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Midnight’s Children, 1991 ed, Salman Rushdie
It is possible to write a good novel about super-heroes. You just have to make sure that none of the characters are super-heroes.

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Yes, that’s really the title.

It’s Halloween, and Mickey, Ryan and Jack have had the brilliant idea of hosting a neighborhood costume party in the antique store. Because surely nothing bad can come of having a bunch of people in masks running around and fiddling with antiques cursed by Satan. And in case anything bad does happen, Ryan has helpfully placed a “Do Not Touch: Evil” sign on the vault. While Mickey and Ryan debate the sense of this, Jack is busy copping feels from women by the punch bowl, and honestly, after the frat house incident, why did anyone let Jack near a punch bowl? And then some of Ryan’s friends go to the basement, fiddle with a glowing crystal ball, and summon a g-g-g-ghost!

After a brief exorcism, Jack gets lured outside by a lost little girl, who traps him in an alley before revealing herself to be a Sinister Dwarf, because, yeah, that particular trope was probably inevitable on a show like this. Meanwhile, Mickey and Ryan are visited by the green-screened ghost of Uncle Lewis, who technically neither of them ever met, so his passive-aggressive comments on their lack of enthusiasm to see him fall somewhat flat. Lewis, who now inexplicably has a vaguely Southern accent, claims that he has returned from Hell to undo the curse. Lewis says that if he can atone for the murder of his wife, the curse will be lifted, though he will remain trapped in Hell. Lewis shows them a secret door hiding a tastefully decorated bedroom and the preserved corpse of Grace, killed by Lewis’ “ambition,” whose soul can be freed by the Amulet of Zohar, conveniently in the vault. After lamenting how unlucky it is that Jack isn’t there to tell them whether trusting Lewis is a good idea or not, Mickey and Ryan are utterly shocked when this whole thing turns out to be a trap set by Lewis, who plans to use the Amulet to take a new physical form.

While Jack escapes from his trap, Mickey and Ryan figure out that Lewis must find a corpse that died by peaceful means by sun-up in order to escape Hell. (Though, to Lewis’ credit, when pressed on whether he’d prefer a male or female body, he’s utterly indifferent, so good on the murderous Satanist for trans-positivity.) Mickey and Ryan track Lewis and the Sinister Dwarf to a mortuary, but are unable to trick the two supernatural beings and end up being placed in death-traps, and Lewis’ ceremony begins. Jack eventually shows up to save them, and explains that if they can distract the demon, he can delay Lewis long enough for the spell to fail. The distraction mostly consists of them running away and then the demon conveniently impaling herself on some broken furniture, and the delay comes in the form of a stopped clock tricking Lewis into thinking he had more time in a move not totally cribbed from some Dracula movie. Everything ends well, until Jack ominously reminds everyone that it will be Friday the 13th in two weeks.

This is actually one of the weaker episodes. Much of the plot involves characters either being trapped or chasing after someone, and pretty much none of it actually gets moving without all the characters acting like complete idiots. The suspiciously yonic rabbit Amulet as the source of the evil feels tacked on as just an excuse for magic this time around.

A Very Robey 80s

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Throne of the Crescent Moon, 2013, Saladin Ahmed
A really phenomenally strong sword-and-sorcery throwback fantasy novel that feels fresh and engaging because it takes the core of that genre and throws out all the cliches and creates something new from it.

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Our coldish open this week is on a mysterious woman in a cloak accosting a presumably runaway tv-friendly homeless teen in a park at night and offering the girl a cup of tea in an antique cup. Given what show we’re watching, it’s no great surprise that the vine pattern on the cup comes to life and strangles the girl as 80s tv-friendly hard rock music starts playing in the background, giving us our transition to Lady Die (yes, really) in a recording studio, complaining about the rather boss synth riff her sound engineer has added to her latest track. Die, who spends all her dressing room time checking for wrinkles (including Polaroid selfies), is upset that her plans to stage a concert with the Bleeding Androids to benefit the homeless aren’t progressing fast enough.

Cut to: Curious Goods, where Ryan is busy listening to the song that we just saw being recorded (fast album turn-around time they have in Not Canada). Bantering banter is interrupted by Birdie, a “woman of a certain age” with an eye for Jack, who discusses the recent spate of homeless murders in the neighborhood, as well as the disappearance of an elderly woman named Sara, in what passes for subtle foreshadowing on this show. We’re also given a point blank admission that the cops don’t care what happens to homeless people, so that’s two episodes in a row with a more honest approach to social issues than modern television has. In any case, Mickey and Ryan are able to walk into an autopsy and inject themselves into a police investigation by posing as “concerned citizens” but aren’t able to learn much. While a detective condescends to Mickey, Ryan pockets a strange leaf on the body. Back at the shop, Jack identifies the leaf as from an extinct Irish plant called “Swapper’s Ivy,” an “evil plant” that could be used to “trade for anything” which, sure enough, is linked to an antique. Mickey and Ryan go the now abandoned building listed as the address of the buyer, Fat Eddie, only to find his corpse hidden in a Murphy bed.

Back at the park, Lady Die hurriedly excuses herself from the lighting check for her benefit concert, and her manager interrupts a homeless girl stealing from the craft-services table. The girl interrupts our cloaked figure offering some tea to another tv-friendly homeless man, and is given an antique bracelet to get her to move along. To the surprise of no one, the cloaked figure turns out to be Lady Die, and the little girl is now a witness to the cup’s power. The next day, Birdie is asked to identify the dead man, and she and Mickey encounter the little girl and discover that the bracelet belonged to Sara, Fat Eddie’s sister, but the cloaked lady couldn’t possibly be Sara because Sara was over 70. On the drive home, Lady Die’s latest song, a hard rock cover of “I’m a Little Teapot” plays, which Birdie identifies as Sara’s favorite song, because subtle. At the shop, the gang realizes that, if you paint wrinkles onto a picture of Lady Die, she looks just like Birdie’s photo of Sara. Mickey and Ryan try to meet up with Lady Die at a local radio station, get thrown out, Birdie recognizes Die as Sara, and the little homeless girl steals the cup, because we wouldn’t want to complicate this plot more than it already is.

After some running past each other by the cast of characters in the woods, Mickey and Ryan are able to talk the homeless girl into giving them the cup in exchange for a warm place to sleep. Birdie breaks in and steals the cup, but in the clinch is unable to use it. We get a little more cast back-and-forthing and then the episode’s big action set piece: two old ladies chasing each other through the woods, fighting over a cup, with Mickey and Ryan showing up just in time to be accused by the cops of trying to kill Birdie. Jack witnesses all this and rather than come forward as a witness, he disguises himself as a homeless person in the hopes that he’ll be the one that Lady Die just happens to target. Which she does, because we’ve only got five minutes left in this episode. Jack gets the cup, Mickey and Ryan get out of jail, and everyone gets back together in time to witness Lady Die’s barely animated corpse fall apart. And everyone gets a happy ending, except for our homeless girl, who Birdie sends off to some terrible Not Canada orphanage.

We’ve got a fairly straight-forward episode here, despite the cast’s tendency to run past each other at crucial moments and the incredibly stunning and completely unexpected revelation that Lady Die is Sara is the killer. I’m inclined to give this episode major points simply because we don’t have some sort of implausible set piece whose presence defies any kind of logic. We get a little shakier on the nature of the artifacts, as Birdie is willing to use the cup, but is also able to stop it, without any consequences, but Lady Die basically turns into a mummy after not killing for a day. So there’s still an element of will to it, but mechanisms are still very open-ended.

A Very Robey 80s

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The Face That Must Die, 1985 ed., Ramsey Campbell
Here we go again with the utterly boring Campbell titles…

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