Saturday, May 30, 2009

Book Reviews (Sort of): Paradise Island, The New Mars, and The News Mars (A Family Vacation) by John L. Manning, Jr.

This review will be brief for a specific reason: I couldn't even get past page two on any of these books, and therefore have only a few negative things to say about these works. All three of these novels by John L. Manning, Jr. are a prime example of why self-publishing gets the negative attention that it does. These are utterly atrocious. I know this is going to sound mean and purely negative, but there isn't anything good to say about these works, except that perhaps the covers are not as bad as they could be. But perhaps I should get into what the problem actually is: Manning cannot write worth a damn. I don't mean that his prose has a few flaws here or there, or that there are typos (even though there are some); I mean that Manning actually cannot write and that each of these texts is a monument of writing mistakes. The best way to do this without getting too long-winded is to have a list, so here goes: •Manning cannot decide what tense he wants to write in at any point in his prose. One sentence will include present and past tense, randomly inserted, and others will jump back and forth. •Every character is German. How do I know? Because Manning constantly has his characters saying "yah" over and over. I don't have a problem with German characters, but why would you have "yah" when "yeah" is the more appropriate term? And if they're German, then just say so... •Manning cannot write a coherent sentence and the prose is all over the place. It's hard to describe how bad it is, to be honest, but trust me when I say that these novels would tie for 2nd place in the Worst Prose in the World contest. •There are typos, some of which are ridiculous, such as having "waited" instead of "weighted," when only moments before the author used the correct term. •The Mars books have racing cars called Pods, which, to be fair, wouldn't be a problem if these were written thirty years before The Phantom Menace, but are completely ridiculous in a world where "pod-racing" is pretty much synonymous with Star Wars. You could have called it "buggy racing" or a dozen of other things that would make more sense. •Stilted dialogue. People really don't talk like that, unless English is their second language, in which case that should be indicated. •Poor description. I have no sense of what Manning is trying to convey, because the prose is not only terrible, but lacks any decent description. •Mostly ham-fisted plotting. The first chapter of The New Mars contains absolutely no conflict whatsoever, despite the fact that there's supposed to be a big "pod" race coming up. But, to be fair, I don't know if the plot gets more interesting later in the book, because I couldn't read more than chapter one. There are certainly other reasons why I gave up on these books, but I think this will suffice. Again, I'm not trying to be mean, I'm just pointing out the harsh reality that these are simply some of the worst books I have ever attempted to read. I know it's controversial to write a review if you haven't finished the book, but if a book is written so poorly, so horribly that you want to literally chuck it across the room, then there's really no point reading on, now is there? That's all I have to say. Feel free to knock me down if you think I'm being unreasonable.

'77 Trailer (or the day Stars Wars came out)

The original Star Wars came out before my time but this film looks like it does a nice job of setting the stage for George Lucas' ground-breaking franchise, as told through the eyes of an awkward teen in Illinois... For more info check out the official site: www.5-25-77.com [H/T Rama's Screen]

Friday, May 29, 2009

Graphic Novel Review: Britten and Brulightly by Hannah Berry

Britten and Brulightly is a curious kind of murder mystery. It follows a private detective named Britten who is known as "the heartbreaker" due to his propensity for breaking the hearts of his clients through his investigations. Along with his unusual companion, Brulightly, Britten solves cases of jealous lovers and exposes ugly truths, but what he wants most of all is to solve a case that does the world some good. When Berni Kudos' fiancee comes knocking at his door, claiming that Berni didn't kill himself, but was murdered, Britten accepts the case and begins to learn that perhaps doing good in the world has more to do with silence than truth. Britten and Brulightly is, to put it bluntly, a fantastic graphic novel. It's difficult to pin down what I enjoyed most about it. Was it the private eye story that reminded me of all the old crime novels I used to read when I was a kid? Was it the artwork? Was it the emotional impact that Berry managed to create within Britten's character and the graphic novel at large? I can't rightly say, because so much about this work is brilliant. The story of Britten and Brulightly, as I mentioned, is sort of your typical noir private eye type story, but I don't mean to make it sound like this is negative. I quite enjoy that old style, both in the art and in how the story was developed. The only problem I had in reading this is that I felt like I was missing something, that maybe there were graphic novelizations of past Britten stories that I needed to read to understand all the references and characters. If that's true, then I would certainly recommend starting with earlier stories first before diving right into Britten and Brulightly; if not, I wouldn't worry about it and read this anyway, because it's not something that significantly detracts from the story. Berry's artistic style is fairly unique--as far as I can tell, anyway. At first I wasn't sure about the art, but the more I read the work, the more I felt like the style fit perfectly for the characters. It has a dark, sort of gritty realism to it, much like you might find in noir. And it's interesting that each of the characters has a design that seems to fit their personalities. Britten, for example, always has a somewhat somber look on his face, and every aspect of his design amplifies his personality. I think it's important to note how effective the art is, because without it I don't think I could have become attached to the characters. One of the biggest shocks for me in reading this book was in discovering what Brulightly was. I won't ruin it for you here, but a part of me laughed and another part of me couldn't help but find it charming. Brulightly acts as a sort of sub-conscious character in physical form for Britten, which is something unusual to me in these sorts of private eye stories, because usually the investigator works alone, with a handful of informants helping along the way. But here Britten has another voice, a person to bounce ideas off of, and it really makes for a delightfully magical realist story. Beyond saying this is a fantastic read, there's no much else to say. So if you're interested in a unique graphic novel with a deeply emotional and powerful detective story, check out Britten and Brulightly at your local store or on Amazon, or wherever. Definitely worth reading!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Giveaway! Short Story Collection #6!

I looooove offering short story collections for giveaway. I never appreciated how much people like short stories, but I get more entries for these contests than any other. Thankfully Penguin Books has given me the chance to accumulate 4 books to offer one lucky winner so I can continue the short story giveaway tradition. Ages of Wonder (Edited by Julie E. Czerneda) Here are nineteen original stories of myth, magic, and the creatures of fantasy, as seen through different historical eras— from the Age of Antiquity to the Age of Sails, the Colonial Age, the Age of Pioneers, the Pre-Modern Age, and the Age to come... Other Earths (Edited by Nick Gevers) One world among many... eleven stories about them all. What if Lincoln never became president, and the Civil War never took place? What if Columbus never discovered America, and the Inca developed a massive, technologicallyadvanced empire? What if magic was real and a half-faerie queen ruled England? What if an author discovered a book written by an alternate version of himself? These are just some of the possible pathways that readers can take to explore the Other Earths that may be waiting just one page away. Terribly Twisted Tales (Edited by Martin H. Greenberg) Eighteen stories that offer a new twist on old fairy tales. From Hansel and Gretel and Goldilocks, to Snow White, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, and more, here are eighteen stories that take familiar fairy tales and twist them around to give them an entirely new slant. Any fan of far-out fantasy is sure to be delighted. Swordplay (Edited by Denise Little) Seventeen rapier-sharp stories of swordplay, magic, and adventure... From a samurai’s sword to an assassin’s blade, from Custer’s cavalry sword to D’Artagnan’s deadly weapon, from the sword of Damocles to the legendary Excalibur, these all-new spellbinding tales get straight to the point. Whether it’s a sword bespelled to crave blood, cold steel that magicks its wielder into a video game, or a dwarf-crafted blade meant to slay a dragon, these weapons each come sheathed in their own fascinating story that cuts right to the heart of fantasy adventure. To get your hands on these, either leave a comment here or email me at sqt1969@(nospam)gmail.com (just remove the 'nospam' insert) under the header "Short 6" to enter and I will randomly pick a winner by Friday June 12th. Please be sure I can reach you easily. If I cannot reach a winner within 48 hours I will pass the books onto another entrant. Multiple entries will be disqualified. Open everywhere. Good luck!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Darkborn by Alison Sinclair

      The second murder attempt came as Ishmael was being escorted from the interview cell to his new cell, adjacent to the guard station, where they kept all the troublemakers. Farther from the exit, to his regret. He could hear the profane heckling, and the shouts for silence, even before they turned the corridor, and both redoubled as soon as the sonn caught their approach. Vicious as the harassment was, there was a peculiar forced quality to it, which he attributed to the fundamental hollowness of men who were compelled to fight all comers to prove they existed, had consequence, were men.       They were level with the cells when a prisoner reached through the bars and grabbed at the nearer guard's belt. The guard was young, or slow witted, or...for whatever reason, he reacted too late, for his backward lunge against the grip coincided with the prisoner's push. He stumbled into Ish, thrusting Ish against the second guard; the guard twisted, seizing Ish, and shoved him hard against the bars of the opposite cell. The prisoner's arm snapped up like a bar across Ish's throat; a knife-- he did not need to sonn it to know-- was driven with killing force through his shirt and against the rings of his armored vest. His assailant swore. The guards shouted and tore him away before his assailant could deliver a second stab to his unprotected armpit or throat.       A seemingly random cast of sonn told Ish there was no hope of a dash for the exit. He let himself pitch forward into their arms, impersonating the stab victim he was meant to be. They lugged him into his appointed cell; there were shouts for the apothecary amongst the greater cacophony of a triumphant prison kill. None of them attempted to open his shirt or examine his wound, clearly averse to touching a mage more than they had to. He lay inert, considering the choreography of the assault. The more he thought about it, the less accidental it appeared. Two prisoners, surely, the guard maybe, and whoever had contributed that knife.       All prisons were bad for a man's health. This one promised to be exceptionally bad for his. He breathed steadily, knowing calmness was his best ally now. ~Excerpt from Darkborn by Alison Sinclair In the city of Minhorne the Darkborn and the Lightborn live side-by-side but cannot physically occupy the same space at the same time because the light is deadly to the Darkborn while the Lightborn cannot survive in the dark. The Darkborn have an unusual adaptation to their life in the dark-- an advanced kind of sonar, referred to as "sonn" that allows them to visualize the world around them even though they are born blind. But the ability to survive in varying conditions is not the only thing that separates the races. The Lightborn embrace magic while the Darkborn shun it in favor of technology. Despite their differences, the Lightborn and the Darkborn have co-exited in relative peace-- until a remarkable event threatens to shatter the equanimity between the races. One morning, just before the sunrise, a pregnant woman shows up on Balthasar Hearn's doorstep on the verge of giving birth. The woman is engaged to a powerful nobleman and gives birth to illegitimate twins she claims are the children of a Lightborn lover-- something that should be impossible. But when the children are born with the ability to see, Hearn is forced to acknowledge that something beyond his comprehension has occurred. And when two men break into his home, nearly kill him and threaten his family, he is drawn into an intrigue that may tear the whole land apart. It's very hard to describe "Darkborn" in just a few paragraphs because it is a surprisingly complex book. The story doesn't just revolve around Balthasar Hearn. In fact, more of the book follows Hearn's wife, Telmaine, and the outcast Darkborn mage, Baron Ishmael di Studier, who has fallen in love with her. So I won't try to spend anymore time describing the book when I could be telling you why you should be reading it. As someone who reads primarily fantasy and sci-fi, any new idea is immediately appealing. I read lots of sword & sorcery novels as well as all things paranormal-- and I can't tell you how many books I've read about elves, witches, werewolves and vampires. Though if you're a fan of the genre (as I suspect you must be to be reading this) you know exactly what I'm talking about. As we all know, not everything that is different is good-- but "Darkborn" is. The best way to describe "Darkborn" is to call it a steampunk romance combined with a Regency era fantasy. The story weaves itself around the characters of the Darkborn and the Lightborn, the manners of high society, the unique qualities of the "sonn" and lots of action. And somehow Sinclair makes it all work. Any quibbles I have with the book are minor ones. For example, Two of the main characters have very similar names and when they interact I found myself thoroughly confused. That's not a major flaw-- though it does interfere with the flow of the book from time to time. Also, very little time was spent on the Lightborn people-- with the one Lightborn character we're introduced to disappearing without explanation-- though a book titled "Lightborn" is scheduled to be released next year and by its title alone I would surmise it should tell us all we want to know about the Lightborn. But would those ever-so-slight flaws discourage me from recommending this book? Not at all! I completely enjoyed it. As anyone who reads this blog knows, I am not someone who looks for high-brow entertainment. I like stories that entertain. I like action and romance-- though too much action-for-action's-sake and blatant sex totally turns me off. I like a nice balance between elements and "Darkborn" delivers them beautifully. There is a part of me that is always a tiny bit embarrassed to gush over a book that I know isn't going to go down as a classic-- but sometimes just enjoying something so much is unique enough for me to want to pass on a recommendation and say you might want to check this one out-- just because it's a lot of fun.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Winner! One Set of "Atherton" Series by Patrick Carman

I'm way late in getting this up (sorry) but I have randomly picked a winner to receive a full set of the "Atherton" series by Patrick Carman and the winner is... Mulluane. Congrats! Thanks to everyone who entered. I have lots of new giveaways coming up, including the newest book by Brandon Sanderson, a Wolverine graphic novel and the latest "Morganville Vampire" book by Rachel Caine. So keep an eye out.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Comic Review: Asylum Press (Warlash, DTOX, Undead Evil)

Some months back Asylum Press sent me some special edition teaser comics and I thought it would be nice to do a review of each of them. These will be relatively short primarily because these are comics, rather than graphic novels, and as such are not full stories, and in some cases quite quick reads anyway. Here goes: Undead Evil (Special Edition) No. 0 by Frank Forte Of the four comics I received from Asylum Press, this one is my favorite. Undead Evil follows one Alfred Carter who has decided to dig through his mother's attic after her death. He discovers the Necronomicon and unwittingly becomes a part of a journey to discover the truth of his family's past, darkness and all. The story is interesting and remarkably gripping, but what stands out most is the artwork. Nenad Gucunja is an astonishing artist. The illustrations are detailed and gloriously dark, which is something I think is sorely lacking from comics these days. Gucunja paid careful attention to every minute detail, adding a certain disturbing life to the overall story. There isn't much else to say beyond that, really. If you're looking for superbly drawn work, then this is certainly a good place to go, especially if you like the dark and macabre. Warlash (Dark Noir) Vol. 1 by Frank Forte I can't say that I understand who Warlash is from this particularly issue. I don't know if it's because this is meant to be a teaser, and thus contains four separate stories with differing artist renditions/imaginings, but the best way to describe Warlash is to call him a slightly freakish superhero/vigilante who fights monsters of various description (in this comic he battles a genetically mutated man, an enormous, almost mechanical worm, a demon who seems to be the head honcho downstairs, and a man carrying some sort of mutated undead plague that destroys almost anyone he touches). The artwork for this comic is hit or miss. In the first story I felt like the art could have used some serious attention to the lines, because it feel very incomplete, as if the comic were still be storyboarded. The second story I thought was better, and perhaps the most well-rounded of the bunch, with the third story coming in a close second, and the last story on its heels. I think the first story is the only one I didn't enjoy, but the storyline for the last story (in which a man carrying some sort of undead plague seeks revenge on several whore houses) grabbed me the most (maybe because I like zombie-ish things). Still, all in all, a novel effort, but I think with some serious sprucing up of the artwork this could be a decent comic series. Warlash (Zombie Mutant Genesis: Special Edition) No. 0 by Frank Forte and Eric Rochford This particular issue contains the opening to a story called Zombie Mutant Massacre and a piece to another story called Zombie Mutant Genesis. The latter I didn't find all that enjoyable, and this is primarily due to the artwork again, although this may be a personal preference. The first story, however, is fantastic. It's a mix of the detective and superhero genres, following Warlash as he tries to figure out what is causing a series of mysterious, gruesome deaths. As he heads underground, we get a glimpse into the darker aspects of this city, in which drug addicts and violent gangs fight over territory in the sewers. The art here is pretty well done and certainly to my liking, and the story is intriguing, even if all I got was a glimpse. DTOX (Special Biohazard Edition) No. 0 by Frank Forte From the moment I started reading DTOX I was reminded of those old Heavy Metal movies. Maybe it's the art style or the sexualized storyline, or something else entirely. Regardless, that impression put DTOX into a good place in my mind. The world of DTOX is one in which nuclear war has devastated the Earth and created twisted mutated humanoids who seek out women and children to consume and, well, do other things to. DTOX is a vigilante warrior who destroys such monstrosities--oh, and he drives a tank. That's pretty much the basic premise. It's hard to get a good impression of this comic from such a short piece of work, but this one is certainly interesting and fun in that dark, Heavy Metal sort of way. The illustrations are well done, the story is a bit rushed (probably because this is sort of a teaser issue), but overall I found it enjoyable. And with that, I'm done with comic reviews. Let me know if anyone else here has read these and what you thought. If you're interested in learning more about Asylum Press you can go to their website.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Book Review: The Dragon Hunters by Paul Genesse

The Dragon Hunters is the sequel to Paul Genesse's surprising hit The Golden Cord and the second book in his Iron Dragon series. It follows Drake and his two Drobin companions, Thor and Bellor, as they continue their journey to find Bellor's lost brethren and destroy Draglune, an ancient and dangerous dragon foe, once and for all. But as they travel they discover that some parts of the world are not as they should be: Drobin cities are responding to resistance against their rule with genocide while cultists who worship Draglune and his dragon servant Verkahna as gods sacrifice themselves for a cause that seems right, but is fraught with lies and deceit. The farther Drake and his companions travel away from the comparative safety of the Thornclaw forest, the more they realize that Draglune's influence is rapidly expanding, creating more enemies to hinder their journey and to threaten the stability of the Drobin empire and even Drake's home and family. The Dragon Hunters takes off right after the end of The Golden Cord and drags us through a troubled world of demonic monsters and collapsing society. Perhaps what is most interesting about this particularly installment is that Genesse has taken us into new arenas to meet cultures previously unknown to us, displaying his excellent worldbuilding skills. Moving from a dangerous forest to an equally dangerous desert, Genesse takes us on a wild journey of magic, dragons, questionable characters, and inner turmoil. And that, perhaps, is what is so striking about this novel in comparison to the last. While The Golden Cord certainly touched on the emotional and ethical questions Drake had to ask himself while aiding Thor and Bellor, this novel shatters Drake's connection to his home with brutal directness. The golden cord between he and Jaena--his wife-to-be--is weakened and ripped away by forces both within and outside of Drake's control. As a result, we get the sense that Drake is not and never was fully aware of himself as a person, that there are things even he is learning about himself, and that his journey is not just one to do the right thing, but to discover more about himself and his destiny. Of course, Drake isn't the only one that experiences a rupture of this sort. Thor and Bellor equally share in the burden of cultural splitting. Here the connection to the characters is stronger, more impacting, because the reader is so invested in Drake and his companions that we cannot help but be affected by the emotional roller coaster that they experience. The Dragon Hunters isn't a perfect book. While I loved the world, parts of the novel seemed to be overly drawn out. This may be personal preference in adventurous fantasy, but I wanted things to move quicker, particularly in the middle. Of course, I am willing to acknowledge that this is simply a factor that is present in all middle novels and perhaps something that is unavoidable when one expects the same speed and vision of a previous book. Certainly The Dragon Hunters is an action packed novel--the title itself should be an indicator--and I expect that the action and intrigue of Genesse's world will continue to grow and develop over the course of the next few books. One of my favorite parts of this novel has to be how Genesse created a particularly terrifying character out of Verkahna--a dragon we met in the previous book who certainly had her physical appeal as a horrifying creature, but never quite had that emotional terror working for her. Through her we learn not only about how the dragons of Genesse's world operate--culturally and psychologically--but also how cunning they can be, so much so that even I began to question whether my preconceived notions about his dragons that I adopted from the first book were valid. Even at the end I wondered whether dragons were evil or good, and maybe this question will be answered in the next book. It's hard to say. All in all, The Dragon Hunters was a wonderful read. I loved the action, the characters, and the world, as I did with the first book. While this novel isn't without flaws, it is certainly worth reading, and if you are a fan of adventurous fantasy, this series is perfect for you. I've called his work "fun fantasy," because it's the kind of work that doesn't allow itself to be bogged down by the trappings of the genre or by negative storytelling. The story is meant to be exciting and interesting because of its characters and action. As with the first book, the cover art for The Dragon Hunters is absolutely gorgeous and I suspect that the novels that follow will continue in this trend. Hopefully Genesse will have as much success with The Dragon Hunters as he did with The Golden Cord. If you'd like to learn more about Paul Genesse, you can check out his website here. You can find The Dragon Hunters here at Five Star Press (or on Amazon, or anywhere else, most likely) and the previous book, The Golden Cord, here. (Note: I avoided commenting on the writing itself in this review because I read an advanced uncorrected proof. It would be wrong of me to complain about things that most likely were changed in the editing process.)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Artist Corner: Ionen

Posted by Harry Markov

This is yet another wonderful Friday and time to get moving with another Artist Corner. This time, we will tame things down with concept character work developed by a very talented artist in this field, who goes by the name of Ionen. Here is what he told me: HM: Hello and thank you for accepting my invitation. It is a real pleasure having you here in my virtual chair. Let’s start with the simple and basic questions. What was your first encounter with art and how did you decide you would become an artist? I came from a completely un-artistic family, becoming an artist was just not something I ever really thought of. I was however always fascinated by cartoons. When I was in middle school was when Cartoon Network’s Toonami came out, where they pushed Dragonball Z and Sailor Moon. I got really into anime for awhile, but didn’t really put pencil to paper until I was about 16. After watching Gundam Wing I wanted to create my own Gundam designs, and I guess that’s where I really started. It was still more of a hobby than anything else until I was 18 and decided to go to an animation school. Drawing was fun, but I wanted to be more involved than that. HM: Another tradition with the “Artist Corner” is to say something about yourself. Who is ionen and why did you chose this interesting sounding username for your DA profile? Ionen is actually a name of one of the characters from the Aphelion series, I tend to use the names of my characters. HM: Who are the artists that inspired and influenced you the most? Hyung-Tae Kim is a huge inspiration, but Shunya Yamashita, Feng Zhu, James Hawkins, Limha Lekan, and Jeong Juno are also some favorites. HM: Your work is fantasy in the computer and video game sense of the genre. Are you by chance an avid gamer and are games your primary source of inspiration for your imagination? I’ve a huge gamer probably to the point that when I design characters I think about how they would be built in 3D as I work. I went to an animation school that focused on video game production as well. That streamlined my thinking in that way. I’m also at the beginning of my career as an indie game developer. HM: What attracts you to the out of the ordinary and fantasy? Different people find something entirely unique for themselves and I always like hearing a new answer on the subject. There seems to be sort of a Western style and an Eastern style of sci-fi and fantasy. Western tends to be gritty, muted, realistic and often dark. Eastern tends to be saturated, fantastical, and young. My interest is bringing those two groups together, as both have elements I like and dislike, and the two groups are rarely mixed together in the video game world. HM: Most of your work resembles pin-ups and calling cards for characters in different poses, but usually static and on gray font. What attracts you to this type of art, is it safe to say concept art, or do you also plan to bring in a full piece with background and a story behind it? Being a character artist primarily I tend to focus on just the character, and I feel that the viewer should be looking at the character, not the background. Since a lot of the colors I use are highly saturated or high-contrast, a middle or dark-gray tends to make the viewer focus on the brighter colors. I have actually done quite a bit of environmental work as well, I just tend to keep things separated. HM: What you do is fascinating towards the details in armor and weaponry. To me this looks like a complex brain surgery, but how hard is it actually to apply detail to armor and other objects? What’s your way of doing it? It is hard for me to really explain it. For me, creating the details is usually the easy part. My brain sort of shuts down and goes on auto-drive. HM: I also couldn’t miss the slightly pointed years, fair complexion and silken hair you attribute quite a number of your female characters. How great a fan of elves are you and are they inspired from somewhere, because I do catch a slight Lineage vibe in your vision? Adding pointy ears just seems to make the drawing suddenly a lot more fun to work on, and it can add a lot to the character, a lot of mysticism without changing the character much. HM: What is your working process? Do you paint by traditional means or do you also mix in with the digital world? Now I work exclusively digitally. There are some elements I miss, but using a scanner was always incredibly annoying to me. HM: Another completely customary question would be about your work process. How much does it usually take to complete a piece from start to finish and what’s your way of doing things? It can actually range quite a bit for me depending on the detail, sketches and how developed the character already is. On a fresh full-body concept it’s usually around 10 hours though. Research – If I need to find references it is the first thing I do. Thumbnail sketches – Do some quick sketches of various poses and costume ideas. Quick lineart – After I’ve chosen the best thumbnail I scale it up and clean it. Base colors – Put some flat colors down underneath the sketch. Shade everything – Add layers of color and start blending them together. I generally start with the face or skin. Add details/lighting – Add in minute details and if there’s a backlight this is generally when I add it. Polish – Fine tune things, let the painting rest for awhile and see if there’s anything that needs to be fixed. HM:Judging by your gallery, you have updated a considerable amount of commissions you have done over the last year or so. I’ve been curious for quite awhile about the whole process. What’s your experience so far mainly with the people, who hire your talent? Most experiences have been positive. I can’t speak for everyone, but the majority of my commissions through DeviantArt are from people who have their own story and want to be able to visualize their character better. HM: Since you have been quite popular with commissions does this mean that you are a freelance artist and does art pay the bills in your case? Yes, I work freelance on a variety of projects. I’m currently a concept artist on a sci-fi comic, and have done various work for game companies and RPG books. HM: Every once and awhile I spot a slightly fan-fic themed art. A lot of people bash and disregard fan art as a testament that an artists has no original ideas of their own. What’s your opinion on the matter? Some people only enjoy drawing fanart, some people may use it as a crutch. I rarely do fanart, because designing the costume and how the character acts and moves is a lot of the challenge. Duplicating an existing character doesn’t take nearly as much thought. HM:To close off this session I will ask the frequent last question. What are we to expect from such a talented artist? A long list of games created under our group, Lunatic Studios, and hopefully I will progress and become better at painting. :)

"The Rise of the Iron Moon" by Stephen Hunt

Posted by Harry Markov

The problem with series' reviews is that you always have to start at the beginning, at least most of the times, and so was not the case, when I received Stephen Hunt's "The Rise of the Iron Moon". Naturally this caused problems at the beginning 200 pages, when I was bombarded with information about the world, the reader is expected to already know. From reviews on the first two books from the series I know that worldbuilding wise there are numerous facts to keep in mind. It was a rough and hard transition for me into the wondrous world on Stephen Hunt, but it was worth every minute of puzzlement. How can a plucky young orphan girl save the world from ultimate destruction? Born into captivity as a product of the Royal Breeding House, lonely orphan Purity Drake suddenly finds herself on the run with a foreign vagrant after accidentally killing one of her guards. Her mysterious rescuer claims to have escaped from terrible forces who mean to enslave the Kingdom of the Jackals as they conquered his own nation. Purity doubts his story, until reports begin to filter through from Jackals’ neighbours of the murderous Army of Shadows, marching across the continent and sweeping all before them. But there’s more to Purity Drake than meets the eye. And as Jackals girds itself for war against an army of near-indestructible beasts serving an ancient evil with a terrible secret, it soon becomes clear that the Kingdom’s only hope is a strange little orphan girl and the last, desperate plan of an escaped slave from a land far, far away… Without more detailed information about the previous books in the series other than the book blurbs and positive reviews in general, I can't decide on a stand how well or strong the series develops, but as a confused reader I can testify that this is one of the strongest novels in the spec fic genre I have read as a whole. In that light I can't comment about such things are characterization of previous character that re-appear in this installment such as Molly, Hood of the Marsh and Coppertracks, who from my point of view are wholesome, well rounded individuals with strengths and flaws and read completely human. Hunt made me care for everybody in this novel, at least those that he intended for the reader to care for, even the prickish Lord Rocksby, who can drive you insane with his obnoxious behavior. The new additional set involved in this novel such as Serenity, the destined new queen of Jackals and her mystical army of bandits, and Duncan, a weirdo with a skeleton in his suitcase, are extremely colorful and offer quite the excitement. The pace of "The Rising Moon" spirals with an organic set of highs and lows with a tendency to increase, until adrenaline turned me into a junkie. The uniqueness of steampunk is that it combines the best of fantasy, science fiction and the ever popular 19th century Britain and you can go with this genre in several directions that can lead the reader towards many pleasant surprises. As a fan of originality and unorthodox story elements I am left satisfied with the fresh take on classical tropes in fantasy and sci-fi such as sentient robots, magic, prophecies and sentient space ships. Brilliant blend of the best of both worlds at least for my tastes. The quality that lured me in completely is the actual prose and style of writing, which customary for the steampunk genre has to carry the polite melody of 19th century British mannerism. For not one single line have I found a fault in this department. Not a single modern expression slipped through the fingers of the author and it shows how much Hunt took care to be impossibly accurate. Something, which can elude most authors. Overall as a conclusion, even though I had slept through world basics 101 in the first two volumes, I give my two thumbs up for the book and a gun barrel pointing at a potential reader to get to the nearest book store and hoard copies of the three novels, because I think they are also as good as this one.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

V- Upfront Trailer

What's old is new again. Again. Good to see another "Firefly" alum (Morena Baccarin) on TV.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Giveaway & Review: Starfinder by John Marco

Moth expected the Avatar to be crowded with crewmen, but instead found himself alone in the corridor, making his way toward the front of the ship. He'd already descended two ladders, because he knew the bridge hung low on the superstructure. The gentle thrum of the airship's engines made the metal floor and walls vibrate with a peculiar music. He wondered if the Skyhigh had gone to bed yet. Voices echoed up ahead. Moth followed the corridor, halting when he saw the bridge. A panoramic window looked out over what seemed like the entire world. Rendor stood in front of the glass, studying the moonlit mountains. Crews manned control consoles, keeping watch over the dials and levers. A man dressed in a dark uniform paced across the bridge, his hands behind his back. He caught a glimpse of Moth from the corner of his eye. "You?" The man cleared his throat. "Governor? Someone's here to see you." Surprised, Rendor turned from the window. Moth stepped onto the bridge. "I need to talk to you," said Moth. "It's important..." A sudden crash rocked the airship, knocking Moth to the floor. Outside the window the world began to spin. "Engine out!" someone cried. Rendor shouted. The Avatar lurched sideways, spilling Moth across the deck. "Port engine!" "Shut it down!" "Leveling out..." Moth struggled to rise. He saw Rendor holding onto a rail. The men at the consoles threw switches and cursed. Slowly, Moth felt the giant airship righting itself, but the engine noise was different now, and he had no idea what happened. "Moth!" yelled Rendor. "Get hold of something!" Moth scrambled for a nearby steam pipe. The floor had leveled, yet the Avatar kept spinning. Just as Moth pulled himself up, the giant window burst. Glass and metal showered the bridge. Wind howled through the gaping cavity. Moth wrapped his arms around the pipe, shocked to see something coming through the window. The screeching shadow fell on him in a frenzy of beating wings. Scaly, powerful arms swept him from the bridge. Moth screamed. He felt the rush of wind, saw the blur of horrified faces. A second later he was weightless with the stars above his head. In disbelief he watched the Avatar drifting away. ~Excerpt from Starfinder by John Marco Years ago I picked up a book called The Jackal of Nar, the first book of the Tyrants and Kings Trilogy, by a talented new author named John Marco, and I loved it. To this day it remains one of my favorite books. So when I was asked if I would review John's new YA book, "Starfinder", naturally I said yes... What if angels jealously guarded the skies against all who would dare to fly? The Skylords, the angelic-looking beings in John Marco’s new book "Starfinder" do just that.  Moth, a young boy who lives in the city of Calio, has always dreamed of being a Skyknight and piloting the flying crafts created by Rendor, the Governor of the city and grandfather to his best friend Fiona. But after making a promise to his dying mentor Leroux, Moth crosses the mysterious, fog-laden Reach to save a friend and prevent a powerful device, the Starfinder, from getting into the hands of the Skylords.  "Starfinder" is an interesting blend of steampunk and fantasy. The city of Calio is home to all the technological advances created by Rendor, mostly in the form of airships and the smaller ingenious flying craft-- known as the dragonfly-- that patrol the skies against the mostly forgotten threat of the Skylords. Across the Reach magic reigns and Moth and Fiona not only find familiar mythical creatures such as dragons, mermaids and centaurs, but also discover horrible sub-human creatures known as Redeemers and the Skylords themselves.  Venturing through the Reach to find a sorcerer and save the long-time love of Leroux, Moth and Fiona prove to themselves, and the adults who doubt their abilities, that sometimes the faith of a child is the most powerful weapon of all.  "Starfinder" is a straight-forward coming-of-age tale in many ways. Moth and Fiona both deal with feelings of inadequacy and abandonment and their adventure helps resolve the insecurities as well as show them that not all adults act without reason. "Starfinder's" point-of-view is definitely geared to adolescent kids who are feeling the desire to be independent while still seeking parental approval, and the novel's resolution will definitely appeal to kids who dream of proving themselves to the adults in their lives. I didn't fully appreciate YA fiction until I had my own kids. It has it's own rhythm and it's different from adult fiction because the transitions tend to be shorter-- in keeping with the attention span of the audience. I've read many books to my kids and have learned that drawn-out sequences and explanations will bore a younger audience. But don't let the YA style deter you from picking up good fantasy like "Starfinder" if the story sounds interesting to you. It finds a nice balance between a fast pace and imaginative world-building. It won't be for readers who prefer epic fantasy but it is wonderfully inventive and makes for a excellent bedtime book for fantasy-lovin' kids-- or adults who like a break from the profanity and sex so prevalent in adult fiction. ~As and added bonus, I have a copy of "Starfinder" to giveaway to one lucky winner, courtesy of Penguin Books. Either leave a comment here or email me at sqt1969@(nospam)gmail.com (just remove the "nospam" insert) under the header "Starfinder" to enter and I will randomly pick a winner by Wednesday June 3rd. 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!

Guest Post-- The Star Trek They Should Have Made by Andrew Price

The new "Star Trek" movie has created quite the debate lately over whether on not the film took the right direction in setting up a new franchise. As of right now the movie is popular among modern audiences for it's big CGI component, but die-hard fans are feeling a distinct lack of development in character and plot development. Rather than break the existing film down, my friend Andrew Price has written what he thinks would have been a better script for a modern "Star Trek." Give it a read, let us know what you think, and tell us what script you would have written. ~SQT The Star Trek Movie They Should Have Made by Andrew Price Last week, I got into a discussion about the new Star Trek movie with sqt, who runs a really cool sci-fi website. In that discussion, it dawned on me that my biggest beef with the new movie was that it lacked courage. Rather than making a truly interesting movie with depth, the filmmakers instead opted for a generic, shallow CGI summer blockbuster -- Pirates of the Caribbean In Space. That got me wondering, what kind of Star Trek movie should they have made? As I see it, the original Trek was essentially a character study acted out in the midsts of a series of morality tales, with a little action thrown in to make the series more accessible. I tried to follow that same formula, only making it a little more accessible for modern ADHD audiences. As you will see, I am borrowing heavily from several series episodes, but hopefully with a twist. . . First, I would begin with the incident mentioned in Obsession (gas cloud monster) where eager young (by the book) Lt. James Kirk of the USS Farragut freezes up for a split second, leading to the deaths of several officers including the captain he idolized (Captain Garrovick). Kirk freezes because he fears that shooting the gas cloud could kill his then-girlfriend (who is the science officer on the Farragut). This gives us the question of whether or not Kirk can make the truly hard decision of sacrificing someone he loves to save others. Fast forward several years. A no-longer-by-the-book, Kirk boards the Enterprise for the first time as Captain. He is replacing the very popular Captain Pike, which gives us a chance to see if Kirk can win over the crew. Spock, who is already on the Enterprise, was Pike’s science officer and represents the voice of reason. Sulu, also already on board, represents the voice of Pike’s crew. McCoy comes on board for the first time with Kirk, but has not previously known Kirk -- he will be the voice of the audience. Also coming on board with Kirk, as second officer of the Enterprise, is Kirk’s best friend from Academy days. These characters will let the audience see Kirk’s actions being judged from different perspectives. Kirk’s first assignment is to take the science team to the outer rim of the galaxy to investigate and cross over an energy barrier that rings the galaxy and seems to hold it together. The science team includes Kirk’s (now ex) girlfriend from the beginning of the film. She still pines for Kirk, but he has an aversion to her because of the bad memories of the Farragut incident. This gives us a potential romantic interest and lets us see how Kirk is dealing with his own past. Moreover, you can add the element of him trying to resolve the idea that he wants a relationship but simultaneously has come to believe that a relationship would interfere with his duties as Captain. Kirk tries to take the ship through the barrier, causing the ship to become damaged. Several people die and a handful of people start developing strange ESP powers -- including the ex and the best friend. As the crippled ship heads to the nearest Federation outpost, things start to go wrong. First, they encounter the remains of an alien starship. During the next hour of the movie, Spock will slowly decode that ship’s logs. He will learn that the crew came under attack from both within and outside of the ship, and that the alien captain blew up his own ship, but they won’t know why until near the end of the movie. In the meantime, strange things start to happen. They discover a ship following them on their sensors, but can’t get near it (like a sensor mirage). It’s like they are being stalked (“Balance of Terror”). People also start to see visions of ghosts walking the hallways and hear things pounding on the hull. Soon people are hallucinating, with deadly consequences. In this portion of the film, I would go for a level and style of horror similar to the Grudge -- uncomfortable and disturbing (a little shocking), but not gory. As these events begin, the crew believes that they have intruders aboard. Then they start to think that they brought something back from the destroyed ship. But as Kirk’s friends gain more and more powers it starts to become clear that they are manifesting these nightmares. Further, as their powers grow, they start “losing their humanity” as their powers corrupt their thinking. For example, you have the “power corrupts” angle, but you can also play other angles -- like being able to read minds and see the fear and hate within those minds causes them to turn nasty and paranoid. As these powers grow, they become increasingly menacing to the crew, until it is finally revealed that they are causing the manifestations the crew are experiencing. Spock tells Kirk that they cannot be allowed to reach a populated planet -- he also discovers that this is why the alien captain destroyed his own ship, so they would not unleash this on a populated planet. At the same time, McCoy is working on a cure, but likely won’t find one in time. Kirk is now faced with THE choice -- egged on in multiple directions by Spock and McCoy. He can’t let them reach the nearest outpost, and he must protect his crew, but can he kill his friends in cold blood? That is the very issue Kirk could not resolve at the beginning of the film. In terms of adding a little action, as Kirk is making the decision, I would have the “sensor ghost” (now nearly fully manifested) finally attack the Enterprise. This would be the final trigger that pushes Kirk to make the decision. So does he kill them? Yes, but if this is written well, the audience should not be sure until he does it that he will actually do it. Then wrap it up with a speech about duty, and stressing that while space exploration is dangerous, it is in our nature to take risks. The end. I think this movie does a good job of keeping the feel of the original, updating it, and creating a movie that is both challenging to the audience and yet accessible. Also, this movie leaves the door open for all kinds of stories in the future, whereas the new movie really can only lead to more CGI action flicks.

Official Sherlock Holmes HD Trailer

Gotta love Robert Downey Jr... Opens Christmas Day 2009.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Space....where's the beef?

You'll notice I'm not reviewing games as they come out...why? First I can't always afford to buy them, and second, I think sometimes a game that's been around for some time , sometimes riding under the radar, deserves a second look. Anyone here wanting me to review the newest games as they come out will just have to buy them for me. That being said...can I talk about Maxi's (Sims) "SPORE"? This game from Electronic Arts and put out for the PC is one of the sweetest games I've tackled for the last six months and stands as one of the greatest games of the last five years. What? Really? Yes!!! Imagine a game where you begin as a miscroscopic organism and play through five levels to eventually strike out into space. The scope of this is ridiculous, but damn..it works! It's evolves from a third person eater to management and strategy game that is the godchild of "Civilization" and "Age of Empires". Perhaps the thing that makes this game so compelling is the open-endedness of it and the charm of the gameplay. For instance, to get to the screen where you evolve and change your creature, you join with a member of the opposite sex and do a dance to music that would have made Barry White proud. To form alliances with other species, you can sing, dance, or make some bizarre gestures which can only be described as the "hootchie-coo" without the "hoo". The creatures you create, whether vegetarian or carnivore, have such an amazing variety and the potential for variety of interaction at the different levels means that each time you plays this game through it will be refreshingly different. Gamers have a term for this: "Replayability". Clever, huh? So much better than "Shugg-urath-ood". In my current playthrough, I'm a carnivore. Bet you saw that coming. I've also decided to becoming viciously aggressive and to forsake any alliances. I'm sort of a cross between the Klingons and the characters from Veggie Tales, if those characters had fangs and blood dripping from their claws. Seriously...if you're a gamer and want something different..if you're tired of the shooters and the movie ripoffs..then try this. It's the best game of its kind since "Black and White".

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Winners! Biggest Book Giveaway Yet!

I have randomly picked the winners of my "38 Books" giveaway and they are: 1st Place: Daelith- "Dancing on the Head of a Pin" by Thomas Sneigoski 2nd Place: Renee G.- "The Chosen Sin" by Anya Bast 3rd Place: Tim Poirier- "Mars Life" by Ben Bova 4th Place: Christina Gregory- "Crouching Vampire, Hidden Fang" by Katie MacAlister and 5th Place: SESinNJ- "The Magic of Nightfall" by S.L. Farrell Congratulations everyone! If you haven't already sent me your addresses, make sure you get them to me soon so I can mail these off to you. I hope everyone enjoys their books!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Artist Corner: Kmye-Chan

Posted by Harry Markov

Due to some time restrictions yesterday, a very long 14 hours shift at work, I was unable to get the Artist Corner interview up and running on Friday per se, but let’s pretend it’s Friday once more and take a dip in the hauntingly beautiful world of art with Camille otherwise known as Kmye Chan. This French flower cultivates her own garden of phantasmagoric fragile images, which if you have been around the Internet long enough must have already seen. So here is the person behind the art and her rendition of the answers to my obnoxious questions. Harry Markov: Hello and thank you for accepting my invitation. It is a real pleasure having you here in my virtual chair. Let’s start with the simple and basic questions. What was your first encounter with art and how did you decide you would become an artist? Kmye Chan: Thank you very much for inviting me! It’s a pleasure to be virtually here. ;) Well, to be honest, I didn’t really “choose” to become an artist… it kind of fell on me. I’ve been drawing for almost all my life, I started as a kid, except that unlike most people, I never really stopped. At first I was drawing just for fun, but in my late teens, I realized that drawing was something very, very important for me, and that I wanted to go a little bit further in that direction. From there I started working harder to improve, and before I knew it, I guess you could say I was an artist. HM: Another tradition with the “Artist Corner” is to say something about yourself. Who is kmye-chan and why did you chose this interesting sounding username for your DA profile? KC: That’s a long story! Kmye is a contraction of my real first name, Camille. It’s the nickname I’ve been using online ever since I had an internet connection. Back then, as a teenager, I was part of a group of friends with a common passion for mangas, drawing and roleplays, and one of those friends extended my nickname to “Kmye-chan”. In Japanese, the suffix “-chan” is a diminutive for kids and girls. Around that time, I also opened my first accounts on art communities like DeviantART, and I used the nickname “Kmye-chan” as my account name… and the name has stuck since then. Now I turned it into “Kmye Chan” and it’s the name I’m known by in the art community. HM: Who are the artists that inspired and influenced you the most? KC: There are many, so I’m not going to enumerate everyone! As a kid, I read a lot of comic books (mainly French and Japanese) which influenced me greatly: a few names that come to my mind are Bernard Yslaire, Fran├žois Bourgeon, Ai Yazawa, Kaori Yuki… As far as painters go, I love the works of Dali, Magritte, Schiele, Klimt, Mucha, Waterhouse, Rossetti… just to name a few! I’m also very influenced by pop-surrealist artists such as Mark Ryden and James Jean, or illustrators as Edward Gorey and Nicoletta Ceccoli. HM: Your work is dreamy, airy and fantastic bordering on dark and surrealistic. How do you feed such an active imagination and where does your inspiration come from? KC: My inspiration comes from everything and anything… it’s usually something unusual or odd that attracts my attention, and sparks an idea. But this little “something” can be anything really. It just happens out of the blue, and most of the time I’m not even able to trace back the train of thought that took me to that idea. That’s what you get when you daydream a lot, I guess! But once I’ve got the initial idea, that’s where the real work starts : I try to refine the original idea, to develop it and make it grow into something interesting, which can be quite different from the original idea I got. HM: What attracts you to the out of the ordinary and fantasy? Different people find something entirely unique for themselves and I always like hearing a new answer on the subject. KC: I have always had a soft spot for the misfit, the odd, the unusual. I’m someone who gets bored easily, and I like to be surprised, intrigued, interested. So I love everything that stimulates and challenges my imagination, that shows me something I have never seen before, that contains more than it looks at first glance. If it makes me dream, if it tells me a story, if it shows emotions that I can relate to, then I’m attracted to it… and that’s just what the out of the ordinary and fantasy does! HM: All of your works center around a young fragile girl in a different scenarios and situations. What brings you back to this image and haven’t you been tempted to try painting a boy? KC: Well, I’m putting a lot of myself in my artworks, emotionally. When I draw, I completely relate to the character I’m drawing. So it doesn’t feel right and straightforward for me to draw a boy…! But I’m planning to try and include male characters in my artworks… I just need to take a large breath and dive! HM: Most of your pieces are inspired by the 19th century and their style of dressing. What fascinates you about this era to bring your fans back to it? KC: I’m mainly fascinated by the aesthetics of 19th century fashion (and historical costumes in general – I’m in a big Renaissance period right now). I love complicated dresses, lace, frills, embroideries… I’m such a girl! Also, most of my artwork portrays girls that are somewhat misfits, strange creatures… and 19th century fashion, with its tight corsets, carries the idea of contention, constraint, pressure on women, which works well with the ideas and emotions I’m trying to convey. HM: I consider your work otherworldly, like witnessing a bittersweet dream. As a host of a more fantasy oriented blog, I would want to know, what your stand with fantasy is. Do you plan to ever dabble into more classical fantasy as genre? The medieval kind. KC: To be honest, medieval fantasy was never really my thing. I do enjoy a good fantasy book or movie, and I love the work of many amazing fantasy artists… but it’s not something I picture myself drawing. I’m a romantic and dreamer at heart, and the codes of classical fantasy hold too much adventure and romanesque to really fit with the bizarre and the melancholy that come with my ideas! HM: I always marveled your technique. What is your working process? Do you paint by traditional means or do you also mix in with the digital world? KC: For the past three years or so, I have been working exclusively with traditional media. I’ve tried digital artwork, but I’m just not very good with digital media, I’m afraid! HM: Another completely customary question would be about your work process. How much does it usually take to complete a piece from start to finish and what’s your way of doing things? KC: My working process is rather simple: I sketch with a pencil on watercolour paper, I ink with various Indian inks, and then I colour with a mix of markers, watercolours, pencils and acrylics. I work a lot on textures and shadows by texturing and “dirtying” the artwork as a final touch. As for the time it takes me, it varies enormously depending on the size and complexity of the artwork. Painting an artwork can take to from 2 to 25 hours, from the moment I start sketching until completion. If you start counting from the moment I have the idea and keep it in a corner of my head to mature, it can go up to months! HM: Following closely your blog I see that you have been a frequent victim of art theft, which is a very cruel form of piracy. How do you deal with these cases and also are there any means to prevent this from happening at large? KC: Unfortunately, there is no way that I know of to prevent art theft from happening. Internet is a gold mine for designers and so-called “artists” lacking imagination to find artworks they can take, claim as theirs or copy, and make money off. The best you can do is to make sure you protect your artwork the best way you can: no high-resolution files online, watermarks, and if possible, register your artwork. It won’t stop people taking your work, but at least it gives you legal leverage when it happens. When it does happen, it’s a hurtful experience… especially because in most cases, there’s not much you can do. But it’s important to fight back and try to protect your rights, because the more people get away with it, the more they’ll keep doing it. HM: The logic from the last question leads to the fact that you are quite popular professionally in the art scene. What are your professional heights and does art pay the bills for you? KC: Unfortunately, no! I’m not all that popular in the art scene, to be honest, I’m still a newbie and it’s a tough world! Right now, I have a full-time job and I work as an illustrator on the side. I couldn’t earn my living with my artwork right now, unless maybe if I accepted every commissioned work offer I receive, including the ones that don’t really float the boat of my imagination. I prefer to keep a day job, and be able to choose only the projects that really interest me. Maybe someday I’ll be able to switch to more art, less day job… I’m thinking about it, but no decisions made so far. :) HM: From your own personal site I have seen that you have had plenty of exhibitions back in 2008 and some scheduled for this year as well. What’s the feeling to be a part of an exhibition and how is your art being received? KC: Being part of an exhibition is amazing. It’s a great honor and a beautiful achievement. I’m very grateful to the people who gave me my chance and trusted me and my work so much (they know who they are!). My work was very well-received in convention art shows in the USA, I’m hoping to do more this year if I can. I also made my first gallery shows this year, from which I got good feedback and critics about my work, although sales weren’t amazing – a normal thing for a newcomer in galleries, I was told. Now it’s wait and see! HM: To close off this session I will ask the frequent last question. What are we to expect from such a talented artist? KC: No disappointment, I hope! I’ll do my best! ;)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Giveaway! Skin Trade by Laurell K. Hamilton

I have another great giveaway courtesy of Penguin Books. This time it's Skin Trade by Laurell K. Hamilton Product Description A proven series with a hot new look. The #1 bestselling author returns with her most anticipated novel yet. When a vampire serial killer sends Anita Blake a grisly souvenir from Las Vegas, she has to warn Sin City’s local authorities what they’re dealing with. Only it’s worse than she thought. Ten officers and one executioner have been slain—paranormal style. Anita heads to Vegas, where’s she’s joined by three other federal marshals, including the ruthless Edward. It’s a good thing he always has her back, because when she gets close to the bodies, Anita senses “tiger” too strongly to ignore it. The weretigers are very powerful in Las Vegas, which means the odds of her rubbing someone important the wrong way just got a lot higher. Either leave a comment here or email me at sqt1969@(nosmam)gmail.com (just remove the 'nospam' insert) under the header "Skin Trade" to enter and I will randomly pick a winner by Friday June 5th. Please 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!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Star Trek & Stars Wars Are Equal?

A humorous take on how the storylines resemble each other...
Thoughts? [Hat tip Rama's Screen]

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Land of Lost-- New Trailer

I'm not usually a huge Will Farrell fan, but this looks funny....

For MaryJanice Davidson Fans--A Giveaway!

I have TWO copies of MaryJanice Davidson's new book, "Undead and Unwelcome" for giveaway on my Giveaway Page. Unfortunately it's only open to U.S. entries, but if you qualify-- head on over for your chance to win.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Star Trek-- an Alternative (Re)View Part II of II

"Star Trek" didn't burst into the public consciousness when the show first aired in 1966. The show ended after a modest 3 year run due to low ratings but developed a cult following that spawned several series' spun off the original show and 11 feature films. The cast of the original show has had the most enduring following and over 25 years to develop the personalities of their characters and gel as a group.

 The new Star Trek has an unusual challenge. They have to take a cast and story that has evolved over a very long time on the small and big screen. They have to take the reins of a beloved saga and not only carry on a well established tradition, but they also have to make it accessible to a new generation that has been weaned on PG-13 action films that fit the "Transformers" mold. Additionally, the director, J.J. Abrams, only has two hours to present a story that introduces multiple characters, establishes their personalities and presents it in a action-packed way. Whew! That's a tall order.

"Star Trek" opens with a a big action sequence and doesn't let up for the duration of the film. --I don't want to offer any spoilers, so I will be as general as possible in breaking everything down-- Like other movies of the same type, such as "Fantastic Four" and "X-Men," "Star Trek" is basically a foundation film. It's main job is to introduce us to the characters, show us some personality quirks and set the stage for future installments. There is a pretty big cast here, all beloved characters with certain personality traits that many loyalists are going to feel are set in stone, and very little time to fuse the new faces with the well known quirks. Because of that the story focuses primarily on Kirk and Spock, giving us their personal histories, while only giving us the sketchiest outlines of the rest of the group.

 Right from the start we see how events unfold that set the stage for Kirk's impulsiveness and Spock's determination to mold himself into the quintessential Vulcan. Chris Pine has the biggest shoes to fill as a young James T. Kirk. He doesn't show up as Captain Kirk, but begins life as a reckless young man growing up in Iowa. Smart but not challenged he is encouraged to channel his energy into the Star Fleet Academy, and like everything else he does, he jumps in with both feet and his brain in neutral. Certain aspects of military life come naturally to Kirk, but he still spends most of his time breaking the rules. There is a fecklessness to Pine's portrayal of Kirk that will rub many the wrong way. I don't know if it's a mistake of casting or a problem with the script, but Pine's Kirk jumps from situation to situation in a way that makes him seem like a highly unlikely candidate to make it to the Captain's chair. He also spends far too much time getting beat up and seems less like a tough guy and more like a farm boy who's out of his league; like he's trying to be Han Solo but doesn't have the goods. The most egregious demonstration of the sometimes ham-handed handling of Kirk's character is the Kobayashi Maru sequence which sets up the relationship that develops between Kirk and Spock.

 Spock by comparison is handled very well by Zachary Quinto, known for his role as Sylar in the TV show "Heroes." Quinto does an admirable job of conveying the gravity with which Spock approaches every situation. He even manages to make a fairly absurd sequence (I need only say 'ice planet' and those who have seen the film will know what I'm talking about), one that is introduced as nothing more than a means to introduce certain characters into the film, somewhat credible.

 The rest of the cast isn't given as much screen time so they have little more than a line here or there to set their individual tones. Karl Urban is probably my favorite of the extended cast as Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy. He's older than most of the crew, with the exception of Simon Pegg (Montgomery "Scotty" Scott) and he hits the right notes with his sardonic humor and asides toward Spock when he refers to him as green blooded hobgoblin. John Cho (Sulu) and Anton Yelchin (Chekov) also do well with their limited time on screen.  The most complaints I hear are directed at the casting of Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana) but truly she suffers the most from a limited opportunity to develop the role. I will say, without adding any spoilers, that she is involved in a romance that is in no way credible, and that does detract from the character.

 This "Star Trek" is an unabashed action film. There is no time spent setting up the mission of the Enterprise which is a glaring omission. At the same time there is no benefit in making a genre film too preachy as has been a problem with "Star Trek" films in the past. Genre films fund the pocketbooks of the production companies. "The Dark Knight" is proof that no matter how good a comic book movie is, no matter how well developed, casted and produced, it is not going to get Academy Award recognition. Director Christopher Nolan has proven that depth can be found in any storyline and that it can be sold to wide audience, and perhaps that is why he was snubbed at award time. An award winning vehicle is not supposed to have so big an audience. This is not an excuse for the developmental gaps in Abrams' version of "Star Trek," but it does offer an explanation. And maybe I'm cynical but I can live with being pandered to in this case. Yes, I would have liked to see Kirk have more depth and I would have appreciated it if the underlying mission of the Star Fleet had been included-- it is rather essential to the story.

 But "Star Trek" managed to do something unexpected. It brought life back to a tired franchise; something Stephen Spielberg wishes he could have done with the dreadful "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." "Star Trek" also does a far better job that most movies of its kind. I like "X-Men" a great deal, but there are times when too much time is spent on developing the politics of the story vs. getting to the action. It's a delicate balance and not many movies do it well. Movies like "Iron Man" and "Batman Begins" have the luxury of only needing to focus on the background of one main character, so they're given the time to be given more depth than can be spared for an ensemble cast while still having plenty of action. Kirk, Spock, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov, Bones and Scotty-- that's a lot of territory to cover and not each one is endowed with the characteristics we've come to expect. But there are moments in which we see a glimmer of what you hope to see when you go to a "Star Trek" movie. Spock's logic, Bones' cynicism or Kirk's impetuousness-- it's there and it's fun to revisit.

The Enterprise looks different but the uniforms recall old times. There are little bits of continuity that let long-time fans like myself relate to the new version. Logically I know there were gaps in the movie. Yes, Kirk was thrown off of an awful lot of cliffs. Yet the movie entertains. It hits all the right emotional chords. It brings back the feelings I had when I watched the original show. No, the new cast doesn't have the gravity of the previous one, but how could they? As far as I'm concerned, "Star Trek" does what it's supposed to do. It takes you away for a couple of hours and it brings a well-loved show to a new generation.

By the end of the movie I began to have faith that it could also bring a new appreciation the space opera and while most spin-offs aren't likely to rise to a high level of sophistication, if one "Blade Runner" or "Alien" came out of it, I would be satisfied. I also, surprisingly, began to believe that Chris Pine could pull off the role of Captain Kirk despite the slightly hyperactive performance. There next movie will have to have some real development put into it to make this attempt worthwhile, but I think there's a real chance it can, and will, be done. So, bottom line, put me in the category of someone who really liked this movie. I would go see it again tomorrow and feel it was money well spent.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Star Trek Rebooted-- An Alternative View (Part I of II)

Last night I finally had a chance to see the new "Star Trek" and got to see what all the fuss is about. If you have read the post directly below this one, authored by Stewart Sternberg, you'll see a purist's reaction to the new "Star Trek." One that has a very good argument that change for change's sake is not necessarily a good thing. That prioritizing action over subtlety is pandering to masses just to make money. And in many ways I completely agree with Stewart. Despite myself, I liked the movie. A lot. The original "Star Trek" aired from 1966-1969, ending its run before I was even born. Yet I grew up with the series and knew James T. Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scotty, Sulu, Uhura and Chekov well. I went to see almost all of the movies in the theatre as they were released and while I can't speak Klingon or spout obscure Trek facts, I have always been a fan. "To boldly go where no man (or "no one" as it was later changed to) has gone before" was the catchphrase that I looked forward to every week. The one that told me to prepare myself for the unexpected. I appreciated the thought that went into the philosophy behind the series and the vision that Gene Roddenberry created. It's easy to see why "Star Trek" has stayed with us for so long and meant so much to so many people. Over the years the show has had many incarnations. Many people hold Captains Kirk and Picard up as the quintessential Star Fleet captains and when asked which Captain do you prefer? it's often understood that the choices are between those two. But Captain Kirk will always be the original Captain of the Enterprise and attempting to recreate "Star Trek" with a new James T. Kirk was something that was going to bring controversy-- albeit of a minor sort-- that was unavoidable. J.J. Abrams, love him or hate him, was in a fairly no-win situation from the get go. A few years back a reboot of "Superman" was attempted when the movie Superman Returns was released. Director Bryan Singer did what many think should have been done with the new "Star Trek;" he attempted to recapture the essence of the original, and basically do a faithful remake, with a new cast-- and many felt that it was an underwhelming effort. Brandon Routh was a likable new Superman but he was no Christopher Reeve. And Kate Bosworth was a brittle, unlikable Lois and the one attempt to update the storyline with the son-of-Superman addition left most people cold. This Superman reboot pretty much died on the vine. Moving forward a couple of years the idea emerges to remake "Star Trek" for a new generation. "Star Trek" is a winning formula, but it has gone stale over the years. As much as I like "Star Trek: TNG" I haven't been enamored of most of the movies featuring that cast, and really, did anyone bother to see "Star Trek Nemesis?" The reviews would suggest that those who did regretted that decision. "Star Trek Voyager" was fairly successful with a 6-year run, though no particular interest seemed to be there for a movie starring that particular cast and "Enterprise," while good, seemed unable to generate the wow factor of the original. So the question becomes, how do you recapture the excitement of the "Star Trek" franchise? and the obvious answer is you go back to what made it great in the first place.. and that means casting a whole new crew for the Enterprise and updating the story for a new generation. Not a small challenge by any means. And it's at this point that many Trekkies are going to part company. The fact is that there is no way possible for any director to make all fans of "Star Trek" happy with this remake. The movie-going audience isn't what it used to be. As obnoxious as it might be, there is no getting past the fact that when people line up to see a movie like "Star Trek" they want to see action. It is no longer enough to present a thoughtful, and sometimes ponderous, movie about exploring space. The original audience is also not big enough to allow a movie like "Star Trek" to compete against movies like "The Dark Knight" and "Transformers" without offering a similar level of excitement. You can be a purist all you want, but it isn't going to pay the bills. I was skeptical when I heard about the casting of the new "Star Trek." I thought the characters were too baby faced and, as Stewart put it, too 90210 to work. But after watching the movie I have had a chance to reconsider my earlier opinion and tomorrow, I will give my full review of "Star Trek" and tell you why I think this movie works, flaws and all.

You'll All Hate Me...Star Trek, A Review

I know there will be those here who will find the following words heretical...but dammit, Jim, I hated J.J. Abrams' Star Trek. I can hear the collective gasps even now. 
Without giving any spoilers, I have no problem with a reboot. I can even handle the alternative reality/time travel thing. What left me cold was Abram's poor film making. What???But the critics love it! Yeah, yeah...well...not this one.
So what are my complaints? 
Let's begin with the main character. A smarmy egoistical fratboy named James Kirk, who seems mired in unconvincing and annoying angst. At one point where he is being chased by a critter, I actually cheered for the critter. Maybe it's because pretty boy Chris Pine doesn't understand subtlety, or maybe it's because Abrams is afraid his young, attention span challenged audience will not be able to sit in their seats long enough for the character to develop, but this cinematic reincarnation of Kirk is one of the most annoying screen characters in years. A shame, considering he is paired with the strong Zachary Quinto as Spock and Karl Urban, who nails Leonard "Bones" McCoy. Considering how bad the series could be at times, and how over-the-top William Shatner would play it, one is amazed that Pine suffers in comparison.
What other complaints, besides the "90210" updating of Uhura??? 
Well, how about the score? What an annoying composition. As I listened to the plodding horns and ridiculous bass, I mourned for the absence of Alexander Courage and Jerry Goldsmith. Or even James Horner. Thankfully, the original theme makes its appearance by the end, but by then, one is so disappointed in the product that the return of this old friend feels mocking.
Anything else for me to rip apart?
YES. Why did Abrams include so many unneccesary and absurd scenes? What a waste of time. What a pandering to the lowest common denominator. Isn't it enough those little ones (emotionally and mentally, if not physically) have Michael Bay's Transformer to suck on? Must Abrams and Paramount give them Star Trek? The stupid car theft scene, the ridiculous ice planet chase and monsters, Scotty's nonsensical introduction and subsequent trip through what must have been Enterprise's hooka. And even the action packet assault on the Romulan death machine. Really.....really???? Did these scenes do ANYTHING other than give the wee ones eye candy and nonsense?
Go see Star Trek. Go on. The critics love it. Most of you will, too. The fanboys will wet themselves in their undiscriminating glow. But for the real lover of the spirit of Trek and for anyone with discerning wit and a love of intelligent science fiction, which is what Trek seemed always to reach for, even if it often fell short...this film is a stab in the back.