Sunday, November 30, 2008

Deconstructing the Villain

Over the last year I have discovered something about myself. If I spend too much time blogging, I spend less time writing. I don't think this is a discovery that would surprise too many people; I've heard other people who say they have the same problem. The writing thing is a big part of the reason I have decided to put my book reviews back on this page and quit trying to post on too many blogs all at once. It's too time consuming and I'd like to get back to doing more writing. One of the things I like most about writing fiction is creating the characters-- especially the villains. Villains are fun for more than just the obvious reasons. I know I'm not the only one who gets a little bit of a vicarious thrill out of writing about people doing bad things, but the villain also gives the writer a little bit of a break from the main character. I think we all love our heroes but sometimes it can a bit dull dealing with good-guy angst. It's when the writer gets to write the bad-guy that the creativity really has a chance to come out and play. However, writing a villain isn't as easy at it sounds. Trying to write a credible bad-guy without having him rubbing his hands together while saying "mwaahahhaahah" takes subtlety and I find myself really having to think about villain archetypes while I put together a story and deciding what stereotypes to keep-- and which ones to throw out. Here's what's on the list so far: A Tragic Beginning: Like a lot of heroes it's not uncommon for a villain to be born out of childhood tragedy. I think a grim turning point is important for a villain's development for many reasons--not the least of which is relatability. I know that occasionally people do cruel things without having a horrible childhood to fall back on as an excuse but I think the reader (or viewer) prefers to have an explanation for why a person commits evil deeds. The idea of evil springing out of nothingness, while intriguing, is often too disturbing. For a villain to entertain, they also have to be able to be understood. Self Interest: I don't think a character can be a true villain if there is someone they won't betray. Bad guys need to be unpredictable but not too vulnerable. You might see a villain, like The Joker for instance, decide not to kill someone but it will be for some reason they alone understand-- not because they care about anyone. A villain isn't someone who steals a loaf of bread to feed their starving mother, they steal the bread only for themselves. The most horrifying bad-guys might seem to care about something (or someone) only to discard it/them the first time they become inconvenient. Lack of Moral Restraint: Bad guys will do things that other people just won't do without severe provocation. They murder for monetary gain or just for kicks. They steal without thought. It could be because they are sociopaths or just plain crazy. But it doesn't matter. A villain is capable of anything. A Plan: I'm sure most everyday criminals don't have a master plan when it comes to their enterprises. I'm guessing they just want to get as much stuff as they can the easy way-- by taking it from everyone else. But the most entertaining fiction has a villain with a plan. It might be someone like X-Men's Magneto, who wants to see mutants rule the world; or someone like Lex Luthor, who managed to become President of the United States-- for a short time anyway. But there has to be a plan for the hero to foil in order for a writer to tell a story. It might be as simple as a kidnapping for ransom or a plot to assassinate the President. Either way, there has to be a plan in motion. Henchmen: There are villains who work alone, but the big fish generally have help. Expendable help. Charisma: Most villains are able to generate a following, no matter how crazy their philosophy. Hitler didn't control Germany because of his looks, it was because he had an unfathomable charisma that allowed him to convince people that he had the answers. Any kind of villainous leader is bound to be charismatic. Desire for Revenge: I don't know that a villain has to have a vengeful nature, but it seems like a likely characteristic of a villain don't you think? When I think of driven villains it's the ones who think they have a cause that come to mind. Just look at the Wicked Witch of the West. She saw Dorothy as the cause of her sister's death and as a thief who stole the ruby slippers. She committed everything she had to stopping Dorothy-- even her winged monkeys. Inflated Ego: No matter how smart a hero is, the villain will always think they're smarter. This is why villains like to deliver the monologue to the hero detailing their evil plan. Even if the cliche of the monologue doesn't appear in the story, the villain will still think they're smarter than anyone else-- and heaven help anyone who tries to tell them otherwise. A Secret Lair: Like the hero the villain needs a place to hatch their plans-- and evil Batcave if you will. A creepy cabin in the woods pops up a lot in fiction; though an erudite villain like Hannibal Lecter would have a very classy, if creepy, hideout. A Physical Oddity: Not all villains have this trait, but a lot do. The Joker, no matter how he is portrayed, has a terribly disfigured face. A lot of Bond villains have physical oddities-- like Jaw's teeth. Darth Vader has a whole replacement body while Lex Luthor can't grow hair. I think these characteristics are thrown in to add to the isolated nature of the villain and to help explain why they do bad things. A Need to Rule: Most villains are bullies. Real life villains like Charles Manson and Hitler preyed on the weak minded and this same trait shows up in our fictional scoundrels more often than not because it's just too true to ignore. Bullies come in all shapes and sizes but the one thing they have in common is the need to feel superior to other people; it's just the manner in which they go about it that differs. A Mean Streak: A villain just would be a villain if they were nice. These are the guys who like to torture puppies for fun and they will always kick you when you are down. ....Oddly, I'm running out of stereotypes here. I know there are more... I think the problem is that I don't find the villain as easy to box in as the hero. A villain doesn't have to be able to fight like a ninja to be the bad-guy-- that's what henchmen are for. They don't necessarily have to have a nemesis since the bad guy will always find someone to take advantage of-- it's what they do. Anyway, I have a villain of my own that I am working on. He fits into some of the categories I have listed here though not all of them. But I would loooove to have your feedback. Who are your favorite bad guys and what do you think makes them believable? What characteristics would you add to the list? Seriously, I want to know.

Winner! Signed Copy of "Ender in Exile" by Orson Scott Card

Sorry I'm late getting this up (too busy stuffing myself with turkey you know...) but I have randomly picked a winner for a signed copy of "Ender in Exile" by Orson Scott Card and the winner is: Jane Halsall Congrats Jane. Send me your address and I'll send you the book! And be sure to sign up for my Short Story Contest and my X-Files Giveaway if you haven't already...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Giveaway! 3 Copies (2 DVD and 1 Blue-ray) of "The X-Files: I Want to Believe"

How's this for a holiday giveaway! Since I'm going to be busy over this Thanksgiving holiday I am happy to be able to offer something special for all The X-Files fans (and loyal blogging buddies) out there. I wanted to see this in the theatre, but due to babysitting issues I've had to wait until now to see it-- and I get to share the happiness with you! I have 3 copies (2 DVD and 1 Blue-ray) of "The X-Files: I Want to Believe" courtesy of Fox Home Entertainment to giveaway. A standalone story described as a “skillful thriller” (Roger Ebert; Chicago Sun-Times) that picks up six years after the series ended, The X-Files: I Want To Believe finds Fox Mulder (David Duchovny; “Californication”) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson; The Last King of Scotland) reunited after leaving their careers at the F.B.I. behind them. Forgotten by their former employer that ignored their unique investigations, the duo is called upon once again when several women begin to disappear and body parts turn up buried in the snow of the Virginia wilderness. With Mulder’s steadfast belief in the paranormal and Scully’s ever present skepticism, the investigation leads them to a shocking discovery that tests their faith and questions what is truly possible. Directed by series creator Chris Carter (“Millennium”) from a story he penned with executive producer Frank Spotnitz, The X-Files: I Want To Believe features an ensemble cast that includes Billy Connolly (The Boondock Saints), Amanda Peet (“Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”), Xzibit (Gridiron Gang, 8 Mile) and the return of series veteran Mitch Pileggi as F.B.I Assistant Director Walter Skinner. If you'd like to get your hands on one of these, leave me a comment here or email me at sqt1969(at)gmail(dot)com under the header "X-Files" to enter-- and please specify if you'd like a DVD or Blue-ray copy. I will randomly pick the winners by Thursday, December 11th. Be sure I can get in touch with you easily. If I cannot reach a winner within 48 hours the prize will pass to another entrant. Open in the U.S. only. Good luck!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Linkage

I have been so bad lately about linking up to other giveaways, but I was reminded when I saw a post at Graeme's Fantasy Book Review that I had planned on linking to his contest. So let's link his-- and a few others. Graeme has one copy of 'Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman' (Hank Wagner, Christopher Golden and Stephen R. Bissette) and TWO sets of Charles Stross' Merchant Prince series. The Gaiman giveaway is open in the U.S. only and the Stross giveaway is open only in the U.K. Contest ends Saturday November 29th. As always, Fantasy Book Critic has tons of giveaways up. He has an advance copy of "Lamentation" by Ken Scholes, TWO sets of M.J. Rose's books, “The Reincarnationist” and “The Memorist," SIX sets of the "Night Angel Trilogy" by Brent Weeks, and TWO sets of the "Prince of Nothing" trilogy by R. Scott Bakker. Pat's Fantasy Hotlist has two advance reading copies of "Busted Flush: A Wild Cards Novel" that he's giving away with posters that feature the cover art. He also has a copy of Dan Simmon's "Muse of Fire." Just scroll down the page for the contests. Sci-fi Chick has some great giveaways going on too. First she has a Star Trek messenger bag-- with a link to a contest for a laptop computer (sign me up!), a copy of Alex Archer's "Rogue Angel: Swordman's Legacy," a copy of "Princeps Fury" by Jim Butcher and a copy of the short story compilation "Better off Undead" (the same one I have in my short story contest). Just look on her right sidebar to find all the contests. Eos Books has got 5 signed sets of Vicki Pettersson's "Sign of the Zodiac" series left. Hurry up and get your name in. For those of you who like YA fiction, The Book Connection has two copies of "Sam's Quest for the Crimson Crystal" up for grabs. That's all I have for right now. Any new one's pop up and I'll mark this post "updated" to let you know I've added new links.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Building a Good Hero

**Artwork by Michael Dougherty** There have been some excellent posts on some of my favorite blogs about stereotypes. Both Charles and Steve have made the point that writers attempt to break stereotypes at their own peril. And while what they say is undeniably true, I think it also bears looking at how varied certain stereotypes can be. Take the hero for example. Heroes come in all varieties, the action hero, the comic-book-hero, the anti-hero and so on. But for a character to be a hero there has to be a common thread of goodness that runs through them; a desire perhaps to save something. But what are the best, most desirable characteristics in a hero? Lets look at some of the options. Innocence: At first glance innocence might seem like an odd trait for a hero to have. But some of my favorite heroes have a way of looking at the world with an unguarded view that reminds us that there may be more good in the world than we realize. Frodo Baggins of "The Lord of the Rings" isn't a hero that's going to awe the world with his physical strength but his belief in doing what's right keeps his feet to the hero's path more surely than any other trait he possesses. Hiro Nakamura of "Heroes" is at his endearing best when he looks at the world, and his own abilities, with wide-eyed wonder. Even Neo from "The Matrix" could be looked at as an innocent since he was thrust from one life into another beyond anything he could have previously comprehended. Cynicism: You're more likely to see a cynical hero than an innocent one. This is probably due to the fact that it's the harsh realities of life that most often creates the hero in the first place. James Bond is the perfect example of the cynical hero who has seen so much of the dark side of society he often seems to forget that not everyone has a secret agenda. Indiana Jones often has a cynical look in his eye; as if he's seen too many of the same tricks played out over the years. Detectives, like Spencer from the Robert B. Parker series, often fall back on their cynicism to protect themselves from being lulled into complacency. Strength: This is probably the most common attribute associated with the classic hero but there are so many kinds of strength for us to examine. Brute strength is the most obvious choice for the superhero with Superman being the ultimate example; though the Incredible Hulk could make a run at the title. But strength of character is probably much more important. If Frodo hadn't had the inner strength to throw the ring away he would have ended up like Golem. If Superman or Spiderman were of weaker character they would have turned their backs away from humanity a long time ago and used their powers for their own benefit. Mystery: A lot of our favorite characters are accidental heroes. Luke Skywalker never thought he'd save the universe from Darth Vader, he was just reacting to extreme circumstances. But heroes like Batman set out on a deliberate path to benefit humanity and cloak themselves in mystery for a variety of reasons. Batman seeks to hide his identity as well as strike fear into his enemies while Spiderman is likely trying to hide the fact that he doesn't look too threatening without the costume. Intelligence: It's hard to be a hero if you don't have the intellectual chops. Professor Xavier is proof that a hero need only have a strong mind to succeed. Batman wouldn't exist if Bruce Wayne didn't have a healthy I.Q. to go along with all of that money. And while the Incredible Hulk may represent brute strength, Bruce Banner balances the two sides with his cool intelligence. A good hero has to always be a step ahead of the villain. Decisiveness: Captain Kirk has often been called rash but he is nothing if not a man of decisive action. When he sees a situation he acts first and deals with the consequences later. James Bond is never at a loss either. Many of the best heroes never waste time at a crossroads wondering which way to turn; they pick a direction and go. Calm Deliberation: As Yoda would say. “Ready are you? What know you of ready? For eight hundred years have I trained Jedi..." Decisiveness is good but sometimes a plan is better. A Costume: A hero doesn't need a costume, but they sure look cool. Comic book heroes are the best when it comes to costumes. Batman, Spiderman, Iron Man-- even The Incredibles; they all know that a hero is instantly identifiable when they where a costume. Indiana Jones might wear a suit when he's teaching, but whenever adventure calls he grabs his hat and his bullwhip. A Weapon: Indiana Jones has his bullwhip while Luke Skywalker has his light-saber. Wolverine has the knives embedded in his hands while Daredevil has his billy club. It's good to go to a fight well armed. Sidekicks: Batman and Robin. Kirk and Spock. Frodo and Logolas. The Fantastic Four. Heroes always seem a little more approachable when they need help don't they? And even Superman needed Lois Lane now and then. It's always good to have back-up. Money: It isn't cheap being a superhero. Just ask Batman. Most of us average folks wouldn't even be able to think about being a hero just because of the cost. How many of you could afford a Batcave? Even if I had the knowledge, I would never have enough money to build Ironman's suit. Superpowers: Mostly it's the comic book heroes that have the unnatural abilities. Superman, Spiderman, Wolverine-- they all have something that puts them beyond mortal men. A hero doesn't have to be super-powered, but it definitely gives them an advantage. Fighting Ability: Batman makes up for a lack of unnatural powers by technology and ninja training. Daredevil uses martial arts to devastating effect as well. Frodo might not be able to fight, but his companions know how to wield a sword. Neo downloads a full knowledge of Kung Fu into his brain because sometimes you might not have an automatic weapon handy when you need it. A Mission: The accidental hero is usually thrust into circumstances beyond his control-- something that is especially common in fantasy fiction in which you have the "prophesied" hero. Other characters, such as The Punisher or Batman, end up on their missions due to tragic circumstances that might start them on a path of revenge only to see it develop into something bigger. It's not unusual to see a hero so consumed by their drive to do.. whatever it is they see as their purpose... that they cannot allow themselves to have a normal life. A Nemesis: Superman and Lex Luthor. Batman and the Joker. Spiderman and Green Goblin. Just when a superhero thinks they've got it all under control, someone shows up who makes it their personal mission in life to make the hero's life miserable. As you can see, there are so many different facets to the "stereotypical" hero, and I could keep going. I listed what I think are some of the most common aspects, though there are many that directly contradict each other. So what makes a good hero great? Why do some resonate more than others? Personally I like the ones that live on the dark side. James Bond and Batman are probably my two favorites-- though Wolverine isn't far behind. There are times when I think Hiro Nakamura is the best too, but I'm always afraid of seeing the light of optimism go out of his eyes and I prefer not to witness that. If I were to build my own hero, he (or she) would likely come from the Batman mold-- with the tragic circumstances that shaped their determination to do something bold. I think my character would be less impulsive than a James Bond though. I think my hero would plan with calm deliberation but act on his plans without remorse. I'm haven't yet decided if I prefer a hero with super-powers though. I like the mutants of X-Men but I admire the ingenuity of characters like Iron Man. And I'm all for a character than can kick some serious a**. I lean to the no-costume variety of hero though I think money is certainly a big plus. And I would most definitely give my hero a mission and probably a sidekick or two... So how would you build your hero? What attributes do you think they should have? Any that I haven't mentioned here? And what existing heroes are the best in your opinion?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Giveaway! Short Story Collection Part 4!

Oh how I love giving away short stories! These always seem to be my most popular contests so it's great when I get a decent stash of short story compilations to pass on. This contest includes: Witch High; Move over Hogwarts... High school is different for everyone. For some, it’s a time to shine, and for others, a time to survive. Then there are the students who attend those special schools for the gifted. But what if there was a school that catered to those rarest of students—those who can do magic? These fourteen tales explore the challenges that students of the magical arts may face in a high school of their very own. If you think chemistry is tough, try alchemy. If you ever fell victim to a school bully, how would you deal with a bully gifted with powerful magic? And if you needed more time to study, what spell could give you all the time you desired? These are just a few of the magical adventures that will await you when you enter Salem Township Public High School #4— otherwise known as Witch High... Better Off Undead; Eighteen original stories about the “lives” of the undead From vampires to mummy con artists, this lively collection explores the many forms the undead can take in stories that range from the chilling to the hysterical. There are those who people the Afterlife, others who wander the lands of the living in ghostly form, and even those who walk about in the flesh. For anyone who’s ever wondered if the grass is greener on the other side of this mortal coil, this collection will provide a wide range of intriguing answers from those who are undead...and loving it! And Moving Targets: And Other Tales of Valdemar; Sixteen original stories-set in Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar universe Includes a new novella by Mercedes Lackey! Today's hottest fantasy authors visit Mercedes Lackey's bestselling world of Valdemar, adding their own special touches to the ancient land where Heralds "Chosen" from all walks of life by magical horse-like Companions patrol their ancient kingdom, dispensing justice, facing adversaries, and protecting their monarch from whatever threatens. Travel with Tanya Huff, Mickey Zucker Reichert, Fiona Patton, Judith Tarr, Rosemary Edghill, and others in these exciting, all-new stories. If you'd like to get your hands on this nice little collection, just leave a comment here or email me at sqt1969(at)gmail(dot)com under the header "Short 4" to enter. I will randomly pick a winner by Friday, December 5th. Please no multiple entries. Make sure I can reach you easily. If I can't reach the winner within 48 hours I will pass the books onto another entrant. Open everywhere. Good luck!

Oh Mama

I knew my laminated list wasn't for nothing.... From People Magagzine Hugh Jackman: The Sexiest Man Alive A romantic in a hard body, the Aussie star leaves women saying "Oh ... my ... God" He's a triple threat: a star who can sing, dance and wield a weapon. At 6 ft. 2 in., all scruff and biceps, Hugh Jackman looms large in the epic Australia, which he says kept him "dirty 95 percent of the time" and left people stammering, "Oh ... my ... God," according to costar Nicole Kidman, who adds, "Women's jaws drop when Hugh walks into a room." Jackman's wife of 12 years, Deborra-Lee Furness, calls his perfect form "the Body of Doom – but I like what's inside": a romantic who sings ballads at home and makes pancakes for Oscar, 8, and Ava, 3. A hard body with a soft center – 2008's Sexiest Man Alive sat down with PEOPLE's Elizabeth Leonard and Julie Jordan to reveal most of his secrets. You turned 40 Oct. 12 and now you're the Sexiest Man Alive. What was your wife's response? God bless her, she said, "I could've told them that years ago!" And then she said, "Obviously, Brad wasn't available this year." And I said, "That was a joke, right?" "Hugh is tough and romantic at the same time," says costar Kidman. "Australian men are a different breed. They're rugged and they sweat." Your marriage is a success story. In my early 20s, I didn't have a regular girlfriend. I was single and really happy about it. And then when I was 26, I met Deb on [the Australian TV show] Correlli. She was my leading lady. It was just undeniable. I started planning to propose to her at about three months. We are happy. Deb and my kids have been the best things that have ever happened to me, without a doubt. How do you keep the passion alive? It's easy with my wife. She loves the idea of me coming home in costume because it makes her feel like she's having an affair in a good way. When we met, I was cast as a prisoner with tattoos and she'd say, "Don't take your tattoos off tonight!" and I'd be like, "All right!" But what works best with her is the stockbroker look. She also says, "Do your sexy dance for me," [an '80s-like, hip-swiveling number] and that works for me. Are you self-conscious about any body part? When I was younger, I had chicken legs. My nickname was Sticks. What part do people like best? My smile. Lately my pecs. I'm being honest! What do you wear to bed? I didn't wear anything until my daughter was born and we had a night nanny because I was working. I walked out stark naked, and she was reading a book. Now I like boxer briefs. How the Sexiness Began ... FIRST GIRLFRIEND "Martine Craswell, in kindergarten. My dad said, 'Oh, I always knew you were romantic because you were running in a race and Martine fell over and you stopped and went back and picked her up.' Chivalry was there." FIRST KISS "With Sarah Dowsett when I was 9. I was going from a coed school to a boys' school and I thought, 'If I don't kiss a girl before I go to this school, I won't get to kiss a girl.' And my friend goes, 'Sarah Dowsett kisses. I kissed her once.' So I said to Sarah, 'I want you to know that I love you.' And she said, 'I love you too.' And I said, 'Do you want to go down to the bush and kiss?' She said yes. It was just [he purses his lips]. I remember thinking, 'What is this all about?' Then, when I had my first tongue kiss, I thought, 'What the hell is this?' " FIRST LEARNED ABOUT SEX "When I was 9, Scott Whitehead, who lived down the road, had an older brother who had Penthouse magazines. I was kind of shocked."

Send Your Good Wishes to Tobias Buckell

If you haven't seen it posted on the dozen or so other sites that have mentioned it, Tobias Buckell, author of the super-cool space opera series including "Crystal Rain," "Ragamuffin," and "Sly Mongoose," is in the hospital. So far the doctors suspect it could be related to his heart, but they're not sure. Swing by his blog and send him your well wishes. I'm sure every comment makes him feel a little bit better. And we all want him to be well so he can continue writing more awesome books!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Star Trek Trailer (Thanks Van)

Oh no! They took down the official trailer (copyright issues so they say). So I have to put up a teaser trailer. I'll update as soon as I can.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Quantum of Solace

I like Daniel Craig, and I like him a whole lot as James Bond. But I’m not sure I can say I liked “Quantum of Solace” as much as I liked the man who plays the main character.

 I had read a few reviews before I went to see “Quantum” so I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect from the movie, but I guess my idea of James Bond is not in line with what most critics are looking for. The movie has been characterized as being too violent, lacking in fun and too confusing. But I disagree with most assessments of “Quantum of Solace” that I have read so far.

 First, let me address the violence issue. Too violent? I hardly think so. “Quantum of Solace” is a revenge movie and if James Bond is out for revenge then a certain amount of violence is to be expected. But violent is too strong a word in my opinion to characterize the latest Bond offering. If you have watched  “Casino Royale” then you have a good foundation for Quantum. The movie picks up not long after Bond has just witnessed the suicide of the woman he loves, Vesper Lynd. Bond is determined to find out what could have led Vesper to such a desperate act and he tries to be angry at Vesper, but mostly he just wants to find out who is responsible for Vesper’s death—and make them pay.

 The action starts right from the beginning with a furious car chase that takes Bond all over the mountainous terrain of Italy and barely managing to limp his Aston Martin to its destination. Then the credits start. The action is pretty much a mainstay throughout the movie, with a few sequences that reminded me quite a bit of “The Bourne Ultimatum,” so much so that I was sure they had been directed by the same person (they were not). There is a foot chase early on that will remind viewers quite a bit of the fight sequence in the Bourne movie that had Matt Damon jumping from rooftops and between buildings as he tries to evade another assassin—the only difference here is that Daniel Craig is playing the Matt Damon role. The fight scene at the end of the chase is very reminiscent of Bourne too with the in-close fighting. It’s very realistic and credible—-points in the movie’s favor.

 There is also just about every kind of chase scene in this movie you can think of. Foot chases, car chases, boat chases and even a plane chase—and they’re all great. I especially liked the boat chase—something about Craig behind the wheel of a boat is very appealing. There’s plenty of fight scenes though I don’t think they rise to the level of violence that most critics would have you believe; the movie still comes in at a PG-13 rating. It isn’t so much that the movie is violent; it just has a lot of action. And I’m all for action. The hard part about critiquing this movie is the parts that come between the action sequences; that’s when the movie loses its momentum. The critics who say that “Quantum of Solace” is confusing have a point.

 Here’s what I think the movie is about (I’m really not entirely sure I have it right). Vesper Lynd was blackmailed in the “Casino Royale” by some shadowy organization that kidnapped her boyfriend. At the end of the movie she commits suicide and I believe her motivation was to protect Bond so she could not be used against him if she was dead. Bond isn't sure what motivated Vesper so he attempts to find out what motivated the people who blackmailed Vesper. The organization is occasionally referred to as “Quantum” but what they are is never fully spelled out. What I inferred from the movie is that “Quantum” is made up of people who attempt to control the natural resources of any particular region and sell them to the local government at a premium.

“Quantum of Solace's” main villain is a man named Dominic Greene, who helps a corrupt general attain control in Bolivia in return for ownership of a particular region to which Green has diverted all the country's water. The problem with the plotting of “Quantum of Solace” is that Greene is sort of inserted as a token villain. We don’t know if he was particularly responsible for Vesper’s involvement in “Quantum.” He’s kind of slimy, cowardly kind of guy that we don’t mind seeing Bond use as a punching bag, but I don’t think he adds up to a villain worthy of a man like Bond. Personally I would have preferred if the man known as “Mr. White,” who we saw in “Casino Royale” as he took the money from Vesper, would have been cast as the villain. He would have been a face we could tie to the previous movie and we could believe he was intelligent enough to put real obstacles in Bond’s path. As it was, I liked watching Craig push some bad-guys around, but I never really thought Greene was going to be a real problem for Bond.

 Another complaint put forth by critics about “Quantum of Solace” is the lack of gadgets. It’s true that Bond doesn't have any toys to play with this time but that wasn't a particular problem for me. I feel that the insertion of gadgets wouldn’t have made sense anyway since Bond was supposed to be going a little bit rogue here. It’s hard to go on a personal mission of revenge and check in with the office—if you know what I mean. I actually think that the lack of gadgets makes more sense than virtually anything else in the script. And the last bit of criticism that I just don’t agree with is that a lot of critics said the movie was just too grim. That Bond brooded too much and didn't have the old sense of humor this time around. Um, did they forget that woman he loved just died? I think Bond can be forgiven if he lost his sense of humor for a little while. We can give him an hour-and-a-half to grieve can’t we?

 In line with the grieving thing, the Bond women play a role here but they are really overshadowed by the memory of Vesper Lynd and I find I didn’t mind that at all. So my overall impression of “Quantum of Solace” is a movie that shines in the action sequences and the scenes with Bond and M (Judy Dench is particularly effective in this movie as M and her relationship with Bond really develops here) but stutters through the rest of the film.

I still think Daniel Craig is a terrific Bond and I have no criticism of him in the role. Any problems with the movie I lay at the feet of the scriptwriters. I think the movie would have been much better if we had a clearer idea of what led Vesper to betray Bond and commit suicide. I would have liked it more if Bond had had a central focus early on and we could have watched him hunt a credible villain down. Yeah, we get to watch some good action sequences and see Bond in some good fight scenes, but I still felt something was lacking. I didn't walk away from the movie with the same sense of satisfaction that I had with “Casino Royale” and that disappointed me a bit.

 So in the end I have the dilemma of whether or not to recommend you see this movie on the big screen and my answer to that is it depends. "Quantum of Solace" is a Bond movie and if you like Bond it's a pretty good bet you'll like the movie. The action sequences are great and Daniel Craig is as charismatic as he was in "Casino Royale." But if you're not a die-hard fan of Bond you might be a little let down by the sketchy plot-line. Personally, I would go see the movie in the theater again. But then, I do like Daniel Craig.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Giveaway! Signed Copy of Ender in Exile by Orson Scott Card!

After twenty-three years, Orson Scott Card returns to his acclaimed best-selling series with the first true, direct sequel to the classic Ender's Game. In Ender’s Game, the world’s most gifted children were taken from their families and sent to an elite training school. At Battle School, they learned combat, strategy, and secret intelligence to fight a dangerous war on behalf of those left on Earth. But they also learned some important and less definable lessons about life. After the life-changing events of those years, these children—now teenagers—must leave the school and re-adapt to life in the outside world. Having not seen their families or interacted with other people for years—where do they go now? What can they do? Ender fought for humanity, but he is now reviled as a ruthless assassin. No longer allowed to live on Earth, he enters into exile. With his sister Valentine, he chooses to leave the only home he’s ever known to begin a relativistic—and revelatory—journey beyond the stars. What happened during the years between Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead? What did Ender go through from the ages of 12 through 35? The story of those years has never been told. Taking place 3000 years before Ender finally receives his chance at redemption in Speaker for the Dead, this is the long-lost story of Ender. For twenty-three years, millions of readers have wondered and now they will receive the answers. Ender in Exile is Orson Scott Card’s moving return to all the action and the adventure, the profound exploration of war and society, and the characters one never forgot. On one of these ships, there is a baby that just may share the same special gifts as Ender’s old friend Bean… Are you excited yet? I am a huge fan of "Ender's Game." So when Tor Books offered me the chance to giveaway a SIGNED copy of "Ender in Exile" I jumped at the chance. The rules are the same a usual. Just leave a comment here or email me at sqt1969(at)gmail(dot)com under the header "Ender" to enter and I will randomly pick a winner by Friday November 28th. Make sure I can get reach you easily. If I cannot reach the winner within 48 hours I will pass the book onto another entrant. Please no multiple entries. Open in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Good luck!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bond Envy

As any loyal James Bond fan knows, Quantum of Solace is opening this weekend. You know where I'm going to be this Saturday night. The Bond franchise is a big one. There have been multiple big-screen film adaptations made featuring six different actors in the role; most of them playing Bond more than once. Once an actor has portrayed Bond he's forever linked to the role. So it should be no surprise that since there is a new Bond movie being released a former Bond has decided to give his opinion of the current incarnation (I call this the Jimmy Carter Syndrome).

Roger Moore, star of seven Bond movies and author of a conveniently timed (and titled) memoir called My Word is My Bond, has declared in an interview that the new Bond is "too violent." "I am happy to have done it, but I'm sad that it has turned so violent," Moore said before "Quantum of Solace," starring Daniel Craig as a darker Agent 007, opens in North America on Friday. "That's keeping up with the times, it's what cinema-goers seem to want and it's proved by the box-office figures," Moore told Reuters in an interview about his memoir, "My Word is My Bond." Moore, 81, recalled being appalled at the violence in "A View to a Kill," the 1985 movie which was the last of the seven in which he played Bond. "That wasn't Bond," he said. In his book, Moore writes of his distaste for guns, ever since he was shot in the leg by a friend with a BB gun as a teenager. While making "The Man With the Golden Gun," director Guy Hamilton wanted Bond to be tougher and had him threaten to break Maud Adams' character's arm to get information, he writes. "That sort of characterization didn't sit well with me, but Guy was keen to make my Bond a little more ruthless. "I suggested my Bond would have charmed the information out of her by bedding her first. My Bond was a lover and a giggler, but I went along with Guy," the British actor wrote.

 I can't tell you how interesting I found Moore's comments about Bond. I guess it's because I think of Bond as a kind of violent guy and I always ranked Moore as one of my least favorite Bonds (Sorry Roger. Nothing personal) and now I think I know why.

 First, let me say that I don't consider myself a Bond expert. I've watched Bond over the years and like a lot of people I've formed an impression of the character based on the men who have played him on screen. We all know he's a mixture of tough, suave and sexist, though each actor seems to bring out each characteristic to a greater extent-- obviously Moore was going for the lover-not-a-fighter type. However I think the most convincing Bonds have been the more muscular ones. I think the key to Bond's success as a character is his virility. And when I say virility I mean it at its basest level because, let's face it, women like a bad boy and men like to imagine themselves as one. It has been scientifically proven that fertile women are attracted to men who look like they'd be strong breeders--which I think is kind of the distilled essence of Bond. He's the caveman who hits a woman over the head and drags her into his cave-- and she likes it (I can hear the feminists screaming in my ear as I write this).

I grew up with Roger Moore as Bond, seeing "Moonraker" and "For Your Eyes Only" in the movie theatre as a kid. I liked them at the time but I remember that Moore never seemed to escape Sean Connery's shadow while playing Bond. I never really understood why Connery was such a big deal until I sat down at watched "Goldfinger," but then it dawned on me-- Connery gets it. Bond is not a guy that can be domesticated. Yes, there have been women that he has fallen in love with, like we saw in "Casino Royale," but a married Bond might as well be castrated (I see all you guys wincing). To be interesting Bond has to be free to..well...spread his seed; crude as that sounds. The archetype of the manly man is the old cliche-- the man that all the women want and all the men want to be-- which is what I think Ian Flemming was going for when he created the character.

Don't get me wrong, it isn't just womanizing that makes Bond. If that was the case Moore would have been the perfect Bond. No, Bond needs to be more than just suave to be convincing. And I don't write this to say that Bond is a character that all men should emulate. I wouldn't marry a guy like Bond (and I'm not sure any woman could tie him down for long). I'm merely making the point that for Bond to succeed on the big screen as a super spy, he has to have super exaggerated male characteristics. Ideally you should be able to envision the testosterone pumping through his veins. Take Pierce Brosan's Bond for example. I liked Brosnan well enough as Bond. He was the good looking, urbane Bond-- much like Moore. He could hold his own in a fight but he was just as likely to rely on one of his gadgets to get him out of a tight spot. I liked Brosnan, but he was no Sean Connery.

Like Moore, I'd watch Brosnan's portrayal of Bond and think this is good... but it's not great. It wasn't until Daniel Craig stepped into Bond's shoes that I realized that it was the muscularity of the character that I had been missing. I assume when I watch Craig playing Bond that he, like Connery, gets it. Craig has said in interviews that he bulks up to play Bond. He can put on the tux and drink the martinis with the best of them but Craig looks like he's been in a fight or two. When he does a fight scene he looks like he means it. And when he does a sex scene...well... he looks like he means it. Like I said. Virile.

 I don't know if "Quantum of Solace" will live up to the promise of "Casino Royale;" I'll be sure to let you know what I think after I see it. But one thing I think I can say for sure-- the audience will like Daniel Craig as Bond. I won't go so far and declare him the best Bond ever because I can't be that objective. Sean Connery had made almost all of his Bond movies before I was born and as a woman who is just hanging on to her fertile years I can't help but have a preference for Craig. But if I were to categorize my James Bonds I think it would be safe to put Connery and Craig in one box and Moore and Brosnan in another-- and I think I know which one most people would prefer.

Monday, November 10, 2008

You Ever Have One of Those Days....

...when you get 2 hours of sleep due to a bout of insomnia but you can't sleep in because you have to take the kids to school and you agreed to volunteer in the classroom and you already arranged for your daughter to have a play-date with her friend and that results in a lengthy session of Rock Band in which you have to listen to two 8 year-old girls loudly trying to sing "Mississippi Queen" and "Orange Crush" while you try to shake of the jitters from ingesting too much Red Bull? Yeah me too. I can't think of a friggin' thing to post about.... other than the lamentable fact that both my daughter and her friend are tone deaf. I need to video tape the next play-date. And think of something to post about.

Winner! The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks

I have randomly picked a winner of a copy of "The Way of Shadows" by Brent Weeks and the winner is... Alex Villalobos Congrats Alex. You know the drill... send me your address and I'll send you the book! Thanks to everyone who entered. More contests to come...

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Winner! Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi

My only regret is that I only have one copy to give away! But I have selected a winner (through random.org) for my "Agent to the Stars" contest and the winner is: Melinda Seckington (aka Miss Geeky) Congrats Melinda! Just send me your snail mail address and I'll get this sent right off to you. And for everyone else, keep an eye out. I've got a copy of "Ender in Exile" by Orson Scott Card coming up soon for giveaway.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

**Updated** How Hollywood Paved the Way for an Obama Victory

** I just got an email from SF Crowsnest that "SCIENCE FICTION FANS VOTE ON NEW NAME FOR THE OBAMA YEARS" and they chose the name "The Avalon Years." Is it wrong that I want to gag? Back to my original post** No matter your political beliefs, one has to take a step back and appreciate that we are living in a time that will be remembered as a great step forward in American history. There are moments when I am slightly hesitant to embrace a man as young and untested as Barack Obama as president but at the same time I am proud to live in a country that continues to move forward-- despite the sometimes bumpy ride-- in a socially conscious way. As a woman, I won't lie, there were many moments that made me cringe during the presidential race and I know we still have a long way to go. But I think I can honestly say I believe that we'll keep trying until we get it right. What has been especially interesting to me is how Hollywood has done so much to make a Barack Obama presidency possible. Now, I don't mean to say that I think the fact that Bruce Springsteen, Oprah and Matt Damon campaigned for Obama made a difference. I don't think most people vote based on what their favorite celebrities have to say about politics. At least I hope not. No, what I'm getting at is how influential entertainment can be in shaping our ideology. No matter where our society is in reality, our entertainment seems to be a step ahead of us. Sometimes this is a good thing, such as when Glen Close played the Vice President in "Air Force One" and sometimes this is a bad thing, such as Paris Hilton becoming famous for any reason at all. But the interesting thing is that whenever we talk about a "first" in America, such as an African American president, it's already occurred on TV or in the movies. Movies have been casting black presidents for awhile. Morgan Freeman was the president in "Deep Impact" while Tommy Lister had the title of Galactic President in "The Fifth Element." However I'd have to give the most convincing portrayal of a black president to Dennis Haysbert who starred in the television show "24," which I am personally happy to say now features a female president. And it's not just the portrayal of American presidents that I appreciate. Take "Star Trek." For the first two seasons we did have white men as captains, though the show did feature the first interracial kiss between Kirk and Uhura-- very controversial at the time. But then in 1993 "Star Trek Deep Space Nine" featured Avery Brooks as the first African American Captain to lead a "Star Trek" series. And not long after that, in 1995, "Star Trek Voyager" introduced a female captain, played by Kate Mulgrew. Leave it to sci-fi to lead the way. Looking back at those old "Star Trek" series' it's easy to see why I have been so enamored of sci-fi and fantasy for as long as I can remember. No matter how many times I have encountered the glass ceiling in real life, I have always been able to look at characters like Ellen Ripley in "Aliens" and say to myself, yeah, women kick a**... And when I become strangely sad to see gay marriage banned in California (who am I to say who can or can't get married?) I know that Hollywood's acceptance of people like Ellen Degeneres will keep the issue alive and force us to continue to reexamine our prejudices-- such as movies like Guess Who's Coming to Dinner did back in 1967. Sometimes Hollywood can be preachy and heavy handed. There have been plenty of movies that have made me want to smack the director just by sheer virtue of being obnoxious. I am no fan of movies like "W." by Oliver Stone because I dislike being told what to believe about a real person by an obvious ideologue like Stone. But, I like that we live in a country that values free speech. I like that movies that skewer our presidents, like Primary Colors can be made. It means that we always question our beliefs, our leaders and ourselves. So here's to President-Elect Obama. I wish him nothing but success.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Just Do It!

Please don't make all the suffering I have gone through this voting season be for nothing. VOTE! If I have to sift through all the political ads, the debates, the non-stop political commentary and the blog posts out there, then please, make it mean something and VOTE! I don't care if you think your candidate is destined to lose or if he's destined to win by a landslide-- and neither should you. VOTE! Remember, you're not allowed to complain about the winner if you don't VOTE! My daughter wants to go with me to VOTE today so I'm going to take her with me before school to cast my ballot. It would make my day if everyone who VOTES today would leave a comment here just to let me know you made it to the polls. Happy VOTING everyone. And remember. After today, it's finally over.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Winners! Legend of the Seeker Hat and T-Shirt

This was a short contest, but a good one I think. The show starts tonight so I'm just in time to announce the winners of the hat & T-shirt giveaway. The winners are: Walter Schirmacher PamK and RD Williams Congrats!!! Please be sure to send me your snail mail addresses a.s.a.p. so I can forward them onto the contest sponsor and get them sent right off to you. Thanks to everyone who entered. And if you haven't already entered, be sure to sign up to win a copy of "Way of the Shadows" by Brent Weeks and "Agent to the Stars" by John Scalzi.