Friday, December 31, 2010

Review: Star Wars - Red Harvest by Joe Schreiber

Find out what could be so horrific as to send the Sith running scared in Red Harvest, a novel set during The Old Republic era of Star Wars. Red Harvest primarily takes place on snowy planet of Odacer-Faustin, home of a school where future Sith go to learn. The students go about doing their usual routines of trying to kill one another and generally advance themselves while at the same time cutting the legs out from their classmates; because there are rumors that the headmaster of this school is up to something truly dark in his tower overlooking the academy, and that only the best students ever get to find out what it is. Darth Scabrous, like many Sith who will come before and after him, is looking for a path to eternal life. He believes he may have come upon it in the form of a liquid dispensed from a black orchid – but this is no ordinary plant, it has sentience and requires the ministrations of a Jedi in order to remain alive. Fortunately, a bounty hunter named Tulkh has just delivered Jedi Agricultural Corps worker Hestizo Trace and her plant – and a failed student provides the needed volunteer to undergo the procedure of being injected with the fluid. Meanwhile, Jedi Knight Rojo Trace learns of his sister’s abduction and goes off in search of her, not knowing that he’s heading right into this zombie-like plague; where a bite or scratch from someone infected will in turn make the wounded person infected. The zombies can lose limbs and even their heads and continue to function in some kind of hive-like mind state. And the zombies are ensuring everyone in the academy will have a chance to join them – by barricading them all inside. I felt that Red Harvest was a vast improvement over Death Troopers (Joe Schreiber's Star Wars horror book from last year); a better, more suspenseful horror story, and just a better story overall. It's a little like a Victorian gothic horror book - like Frankenstein with the mad scientist, his castle, his "creation" which then goes berserk... plus it's got a Sherlock Holmes vibe with Jedi Knight Trace, who's trying to track down his sister using logical deduction. Obviously the bulk of the book takes place at a Sith Academy; very much like the one in the Knights of the Old Republic game (for those familiar with it). It's a great setting, with lots of potential for fun Sith students and aggressive characters - all of which are well utilized by Schreiber (similar in many ways to all the prisoners in Death Troopers). Red Harvest probably has all the same weaknesses as Death Troopers though, it's a very focused book - this is what's going on, we don't have much of a look at the outside galaxy; only the immediate impact on these characters. I think the build-up might be more intense in Death Troopers (while things are "going wrong" or we're waiting for things to go wrong) - but I think the actual horror of what's happening is better presented this time around, the actual event of the zombie plague being more important as the characters try to then survive moment to moment. It's very similar in the "who will live and who will die?" question Death Troopers keeps the reader guessing about - only in this case, because there are no "special guest stars" anyone is fair game. The author makes the most of that, and he had me going up until the very end wondering who was going to make it out alive. Ultimately, I enjoyed Red Harvest a lot and thought it was stronger than Death Troopers (which I also enjoyed) but I think anyone reading Red Harvest who has read the previous book will know what they're getting into - you're likely to have the same feelings towards this book as you had towards the previous. I do think the combination of The Old Republic era and lack of characters you know have to survive both help this book rise above Death Troopers. While it might be a stretch for those looking for more books in this era (due to the upcoming videogame), I do think there is enough of The Old Republic setting to make it worthwhile to those readers as well. It also stands well enough on it's own so that you don't need to have more of a passing knowledge of the Star Wars movies in order to be able to read this book - it does not require having read any other Star Wars books, not even Death Troopers - so from that point it's very approachable. It's not the best Star Wars book I've ever read, but it's far from the worst - and if the idea of a horror themed book set in that galaxy far, far away appeals to you, it's worth a read.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Contest Deadlines Extended...

As anyone who has done some shipping recently knows, trying to ship anything right now is a nightmare. I mailed off some books last week for a couple of contests that had ended and was told that if I didn't send the mail priority the packages would have a delayed arrival date. That wasn't a problem for me since I wasn't mailing off Christmas gifts, but it does make standing in line for over thirty minutes unappealing if the prizes are going to take a week longer to get there.

In other words, I'm not mailing anything off this week.

I have a couple of contests that have passed their official end date, but I'm extending them until after Christmas. As an added bonus I'm going to pick an extra winner for the "pick your title" giveaway to make up for the delay. So be sure to get your entries in if you haven't already.

the Pick Your Title Giveaway

Stars and Gods by Larry Niven giveaway

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Movie Review: "Tron: Legacy"

What makes a good movie? There are usually a few mental boxes you check when you tally up whether or not you liked a particular movie. Like most people my boxes have a descending order of importance--your mix may vary. The top of my list is all about the story. Does the plot make sense? Is it unique or does it rely on well-used characterizations as shorthand for honest-to-goodness character development? And, most importantly, do I connect to it? Visuals usually are somewhere at the middle-to-the-bottom of my list depending on how they're used in a movie. If the shaky-cam variety of filming is heavily featured, it can bump up the importance of the visuals in a negative way thanks to its headache-inducing properties. Good visuals, as in "Avatar," can certainly help overcome a wobbly script, but there are limits to what good scenery can do, and I think Tron: Legacy overestimated what stunning visual effects can accomplish for a film.

When the original "Tron" came out in 1982 video games were in their infancy compared to what we play today. Pac Man was fun and revolutionary for its time, and certainly a big step up from Pong, but a bare shadow of the technology we enjoy now. Video game enthusiasts embraced "Tron," both as a game and a movie though audiences that didn't identify themselves as part of that culture were less enthralled. I don't think this "Tron" will have a different, or as long lasting, legacy than the original.

Set pretty much in real time, "Tron: Legacy" picks up some twenty years after the original movie left off. Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), the hero from the first movie, disappeared soon after after taking over as CEO of ENCOM and has been missing for the last twenty years. His son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) is the presumptive heir-to-the throne as the largest shareholder of ENCOM, but has turned into the predictable thrill-seeking rebel we've seen a hundred times since Batman. He even base-jumps off of skyscrapers! How...been there, done that.

When Kevin's old friend and co-worker Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) receives a page from Kevin, Sam goes to an abandoned arcade that belonged to Kevin to investigate. Finding an old passageway, behind the Tron game naturally, Sam finds Kevin's old computer and with just a few keystrokes finds himself on The Grid-- the virtual world that exists inside the Tron game.

Sam is immediately captured by a sentry program and thrown into the gladiatorial games in a sequence that primarily exists to show off the neon orange and white glow of the Grid and introduce the audience to Clu-- Kevin Flynn's virtual alter ego. Clu, a digitally altered version of Jeff Bridges, is both impressive and slightly disjointed. The virtual character is mostly convincing but when he speaks he's just a tiny bit off and it's enough to pull you out of the movie once in a while. But that's all distraction as the ultimate goal is to find Kevin Flynn and reunite father and son after twenty years apart. Thanks to a beautiful program named Quorra (Olivia Wilde), who conveniently comes to Sam's rescue in the games just in time to prevent the dreaded "derezzing" that amounts to death in the Grid, Sam finally gets to find out where his father has been his whole life.

"Tron: Legacy" is essentially a movie for fans of the original and/or people who like lots of bright lights and loud noises. It is visually striking but it doesn't take long for the novelty to wear off because there is only so much than can be done with a color scheme that mainly consists of black, white and orange. Fans will undoubtedly enjoy the Light Cycles and Light Jets (as will the marketing department at Disney) but cool vehicles just can't overcome a poorly conceived plot that struggles to find meaning within a soulless video game.

The biggest issue for me was trying to connect to the characters. Kevin Flynn is a strangely passive guy who has been entirely too content to bide his time in an off-Grid abode that seems right out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. He seems to be going for a Zen sort of thing, but leaves you with the feeling that he just didn't have the guts to try to get the heck out of the game. Hedlund does what he can with Sam and I liked him well enough, but the character was just too cliché to be truly interesting. Wilde brings an appeal to her character that goes beyond what's written on the page, but I still couldn't dredge up any concern over what happened to her one way or another. The only person who owns the screen for any length of time is Michael Sheen, whose turn as a glam-rock club owner steals a bit from David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust, and I found myself wishing he could have been our on-screen villain instead of the lifeless Clu. It should also be mentioned that the original Tron character makes an appearance, but it seemed to be more of an obligatory addition rather than anything that adds any substance to the plot.

Everything that doesn't matter about "Tron: Legacy" is given the most weight. The imagery, while striking, get monotonous after awhile and the sound-- oh my goodness... Can I take a moment to mention how freaking loud the backing audio was? It was like the sound mixer had just discovered the synthesizer and thought it was the coolest thing in the world. It boomed throughout the whole film in a barrage of sound that frequently overwhelmed the dialog and did little more than further distance the audience from the action on screen. My kids spent most of the movie with their hands over their ears-- I tried that too but found that there was no good way to block the pounding sound effects and still hear what the characters were saying. If my summary of the movie is off, it's because I couldn't hear what anyone was saying. (For the record the theater manager tried to adjust the sound but couldn't do a whole lot with it.)

I've read enough reviews of this movie to know that there will be a segment of fans who just aren't going to read a negative review with any objectivity-- and that's fine. If you want to love "Tron: Legacy" be my guest. But this movie was not one of those that worked for me. My mental checklist ended up mostly blank after enduring a sensory pummeling and a three hour headache. Add to that a general lack of plot and character development and a dues-ex-machina moment or two, and you get a movie that I really can't recommend.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Review: Green Lantern Corps - Ring Quest

With an upcoming movie, Green Lantern is about to make a big splash – but did you know that it’s a very sci-fi oriented superhero story? The Green Lantern Corps are a galactic police force, endowed with superpowers and tasked with the job of maintaining peace and order. One day for the purposes of these reviews, I may go back and re-read/review the Green Lantern stories which have come before this point. Depending on your point of view, it begins with the destruction of Coast City in the Reign of the Supermen/Return of Superman story, after which Hal Jordan is infected by Parallax (a fear creature of the “yellow” - which any fan of Green Lantern knows is a Lantern’s biggest weakness) goes nuts, destroys the Corps, and falls from grace. A new Lantern takes over (Kyle Rayner) for awhile, but eventually Hal gets a Rebirth, which leads to a return of the Corps – just in time to face off against the Sinestro Corps (or Yellow Lanterns). It is in the aftermath of that war in which Ring Quest begins. Green Lantern Corps stars the “other” Green Lanterns like Kyle, who’s now had his own brush with Parallax during the Sinestro Corps War. There’s also Guy Gardner, the rough around the edges hero whose girlfriend has just returned to life but wants some time away. And there are a bunch of other characters, too, from the very odd (bugs and robots) to various alternate takes on humanoid. They’re all brought together by the little blue aliens who run the Green Lantern Corps for a very special mission; track down the yellow rings before they find new owners and ensure they do not resurrect the Sinestro Corps. Meanwhile, Mongul (yellow-skinned, sometime enemy of Superman) becomes the host to one of those rings – decides that he alone should hold ALL of the yellow rings – and sets out on a quest to retrieve them as well. The inevitable clash between Mongul and the Green Lantern Corps has been set up. It’s just a matter of time before we get there. For fans of the character Mongul and his homeworld, this story is a treat because it reveals additional details of both this current incarnation of the character (as son of the original) and also of the Black Mercy flowers he most often uses as his weapon of choice. But it Ring Quest isn’t what I’d call a necessary book either. It wasn’t as compelling as some of the Green Lantern stories I’ve read leading up to this point, and it doesn’t seem all that important in the grand scheme of things beyond this story. (Even if Mongul returns as a Yellow Lantern in the future, I don’t expect to have needed to read this story to understand his presence in the Sinestro Corps). Yet it was an enjoyable diversion, a good story where you’re actually given some insight into these Corps characters who’ve maybe been getting a little less screen time (due to the big Sinestro Corps War crossover event just prior to this). The comic ramps into the action fairly quickly and becomes a big blowout cosmic battle by the end with an entire world at stake. If you’re a Green Lantern fan (and willing to move beyond Hal Jordan) this is actually a pretty decent place to “get on board” as it provides a nice introduction to this cast of characters and stands alone well as a story of its own right. Though it’s really much better to back up a little further and start with Green Lantern: Rebirth (which is a highly entertaining story and the reason I’ve been reading these Green Lantern stories since.) Still, there’s nothing about Ring Quest that kept me from wanting to continue to read this series. It’s another solid volume in probably the best corner of the DC Universe being written today.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Giveaway! "The Lost Gate" by Orson Scott Card

I am crazy busy this week and it looks like it's only going to get busier. Since my posting may get sketchy until after Christmas, I wanted to make sure I put up a good giveaway-- and I hear The Lost Gate by Orson Scott Card is definitely in demand. Courtesy of Tor Books I have one copy to offer to one lucky winner.

Danny North knew from early childhood that his family was different, and that he was different from them. While his cousins were learning how to create the things that commoners called fairies, ghosts, golems, trolls, werewolves, and other such miracles that were the heritage of the North family, Danny worried that he would never show a talent, never form an outself.

He grew up in the rambling old house, filled with dozens of cousins, and aunts and uncles, all ruled by his father. Their home was isolated in the mountains of western Virginia, far from town, far from schools, far from other people.

There are many secrets in the House, and many rules that Danny must follow. There is a secret library with only a few dozen books, and none of them in English — but Danny and his cousins are expected to become fluent in the language of the books. While Danny’s cousins are free to create magic whenever they like, they must never do it where outsiders might see.

Unfortunately, there are some secrets kept from Danny as well. And that will lead to disaster for the North family.

Just add your information to the form below to enter (all information is guaranteed confidential and will be discarded once contest ends) and I will randomly pick one winner by Wednesday January 5th. No multiple entries please-- all multiple entries will be discarded. Open everywhere.

Good luck!

Monday, December 13, 2010

"Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon" Trailer

Today seems to be the day for trailers that make me go "meh." I'm not sold on this after the second "Transformers" movie motivated me to do laundry rather than watch it. But here's hoping the third time's the charm.

"Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" Trailer

I was over this by the third one. But hey...mermaids.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Random Thoughts...

  • Whenever I read a blog I like, I want to be just like that blogger. One will have me muttering funnier, I need to be funnier..while another will have me saying dang it! I don't have enough excerpts in my reviews. Or quotes! I need quotes! Then I start feeling super inadequate and the only thing that makes me feel better is to go into my spare room, pet the books I've been sent to review and tell myself they think I'm pretty. 
  • Whenever I read a book by someone like Anne McCaffrey or Mercedes Lackey, I stare at my cat and wish she could speak to me telepathically. When she's perched on the back of the couch I get eye-level with her and stare at her until she gets super uncomfortable. Sometimes she purrs at the crazy lady but usually she just gets up and runs under the bed. 
  • I'm never fully satisfied with anything I post. Mostly I'm convinced my writing sucks (hence the need to reassure myself by petting my review copies). Whenever I read over a published post that has typos in it, I click the 'edit post' pencil thingy at the bottom of the post like it's a speed-dial button and try to get that sucker before anyone reads it. If someone posts a comment before I'm finished tweaking, I'm horrified that they saw my gawd-awful writing. And that's always the case because I never stop tweaking. There's an excellent chance that any reviews that have been quoted on/in someone's book may not actually match what's on my blog page. I'm like: tweak, tweak, tweak, check the page, tweak, tweak, tweak, tweak, pause, tweak, check the page again, tweak, tweak, tweak....tweak.  I give the word "tweaker" a whole new meaning. 
  • I love people who throw pop-culture references in their blog posts. Most reviewers don't do this because it doesn't seem cultured enough-- or something like that. Which is why I'm drawn to funny blogs who throw down with references to old-school "Karate Kid" (wax on wax off) or remind me that they have pity for the fool who doesn't read their blog and no one puts them in the corner. Throw in some Maverick and Goose and a skinny Val Kilmer I'm in love. Add some Punky Brewster and Alf (a-spar-a-gus, a-spar-a-gus...) and I'm heaven. 
  • So, it seems I'm not going to be picked to be an extra on "The Walking Dead." Which sucks because I really want to dress up like a zombie and do the "Thriller" hands. Guess I need to start planning next year's Halloween costume...
  • These posts are alternatively fun and scary for me. There's a part of me that still wants to be taken seriously as a reviewer-blogger and I know that telling people that I eyeball my cat in hopes of sudden telepathic speech is not generally a good plan to accomplish that. But then I remember that I've been around for four freaking years and if no one is taking me seriously by now, then I should probably just get a grip and have fun. People are either going to get me or flee the blog in horror. Guess I'll find out soon...
  • 'Awesome' is my new favorite word. Nothing encapsulates how 'awesome' something is other than the word 'awesome.' 'Cool' suggests something is better than average but not really that high on the 'awesome' scale. While 'radical' has some charm, I'm pretty sure it isn't really being used by the cool-kids and I like the street cred "Chuck" brought back to the word 'awesome' by introducing Captain Awesome to the world. That was awesome of them don't you think?
  • I'd like to have that crazy/brilliant thing going for me that Walter Bishop of "Fringe" has going on. I know, I know, when he has conversations like this:
    Dr. Walter Bishop: I just pissed myself
    Peter Bishop: Excellent.
    Dr. Walter Bishop: Just a squirt.

    There is actually a team of writers behind such brilliance. But how awesome would it be to be able to say anything that crosses your mind, no matter how inappropriate, and people just say oh, you know SQT. She's soooo smart that she doesn't think like the rest of us. 

Friday, December 10, 2010

Extended "Thor" Trailer


Review: Vampire Empire – Book 1: The Greyfriar by Clay & Susan Griffith

I had every reason not to even read The Greyfriar, let alone like it – heck one of the reasons is right in the title: Vampire. Now, I enjoyed Buffy The Vampire Slayer (for a few seasons at least) but the preponderance of Vampires in urban fantasy has completely turned me off to the subject matter (and I wouldn’t have called it something I was interested in even prior to that – being more of a scifi guy). Then there’s the hints of steampunk on the cover – a genre I’ve admitted having very little exposure to, and having mixed feelings about the only steampunk book I’ve previously read. And even though the cover is striking, I had put it aside thinking this just wasn’t the right kind of book for me. Except… I started to see some preliminary reviews that indicated it was really good; something different. Suddenly, I wanted to see what all the noise was about – and besides, I could put it aside after a hundred pages or so if I didn’t really care for it. Only I couldn’t put the book down. I read it every spare chance I could get (which can admittedly be tough, especially in the middle of the holiday season). It’s a story of an alternate Earth where about 150 years in the past the Vampire race rose up from their hiding and swept over parts of the world. Since that time, Vampires and Humans have been in a perpetual state of cold war – with skirmishes and plans on each side to eliminate the other. The Human race has been relegated to the equatorial region of the globe, because Vampires prefer the cold (and the dark, though they can survive in the light, it’s the heat they don’t like). The British Empire has remade itself in Alexandria, where there are plans to unite the heir to the throne, named Princess Adele, with a Senator from the second great power, the United States, in order to form one great empire and focus them all on their common enemy. Adele is aboard one her family’s airships (a combination zeppelin/sailing ship of the air) observing the borderlands with the Vampires of the north, awaiting the arrival of her intended when the Vampires make a bold move and attack, intending to capture her. She’s rescued by the enigmatic Greyfriar, a kind of Zorro or Robin Hood well known by the humans both in the equatorial region and those who still find a way to live in the northern lands. Greyfriar has had success battling Vampires when few else have, but even he can’t keep Adele out of their hands for long when so many are massed against him. Soon Adele finds herself in the very heart of the Vampire lands, in London, where she must contend with a Vampire Lord who no longer has all his facilities, and the Lord’s two sons who are both vying for power in their own ways. Cesare is the ambitious second son, not the heir but the one who has arranged this daring kidnapping – with the intent of gathering all the Vampire clans in a war against the humans (by forcing the humans to come rescue Adele, and thereby making a first-strike against the Vampires). The elder son, Gareth, has no interest in making war against the humans – in fact, he seems far more interested in learning about their culture from Adele. And soon she’s learning a great many things about the Vampires and the humans of the north from him as well, turning on its ear many of the things humans have long taken for granted about Vampires. But will what she learns help her destroy the Vampires, or help her to stop the impending war between these races. Meanwhile, just as expected, her intended plans a daring strike into Vampire territory to retrieve her – a move bound to accelerate hostilities. At that moment, Greyfriar makes his move and rescues the girl himself from a deadly encounter with a Vampire Warmaster named Flay, a woman who has lost against Greyfriar many times and is just itching for the chance to finally kill him. My description doesn’t do the book justice, and in fact probably doesn’t even cover half the book – though I can’t go too far without revealing some of the secrets, which are better left to the reader to discover on their own. Sure I guessed some of the plot points that were to come, but at other times the story turned in directions I never saw coming. I loved the ways in which Vampire lore was both incorporated and at times discarded – that lore is there, but some of it is just made up by humans and assumed to be true. At the same time, religion holds some power against the Vampires – in a kind of magically oriented way where churches are locations of a power of sorts, and certain humans are capable of wielding that power in different ways, including a cloak that Vampires can’t see through and lighting them on fire with just a touch. But better than all that, the characters are such well rounded full bodied people, they all feel real and none fall into a one-dimensional trope of being just the hero or just the villain. This was a case where everything just came together really well, excellent world building to create this fantastical setting along with exceptional characters. This is the kind of writing that just makes reading such an enjoyable experience, where dialog sounds real and shades of grey permeate everyone. I felt like when I first discovered Sharon Shinn (the writing style feels very similar to me) or a host of other writers whose work I’ve gone on to follow for years – and like those times in the past, The Greyfriar is one the best books I’ve read this year; and I highly recommend it, even to the most skeptical of you out there. I personally can’t wait to read book 2.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Book Mills and the Inevitable Abuse

A few years ago I noticed a trend among some writers to "co-author" books. James Patterson is probably the most notorious in my mind. He went from writing two books or so a year to pumping out a new one every month; or so it seemed. I forget which of the co-written titles I picked up, but suffice it to say I thought it sucked-- on ice.

But fine. Whatever. I was pretty sure that the real deal involved unknown authors now penning books for Patterson and putting it under his name to sell books. Again, fine. As long as everyone is okay with the deal who am I to complain?

But this is a system that is bound to cause problems. How long can you stand to have someone else take credit for your work before you lose your mind? Writing is one of those things that's very personal, but it's also a career that has a lot to do with name recognition. Maybe the writers doing the work for Patterson usually work as ghost writers and don't mind the second-fiddle status of their writing careers. And, to be fair, it is a decent launching pad. But it appears that are some problems cropping up with this system.

Enter James Frey. You may remember Frey from his excruciatingly uncomfortable appearance on Oprah after the talk show host realized that Frey's memoir, "A Million Little Pieces" was more of a work of fiction than any kind of biography. I saw that interview and actually felt sorry for Frey at the time. Oprah, in full high-dudgeon, railed at Frey for a full hour. I remember thinking that Oprah seemed more offended that she was duped than anything else. Oh sure, she couched the haranguing in moral terms but ultimately it seemed more about her than Frey's artistic licence. As the diatribe ended I felt a little sorry for Frey. He exaggerated and passed fiction off as fact, but he had been embarrassed on live television -- on Oprah no less-- so the debt was paid. Right?

Well, maybe not.

How do I put this delicately? Once a douche always a douche? I shouldn't have said that, but I laughed at my own joke-- so it stays.

Frey, it seems, has entered the business of book-writing sweatshops. When I posted the trailer to "I Am Number Four" yesterday I didn't know who Pittacus Lore (the author of the book the movie is based on) was-- and I didn't really care. I assumed it was an attempt at a clever Lemony Snicket-y sounding name designed to catch the attention of YA readers. What didn't occur to me what that James Frey, the pseudo-memoir writer, could possibly be attached to the book. Who knew the guy wrote YA fantasy fiction? Well, turns out, he doesn't.

Thanks to Stephanie over at Scribbler to Scribe I was clued in to what Frey has been up to since his flogging on Oprah.

Frey, it appears, has no particular ethics when it comes to selling books. After getting nailed with his name attached to a book, Frey released another book that was openly sold as fiction and then mostly seemed to disappear. But Frey didn't really fade into obscurity. Instead he started a writer assembly-line known as Full Fathom Five (it's Shakespearian so it's clever). In a detailed piece over at the The New Yorker we're given a small glimpse into the mind of James Frey, and it's not really pretty. On the heels of his fall from grace Frey managed to convince himself that he didn't do anything wrong. That attaching the word "memoir" to a book doesn't mean it needs to be accurate or anything. It's really just a question of style as far as he's concerned.

Frey makes these statements at a seminar in front of students in the graduate writing program at Columbia University. They also just happen to coincide with a pitch to the young authors to come write for his company in a "collaborative" effort. Sold as being as being like the contracts Hollywood script writers sign, only adapted for publishing, the eager writers are told that Frey will offer them guidance and a really good chance at being published. And there's no question that Frey understands marketing. His ideas are cynical and generally meant to pander to the "Twilight" crowd but after the advent of reality-TV, can we really complain about the lack of quality in our entertainment these days? The guy is nothing if not a good observer of human nature and he knows there are certain types of books that sell-- and he's interested in selling them.

Frey also knows that young, fresh-out-of-college writers are energetic and up-to-their-ears in debt. So it's a no-brainer that dangling a paycheck and dreams of major-market success is going to bring aspiring writers in droves. And it did. One young author by the name of Jobie Hughes signed on the dotted line and was the real author of I Am Number Four. Here's where the story gets murky. Thanks to a confidentiality agreement Hughes can't really comment on what really happened after going to work for Frey. Frey claims that the story was his idea and that he mentored Hughes through the process of writing the book. Hughes, who isn't saying anything, appears to have ended up pretty disgruntled with the whole affair and has bowed out of further involvement with the project.

What we do know is that the contracts writers sign when they go work for Frey are really, really one-sided. Frey has all the control and all the ownership and the writers are pretty much stuck with whatever Frey tells them they're going to get. They are told they are going to get a percentage up front of the profits, but what isn't included in the contract is any kind of audit provision. So, basically, Frey can tell the writer what they earned and they have to take his word for it. Nice huh? Worse, Frey can put the work out under any name he wants to. It's clear that he doesn't really attach his own name to anything anymore so it's almost a given that he's going to use a pseudonym. There are even rumors that Frey is the pen behind the books authored by the mysteriously "off-the-grid" John Twelve Hawks. Frey is perfectly comfortable pocketing money under a phony name and what that means to these young writers is that they're doing a whole lot of work for very little recognition. I had never heard of Jobie Hughes before today-- had you?

The real rub here though is what do we, as consumers, do now that we know who the man behind the curtain is? Do we boycott the product? That'll show Frey, right? Well, maybe. But it may also hurt Hughes. Hughes might not get what he should get out of "I Am Number Four," but he is contracted to get something out of the book and the movie-- as he should. So it's a real dilemma if you're someone who is interested in seeing Frey have to show some accountability. I'm not a social crusader type to be honest. I guess I always worry about the unintended consequences. But I can't see any harm in shining a small light on Frey's antics because I guarantee he's not the only guy out there working the industry in this way.

The real lesson here is that young writers need to be careful before they sign up for something that sounds too good to be true. Heck, that holds true for almost anything really. Many jobs have confidentiality or no-compete clauses and it's easy to get sucked into the trap of signing on because everybody does it. But let me tell you kids, there are no shortcuts. And while I may not have liked her methods, Oprah did try to warn us about Frey. He's a sleazy character for sure. I won't hold my breath for his comeuppance-- Hollywood churns out his type by the ton. But I can make sure the truth behind "I Am Number Four" gets out there. I won't judge you for seeing the movie (hopefully it will be good for Hughes in the long run) so that's not really what this is about. What it's about is making sure young writers know who Frey is-- and know to watch out for him and others of his ilk.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Short Story Giveaway!

It's short story time again! Thanks to the generous folks at Penguin Books I have some more great short story collections to pass on to one lucky winner.

Boondocks Fantasy; Edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Jean Rabe

From vampires in the Appalachians and leprechauns in the Smokies to mermaids in the Mississippi and bloodthirsty trolls in an Alabama trailer park the South makes a unique setting for the 20 stories in this anthology of redneck vampires, werewolves, wizards, elves, and other creatures.

Featuring original stories by Gene Wolfe, Timothy Zahn, Chris Pierson, Mickey Zucker Reichert, Steven Savile, Elizabeth A. Vaughan, Jay Lake, Anton Strout, and many more.

Love and Rockets; Edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Kerrie Hughes

Space...the final frontier. Or is it? Many say there's no frontier more forbidding than a romantic relationship between a man and a woman. But what if one's a human, and the other's an alien? Here is an original collection of space opera stories where authors take love (unrequited or not), on a spaceship, space station, or planetary colony, and add enough drama, confusion and mayhem to ensure that the path to true love-or short-term infatuation-is seldom free of obstacles.

Just add your information the form below to enter (all information is guaranteed confidential and will be discarded once contest ends) and I will randomly pick one winner by Thursday December 30th. No multiple entries please-- all multiple entries will be discarded. Open everywhere.

Good luck!

**Contest Closed**


I have randomly selected the winners of a couple of contests I had up on the blog and the winners are...

For a copy of "Shadowheart" by Tad Williams:

The winner is: Lisa Hronek; Aurora, OH


For a copy of "Midsummer Night" by Freda Warrington:

The winner is: G. Feddema; Calgary, Canada


"I Am Number Four" Trailer

Plot Summary: Three are dead. Who is Number Four? D.J. Caruso ("Eagle Eye," "Disturbia") helms an action-packed thriller about an extraordinary teen, John Smith (Alex Pettyfer), who is a fugitive on the run from ruthless enemies sent to destroy him. Changing his identity, moving from town to town with his guardian Henri (Timothy Olyphant), John is always the new kid with no ties to his past. In the small Ohio town he now calls home, John encounters unexpected, life-changing events—his first love (Dianna Agron), powerful new abilities and a connection to the others who share his incredible destiny.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Oh. Hell. No.

A Carl's Jr. ad? As if I didn't already feel like someone was missing the point when they cast Seth Rogen... Can you see the Dark Knight doing this?

"Inception" in Real-Time

Image from a remake I didn't even know was being made~ Who can keep track of them all?

Apparently Karl Urban (my favorite thing about "Star Trek") is making a new version of Sylvester Stallone's old movie "Judge Dredd." Here's the first image to be released.

DREDD takes us to the wild streets of Mega City One, the lone oasis of quasi-civilization on Cursed Earth. Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) is the most feared of elite Street Judges, with the power to enforce the law, sentence offenders and execute them on the spot – if necessary. The endlessly inventive mind of writer Alex Garland and the frenetic vision of director Peter Travis bring DREDD to life as a futuristic neo-noir action film that returns the celebrated character to the dark, visceral incarnation from John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra’s revered comic strip.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Google likes me- They really like me- I just wish I knew how I did it

I gotta do it. I can't help myself.

A couple of years ago I had a nice up-tick in blog traffic and after some investigation noticed that I was getting a lot of blog hits thanks to two pictures.

The lovely Linda Carter


The scantily clad Sigourney Weaver

Me being me, I've always tried to figure out how to replicate the success I've had with those two pictures. I've added pictures of Carrie Fisher in full Princess Leia bikini garb, but that didn't really do anything for my blog traffic. Xena in her leather bustier generated some interest, but nothing lasting.

But a few days ago my blog traffic spiked in a big way. I've gone from blog hits in the hundreds to blog hits in the thousands. Sweet! Something worked! Naturally I investigated. And do you know what did it? Was it a spandex wearing Linda Grey? Tricia Helfer wearing her famously sheer red dress?

Nope. It's mainly this guy.

Though these guys are getting a fair amount of attention too.

So what's the lesson here?

I have no idea. But I'm not going to complain.


Apparently Facebook has a meme that involves swapping out your normal profile picture with a picture of a favorite cartoon. So I guess the lesson here is that we'd all get really good traffic if we could figure out how to anticipate the next trend on Facebook. Something tells me I will never succeed at doing that on purpose.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Audiobook Review – Garro: Oath of the Moment

I’m still not quite finished with Greyfriar, but I should definitely be able to have a review up for that book by next Friday. Fortunately, in the meantime I was lucky enough to have the chance to listen to another of the Black Library Warhammer 40,000 audio dramas - and I’m ready to give you my thoughts. This story takes place during the Horus Heresy, a millennia before WH40K, where the status quo of that era is explored by revealing the history of how things came to reach that state. In this era, some of the cybernetically enhanced humans called Astartes begin to rebel against their God-Emperor – a Heresy never before witnessed. And as these battle lines are drawn, former brothers-in-arms find themselves on opposing sides. Garro is one such soldier. His Legion betrayed the Emperor, but instead of following them Garro chose to uphold his Oath to his Emperor and reveal their treachery to him. But without his brothers he struggles to find a place for himself, until one of the Emperors trusted advisors gives him a new purpose. He will gather others like himself, and they will form a new Legion – this time one of Ghosts. His first recruit is to be found on the homeworld of the Ultramarines, where they are under Siege. Garro must get past the lines of battle and find Rubio – another soldier who has been forced into a role where he must choose between oaths. Rubio has psychic powers, but he has been ordered not to use them – even though it means watching his brothers die. As the enemy draws closer, forcing the Ultramarines into a losing position – Rubio will find himself torn between his oath to defend his brothers at all costs, and his oath not to use his powers. And when he ultimately betrays one oath for the other, he will become a Ghost too. As always, the production value of this production are top notch; between the reading itself (where the author uses different voices for different characters, seemingly creating an entire cast – like voiceover work in an animated production) to the music and sound effects – I’ve said many times, The Black Library has ruined me to anything but their audiobooks. I only wish every publisher did it this way. The story is a mixed bag. The best of these audio dramas have at least one memorable scene, and I can remember them clearly – in this case, I didn’t come away thinking the same about anything in Garro. The author also uses flashbacks to show how Garro came to be tasked with his mission, interspersing those scenes with ones showing his mission to find Rubio – but the problem with these flashbacks is within the context of the audio drama it’s hard to tell that’s what you’re now listening to. There were no audio cues (for instance: “Garro remembered when…”) to let the listener know this kind scene change had happened – and it happens a few times during the course of the book. But at the same time, I fully enjoyed listening to Garro: Oath of the Moment as well. The story is engaging, with plenty of action and just enough story to make anyone feel at home in the Warhammer 40,000 setting. I am still a relative newcomer to this line of books, having only read one book so far and listened to a number of their audiobooks, and I have had no trouble following along and understanding what’s going on. My kids are young, but I plan on holding on to these until they get older – knowing how great it’ll be to put these on during a long car ride. If you’ve ever thought about giving an audiobook a try (and you can sample the unabridged audio drama of Horus Rising here) I highly recommend any of The Black Library’s offerings, including Garro: Oath of the Moment.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Giveaway! "Stars and Gods" by Larry Niven

I've had a busy week-- like most of you I'm sure. We've had family in for the Thanksgiving holiday and that's been terrific. Today, and I hope you don't mind if I talk about family stuff for a minute, we went to my father-in-law's retirement party. What's significant about that is that my FIL is a retiring Major General and the Commander of the California Air Guard. He's such a self-effacing guy that we never hear stories about his service and I got to learn more about what he does today, the day he relinquishes his command, than I have in the last 15 years! He's been in the military for 40 years and has a chest full of commendations dating back to service in Vietnam as an F4 pilot (his dad advised him that it was better to fly over all the crap than to walk through the middle of it-- truer words were never spoken). He doesn't read my blog (I'm not altogether sure he knows what blog is and he refuses to find out since he says he's going "low-tech" now that he's retired) but if he did, I'd want him to know how honored I have been to be treated like a second daughter by such a great guy. And to all of the service men and women out there-- you're all my heroes. Thank you for your service.

I know that's quite a digression, but after spending the day with so many distinguished people today, I felt compelled to show my appreciation. I also feel compelled to tell you that we have family here until Friday. So if I miss a day or two, that's why. I'm still eating too much food and pretending it's Thanksgiving. My hips will never forgive me.

As for the rest of this blog post... Well, as you can imagine, I haven't had much time to work up a post for today. But the timing is good as I like to do one giveaway a week and I think this week's slot is still open. I decided to go with a book that's been out a little while, but it's also written by an old favorite. Maybe it's one you haven't had a chance to pick up yet.

Stars and Gods by Larry Niven

Niven returns with the sequel to his most recent collection, Scatterbrain, which gathers an equally engaging assortment of Niven's latest work, all in one captivating volume. Here are choice excerpts from his most recent novels, including Ringworld's Child, as well as short stories, non-fiction, interviews, editorials, collaborations, and correspondence. Stars and Gods roams all over a wide variety of fascinating topics, from space stations to conventional etiquette.
Give yourself a treat, and feel free to pick the brain of one of modern science fiction's most fascinating thinkers.

Just add your information to the form below to enter (all information is guaranteed confidential and will be discarded once contest ends) and I will randomly pick one winner by Wednesday December 15th.((contest extended until after Christmas due to lag-time of holiday shipping)) No multiple entries please-- all multiple entries will be discarded. Open everywhere.

Good luck!

**Contest Closed**

Monday, November 29, 2010

Random Thoughts...

  • Leslie Nielsen passed away yesterday and I'm too bummed to make any Shirley jokes. My parents always told me he was a great dramatic actor, and I'm reading a lot comments referencing "Forbidden Planet," but he'll always be Dr. Rumack from "Airplane" to me.
  • It was announced today that Anne Hathaway and James Franco are going to be the hosts of the 2011 Academy Awards. Um. Huh? This is a head scratcher for sure. I grew up in the era of Johnny Carson and Billy Crystal-- wonderful comics who could think on their feet and had a wry appreciation of the ridiculous. I have visions of painful, scripted banter and lots of awkward pauses with this particular duo. No disrespect intended to Anne or James, but how did we go from Carson to Hathaway and Franco? This is being sold as a show that's going for a "SNL vibe" but I feel like I'm being punked. Oh well. Another year I skip the awards. 
  • When I look at the trailer for "The Green Lantern" I can't decide if I'm getting old or movies really are just sucking a whole lot more these days. (I'm old enough that I have to allow for the possibility that I am out-of-touch. *Sigh*)  I have nothing against Ryan Reynolds, so I don't think it's the casting that bothers me. I just can't get past the sarcastic form of irony that every semi-comedic script wants to include. How many times can someone say "I know! Right?" before it gets old? My 10-year-old says it all the time so I know it's about as cliché as saying something is the bomb. I just wish Hollywood would stop trying to make everything so cute. I now think that Robert Downey Jr. is the only one who should be allowed to play it funny and everyone else has to play it straight. Unless it's Nathan Fillion. 
  • It's amazing that different countries can ostensibly speak the same language but have such different slang. While recently watching the whole series of Harry Potter movies I frequently found myself frowning in confusion over terms like "tosser" and "barmy." And I'm a little afraid of treacle tart-- after all, I know what they put into the blood pudding.  Are foreign viewers as confused when watching American movies? Or has Hollywood taught everyone to speak our language?
  • Why aren't there any great, cheesy scifi/fantasy shows anymore? I want to see Lucy Lawless flipping through the air and hear Xena's ululation. I want to see men fight with swords and try to take each other's heads off to be the last immortal standing. Is that so wrong? No one seems to know how to do bad special effects in a good way anymore. 
  • Whenever I read a really good review I feel slightly inadequate. Then I read a really pretentious attempt at intellectualizing on Amazon and feel all better. 
  • It's strange how it needs to be Christmas time to really enjoy a Christmas movie. I suppose I could watch "Elf" anytime, but it isn't the same when it's 90 degrees outside. Plus it's hard to justify drinking spiked hot chocolate in the summer. No wonder we all resolve to lose weight for the new year. Or am I the only one who looks for a reason to spike everything with alcohol? Forget I asked. 
  • R.I.P. Irvin Kershner

Sunday, November 28, 2010

New "Game of Thrones" Trailer

Is Christopher Nolan Finished With Batman?

Christopher Nolan's reboot of the Batman story is one of the few things that can turn me into a genuine fangirl. So when I saw headlines that Christian Bale was leaving the franchise after the third installment ("The Dark Knight Rises") of Nolan's series I was honestly disappointed. But then I read the story, and not just the headlines, and I was even more disappointed.

~From Slice of SciFi

Christian Bale says the upcoming movie “The Dark Knight Rises” will be the last time he dons the cape and cowl as Batman.

“I believe, unless Chris (Nolan) says different, this will be the last time I’m playing Batman,” he tells Total FilmTotal Film.

As for the rumors on who will be the adversary Batman faces off with in the next film, Bale says he puts no stock in the rumors floating around.

“Until Chris tells me, I don’t believe it,” Bale says. “It’s gotta be from his mouth, or else I don’t really know. Chris will let me know what I need to know when I need to know it. I probably know a little bit more than some other people out there, but I think most people would be surprised at how little I do know.”

“It just hasn’t been necessary yet. I know he’ll give me plenty of time to prepare for whatever I need to, and I’ll discover it,” he adds. “He’s a pretty damn good filmmaker. I trust that he’s going to come up with something wonderful.”

Say it ain't so!

The worst part of this story isn't the possibility that Nolan will wrap up the Batman story with the third film. No, the worst part is that Hollywood will not be able to just leave well enough alone when Nolan says he's done with it.

I mean, look at what they're doing to Buffy...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

"The Mechanic" Trailer

Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham) is a 'mechanic' - an elite assassin with a strict code and unique talent for cleanly eliminating targets. It's a job that requires professional perfection and total detachment, and Bishop is the best in the business. But when his mentor and close friend Harry (Donald Sutherland) is murdered, Bishop is anything but detached. His next assignment is self-imposed - he wants those responsible dead.

His mission grows complicated when Harry's son Steve (Ben Foster) approaches him with the same vengeful goal and a determination to learn Bishop's trade. Bishop has always acted alone but he can't turn his back on Harry's son. A methodical hit man takes an impulsive student deep into his world and a deadly partnership is born. But while in pursuit of their ultimate mark, deceptions threaten to surface and those hired to fix problems become problems themselves.

"Red Riding Hood" Trailer

In "Red Riding Hood," Seyfried plays Valerie, a beautiful young woman torn between two men. She is in love with a brooding outsider, Peter (Shiloh Fernandez), but her parents have arranged for her to marry the wealthy Henry (Max Irons). Unwilling to lose each other, Valerie and Peter are planning to run away together when they learn that Valerie's older sister has been killed by the werewolf that prowls the dark forest surrounding their village. For years, the people have maintained an uneasy truce with the beast, offering the creature a monthly animal sacrifice. But under a blood red moon, the wolf has upped the stakes by taking a human life. Hungry for revenge, the people call on famed werewolf hunter, Father Solomon (Gary Oldman), to help them kill the wolf. But Solomon's arrival brings unintended consequences as he warns that the wolf, who takes human form by day, could be any one of them. As the death toll rises with each moon, Valerie begins to suspect that the werewolf could be someone she loves. As panic grips the town, Valerie discovers that she has a unique connection to the beast--one that inexorably draws them together, making her both suspect...and bait.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Giveaway Before You Go Away-- Pick Your Title

I love the holidays--but it's brutal on the blog traffic. But it's a good kind of lull. I know I'm looking forward to eating and drinking myself into a stupor here in a couple of days. Like many of you I'm running around right now and getting things ready for the long weekend and blogging is something that definitely falls on the wayside. So I figured a giveaway was just the thing to hold my place until I get back to regular blogging. I have a lot of great titles and the dilemma of which one to choose, so I'm just going to put up a list and let you choose what book you'd like to receive.

Empress of Eternity by L.E. Modesitt

In the far future, an indestructible and massive canal more than 2,000 miles long spans the mid-continent of Earth. Nothing can mar it, move it, or affect it in any fashion. At its western end, where it meets the sea, is an equally indestructible structure comprising three levels of seemingly empty chambers.
Scientists from three different civilizations, separated in time by hundreds of thousands of years, are investigating the canal. In the most distant of these civilizations, religious rebellion is brewing. A plot is hatched to overthrow the world government of the Vanir, using a weapon that can destroy anything-except the canal. If used at full power it might literally unravel the universe and destroy all life forever. The lives and fates of all three civilizations become intertwined as the forces behind the canal react to the threat, and all three teams of scientists find their lives changed beyond belief.

Surrender to the Will of the Night by Glenn Cook

Piper Hecht’s first and greatest secret is that he knows how to kill gods. What’s not a secret is that he knows how to win wars
Piper Hecht’s secrets make him dangerous, but his skill and his reputation put him in danger—from his enemies, who fear what he might do, or who want revenge for what he has already done; and from his friends, who want to use his military gifts for their own purposes. His sister Heris and his living ancestor Cloven Februaren, the Ninth Unknown, have made Hecht part of their fight against the return of the dark god Kharoulke the Windwalker. At the same time, the half-mad Empress Katrin wants him to lead the armies of the Grail Empire eastward on a crusade against his old coreligionists the Praman.
Meanwhile, all around them, the world is changing. The winters are growing longer and harder every year, and the seas are getting shallower. The far north and the high mountain ranges are going under the ice, and fast. The Wells of Power, everywhere, keep getting weaker. And the old evils, the Instrumentalities from the Time Before Time, have begun to ooze back into the world. As ever, the genius of Glen Cook’s storytelling lies in his common touch: in soldiers who are like real soldiers, in men and women who love and laugh and sweat, with real hopes and real fears, united only in their determination to face the oncoming night.

The Bards of Bone Plain by Patricia McKillip

The newest novel from the World Fantasy Award-winning author of The Bell at Sealey Head.
With "her exquisite grasp of the fantasist's craft"* (Publishers Weekly) Patricia A. McKillip now invites readers to discover a place that may only exist in the mystical wisdom of poetry and music.
Scholar Phelan Cle is researching Bone Plain-which has been studied for the last 500 years, though no one has been able to locate it as a real place. Archaeologist Jonah Cle, Phelan's father, is also hunting through time, piecing history together from forgotten trinkets. His most eager disciple is Princess Beatrice, the king's youngest daughter. When they unearth a disk marked with ancient runes, Beatrice pursues the secrets of a lost language that she suddenly notices all around her, hidden in plain sight.

Out of the Dark by David Webber

Earth is conquered. The Shongairi have arrived in force, and humanity’s cities lie in radioactive ruins. In mere minutes, over half the human race has died. Now Master Sergeant Stephen Buchevsky, who thought he was being rotated home from his latest tour in Afghanistan, finds himself instead prowling the back country of the Balkans, dodging alien patrols and trying to organize the scattered survivors without getting killed. His chances look bleak. The aliens have definitely underestimated human tenacity—but no amount of heroism can endlessly hold off overwhelming force. Then, emerging from the mountains and forests of Eastern Europe, new allies present themselves to the ragtag human resistance. Predators, creatures of the night, human in form but inhumanly strong. Long Enemies of humanity…until now. Because now is the time to defend Earth.

The High King of Montival by S.M. Stirling

The New York Times bestselling author continues his post- apocalyptic series chronicling a modern world without technology.
With The Sword of the Lady, Rudi Mackenzie's destiny was determined. Now he returns to Montival in the Pacific Northwest, where he will face the legions of the Prophet. To achieve victory, Rudi must assemble a coalition of those who had been his enemies a few months before and forge them into an army that will rescue his homeland.
Only then will Rudi be able to come to terms with how the Sword has changed him, as well as the world, and assume his place as Artos, High King of Montival...

Side Jobs by Jim Butcher

The first short story collection in the #1 New York Times bestselling series-including a brand-new Harry Dresden novella!
Here, together for the first time, are the shorter works of #1 New York Times bestselling author Jim Butcher-a compendium of cases that Harry and his cadre of allies managed to close in record time. The tales range from the deadly serious to the absurdly hilarious. Also included is a new, never-before-published novella that takes place after the cliff-hanger ending of the new April 2010 hardcover, Changes. This is a must-have collection for every devoted Harry Dresden fan as well as a perfect introduction for readers ready to meet Chicago's only professional wizard.

Seed Seeker by Pamela Sargent

An adventure in colonization and conflict from acclaimed SF writer Pamela Sargent
Several hundred years ago, Ship, a sentient starship, settled humans on the planet Home before leaving to colonize other worlds, promising to return one day. Over time, the colony on Home divided into those who live in the original domed buildings of the colony, who maintain the library and technology of Ship, and those who live by the river, farming and hunting to survive. The Dome Dwellers consider themselves the protectors of “true humanity” and the River People “contaminated,” and the two sides interact solely through ritualized trade: food and goods from the River People in exchange for repairs and recharges by the Dome Dwellers.
Then a new light appears in the night sky. The River People believe it might be Ship, keeping its promise to return, but the Dome Dwellers, who have a radio to communicate with Ship, are silent. So Bian, a seventeen-year-old girl from a small village, travels upriver to learn what they know. As she travels through the colony of Home, gaining companions and gathering news, Bian ponders why the Dome Dwellers have said nothing. Has Ship commanded them to be silent, in preparation for some judgment on the River People? Or are the Dome Dwellers lying to Ship, turning Ship against their rivals?
Whatever the answer, life is about to change radically on both sides of the divide.

Bones of Empire by William C. Dietz

Second in the duology that started with At Empire's Edge- from the national bestselling author.
In a far-distant future, the Uman Empire has conquered and colonized worlds. Once thought invincible, its reign is now fragile as alien subjects and enemies conspire against it.
On holiday in the capital city, cop Jack Cato gets a glimpse of the Emperor-and realizes what he's looking at is a supposedly dead shape- shifter. His mortal enemy is still alive and once again on the run. And the fate of the Empire-and Cato's own honor-are at stake...

Echo by Jack McDevitt

A new novel of the fantastic unknown by the national bestselling author of Time Travelers Never Die.
Eccentric Sunset Tuttle spent his life searching in vain for forms of alien life. Thirty years after his death, a stone tablet inscribed with cryptic, indecipherable symbols is found in the possession of Tuttle's onetime lover, and antiquities dealer Alex Benedict is anxious to discover what secret the tablet holds. It could be proof that Tuttle had found what he was looking for. To find out, Benedict and his assistant embark on their own voyage of discovery-one that will lead them directly into the path of a very determined assassin who doesn't want those secrets revealed.

Ghost Town by Rachel Caine

While developing a new system to maintain the town's defenses, genius student Claire Danvers discovers a way to use the vampires' powers to keep outsiders from spreading news of Morganville's "unique" situation.
But when people in town start forgetting who they are-including the vampires-Claire has to figure out how to pull the plug on her experiment before she forgets how to save herself...and Morganville.

Just add your information to the form below (all information is guaranteed confidential and will be discarded once contest ends) and be sure to add what title you'd like to receive and I will randomly pick one winner by Wednesday December 8th. No multiple entries please-- all multiple entries will be discarded. Open everywhere. ((Extended until after Christmas due to lag time of holiday shipping. I will now pick TWO winners after Christmas and ship immediately after))

Good luck!

**Contest Closed**


Better late than never right? I've got a couple of contests that have ended and I need to announce the winners.

For the short story contest featuring the titles "The Dragon and the Stars" and "Steampunk'd" the winner is:

Sierra St. Onge: South Windsor, CT

And the winner of an ARC copy of "The Painted Boy" by Charles DeLint, the winner is:

Simcha Lazarus; Israel

Congrats to the winners!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sherlock Holmes-- The Original Mentalist

Some stories are timeless. I loved the big-screen version of "Sherlock Holmes" with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. It wasn't perfect, but it was atmospheric and had a wonderful 19th century sensibility. So when I was offered the chance to review the newest take on Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock) that originally aired on the BBC, I didn't hesitate to accept. But I was surprised when I got the discs to see that the show was set in modern-day London--which shows how well I read the synopsis when it was sent over. But the BBC knew what they were doing when they moved Sherlock Holmes from the late-1800's to today as Holmes isn't about the setting or the accouterments; it's all about his incredible mind.

I haven't read anything by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in years, so my memory of the Holmes canon is sketchy at best. And as much as I hate to keep bringing Robert Downey Jr.'s portrayal into a review of the new series, it's impossible not to use him as a benchmark as his characterization is what is foremost in my mind when I think of the character. But once I saw Benedict Cumberbatch's ("Atonement") take on the modern version of Sherlock Holmes, I had no problem setting a new standard and seeing Cumberbatch as the definitive Holmes.

The first season of "Sherlock Holmes" only consists of three 90 minute episodes that not only gives us a good dose of Holmes' formidable intellect, but establishes the origins of his friendship with Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman). Both Holmes and Watson are the kind of men who have a hard time settling into a normal existence, but for different reasons. Watson, injured in the war in Afghanistan, hobbles around with a cane and a limp his psychiatrist says is psychosomatic, while Holmes lives a lonely life among the piles of clutter in his apartment at 221B Baker Street. A chance meeting with a mutual friend leads to an introduction between the two men and an unlikely partnership is born.

The first case that the two men work on is a strange series of apparent suicides. Holmes is brought in as a consultant to the investigation. Brilliant as he is-- and Holmes is one of a kind-- he is also abrasive and it quickly becomes obvious that Watson has a unique ability to tolerate Holmes' personality and it isn't long before Holmes leans on Watson's tolerance; often to Watson's chagrin. The cases Holmes and Watson investigate in each episode are, in the end, incidental to the really important aspects of the story. Is isn't the mystery as much as it's Holmes approach. When watching Sherlock use his powers of observation to decipher a crime scene it's impossible not to see the similarities between this show and The Mentalist, but "Sherlock" is far-and-away the superior series.

Cumberbatch's portrayal of Holmes has been described as "Aspergerish," though it has become common to say any character with obsessive tendencies must have Asperger's Syndrome. Whether Cumberbatch uses that as his inspiration or not, he does bring a single-mindedness to Holmes that is as endearing to watch as it would be off-putting to experience in real life. Holmes doesn't have empathy-- that's what Dr. Watson's character is for. What Holmes does have is an insatiable curiosity and an ego that won't allow him to walk away from a mystery even if his life is at risk. What makes the story of Sherlock Holmes really work is the balancing effect of Dr. Watson.

Because this series is so early in its development it's hard to know how true it will stay to the original stories written by Arthur Conan Doyle-- though I think the intent is to stay close to its inspiration. So far there have been allusions to Holmes' past drug use and penchant for playing the violin as well as the obvious disarray of his apartment. Watson's character is quiet and steady and altogether as essential to the narrative as Holmes. The biggest change appears to be the modern setting, but it really isn't much of a change at all. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are basically the template from which all buddy-cop shows come from and the story works no matter when it is set-- everything else is superfluous. There is also a very natural feeling the pairing of Cumberbatch and Freeman. The show would fail if the friendship between the two wasn't believable and they click right from the start.

I really enjoyed "Sherlock" due to the cleverness of Holmes' deductive powers and its droll humor. The show can seem a bit overlong at 90 minutes due to the limitations as a television drama. There are times when the villains can seem slightly cartoonish because the murder-of-the-week story-lines have a tendency to be a bit pedestrian-- though not as simplistic as "The Mentalist" can be thanks to our American craving for the 'Hollywood ending.' "Sherlock" is wonderfully acted and and excellent example of English humor and understatement. For those who don't get the BBC channel, "Sherlock" can also be seen on PBS. Definitely check this one out if you get the chance.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Skyline---Look Away!

At what point should I have left the theater? When the harried protagonists watched a nearby nuclear blast without any negligible consequence? When the male lead first "stared into the light" to become somehow infected by an alien presence? Or when I realized the alien invasion was motivated by a need to eat human brains (one can imagine how hungry these poor aliens were going through the universe in search of such rare and unsatisfying nourishment).

I always believe in writing a positive review. I don't want to tear apart a book or film. There is usually something worthwhile in even the worst endeavor. However, the only good thing about Skyline, its effects, is also the most disappointing element of the film. Skyline represents why the dropping cost of special effects is a mixed blessing for fans. Now a film maker can put something visually striking on the screen and still deliver the sort of story logic and hapless dialogue one used to get for a "B" drive-in film during the 1960's. This isn't just a horrendous film, it will stand as a monument to why 2010 has been such a bad year for the motion picture industry.

The Brothers Strause, the creative force behind Skyline should have stuck to doing the sort of special effects they did for such films as The X-Files and Titanic, and left directing a motion picture to more talented minds.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Review: X-Men: S.W.O.R.D. – No Time to Breathe

I had hoped to have a book review ready for this week, because I like to switch back and forth between comic and book reviews, but I'm only about half-way through Greyfriar (Vampire Empire book 1). So that review will be coming next Friday (yes, the day after Thanksgiving there will be a new post here). Meanwhile, the X-Men meet the Men In Black in an out-of-this-world story taking place during the dark days after Secret Invasion - where alien shapeshifters have left behind an Earth populace wary of trusting anyone, and ready to expel every alien who currently calls Earth home. I’ve been doing a good job (almost completely by chance) of reading recent Marvel titles in a fairly decent order in terms of the overall timeline of that universe. Having recently read Secret Invasion and Dark Avengers, I had the exact background necessary to read this book, as it follows out of those events. In a world where Norman Osborn has been put in charge of SHIELD (and renamed it HAMMER) to protect Earth from alien invasion – S.W.O.R.D. (a group introduced in the pages of Astonishing X-Men) - Earth’s first line of defense against that very thing – now finds itself under his control. Or really under the control of his surrogate – Henry Gyrich, often antagonist of the X-Men. Gyrich has plans for S.W.O.R.D. – he wants to see them remove into custody ALL aliens currently living on Earth (including those who work for S.W.O.R.D. itself) – but to do so he must first get his co-commander (Agent Brand, girlfriend of Beast) out of the way. So he sets her up for failure on a number of levels – instructing her staff to ignore a number of messages from various alien threats until they’re too late to be dealt with – ensuring she’ll be occupied when he puts his plans in motion. What this all amounts to is a story like a mish-mash between Men In Black and a day in the life of a particular character (in this case Agent Brand). This book is “X-Men” in name only – yeah, Beast has a supporting role (mostly played for laughs, not the best use of his character in my opinion) and there are some other minor X-Men appearances – but this story really focuses on Agent Brand. And I suppose that’s no so bad, other than the fact that she’s just a relatively unknown character. It isn’t like having Captain America or Iron Man starring in your book. The art is only decent, with Beast coming out worse for the wear in many scenes (is he a horse now?). The various alien plots Brand is dealing with - her half-brother on the run from the bounty hunter Death’s Head (whose appearance gave me a smile), the aliens who are defending the Earth’s rocks from “death” at our hands, to the aliens who want to destroy the Earth and are willing to free a S.W.O.R.D. prisoner who may just be capable of destroying the entire universe in order to do so – all dovetail nicely together; allowing her to retain her position as head of S.W.O.R.D., remove Gyrich, and keep the aliens who have allied themselves with Earth safe from deportation. All before finally having her morning muffin. It was an easy read, the story never stops (just as the title suggests) with some decent twists and turns along the way. I’d complain about the use of X-Men in the title – but frankly there’s so little in terms of X-Men comics that interest me nowadays, if that’s what they want to call it then so be it. While I appreciated knowing the placement of this story in the timeline, I wouldn’t say it’s necessary for your enjoyment of the comic – no background is really needed before diving in – I’d also say it’s not a book I’d highly recommend; it’s a good story but nothing that screams “must read”.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Guest Blog by S. G. Browne

I have loved Greek mythology since I was a kid. I read every story I could get my hands on when I was younger and couldn't help but love the cheesy greatness of shows like "Hercules" and "Xena." So I'm always on the lookout for books that remind me of those well-loved stories. When I was asked if I would host a guest blog for author S.G. Browne, to help spread word of his new book Fated, well, I was sold as soon as I read the summary. I think you will be too...

On Fated by S.G. Browne

One of the questions I’ve been asked several times at my readings and signings since the launch of Fated has been a variation of:

Did I model my characters after the gods in Greek mythology?

My initial answer is: No.

I definitely didn’t start writing Fated with the intention of channeling Zeus and Aphrodite and Dionysus. But when I sit and think about it, I realize that even though I may not have consciously infused the characters in Fated with the attributes of the Greek gods, it’s possible that my familiarity with the mythology played a role.

A quick explanation before I continue:

Fated is a social satire about fate and destiny told from the point of view of Fate, who deals with the majority of the human race fated to live normal, mediocre lives. Or, more often than not, worse than mediocre. He also has a five-hundred-year-old grudge with Death and has regular lunch dates with Sloth and Gluttony. Meanwhile, Destiny enjoys shepherding her humans to fame and fortune and award-winning careers. Which makes for a sullen and discouraged Fate, who goes by the pseudonym Fabio. That’s for another blog.

But in addition to Fate, Destiny, Death, and the Seven Deadly Sins, Fated is populated with numerous other personified concepts, including Karma, Lady Luck, Secrecy, Failure, Temptation, Honesty, Wisdom, and Love. Any emotion or attribute, any deadly sin or heavenly virtue, is an immortal creature with a specific job to do in relation to the human race. Even Justice gets a cameo.

The idea behind all of the different characters is that Fate and Destiny are not allowed to get involved in the lives of their humans but instead are charged with assigning the futures of their humans at birth and adjusting them accordingly along the way. Those adjustments are made in response to how their humans deal with the challenges thrown at them by the other characters in the book, since it’s the way in which humans deal with their luck or anger or temptation that ultimately determines their futures.

Which brings me back to the question about Greek gods. Much the way Zeus and Hera and Apollo and the rest of the Mount Olympus HOA often cavorted and connived and behaved inappropriately, the immortal characters in Fated exhibit rather human attributes. And they don’t manage with the wisdom and integrity and good judgment you’d expect from gods.

Of course, the characters in Fated aren’t gods, but they’re definitely flawed like their Greek cousins, with hang-ups and addictions and emotional baggage, not unlike the humans they’re in charge of overseeing. And to that extent, I think that’s what makes them, and the Greek gods, so appealing to me. They’re like us. They’re not some perfect example of enlightenment.

They’re narcissistic and paranoid and lazy.
They’re manic-depressive and passive-aggressive and lactose-intolerant.
They suffer from ADD and bulimia and alcoholism.

While obviously a bit more severe, it’s not unlike what happens when someone moves to a new region with a different dialect or accent or way of living and they start talking and acting like the locals. After dealing with humans for tens of thousands of years, my immortals have taken on a lot of our less-than-desirable qualities. Which I think makes them even more appealing.

So yes, after further consideration, the gods of Greek mythology definitely had an influence on the immortal characters who populate the pages of Fated. And personally, I think that’s a good thing.

S.G. Browne is the author of BREATHERS (Broadway, March 2009), a dark comedy about life after undeath told from the perspective of a zombie. His second novel, FATED (NAL, November 2010) is a dark, irreverent comedy about fate, destiny, and the consequences of getting involved in the lives of humans.

Synopsis of "Fated"
From the acclaimed author of Breathers--an irreverent novel about fate, destiny, and the karmic consequences of loving humans. Over the past few thousand years, Fabio has come to hate his job. As Fate, he's in charge of assigning the fortunes and misfortunes that befall most of the human race-the 83% who keep screwing things up. Frustrated with his endless parade of drug addicts and career politicians, Fate has to watch Destiny guide her people to Nobel Peace Prizes and Super Bowl MVPs. To make matters worse, he has a five- hundred-year-old feud with Death, and his best friends are Sloth and Gluttony. And worst of all? He's fallen in love with a human. Getting involved with a human breaks Rule #1, and about ten others, setting off some cosmic-sized repercussions that could strip him of his immortality-or lead to a fate worse than death.