Tuesday, October 10, 2023

5 Actors Who Could Be the Next Baylan Skoll


Baylan Skoll of Ahsoka

Season 1 of the latest Star Wars series Ahsoka is over and for my money, the best character of the show was antagonist Baylan Skoll. Sadly, the actor who portrayed Baylan, Ray Stevenson, died shortly before the series debuted. Far from being written off, his character is front and center in the biggest cliffhanger of the last episode, leaving a dilemma for Season 2. You can’t leave Skoll out of the upcoming storyline. So how do you recast such a well-acted and central character as Baylan Skoll? I don’t think anyone can replace the excellent work of Ray Stevenson, but there are some actors who might be able to step into his Jedi boots and do him justice. Here are my Top 5 picks for Disney and showrunner Dave Filoni to consider. 

Clive Owen

My favorite pick is English actor Clive Owen. He’s almost the same age, has a similar deep voice, similar stature, resembles Stevenson a bit, and most importantly, has proven himself to be a good actor in such films as Children of Men, Inside Man, The Bourne Identity, and Sin City. Rumor is he was once a front runner for James Bond before Daniel Craig won the part in 2005. He’s done some series work in the past few years. Perhaps a role in the Star Wars universe is in his future.

Eric Bana

Australian actor Eric Bana is almost the same age as Stevenson, nearly identical in height, and he has the deep, raspy voice the character of Baylan Skoll calls for. Bana could add Star Wars to an acting resume that already includes Black Hawk Down, Hulk, Munich, Star Trek, and my favorite of his performances, the doomed warrior Hector in Troy.

Pierce Brosnan

If Filoni wants to stick with a fellow Irishman to follow in Stevenson’s footsteps, 90s’James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan might be a good choice. He’s a couple inches shorter than Stevenson and over a decade older, but he’s still in remarkable shape. He’s starred in plenty of great projects. Besides four Bond films, he was also in Mrs. Doubtfire, The Thomas Crown Affair, The Tailor of Panama, and even played a bad guy in the recent Dwayne Johnson superhero film Black Adam.

Dolph Lundgren

This might be a bit of a stretch, but if Filoni wants a match for Stevenson’s stature and deep-set, menacing eyes, he could go with Dolph Lundgren. At 6’5” Lundgren is even taller than Stevenson and the Swede knows his way around playing violent men. He’s played one in plenty of films including The Expendables series, Johnny Mnemonic, Universal Soldier, and most famously, Rocky IV as the towering Russian boxer Ivan Drago.   

Götz Otto

If you want a choice completely out of left field, how about German actor Götz Otto? He’s been in a ton of movies and series, but given that most of them were overseas, the name might not ring a bell. What you probably WILL remember him for is his role as the towering henchman Stamper in the 1997 James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies. At 6’6”, he’s the tallest actor on this list and if Stamper was any indication, he knows how to quietly intimidate on screen.


Who is your pick to take over the role of Baylan Skoll? Have an actor in mind that isn’t on this list? Share it in the commentsavbe.

Thursday, September 7, 2023

The Importance of a Good Villain


Image Credit: Disney+

There isn’t a whole lot on TV that I’m enjoying at the moment, but at least one exception is the latest Star Wars offering on Disney+, Ahsoka. This week’s fourth episode was the best so far and a large part of that success is the increased focus on the villains. Now I’m not suggesting that the collective girl power of the title character, her sidekick Sabine Wren, and her ally Hera Syndulla doesn’t have its own appeal, but the best thing about the show is the pair of villains, Baylan Skoll and Shin Hati. Recently deceased actor Ray Stevenson brings a menacing dignity to Skoll and actress Ivanna Sakhno delivers a ferocity to Skoll’s apprentice Hati that demands attention. It got me thinking about the importance of a good villain in just about any speculative story.

Stories, whether they’re short, novels, or screenplays tend to focus on a main character who serves as the hero. He or she may not start off as heroic, but over the course of their journey, they grow to become that way. They rise to the challenge. What often sets apart a good story and a great one is the quality of that challenge, the hero’s opponent. Who is Luke Skywalker without Darth Vader? Clarice Starling without Hannibal Lecter? John McClane without Hans Gruber?

I’ll go so far as to suggest we as an audience often root for the villain. Not because we really believe they’re going to win, or even should, but because they’re so fun to watch. I’ll freely admit that I much prefer Wile E. Coyote to the Road Runner or Tom to Jerry. I’m happy for the Fellowship of the Ring, but it bums me out that both Sauron and Gollum had to die in order for them to succeed.

An intriguing villain often makes or breaks a story. It doesn’t matter how much we love the hero, if that hero isn’t faced with an equally great bad guy, the tale just falls a bit flat. As a writer, I try to keep this in mind as I plan a story. Who is my hero up against? What is that villain’s motivation? What sets apart that villain from your standard thug with a gun or big muscles and a bad attitude? If I don’t spend as much time fleshing out that villain as I do my protagonist, the result often suffers.

Sadly, the fact that Ray Stevenson died shortly before Ahsoka premiered means we won’t see more of Baylan Skoll after Episode 8 next month no matter what series creator Dave Filoni planned. I’ll miss the character, but the fallen Jedi’s quality and his lasting impression is a fitting conclusion to the resume of an actor who stole more than a few shows with his ability and charm.  

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

The Best Free Short Speculative Fiction of 2022


Image Credit: mskathrynne at Pixabay

Welcome to my fourth annual Best Free Short Speculative Fiction list! I saw some success in my own short story writing accomplishments this year. Dark Recesses Press published both “The Grotesque Truth” on the web in February and my flash fiction “With Teeth” in the October print edition. Paradox Ghost Press published my sci-fi horror short “One Hundred Million Mouths” in its October issue of Bleed Error and my story “His Hands May Be Dirty, But His Brain Is Freshly Washed” was published in the December issue of Cosmic Horror Monthly. As all writers should, I spent just as much time reading the past twelve months as I did crafting my own work. My tastes still dwell in the darker corners of genre fiction so with that in mind, I highly recommend the following ten best free speculative short stories of 2022. They’re all available to read at the links below.


Beyond the Shore

In a future where viruses have nearly wiped out all humanity, one doctor must face the possibility that extinction is not just inevitable, but enviable. Writer Tania Fordwalker’s melancholy tale can be found in the November issue of Lightspeed.


Charlie Eats the Paper Gods

This fun little tale tells of a kindergartener’s belief in and ultimate proof of a mischievous deity who wreaks havoc on the exclusive private school he attends. Author H.L. Fullerton’s vivid picture of religious inclusivity meeting all-powerful reality is found in the Fall issue of Underland Arcana.


Sharp Things, Killing Things

This story about small town bullies being haunted by their past cuts deep. Work by author A.C. Wise can be found in most of the top genre lit mags on the market, but this one in the October issue of Nightmare might be my favorite. 



Author Thomas Ha made my list last year and he’s done it again with this sci-fi tale found in the October issue of Clarkesworld. It’s got interplanetary travel, rebellious robots, monstrous siblings - rebirth has never felt so dismal.



This short story by author Jordan Taylor could be taken as a prequel to the traditional three witches in a cottage trope. I think any fan of fairy tale witches will enjoy it and it’s found in the July/August issue of Uncanny.


To Build Eternity, With Bones

This tale by Gunnar De Winter grabs you with its opening sentence and refuses to let go. A necromancer spurs her crew across the icy sea toward a dark purpose only she can understand and only she is likely to survive in the May issue of The Deadlands.



Kristina Ten is another author who showed up on my 2021 list and is back with a story in the April issue of Fantasy. This sad all-too-real tale of toxic masculinity and a lack of acceptance of otherness is sweetened with just the right amount of poetic magic to make it go down like honey followed by a sting.


The Bear Across the Way

Fellow Atlanta-based writer Emily Rigole’s first published story landed in one of the best online markets out there and for good reason. Published in PseudoPod 801, this tale of an unusual neighbor brought down by mistrust and deceit hits hard given some of the top news stories of the day.


Seven Vampires: A Judge Dee Mystery

Lavie Tidhar’s latest tale of his vampire detective Judge Dee was published in February at Tor.com. Two of his earlier stories made my list last year. This time the Judge and his steadfast human companion Jonathan are escaping Paris with a pack of vampires who wind up murdered one by one. It’s up to the Judge to determine who is behind the deeds and why.


To People Who’d Never Known Good

I try to spread the praise across a wide selection of authors in my year-end reviews, but sometimes a writer is so good he/she/they need to be mentioned twice. Thomas Ha delivers again with a tale in the February issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies. This story of a mother and son who protect planets from plant-like monsters that poison everything their tentacles touch feels like Jeff VanderMeer taking a shot at writing an extended Star Wars universe episode. I loved it.


If any of these stories entertain you, you can find more like them at these 20 websites.





















Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Five Times the Screen Version of a Sci-Fi/Fantasy Character Was Clearly Superior (and five times it wasn’t)


Photo Credit: Matt Handle

I finished the first book in author Andrzej Sapowski’s Witcher Saga, The Last Wish over the weekend. As I read it one thing that jumped out at me is that while the Netflix series tends to stick pretty close to the storylines and characters in the book, I like Henry Cavill’s stoic version of the sword-wielding hero better than the original. The version in the book is more talkative, even friendly at times and some of the literary version’s dialogue is so old fashioned it’s downright corny. Try this line on for size: “Thank you for the spread. A hundred thanks, dear host. And now, if you permit, we’ll get down to business.” Ugh. The quieter, meaner screen version is more my speed. It got me thinking. Which other screen versions of sci-fi/fantasy characters are superior to their originals and more common, which screen versions are disappointments?


Five Times the Screen Version of a Character Was Clearly Superior

Geralt of Rivia (The Witcher) – Why speak when a simple grunt will do? The Netflix version of the white-haired Witcher lets his sword do most of the talking and I think the character is better for it. It’s not that I don’t appreciate dialogue. It’s just that Cavill’s gritty portrayal of the main character is less traditional and therefore more compelling than the version that shows up in the first book of the series.

Rick Deckard (Blade Runner) – Harrison Ford’s portrayal of nihilistic bounty hunter Rick Deckard remains one of my favorite film characters ever, but if you read the source material, Phillip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? You’ll find a much weaker man who’s more focused on obtaining the perfect pet rather than falling in love with his beautiful replicant target.

Missandei (Game of Thrones) – Say what you will about the storylines of the later seasons of this huge hit show, but one thing they definitely got right was the expanded role of Daenerys’s counselor, Missandei. The book series depicts this slave-turned-interpreter as younger and of minor importance, but the HBO show really fleshed out the character and made her a fan favorite.

William Cage (Edge of Tomorrow) – Translating Japanese manga to an American film doesn’t work all that often. As evidence, see Ghost in the Shell below. However Tom Cruise’s version of the hero known as Keiji Kiriya in the source material All You Need is Kill outshines the original as more heroic and with a more satisfying character arc.

Camina Drummer (The Expanse) – My favorite character from the recent sci-fi series The Expanse was “Belter”, rebel, and eventual ship captain, Camina Drummer. Played by actress Cara Gee, the show expanded (pun intended!) the role to combine several different characters from the novels in order to streamline the story. This allowed Gee more screen-time and made the series that much more fun.


Five Times It Wasn’t

Major (Ghost in the Shell) – Casting Caucasian American actress Scarlett Johansson as the Japanese cyborg protagonist set off plenty of alarm bells before the 2017 film version of the manga series arrived and rightfully so. Johansson has a solid action hero track record, but she was badly miscast here and the movie suffered as a result.

Abraham Van Helsing (Van Helsing) – You can’t blame Hugh Jackman for the lousy script, but you can blame him for accepting a lousy role when he clearly wasn’t hurting for money. You know those X-Men paychecks were nice. Jackman plays an action hero version of Bram Stoker’s famous vampire hunter in this poorly conceived and largely forgettable 2004 film.

Walter (The Dark Tower) – Plenty went wrong with the 2017 adaptation of the first book in Stephen King’s classic dark fantasy series, but one of the film’s worst sins was casting Matthew McConaughey as the villain. McConaughey has done plenty of great work over the course of his career, but if you enjoyed the novels, I bet he isn’t the evil wizard you imagined.

Duncan Idaho (Dune) – No, I’m not knocking Jason Mamoa’s portrayal of the loyal Atreides warrior in the 2021 version of Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi tale. I’m still laughing about the 1984 version where Richard Jordan played the part. Jordan may have been handsome and slick, but a fearless badass? I don’t think so.

Moreau and Montgomery (The Island of Dr. Moreau) – And finally I couldn’t choose which portrayal was worse, so I’m awarding a tie to Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer for their awful performances in the 1996 version of the H.G. Wells classic tale of medical malpractice, genetic mayhem, and murder. Both are remarkable actors, but if you believe the stories of the troubled production of this film neither actor wanted to be there and it shows.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Bonaventure Cemetery


All Photo Credits: Matt Handle

Like any good detective tale, the novel I’m currently querying features a number of side quests the protagonist must complete while in pursuit of his quarry. One of those missions takes him to the Bonaventure Cemetery just outside Savannah, Georgia. I had the opportunity to visit this famous boneyard last month and I thought I’d share some of the photos I took. Located aside the Wilmington River and featuring burial plots from as old as 1802, this quiet Spanish moss-draped place seems perfect for the sort of spooky encounter my occult detective faces there.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Visiting Savannah


All Photo Credits: Matt Handle

While the majority of the occult detective novel I’m shopping to agents this summer takes place in my home turf of Atlanta, a key scene happens in the port city of Savannah, Georgia. This created the perfect excuse to take the family to Savannah this past weekend for a wedding anniversary/Father’s Day celebration where we could not only have a great time, but I could do some fact check reconnaissance as well. Does this mean our trip was deductible? I’ll leave that decision to my tax professional, but it definitely means I took lots of photos. I’ll save the pictures from the Bonaventure Cemetery for a future post since that’s a very specific location in my book but here are plenty of shots around town including the smaller but still spookily impressive Colonial Park Cemetery.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Love, Death & Robots – Season 3


Image Credit: Netflix

Friday marked the release of Netflix’s sci-fi/horror series Love, Death & Robots Season 3 and like the two seasons before it, the show offers some entertaining short stories told through a host of talented directors and animation studios. The nine episodes this season range from 7 to 21 minutes long and they feature returning writers John Scalzi, Neal Asher, and Michael Stanwick along with series co-creator Tim Miller and award-winning sci-fi writer Bruce Sterling.

There’s enough variety in the stories and styles that everyone is bound to have their personal favorites and I encourage you to give them all a try. Below are my brief descriptions of each episode in my order of preference.


In Vaulted Halls Entombed

A military team sent to rescue a captive from terrorists runs afoul of something much more sinister deep in the caves of Afghanistan. This violent, creepy tale ends in a Lovecraftian twist that makes it my favorite of Season 3.

Bad Travelling

I didn’t find the main character to be particularly likeable and the ending felt a little too convenient, but watching a crew battle a tank-sized crustacean who has taken over the ship and developed a taste for human flesh was still a lot of gory fun.


This episode doesn’t include a word of dialogue, but the animation might be the most visually arresting of the series. An invading knight is initially spared from death by a seductive river siren because he is deaf, but her fascination and his greed get the better of him in the end.


Another minute or two of exposition to fill in some of plot would have made this episode way more successful. As it is, the story feels a bit disjointed, but it still features excellent world-building as a space-faring human attempts to enslave a uniquely adaptive alien species.

Mason’s Rats

I tend to like the serious episodes more than the silly ones, but this gore-fest about a farmer who goes to extraordinarily violent lengths to rid his barn of intelligent rodents is a fun ride and it features the voice talent of one of my favorite comedians, Craig Ferguson.

The Very Pulse of the Machine

Imagine an astronaut exploring a peyote fever-dream and you’d have the general idea of this episode. While short on action, the artwork is beautiful and it has the sort of ambiguous ending that allows your mind to ponder the story long after it’s over.

Three Robots: Exit Strategies

This humorous continuation of an episode in Season 1 doesn’t offer much in the way of new ideas, but it’s still amusing to imagine what future robot archeologists might think of our strange and self-destructive culture long after we’re gone from Earth.

Kill Team Kill

There’s plenty of violence and vulgarity in this episode, but not much characterization or story. A group of mercenaries runs across a cybernetic monster that’s nearly indestructible and apparently a result of their own government’s experimentation.

Night of the Mini Dead

Given my love for zombies, you’d think I’d rank this one higher, but it just didn’t do much for me. I appreciate the novelty of telling the tale of a zombie apocalypse via miniatures, but other than the fact they’re tiny, this episode doesn’t offer anything you haven’t seen before.