The Best of Uncanny Magazine Podcast

written by David Steffen

Uncanny Magazine is an online Science Fiction and Fantasy magazine with a commitment to diversity.  Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damien Thomas are the co-publishers and co-editors-in-chief, and Michi Trota is the managing editor.  The first issue of Uncanny Magazine was published in November 2014.  Uncanny Magazine has already been nominated for and won multiple SF/F awards, including winning the Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine, and multiples stories first published there nominated in the Hugo story categories, winning a Parsec award, as well as being a finalist for World Fantasy Award and Locus Award.

They release monthly issues, in ebook format, online, and two of the stories every month in the podcast.  Every episode of the podcast features an update on what the Thomases are up to which varies in length between about two minutes and twenty, which includes any publishing changes, convention travel, mention of current events (usually regarding publishing or politics).  Then, the story (sometimes two), the poem, and an interview (often of the author of the story, but that may not always be true).

This list is based on the list of all of the stories published on the podcast only since the beginning of the podcast, which comes to about 50 stories. This list is not based on stories that Uncanny Magazine published in ebook/online formats that weren’t on the podcast, so if you like what you read here, you should certainly go read more of their fiction that wasn’t considered for this list.  This list also doesn’t include poetry because I am a terrible judge of poetry.

The List

1. “Big Thrull and the Askin’ Man” by Max Gladstone
The dialect of the narrative voice of this one took a little bit getting used to, but the incredible reading by Heath Miller helped sell this a lot, he pulled the dialect off splendidly.  The story follows Big Thrull, who is a legendarily tough member of a legendarily tough race that is heavily based on customs and values toughness and straightforwardness, who invites the “Askin’ Man” into her home as a guest who is of a culture and toughness that we would call more ordinary who knows how to ask the right questions to get what he wants.  Big Thrull has to quickly become acquainted the slippery slope of giving small favors.

2.  “When the Circus Lights Down” by Sarah Pinsker
The circus is a living thing, and the big top tent lights down from the sky and attracts the nearby residents to come and visit before lighting off again sometime in the near future.

3.  “Auspicium Melioris Aevi” by JY Yang 
Harry Lee Kuan Yew is being rigorously tested.  Not just this Harry Lee, but the dozens of other Harry Lees before him, tested against various battle simulations the original Harry Lee had faced up against, and scored and ranked to determine their future fates.

4.  “The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat” by Brooke Bolander
Three velociraptor sisters live together in the wilderness.  One day, a vapid and arrogant prince discovers them there, and after they eat his horse he seems so helpless one of the sisters helps him find his way home.  Hilarious and fun, and with Bolander’s distinctive voice.

5.  “Wooden Feathers” by Ursula Vernon
A woman carves wooden ducks to sell at local fairs.  Every single day an old man buys the cheapest one she has on display with barely a word.  What is he doing with all of those ducks?  This story has one of the best and most surprising moments, where the story suddenly shifts from a curious mystery to something much different. (full disclosure: I reprinted this story in The Long List Anthology Volume 2: More Stories From the Hugo Award Nomination List)

Honorable Mentions

“Pipecleaner Sculptures and Other Necessary Work” by Tina Connolly

“Pockets” by Amal El-Mohtar
(full disclosure: I reprinted this story in The Long List Anthology Volume 2: More Stories From the Hugo Award Nomination List)

“Down and Out in R’lyeh” by Catherynne M. Valente
Another story read by Heath Miller who did an incredible job selling the voice on a story that might’ve been difficult to read.  The story uses “squamous” to mean very drunk, and especially with Miller’s reading voice, it really works.









DP Submission Email Delay

written by David Steffen

This morning the Diabolical Plots submission system started experiencing issues sending emails, so this will prevent me from properly resolving submissions until it’s fixed.

Also, submissions can be made and you will get the confirmation number on the site (write that down if you want to check status!), but the issue will prevent you from getting the confirmation email.

I will get this sorted as soon as I can

HUGO BOOK REVIEW: Provenance by Ann Leckie

written by David Steffen

Provenance is a science fiction novel written by Ann Leckie released in September 2017 through Orbit Books, which takes place in the same universe as her breakout Imperial Radch trilogy (Ancillary Justice (2013) , Ancillary Sword (2014), Ancillary Mercy (2015)).  This book takes place shortly after the events of Ancillary Mercy.  It doesn’t share any of the characters or settings, but some of the political forces, cultures, technology, and alien races are familiar to those who’ve read the trilogy.  I don’t think you’d have any trouble following the story if you hadn’t read the trilogy, and I think it would work fine as a standalone, but you may have a shortcut to understanding certain elements from having seen the cultures and species in the previous books.

Ingray Aughskold is the adopted daughter of a wealthy politician, eternally pitted against her brother for her mother’s favor since her mother hasn’t chosen a successor for her position yet.  Always outdone by her brother, Ingray spends all of the money she has at hand in a desperate bid for her mother’s attention, and pays to have a criminal smuggled out of what is supposed to be an inescapable prison for a far-fetched scheme to win money and fame.  When the person she is delivered claims to have no idea who she’s talking about, she’s back to square one on a strange planet with very little resources.  She can’t call her family for help if she wants to make it anywhere in the competition with her brother.  She tries to salvage some scraps of her original plan.

I enjoyed revisiting the universe from the original series, and to see some areas of it that are not familiar.  Most of the trilogy had taken in Radch space and so was colored by Radch technology and Radch politics and Radch culture.  This takes place outside of Radch space, though there are Radch characters.  One of the interesting things about the Radch trilogy had been that Radch refer to everyone by default pronouns and have little to no concept of differing genders at all, finding it very disconcerting when they need to speak in other languages where gendered pronouns are required.  In this book, you get to see a mixture of different cultures and how they view things like gender, and tradition, and I found that fascinating.  I was also very excited to get to see closer interactions with one of the alien races that I hadn’t seen in the Radch books.  While Ingray did have a vague plan in mind for much of the books, I felt at times that coincidences tended to land a little too neatly to make it all work out, but the plot kept me guessing and I was rooting for her along the way.

I recommend the book, especially if you read the Imperial Radch trilogy and would like some more from the author in that universe.


MOVIE REVIEW: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

written by David Steffen

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 is the 4th and final movie in the Hunger Games movie series, which is based on the second half of the third book of the written trilogy by Suzanne Collins, and was released by Lionsgate Films in November 2015.

Twelve districts are ruled over by the capital of PanAm.  In continued punishment for a rebellion 75 years ago, the capital rules over the districts oppressively, including forcing children from each community to participate in annual Hunger Games–tournaments to the death both for the entertainment of the capital and to send messages about rebellions.  Inspired by the rebellious actions of Katniss Everdeen of District Twelve, and from their new stronghold in District Thirteen that was previously thought destroyed by almost everyone, the districts are in open conflict with the capital for the first time in 75 years.

When the last movie left off, Katniss Everdeen, who has continued to play the hero for the cameras, now as an avatar of District Thirteen, has been reunited with her former Hunger Games partner and longtime love Peeta, but he has been brainwashed by the capital so thoroughly to twist his love for her into hatred, and he almost succeeds in killing her.  Their next move against the capital is to bring Katniss and Peeta through dangerous boobytrapped sections of the city to make their move against President Snow on-camera.  Katniss isn’t convinced that President Coin of District Thirteen is much better.

The trilogy of books this is based on is powerful and heartfelt, and the movies are reasonably fair adaptations of them.  As with most movie adaptations of books, I’d say the books are better if only because there is more space to spread out and we can get to know the internal conflicts of the characters in more detail, but these movie adaptations, including this one, are some of the best I’ve ever seen and are well worth watching, and I’m glad that because of the movies more people will be familiar with the stories.  Excellent conclusion to the movie series, well worth watching.

MOVIE REVIEW: Finding Dory

written by David Steffen

Finding Dory is a 2016 Pixel animated children’s adventure film sequel to the popular 2003 film Finding Nemo.  I don’t think that you necessarily need to have seen the original film to be able to watch this one and understand it, though some tie-in scenes between the two as well as established character relationships may make more sense if you are familiar with the previous one.

The characters are all fish, and the story starts in the ocean with the main characters from the previous film: the clownfish Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks), his young son Nemo (voiced by Hayden Rolence), and their friend a blue tang fish Dory (voiced by Ellen Degeneres).  As Dory will tell anyone she meets, probably repeatedly, she suffers from short-term memory loss.  She tends to forget what she’s doing, who people are, what’s happening, frequently and completely, though she is capable of remembering some things sometimes, such as recognizing and trusting Marlin and Nemo.

As the movie starts she has a flashback to her childhood, and she remembers being raised by her parents and them trying to help her with her condition.  Terrified at the sudden realization that she has lost her parents, she dashes off in a panic, and her friends follow her. She is determined to find her parents and she convinces her friends to accompany her.  Along the way she is captured and taken to a California public aquiarum, and put into the tank there.  With increased flashbacks, she realizes that she has she has been here before.  She soon makes a new friend, an octopus named Hank (voiced by Ed O’Neill) who makes a deal with her to become an officially tagged member of the aquarium.  Marlin and Nemo set out to find and rescue her.

If you liked Finding Nemo, I think you’ll probably like Finding Dory as well.  Both are fun, and funny, with characters you can care about, plenty of action, and plots that are not so much plotted as random motion from beginning to end that happen across necessary steps to make it all work out in the end (which is fun as long as you don’t try to pick that apart too much).  I liked the new characters, especially Hank the octopus, both in terms of his character and his abilities–using the amazing camoflauge capabilities of octopus to maneuver around the aquarium unnoticed.  Pixar rarely has a miss, so it’s not too surprising that this is another one worth watching.


THEATER REVIEW: Sneetches: The Musical

written by David Steffen

I am a lifelong Dr. Seuss fan, so I was very excited to hear that Sneetches: The Musical.  In case you haven’t heard of it, “The Sneetches” is a children’s story by children’s author and illustrator Dr. Seuss (the pen name of Theodor Geisel), published in the collection The Sneetches and Other Stories originally published in 1953 and still available in print.

The original Sneetches story was very short, but was one of Seuss’s most memorable pieces, about two groups of birds whose only distinguishing characteristics are that one group has green stars on their bellies and the other has none.  The star-belly sneetches use this cosmetic difference as a reason to justify poor treatment of the poor-belly sneetches while the star-belly sneetches exclude plain-belly sneetches from all of their social events.  This inequality continues unchanged until the shyster businessman Sylvester McMonkey McBean comes to town selling the use of a machine that will put stars on bellies, and then when the original star-belly sneetches complain about the injustice of it all he offers use of another machine that will remove stars from bellies, and the sneetches all run from one machine to another until all of the sneetches are bankrupt.  McBean leaves town much richer than when he came, and the sneetches actually learn a lesson from the ordeal–all treating each other as equals.

The story could be seen as having several different themes or lessons (such as the distrust of the motivations of profiteers, as in The Lorax), but the biggest by far is that we shouldn’t treat each other poorly because of trivial differences between us.  I like this story for kid’s for a major reason I love SF in general–by framing a real-life problem in an imaginary way, it becomes much easier to approach contentious subjects and convey a point of view on them.  Most people, reading this story, would agree that it’s silly for the star-bellies to shun the plain-bellies just because of that marking.  Why then are other real-life traits like skin color used for the same thing?  The original story was published when school segregation was still legal, and not long after witnessing the Nazi treatment of Jews in WWII.

Now to the present, with the worldwide premier of Sneetches the Musical in 2017 at the Minnesota Children’s Theater in St. Paul.  Dr. Seuss had collaborated with the Minnesota Children’s Theater many times while he was alive, granting them the rights to produce plays based on his works, and this is just the newest in a series.  I did wonder how they were going to produce a full length theater production from a picture book you can read in five minutes, but I was interested to find out.

The answer was that they created protagonists and they added much more detail to the society of the sneetches.  The original book had had no named characters apart from McBean–just hordes of sneetches with or without star-bellies.  The musical creates a cast of characters, focusing especially on a young star-belly girl and an older plain-belly man.  The society is filled out so that it’s not only shunning from social events that mark the two groups apart, but every aspect of their lives:  including physical separation on Sneetch Beach where one side is star-belly only and the other is plain-belly only, as well as occupation and living conditions–plain-bellies toil in factories all day while the star-bellies are frolicking on the beach.

The set design was the highlight of the production–the stage had a Seussian feel from the first moment I walked into the theater with brightly colored off-kilter set design, especially the very very tall wavery lifeguard chair overlooking Sneetch Beach split with a taped line down the middle.  I wasn’t sure what I thought about the Sneetch costumes at first–primarily because they were not apparently birds at all.  Each had their own unique costume that exposed fuzzy yellow midriffs with or without stars and had yellow wigs.  But, practically speaking I can see why costuming made that decision–if all of the characters had beaks it would probably make it much harder to differentiate one character from another in a theater setting where you might be quite a distance from the stage.  McBean’s van was the best of a very good set design with huge expanding cloth sections for the machine entries and exits.

The songs were catchy, and I found myself singing them under my breath at odd times for days afterward.  Though I thought they could’ve incorporated a bit more of the original book in terms of rhyming–especially the climactic page of the book where the sneetches are running in a steady stream from one machine to the other “on those wild screaming beaches”.

For the characters, McBean was the highlight of the bunch, hitting a very creepy and credible profiteer claiming to be a friend of the people while using their own prejudices for his own profit.  For the main two protagonists, I felt like with this more expanded Sneetch Beach that they filled out the prejudicial society of the sneetches quite a bit, but it felt less real to me because the segregation was so all-pervasive but did not seem to be enforced by anything.  This omission pointed out to me more starkly the odd choice of protagonists–a young star-belly girl wanders to the plain-belly side and starts hanging out with a grown plain-belly man without the knowledge of her parents or any other star-bellies.  If this was so easy to do, why hasn’t it happened before, especially with children?  Why isn’t the man gravely worried about the consequences about being seen with this?  I realize a Dr. Seuss children’s play is not going to involve a lynching, mind you, and thank goodness, but I was wondering why he wasn’t more worried about very harmful consequences.

All in all, it was a fun production, great set design, and carried the same worthwhile lessons of the original story.  The songs were catchy (if not as catchy as the original book) and it’s a fun play to take a kid to.  But I didn’t end up liking it as much as I was hoping I would in part because the expansion of the Sneetch Beach world brought up some plausibility concerns that the show never answered to my satisfaction.



written by David Steffen

Moana is a 2016 animated comedy/action film from Disney.

Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) is the chieftan’s daughter on the island of a Polynesian island of Motunui.  The tribe has lived there happily as long as they remember, living off the bounties of the island the lagoon around.  The ocean has been forbidden to them for generations, since the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) stole the heart of Te Fiti, the goddess who gave life to all the islands before himself being seperated from his magical fishhook that served as both a weapon and as the aid to his magical transformative power to turn into animals of the air and sea.

Since she was a baby, Moana has always felt drawn to the ocean, despite her father’s attempts to keep her away.  One day she finds that the ocean has an affinity for her as well, seeming to beckon her out into it–she finds the secret of her people’s past, that they had been nomads of the ocean.  She follows the call of the sea to seek out Maui and the heart of Te Fiti to raise the curse of the seas.

This movie was a lot of fun, and the songs were great–no wonder it had so many Oscar nominations.  My particular favorite song was “Shiny”, sung by Jemaine Clement in his role as the villain Tamatoa, and with music written by Lin-Manuel Miranda.  Solid sense of humor, great interactions between the two main characters of Maui and Moana, heartfelt moments, lots of riproaring action sequences.  So much here to love, fun for kids and adults, I recommend it.

REVIEW: Hugo Short Story Finalists

written by David Steffen

Science fiction award season is here again, and the Hugo final ballot was announced for WorldCon 75 in Helsinki Finland.  Lots of familiar names and publications on the list, and I’m looking forward to reading more of their work.  Note that this year marks the instatement of some new rules by those who attended the WSFS meetings at the last two WorldCons, meant to counteract the voter collusion dominating the ballot in the last few years.  First, although voters could still only nominate five things for each category, there are six finalists on the ballot instead of five.  Second, there is a new nomination-counting procedure in place meant to weaken the effect of large groups of people voting for the exact same ballot, a rule called E Pluribus Hugo which I have researched and understood and then completely forgotten about several times since it was first proposed a couple years ago.  And the rule changes do appear to have an effect–the ballot looks different than it has the last couple of years.

On to the short story category, my favorite category of all the Hugo categories, covering stories less than 7500 words.  This review covers five of the six nominees.

1.  “Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies”, by Brooke Bolander (Uncanny Magazine, November 2016)

“This is not the story of how he killed me, thank fuck.”  So goes the memorable opening line of this story, both a fantasy story about the vengeance of a demigoddess, as well as a metanarrative about the stories we tell about killers and not about the killed.

Short and to the point, Bolander never beats around the bush.  She gets right to the point and gets her point across in an entertaining way and is done before you’ve had chance to really consider what just happened.  This story refuses to bow to the convention of trying to humanize the abuser, and engages with that choice directly right in the first two paragraphs.

2. “That Game We Played During the War”, by Carrie Vaughn (, March 2016)

The war is almost over, in all but the most official of ways, and Calla is going into the heart of enemy territory to visit a friend from the other side as he lays in the hospital. Larn, who she is visiting, is a Gaant, who are telepathic.  Calla is an Enith who are not.  During her time in the war she had both a nurse watching over Larn and other prisoners of war, as well as a prisoner herself who was watched over by Larn.  In their time together they forged a connection between them, based around her teaching him how to play chess.  The Gaant as a rule don’t play games like chess because being able to read another person’s mind makes it hard to win games of strategy.  But Calla is going to play one last game.

This is a solid story built around a simple premise, and I loved to see the friendship they formed even in the most hostile of environments and when everything in the world was stacked against that friendship.  Friendship is a powerful thing.

3. “Seasons of Glass and Iron”, by Amal El-Mohtar (The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales, Saga Press)

This is the story of two women who are the protagonists of different fairy tales meeting each other and what happens after.  Tabitha is a woman cursed to wear seven pairs iron shoes of iron shoes, one after the other, and walk and walk and walk until they are all worn down to nothing.  Amira is a woman cursed to sit in complete stillness on the top of a glass hill, a hill surrounded by her suitors who try again and again to climb the hill to reach her.  Tabitha’s iron shoes grip the hill and so the women meet and become friends.

Another solid story about the power of friendship, this one about the sympathy we have for the bad situations of our friends even when we can’t seem to see our equally bad situations that we are in, and how having friends you can trust to lend you perspective on your life can mean everything in the world.

4.  “The City Born Great”, by N. K. Jemisin (, September 2016)

When cities reach a certain age, a certain stage, then they are born from the dead collection of objects that they are into a living breathing thinking creature.  This is a dangerous time because there are things that prey on newborn cities, killing them while they are drawing their first breath.  Each city has a midwife, who can use their magical song to help their city through this fight.  It is almost time for New York City to be born, and a young Black man is about to learn he is the midwife.

Action packed story with a really cool fantasy premise and striking imagery, Jemisin’s story is grounded in a sense of place, perfect for a story that is all about a place becoming a sort of gargantuan person.  This is a standalone story, but this could easily be a series as different cities wake up.

5.  “A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers”, by Alyssa Wong (, March 2016)

Melanie and Hannah are sisters, with the power over weather and time.  When things got bad at home, Melanie chose to stay, and Hannah chose to leave.  Hannah takes a flight home, the first time she’s come back in years, and the skies open for Melanie and Hannah witnesses her death by lightning.  Determined to fix this, Hannah tries again, rolling time back and trying a different way to save her sister.  Again and again she tries to get there in time to save Melanie.

A story of sisterly love and of coming to understand someone who you already thought you had known, of fighting against impossible odds to fix the world for someone you love.  Solid, fast-paced, very well done.


Ray Bradbury Award Review 2016

written by David Steffen

The Ray Bradbury Award is given out every year with the Nebula Awards but is not a Nebula Award in itself.  Like the Nebula Awards, the final ballot and the eventual winner are decided by votes from members of SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (which despite the name has an international membership).

I like to use the award every year as a sampler of well-loved science fiction and fantasy movies from the previous year.  I have been very happy with this tactic, and this year is no exception.

Not included in this list, because I don’t usually seek out individual episodes of TV shows that are nominated is the episode of WestWorld titled “The Bicameral Mind”.


1. Arrival, Directed by Denis Villeneuve, Screenplay by Eric Heisserer, 21 Laps Entertainment/FilmNation Entertainment/Lava Bear Films/Xenolinguistics

I reviewed this movie here on Diabolical Plots in December.

Arrival is a science fiction first contact story starring Amy Adams as Louise Banks, one of the linguists recruited by the US government to learn how to communicate with the aliens dwelling inside one of the twelve giant ships that have suddenly appeared all over the world–this one in Montana.  Why are the aliens here?  What do they want?  The world trembles on the brink of war from the tension of not knowing, and it is up to Louise and her team to find out the truth.

This movie is tense and compelling with compelling characters and cool SFnal ideas based around the classic challenge of first contact.  It is based on a story written by Ted Chiang, one of my favorite short fiction authors, and is well worth seeing.


2. Zootopia, Directed by Byron Howard, Rich Moore, & Jared Bush, Screenplay by Jared Bush & Phil Johnston; Walt Disney Pictures/Walt Disney Animation Studios

Zootopia is an animated buddy-cop movie that takes place in the city of Zootopia where predators and prey have learned to live peacefully side by side.  Or is it so peacefully?  Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) has fulfilled her lifelong dream of becoming the first rabbit on the Zootopia police force, but no one respects her because rabbits have a reputation for being timid and stupid.  She sets out to prove herself and she ends up being assigned to look into a case of a missing otter, one of twelve predators that has disappeared without a trace in recent days, and she has an ultimatum to resign if she doesn’t solve the case.  She recruits fox con man Nick (Jason Bateman) to help her.

Zootopia is one of those children’s movies that works well for all ages.  Looking past the childish elements, it is quite a good buddy-cop movie at its core with interesting puzzles to solve that are unique to the predator-prey-living-in-harmony situation.  Highly recommended, fun and interesting with lots of celebrity voices.

3. Doctor Strange, Directed by Scott Derrickson, Screenplay by Scott Derrickson & C. Robert Cargill, Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studio Motion Pictures

Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a world-renowned surgeon, the best of his profession.  Arrogant and aloof, he wants nothing more than to immortalize his name forever in the field of medical science.  After a violent car accident that damages his hands, he desperately seeks out any way to heal his broken hands–starting with every available experimental medical procedure and eventually moving on to the mystical healing arts.  Following the trail from a man who had fully recovered from a paralyzing spinal injury, he finds Kamar-Taj, a temple of the mystic arts led by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). There he is mentored by the sorceror Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to begin his training.  Strange takes to the training quickly, and soon needs every ounce of skill he has acquired to fight against Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a former sorceror of Kamar-Taj who left the temple after refusing to accept the limits on their studies placed by the Ancient One.

I was surprised at how much I liked this movie–it seemed like it was a character and story that would be hard to make it feel modern without it being corny but they pulled it off reasonably well.  My favorite parts were the depictions of the Mirror World, a reflection of the real world that is infinitely malleable to manipulation, and is often used as dueling grounds for sorcerors since the destruction there does not touch the real world–they turn ordinary surroundings into treacherous fighting arenas filled with traps made of everyday things.  Dr. Strange had a quite decent character arc throughout the story, so arrogant at the beginning and finally finding some humility as he fights on.  I thought the method Strange used for the final boss was particularly clever, not one I expected.

4. Kubo and the Two Strings, Directed by Travis Knight, Screenplay by Mark Haimes & Chris Butler; Laika Entertainment

Kubo (Art Parkinson) is a young boy who makes his money begging in the town during the day while his mother suffers from a strange affliction where she is in a trance from sunrise to sunset, and she demands that he always keep his monkey charm near him and never go out at night for his own safety, so that his aunts and grandfather the Moon King will not come and steal Kubo’s one remaining eye.  He tells stories of the warrior Hanzo, who is Kubo’s missing father, and plays out the performances with origami which he animates magically with a musical stringed instrument of his mother’s.  One day he hears of a festival where the townspeople are once a year allowed to speak to the souls of their dead loved ones and Kubo breaks his mother’s rule in the hopes that he will be able to speak to his missing father.  But he soon learns that his mother’s rule is not just fantasy, when his aunts do come and find him and he flees and is only saved at the last moment by his mother rushing to his rescue, magically sending him far far away.  His monkey charm has come to life (Charlize Theron) and they set out to escape the Moon King’s pursuit and continue Hanzo’s quest to defeat the Moon King.

Action packed, fun, and more than a little scary in parts–this story has a lot of fun and a lot of emotional moments.  The aunts in particular are super super creepy, especially when they first arrive as floating masked apparitions who always speak in unison in a creepy singsong voice.  Each step of their journey is a major trial that Kubo’s father had failed before him, and the odds are against him but he has some of his powers inherited from his mother as well as the help of his animated monkey charm.

5. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Directed by Gareth Edwards, Written by Chris Weitz & Tony Gilroy; Lucusfilm/ Walt Disney Studio Motion Pictures

The newest in the Star Wars movies, albeit not one of the main numbered sequence.  This story takes place just before Star Wars: New Hope (the original movie).  Galen Orso (Mads Mikkelsen), former scientists for the Galactic Empire, has been living in seclusion for some time, but he is abducted and brought back to work on his grandest project yet–the weapon that will come to be known as the Death Star.  When he is taken, his young daughter Jyn (Felicity Jones) escapes and is taken in by extremist rebel Saw Gerrera (Forrest Whitaker).  Fifteen years later, the Death Star is nearly complete and Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) has defected from the Empire with plans for the weapons to give to the rebels, but the pilot falls into the hands of Gerrera, who is just as violent against other rebels as against the Empire.  Jyn is captured and recruited to communicate with Gerrera to try to recover the plans.

It was exciting and fun to get to see this important piece of Star Wars lore that we only heard about the results of in passing.  The main complaint I heard about the movie before it came out was that the cast was so large that you never really got to know anyone, and I think there’s some truth to that, although I did have a great deal of affection for the protagonist Jyn, and also for spiritual warrior Chirrut (Donnie Yen) and the mercenary Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang) who were weird and quirky.  Unfortunately because of the nature of the movie, and the fact that none of these characters were in the original trilogy, you can probably guess how they end up, and you also know that they succeeded since that’s what made the ending of A New Hope possible.  But it’s still a fun movie worth watching, even if the characters aren’t as well developed and the ending is already known.