ramifications of species decline post-biotech obsession. Readers are led to the raw edges of our survival instincts by characters written to be mindful of both set and setting. Through scavengers in a broken and surreal city, desperate for respite in an increasingly hostile ecosystem, this novel explores transhumanism in ways that are both precautionary and personal.

While Vandermeer’s eco-fiction should appeal to both the SF and Fantasy contingents of Worldcon and the popularity of his Southern Reach trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance) is undeniable, this three-time Hugo finalist has never received a nomination for his fiction. And that seems much stranger to me than any flying bears.


The Stars Are Legion
by Kameron Hurley

Kameron Hurley’s The Stars Are Legion will squick out most readers, and perhaps that’s why it failed to connect with enough people to make it onto this year’s shortlist. That’s a shame because underneath all the bile, mucus, lymph, afterbirth, and other bodily fluids, it’s one hell of a read.

Set on a fleet of decaying biological spaceships, the political factions of The Stars Are Legion are fighting for control of dwindling resources. All the characters in the book are physically female, have romances with each other, but are impregnated by the biological worldships on which they live.

While the disorienting first 100 pages — mostly narrated by a character with amnesia — were difficult to get through, once you start following what’s happening in the plot, the book is hard to put down.

On a basic prose level, Hurley is an excellent writer, and that actually makes the book harder to read because reading The Stars Are Legion becomes an immersive experience. Even when the protagonist is exploring the digestive tract of the worldship or giving birth to machine parts.

Inventive, ingenious and utterly gross.


American War 

by Omar El Akkad
American War is a smart, near-future story about a second American civil war. The south secedes from the Union after fossil fuels are outlawed following extreme climate change. The story follows Sarat Chestnut throughout her life as she goes from being a southern refugee with her family, through tragedy and radicalisation as a Southern agent.

The story presents radicalisation in a very empathic way. Each choice Sarat makes seems entirely plausible. Her further radicalisation and hatred of the north is a result of rational choices and manipulation.

El Akkad’s writing is engaging and his unique perspective is surely influenced by his middle eastern heritage. While not excusing terrorism, this story does much to explain people’s choices and makes the point that empathy is a much better tool for peace than it is given credit.


Kill or Be Killed, Volume 1 
by Ed Brubaker (Writer), Sean Phillips (Artist), Elizabeth Brietweiser (Artist)

Kill or Be Killed reunites noir master-trio Ed Brubaker (writer), Sean Phillips (artist) and Elizabeth Brietweiser (colourist) in a comic series that adds dark twists to vigilante tropes.

The series follows Dylan, a depressed graduate student who survives a suicide attempt only to meet a demonic figure that claims to have spared him and that demands Dylan re-pay the debt by killing a deserving soul every month.

The series is grim (murder and demons will do that) and Dylan is a deeply unlikable protagonist, but Brubaker's writing and characters make the story compelling and Phillips/Brietweiser's art and colours are invariably gorgeous and atmospheric. Kill or Be Killed is a troubling yet masterful display of graphic storytelling and I was sorry not to see it on the Hugo ballot this year.