Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Baby Snuggie

Doesn't this look like some kind of strange alien contraption? I feel like this belongs on Star Trek or in some future civilization where people have space nurseries and time warps. If everyone started to walk around with their kids in these wouldn't it be a little odd? My vote is to beam them back to wherever it came from. [Hat tip Nerdlike.com]

Winner! Signed Copy of "The Mystery of Grace" by Charles de Lint

I have randomly picked a winner to receive a signed copy of "The Mystery of Grace" by Charles de Lint and the winner is.. Dawn M. Congrats Dawn! Thanks everyone for entering. I'll be sure to get some new contests up for you soon...

R.I.P Andy Hallett

I hate to hear when someone so young passes... From the Entertainment Weekly Actor and musician Andy Hallett died on Sunday night at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles. He was 33 and had endured a five-year battle with congestive heart disease. Hallett was best known as Lorne, the friendly demon who reads people when they open up at the karaoke mic, on the TV series Angel. It was a role that show creator Joss Whedon wrote specifically for Hallett, after Whedon saw the entertainer performing the blues at a Los Angeles nightclub. In 2004, just as Angel's run was ending, Hallett saw a doctor after suffering debilitating fatigue and learned that he had the degenerative disease. Too tired to take on acting work, he shifted back to singing occasionally around town and attending fan conventions when he could. He is survived by his father, Dave Hallett, who was at his bedside and will hold the funeral near his home in Cape Cod, Mass. Rest in peace Andy. We'll miss you.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Book Review: Midwinter by Matthew Sturges

"It's the trees," said Honeywell. "They're talking." "Are you serious?" said Satterly, a wide grin appearing on his face. "Yes," said Mauritane, "but don't talk to them." Satterly slowed his horse to a walk and peered at some branches that hung over the road. "Hello," said the tree. "Isn't a nice day?" "It is a nice day, isn't it?" said Satterly. "What's your name?" He felt Mauritane's hand on his wrist. "Didn't I just say not to speak to the trees?" "Yes, but they're...trees. What's the problem?" Mauritane sighed. "You'll see." "My name is Tree!" said the tree. "Isn't that a nice name? Isn't the sun pretty?" "Good morning!" said another tree. "So nice to see you?" "Have a wonderful day!" the first tree said, waving a branch. "Lovely to meet you!" "The air is fantastic this morning," observed a third. Other trees joined in, wishing Satterly well, offering kinds words of support, inquiring after his family. Soon the entire forest was a cacophony of arboreal babbling and branch fluttering, loud enough to drown out any conversation the travelers might have had. Their one-sided conversations followed the six riders the full length of the forest, their volume never decreasing until the pines and spruce gave way to more rocks and the voices faded into the wind. "See you another time!" offered a fir on the tree line. "It was so nice to meet you!" "I am so sorry," muttered Satterly once they were out of range. "You should be sorry," said Mauritane. "When I give an order, you follow it. The next time you blithely disregard a direct order from me, I'll drag you the rest of the way to the City Emerald. Are we clear?" "Yes," said Satterly. "Understood. I just...I mean, they're talking trees!" "I loath talking trees," said Silverdun. "I absolutely loath them. I should call you out for doing that." He scowled at Satterly and road ahead. ~Excerpt from Midwinter by Matthew Sturges Once a war hero, Mauritaine is now a prisoner in Crere Sulace prison serving a life term for treason. But the Queen of the Seelie Fae, Regina Titiana, has offered Mauritaine a second chance at freedom if he will undertake a mysterious and deadly mission. Facing limited options, Mauritaine must choose the companions for his quest from a group of prisoners, one of whom might be a spy for Mab, the Unseelie Queen. Midwinter is set in a land that brushes up against other dimensions, including the modern human world, pulling fae and humans alike into its mysterious path. Mauritaine and his band follow a convoluted route through the story as they encounter refugees from the human world and those who would thwart their mission. Midwinter was a very strange book for me because it has so much going on, so many good ideas, but it never fully takes off. Midwinter is the debut novel of Matthew Sturges, a comic book writer, and I can't help but wonder if his writing style is reflective of his background since comic books (or graphic novels depending on your preferred term *Sturges' bio says comic book writer*) rely on imagery to tell the story as much as the writing and Midwinter is sparse on details. The book starts off great. The set up is everything you could want from a fantasy novel. The characters seem really interesting, the setting intriguing and the magic system shows promise. But once you get about one third of the way through the book you realize that what you're reading is a fairly well developed outline, but not a fully fleshed-out story. And that's such a shame because the story has so much going for it-- it just begs for further exploration. There are a lot of layers to Midwinter and a lot of good characters that are never fully given the opportunity to shine. Mauritane is, on the surface, a charismatic leading character, but he remains somewhat two-dimensional. We get a decent amount of history on his character but not a lot of personality is demonstrated. Other characters, like Satterly, who comes from our world through a dimensional portal, are given personality but very little background. Characters that are introduced as villains are very interesting to begin with but come to abrupt ends that make their story lines seem superfluous. Additionally, the magic system is never explained and it's frustrating beyond belief. Characters are said to have gifts, such as Leadership or Elements, but the details of how the gifts work are not developed. In the end Midwinter is kind of maddening because so much of the book is really good. As I started reading the book I thought, this book reminds me why I like fantasy in the first place, and if the book had kept the excellence it displayed in the first third, I would say it was the best book I've read this year. As it is, I have to say it's the book with the most unrealized potential I have ever read. Yet, I am still totally willing to give the sequel Sturges is currently writing to Midwinter because, given the right kind of attention, the series could be really great. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

And Now...For Something Completely Different

I don't tend to be a non-fiction reading kind of gal. I like my reading to be on the fun side. But every now and then a book pops up that looks interesting to me and I'll take a detour from my normal frothy TBR pile. The book that caught my attention this time is The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism is Seducing America by Drew Pinsky and S. Mark Young.

This one seemed intriguing to me for a variety of reason, though the main one is because my husband is kind of a 'reality' show junkie. He claims to like them because they are a form of brain candy that allows him to tune out from everyday stressors. I get that, I really do. But I find the current 'reality tv' trends to be very disturbing. I worked on one of the earliest 'reality tv' shows back in the mid-90's and our brand of 'reality' was much different than it is today. Now, the shows can't really claim to be 'reality' at all since the situations are so fabricated that the real world has very little to do with anything.

Drew Pinsky's book ties into the 'reality' show phenomenon because it examines the relationship between celebrity culture, one that is populated with increasingly narcissistic people, and a public that aspires to the same kind of fame through competing on 'reality' shows, blogging very personal content and uploading images of themselves on YouTube, or sadly, YouPorn. I didn't expect this book to relate to myself personally because I don't tend to like to draw a lot of attention to myself and I am not someone who enjoys being the center of attention. But you don't have to be a extrovert to have some relationship to the fame-seeking culture we currently live in. Every time we have a snarky comment for a celebrity train wreck like Anna Nicole Smith or Amy Winehouse, we unwittingly play into a cycle of cultural narcissism that is increasingly unhealthy for all of us.

Back in the day of the old studio system in Hollywood, actors and actresses had carefully cultivated images and very little of their personal life was put on display. Movie audiences didn't know Rock Hudson was gay or that Judy Garland was a drug addict during most of their careers because the studios had very strict guidelines for their stars--anyone who was 'caught' in less than seemly off-screen behavior usually saw their careers dry up. But it doesn't seem there is any bad behavior anymore. Celebrity sex-tapes and diva tantrums are commonplace and frequently excused. Celebrities who are arrested for drunk driving or drug possession usually go to rehab and then resume their careers will no ill effects. Sometimes the more notorious the bad behavior the hotter the career. With the explosion of 'reality' tv and sites like YouTube, everyday people are now striving for the same kind of fame as their favorite stars and often mimic the worst celebrity behavior to get the attention they crave. When pseudo celebrities like Kim Kardashian are launched into the public consciousness through a sex tape, it passes on a message to impressionable teenagers that one only has to be outrageous to be achieve wealth and fame and guys like Joe Francis, the creator of "Girls Gone Wild," swoop in to take advantage of their youth and need for attention.

The book resonated with me because, as a blogger who often writes about celebrities, I fall into the trap sometimes of trying to be funny by writing an unflattering remark about a goofy celebrity-- in my case it's usually Paris Hilton. But Dr. Drew makes the case that the cycle of building someone up [though I can honestly say that I have never, ever built up Paris Hilton in any way] only to tear them down is a great contributor to the Mirror Effect and is usually a function of envy. It makes you think.

It would be easy to dismiss Dr. Drew as someone who doesn't really have the right to lecture any of us on this topic since he has his own set of reality shows in "Celebrity Rehab" and "Sober House." But he does have an interesting argument in that his shows provide context in a way that other similar shows do not. He doesn't put his celebrities into deliberately stressful situations in order to create drama. He shows them as real people who have real emotions and real problems. He gives them a history and often includes background information that explains how they ended up as addicts and why they act out so publicly. He allows them to be humanized which is important in that it offsets the tendency to see celebrities as caricatures. I found the book to be both interesting and informative.

As a parent I think the phenomenon of the Mirror Effect is something we should all be aware of. There is very little chance we are going to be able to completely shield our kids from the antics of their favorite celebrities. As a mom of a "tween" girl it's awkward to explain why Miley Cyrus chooses to take pictures of herself in increasingly revealing poses but at least now I have some context to put it into and an additional way to explain to my daughter why that is not behavior she wants to emulate. Additionally the book is entertaining and easy to read-- I finished it in just a day-- and it has a lot of thought provoking information that will definitely have an influence on how I write about celebrity culture going forward.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Winner! Coyote Horizon by Allen Steele

I have randomly picked a winner for the **"Coyote Horizon" by Allen Steele** contest and the winner is: Carol's Notebook. Congrats! Thanks to everyone who entered.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Giveaway! The Flaxen Femme Fatale and Ballistic Babes by John Zakour and Lawrence Ganem

I soooooo want to keep these. You don't even know. But I am literally buried under a review schedule and these will languish on the shelf, unloved. And they don't deserve that. So courtesy of Penguin Books I have two awesome books to pass on to one lucky winner. The Flaxen Femme Fatale by John Zakour The last freelance P.I. on earth, Zach Johnson has been hired to track down a young beauty who happens to be a deadly secret weapon for the World Council. Figuring girls just want to have fun, he follows Natasha to various vacation destinations, but she eludes him, leaving a trail of destruction in her wake. Zach, however, isn’t surprised to discover that things aren’t what they seem, and to save the world, he’s going to have to find a way to team up with the woman he’s supposed to destroy... and Ballistic Babes by John Zakour and Lawrence Ganem two beauties. One volume. An omnibus edition of The Radioactive Redhead and The Frost-Haired Vixen Double your pleasure, double the laughs with this omnibus edition featuring Zachary Nixon Johnson, the last freelance P.I. on Earth. It’s 2057, and Zach is partnered with an experimental A.I. named HARV . In what is both an homage to and a parody of the great heyday of pulp fiction, they solve cases involving androids, future tech wizards, and of course, the occasional nuclear-powered, genocidal fembot. To enter, either leave a comment here or email me at sqt1969(at)gmail(dot)com under the header "Babes" and I will randomly pick a winner by Thurdsay April 16th. Please be sure I can reach you easily. If I cannot reach a winner within 48 hours I will pass the book onto another entrant. Multiple entries will be disqualified. Open everywhere. Good luck!

Yo Comments Are Whack!

Because you know you have seen it on YouTube and hoping it doesn't spread like gangrene

Giveaway! Corambis by Sarah Monette

I am on a review schedule right now and what that means for me is that I'm tight on time and unable to spend time writing posts for the blog. What that means for you is a giveaway! Penguin Books has sent me another highly anticipated release in Corambis, the conclusion to Sarah Monette's highly original fantasy series. Product Description The spellbinding conclusion to the brilliant fantasy series by the author of The Mirador and Mélusine. Exiled from Mélusine for the crime of heresy, the once powerful Cabaline wizard Felix Harrowgate and his half-brother Mildmay, former cat-burglar and assassin, journey to Corambis to face judgment from a ruling body of wizards. Corambis, however, is a land plagued by civil strife. Kay Brightmore, the Margrave of Rothmarlin, is part of an insurrection to restore the monarchy in the southern half of the country. In desperation, Kay and his rebels seek out the engine of Summerdown, an ancient magical device rumored to have terrible powers. Once the engine is awakened, only a powerful wizard can stop its awesome potential for destruction. Felix and Mildmay arrive just in time for their greatest challenge—and ultimate destiny… Either leave a comment here or email me at sqt1969(at)gmail(dot)com under the header "Corambis" to enter. I will randomly pick a winner by Thursday April 9th. Make sure I can reach you easily. If I cannot reach a winner within 48 hours I will pass the book onto another entrant. Multiple entries will be disqualified. Open everywhere. Good luck!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Giveaway! Prophets by S. Andrew Swann

I just clicked onto one of my favorite websites and saw a review for Prophets by S. Andrew Swann and remembered that I just got an extra copy of this book (via Penguin-- thanks as always) and after reading the high praise SF Signal gave the book, I knew I had to pass it on. Product Description: It’s been nearly 200 years since the collapse of the Confederacy, the last government to claim humanity’s colonies. So when signals come in revealing lost human colonies that could shift the power balance, the race is on between the Caliphate ships and a small team of scientists and mercenaries. But what awaits them all is a threat far beyond the scope of any human government. The rules are the same as usual. If this sounds good to you then leave a comment here or email me at sqt1969(at)gmail(dot)com under the header "Prophets" to enter and I will randomly pick a winner by Tuesday April 7th. Please make sure I can reach you easily. If I can't reach a winner within 48 hours I will pass the book onto another entrant. Multiple entries will be disqualified. Open everywhere. Good luck!

Winner! Truancy Origins by Isamu Fukui

I have randomly picked a winner for my "Truancy Origins" contest and the winner is -- Paula (via email) Congrats Paula! Thanks to everyone who entered.

So a quick survey?

It is probably a stupid question to ask, but indulge me. I have been running “The Artist Corner” for two months or somewhere around that time and though I have had tremendous fun with it, I want to know whether you, the readers, get a kick out of it all. Being a busy individual myself I don’t have the time, fortitude and nimble fingers to comment on every post, every blog and so on. This can be applied to the majority of bloggers, but it also leaves those, who write and post on blogs a bit clueless, whether their material is received well or whether it is boring like watching paint dry. So the question stands:
Do you enjoy having a weekly feature interview about art? ~and~ Would like it to continue?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Saying Goodbye to the Best Frakkin' Show on TV

When I was a kid I used to watch a TV show called "Battlestar Galactica." I don't remember exactly how old I was when I first got hooked on the show since I caught it in repeats on Saturday mornings in which it aired back-to-back with "Buck Rodgers." If you had asked me back then I would have told you that I preferred "Buck Rodgers" because the bright colored spandex and featured guest stars (I do remember Gary Coleman making an appearance) appealed to my adolescent tastes. If you asked me as an adult I would have probably told you that "Battlestar" was the better show but I wouldn't have called it exceptional. That is, until Ronald Moore and David Eick got their creative mitts on it. I have mixed feelings about remakes. Some ideas deserve a second chance but how do you put your finger on what ideas should have been let go after the first attempt? It wouldn't have occurred to me to take a show like "Battlestar Galactica" and attempt to re-imagine it, and yet, it worked. Very well. In 2003 the Sci-Fi Channel aired the first "Battlestar Galactica" mini-series and like so many people I was completely blown away. I had some reservations (Starbuck-- a girl?) while other modern adaptations (the Cylons look human now?) seemed really right somehow. "Battlestar Galactica" defied stereotypes I had about series television. The cast alone, including Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnel was incredible and newcomers Katee Sackhoff and Tricia Helfer have certainly seen their careers spring-boarded onto a whole new level-- deservedly so. The show was also a lot darker than anything I had ever seen before on television, both in mood and setting; which makes sense because we are talking about the virtual annihilation of the human race. For those who haven't seen the show and wonder what all the fuss is about I can only give you my personal perspective. The show wasn't perfect but it was certainly above average from a storytelling and character perspective. Even the special effects were pretty darned impressive for television. But as I sit here writing this, trying to figure out what I would want people to know about this show, I don't find myself going back to just the storyline or the special effects. I find myself going back to the characters. As Ronald Moore said in "The Last Frakking Special," it's the characters stupid. The new BSG was divided along two groups, humanity and the Cylons, and the struggle among the two groups for survival. The original show featured self-aware machines but still needed a human character on the Cylon's side so we could relate. The new show went to another level by having the Cylons evolve into cyborgs that are virtually indistinguishable from humanity and that ends up central to both the show's conflicts and its resolution. Humanity is reduced to a very small fraction of survivors that have to get along in order to live until they find Earth and that struggle is often less than heroic. The Cylons appear to bent on fully destroying the human race but like many things, that agenda evolves as the Cylons realize that they may need the human race for their own survival. Despite the scope of the story, the show still rests on the shoulders of the characters, not any kind of battle scenes or special effects. From Cylons like the seductive Caprica Six and the conflicted Sharon Valerii, to Starbuck, Apollo, Admiral Adama and Laura Roslin... the progress of the show is through their stories. Through the twist and turns over the show's 4 season run I have both loved and hated the show because that's the kind of emotions the writing evokes. A lot of emotion came from simply not knowing where the show was going, and further, not knowing if the writers knew where the show was going. But through it all, I hung in because the show still managed to find something special in all the confusion. Episodes like Scar take us off on a side-trip in the surreal as we learn that the Cylon raiders have a consciousness all their own and a desire to destroy. Fragged illustrates how easy the chain of command can fall and how it can have disastrous consequences for all-- while the Resurrection Ship episodes show how such extreme pressure on a commander can break ones psyche entirely. Whether you felt each episode kept up a certain level of quality or not, you had to appreciate that the show continued to bring something special each week and it was with that feeling in mind that I sat down to watch the finale last Friday. Saying goodbye is hard when you've enjoyed something as much as I have enjoyed BSG. The story arcs of characters like Kara Thrace, Caprica Six, and Gaius Baltar have been surprising and full of far more depth than I could have originally imagined. Plot devices that I thought I wouldn't like, such as Ellen Tigh being the final Cylon, brought more satisfaction than I could ever have expected. But the shows' creators said the show had to end and they promised "all would be revealed." Was it? Well, sort of. The end of BSG was in many ways as much of an enigma as the all the story lines that twisted their way through the series. The first half of the finale was as gritty, dark and violent as the rest of the last season and then it segues into a dreamy, pastoral setting that seems as disjointed as it does peaceful. Characters that had been clustered together in confined spaces aboard a Battlestar suddenly find themselves with a world to spread out in and they choose isolation rather than civilization and it seems...odd. It's also hard to qualify some elements of the last show because of the mystical elements that have been brought in. Do we view the climax as fate or as a deus ex machina shortcut? It all depends on personal perspective I suppose. The only thing I know for sure is that it is with a bittersweet feeling that I bid farewell to my favorite show. It's not a final goodbye since there is at least one BSG movie set to air (from the Cylon's p.o.v) but the umbilical has been cut and I have to let go; no matter how much I don't want to. So...goodbye my dark, demented friend. I'll miss you.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Reminder...

BSG finale airs tonight. I will definitely have a follow-up post for this....

Winner! Deathwish by Rob Thurman

I have randomly picked someone to be the lucky recipient of a copy of "Deathwish" by Rob Thurman and the winner is: Bridget3420 Congrats Bridget! Thanks to everyone who entered.

Artist Corner: Maeva

Posted by Harry Markov

This weeks "Artist Corner" proudly presents another French artist, who draws inspiration from and expresses herself with the widely popular anime manga genre. I was left spellbound by her traditional pieces and intrigued by her digital work, so I had to take her interview as soon as possible. So here goes; here is Maeva... *cheers* Harry Markov: Hello and welcome to my virtual chair. I hope you have a good time. So once again thank you for accepting my invitation. I don’t recall talking to a manga and comic book artist before, so it is a pleasure, but before we go explore the world of art, let’s start with the mandatory ice breaker. What was your first encounter with art for you to make the decision to become an artist? Maeva: I don’t recall I ever asked the question myself. I came to it naturally. When I was young, I watched cartoons on tv, and I reproduced all I saw there. I’ve always loved it and the desire to make a living of it came to me very early. HM: Will you be as kind as to share a bit about yourself? Who is Maevachan and what meaning does this handle carry, when you created your DA profile? M: For the pseudo (maevachan), my first account on DA was composed of my first and my last name, but I don’t liked to use my last name and I always sign my drawings with my first name. “Maeva” was already used by someone else, and at the time, a friend of mine used to call me “Maeva-chan” all the time, and so I chose to use it as my pseudo. HM: I rummaged through your website and found out that you have managed to publish two volumes of original comic book material in your country France. Can you tell about your comic book? M: These are one-shots. The first one “Les Elfes de Miloria” was published in 2007, and the second one “Fleurs de fées” will be out in april 2nd of this very year. Both stories were written by my friend Ylric. I did the drawings and the color of the first comic and the drawings only for the second one (lack of time, I have a part time job in the same time ). I know I still have a bunch of things to practice on my artworks, a ton of things to learn but I’m so glad I was able to publish these 2 stories. HM: Even though you have two publications I have to wonder how art fits in your life. Do you have a day job or manage as a freelance artist and independent comic book artist? M: I can’t live correctly with my art and comic so yes, I have a part time job too. Being a freelance artist is a wonderful experience but sometimes it can be really hard. You always have to work on future comic projects and find a publisher who have faith in your work. So when you have no comic contract for some months, you need to have another job that pays your bills! HM: Who are the artists that shaped your work and made your artwork what it is today? M: A lot of japanese illustrators like Nobuteru Yuki (Lodoss, Escaflowne …) and Inomata Mutsumi (she is working on some design on the “Tales of” game serie) when I was younger. Now my personal art goddess is Ayami Kojima ~ She is the character designer of the “Castlevania” games published by Konami. I just love her style, gothic, horrific, bloody and graceful in the same time. She is doing lots of illustrations for various magazines too. I also like Eiichiro Oda who draw One piece, for the way he puts his comic on page, it’s so creative and dynamic, a real genius. Well… There are plenty of authors I like, and a long list would be painful to write ^^ HM: It is completely obvious to me that there is a strong Japanese influenced vibe in what you do. How did it happen? How were you hooked to try this direction in art and adopt it as your own? M: I never asked myself the question. As I already said it earlier, when I was a child, I spent a lot time watching japanese anime on my tv. We had a really popular tv show in France at the time and I discovered a ton of different cartoons. I was so happy to make fanarts, creating my own characters and all. I found in this “japanese style” a way to feel and express myself I never found in another style. For the rest, you draw again and again and again, you practice a lot, you learn new things, you find new authors you really like and finally, after many years, you come to develop your own personal artstyle. It’s all about hard work and passion ! HM: This may be a trade secret, but I will ask nonetheless. To me manga and anime look easy enough to be used to practice as a rookie artist. Of course the simplest things sometimes are hardest. What is the one thing a person should know about manga and anime art? M: Well… Manga may look simpler than other styles, but as with every style, you have to work hard on it, understanding proportions, etc… I never chose this style for its so-called “simplicity”. Well, the only advice I can give is : WORK HARD !!! ; ) HM: The only connection between all the artists I interview is their love for the fantastical and magical. What is fantasy for you and with what did it attract you? M: Fantasy for me is related to all the magical creatures, of course. And if I had to pick the creatures I like most, it would be vampires. I love dark atmosphere, horny characters and organic deformations when I can add them on my artworks… and melancholy. I’m really emotional, maybe a bit tortured too in my poor little head, and these kind of dark subjects are those I really like to work on. I also like Elves, because they are graceful creatures. And Dragons. God, I love them but strangely, it’s rare for me to draw them. I know I need to practice a lot with those creatures. HM: Where do you search for ideas for new projects? For that matter what other art forms inspire your work: literature, music, dance, etc? M: Music first. I can’t draw without music. It helps me concentrate and have a special “feeling” with the picture I’m drawing or painting. I’m usually listening original soundtracks from movies, video games and anime. I also like to watch a lot of movies. I think they help me to understand how to create a good composition on my artworks in general and more specifically, on my comic books. HM: After seeing your gallery I come to the conclusion that you jump from digital to traditional art for different projects. Which one is easier to do? M: I like both and my skills are totally different depending on what materials I use. I think I will answer watercolors because I’ve been practicing it for many years now and it’s the best way to put my feelings in my pictures. I’m not sure I’m really clear here, but I always try to infuse each and every artwork I draw with a special feeling, and it seems people feel this best when I use my watercolors. HM: In the same line of thought countless people have argued which one is better, digital or traditional. What do you think? Is either of them superior? M: I think it’s pointless fighting about which is better, the only good way to color is the way you like. Personally I’m a watercolor artist from the start. I wasn’t very attracted by painting digital pictures. But finally I tried and I found a lot of nice ways to color my art with my computer. Now I’m really happy because I’m able to work with 2 different methods. HM: You are a part of a comic book team and are in charge of art. How does it feel to be working in a team and having to take into account the opinions of others? How does the writer, colorist, artist and all the other work together? Can you share some experience? M: Well first you need to know that Ylric (the writter of my comic’s stories) is a good and old friend of mine. We like the same things (anime, games etc…) so we have many references in common. It was simple to work together on our comic project. He is the one who starts the project, he thinks about a world, a plot, about the characters too and he lets me know. If I have some ideas I tell him. After, he has to work on the main story, and to put all of this in 46 pages (European comic format). I can work on the pages only when he is done with them (and when the publisher agrees, of course). For “Fleur de fées”, I had to work with a colorist too, so, fist, I explained to her how I saw the colors on my pages. I tried to let her do her job as freely as possible. I gave her indications and tones I wanted her to put here and there but if she had a better idea, I was totally opened to what she had to say. I think it was a great experience for both of us. In the end, my art and her colors worked really well together ! HM: To continue my thoughts, I am curious about forming the sheets and boxes in a page. To a reader putting a story in drawn boxes is the easiest thing in the world. I once thought so too, but you have had experience with it. What’s the science behind successful portrayal of the story in boxes? M: I’m not sure. I never thought it was hard to do. I mean, when I read Ylric’s stories, I see each case in my head and the way I will draw them. Maybe it’s because I’m reading a lot of manga but the construction of a page comes naturally to me. And thanks to Ylric, I’m free to build the pages the way I want. He only tells me what’s inside each page (+ dialogues) and after, the organization is all mine. The main thing is that you need to cut your sequences and images in a logical way and make good transitions between them, so the reader won’t be lost. HM: I also have to wonder what your current projects are. What can we expect? M: I hope I will be able to work on a new comic project soon and I would love to publish an artbook too (to tell you the truth, I have more the spirit of an illustrator than a comic artist). I would love to work as a video games designer too but, let’s face it, this part is going to be the most difficult to accomplish! Thank you. And with these final hopeful words another installment of "Artist Corner" ends. Stay tuned for next edition...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Book Review: The Shadow Queen by Anne Bishop

“Why am I doing this?” Saetan Daemon SaDiablo, the former Warlord Prince of Dhemlan, glanced at Daemon Sadi, the current Warlord Prince of Dhemlan, and swallowed the urge to laugh. That tone of voice was more suited to a surly adolescent than a strong adult male in his prime, and being Hayllian, one of the long-lived races, Daemon had left adolescence behind several centuries ago. But he’d noticed that there were times when Daemon and his brother, Lucivar Yaslana, set adulthood--and a good portion of their brains--aside and were just… boys.


 They seemed to test the emotional waters of adolescence when they were alone with him. Maybe it was because he’d been denied the privilege of raising them and the three of them hadn’t gone through the pissing contests they would have all endured if they’d lived with him. Maybe it was because they’d had to grow up too hard and too fast in order to survive the vicious slavery that had been used to control them. At least, that had attempted to control them. The slavery, the pain, the fear, and the cruelty had turned two young men, two Warlord Princes who were natural predators, into lethally honed weapons. They were intelligent and vicious. Loyal and loving. Powerful and independent. Fiercely protective of those they loved to a sometimes annoying degree. They were his sons, and he loved them both. But the one standing at the other end of the table, looking at him through long black eyelashes, was his mirror, his true heir. And since he was, among other things, the High Lord of Hell, the fact that Daemon was a mirror was something he never forgot. 
~Excerpt from The Shadow Queen by Anne Bishop

 Several years ago I picked up the first book in the "Black Jewels" trilogy by Anne Bishop and was totally drawn into the vivid world she created. Using the mystique of slightly-tweaked biblical names like Saetan and Luciver and setting much of her story in a 'demon-dead' realm known as Hell, Bishop successfully blends pieces of Christian religion with her own highly imaginative, magical creation.

Witches and Warlords are the Blood of the realm of Terreille. Queens are the highest ranking women of the realms, being born into the role and surrounded by a court of Warlord Princes who uphold the power and honor of the Queen through the use of protocol- and brute force if necessary. The Blood of the realms are a caste-based society ranked by birthright and the power of the jewels that are endowed to each member and are a visible display of personal power; the darker the jewel the more powerful the person. The original series is built around the character of Jaenelle Angelline, the most powerful Queen ever born, known as the epitome of Witch, and Dreams Made Flesh.

 Bishop established herself as a pretty successful writer in the fantasy world with her romantically Gothic series had fans eagerly snapping up each book that appeared in the world of the Black Jewels trilogy even if the original characters were not featured. Unfortunately the last book, Tangled Webs was a weak addition and I approached "The Shadow Queen" with some restraint.

 "The Shadow Queen" takes place not long after the conclusion of the original series. The realms have been decimated by a blast of power released by Jeanelle to cleanse the land of the tainted Blood that had brutalized the realms. Dena Nehele was once a proud land ruled by the "Gray Lady," one of the few Queens who respected the old ways. Theran Grayhaven is the last of his line and in desperation he seeks help from Daemon SaDiablo in order to find a Queen to rule the realm and restore the land. Lady Cassidy is a low ranking Queen who, despite her light jewels, knows the rules of protocol and has what it takes to restore Dena Nehele, but isn't well received by Theran because she lacks the beauty and presence he thinks is required of a 'proper' Queen. Cassidy does find an unexpected ally in Theran's cousin Gray, but since he had been mentally and physically damaged by the former rulers who terrorized the realm, it's uncertain whether or not Gray can help Cassidy succeed.

 Fans of The Black Jewels trilogy will be happy to learn that "The Shadow Queen" also heavily features Jaenelle, Daemon and Saetan as part of the overall story. "The Shadow Queen" is in many respects the best book set in the world of the Black Jewels since the original series, though it does fall far short of the original standard. It doesn't have anything approaching the tension and conflict of the earlier books-- yet it does have it's charm. "The Shadow Queen" is really about the power of inner beauty and strength. Because the book is basically a romantic fantasy the emotional content of the book can seem over-the-top at times, with the Warlords rising to "the killing edge" often and with very little provocation. The interactions between Jaenelle, Daemon and Saetan can sometimes seem overly-precious and unrealistic as well.

The book has its flaws for sure. The overlap between the main story and those of Jaenelle and Daemon can seem disjointed and lack polish, but overall-- the book is still charming-- for lack of a better word. It's not the first book to pick up if the premise sounds interesting as the jewel and caste rankings will seem incredibly confusing. But if you're a fan of the series you will very likely enjoy this trip back into Bishop's world.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I'm borrowing from SF Signal again but I just couldn't help myself...

Monday, March 16, 2009

Giveaway! SIGNED Copy of The Mystery of Grace by Charles de Lint

It isn't often that I have the chance to offer such a great giveaway, but thanks to Tor Books I have one SIGNED copy of The Mystery of Grace by Charles de Lint to give to one lucky winner. On the Day of the Dead, the Solona Music Hall is jumping. That's where Altagracia Quintero meets John Burns, just two weeks too late. Altagracia – her friends call her Grace – has a tattoo of Nuestra Señora de Altagracia on her shoulder, she's got a Ford Motor Company tattoo running down her leg, and she has grease worked so deep into her hands that it'll never wash out. Grace works at Sanchez Motorworks, customizing hot rods. Finding the line in a classic car is her calling. Now Grace has to find the line in her own life. A few blocks around the Alverson Arms is all her world -- from the little grocery store where she buys beans, tamales, and cigarettes (“cigarettes can kill you,” they tell her, but she smokes them anyway) to the record shop, to the library where Henry, a black man confined to a wheelchair, researches the mystery of life in death – but she’s got unfinished business keeping her close to home. Grace loves John, and John loves her, and that would be wonderful, except that John, like Grace, has unfinished business – he’s haunted by the childhood death of his younger brother. He's never stopped feeling responsible. Like Grace in her way, John is an artist, and before their relationship can find its resolution, the two of them will have to teach each other about life and love, about hot rods and Elvis Presley, and about why it's necessary to let some things go. Reviews at Graeme's Fantasy Book Review, Green Man Reviews, & SF Reviews (After reading these, you'll want a copy. I know I do) The rules are the same as always. Either leave a comment here or email me at sqt1969(at)gmail(dot)com under the header "Mystery" to enter and I will randomly pick a winner by Tuesday March 30th. Be sure I can reach you easily. If I cannot reach the winner within 48 hours I will pass the book onto another entrant. Multiple entries will be disqualified. Open in the Continental U.S. only (Sorry!). Good luck!

"The Lords of the Sands of Time" by Issui Ogawa

Posted by Harry Markov

Title: The Lords of the Sands of Time Author: Issui Ogawa Genre: Science Fiction Pages: 203 Publisher: Haikasoru Summary:

Sixty-two years after human life on earth was annihilated by rampaging aliens, the enigmatic cyborg Messenger O is sent back in time with the mission to unite the humanity of past eras—during World War II and in ancient Japan, even back at the dawn of humanity—in order to defeat the alien invasion before it begins. But amidst a future shredded by war, love also waits for O. Will O save humanity only to doom himself?
Classification & Literary Class: This is the second Japanese sci-fi title I had the pleasure to receive and review for the July launch of the new VIZ Media imprint “Haikasoru”. As I stated in my review of “All You Need is Kill” sci-fi in Japanese culture is something beyond the usual understanding of it and the way it is shaped and presented. Some of the characteristics such as density and concentration of content and heavy packed internals resurface, but in “The Lords of the Sands of Time” there is more action, more dialogue, more military strategy and action, plus the trademark dramatic tension. Though similar to “All You Need is Kill” in its exploration of time, “The Lords of the Sands of Time” explores another spectrum of time: time travel and the alternative timeline theory. For me it was interesting to explore the alternative Earth’s survival strategy and the irony in the whole enterprise that the human saviors are in fact pretty darn good composed androids [AI]. Time is the most speculated and mysterious element in the universe and everyone is free to interpret and label it as they will. In “The Lords of the Sands of Time” author Issui Ogawa takes the reader on a journey through too many time lines, too many alternative Earths too different from our own, until there is no going back from. Characters & Depth: Considering the length, it would be surprising to encounter more than three or four fairly well developed characters. Yet every name you will read on these pages can easily be attached to a real person. Though Spartan in the storytelling mechanics and scenes, “The Lords of the Sands of Time” manages to create three dimensional characters or so at least I perceive them as. From the protagonist Orville to the secondary characters like Alexander. Intriguing to read about was Orville’s growth and development, considering the fact that he is not a human, though he is engineered as a replica of the species, yet he fights for this race without any reason to feel burdened apart from the purpose of his creation. In a sense this is a modern Pinocchio, who discovers what it means to be human and for the audience it is the rediscovery of our purpose. But I won’t delve deep into the psychological implications of such a character and the intent of the author. There is a lot of ingenuity behind the storytelling technique. The novel itself develops through two main storylines. Orville’s desperate attempts to stop the world’s destruction in Ancient Japan and his journey from the future down through time line to time line, losing battle after battle. There are constant jump from age to age, from state of mind to state of mind, yet all feels right and organic. Through this complexity Ogawa builds an almost invisible love triangle between Orville, the shaman queen in Japan Himiko, who shares his bed and Sayaka, the woman to teach him love and the idea of humanity, who remains as a connection to the world he left and won’t return to ever again. Since this occurs mostly in Orville’s heart, being torn like this between past and present, I can say it is at least a subtle triangle. Worldbuilding & Believability: In this category two major elements play hard to grab the attention and claim Issui Ogawa mastery over the genre. First one is the sci-fi credibility and the mechanics behind the technology and the story behind the invasion. Second one is actual historical authenticity with known facts about the ages Orville has been to. On both accounts “The Lords of the Sands of Time” offers entertainment for those, who value worldbuilding. As a person, who loves being shown how the impossible in our world would function with iron logic in another world, I had a kick out of the sci-fi elements. Starting with the back story of the survival from the invasion and then moving down to the specifics such as the blueprints of the Messengers and the theory behind time travel, I literally got transported in a world all together. Time travel is an interesting enough hook to read a novel, but waging wars across different time fragments and applying strategy to something so changeable and fickle is a whole new level for me. History wise, though my opinion is of no consequence, since I am not particularly fond of the subject, I feel that Ogawa did a formidable job portraying human society before the first invasion, during World War ІІ and in Ancient Japan and Egypt. The Verdict: Despite the cultural differences, which caused me some strange moments to adapt and get used to the methods, I had a fun time with “The Lords of the Sands of Time”. There is not much I wouldn’t give a shot and from the author’s side everything has been tweaked to perfection. Within the pages, there is some small bit of universal truth about the world of man and his mentality.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Links

I have been so lax on my blog lately. Thank God for Harry and his awesome "Artist Corner" every Friday-- it helps to class up the place. I'm lucky in that I have a good reason for being too busy to blog. I've been doing reviews for The Sacramento Book Review. It's not a paying job (shucks) but it's cool to get my name in writing. It might lend me credibility someday. But I'm on a book reading schedule now and I have to be disciplined-- not something I'm good at-- and read newer releases and write very brief reviews (brevity is hard). It's a new world for me and I haven't even been very good about getting the reviews up here because I want to expand on them. But then I get distracted by the new book I have to read and I'm behind again. I'm working on getting organized. Lists and stuff. So... Anyway. While I work on getting my act together, I thought I put up some links (something else I have been terrible about doing). I'm hoping to dazzle you with all the free stuff. Let me know if it works. Chris Howard has a FREE download of his very well reviewed book Seaborn. Download it while you can. Graeme's Fantasy Review has Escape From Hell by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven (U.S. entries only) and The Stone Dance of the Chameleon Trilogy by Ricardo Pinto (Everywhere). Fantasy Book Critic has This is Not a Game by Walter Jon Williams; Blood and Ice by Robert Masello; The Mystery of Grace by Charles de Lint; The Stone Dance of the Cameleon Trilogy by Ricardo Pinto; The Accord by Keith Brooke; and Amberville by Tim Davys. The Book Swede has a copy of The Siege of Krishnapur by J. G. Farrell (Open Everywhere). Grasping for the Wind has a copy of The Mad Scientist Hall of Fame, Muwahahahaha by Daniel Wilson for giveaway. Pat's Fantasy Hotlist has Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry; and The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan. SciFi Chick has Dresden Files; Welcome to the Jungle by Jim Butcher; Angel's Blood by Nalini Singh; and Darkhaven by Gail Z. Martin. That's all I have for now but I will update if I get any new links to add. **Quick note** Someone did email me with a giveaway and I can't find the email for anything. I have scoured my inbox and trash and cannot find it anywhere! If you sent it to me and still want me to link up here, let me know. I apologise for losing the original message.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Artist Corner: Lea Johnson

Posted by Harry Markov

Another week goes and it is Friday once again. Which means only one thing... [drumm roll] another fantastic edition of Artist Corner. This week the art gods have been generous and sent me a talkative energetic artist. If you ever wanted to tie up an artist and make them spill their guts on the table, Lea Johnson will do that with an ease and a smile. An industrious art school grad Lea is a multi-sided personality and undefined and highly individualistic art style. Listen, relatively speaking, to the blueprints of a budding new artist. Harry Markov: Thank you Lea for being a sweetheart and taking up my invitation to sit on my virtual chair and share some of your opinions, experiences and possibly even secrets regarding. But before we delve that deep, it’s customary for me to ask ever artist: What was your first encounter with art to inspire you to devote so much time into it? Lea Johnson: Well, I’ve always been into drawing since I was a kid, but I think there were two people that really made me decide that I wanted to be an artist. The first being my father, he is an amazing artist as well…but he gave up art to raise our family; he always encouraged me to keep with my art and music while being really loving and understanding. Then in high school, I had a really great art instructor that pushed me and kept me up on art. She also really helped me as far scholarships. I still talk to her and sit in on her classes every now and then to keep up on my skills. HM: Just so the readers like you even more, can you describe yourself in short? Who is Lea Johnson and how did she come up with the interesting nickname lilykane on Deviant Art? LJ: The nickname…Well, Lea Johnson is unfortunately really common name, and it made it difficult to find a decent email address… And my full first name, most people can’t pronounce, and the people that can never spell it right (yes, Lea is only half of my first name). “Lilykane” I ended up yanking from the games Fatal Fury and King of Fighters after Billy Kane’s little sister—no, not the show “Veronica Marrs”. I’ve had this nick since 1995. As for myself, I’m pretty much a normal art school grad working for the Man. I love music and play three different instruments (piano, drums, and bassoon), and I still play the drums and piano for fun. And of course, I’m a video game junkie. I also love to do karaoke with my friends, playing with my adorable nephew, and writing. HM: Which artist so far has had an exceptional influence on your work? LJ: I love Andrew Wyeth and Alfons Mucha. Wyatt, I think I probably pull a lot of influence for my color palette from him. It’s nothing intentional, but it’s something I notice every now and then. Mucha, I absolutely love his anatomy and design. Other artists I love are, of course, Falcoon and Takuji Kawano. Falcoon, people think I take a lot of influence from as far as color technique…but I think it’s actually Kawano that I look to more. Kawano is one of the concept artists at Namco. He did most of the character designs for the Soul Calibur games and the later Tekken games, most people didn’t really take notice of his work until he did the artwork for “Namco x Capcom”. He doesn’t get a lot of recognition for his work, but I love the simplicity of his work. His anatomy is a bit more realistic than Falcoon’s; still stylized and elongated, though. And finally, Adam Hughes. Considering how much influence DC comics had on me as a child, Hughes’ work fills me with awe every single time. His pencil works especially. Really, the best way to describe him is a modern-day Mucha. Oh, and Soraya Saga/Kairi Tanaka. Most people know her for writing the script to Xenogears, but her artwork and design work is just breathtaking; especially how she draws the adult anatomy, beautiful diva-inspired women and masculine, strong-jawed men—also, the fact that she was kind enough to email me back and forth for awhile really made me love and respect her work as a writer and an artist. HM: Judging by your gallery I can see that you pay a lot attention to the human body and form in different poses, but usually most of the pieces carry their otherworldly charm with either wings or horns. What exactly in fantasy and outside of the real world made you come back to these themes? LJ: When I was a child, my mother read to us at night, particularly Grimms’ fairy tales. I find a lot of those themes creep into my work. HM: Where do you search for ideas for new projects? For that matter what other art forms inspire your work: literature, music, dance, etc? LJ: Music definitely is a huge influence. I grew up in a family full of artists and musicians. Literature, I do love to write and keep of a journal for ideas; I particularly find that sometimes writing allows for things that visual art can’t, they just appeal to different senses that visual artists just can’t influence; the same with instrumental music. But I love reading the works of writers like Stephan Crane and Leo Tolstoy. The language is their works is so thick, like a good oil painting. HM: It’s also fair to mention that a sizable section of your gallery consist of fanart. Now we both know people tend to judge everything that is fan made like art and fiction to be nothing series, but can I hear the opinion of someone on the other side. Why do you think fanart has taken up such a growing role around creative circles and what can you say to the people, who diminish its importance? LJ: Fanart is no different than life drawing; it’s a place to find influence and inspiration. It allows for an artist to find a starting place for creativity. I’ve find in my experiences online that many people aren’t even aware of what constitutes as “fanart” or what have you, like people place draw fanart of certain subjects in a lower category than others. But again, everyone has to start somewhere. Artists like Falcoon, Bengus, and the Udon art circle got their start from drawing fanart. And fanart ranges from anything from drawing a favorite character to drawing a portrait of a movie star, which--as I mentioned earlier—many naysayers of the genre don’t even realize that drawing a celebrity is indeed fanart. Those portraits you see in People Magazine, the paintings of kings in museums, even something like Disney’s fairytale adaptions and so on…are all a genre of fanart. It has its place in culture and won’t be leaving anytime soon. HM: To follow the same thread, why do you personally invest your time in working on recognizable titles such as Tekken, Silent Hill and Resident evil? What kind of artistic need does it fulfill? LJ: I consider it a form of showing my appreciation and love of video gaming. Fandom in itself is a kind of subculture. Unfortunately, it also has a bit of a bad reputation in some of its forms, but I enjoy doing it. It allows me to combine two of my hobbies and loves: art and gaming, and it’s relatively healthy. HM: Also what is Xeno? I have yet to encounter a name that doesn’t ring a bell. LJ: “Xeno” is just a nickname for the game Xenogears and the game series Xenosaga. The two are not related, except that they have the same creators and many references and nods to each other. Xenogears itself is one of Squaresoft little-known games that has bit of a cult following because of its quirkiness and sci-fi elements. It’s also known for being released half-finished, supposedly. Xenosaga was the follow-up that was released by Namco later. It ended up also being half-finished. But I love ‘em both. HM: So let’s talk about style. You have stated clear and loud that you are not an anime artist. This I can vouch for because the human body touches reality, but how do you characterize what you do, just so that non-artists can understand it better? LJ: I don’t consider myself an “anime” style artist; however, I don’t make it a secret that I do have some influences from Japanese art. I feel that because I take influence from so many sources outside of the genre I can’t be placed in the anime category. Not only that, so many artists from Japan also draw from sources outside of anime that it’s unfair to say that any stylization that draws on exaggerating anatomy is entirely Japanese. I find that I have stronger influence from Western comics and animation. Plus, I do look at classical art and life for influence as well. I particularly love looking to photography for inspiration for color and design. HM: With modern technology it is quite difficult to distinguish between what is done by hand and what is tinkered on the computer. I get the same vibe from your work. The fluid line work I figure is done by hand and the coloring is perhaps digitally added. Did I hit a bull’s eye? What materials do you use and how long does it take for a piece usually? LJ: I usually do my lineart by hand, inked. I tend to work with ballpoint pens on heavy stock paper (usually around 65 lbs). It’s cheap, but with certain pens it’s easy to emulate pencil. I mostly use ink to keep from having smudges on my paper and archival reason. Then I scan and work in Photoshop CS3 and Painter X for color. Occasionally, I’ll do straight digital works or completely redraw sketches in Photoshop or Painter. I’ve kinda lost the patience to do that these days with my other jobs that I work, but it’s a good skill to have. Most pieces take anywhere from a couple of hours to ten hours to finish, according to how detailed I’m working or what look I’m trying to achieve. I color and draw with a Wacom Intuos tablet and use an Epson scanner for my lineart. HM: Is there a certain technique or movement in art you would wish to experiment with? LJ: I’d really like to get back into painting with traditional materials. My current studio isn’t really large enough for that at the moment, so I don’t do much painting aside from watercolor these days. But I’d like to get back to doing wall-sized oil and acrylic paintings. Currently, I’ve been interested in doing more with collage. I’ve been really into Dave McKean’s work as of late, and I’m really impressed by how he’s managed to be completely original with his style and technique within the comic book industry. HM: This question is going to encompass quite a lot, I hope you don’t mind. Some artists have a knack for landscapes, others for creatures, while you pay attention to the human body in close detail. How come did the human physique in nudity or semi-nudity stick as a predominant theme in you work and what is hard to draw: the male or the female body? LJ: I find the human body to be beautiful and masterfully constructed. I also find that it’s a shame that outside of pornography and high art, it’s something that’s ignored in most cultures despite that’s part of nature. So, I’ve focused on mastering drawing the human body for the past decade. I actually find the male body the most difficult to draw. I’m not sure why, though I suspect it’s because I’m not a guy myself :). HM: Another keen observation shows me that you like adding wings to your characters. Does this mean you love angels or love birds? LJ: I take some influence from Western classical art, so I do tend to incorporate some of the motifs. HM: How does art fit in your life? Are you a freelance artist or perhaps you have a day job? Have you found professional realization? LJ: I do freelance illustration and jewelry making on top of working a daytime job for the Department of Health and Human Services—U.S. government work. It does get very stressful at times to try to work both jobs, since the latter job is a government job that demands a lot of my time and attention. Eventually, I’d like to do my art fulltime, but for now I do both. I will say, the government job does give me the satisfaction of being able to help people in need, believe it or not. So, it could be worse. And my bills are being paid, and that’s always nice. Ultimately, my goal is to get into gaming or cinema as a concept artist, though right now I don’t feel I’m the level I need to be in order to do that, so I’m still working on drawing and painting skills while working for DHHS. Plus, doing the freelancing allows for me to be able to do my art while at home, and I’m able to send my art anywhere thanks to overnight mail and the internet. Eventually, I plan on moving back out to the East Coast in order to be able to make meeting clients easier. My dream is to work for Capcom…not that will happen anytime soon, but I can fantasize, right? ;) HM: I also have to wonder what your current projects are. What can we expect? LJ: Currently working on a script for a small comic I’d like to draw; hopefully I’ll have the first volume of that published by the end of the year. I can’t really talk about that at the moment, but hopefully I’ll be allowed to here soon :). Most of the other current projects I’m doing right now are things like logos and designs for small companies. Nothing really exciting, but it builds up the portfolio. Thanks for taking the time to listen to me ramble! And this is it people. I hope you had a good time and if you ever wondered how an artist is being born and shaped in their medium, to summ it up: It isn't a simple a process.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Giveaway! Coyote Horizon by Allen Steele

Thanks, yet again, to Penguin Books I have a copy of Coyote Horizon by Alan Steele to offer for giveaway. Product Description “The master of science-fiction intrigue” (Washington Post) returns to the Coyote universe. The planet of Coyote has become the last, best hope of humankind, but it has also become the principal point of contact with the hjadd, the alien race encountered by a European starship many years earlier. Although the hjadd have built an embassy near the original colony, they remain a mystery. And as the colonists make preparations to explore the rest of the new world, ex-convict Hawk Thompson discovers more about the hjadd than anyone has learned before—and his knowledge will change human history… If this looks good to you then either comment here or email me at sqt1969(at)gmail(dot)com under the header "Coyote" to enter and I will randomly pick a winner by Friday March 27th. Please be sure I can reach you easily. If I cannot reach the winner within 48 hours I will pass the book onto another entrant. Multiple entries will be disqualified. Open everywhere. Good luck!

Iron Man 2 to Star Mickey Rourke & Scarlett Johansson

I have nothing but love for "Iron Man," which came in second only to "The Dark Knight" on my list of movie favorites last year. So it is with love that I observe that the "Iron Man" franchise seems to be a home for rehabilitated actors. That said, I'm kind of excited to see Mickey cast in the movie and I look forward to see what he brings to the role. ~From Hollywood.com Although reports say Marvel would not confirm Rourke's involvement yesterday, it is said that he'll play Whiplash, a character that includes elements from that comic book villain and Crimson Dynamo, another Russian baddie. Scarlett Johansson has also signed on to play Black Widow, a Soviet spy that has appeared all over Marvel Comics as an ally and sometimes nemesis to Spiderman, Daredevil and Iron Man. I'm not sure how Black Widow will be portrayed in the new "Iron Man," but the casting of Johansson suggests a femme fatale angle. I'm just happy to see another "Iron Man" being made. Here's hoping it's a good as the first one.

Winner! Farworld by J. Scott Savage

I have randomly picked someone to win a copy of "Farworld" J. Scott Savage and the winner is: Marla Crocker Congrats Marla! Hope you enjoy the book.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Lex Luthor Asks for a Government Bailout

I first saw this over at SF Signal and knew I had to post it here. John Hamm (Mad Men) gives us his version of Lex Luthor asking for some government assistance...

Winner! The Shadow Queen by Anne Bishop

I have randomly picked a winner for a copy of "The Shadow Queen" by Anne Bishop and the winner is: Nicole Downing Congrats Nicole! Thanks to everyone who entered and be sure to keep an eye out for more giveaways!

Monday, March 09, 2009

Dollhouse: In Which Joss Whedon Lives Down to the Hype

I finally got around to watching Dollhouse, the new TV series by Joss Whedon. Normally I would be all over a new show by Whedon since I really enjoyed "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Angel" and especially "Firefly," But "Dollhouse" got off to a rough start due to it's sketchy scheduling on Friday night and some mixed reviews that led me to be a little bit lax on watching the first episode-- something I kind of regret now. "Dollhouse" stars Eliza Dushku," who is mostly known as Faith from "Buffy." She plays Echo, an agent or "active" of the Dollhouse. Actives are people who have agreed to have their memories completely wiped so that they can be imprinted with false memories that enable them to be the perfect agent for any job. The Dollhouse is run by a mysterious agency and it isn't legal. FBI agent Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett) has somehow discovered the existence of the Dollhouse and, despite the derision of his fellow agents, pursues anything leading toward proof of the Dollhouse with a single-minded determination. Actives can be hired for virtually any job as long as the client is willing to pay. The jobs can vary from a girlfriend for hire to a hostage negotiator; the actives can be programmed at need. Before I saw the show I was kind of expecting a Whedonesque version of "Alias." I should have known better. In fact, I went into the show with a lot of low expectations and that could be why I liked the show more than I expected. I thought Dushku would come across as a softer version of Faith and I was pleasantly surprised to see that I didn't see any Faith coming through. I have read some reviews of the show that stated that Dushku wasn't believable in the role, but I found myself willing to go along. I will say this though; if I had only seen the first episode I would be as critical as the other reviewers. The first episode has so many gaping holes that you spend more time questioning the feasibility of the show rather than just enjoying the ride-- which is the result of some episode shuffling done prior to the show's premier. But if you hang in until the second episode most of the stranger plot points are given some sort of explanation-- like why the actives shower together. Okay, that one still doesn't make complete sense. At any rate, "Dollhouse" is in many respects what you'd expect from Joss Whedon; an unusual show with a very dark, twisted side. Whedon jumps right into the deep end of the moral pond by immediately addressing the ethical aspects of overriding someone's free will. We're shown how the Dollhouse keeps the actives malleable and compliant and it is disturbing. There is also the twist of a rouge active who appears to be obsessed with Echo. Dushku is as gorgeous as I've ever seen her and very likable and the rest of the cast, including Amy Acker from "Angel," shows hope of gelling into a solid group. Time will tell. I plan on giving it a chance and hopefully Fox will too. I always like to see what Whedon comes up with.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

“All You Need is Kill” by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

Posted by Harry Markov

Title: "All You Need is Kill" Author: Hiroshi Sakurazaka Genre: Science Fiction Pages: 169 Publisher: Haikasoru Summary: When the alien Gitai also called Mimics invade, Keiji Kiriya is just one of many recruits shoved into a suit of battle armor called a Jacket and sent out to kill. Keiji dies on the battlefield, only to be reborn each morning to fight and die again and again. On his 158th iteration, he finally sees something different, something out of place—a female soldier known as the Full Metal Bitch. Is she the key to Keiji’s escape or his final death? Classification & Literary Class: I had a very hard time starting this review. There is much to say and reflect upon, yet “All You Need is Kill” is unlike most novels the American and the European audience has had experience with. Prose, length, storytelling, characterization, internals and general take on the genre; all these elements create unfamiliar alien scenery, which needs discovering and an adventurous spirit to experiment with the unknown. Science fiction is as wide as the universe it explores, virtually endless and while the Western culture has taken up the undying space exploration themes, colonization and the such, the Eastern have adopted the apocalypse by aliens/humans and made it their own. Try an anime and you will see what I am talking about. “All You Need is Kill” portrays the final stand of humanity against an invading alien force, devoted to turning Earth into a colony. In a sense this is military fiction, but it doesn’t get boring or falls into cliché. The Japanese are known for their brevity in literature, mostly with the worldwide celebrated haikus, but their sense to get down to the point and write the distilled and concentrated essence of their topic crosses into speculative fiction. Sakurazaka builds his novel more around the internals of the characters and how they process the occurrences in their life much like a report. Compared to what we are used in the West dialogue is overall scarce and actual combat scenes are also few in number, but Sakurazaka creates the illusion that writing war and combat scenes is like the easiest thing in the world. Despite its 169 pages by Hiroshi offers a full novel experience much like any title ranging from 300 to 600 pages. This proves to show that length in literature is quite subjective and the page count steps down in importance to the use of words, which combination will reduce an idea or image to one concise power pack to the reader. Characters & Depth: Remarkable in “All You Need is Kill” is the rapid character evolution. Keiji on page one is a rookie with no battle experience and meets his death in a cowardly manner, while Keiji from the last chapter is a veteran with steel nerves and body turned into a killing machine. This metamorphosis once you have invested all your enthusiasm in the story is invisible so to say. You pick up a change, but it is so natural given the situation that he is in a time loop and every day is a struggle to end it. But once you stop to think about it you get the wow effect. At least I have. This wouldn’t have worked, if the novel itself was longer. The story is told in third person POV and changes from Keiji to Rita aka the Full Metal Bitch, who has become a legendary soldier, because a time loop herself. Her role in the novel is quite interesting and dramatic following the guidelines of Japanese sense of tragedy. She highlights the events that occur in the time loop through her own experience, which gives credible explanation to the constant resurrection of Keiji. Being a tough person in the present, by the same rules we are introduced to her own personal anguish and shattered existence. In the end Keiji and Rita represent two aspects of the super soldier, Keiji is the process of hardening yourself and carrying an unimaginable burden, while Rita is the broken person left in the process. There is this yin-yang polarity so to say. Worldbuilding & Believability: I wasn’t a great fan in the beginning, when I found out this whole book will revolve over a battle that repeats itself around 160 times. I have seen the idea done before in the show “Tru Calling” and in some movies I don’t remember very clearly, so I wasn’t charmed. But then again the focus came on the internal development of the character and how he tries everything to stop waking up every day on the same date before the same battle. If you view it gamer terms, it’s having to reset the same level 160 times and every time gain new experience after failing, try new strategy and develop mad skills. The Mimics are the core of the very problem. In the book they are described as dead bloated frogs and are basically made out of nanobots and have evolved from a remodeling tool for colonization to weapons. They even have the technology to reset time and are the culprits for the constant time loops. I won’t say more, because the whole situation is definitely more complex than that and offers twists and thrill rides that leave you “awesome”-ing all the while. Perhaps the last element in the whole world now that we mentioned the aliens and time loops is the so called Jackets. They are your simple full battle armor with major artillery and a constant in the whole novel, plus they create this whole subculture in the army with special training system, slang and all that to make it interesting. The Verdict: I love it and advise people to give it a chance. Speaking from a globalization point of view, now more than ever we have the ultimate freedom to touch another culture and explore it. So take a chance and see how the other side of the world does it. You know you want to. IMPORTANT: This novel is scheduled as one of the first releases of the new Viz Media imprint Haikasoru in July, which will bring the popular Japanese fantasy and sci-fi titles into the US Market. So to make it launch with a big bang spread the word and preorder.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Giveaway! Truancy Origins by Isamu Fukui

I just got this one from TOR books and I think it's guaranteed to be a good one. Truancy Origins Product Description Fifteen years ago, the Mayor of the Education City was presented with an unwelcome surprise by his superiors: twin six-month-old boys. As the Mayor reluctantly accepted the two babies, he had no way of knowing that they would change the city forever…. Raised in the comfort of the Mayoral mansion, Umasi and Zen are as different as two brothers can be. Umasi is a good student; Zen an indifferent one. They love their adoptive father, but in a city where education is absolute, even he cannot keep them sheltered from the harsh realities of the school system. But when they discover that their father is responsible for their suffering, affection turns to bitterness. Umasi and Zen are thrust onto two diverging paths. One will try to destroy the City. The other will try to stop him. The rules are the same as always. Either leave a comment here or email me at sqt1969(at)gmail(dot)com under the header "Origins" to enter and I will randomly pick a winner by Sunday March 22nd. Make sure I can reach you easily. If I cannot reach a winner within 48 hours I will pass the book onto another entrant. Multiple entries will be disqualified. Open Everywhere. Good luck!