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Hugh Likes Fiction: Phyllis Esposito: Interdimensional Private-Eye

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Phyllis Esposito: Interdimensional Private-Eye
Written by Christiana Ellis
Published by the Author
ARC provided by the author

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The Skinny: This serial fiction project edited into a novel crosses genres as quickly and easily as the characters move between worlds.

To me, serial fiction and genre mashups go hand in hand. This tradition goes back to the pulps, where heroic adventurers were as likely to stop mad scientists and alien invasions as they were to travel to hidden lost civilizations and battle classically inspired monsters. It continues with superhero comics to this day, but Christiana Ellis’s delightful Phyllis Esposito: Interdimensional Private-Eye brings things back around with a modern twist.
Collected and edited from a web serial, the story follows the eponymous detective as she travels between dimensions with the help of the portal generator implanted in her arm. When an elvish femme fatale hires her to track down her missing brother, however, she’s soon caught in a web of intrigue involving dwarven gangsters, malevolent AI and a clairvoyant sorceress/loan shark. And soon, it’s not just her client, but the whole multiverse that’s in danger.
Split into three books, the first is the most traditionally structured as a detective story, and is my favorite of the three. But the whole collection is chock full of charming characters, clever writing, and most of all, unexpected consequences. It’s a fun romp around the multiverse, although if the author ever continues the project, I’d love to see this crew of characters travel a bit more widely than the ‘slices’ of multiverse we get to see here.
Phyllis Esposito: Interdimensional Private-Eye is available from Amazon and is a great addition to your Kindle. Why not take a trip to another dimension this summer?
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Hugh Likes Video Games: Castlevania Anniversary Collection

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Castlevania Anniversary Collection
Published by Konami
Played on Nintendo Switch

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The Skinny: A bare-bones but cheap and well-emulated collection of vampire-slaying classics.

Regular readers of Hugh Likes Video Games will know that I like me some vampire killing, and I was saddened by Konami’s decision to move away from making new games. This collection of eight retro games isn’t a full reverse course, but it’s still a welcome development.
The $20 digital-only collection is a grab bag of the first eight games of the series, from the ubiquitous NES titles to the obscure Kid Dracula, which was never released in the U.S. The collection features games for the Nintendo Entertainment System, Gameboy, Super Nintendo, and Sega Genesis.
This digital collection is pretty bare-bones compared to a lot of recent collections and retro devices like the NES Classic. While it does have a single save state for each game and a playback feature, along with a few different display options, that’s about it. There’s no rewind function, and the menu is very basic.
The emulation itself feels spot-on, and is as just as smooth, and in the case of the two Game Boy entries, just as clunky as you remember. The games look and feel great on the Switch in handheld mode. It also includes a digital book that serves as a manual, but has few interesting production art and interviews.
The Castlevania Anniversary Collection is a mixed bag of titles that is a bit ephemeral, but the low price point makes this greatest hits collection a steal for classic Castlevania fans. The collection is available from the PS4, X-Box One, and Switch online stores, as well as Steam.
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Hugh Likes Comics: Crowded

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Crowded Vol 1: Soft Apocalypse
Written by Christopher Sebela
Drawn by Ro Stein and Ted Brandt
Colored by Triona Farrell
Published by Image Comics

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The Skinny: A contract bodyguard has her work cut out for her protecting her latest client from crowdfunded assassins.

In a future where anything can be crowd funded, and the gig economy has taken over, even assassinations can be crowdfunded. But when wild girl Charlie’s finds herself with a million-dollar bounty on her head, her only hope may lie in bodyguard for hire Vita. If they don’t kill each other, anyway.
Equal parts action movie, dystopian thriller, and buddy comedy, Crowded is a wild ride.But the character work is what really sets the writing apart. Sebela delivers a lot of depth to these characters with very simple strokes. He takes stock tropes like the world-weary bodyguard and transforms them into deep, complex characters that you come to care about. Even the villain of the arc, slimy livestereaming assassin Trotter, is if not sympathetic, complicated in his motivations.
Stein’s art, with inking by Brandt, is expressive, bold and easy to follow. Farrell’s colors are a mix of glaring digital neons and the grays and browns of urban decay. The art really sells the story, which walks a fine line between goofy action and cyberpunk horror.
Crowded juxtaposes over the top action sequences with the very real cyberpunk horrors of a rising gig economy, omnipresent digital surveillance, and collapsing American infrastructure. As ridiculous as it all seems, it is a frighteningly plausible near future.
Crowded: Soft Apocalypse collects the first six issues of the comic, and is available from Comixology, the usual digital retailers, or your local comics shop.
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Podcast: CCR55 – The Battle of El Alamein (1969)

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CCR55 El Alemein

Tonight your hosts, Hugh, Rich the Time Traveler, Opopanax, and Jurd, battle with Nazi apologists.

Click HERE to listen to the Podcast!

And click HERE to watch the movie online!

Chrononaut Cinema Reviews is presented by http://skinner.fm and http://hughjodonnell.com, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Hugh Likes Fiction: The 5th Gender

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The 5th Gender: A Tinkered Stars Mystery
Written by G. L. Carriger
Published by the author
Reviewed from an Advance Reader Copy

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The Skinny: A sweet, fluffy queer sci-fi romance with a few bits of mystery thrown in for good measure.

Alien diplomat Tistol and space station security detective Drey Hastion have been making eyes at each other for months. But just as they finally get together, to the mutual relief of their friends and coworkers, Drey gets a case that he’ll need his new romantic partner’s help with. A ship from Tristol’s notably reclusive home world has arrived, and there has been a murder, something so unthinkable in Tris’s society as to be unprecedented.
Going in, I was worried that this book was trying to do too much, but the author comes through with flying colors. Carriger, who may be better known for her best-selling steampunk adventures, brings her characteristic sense of style and dry wit to this romantic cozy mystery. The Galloi are a fascinating and well realized species. The sex scenes are well written and feel natural.
As a cozy, there isn’t a lot of tension in this book. Even places where I expected there to be, such as Tris’s naive misunderstanding of human gender and racial concepts is breezily but respectfully handled. Although as a cis-gendered white man, it’s not my place to make final judgement on that. Drey’s space station seems much more of a utopian one than Carriger’s Dickensian Wheel in Crudrat, which is implied to share a universe. But the story is charming and sexy, with delightful characters you’ll want to see more of when you get to the back cover.
The 5th Gender is directly available from The Author’s Website, as well as Amazon, the usual online stores, and can be ordered by Your Local Independent Bookshop.
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Hugh Likes Video Games: Final Fantasy X Remaster

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Final Fantasy X Remaster
Published by Square Enix
Played on the Nintendo Switch

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The Skinny: The classic PS2 JRPG returns for the Switch, packaged with its quirky sequel

Final Fantasy X is one of the big high watermark JRPGs, the sort of game that doesn’t get made anymore, but is consistently being remastered and made available for digital rerelease. So when it came out for the Switch packaged with its sequel, I picked up a copy, to see how well it holds up nearly twenty years later.
Final Fantasy X is the story of Tidus, a star athlete magically transported from his utopian city of Zanarkand, and Yuna, a young summoner embarking on a pilgrimage. Ten years ago, Yuna and Tidus’s fathers fought and defeated a giant monster called ‘Sin,’ which constantly destroys the world, and cannot be killed by conventional means. Sin has returned, and the two youths find themselves on the same path their father’s took ten years before. Can they find a way to break the cycle, or will they be just another sacrifice?
The game plays without problems on the Switch, and looks gorgeous. I noticed some slowdown during cutscenes, and the sharp HD display makes the transition between pre-rendered and real-time rendered graphics more pronounced an jarring. I played almost exclusively in handheld mode, and it worked great.
The gameplay is just as strategic and engaging as I remembered, and while some of the voice acting and animation have noticeably aged, It’s still notable as the first steps Square took with this level of production.
The game also includes a code for the complete edition of Final Fantasy X-2, the games goofy, power-pop inspired sequel. I may review it later in a second blog post, but for now, I’ll say that it loads fine, and plays about as well as I remember, but after pouring eighty hours into the first installment, I am ready for a break.
You can find Final Fantasy X / X-2 Remaster from your local electronics shop, or digitally from the Playstation, Switch or X-Box online stores.
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Hugh Likes Comics: Ascender

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Ascender #1
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Dustin Nguyen
Lettered by Steve Wands
Published by image

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The Skinny: In a galaxy ruled by a despotic witch, a young girl dreams of freedom.

Even though I’ve never read Descender, the long-running science fiction series to which this book serves as a sequel, I’m still intrigued by the premise. In a galaxy where technology is outlawed, the universe is under the control of a powerful witch. Raised in isolation by her father, a girl
Most of the first issue of Lemire and Nguyen’s Ascender is table-setting. As someone coming in fresh, I was captivated by the world building, with hints of a growing rebellion and a compelling space fantasy premise. We spend most of the episode with the authoritarian Mother and her cronies and henchmen as she plots to keep her iron grip on the universe in the face of a mysterious opposition. The mystery here is strong enough to make up for the lack of movement in the plot, and we get a good look at how bad life is under this regime.
Nguyen’s art is the real star of the show, though. Everything is done in a beautiful watercolor style. it’s more intimate and graceful than your average story about space magic, and it lends something unique and resonant to the book. It contrasts the brutality of the regime by painting it in soft blues and grays. Each page has something surprising and gorgeous in the midst of horror.
Much like Star Wars, Ascender #1 starts at the lowest point of an ongoing story, but invites the audience in on a new adventure to save the galaxy from the forces of darkness. I’m 100% on board. You can find it in floppies at your local comics shop, or digitally from Comixology.
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