If you can’t tell already, we’re a pretty ballsy bunch at NARAZU and nowhere does this show up better than in our annual “BEST OF” Issue. Our editors are always pushing the envelope for your reading and viewing pleasure, and this year it felt like we needed it more than ever. We looked for hope, wonder, and inspiration in every corner of our lives, and art is no exception! From the earnest search for connection to the rowdy and irreverent, our editors pull no punches in bringing you content that is as entertaining as it is thought-provoking. So dive in and bask in the best 2018 had to offer. We’ll see you next year!
All Indie. All Awesome.
Best Sci-Fi Film: Sorry To Bother You
2018 was a banner year for sci-fi, but there’s one film which continues to stick in my mind, providing a basis for rich and rewarding investigations on each re-watch: Boots Riley’s intrepid debut Sorry To Bother You. Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson headline a brilliant supporting cast in this absurdist sci-fi film. Drastically, even experimentally comic, while still piercing and unnerving, Sorry To Bother You tangles with everything from wage-slavery to racism to eugenics to whitesplaining tech-bro CEOs. Neatly sidestepping polemic grandstanding or pure slapstick, the film closes the sale with an unpredictable and constant sense of queasiness, and an aggressive but aesthetically beautiful arrangement of color on the screen, feeling like the entire box of creative crayons splashed into a 3.5 million dollar budget to uplift the Bay Area city of Oakland. The film could neatly fall within a variety of genres, but its placement as sci-fi in specific joins it to a tradition of ambitious allegorical lab experiments like The Double or Putney Swope. If you’ve missed it til now, watch it on Hulu before it’s gone, but it can also be streamed on Amazon.
Also try: The First Purge, Upgrade
Yes, it’s a strained concept by this point in the series, but The First Purge effectively repurposes its premise here for a Carpenteresque madcap violent action film featuring a magnificent Black lead in the form of Insecure heartthrob Y’lan Noel.
Keeping pace with Blumhouse’s quiet dominance of the genre picture in recent years, Leigh Wannel’s Upgrade is also well worth checking out, an enjoyable yet slightly shallow cyberpunk revenge story, a crowd-pleaser that didn’t draw massive crowds to please, but will undoubtedly end up in countless word-of-mouth streaming queues next year.
Best Animated Short: Best Friend
There’s feisty competition in the category of animated shorts, but Best Friend is a brutally effective 5 minutes of your time, beautifully animated but gut-punching its targets. A French production which hit a few short film circuits to much acclaim this year, Best Friend blends concepts of contemporary digital adherence to social support networks into a kind of virtual reality drug where your friends only exist in your mind, commodified into an all-consuming threat to life and sanity. A production of the Parisian animation and visual arts school Gobelins, l’École de l’image, this short will stick with you long after watching and can be found on YouTube and Vimeo.
Also try: Bao
Most of us have seen Domee Shi’s wonderful short film Bao by now, as it famously headed the Incredibles 2 film in theaters, but it joins a recently released Pixar Short Films Collection that’s worth a look. Regardless of its well-earned fame, it’s worth mentioning as a delightful and emotionally resonant story about a mother who makes a dumpling that becomes real, providing a strange salvation to her empty-nest syndrome…or so it might seem. The short nicely rounds out others in its formal recent Blu-Ray release and makes for a great last-minute Christmas gift to anyone prone to a good Pixar cry.
Best Live-Action Short: Sword of the Dead
The mixture of Samurai/chanbara with zombie action film has definitely been seen before, but Stephen Vitale’s proof-of-concept short Sword of the Dead is still primed and ready for a bigger budget. Shot in stark black and white in a beach setting, it’s hard not to squint and expect a mighty Kurosawa epic to emerge from this short, which makes the best of a low budget in an action scene reminiscent of the blood-sprayed blades in 2003’s Zatoichi. Sword of the Dead released in the first half of 2018, but it’s a mighty showing for a hopeful full-length treatment, and you’ll want to have seen it and claim that you knew about it way back when. Check out Sword of the Dead for free on YouTube.
BONUS: Biggest Sci-Fi Film Disappointment: Mute
Duncan Jones’ mega-budget face-plant isn’t satisfied with merely being a failed sci-fi feature for the world’s biggest streaming service. No, that could be ignored with the glut of content, and even somewhat expected. Instead, it strives to conjure all the tropes and distractions of infinitely better cyberpunk movies to tell an insipid, offensive, rote, and/or nauseating tale absent of wit, wonder, or any starved scrap of self-awareness in sight. With a dumbfounding – or, let’s be honest, just plain dumb – script that would be laughed out of a 3rd-grade creative writing class, the only saving graces are the set design and soundtrack, aspects thwarted by the constant yakking of drivel every step of the way. Moon was monumental in its scrappy ingenuity and intimacy, whereas Mute feels like an abysmal blotch on a portfolio that is growing grimmer by the year.
Writer: David Crownson
Artist/Letterer: Courtland L. Ellis
I picked this book up at random at one of my local comic shops and was floored. At first glance I was not feeling the idea of using Harriet Tubman in a niche gimmick comic. I was wrong. On further reflection I realized that this woman might well have been a Demon Slayer on top of being a true hero helping to free hundreds of Black people from slavery. The art is top notch as Ellis adds a dramatic manga flare to Crownson’s story which is a fast-paced chase scene as Harriet helps a family run away from slavers who just happen to be vampires. This book might be hard to find in print unless your LCS (local comic shop) is big into the deep cut indie books, but is definitely worth the hunt.
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Artist: Jonas Scharf
Colorist: Alex Guimaraes
If you’re looking for a crime drama with a supernatural twist, this is it: A horror story told over the backdrop of a drug war in New Orleans, but this new drug ‘Ash’ isn’t just any drug, it’s a drug that lets you relive the experiences of a dead person, with some bad side effects. At the center of this story is the Winters Family who turn stolen bones into this new narcotic. Bone Parish is a dark soap opera filled with characters who hold on too tight, be it life or loved ones that have passed. The art by Scharf is solid as he brings Bunn’s words to the page with chilling effect and moodiness, all perfectly enhanced by Guimaraes’s colors.
Writer: Daniel Warren Johnson
Artists: Daniel Warren Johnson and Mike Spicer
This book is blazing nuts. Jake and Murder Falcon ride around in Jake’s van (the Dragon Wagon) fighting interdimensional monsters with the power of Rock music. Jake is a down-on-his-luck, ex-guitar player for Brooticus, a band that was making its mark when Jake suffered a tragedy. He’s still in a depressed state when Murder Falcon enlists him in his battle against the evil monsters. Top to bottom this book is crazy, from Murder Falcon’s crazy look (imagine the Hulk with cybernetics and a giant bird head) to him gaining strength from Jake’s shredding (think Popeye and spinach). This book is a fast-paced romp that will grab you by the neck and won’t let go, in a good way.
See you in the New Year.
edited by Lisa Yaszek.
Appropos of recent “discussions” (to be gentle; ongoing battle against a vindictive patriarchy to be real), this selection puts the contributions of women writers to science fiction undeniably and unabashedly out front.
Yes, there’s a contingent within the genre-community that continues to insist anyone but straight white men with decidedly militaristic leanings is not now, nor have been, writing real science fiction, but Lisa Yaszek (who knows more about science fiction than a sack full of fanbois) has put together 25 classic stories by women sci-fi writers from the 20s to the 60s, stories that range from “space-opera heroines, gender-bending aliens, post-apocalyptic pregnancies, changeling children, interplanetary battles of the sexes” and more, from sci-fi legends to little-known surprises.
Just looking at some of the titles lets you know you’re in for a socio-political thrill: C. L. Moore, The Black God’s Kiss (1934) Leslie Perri, Space Episode (1941); Kate Wilhelm, Baby, You Were Great (1967); this is a collection in which readers will find a galaxy of relevance, and also come away with a greater knowledge of the history of science fiction in the United States (and the world in general). Knowledge is not only power, but sustenance itself.
by Marc Laidlaw
The past few years has seen a glut of mashups, everything from zombie Bronte sisters to Shakespearean Yoda to Archie by way of Twin Peaks. What we haven’t seen is a classic presented in its entirety but punched up to eleven (!) on a dial of ten for today’s AMPED, CAPS-LOCK POSITIVE readers: a monster reference on every… single… page. It’s like Laidlaw knew exactly what Shelley intended! This book is cheeky, snarky, and funny as a laudanum weekend laced with helium breaks. You wouldn’t be a true blue Narazan if you didn’t like the unusual. Get this book, share it with no one, and when they ask what you’re laughing at the next time one of the 24,000 cinematic versions of Shelley’s seminal book shows on screen, snicker even louder and excuse yourself out of courtesy. It’s best that way.
by writer/illustrator Trudy Cooper and co-writer Danny Murphy
Oglaf is a web series. IT IS NOT SUITABLE FOR WORK, CHILDREN, DENTAL OFFICES, OR THE DELICATE OF WHEE. The series is as X-Rated as Charles Xavier googling “Bald Mountain”. The writing and art are, however, often howlingly funny and deadly on-point with their social satire.
Ostensibly, it’s the story of perpetually-in-trouble sorcerer’s apprentice Ivan, but the strip is really a loose association of a truckload of wacky characters (from an oversexed trickster healer to a ghostly lizard of guilt), subverted fantasy tropes (the strip about beefy warriors fighting in high heels is worth the price of admission itself), plus in-your-face explorations (often literally) of sexual mores and gender roles.
It’s been collected into 2 volumes, and is well worth adding to your permanent collection. Yes, it will shock you; yes, it may offend certain parts of you that could maybe do with a bit of offense; yes, it will make you horny for morphing ice princess beasts…but if what you’re reading isn’t hitting on at least one of those, what are you reading for?
by Emmy Jackson
Emmy Jackson writes post-apocalyptic Dystopia the way Tolkien approached Lord of the Rings: as fully realized, intricately detailed odysseys.
There are 3 in the series: Empty Cradle: The Untimely Death of Corey Sanderson; Shiloh in the Circle; The Return of Holly Aniram. Not one of them is your standard Mad Max sand-n-guts extravaganza. These are perfectly-written, well thought-out visions of life during crashed times, featuring elements that surprise the reader as well as make ya think. By the time you get to the third novel, you’re ready for this blurb from the author themselves: “Empty Cradle’s third installment is about a year longer in the writing than expected and we apologize for that! It’s a really long story about figuring out who you are and finding and protecting your family and being an idiot along the way. The world of Empty Cradle gets a lot bigger as the story heads out onto the ocean and beyond, and there are dinner parties and shapeshifters and academic conventions and car chases and pirate attacks and a dude gets ripped in half by a truck but don’t worry, he totally deserved it. Oh, and there’s a magical snowstorm in a city, and a bear fighting riot cops in an elevator, and post-apocalyptic Mercedes racing across the desert…it’s hard to believe what one little piece of history revealed will set in motion.”
Additionally, do yourself a favor while you’re on Emmy’s website: the author offers one-line stories, all tailored to you and hand-written, for a measly 5 bucks. Order one. Trust me. I ordered one. You will want yours framed and displayed in lieu of all family photos.
How do you take a sci-fi device that’s been done to absolute literal death and resurrection via: every iteration of Star Trek there is, over half a century of Dr. Who, Marty McFly reruns on basic cable every weekend, and, yes, let’s mention her again (in honor for the new season), Dr. Who? How do you make time travel fresh and fun and funny?
You don’t go in pretending your take is all fresh and new and shiny and uber chrome. You go in with a wink, you go in firing all engines, and you have zero qualms about making things as wibbly wobbly timey wimey as you want.
Which is what Ethridge does. Me, I love a book that starts out hot and ready with an implied warning to hang on or be trampled. Tropes get flipped, genres gonna get mixed, and before you know it there are temporal paradoxes and cows using autotune. WHICH MAY OR MAY NOT BE IN THE BOOK. You’ll have to read to find out.
Because when you’re the last time traveler, you get to dictate how things will go, to hilarious effect. Timelines are so last century.
by Joyce Chng
This is an epic tale. Joyce Chng manages to pack more life and soul into her tales than most epic fantasists do in multiple tomes thick enough to break a whale.
She presents here a tale of a woman who makes the world her own, and all is well in this world…until magic enters the fray. Magic, in this world, is forbidden to women.
But this is not a “past” fantasy. It’s sci fi, and it tells us that “magic” is never what we think it is, especially for those who would rather it be a source of power solely for themselves.
Chng presents and plates her work like a gourmet meal, and you’ll be hard-pressed with this one not to go back for seconds.