Shattered Skies by Chris Miller

The Foreword provided by Patrick C. Harrison III accurately captures the most impactful component of Chris Miller’s stories collected in Shattered Skies, suspense. There is an underlying sense of suspense to these tales, sometimes bordering on dread and other times sweeping the reader away with excitement, but ever-present just the same. Combining that anticipation and tension with masterful storytelling, Miller has assembled an amazing cross-section of what he’s capable of as a writer.
Instead of delving into each of the stories, as I often do, I’m choosing to focus on the handful that left the most lasting impression on me. This is not to say that anything is lacking in the others, just that I’m going to be spoiling things in small ways, and I’d prefer to avoid doing so with everything in this collection.
Kicking everything off with 10-35 At First United Bank, Miller thrusts readers into an all-too-plausible sort of horror as an elderly bank security guard finds himself caught up in circumstances he can’t control as he desperately tries to save the lives of those he loves. The bank heist trope receives a refreshingly sincere treatment that’s sure to be heartbreaking for readers.
Behind Blue Eyes was a story I’d already thoroughly enjoyed when I read And Hell Followed, an anthology of the end times. Miller’s portrait of a world going progressively more mad with each pressure wave of the horns blasting to signify the end is something that propels us toward a conclusion that feels simultaneously unfair and fitting. This one is a story of guilt and remorse over the way little things can have a profound and lasting impact on our lives, amplified in the recollection.
An attempt to relax with a house full of family transforms into a confrontation with a looming and mysterious terror enveloping the protagonist’s world in Horror On Lonesome Lane. Discovering what awaits on the other side has rarely seemed this awful and sinister.
Road Kill Gods provides us with a glimpse into what might be required of us to hold nature at bay as we carelessly and callously slaughter our way through our lives. Unwilling to accept the price to be paid, will our protagonist release a wave of horror upon the whole world?
As a child, there was no one in my family with whom I spent more of my time than my grandfather. In my case, it was my maternal grandfather rather than my paternal, but that doesn’t change the way Miller devastated me when I was reading Farewell. I was lucky enough to be in my 20s before my maternal grandfather passed away, and I can only imagine how much worse it would’ve been if he’d gone when I was much younger. Farewell is a touching and heartbreaking story, but it’s also a story of how tragedy can sometimes bring families closer and establish new roles for us as we seek to fill the void left in someone’s absence.
A Magnificent View brings us back to the same event from Behind Blue Eyes, or a similar enough event that we can assume they might be the same. Forced to witness the world collapsing into chaos from miles above the surface, a lone astronaut measures his life by oxygen percentage, knowing that he might still be the last survivor of the human race when all is said and done.
Wrapping up this collection with the M. Ennenbach co-authored Neon Sky was an excellent choice. We experience another story that, at its core, is about family and the risks we’ll take to save them. We’re gifted with another tale of a heist gone wrong, this one in a near-future cyberpunk dystopia. Fast-paced and endlessly exciting, Neon Sky is a fascinating juxtaposition from the somber tone of 10-35 At First United Bank. Miller and Ennenbach deliver a thrill ride populated by police drones, horrifying machines that keep the city functioning, an army of mafia killers, hackers, and confusing firearms.

Shattered Skies is a finalist on the ballot for the 2022 Splatterpunk Awards to take place at KillerCon Austin in August of 2022.


The Matrix: Resurrections (2021)

There will be some spoilers in this review, but I will attempt to keep them to a minimum. It’s virtually impossible to review this movie without incorporating some spoilers.
The movie begins as a meta-commentary on itself and the impact of the franchise on the culture following the release of the original trilogy–as well as the video games and other media associated with it, including the animated shorts. The filmmakers don’t shy away from some self-mockery as well as some lighthearted jabs at the fans and in particular the fans who seemed to miss the point the first time around. It’s a strange tone to set things off with, but it certainly works in the sense that it serves as a far better tool to keep Thomas Anderson meek and under control. There’s perhaps no better method of gaslighting than to make the object of the manipulation feel like they’re being ridiculous, childish, or absurd in clinging to things they believe to be true. By transforming Neo’s memories into something trivial like a video game, regardless of how exceptionally well-crafted or profound, The Analyst erodes the will to latch onto those memories as such.
The unconsciously manufactured amalgam of Agent Smith and Morpheus–developed by the enslaved and subdued Thomas Anderson–was an interesting touch, as was the obvious cry for help represented by the modal in which the character was evolving. In the context of the narrative, it worked surprisingly well. It helped that the performance by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II was spectacular, displaying both remnants of the character previously performed by Laurence Fishburne and wry humor derived from self-awareness that he wasn’t the character.
There were several things to enjoy about Resurrections, but it sometimes felt like a bit of a rushed mess, like too much story was crammed into altogether too little time. It could have benefitted, I think, from expanding on certain elements that seemed to have been glossed over, and making it into a longer movie or a two-part release. The only alternative would have been to skip over pieces of the narrative that weren’t provided with adequate exploration for my tastes. The presence of The Exiles, the takeover of The Matrix by The Analyst from The Architect and the subsequent purge, the war in the machine cities, the post-Revolutions history of Zion, and various other components felt like they were given short shrift. Getting right to the action was probably necessary, though, and the filmmakers still managed to squeeze as much exposition as they could into the time they had available.
Overall, like the original Matrix film, it successfully tackled social commentary with the same aspect of nuance embedded within a superficial lack of subtlety. I appreciated that about the original and appreciated it again in this fourth installment. I particularly enjoyed the pointed reference to self-image vs. the image other people see, concerning Neo and Trinity hidden behind vastly different outward appearances. I also appreciated the allegorical aspects Wachowski incorporated regarding processing grief and dealing with loss.
All in all, there’s enough of the old to provide those sparks of nostalgia, and there’s enough of the new to make it feel like it isn’t simply a rehash of what was already done. Unfortunately, taken as a whole, the old and the new don’t mesh together as well as they could. While some of that was an obvious storytelling flourish by the filmmakers, I can’t help but feel like some of it was a failure.

Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong

This review was originally written in January of 2016. Since I reviewed the sequel on here, I figured I should copy over my review of this novel as well.

Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong (aka Jason Pargin) is a John Scalzi novel that Scalzi hadn’t gotten the chance to write, or at least that’s what it feels like while reading it.
The only thing anyone could use to distinguish this novel from one written by the author of The Android’s Dream and Redshirts would be the requisite dick jokes that certify it as being a David Wong book. It isn’t meant to be derogatory when I compare Wong’s writing and narrative in this novel to John Scalzi, because I consider Scalzi to be one of the most imaginative and versatile authors in the science fiction genre…though he seems to have some competition in Wong.
Wry humor, ridiculous action sequences, satire and absurdity, and implausible science in equal measure are combined to create a fascinating and entertaining story…which should come as no surprise for anyone who read John Dies At the End and This Book Is Full of Spiders.