My Favorite Things with Barbara A. Barnett

They might not be raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens, but that doesn’t mean that we love them any less. Welcome back to My Favorite Things, the weekly column where we grab someone in speculative circles to gab about the greatest in geek. This week, we sit down with short story author and occasional Speculative Chic contributor Barbara A. Barnett. What does she love when she’s not writing and geeking out? Spoiler alert: humorous science fiction, fantastic soundtracks, unusual zombie stories, and the future of a certain time-traveling science fiction show. Curious? Read on for more!


In a previous My Favorite Things outing here at Speculative Chic, I talked about the first season of People of Earth, a new ensemble comedy about an alien abduction support group. Season 2 just concluded, and I am thrilled to say that it remains one of my favorite things.

This season added a new character to the mix: FBI agent Alex Foster, who is a wonderful blend of driven, flawed, and funny. Nasim Pedrad is so much fun to watch in the role. Another addition is Eric the Cube — part menacing alien, but mostly that dickishly upbeat boss so many of us have had to endure. That latter element is part of what makes the aliens in this show so hilarious. Abducting and studying humans is just another day at the office for them, and the writing perfectly captures those dynamics.

There were so many great moments this season: Alex’s rendition of “Tomorrow” at karaoke night. The aliens freaking out over a bee on the spaceship. Yvonne’s extensive weapon collection. Nancy the android having feminism accidentally introduced into her programming. The Alien Experiencer Expo (particularly how Don, an actual alien, reacts to the various booths). Kurt the Reptilian’s tragic inability to understand how crosswalks work. And pretty much any scene involving Jeff. I adore all the characters, but Jeff is a bug-eyed bundle of comedic awesomeness.

Seriously, more people need to watch this show. It’s smart, quirky, fun, and I want more folks to chat about it with when Season 3 airs next year.

Since Halloween is approaching, I’ll turn to horror for my next favorite thing: Michael Abels’ score for Get Out. Much praise has been heaped upon the film, and rightly so. My husband and I talked about it for weeks after seeing it. We were also thrilled to see Daniel Kaluuya on screen after falling in love with him in the sadly short-lived horror series The Fades. And as soon as I heard the main title — the eerie, bluesy “Sikiliza Kwa Wahenga” — my ears perked way the hell up. Film music nerd that I am, I bought the soundtrack the very next day.

I knew of Abels as an orchestral composer, but Get Out was his first film score. Given the film’s subject matter, I think he was a fantastic choice — a mixed-race composer with a skill for incorporating popular musical idioms into his classical compositions. He applies the same kind of approach to Get Out‘s score, blending a traditional, string-heavy Hitchcockian soundscape with distinctly African-American influences. The result is something that manages to feel familiar yet sound unique, creating a sense of unease that’s a perfect fit for the film. And those wailing voices that accompany the moments when Chris is in “the sunken place” — I am never not going to get chills hearing those.

Moving from horror in film to horror in print, my next favorite thing is Courtney Summers’ This Is Not A Test. I like a good zombie story. Even better, I like a good zombie story that finds a new slant on the genre. So what makes Summers’ take on the zombie apocalypse stand out from the gazillion others out there?

In zombie apocalypse stories, it’s not unusual to have a character who, when faced with so much death and struggle, loses hope and turns to suicide. But in This Is Not a Test, protagonist Sloane is already in that hopeless place before a single zombie makes an appearance. And when the zombies do show up, she’d just as soon let them turn her into lunch, only she’s swept up by a group of survivors who take refuge in the local high school.

The zombies themselves are pretty standard issue, but they’re not the point. The point is what happens between Sloane and her fellow survivors inside the school. So if you want non-stop zombie-fighting action, this isn’t the book for you. The novel is more interested in exploring how the characters cope with trauma, both of the personal and the zombie kind. And the climax — that’s where the action comes in, and some of it is pretty harrowing. There was one moment where I let out a yelp and had to put the book down for a moment. As soon as I finished the novel, I immediately bought the sequel Please Remain Calm, a novella that cemented Summers’ place among my most recent favorite things.

My final two favorite things need to be prefaced with a non-favorite thing: until this past season, I was falling out of love with Doctor Who. The writers never seemed able to take Clara from the Impossible Girl gimmick she began as to a full-fledged character I could connect with. And when Peter Capaldi came on board, it seemed like the writers didn’t know what to do with him either. He had some great moments, like that epic speech from The Zygon Inversion, but overall the writing for him felt largely uneven, and the Doctor-companion relationship between him and Clara never rang true to me.

Then came Bill.

Photo Credit: BBC Photographer Ray Burmiston

Bill was such a breath of fresh air this past season. She was fun! And likeable! Unlike Clara, Bill felt like a fully realized person. The chemistry between Pearl Mackie and Peter Capaldi (and Matt Lucas, who really grew on me as Nardole) was a delight to watch. And while the writing still had its uneven moments, it felt like they had finally gotten a handle on Capaldi’s version of the Doctor. So of course that meant it wasn’t going to last. We finally had a companion I liked again — and she would only be around for one season. Capaldi was being given better, more consistent material to work with—and he was leaving too. I was sad again.

Then came the 13th Doctor casting announcement.

Although the groundwork had been laid, most notably with the introduction of a female version of the Master, I didn’t think they’d have the balls (yes, I’m aware of my word choice there) to face the broflake backlash and go with a female Doctor. At least not yet. But they did, and I’m thrilled, tears of the naysayers be damned. A character changing genders bothers you? Well, then maybe investing in a show with progressive leanings and an alien protagonist who can change into a completely different physical form wasn’t your best life choice.

I’m familiar with Jodie Whittaker from Broadchurch (yet another favorite thing). Her casting was a pleasant surprise, not just because they were going with a woman, but because it’s not the kind of role I’ve seen her play. Some grumblers on the internet see that as cause for concern too; I see it as cause for anticipation. Just because you’ve never seen an actor play a certain type of role before doesn’t mean they can’t. I’m excited as hell to see what Whittaker’s going to do as the Doctor.

***

Barbara A. Barnett is a writer, musician, orchestra librarian, coffee addict, wine lover, and all-around geek. Her short fiction has appeared in publications such as Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, Daily Science Fiction, and Flash Fiction Online. She is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and currently serves as managing editor of the workshop’s blog. Barbara lurks about the Philadelphia area, where she lives with her husband and a pantsless stuffed monkey named Super Great. You can find her online at www.babarnett.com.

2 Comments

  • Carrie Gessner October 17, 2017 at 8:34 pm

    I stopped watching Doctor Who for a little while, but the casting announcement for the Thirteenth Doctor got me excited. When I went back to season 10 to catch up, I fell in love with Bill immediately! Very excited for the next season!

    Reply
  • Kelly McCarty October 23, 2017 at 1:01 pm

    This is not a test sounds interesting; I will have to check it out.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: