Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Chad After Dentist

I've never made a habit of following different web series', but when I was sent a link to the Babelgum series about Darth Vader's less talented brother Chad Vader I had to take a look. Chad Vader look and sounds like his big brother Darth, but rather than rule the Empire Chad has ended up as the day shift manager at the Empire Market. The web series follows Chad's adventures in grocery store management and dating and throws some pretty clever pop-culture references in for good measure. The series has been a hit on YouTube for a while already, so I'm late to the party. But if you haven't heard or seen it yet, check it out. Here's a small sample of what you'll see-- this one is a riff on the infamous David After Dentist YouTube video that was all the rage for awhile. Funny stuff.

The Ultra-Crappy Tropicana Hotel Deleted My Post!

Oh noes! The Tropicana Hotel censored my post! I've never had this happen before, though it was bound to happen eventually. But I received a notification from blogger that a picture I used of the Tropicana Hotel when I mentioned I was going on vacation to Las Vegas a couple of months ago was removed due to copyright infringement. Huh. You'd think they would like the publicity. Well, they made me do it. But now I have to mention what a dump the hotel was. No, no this isn't sour grapes. This is a case of you people should be grateful I didn't trash your hotel to begin with, but now the gloves are off... The Tropicana was literally the worst hotel I have ever stayed in-- it's true. No mini-fridge, no wi-fi, no coffee pot, and we didn't even get the little tiny soaps the first day we were there. They were also remodeling the floor we were on, which likely explained the horrible condition of the rooms, but it also looked as if someone had been squatting in one of the rooms down the hall (I wish I was kidding). We weren't there long, so we didn't switch hotels, but I told my husband I'd never stay there again. And these people objected to a flattering picture of their hotel on my blog? Obviously karma wanted me to make sure no other travelers made the same mistake I did by staying at this hotel because I would never have bothered to go into such detail had they not messed with my blog. Okay, maybe there's some sour grapes here... But still, it was a lousy hotel.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Pardon Me While I Beat a Dead Horse

I don't mean to turn my blog into some sort of home to feminist (or would it be anti-feminist?) diatribes. It's one of those topics that can generate discussion and controversy, which is great when you want to drive traffic to your blog; but it gets old quickly. And yet... Sometimes things happen in real life that spur you on to write a post. A few weeks ago I was asked to write a post on another blog about whether women were treated fairly in comparison to men when written as action heroes. You wouldn't think this would be a hard topic to write on-- especially for me-- but let me tell you, I struggled with it. I threw up a post here asking what people thought of when I said "female superhero," originally envisioning the post would be about the more traditional comic book heroines. And while I got some good answers it failed to inspire a real dialog in my head that I could transfer to the page. Originally my problem stemmed from the fact that I was concentrating on costumed heroines and the only "flaws" I could think of, from a generalized standpoint, were the typically revealing costumes and over-exaggerated figures. Okay, they were physically idealized-- but is that a "flaw?" Didn't seem that way to me. Then I started pondering other female action heroes and landed on Ellen Ripley from "Alien" and Sarah Connor from "The Terminator" as well known female bad-a**es and and tried to see how they ranked in comparison to their male counterparts but had a hard time landing on specifically female flaws. Sarah is obsessed and maybe a little crazy-- but are women the only characters portrayed with these characteristics? Batman seems slightly obsessive doesn't he? Anyway, I struggled and cobbled together a post and submitted it, but it's not my best work by a long shot. It hasn't been published yet (and maybe won't be) and I won't be remotely bitter if it isn't because I just couldn't get any traction and probably hit the "submit" button just so I wouldn't have to agonize over it anymore. It also happens to be part of what prompted me to write my "Be a Man" post because I ended up thinking that some of the more recent male vs. female pairings have been more complimentary to the women than the men. So I thought, why not do a side-by-side comparison of some such pairings and see what conclusions I could come to. Lee Adama and Kara Thrace (Battlestar Glactica) On the surface Lee Adama would seem to be far more idealized that Kara Thrace. He's the super responsible son of Commander Bill Adama and a top notch fighter pilot while Kara is unpredictable, temperamental and sometimes flat-out crazy. However, Kara has had a far, far harder path than Lee. He gets no sympathy points from me from feeling like he has to live up to his old man's expectations when Kara survived a fairly heinous childhood and a prolonged stay in the hands of the cylons. Kara is miles ahead as the more complex character and one would have to take a very cursory look at her to write her off as inferior to Lee. At best I would say these characterizations rate a tie, but actually Kara, whether you like her or not, is more of a survivor than Lee even as you could say she is more flawed. Number Six and Gaius Baltar (Battlestar Galctica) Battlestar Galactica was the show for male/female pairings and I could also include Bill Adama and Laura Roslin, Saul and Ellen Tigh, Chief Tyrol and Callie etc. in this list, but I'm limiting myself to the two couples that made the largest impressions on me. I loved Six and Baltar even though most of their interactions were probably imaginary. It would be easy to dismiss Six as little more than eye candy (and Tricia Helfer is gorgeous), but Six sparked a civil war among the cylons due, largely, to her feelings for Baltar. She may have been the most significant cylon even though Ellen was the most mysterious. It should also be noted that Baltar could (and probably should) qualify as the most flawed character on the show. Was he crazy or narcissistic? Both for sure. He was also an abysmal leader. I liked Baltar, even when he became tiresome with his cult-leader preachiness, because he was always interesting. But I think the edge goes to Six in this match-up. Tony Stark, Pepper Pots and Natasha Romanoff (Iron Man 2) Tony is the leading man so he gets most of the good lines. Pepper is capable, but no superhero-- so match to Tony Stark right? Well, maybe. But if you're going to make a checklist of flaws, Tony wins hand down. He's brilliant and charismatic but his narcissism is so profound it nearly unwinds all of his hard work. But Pepper isn't the only woman who should be mentioned when it comes to "Iron Man 2." Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow) is the heroic female counterpart to Iron Man and when it comes to flaws-- I can't think of any. She's beautiful, capable, focused and the best fighter in the room. She doesn't need no stinking suit of armor. So she posed for lingerie photos...something tells me she had a good reason. We might like Tony best, thanks to Robert Downey Jr.'s incredible acting, but on paper Tony's a bit of a jerk. Sam Witwicky and Mikaela Banes (Transformers) This one is sooo easy. Once they cast Shia LeBeouf and Megan Fox in these roles, it was all over. Maybe I shouldn't be so hard on Shia, it's not his fault that he's not the manly type, but once he was cast as the son of Indiana Jones, I lost my ability to be polite. Why oh why was this kid cast against women who are so clearly out of his league? I know, I know-- it's the everyman thing. Though Shia, as Sam Witwicky, might be a likable guy, he seems kind of high strung and a bit nebbish compared to the popular Mikaela. She's given a slightly less-than-perfect background, but she's a beauty (aren't they all?) and she knows her way around a car. Sam just inherited some glasses. He steps-up though-- you have to give the character credit for that. But he loses points when he starts toying with Mikaela's feelings in the horrid second installment of these movies. When would a guy, who looks like that in real life, blow off a girl like Mikaela? Megan Fox isn't the best actress in the world, but I think the ladies win this one. Neo and Trinity (The Matrix) This one is tough. Neo is "the One" so he's written as an almost perfect character. He might have some growing pains, but the guy doesn't have any glaring faults. But Trinity is also a terrific female action hero. Interestingly these two also have a very good match-up as far as their real-life counterparts go. We might make fun of Keanu Reeves for his wooden acting, but I can't say he didn't do a good job as Neo. He's good looking, athletic and a credible match to Carrie Anne Moss. I can't pick a winner here because I can't pick any losers. Buffy and Angel (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) Vampire slayer vs. Vampire-- slayer wins right? Well, sort of. When "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" first aired I was tempted to write it off as a show geared toward teenagers that was as deep and interesting as... I don't know, some teen show I don't watch. But it was a good show and the Buffy/Angel dynamic was a big part of it. Buffy wasn't perfect but what other high school kid could have saved the world as many times as she did? She was fierce, sarcastic and somehow managed to go to school and slay demons at night. Angel was the vampire cursed with a soul and had a past as one of the most vicious vampires who ever existed. That's gotta rank pretty high on the list of flaws right? But, to the credit of the show's writers, Angel held his own and even rated a spin-off show all his own. In the end, it's pretty tough to pick favorites here. Okay, I secretly like Angel better. But don't tell anyone. Hercules and Xena Do you know I never see these shows on television anymore? That's a totally irrelevant aside, but I loved them. In fact, I'm going to start hunting down the DVD's once I'm done here. Like some of the other pairings here Xena and Hercules are both pretty great characters. There is no doubt that from a completely objective standpoint Hercules is the less-flawed character. It isn't because he's the son of a god, but because he never had a past life that included murder and mayhem like Xena. But, in a way, it's Xena's past that elevates her beyond Hercules. Xena not only had to recognize her evil acts, but she had to repent and attempt to atone for them. Like most cinematic heroines she was beautiful, but that had very little to do with her character. I love Lucy's Lawless as Xena because she did intimidation so well. No matter how perfect Hercules was written to be, I think Xena wins here because she's so much more interesting. Is it me, or does it seem like the ladies are doing very well here? Obviously there are a lot more pairings I could come up with that would, perhaps favor the men (Daredevil and Elektra comes immediately to mind) but these were the first ones to pop into my head because they come from television shows and movies I particularly like. It's also very subjective and many people will have different opinions and preferences. I also stayed away from romantic comedy pairings like the Seth Rogen/Katherine Heigl pairing I'm so fond of referencing because I was specifically trying to tackle the action hero genre. Just think how I could have skewed the results if I been allowed to include movies like "Juno" and anything with Ashton Kutcher? But, for me, the takeaway here is that women are not being poorly represented as action heroes. There might be a disproportionate focus on the way they look, but the characters are given a comforting amount of complexity-- and I didn't even have to compare Sarah Conner or Ellen Ripley to anyone to make that point. Thankfully they aren't the last word in well written, well acted heroines.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Book Review - Swords & Dark Magic by Jonathan Strahan and Lou Anders

I often have mixed feelings on short story anthologies. I’ve been reading them forever – some covering a particular genre, some a collection by a particular author – so it’s not a case where I dislike these kinds of books. But more often than not, I come away from an anthology wanting more – which of course, would probably indicate that the book has succeeded in its purpose. So I view anthologies as a way to introduce myself to an author’s work, to see if their writing makes me want to go out and read a full length novel from them – because it’s ultimately the lack of depth that keeps me from fully enjoying or engaging with most short stories in these same anthologies. Which is not to say that’s the case with every story I read in Swords and Dark Magic, and I’ll go into more detail about the stories I read below. Having gotten that out of the way, I also must warn that I have not read every story in this anthology – I read 9 of the 17 presented within – though all but one author were completely new (for me), since I had never read anything from any of them before (though I had heard of most). So, I decided to focus on the authors I’ve heard the most about, just to see what I would think. Starting with the one author I have read before – one who’s work I enjoy very much. The Undefiled by Greg Keyes I’ve never read any Fool Wolf stories from Greg Keyes, though apparently it’s a character he’s used a few times in full length novels. Still, that didn’t prevent my enjoyment of this particular tale – even if I found the end to be somewhat unclear. Fool Wolf seems like a fantasy/native American hybrid character, a man who has been possessed by a goddess; a wrathful creature who would use his body to slaughter and torture those around him if he allows her to take control of his persona. So on the one hand, he’s an anti-hero – a man who doesn’t care about much of anyone or anything, but seems to be constantly in trouble, and it’s no different at the beginning of this tale. Fool Wolf and his current girlfriend have defiled an area just by stepping into it; but to avoid death at the hands of the townspeople he’s sent on a quest to retrieve a sword which was stolen by the nearby village. Not all is as it seems of course, since the girls of the nearby village stole the sword because the men of the first town believe they are blessed by their god only if they rape the virgins of the town nearby. But those same men are cursed to not be able to step on the land of these women without that sword in hand. But Fool Wolf doesn’t resolve this conflict in any way that your normal hero would, instead taking apart both villages and proving that neither one should have messed with him. I wouldn’t say that this story convinced me to seek out more Fool Wolf tales, but it reaffirmed my enjoyment of Greg Keyes writing abilities – I find his writing to be easy to read and it hits just the right spot for me in terms of comfort reading (even if, as I said, in this case I didn’t completely understand what Fool Wolf ultimately did with the virgins of the one town – though I suppose I could guess). Red Pearls: An Elric Story by Michael Moorcock I moved on to this story having recognized both the author and the title character, and it’s here that I get my first taste of trying out something new. This story finds Elric the albino warrior prince and his lover Nauha and his companion Moonglum on a sailing ship headed to the underworld as he seeks out a powerful weapon. It is in the possession of Elric’s shape-changing Aunt Fernrath, and her bargain will require Elric to go on a quest to face his uncle, a pirate whose ship is a living captive. Every character here was well developed (probably in part because these characters are taken from longer novels), but even for a novice like me it was easy to get up to speed and understand their motivations and personalities. The whole story had a nice momentum to it, from introducing the characters as they sail, to an early encounter with the pirates before later getting the quest from Fernrath, then beginning to reveal the mystery of why they’ve come to this place, finally building up to the quest itself. This story worked on all levels for me, a real pleasure to read, and convinced me I need to seek out the Elric books. Goats of Glory by Steven Erickson At this point I decided to go back to the beginning of the book and just start with the first story by an author I recognized, and see where that would take me. And luck stayed with me, because I loved this one – I have no idea if this could take place within the Malazan series (it seems to leave enough open that it could) but either way, there is something about Erikson’s writing that really appealed to me. Yes there was a grittiness to this story, though that doesn’t fully explain it (as you’ll see later in this review) – but in general I just felt like the characters were really fleshed out and well rounded, and the story was both intriguing and tightly paced. This was a great story to begin the anthology with, probably my favorite in the whole book. To sum up the story: a group of former soldiers (maybe mercenaries) are on the run, we know not from what (and the ending leaves it open for a continuation of that particular plot point) when they come to a run-down town and stop for the night. After catching up with the locals in the only watering hole, this group of warriors make camp in an abandoned garrison/fort – but it’s deserted for a reason; an imp and his demon horde have made this place their home, and they feed on anyone foolish enough to stay after sundown. And the townspeople know this too – they send unsuspecting fools to their deaths there, picking up their belongings the next sun-up; only this time, the surprise will likely be on them. Even with describing the plot, I haven’t done justice to the characters – there’s the various townspeople like the barkeep who barters with anything but coin, the gravedigger and his young apprentice who are in charge of cleaning up the bodies, even the old whore is well developed – and that’s to say nothing of the team of warriors, led by their female captain; each having their own personalities and quirks. I enjoyed spending time with all these characters, and hope to see them again – and as I’ve already said, I enjoyed the writing enough to know I’ll be looking into the Malazan series in the near future (as daunting as a 10 book series is). Tides Elba: A Tale of the Black Company by Glen Cook Unfortunately my luck couldn’t last. It was bound to happen sooner or later in this book, and this was the first story that I didn’t really engage with. The Black Company, a troop of soldiers, is on station in a town with very litter to do except play cards. But when they’re given orders to find a particular maiden – by any means necessary – they know that their two choices are find her using as much subterfuge as possible, or use brute force which will likely endanger the lives of many men. My first problem here was that unlike the previous stories I had read so far, I didn’t feel like this was very welcoming to a newcomer in terms of introducing these characters to me. The story also starts slow, and even when I thought it was finally going to move into a more action oriented direction – instead the characters choose the more secretive route – which all added up to a rather bland tale for me. Perhaps this is not a good indicator of what Glen Cook’s Black Company books are really like, but it did nothing to really convince me to seek them out either. A Wizard of Wiscezan by C.J. Cherryh At this point, I skipped ahead to another author whose name I recognized – but unfortunately this continued the trend of stories that didn’t work for me. I’ll be honest, I barely remember this one at this point – within the first few pages the reader is introduced to the world-building of this entire place, moving from one character to the next, until I was already dizzy from trying to follow what this was supposed to be about. There are a number of characters, who refer to lots more characters and events, as if there is a much larger story happening – which might be fine in a long story, but really distanced the whole thing from me here. There’s a young man who seems apprentices himself to a Wizard, but honestly by the end I just didn’t care what had happened in this story. Not an author whose work I’d choose to seek out again. The Deification of Dal Bamore (A Tale from Echo City) by Tim Lebbon Fortunately, things began to turn around for me with this story. Dal Bamore is a magic user and rebel rouser, and for that crime he is going to be crucified for all the town to see. Between flashbacks to his torture at the hands of Jan Ray, to the present as he’s on his way to die – there’s a very biblical vibe to the story at first, a martyr who’s done nothing wrong sentenced to die. But all that changes when his followers attack the caravan taking him to the wall to carry out his sentence – because these followers keep fighting long after they should be dead. Dark magic is afoot, and Dal Bamore must die. A very engaging story, this one starts right at the good stuff, and even when it flashes back – it still delivers plot that’s worth reading about. Lots of action, with a nice twist ending – another enjoyable story in a book mostly filled with enjoyable tales. In the Stacks by Scott Lynch I then moved on to what is probably my second favorite story in this collection – imagine Harry Potter, only more twisted and a little more adult. Here four wizards in training are taken into the library to return books, only this isn’t even close to as easy as it sounds. Led by a teacher and a librarian, they will have to navigate a library that has become this magic-infused thing, a creature of sorts with other magical creatures living within its walls – where their lives are in danger, and surviving means passing to the next grade, and failing means death. Among the students is the weaker magic user (a Neville type, if you know your Harry Potter), the lizard-boy, the strong female student, and the aloof magically powerful roommate. They’re well rounded, but even more than that – the library is a thing to behold, from the descriptions of the stacks and the sheer size of the place, to the many strange and dangerous creatures that dwell within it – it’s just a wonder to read about. Another twist ending here helped cement this as another favorite for me, and Scott Lynch is someone I’ll definitely be looking for more from in the future. Thieves of Daring by Bill Willingham I love Fables, so I knew I’d be giving this story a try - I suppose this is the second author I’ve read in this book, though it was his comic work and not prose, which I found to be very different from each other. My problem with this story wasn’t really the writing itself, which I found to be fairly engaging – but more the fact that this story seems to have forgotten a few things – namely a beginning and an ending. It starts in the middle of a raid on a castle by a group of characters, one of whom is offed in the opening pages. Then immediately it’s revealed that another one of the characters had betrayed them – this was HIS castle, and they’ve been led to their doom! He reveals that the other character can never escape because the traps will only deactivate for him – and is promptly dispatched so the body can be used for that purpose. Except that doesn’t work, and now faced with the creatures inside or the boobytraps to get out – the story ends. It’s just odd. I don’t bother to mention character names, because they don’t matter. This story is a painfully short 6 pages long; it’s like the continuation of a previous episode, with a title coming up at the end “to be continued in our next episode”. And unfortunately, I don’t feel like this is a good representation of what Willingham has been doing with his fantastic Fables series, which is a shame for anyone reading this who might be exposed to his work for the first time. This wouldn’t have convinced me to seek out Fables, and I think that’s what he should have been going for here. The Fool Jobs by Joe Abercrombie And finally, I read this story by an author whom I’ve heard a lot of great things about. I had high hopes, but unfortunately I didn’t walk away a fan. That’s not to say it was a bad story (I’ve mentioned ones I disliked above, I think you can figure out which ones), but again it didn’t convince me to seek out his books – something that prior to this I had thought of doing based on all the rave reviews. Here we’ve got a group of ruffians, all with terrible names like Craw and Never, hired to raid a town and find a ‘thing’ and bring it back to their quest-giver. I call it a thing because they call it a thing – many times, over and over as these characters discuss and discuss the purpose of the mission before getting on with it. They speak in Kevin Smith’s version of ‘real’ dialog, which is to say with many colorful expletives thrown in every other word to ensure we get the point that these people are normal, average folks. The “thing” in question is a glowing something-or-another, which they do find after a rather heated fight with the townsfolk – but a fire gets started and one of the gang picks up the wrong glowing “thing”, meaning the entire mission was a fools errand, as they leave behind the thing they were meant to grab in a town burning down. As I said, I didn’t hate this last story, but considering all the raves I’ve heard about Abercrombie I had honestly expected to really be blown away – and I wasn’t. But as you can see, there are more than enough excellent stories in this collection to make it a worthwhile read – and I haven’t even read them all to know for sure that there isn’t another gem hiding in there somewhere (though like last years New Space Opera, I plan to continue to read these stories as time permits). I still believe it’s a great way to introduce yourself to a bunch of authors you otherwise might not pick up, and I can easily recommend it.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Be a Man!

I didn't know until I saw the trailer yesterday that Seth Rogen had been cast as the newest Green Hornet. That's right, the schlubby guy who usually plays the semi-amiable slacker in films like Knocked Up and The 40 Year Old Virgin has been cast as a superhero and I can't figure out if we're supposed to take this film seriously or not. But that doesn't matter because I'm offended no matter what.

  Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Paul Newman, Sean Connery...These are men who belong to a time in movie history in which men were men and didn't have to cater to a feminist media that assumed that men needed to be marginalized in order for women to feel that they were being treated "fairly." They were a breed of men who never heard of terms such as "manscaping" and wouldn't be caught dead with highlights in their hair. They might have been actors and not ditch-diggers, but they understood that the portrayal of men in popular culture matters and, I'd like to think, wouldn't appreciate the current trend of reducing men to bumbling goofballs.

 I was born right about the time that the feminist movement was just building steam. The more radical events took place before I was old enough to understand the impact it could, and would, have on male vs. female dynamics in modern society. I was somewhat indoctrinated to believe that it was all good-- after all, what could be bad about women asserting their equality? It had been a long time coming, right? But like any movement, there is always a pendulum swing and I fear we are reaching a nadir in which men are becoming used to be given short shrift in their most common portrayals and we, the audience, are no longer discriminating enough to understand that it is giving us a warped idea of what it actually means to be a man.

 The age-old argument of whether entertainment is a reflection or influence on society has led to countless debates on the merits of censorship. But like anything, the truth often lies in the middle and pop culture is an excellent barometer of where we stand culturally at any given time. I shudder when I look at today's offerings because it doesn't offer much to be optimistic about. Reality TV is probably our biggest cultural wasteland at the given moment. I don't mean the fairly benign variety like "Deadliest Catch" that follows real people going about their business, but the fabricated reality of shows like "Jersey Shore" that follow the hyped-up antics of people who answer to ridiculous names like "The Situation" and think the pinnacle of achievement means having six pack abs. This guy would be less than a gnat to James Bond. But there's something undefinable about guys with gym-rat bodies that appear on reality shows that seems to be emulated in the newest crop of boy-men who are being sold to audiences as the next big thing.

 I have been scratching my head over the "Twilight" phenomenon ever since I heard a 40-something year-old friend gushing over Robert Pattinson and declaring she belongs to "Team Edward." Ick. But how can we expect any woman to appreciate the attributes of a real man when she is bombarded by images of men who can't tie their shoes without a strong, capable woman to show him how? Is it any wonder we're being subjected to the current phenomenon of the "cougar?" I don't have any particular bitterness toward guys like Seth Rogen, but when you see a guy like that, the overfed underachiever who could never, ever get a girl like Katherine Heigl in real life, you can't help question the thinking of casting him in the role of "The Green Hornet." This isn't a case of Superman pretending to be Clark Kent. It isn't even in the same realm as the campy 60's version of "Batman." The most likely argument will be that Rogen is the "everyman"-- a guy that meant to be relatable to the audience. But that doesn't hold up when you think of the men who filled that role in the past. Jimmy Stewart was the quintessential everyman but he would never have presented himself as the rumpled goof-off that has become a current mainstay.

 Nowadays the scripted patter recited by guys like Vince Vaughn is given more weight than the old-school values of rolling up your sleeves and getting the job done-- and that's kind of sad. Is it any wonder kids are rolling out of college thinking they're entitled to the same wage as the guy who devoted 20 years of his life to the same job? It's an irrational irritation I'm sure, but I dislike that the bar is being consistently lowered when it comes to our heroes. As I watch the trailer for "The Green Hornet" I think we've forgotten that the biggest part of being heroic is being exceptional and we're running out of men who fit that criteria in our entertainment; and I think the prevalence of political correctness has contributed to the erosion. I'm not a psychologist, a sociologist or any other "ologist," I'm just a blogger with an opinion. But we've become so concerned that allowing men to be exceptional somehow takes something away from the women starring opposite them and that really bothers me. If women want to be treated equally then we need to to hold ourselves to a high standard, not expect the men to lower theirs. It isn't hard to look like you're the smartest person in the room when you're only competing against overgrown adolescents. It's a vicious cycle that brings us all down and leads to a kind of passive aggressive resentment that I believe has contributed to a hyper-sexualization of women, and the idea that the only way to to be equal to women is to treat them with snarky indifference. How are we better off here?

 There will always be a place for the Seth Rogens of the world just as there was a place for the likes of Jerry Lewis or Benny Hill, but I think it's a mistake to push for an overlap between their characteristic casting and what have been more traditionally masculine roles. We're already looking at a grim future of action movies starring children like Talor Lautner so I'd like to enjoy my action flicks with men like Daniel Craig while I have the chance. Not the vastly underwhelming Seth Rogen.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

DVD Review: "Edge of Darkness"

Mel Gibson has been one of Hollywood's biggest leading men but taking an almost 10-year hiatus is a risky proposition (whether there is personal controversy or not), but Edge of Darkness brings Mel back to the big-screen in the kind of action oriented thriller that has always been his bread and butter. Gibson plays Thomas Craven, a Boston homicide detective who witnesses the murder of his daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic). At first it is believed that Emma was the unfortunate victim of a botched murder attempt directed at her father. But something tugs at Thomas and when he discovers a gun stashed among Emma's belongings, he beings looking closer at the possibility that Emma was the intended victim. It isn't long before Craven realizes that something is seriously wrong with the company his daughter, an MIT graduate, worked for. Northmoor is a corporation that only really exists on the movie screen with its remote location, lavishly appointed offices and instant access to U.S. senators. Craven's search for information starts with Emma's boyfriend, who supplied her with the gun, and happens to be under surveillance for unknown reasons. Unable to immediately draw the needed information from the terrified man, Craven tracks down other colleagues of Emma's who are also being watched by the nefarious Northmoor. Tantalizing clues are dropped along the way in the form of a Geiger counter found in Emma's apartment that reacts to high levels of radiation in a lock of Emma's hair. As Craven directs ever more attention at Northmoor, he finds that the corporation has labyrinthine ties that have him up against the U.S. government as well as the corporation itself. But he's a man with nothing to lose, which becomes ever more apparent as he begins showing signs of radiation sickness, the same sickness his daughter was suffering from before she was murdered. Aided by excellent performances by Mel Gibson and Ray Winstone (a shadowy "consultant" for Darkmoor), and under the direction of Martin Campbell ("Casino Royale") "Edge of Darkness" is about as good as it can be given the limitations of the plot. Based on a popular British television show that originally aired in the 1980's, "Edge of Darkness" is a throwback to a time when movies frequently reflected our overwhelming fear of nuclear war, though it has been updated to take into account the modern dangers of terrorism. But, truth be told, we've seen this movie before in several different incarnations; even starring Mel Gibson-- only it was called "Payback" the first time around. Even "Ransom" fits the man-on-a-mission template going on here. "Edge of Darkness" is an incredibly tense film. Some of the best scenes are the ones in which Craven is questioning Emma's friends and their terror literally leaps off the screen in performances that are a credit to the actors and the director. Gibson is still as charismatic as ever and I appreciated that his character wasn't some CIA operative with mad ninja skills. He's just a father with a relentless need to find the truth and see justice for his daughter. There just isn't anything I can fault when it comes to the acting or the direction of this film. But, at the same time, it's not a movie that treads new ground. It is the standard, boilerplate thriller that Gibson is so well known for. It's also not a movie for the squeamish as the confrontations can be rather graphic and shocking. All in all it's a good movie that tries valiantly to overcome a fairly pedestrian plot, but only proves that great performances and direction can't overcome all obstacles.

"Green Hornet" Trailer

Seth Rogen? Really? Make it stop! This trailer literally hurts my feelings...

Giveaway! "Countdown" and "Final Crisis" by Greg Cox

Courtesy of Penguin Books I have copies of "Countdown" and "Final Crisis" by Greg Cox up for grabs on my giveaway page. Be sure to CHECK IT OUT.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

My Favorite Dads

This is a day late, but we had a fairly busy Father's Day weekend and I am terrible at planning ahead. But I still want to give a nod to all the great dads out there and offer a hat-tip to some great big-screen fathers (mostly sci-fi related, but with a few exceptions) that remind me just how important dads are and how much they add to my favorite movies. In no particular order. Henry Jones Sr. -- Indiana Jones He may not be the warmest father, what with his quest for the Holy Grail taking up so much of his time. But he certainly inspired Indiana Jones to be one inquisitive guy. Sean Connery proved that age is no object when it comes to the ladies, but we like him best because he's Indy's dad and he wields a mean umbrella. Clark Griswold-- Vacation Clark isn't the star of some science fiction masterpiece, but he has geek written all over him with his Members Only jackets and metallic pea-green family-truckster station wagon. I don't know any kid who couldn't find a comparison to their dad and Clark Griswold. He just wanted to have a family vacation to Wally World-- is that too much to ask? I could quote this movie all day. Rusty Griswold: Is that a real gun, Mom? Ellen Griswold: I don't know, Rusty, but when this is all over, your father may be going away for a little while. Bob Parr-- The Incredibles Imagine if your dad was an honest-to-goodness superhero? Well, Bob Parr is. But he's still a typical dad and husband, with the normal middle-aged malaise and need to be needed. But Bob wouldn't be the guy he is without his family and that sweet realization is something the whole family can enjoy. Damon MacReady (Big Daddy)-- Kick Ass They don't make dads more warped than Big Daddy and there is very little to recommend when it comes to his style of fatherhood. But he's also incredibly compelling and willing to do anything for his little girl. Okay, teaching her to take a bullet is just wrong, but would you believe me if I said he meant well? Bryan Mills-- Taken Bryan is the dad every guy wishes he could be-- don't you think? Men always say they'll meet any prospective boyfriends as the door with a shotgun, but manners, and the desire to prevent a lawsuit, generally stop them from going there. And heaven forbid anything really bad happens. How many of us would be be able to kick some bad-guy butt the way Liam Neeson does as Bryan Mills? Vicarious thrills never hit so close to home. John McClain-- Die Hard John McClain is another dad you don't want on your bad side. He's had some hard times and an estrangement from his family, but he has somehow managed to pass on those tough-guy genes to his daughter Lucy. In fact, John McClain is the guy you could see meeting the boyfriend at the door with a shotgun-- and getting away with it. Darth Vader--Star Wars Vader doesn't deserve an award for being a dad, but he gets on the list for one reason-- having one of the most iconic, misquoted movie lines ever. Luke, I am your father. Apparently the proper quote goes like this: Darth Vader: Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father. Luke: He told me enough. He told me you killed him! Darth Vader: No. I am your father. At any rate, this was the big twist in the original "Star Wars" trilogy that spawned a million parodies (my favorite being from "Toy Story") so he deserves and honorable mention at least. Marlin--Finding Nemo Here's one for the neurotic, overprotective parent in all of us. Marlin has every reason to cling to Nemo after the tragic loss of his wife, but Nemo doesn't understand that-- he just wants to be a kid. "Finding Nemo" is a wonderful ode to the everyday heroes in all of our dads and a movie that begs to be watched over and over. It goes without saying that there is no way I could have mentioned everyone who should be on this list (least of all the real dads out there). But these are the guys who pop into my head when I think of great, fictional dads. Who would make your list?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Review – Nova vol 5: War of Kings

One thing I forgot to mention last week, every other Friday at NJOE I do a review of a comic trade paperback book instead of a book review (or the quarterly preview of things to come). The comic reviews have mostly a scifi/fantasy bent to them, and since the beginning of the year I've been doing a series of reviews following the Marvel Cosmic characters since their resurgance in the Annihilation series, working my way up to their current TPB releases - the War of Kings.
Perhaps at some point I'll reprint the entire series of reviews here, but for expediency's sake, the Marvel Cosmic line follows two main books - Nova (from the New Warriors on Earth) and the Guardians of the Galaxy - which includes some stalwarts such as Warlock, Star Lord, Drax, and Gamorra - with various appearances by the Silver Surfer, the X-Men, the Inhumans and more. It's the scifi side of Marvel comics, superheroes in space opera action - being written by Dan Abnett (of Warhammer 40K fame) and Andy Lanning. If that sounds like something you might be interested in - continue on to read my thoughts on Nova volume 5: War of Kings.
Last time around I reviewed the War of Kings event itself, but one of my few frustrations with that book was the fact that Nova did not appear in that story at all. It seems that here in his own book, I’ll finally get my answer – and more, since Nova has been hit and miss for me up to this point, is this a character I’m going to continue to want to read about in the future? When last we left Nova, Richard Rider (or Nova Prime) had been kicked out of the Corps by the Worldmind computer who acts as a sort of administrator for the Nova Corps. But Richard has figured out that it is in fact the Worldmind that has gone off the deep end – that the computer’s exposure to the full power of the Nova Force has left it damaged and deranged. But now that the Nova Corps has disappeared from Earth orbit to go fight in the War of Kings, how will Richard ever catch up with them. And not just because he needs to help the Worldmind, but also to keep it from initiating more new corpsmen – raw recruits it’s sending off to fight in this war, who are losing badly because they’re not trained and facing a superior foe (like the Shi’ar Imperial Guard). Richard’s younger brother Robbie is one of those new recruits – and when the Nova Corpswoman he was supposed to protect gets killed in the line of duty – he takes it on himself to track down her killer. But how can a raw recruit hope to face Gladiator – one of the most powerful of the Imperial Guard? But Richard himself is dying; his body can no longer sustain him without the power of the Nova Force. His disembodied friend Wendell, the former Quasar, has the means to help him – by retrieving the Quantum Bands (from Phyla-Vell, who lost them in Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2) and offering them to Richard to use. Richard catches up with the Nova Corps, helps stabilize the Worldmind, saves his brother, faces off against Inhumans, the Imperial Guard, King Blastaar and manages to kick off the new generation of Nova Corps – in the best Nova story arc since Annihilation Conquest/Knowhere. This book really helped solidify my interest in Nova – previously I wasn’t sold on his solo book (other than the tie-in to Annihilation Conquest), but now I’m anxiously awaiting the next volume of this book. If I have only one complaint – the cover artist doesn’t work for me at all. Since his work is very limited (other than the dreadful cover of this volume – I much prefer one of the variants that are shown within the book) it’s not too much of a detriment, and the two artists within do great work. Similar to War of Kings, this may not be the best book to just pick up and start with though – while there is a summary of what’s happened previously at the beginning of the book – this is best read as a continuation of the books up to this point, since it’s the culmination of plots that have been laid out in volumes 3 and 4. There is also some foreshadowing, as at the very end there’s a Nova Corps starship emerging from the Fault – the rip in space-time that the final battle between Black Bolt and Vulcan has opened in the universe. Who could be on that starship (as all known Nova Corpsmen are accounted for) – and what other horrors lie beyond the Fault. Perhaps we’ll learn more in the next volume of Guardians of the Galaxy.

Giveaway! "Undead and Unfinished" by MaryJanice Davidson

Thanks to Penguin Books I have a copy of "Undead and Unfinished" by MaryJanice Davidson up for grabs on my giveaway page. Be sure to CHECK IT OUT.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Book Review: Spellwright by Blake Charlton

Blake Charlton's debut novel, Spellwright, is a mixed bag, with some particularly strong points to be found in its characterization and its heavy, almost hard fantasy focus on an often ridiculed method of producing magic: language. While the novel is not without flaws, Charlton makes up for it with strong action sequences that often result in a little of the gosh-wow that many have argued is sorely missing from fantasy's cousin, science fiction. Spellwright follows Nicodemus Weal, a wizard in training at an academy. He was once considered to be the Halcyon, a mythical figure prophesied to return to stop the Disjunction--a battle against the demons of the old world from across the ocean. The only problem is that Nicodemus is a cacographer, whose dangerous misspells of common languages makes him potentially dangerous to any other magic user. His cacography makes him anything but the "one." When a grand wizard at the academy is killed by a powerful misspell, Nicodemus and his teacher, Shannon, are the prime suspects. And as politics and prejudice play out in the academy, something with intimate ties to the forgotten, blasphemous magical languages from the old world sets a plan in motion that could destroy the academy and bring about the Disjunction, an event the Nicodemus will be a part of, whether he wants to be or not. What sets Charlton's novel apart from other fantasy works is its magic system. Firmly rooted in the author's dyslexic past, the magic system of Spellwright avoids spoken language and instead places all of the power in the written word. Spells have to literally be written within the body and then passed down through the arms to be cast. Likewise, you have to know the language(s) to be able to use them effectively (and there are many languages). The great part about this is that it creates a lot of fantastic limitations: particularly large and powerful spells take a long time to cast, not knowing how to spell properly can be unintentionally deadly, as is the case with Nicodemus, and magical languages become protected entities from other groups, because without knowing a particular language, you can't see or cast against it. Taking a detour from the magic, I think it's important to note that the characterization in Spellwright, while not as well-developed as I would have liked, does show a lot of promise. The fact that the main character and Charlton share a common origin shouldn't be misconstrued as a kind of Mary Sue (or Gary Stu, since Charlton is a man), but instead seen for what it is: an intimate portrayal of a character with a mental disability who must battle against a world that views him not as a person with some value, but as kind of disease. Nicodemus is not difficult to like. His struggles, motivations, and outbursts all make sense. I suspect that many will identify with Nicodemus, even if they have no disabilities (for lack of a better word) themselves; we can empathize with people who have been ostracized for one reason or another. To be critical for a moment, I do think that the characterization that exploded in the last third of the novel should have come more gradually throughout. The ending does feel somewhat rushed in terms of the characters, and it would make more sense for them to develop less abruptly. The action, however, will likely be seen as the novel's strongest point. It becomes clear early on that Charlton has thought through how his wizards will fight. A standard wizardly slug match where users just toss fireballs and the like at one another won't do, namely because spells that can do the most damage can't generally be put together on the fly (though some can). We see only a glimpse of the potential in Charlton's magic as a combat system, because the novel itself is not set within the Disjunction, but in a somewhat peaceful time. That glimpse is enough, though. The fights are exciting, the magic equally so, and all the creations that come as a result make for a very fast-paced book. The novel's weaknesses seem to be more within the realm of continuity and genre trappings than anything else. The magic system, while unique and quite intriguing, often isn't set in stone. For example, it's mentioned numerous times that characters cannot spellwright within the walls of the academy, and yet we see numerous characters do just that. Either I missed something, or the author didn't make it clear enough that he meant only certain characters (or something else). Finally, while I understand that fantasy is often repetitive, I have to wonder when we're going to see enough of this prophesy business. I like Charlton's novel, but the prophesy subplot plays a crucial role in the overall story, and I feel as though this takes away from the potential of the novel. Here is a book that has a great magic system, an interesting past, and interesting "races," yet it finds itself stuck using the all-too-familiar furniture of a genre burdened with familiar furniture. Prophesies are sort of like the cheap bookshelves you get at Walmart: a lot of people have them, and they're all the same--cheap, colorless, and weak. Move away from prophesy. We need more characters who rise up to the occasion on their own, without prompting from people who think they are something else. There's nothing heroic about someone fulfilling their destiny; it's just...expected. Spellwright's prophesy subplot does have a twist in it and much of the novel is spent dispelling the belief that Nicodemus is the Halycon, but the prophesy bit is still there in the background. Fantasy has sort of built up its foundations on recycled themes, and it continues to do so, because that's sort of how it's done; some of these themes, I think, should simply disappear. But moving away from that, I'll try to get back on a positive note, because I don't think it's fair to point all the fingers at Charlton, or to try to take away from what works in the novel. Charlton has a lot of potential. He could take the concepts of his novel very far: so much can be done with the cacography and all the unique languages he has created for his magic system. If he keeps pressing the details in his future novels, I think he'll become a strong player in the fantasy realm. Right now, Spellwright is fun, unique, and engaging, despite being a tad cliche. Hopefully we'll seem some improvement in the second book. You can find out more about Blake Charlton at his website. Spellwright is available at Tor, Amazon, and anywhere else you go to find your books. P.S.: Originally I was going to say I was upset with the ending, but I just discovered that there are more novels in this series, which alleviates all of my concerns. The series looks to be a trilogy at this point.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Guest Blog and Giveaway! Kelly Link-- Author of "Pretty Monsters"

Kelly Link, author of the newly released and already well regarded YA collection of short stories Pretty Monsters was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to write a guest post for me today. As an added bonus, I also have a copy of "Pretty Monsters" to offer for giveaway--just read to the end of the post to find out how to get your hands on a copy! Kate Wilhelm is a writer of mystery novels, classic science fiction novels like Where Late the Sweet Bird Sang, a short-story writer, and an anthologist. Along with her husband Damon Knight, she co-founded the Clarion Workshop. Although she was no longer an instructor when I went to Clarion in 1995, one of the most useful pieces of writing advice I've ever come across was something Wilhelm said. To roughly paraphrase, she suggests that every writer indirectly collaborates with her subconscious -- she calls this collaborator your Silent Partner -- who supplies you with ideas that you then turn into stories. Your Silent Partner doesn't discriminate between the good, the bad, the ugly, and the odd. That's your job. When you reject certain kinds of ideas, Wilhelm says, the S.P stops supplying them. If you are too picky, and turn up your nose at all of the ideas that are coming from your subconscious, eventually the S.P stops offering any at all. When you begin to recognize certain kinds of ideas as useful and welcome, Wilhelm suggests that you stop and offer positive reinforcement. That is, think to yourself, "Yes, that's a terrific idea. More like that, please, S.P." -- and the S.P will begin to produce more and more ideas of these fruitful and generative kinds of ideas. As you begin to recognize the kind of ideas that are going to turn into the kind of stories that you want most to write, your subconscious gets even better at fine-tuning the kind of things it provides, as well as faster at giving you useful material. A couple of years ago, when we published Kate Wilhelm's book on writing and workshops, Storyteller, I decided to try out her suggestion about recognizing, welcoming, and fine-tuning the S.P.'s collaborative input, and found that I was having much more fun with the ideas that ended up in the front of my brain, as well as having more ideas of the kind that went somewhere I wanted to go. Perhaps you're a writer who already has a very good well of story ideas. But if, like me, you sometimes run dry, here's an exercise for generating story ideas that I hope fits well with Kate Wilhelm's advice. What I decided to do was to sit down and, very quickly, make a list of things that I most liked in other people's fiction -- these could be thematic, character driven, very general or very specific. I found that when I started this list, it began to incorporate ideas and items which I was inventing as I went along. Here's the list: theme parks cults haunted houses funny! subterranean lakes book within a book, also made up tv shows -- any kind of invented narrative dog walkers pet tragedies twins old mysteries -- bad things that have happened in the past people who know they are doing stupid things, but keep on doing them people who are blamed for doing things they didn't do people who make things people who stage amateur plays / make amateur movies ghost stories governesses & parole officers -- people with power who can make you miserable, or make you do pointless tasks in order to demonstrate their power electrical outages imaginary friends Cat in the Hat-types characters/antagonists/allies poltergeists owls or infestations of wild animals demolition ne'er-do-well relations the octopus the color green pet named "the unsub" b/c mother loves forensic mysteries mocking celebrities metafiction fraught family dynamics weird sexual dynamics plague zombies attics or basements full of things girls who kick ass, not necessarily for a good reason Every once in a while, I revisit this list, to see if there's something on it that generates an idea. I add things as they occur. It's a bit like window shopping. One more way of generating more story ideas. This is something that the writer Greg Frost suggested -- he got it from a talk that the poet/novelist/short story writer Stephen Dobyns gave, and said that Stephen Dobyns himself came up with it after he once asked Raymond Carver about how Carver approached writing short stories. Carver said, "I write the first sentence, and then I write the next sentence and then the next." Apparently this answer at first annoyed Dobyns, whose usual method involved much more planning etc; later, when Dobyns was marooned for two days in a hotel room, feverish, and unable to catch a flight home, he sat down and tried Carver's method. So here's the exercise: without too much preparation, and without spending too much time -- say, more than an hour -- write down 50 first sentences. Later on, sit down with those 50 sentences, pick half of them, and write 25 first paragraphs. Out of those first paragraphs, Dobyns eventually got half a dozen short stories. I've done this exercise with a couple of workshops, and although I can't vouch for the final stories, many of those 50 first sentences were terrific. Speaking as an editor, I was immediately interested in what came next. A couple more random things about story ideas: I often think about stories or characters for a long time before I begin to write them -- during that period when I'm playing around with the things that will go into one story, I will often find that another story begins to take form as well, and that both stories will begin to get bigger, lumpier, and more interesting -- a bit like rolling two Katamari balls at once, if you've ever played Katamari Damacy. Sometimes these story ideas stay separate, and then I'll have a project ready to pick up as soon as I've finished the first story. Sometimes the various story strands will combine into one bigger story ball, and I've learned that this almost always turns out to be interesting and useful as well. Even when you do have a terrific idea for a short story, sometimes it's difficult to know how best to approach it. So far the method that's worked best for me has been to start with dialogue and nothing else -- not even speech tags. If I can get two characters talking to each other, in such a way that their voices and situation are distinct enough to identify w/o descriptions or speech tags or any other kind of distraction, a story begins to take shape. Eventually I go back and revise, but the characters have already begun to come to life in a way that drives the action. As well as useful ideas, there's a particular category of ideas that you, the writer, will never ever use, but which are pleasing, for whatever reason, to contemplate. I welcome these ideas even as I recognize them as ridiculous. They seem like but-wait-there's-more bonus! ideas that you get, for some reason, along with the useful ones -- and sometimes I like these bonus! ideas even better than the ones that become stories or projects. In this category are two titles for anthologies that I will never ever edit, but which I love to contemplate: Manthology is one; the other is Unicats!. One last category of ideas, to end on: those ideas which are fabulous, but which you may not be the best writer to tackle, or which are too complicated to pursue for other reasons. For example, I've never written a script. I have lots of other things I need and want to be working on. And yet, wouldn't it be a blast to remake the movie "Bringing Up Baby" as a paranormal romance? I keep having this vision of the scene in which Cary Grant's character is wearing Katherine Hepburn's negligee. Doesn't the reason why seem obvious? He's just turned back from were-leopard into Cary Grant. ~Kelly Link To enter to win a copy of "Pretty Monsters" just add your information to the form below (all information guaranteed confidential and will be discarded once contest ends) and I will randomly pick a winner by Tuesday June 29th. No multiple entries please--all multiple entries will be discarded. Open everywhere. Good luck. From Publishers Weekly Starred Review. Readers as yet unfamiliar with Link (Magic for Beginners) will be excited to discover her singular voice in this collection of nine short stories, her first book for young adults. The first entry, The Wrong Grave, immediately demonstrates her rare talents: a deadpan narration that conceals the author's metafictional sleight-of-hand (Miles had always been impulsive. I think you should know that right up front); subjects that range from absurd to mundane, all observed with equidistant irony. Miles, hoping to recover the poems he's buried with his dead girlfriend, digs up what appears to be the wrong corpse (It's a mistake anyone could make, interjects the narrator), who regains life and visits her mother, a lapsed Buddhist (Mrs. Baldwin had taken her Buddhism very seriously, once, before substitute teaching had knocked it out of her'). Other stories have more overtly magical or intertextual themes; in each, Link's peppering of her prose with random associations dislocates readers from the ordinary. With a quirky, fairytale style evocative of Neil Gaiman, the author mingles the grotesque and the ethereal to make magic on the page. Ages 12–up. **Contest Closed**

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Movie Review: "The A-Team"

Oh sweet mindless summer movie-- I have finally found you. This appears to be the summer of the 1980's remakes. This weekend alone has The A-Team and The Karate Kid while "Predator" gets a makeover and a slightly new name next month with Predators. My childhood is calling and this weekend I chose pointless explosions over a precocious Jaden Smith. I guess my generational prejudice is showing-- Bradley Cooper and Liam Neeson just seem so much more interesting; or maybe good-looking is more accurate. "The A-Team" was one of the few shows I could watch as a kid without having to keep my three older brothers from changing the channel. Like "The Dukes of Hazzard" it was a show that was light on plot and heavy on silly one-liners and action. The scriptwriters didn't forget that when they wrote this big screen adaptation. Colonel John "Hannibal" Smith (Liam Neeson) is the leader of the A-Team, a small, elite group of soldiers who first teamed up in Mexico and have since made a name for themselves as a combat unit stationed in Iraq. Templeton "Faceman" Peck (Bradley Cooper) is a good-looking charmer who acts as Hannibal's right hand man. B.A. "Bad Attitude" Baracas (Quinton "Rampage" Jackson) is the muscle of the group while H. M. "Howling Mad" Murdoch (Sharlto Copley) is their pilot. Their last mission in Iraq had them trying to recover U.S. Treasury plates and over one billion dollars in counterfeit currency in the possession of Iraqi insurgents. The mission was successful, but strictly off-the-books, and when they are betrayed there is no proof they were acting on the authority of the U.S government and they end up sentenced to ten years in prison. Six months later the team, determined to clear their name, escape prison and set out to find the treasury plates and find out who betrayed them. The beauty of a movie like "The A-Team" is that you know well before you walk into the theater whether or not you're going to like it. At least you will if you watched the original series. The movie is a lot like the show it's based on. Which, when you consider how abysmal some remakes have been ("Starsky and Hutch" comes immediately to mind), that's actually a good thing. There is nothing deep, meaningful or unpredictable about "The A-Team." It is mindless summer fare full of absurd action sequences that somehow manages to be fun and likable because of good casting. Liam Neeson is always a solid screen presence and he doesn't disappoint as Hannibal Smith. Not many actors could pull off the gray hair and token repetition of Hannibal's trademark line of "I love it when a plan comes together," but Neeson makes it work. Bradley Cooper is given more than a token role as Faceman and he proves he has the charisma to be credible in the role . Likewise Sharlto Copely ("District 9") is great as Murdock and Quinton Jackson does a passable job as a latter-day Mr. T. I even liked Jessica Biel. "The A-Team" is exactly the movie I expected to see. It's as silly and unrealistic as the original. Bullets fly everywhere and never hit the heroes while they make multiple life-and-death escapes in the first five minutes. It also made me laugh and reminded me of happy times watching the show as a kid. I wouldn't have liked the movie as much if I didn't have a certain nostalgia for the television series and it's certainly not something you have to see on the big screen. It's an enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half if you're looking for something entertaining that doesn't flex too many brain cells. I wouldn't rank it high on my "must-see" list but I will admit I thought it was fun.

Friday, June 11, 2010

3rd Quarter 2010 Previews

Over at the website NJOE.com, I do a weekly Friday column called A Galaxy Not So Far Away - which is now going to be reposted here at F&SF Lovin' as well. In this column I mostly do reviews of non-Star Wars books from former or current Star Wars authors, as well as other media tie-in books (TV, movies, videogames) and even branching out into general Sci-Fi or Fantasy releases that might be of interest to readers looking to branch out. I also do a quarterly preview of the books coming out that might get covered by the column, and it's with that which I start here...
with gaming tie-ins, which is a nice way to move into both science fiction and fantasy genres. First up is a look at Karen Traviss’ upcoming Gears of War book, Anvil Gate – the third book in this series. Traviss has recently announced that she’s both writing Gears of War 3 the game, as well as penning new novels in the series as well. Below is the blurb for Anvil Gate, coming out August 31st. With the Locust Horde apparently destroyed, Jacinto's survivors have begun to rebuild human society on their island stronghold. Raiding pirate gangs take a toll - but it's nothing that Marcus Fenix and the Gears can't handle. Then the terrifying life-forms they thought they'd left behind - the Lambent, creatures even the Locust feared - begin to advance across the planet. Gears and gangs must fight side by side to stop their deadliest enemy yet, falling back on the savage tactics of another bloody siege: Anvil Gate. Another series that Traviss has contributed to is Halo, and there was news recently that the original trilogy of novels will be re-released in special editions with new material – the first of which is Halo: The Fall of Reach by Eric S. Nylund coming August 3rd. More reissues with new material from the Halo series are to come later this year. Last month I gave you a look at the blurb for Alex Irvine’s Transformers: Exodus novel – now with this book’s imminent release on June 22nd, the cover has been revealed. I’m already reading this book, and you can expect a review of it soon – but here are a few choice excerpts from the press release (as revealed by Graeme at his blog) to give you a feel for the story: Telling one of the most important stories in the TRANSFORMERS canon, this novel explores and expands upon the origins of the supervillain MEGATRON, leader of the evil DECEPTICONS, and the rise of OPTIMUS PRIME to leadership of the heroic AUTOBOTS. …TRANSFORMERS: EXODUS takes fans deep into the secret lore of the TRANSFORMERS universe, charting the creation of the DECEPTICONS and the AUTOBOTS—and chronicling the civil war that divided them. At the center of this thrilling history are OPTIMUS PRIME and MEGATRON, the ultimate hero and the ultimate villain, whose destinies are entwined with that of their home planet, CYBERTRON. …this is a canonical TRANSFORMERS tale that also relates to, and expands on, the story being told in the upcoming video game, TRANSFORMERS: War for Cybertron, from Activision. Also at Graeme’s blog, he had given a look at the press release for the July 20th novel in the Dead Space series, called Martyr by B.K. Evenson. I found the cover blurb at Amazon, which sets the tone I’d expect in the book: We have seen the future. A universe cursed with life after death. It all started deep beneath the Yucatan peninsula, where an archaeological discovery took us into a new age, bringing us face-to-face with our origins and destiny. Michael Altman had a theory no one would hear. It cursed our world for centuries to come. This, at last, is his story. Moving over to Mass Effect, Drew Karpyshyn’s next novel in that series, Retribution, is coming out July 27th, and a blurb has shown up for that as well: Humanity has reached the stars, joining the vast galactic community of alien species. But beyond the fringes of explored space lurk the Reapers, a race of sentient starships bent on “harvesting” the galaxy’s organic species for their own dark purpose. The Illusive Man, leader of the pro-human black ops group Cerberus, is one of the few who know the truth about the Reapers. To ensure humanity’s survival, he launches a desperate plan to uncover the enemy’s strengths—and weaknesses—by studying someone implanted with modified Reaper technology. He knows the perfect subject for his horrific experiments: former Cerberus operative Paul Grayson, who wrested his daughter from the cabal’s control with the help of Ascension project director Kahlee Sanders. But when Kahlee learns that Grayson is missing, she turns to the only person she can trust: Alliance war hero Captain David Anderson. Together they set out to find the secret Cerberus facility where Grayson is being held. But they aren’t the only ones after him. And time is running out. As the experiments continue, the sinister Reaper technology twists Grayson’s mind. The insidious whispers grow ever stronger in his head, threatening to take over his very identity and unleash the Reapers on an unsuspecting galaxy. Drew is also writing a fantasy book called Children of Fire, which has not yet been sold to a publisher (though he hopes for publication sometime mid-2011). Speaking of upcoming novels, I’ve shown the cover for Deep State (the sequel to Walter Jon Williams’ This is Not A Game) before, but now Orbit has released the description for this Feb 2011 book as well: Dagmar Shaw is back at it again. She is the Puppetmaster and this time thousands of gamers are dancing on her strings. But when the game she is running in Turkey comes into conflict with the new, brutal regime, she realizes that games have consequences. When an old friend approaches Dagmar with a project so insane, so ambitious, she can’t possibly say no, she is plunged into a world of spies and soldiers. Dagmar is a Puppetmaster, but when the bullets are real and her ‘puppets’ start dying, is any cause worth it? A nation hangs in the balance and in a world of intrigue and betrayal, Dagmar needs to figure out just what part she plays. Already out from Walter Jon Willams is his new collection, The Green Leopard Plague, described by the author thus: Contained in the volume are two stories that actually won Nebula Awards, as well as other stories that were nominated for Nebulas, Hugos, and/or Sidewises, but due to some horrid cosmic accident did not actually win. Plus there's an introduction by Charles Stross and afterwards to the stories by my ownself, which contain fascinating insights into my Art, Life, and Character. According to Amazon, a new World of Warcraft novel from Christie Golden, called The Shattering: Prelude to Cataclysm is due to come out on August 31st, but so far there’s no cover nor description available. Another World of Warcraft book, Chronicles of War, which sounds like it might be a short story collection is due out December 7th, featuring Christie Golden and Jeff Grubb among others. For those looking to get a feel for Jeff Grub’s writing in advance of his 2011 Star Wars novel, he also has a Guild Wars novel coming out this July 27th, called Ghosts of Ascalon. 250 years ago, Ascalon burned . . . Desperate to defend his land from advancing hordes of bestial charr, King Adelbern summoned the all-powerful Foefire to repel the invaders. But magic can be a double-edged sword—the Foefire burned both charr and human alike. While the charr corpses smoldered, the slain Ascalonians arose again, transformed by their king’s rage into ghostly protectors and charged with guarding the realm . . . forever. The once mighty kingdom became a haunted shadow of its former glory. Centuries later, the descendants of Ascalon, exiled to the nation of Kryta, are besieged on all sides. To save humankind, Queen Jennah seeks to negotiate a treaty with the hated charr. But one obstacle remains. The charr legions won’t sign the truce until their most prized possession, the Claw of the Khan-Ur,is returned from the ruins of fallen Ascalon. Now a mismatched band of adventurers, each plagued by ghosts of their own, sets forth into a haunted, war-torn land to retrieve the Claw. Without the artifact, there is no hope for peace between human and charr—but the undead king who rules Ascalon won’t give it up easily, and not everyone wants peace! With Pathfinder launching there new line of tie-in books, Elaine Cunningham’s September15th release, Winter Witch, has gotten a new cover and an official blurb: In a village of the frozen north, a child is born possessed by a strange and alien spirit, only to be cast out by her tribe and taken in by the mysterious winter witches of Irrisen, a land locked in permanent magical winter. Farther south, a young mapmaker with a penchant for forgery discovers that his sham treasure maps have begun striking gold. This is the story of Ellasif, a barbarian shield maiden who will stop at nothing to recover her missing sister, and Decclan, the ne’er-do-well young spellcaster-turned-forger who wants only to prove himself to the woman he loves. Together they’ll face monsters, magic, and the fury of Ellasif’s own cold-hearted warriors in their quest to rescue the lost child. Yet when they finally reach the ice-walled city of Whitethrone, where trolls hold court and wolves roam the streets as men, will it be too late to save the girl from the forces of darkness? Most well known for his work with Wizards of the Coast, R.A. Salvatore also has the conclusion to the Saga of the First King series coming out August 17th called The Bear: The war of Honce drags on, and the roads and seas are littered with bodies. To everyone’s stunned disbelief, Yeslnik the Fool has tipped the war’s scales in his favor. The reign of the newly self-appointed King Yeslnik is already distinguished as the most bloody and merciless in Honce history. Trapped, Dame Gwydre and Father Artolivan concoct a desperate plot to join forces with Laird Ethelbert, the lesser of two vicious evils. But Ethelbert’s paid assassins slew Jameston Sequin and nearly did the same to Bransen. Embittered by it all, Bransen seeks to extricate himself from the selfish goals of all of combatants. But in an odd twist of fate and crossed loyalties, Bransen sees in his old nemesis, Bannagran--the Bear of Honce and the man who slew his adoptive father - a darker image of his own heart. Allies and battle lines become tangled, motives indistinguishable as old friends become enemies and old enemies become allies. Karen Miller, also known as K.E. Mills, has two books coming out this Quarter, The Reluctant Mage (July 28th) and Wizard Squared (June 29th), both of which I’ve covered previously in this column. With the release of Kevin Anderson’s next Terra Incognita novel, The Map of All Things on June 21st, there’s an excerpt available online from book 1, The Edge of the World, a promo video for the new book, a wallpaper of the cover from the publisher, and an interview with the author. And because it's from Alex Ross (and it was one of my favorite reads last year), here's the cover for the MMP release of Anderson's Enemies and Allies, coming out on September 28th. In a previous column I had talked about Joe Schreiber’s Supernatural novel and Timothy Zahn’s Terminator book – well, an excerpt from the already released The Unholy Cause is now available, and Trial by Fire is finally coming out July 27th. Along those same lines, Wizards of the Coast has released an Omnibus featuring the entire Forgotten Realms Erevis Cale trilogy as well as two short stories featuring the character. The Erevis books have also been made available as e-books, for those who prefer to read that way. Paul Kemp has also released his own short fiction anthology via Kindle, which you can check out more information on here. In similar news, Zapptek Legends is bringing stories to iphone/ipod touch including Aaron Allson and Mike Stackpole, which you can read more about here. Kristine Kathryn Rusch has had an e-book release as well, The Paparazzi of Dreams. A bunch of her stories are also available for free online such as Hollywood Ending, What the Monster Saw, Dark Man (part 1, part 2) from the anthology Is There Anybody Out There? Speaking of anthologies, a fun sounding one reprinting the early work of many names in Science Fiction and Fantasy called Before They Were Giants is coming out September 21st, collecting the first published stories of 15 of science fiction and fantasy's most important authors providing brand-new retrospective critiques and interviews discussing the stories' geneses, how publication affected their lives, and what they know now about writing that they wish they'd known then, including the following contributions: Piers Anthony: "Possible to Rue" Greg Bear: "Destroyers" Ben Bova: "A Long Way Back" David Brin: "Just a Hint" Cory Doctorow: "Craphound" William Gibson: "Fragments of a Hologram Rose" Nicola Griffith: "Mirrors and Burnstone" Joe Haldeman: "Out of Phase" China MiĆ©ville: "Highway 61 Revisited" Larry Niven: "The Coldest Place" Kim Stanley Robinson: "In Pierson’s Orchestra" Spider Robinson: "The Guy with the Eyes" R. A. Salvatore: "A Sparkle for Homer" Charles Stross: "The Boys" Michael Swanwick: "Ginungagap" Finally, some Warhammer 40K 3Q releases that are on my radar – release dates, blurbs, and covers: Enforcer by Matt Farrer (July 6) excerpt: Enforcer Shira Calpurnia maintains a tough line on law and order in the Hydraphur system. Home to Imperial warfleets, this area of space is riven with violence and corruption. Calpurnia's duty is to protect the innocent and punish the guilty - with extreme prejudice. This omnibus collects the novels Crossfire, Legacy and Blind as well as new content from Matt Farrer.
Nemesis by James Swallow (July 27) excerpt: After the horrors of Istvaan V, Horus declares outright war against the Imperium. In the shadows of the Emperor's Palace, powerful figures convene.Their plan is to send a team of assassins to execute the arch-traitor Horus and end the war for the galaxy of mankind before it's even begun. But what they cannot know is that another assassin is abroad already, with his sights firmly set on killing the Emperor. Throne of Lies (audiobook) by Aaron Dembski-Bowden The Night Lords are among the most feared Chaos Space Marines in the universe.They prey on their victims from the shadows, stalking the faithful of the FalseImperium in their ultimate quest to destroy the Emperor. The warband of the Exalted, travelling aboard The Covenant of Blood, are recovering from the events at Crythe Primus. But their dark crusade against the loyal Imperial forces continues, and they will leave a trail of blood and terror behind them. Fear the Alien edited by Christian Dunn (August 31) - including a story by NJOE.com member James Gilmer (patchworkz7): The Imperium of Man has many enemies among the stars, but none are reviled so much as the alien. Dangerous races seek to destroy humanity wherever they turn –the brutish orks, the ravening hordes of the tyranid, the unrelenting necrons and the mysterious forces of the tau and the eldar. Across the universe, humanity and their defenders, the Space Marines, seek to eradicate these xenos threats. Yet all they can hope for is another day of survival – for to stand against the alien is to enter an unending war... Featuring stories by Dan Abnett, Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Nick Kyme, Juliet McKenna, C.L. Werner and many more, Fear the Alien is an unmissable collection for fans of Warhammer 40,000 and military science fiction. The Hunt for Voldorius by Andy Hoare (Sept 7) Captain Kor'sarro Khan of the White Scars is petitioned by his Chapter Master to hunt down and destroy the daemon prince Voldorius, a warleader of the renegade Alpha Legion, thus ending his reign of terror across the stars. Hunting the beast doggedly for over a decade, Kor'sarro finally brings Voldorius to battle on Quintus, a world that has totally given itself over to the Alpha Legion. Together with their Raven Guard allies, the White Scars must fight an entire planet if they are to slay the daemon prince.