The Story of a Woman on the Morning of a War

Distant Things: Shrapnel is a complex war drama that manages to emphasize large ideological battles, a rich drama of military tactics and the highly personal price paid by soldiers skirmishing with their demons.

Shrapnel: Aristeia Rising is a rich and complex work teasing out the personal price paid by soldiers set on the stage of grand ideological battles for liberty and against the backdrop of deep drama of military tactics. There couldn't be a better choice than Hilary Swank for the just-announced upcoming movie.

Shrapnel: Aristeia Rising

Publisher: Radical Books
Length: 192 pages
Writer: Mark Long, Nick Sagan, M. Zachary Sherman
Price: $14.95
Publication Date: 2010-08

Maybe it's only because I've been waking at three in the morning these last few weeks now. But more and more as I struggle through the Rosetta Stone that is my coffee maker and opt instead for the French Press, Hilary Swank begins to make sense as Captain Sam, helot hero of Shrapnel: Aristeia Rising. Not really because of The Reaping or because of the pre-millennium disaster flick The Core but because of Boys Don't Cry.

Aristeia Rising is a strangely successful mix of all the very best sci-fi you've ever seen on the silver screen, jam-packed into sleek, elegant graphic novel. Its grim-bright lighting of dirty, sexy streets on Venus illumined by tawdry neon beacons (scenes that scream Hong Kong or Singapore) is deeply evocative of Ridley Scott's Bladerunner . Its hardcore female lead in Captain Sam Narayan is coolly reminiscent of Sigourney Weaver's now-immortal Warrant Officer Ripley, protagonist of Alien. And the wide-scale clash of ideologies played out on an interplanetary scale taps the same primal source that the original Star Wars trilogy does.

Yet despite these readily available tropes, Aristeia Rising is a wildly original piece. In summation, it is the story of Venus' last stand against the hegemonic Solar Alliance of Planets, seeking to incorporate Venus as a protectorate without the necessity of war. When Venus refuses the Solar Alliance "offer" to have their government dismantled and their territory occupied by Alliance troops, a small ineffectual Marine Corps makes a Hail Mary stand against a vastly superior military machine.

Sam, who in the opening pages of the book ran as far away from recruitment as possible finds herself in the improbably position of piloting a mechsuit and standing in a phalanx awaiting the incoming invaders. When a crucial turn in the battle reveals her secret history, Sam reluctantly assumes field command of the Venusian forces.

The story is richly textured and easily reminds me why I've watched Jaws more times than I've watched Deep Blue Sea. Deep Blue Sea is a more modern film, it is better structured to keep tension at a nail-biting high, it has better special FX. And yet Jaws has that remarkable dinner-table scene, with father and son. In truth, Jaws is simply better at articulating what the shark threatens--it's not just human life, but the bonds of community, the shape and quality of what gives a human life meaning.

It is no different with Aristeia Rising. Once you think you have a beat on it as a war story, creators Mark Long and Nick Sagan (working writer M. Zachary Sherman) flip and remind you about what's worth protecting. Once you get hemmed in by the ideologies at play (either the essential liberty that Venus represents, or the freedom to overcome being a "second-class" genetic citizen as the helots are), Sherman highlights those parts of Long and Sagan's story that tell of Sam's personal price.

If for no other reason, this is why Hillary Swank makes sense in the role of Capt. Sam Narayan. Because at her core as an actor, more so than her cerebral athleticism, she brings a deep an abiding compassion. And as an actor she is perhaps uniquely placed to portray the emotional and intellectual complexity demanded by so fine a work as Shrapnel. This is so intuitive a thought I can grasp at it even at three AM, even before my first cup of coffee.


The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

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Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

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