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**

Winners!

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...
~SQT

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.

Biography
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.


"Cowboys & Aliens"

This is the first I've seen of this (hat tip to John DeNardo at SF Signal). I like what I see so far. Directed by John (Iron Man) Favreau, and starring Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford.



1873. Arizona Territory. A stranger (Craig) with no memory of his past stumbles into the hard desert town of Absolution. The only hint to his history is a mysterious shackle that encircles one wrist. What he discovers is that the people of Absolution don’t welcome strangers, and nobody makes a move on its streets unless ordered to do so by the iron-fisted Colonel Dolarhyde (Ford). It’s a town that lives in fear.

But Absolution is about to experience fear it can scarcely comprehend as the desolate city is attacked by marauders from the sky. Screaming down with breathtaking velocity and blinding lights to abduct the helpless one by one, these monsters challenge everything the residents have ever known.

Now, the stranger they rejected is their only hope for salvation. As this gunslinger slowly starts to remember who he is and where he’s been, he realizes he holds a secret that could give the town a fighting chance against the alien force. With the help of the elusive traveler Ella (Wilde), he pulls together a posse comprised of former opponents—townsfolk, Dolarhyde and his boys, outlaws and Apache warriors—all in danger of annihilation. United against a common enemy, they will prepare for an epic showdown for survival.

Release date July 11, 2011

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Giveaway! "Midsummer Night" by Freda Warrington

Last year I had the pleasure of reviewing "Elfland" by Freda Warrington and happily discovered a wonderful author with many titles to explore. So I was really happy when Tor Books sent me a copy of Midsummer Night to review. Even better, they sent me a final copy of book that begs to be shared with those of you who may not have had the chance to read anything by this great author.

A sensuous, suspenseful modern fantasy of love, betrayal, and redemption

Decades ago, in a place where the veil between our world and the world of the Aetherials—the fair folk—is too easily breached, three young people tricked their uncle by dressing as the fey. But their joke took a deadly turn when true Aetherials crossed into our world, took one of the pranksters, and literally scared their uncle to death.

Many years later, at the place of this capture lies a vast country estate that holds a renowned art facility owned by a visionary sculptor. One day, during a violent storm, a young woman studying art at the estate stumbles upon a portal to the Otherworld. A handsome young man comes through the portal and seeks shelter with her. Though he can tell her nothing of his past, his innocence and charm capture her heart. But he becomes the focus of increasingly violent arguments among the residents of the estate. Is he as innocent as he seems? Or is he hiding his true identity so that he can seek some terrible vengeance, bringing death and heartbreak to this place that stands between two worlds? Who is this young man?

The forces of magic and the power of love contend for the soul of this man, in this magical romantic story of loss and redemption.


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 Monday November 29th. No multiple entries please-- all multiple entries will be discarded. Open everywhere.

Good luck!

**Contest Closed**

A Little Pat on the Back

I kind of forgot about blog awards. You see the badges on the sidebars of lots of blogs and every now and then a meme gets forwarded and bloggers forward a hat-tip onto another blogger saying we kinda like what you're doing... The badges I had got lost after several template changes and my fading memory and I never gave much thought to replacing them. But when Yiota over at Splash of Four Worlds passed on the Life is Good award to me, I thought why not allow myself the little indulgence of a nice pat on the back? So thanks Yiota and here goes...

Rules:

(At this time I can follow 1 & 2)
1. Thank and link back to the person that gave this award.
2. Answer the 10 survey questions.

(I haven't been doing a lot of blog-hopping lately, so I'll have to add a list of blogs to forward this onto later)
3. Pass the award along to 15 bloggers who you have recently discovered and who you think are fantastic.
4. Contact the bloggers you've picked to let them know about the award.


1. If you blog anonymously are you happy doing it that way; if you are not anonymous do you wish you had started out anonymously so you could be anonymous now?

I kinda, sorta blog anonymously. It doesn't take too much work to figure out who the person behind SQT is, but I think I've maintained a fair amount of privacy. I'm shy by nature so I like the facade the blue lady on my sidebar has given me.

2. Describe one incident that shows your inner stubborn side:

I took Japanese as a minor in college and took most of my classes from one teacher. One semester my regular teacher didn't have enough room for me in his class and I was forced to take classes from another instructor. The class had a starting point that was several chapters ahead of where I left off in the previous semester so I was scrambling to catch up. I went from having straight A's in the subject to a B+, but I thought that that was still a respectable grade. But the newer instructor made the assumption that I wouldn't continue with the subject -- as if I was a failure for not getting an A. I was so angry I applied to, and was accepted, to a foreign studies program and spent the next semester in Japan just to show her that I would not only continue studying the language, but that I would excel at it.

3. What do you see when you really look at yourself in the mirror?

I see a very lucky person with a lot of blessings. Someone who is still kind of shy, but comfortable in my skin and glad to be at the stage where I don't feel the need to portray myself as anything other than what I am.

4. What is your favorite summer cold drink?

Sangria.

5. When you take time for yourself, what do you do?

If I'm really treating myself I like to get a massage or a pedicure.

6. Is there something you still want to accomplish in life? What is it?

I go back-and-forth with the desire to write a book. Sometimes I think it's something I want to do so I can say I did, but I don't feel as driven as I did once toward that goal. Now it's the small things that give me pleasure. Making a quilt is my only immediate goal. Then maybe having a garden. But the only big accomplishment that really matters right now is raising healthy, happy kids.

7. When you attended school, were you the class clown, the class overachiever, the shy person, or always ditching?

I never ditched school; I was waaay too responsible for that. I could be an overachiever, but mostly was the shy kid.

8. If you close your eyes and want to visualize a very poignant moment of your life what would you see?

Being given away at my wedding.

9. Is it easy for you to share your true self in your blog or are you more comfortable writing posts about other people or events?

I rarely post about myself because I didn't set the blog up that way. And since I didn't, I kind of assume that's what the regular visitors prefer. If I do refer to myself, I try to take a humorous approach to keep it from getting too heavy or personal. So I'd definitely say my comfort zone is in writing about other people and events.

10. If you had the choice to sit down and read or talk on the phone, which would you do and why?

Oh I'd much rather read. I'm terrible at getting off the phone when someone calls. I hate to be rude and tell anyone I have to go, so I often end up trapped into conversations that are much longer than I originally intended.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Sneak Peek at "The Green Lantern" (via Entertainment Tonight)

Review: Fantastic Four vol 1 - Solve Everything

Parallel universes, a world on the edge of destruction from a black hole, and a man from the future with a portent of events that must be avoided at all costs – not a surprising turn of events for the Fantastic Four. This scifi book has a little something for everyone. The first part of this story involves Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic, who has the power stretch his body) using his true talent – his mind. He has a list of the 100 most important things he could do – and has just added one more, to Solve Everything. In deciding to pursue that, he has warranted the attention of a Council made up of Reed’s from other parallel universes. They offer him a position within their ranks, one in which he can make a larger difference than he ever thought possible – by seeding entire worlds with food to feed the “multiverse”, taking down cosmic threats and remolding the very matter of the universe itself to protect life. The only cost is his very soul, as he’ll have to give up on his family, since he’ll never be able to do all these wonderful things and still be a good father and husband – but isn’t the result worth the price? Then comes a story where Torch and The Thing, along with the stowaway children of Reed and Sue, wind up on a planet they thought they were going to for a little R&R – only to discover it’s not the place they left only a few weeks ago. Years have passed on this planet, due to some time-distortion because of the collapse of their star – and now the planet is poised on the edge of destruction, and the civilization is at war over how best to end their predicament. The Thing is captured by one side of the fight, while Torch and the kids fight along with the other side to get him back and find some way off this world before topples into the black hole… Finally, after a day of celebrating with friends and superheroes on Franklin Richard’s birthday, he receives a visitor from the future bringing a dire warning – the war of the Four Cities is coming, and Doom may be their only chance of survival. I’ll confess, I’ve never been much of a fan of Marvel’s First Family, the Fantastic Four (which is also sometimes called The Worlds Greatest Comic Magazine). I’m not so sure about some of those titles, but I will say I was pleasantly surprised to see how much I enjoyed this book. These are not the most action packed issues, the highlights as far as that goes would be the Council of Reeds fighting Celestials as well as Torch and The Thing fighting the cybernetic warriors on nu-world. But more than those things, it’s the ideas presented within this book that are worthy of mention. This is a big thinking book, talking about science fiction and really tackling those kinds of high concepts in a no nonsense way. The writers don’t back away from these ideas (like the idea of giving up ones desires for a greater good) with a knock-down drag-out fight, they have the characters carefully consider their choices and determine their own fates. Though, speaking of fate, I also love a good “prophecy” – and obviously the end of this book gives one of those as well. It’s worth reading to see who it is that gives this warning, as well as the powers it exposes for one particular character – far greater than anything I think anyone has ever imagined. It’s these things that’ll have me coming back for the next volume in this series, to see where the Fantastic Four are headed next.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Random Thoughts...

  • There should be a reality show for geeks. Wasn't there one for people who wanted to be comic book heroes? What happened to that one? Well, if I have to endure reality television then they need to cater to the geek crowd more. Maybe have a show where contestants train in Medieval combat with sword fighting and jousting tournaments at the end of the show. Too much? I can't lie, I think it would be hilarious to watch the Renaissance faire crowd give this a go. Don't get me wrong-- I like Renaissance faires. But like the Comic-Con crowds, there are some people who really get into it. That's who I want to see. 
  • I don't have the patience for politics in my entertainment anymore. I'm also sick of hearing how "polarizing" everything is right now. When aren't we polarized in our beliefs? I've never known a time when it hasn't been that way. It doesn't matter what you believe, there is always someone out there ready to tell you you're an idiot for believing in just about anything. I don't care if an author has a different point of view than I do, but how about some subtlety? I tried to read a book recently and every character just so happened to have a belief system that reflected one viewpoint. Couldn't we have an opposing view just for fun? How about this-- why not just tell a story and let the reader come to their own conclusions? That would be awesome. When I was 20 years old, I could read anything. Now, I'm too darned cranky to deliberately irritate myself. 
  • I'd love to be a zombie extra on 'The Walking Dead" (heck yeah I've entered the contest). But everyone would totally hate me because I'd be trying to do the dance to "Thriller" the whole time. 
  • I'm kind of tired of big, epic movies. I'm also a little weary of having to see a minimum of three movies to get the whole story. "Harry Potter," "Narnia," "The Lord of the Rings," "The Matrix..." It's not that I didn't enjoy some of those movies, but it's rare that I'd say I enjoyed all of them. I think "The Lord of the Rings" is the best of that list, but by the end I was just looking at the screen and saying for the love of God, can you just throw the ring in already! Lately the only thing I look forward to are animated films.  I wish more people would remember that less is more. My wallet would appreciate it too. 
  • There is a lot of blood and sex on television these days. I know, I know, sex sells. It always has. But nowadays it seems like everyone is getting really aggressive with it. "True Blood" is an interesting example because they really ramped up the sex and violence quotient from the books. There was bound to be blood (vampires and all) but I certainly wasn't expecting so much graphic sex. Now it seems the two are inseparable and shows like "Spartacus" are really blatant with the alternating sex and blood motif. What ever happened to showing a little tenderness?
  • Hi, my name is SQT and I'm a bookaholic.  I have more books than I will be able to read before I'm 90, and I keep accumulating more. I'm not just talking about stuff that is sent to me for review, I'm also talking about every random title that looks interesting and becomes something I just gotta have. I have 5 full-sized bookshelves and they are not enough. I need help before I become one of those scary hoarders you see on TV. I hope the eReader I'm getting this Christmas will, at the very least, help me get rid of some of the piles on my floor.
  • People are much nicer to you after you lose weight. I'm really going on a tangent here, but what the heck. They come up to you and chat you up for awhile, and then work their way around to saying...so you've lost a lot of weight recently haven't you? It's not that they're suddenly interested, they're just hoping that what you have is contagious. 
  • So what comes after zombies? We've had the emo vampires, handsome werewolves and now we've got lots of zombies. Would anyone be interested in mummies? Frankenstein monsters? Bigfoot? I haven't figured out what the next big monster is. Have you? (Secretly I'm pulling for the Wookalar).
  • Is sarcasm ever going to go out of style? Everyone's favorite weapon these days seems to be snark. It's kind of funny to hear the vampires from "Twilight" described as douchbags by Dean Winchester (yeah I laughed) but any character in the paranormal spectrum right now doesn't seem to have much range beyond a sneer and a sarcastic one-liner. I blame Buffy. 
  • Maybe I'm too rash in dismissing sarcasm. Maybe I'm just jealous of the kind of mind that can come up with an instant come-back. I blame Joss Whedon. 
  • Speaking of Joss Whedon, I miss the sci-fi/western motif of "Firefly." There was something cool about seeing people dressed in trench-coats and holsters while flying a spaceship. 
  • Random lists are my new favorite thing. It's so much easier than having to keep to a theme. 

Monday, November 08, 2010

"The Walking Dead" and the Struggle for Consistency

What a difference a week makes. I had been really looking forward to the second episode of "The Walking Dead" after being captivated by the premier. I don't get this giddy over television shows anymore and it's not unusual for whole seasons to accumulate on my DVR before I decide to play catch-up before the new season. But it seems I may have set my expectations a bit high.

I'm not the only one who feels this way. If you're a fan of the genre, you probably have seen the grumblings on Facebook and Twitter about Sunday's show (I know I have) and my friend Charles over at Razored Zen has a great post up about stereotyping and where "The Walking Dead" went wrong.

I'll just make a quick mention here, and try not to be spoilery about the episode, and the subject line that didn't sit well with some viewers. The show is set in Atlanta and, as we all know, one of the most common stereotypes about the South is that of the Southern racist. We all know that people like that exist, but the South is a lot more than some characterization out of "Deliverance." I have family from the South who work in the medical field, and they're justifiably tired of the ignorant hicks that are regularly featured on television shows with their conspicuous Southern twang.

But I wonder if "The Walking Dead" staggered (pun intended) on their second go-around because of a clichéd plot? Or could it be because they switched directors?

I know it's not unusual for television shows to have a revolving door when it comes to directors. Just click on the episode guide of your favorite show on Wikipedia (I did this for "House" and got a page full of different names) and a lot of shows don't suffer a bit in quality or consistency. But the premier of "The Walking Dead" was so good that it's hard for me not to credit that the direction of that episode must have been exceptional. I am somewhat biased toward the direction of Frank Darabont, who was the director of the first episode, because he directed one of my all time favorite movies-- "The Shawshank Redemption." And I did feel that the premier episode of "The Walking Dead" had the same kind of feel. Darabont is the master of quiet intensity. He also wrote the script for the show so there's a good chance that first show was really his baby. And the underwhelming feel of Sunday's episode may be what happens when someone else does the babysitting.

"The Walking Dead" is going to have a few uphill battles. The zombie storyline can get old if it's not finessed properly, and that was another complaint I heard about the last show. The show has so far defined itself as being best when it concentrates on the human story and isn't just about the merry-go-round of killing zombies and trying not to become one yourself. Which is why I think there was such a sense of disappointment about this second effort-- the human story failed to rise above the stereotype and as a result didn't feel real.

On the one hand I'm glad there is a show that has the potential to excite me; on the other hand I hate that a show has such a potential to disappoint me. I also have some trepidation going forward since "The Walking Dead" is slated to have different directors for pretty much every episode. We've all watched new shows and know what it's like to see some growing pains-- and that's what I hope is going on here. If we're lucky we'll see the actors grow into their roles and some of the rough edges go away.

I almost hate myself for becoming so invested, this quickly, in a television show. Shouldn't I know better by now?

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Can Anything Save 2010 From Being the Worst Year in Movies Ever?

In January of this year I posted a list of movies I was looking forward to in the 2010 line-up. "Iron Man 2" had to top the list, but "Inception" was way up there too. Even "The A-Team" had my nostalgia kicking in and ready for some mindless entertainment. On paper the list looked pretty good. You had "Daybreakers," "Alice in Wonderland," "Clash of the Titans" and "The Wolfman," and that seemed like a pretty good list for a fantasy-lovin' fool like myself.

But 2010 seemed to be the year of the lackluster film. "Inception" seemed to live up to expectations, thanks to the ever inventive Christopher Nolan, but "Iron Man 2" didn't have the 'wow' factor of the original and seemed to waste a stellar cast. Retreads like "The A-Team" and "Clash of the Titans" have proven that we really need to stop trying to relive the 80's. The rest of the line-up is just kind of there. "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," "The Prince of Persia...." So far the only movies released this year that I have purchased are "How to Train Your Dragon" and "Toy Story 3" (though my husband did buy me a copy of "Iron Man 2" for my birthday).

So it's fair to say that I am not hugely optimistic about the remainder of this year in movie releases. The only really notable releases left are sequels, though Disney has one original movie that is probably the one sure-fire hit we're likely to see in what little time we have left.

So the question is-- can anything redeem this year in movies?

Here's some of what we have left.


Skyline (Starring Eric Balfour, Scottie Thompson, and Donald Faison) November 12th

After a night of partying, a group of friends are distracted when beams of light awaken everyone in Los Angeles, that then attract every person like a moth to a flame. As the night progresses, they soon discover that once exposed to the light, they vanish into thin air, caused by extraterrestrial forces that later threaten to swallow the entire human species.

Unstoppable (Starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pine) November 12th

A railroad company frantically works to prevent an unmanned, half-mile-long freight train carrying combustible liquids and poisonous gas from wiping out a city. A veteran locomotive engineer (Denzel Washington) and a young train conductor (Chris Pine) chase the runaway train in a different locomotive in order to bring the runaway under control before it is too late.


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I (Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson) November 19th

Voldemort's power is growing stronger. He now has control over the Ministry of Magic and Hogwarts. Harry, Ron, and Hermione decide to finish Dumbledore's work and find the rest of the Horcruxes to defeat the Dark Lord. But little hope remains for the Trio, and the rest of the Wizarding World, so everything they do must go as planned.


Faster (Starring Duane Johnson and Billy Bob Thornton) November 24th

After 10 years in prison, Driver (Dwayne Johnson) has a singular focus - to avenge the murder of his brother during the botched bank robbery that led to his imprisonment. Now a free man with a deadly to-do list in hand, he's finally on his mission...but with two men on his trail - a veteran cop (Billy Bob Thornton) just days from retirement, and a young egocentric hitman (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) with a flair for the art of killing and a newfound worthy opponent. The hunter is also the hunted. It's a do or die race to the list's finish as the mystery surrounding his brother's murder deepens, and new details emerge along the way hinting that Driver's list may be incomplete.

Tangled (Starring Zachari Levi and Mandy Moore) November 24th

Walt Disney Pictures presents Tangled, one of the most hilarious, hair-raising tales ever told. When the kingdom’s most wanted—and most charming—bandit Flynn Rider (voice of Zachary Levi) hides out in a mysterious tower, he’s taken hostage by Rapunzel (voice of Mandy Moore), a beautiful and feisty tower-bound teen with 70 feet of magical, golden hair. Flynn’s curious captor, who’s looking for her ticket out of the tower where she’s been locked away for years, strikes a deal with the handsome thief and the unlikely duo sets off on an action-packed escapade, complete with a super-cop horse, an over-protective chameleon and a gruff gang of pub thugs. In theaters this holiday season in Disney Digital 3D, is a story of adventure, heart, humor and hair—lots of hair.


The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Starring Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, Will Poulter, Ben Barnes, Liam Neeson and Simon Peg) December 10th

This time around – Edmund and Lucy Pevensie, along with their pesky cousin Eustace Scrubb – find themselves swallowed into a painting and on to a fantastic Narnian ship headed for the very edges of the world. Joining forces once again with their royal friend Prince Caspian and the warrior mouse Reepicheep, they are whisked away on a mysterious mission to the Lone Islands, and beyond. On this bewitching voyage that will test their hearts and spirits, the trio will face magical Dufflepuds, sinister slave traders, roaring dragons and enchanted merfolk. Only an entirely uncharted journey to Aslan’s Country – a voyage of destiny and transformation for each of those aboard the Dawn Treader – can save Narnia, and all the astonishing creatures in it, from an unfathomable fate.

Tron Legacy (Starring Jeff Bridges, Michael Sheen, Olivia Wilde and Garrett Hedlund) December 17th


Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund), a rebellious 27-year-old, is haunted by the mysterious disappearance of his father Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), a man once known as the world's leading video-game developer. When Sam investigates a strange signal sent from the abandoned Flynn's Arcade—that could have only come from his father—he finds himself pulled into a world where Kevin has been trapped for 20 years. With the help of the fearless warrior Quorra (Olivia Wilde), father and son embark on a life-or-death journey across a visually-stunning digital universe—created by Kevin himself—which has become far more advanced with never-before-imagined vehicles, weapons, and landscapes and a ruthless villain who will stop at nothing to prevent their escape


Hmmm. I'm going to go ahead and say it-- nothing here is blowing me away. Harry Potter has been pretty consistent all along, but I don't know if "The Deathly Hallows" is the kind of movie that has the potential to make everyone remember 2010. And while I liked "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe," "Prince Caspian" left me cold-- so prospects for "The Dawn Treader" are lukewarm. "Tron Legacy" probably has the best chance of being a standout, but the only people who seem interested are confirmed "Tron" fans, so I'm not placing any bets on that one either.

I included "Faster" and "Unstoppable" because action films are always great audience grabbers, but I can't begin to predict that they'll be monster hits either. I like Duane Johnson, but he hasn't had the track record of being a huge box office performer in the grown-up arena. I hope "Faster" does well but since it hasn't had any early buzz, I'll be keeping my expectations low. Same goes for "Unstoppable."

Truthfully the only movie on this list that might get me to the theater-- as opposed to waiting for the Blu-ray-- is "Tangled" and that's only because my kids want to see it.

I hate to say it, but I think 2010 is going to go out with a whimper and not a bang. What say you?

Friday, November 05, 2010

Review: The Force Unleashed II by Sean Williams

I highly -HIGHLY- enjoyed The Force Unleashed II novelization by Sean Williams. It continues to be a bit like a dog in a china shop, bumping carelessly into the shelves and wobbling the continuity dishes, but never smashing through them like a bull might do - just showing, similar to The Clone Wars, that it doesn’t care what may have already been established. I still think (just like in the original The Force Unleashed novelization) that this book is hampered by the fact that it’s adapting a videogame - it appears to never stray far from the story the game tells (though I’m curious if the game goes back and forth between Starkiller and Juno the way the book does). At the same time, this story feels a little less like videogame levels with bosses at the end of the stage. There are a couple of spots like that, but less than the first book… If you've seen the game trailers then you've already got a sense for how this book opens. Starkiller, Darth Vader’s secret apprentice is back – despite his seeming death at the end of the first book/game. Vader tells him he’s a clone of the original, and the only way to surpass his predecessor is to overcome his weaknesses – especially his love of Juno. But when Starkiller won’t even kill a robot-likeness of her, Vader orders his destruction. Instead Starkiller escapes, and the hunt is on to retrieve him. The story switches back and forth (mostly) between following Juno’s adventures with the Rebel Alliance (fighting in a few skirmishes, some space-bound, some planet-bound) and Starkiller’s attempts to track her down. Juno can’t seem to get on with her life, despite his death having been 6-months earlier (and them never sharing more than just a single kiss) - yet she feels like she lost the one true person meant for her, so now she’s buried herself in her work. Starkiller meanwhile knows that the Alliance won’t trust him when he comes looking for Juno, he’ll be seen as an Imperial plant - and that’s assuming he can figure out where she is. It’s a little ridiculous that the entire Imperial Navy can’t find the Rebel fleet - but Boba Fett and his commandoes have no problem tracking them down, then lying in wait for Starkiller to show up (because Boba wasn’t hired to go after the Rebels, just Starkiller). It would have made far more sense for Vader to “allowed” Starkiller to escape, knowing he would seek out Juno - and put Boba on his trail so that Boba could tell the Imperial Navy where the Rebel fleet was hiding. That said, Boba’s scene raiding Juno’s ship, capturing her, with Starkiller trying to catch them was similar to the big “Vader throws Starkiller out the window” scene in the first book. It’s a really cool sequence - the big climax of the middle act of the book. Boba is much more like his appearances in the movies, there’s very little to tie him to the greater expanded universe (EU) in The Force Unleashed II - which is probably good news for those who aren’t big fans of the character - and for those who do enjoy his appearances, it may not be too deep, but then what did you expect in The Force Unleashed II? I pretty much bought the love story angle between Starkiller and Juno - it was played up much more in The Force Unleashed graphic novel than I remember it being in the original novelization - but ultimately it’s just something you have to “go with” in this book. I actually liked how the reader is getting introduced to some new faces in the Rebel Alliance, between Juno, her commanding officer - then there’s Garm Bel Iblis and returning Rahm Kota, as well as Berkelium Shire. Heck, we got more characterization out of Mon Mothma in The Force Unleashed II than we’ve had in pretty much any other EU appearance of hers I can think of - and she’s not necessarily “right” about how the Rebellion should function - it’s a nice bit of background that adds to what we already know about Garm’s break from the Alliance. I’m not sure about Juno as role model for Leia (and frankly, I think that was Juno’s thoughts we were hearing there, not Leia’s) - I found it more likely that Leia saw Juno as a friend in the Rebellion, someone almost her own age. At first I was annoyed at Wedge’s very minor first words (something about “we’re getting slaughtered here” and a general telling him not to panic - Wedge panic?!?) - but I decided that since this book takes place prior to ANH still (hence Wedge is probably a green recruit still) I was willing to overlook it - and later use of him in the book more than makes up for it. I also think they missed a nice opportunity to use Targeter (Winter) as Juno’s contact at Dac (instead of Bail). I thought the Yoda stuff actually worked really well. On the other hand, I thought the PROXY stuff didn’t work well at all. I have no idea what was going on with him, nor what the story was trying to say about him. I think the ending was a HUGE missed opportunity. PROXY gets back his primary programming (which he’s been looking to regain through the whole story) - we’re reminded in a scene that PROXY’s primary programming was to kill Starkiller. Starkiller saw in a vision that one of his clones kills him - but he has avoided that by killling all the clones. PERFECT opportunity to have PROXY finally achieve his goal, disguised as Starkiller to kill him on the ship at the end, free Vader and one of them kill Juno as well. This story practically begged for a tragic ending, and instead we get a completely open ending, where too many things are left unresolved, for the obviously planned TFUIII - which looks like it’s never going to happen. Again, here’s where I feel like Sean Williams was hampered by the needs of the videogame - and based on what we’ve seen happen with Republic Commando, I’m sure we’ll never get resolution to this story via book form unless a sequel game ever gets greenlit. The big finale is a huge showpiece in the novel, taking place on Kamino and tying up nicely what I’d consider a bit of a loose end in the EU. If Kamino is so damn important in The Clone Wars, how come it’s never a part of the movies/EU starting with A New Hope? The answer - the Rebels took it out in one of their first major raids on the Empire. They sink the whole damn city, destroying it’s clone making facilities and (hopefully) any Starkiller genetic material as well. Here the reader gets to go from navy vessel warfare, to starfighter dogfighting, to lightsaber dueling - ending with Starkiller facing his “master” once again. This finale is a major part of the end of the novel, stretching for chapters, and you’ll be glad it did. I especially enjoyed Starkiller fighting off the hordes of his own clones, like a scene out of The Matrix Reloaded. While the story played up the question of “who is THIS Starkiller - clone or original” - they never answered that question. There are WAY too many questions left open at the end of this book/story - obviously intended for a The Force Unleashed III that now seems unlikely to come (due to changes at LucasArts, creators of the videogame). Vader in Alliance custody. Starkiller’s identity. Again, a better ending (not Sean Williams fault) should have tied up both these plots – for instance with Proxy killing Starkilller, Vader escaping, and Starkiller in his moment of death asking Juno to call him Galen - as he finally accepts who he really was. Yet ultimately, I was really entertained by this book. The story really had me from the first page, and I just had a heck of a time reading it. Now I’ll admit, I recall enjoying The Force Unleashed pretty well too (though I also remember liking The Clone Wars novelization more than The Force Unleahsed - I read them both around the same time) - and I’d definitely say I liked The Force Unleashed II more than the original. This is one of those high-octane books, where the action rarely lets up and the reader is brought along on the ride. It’s not a deep story, but as I said at the very start of this review – it is a whole lot of fun, and I certainly recommend it.

Giveaway! "Shadowheart" by Tad Williams

There are times when I really go back-and-forth on whether to part with a book-- and this is one of them. But I know I won't be able to get to "Shadowheart" in the near future. And I also know there are people who are dying to get their hands on this book. So it only seems fair to make sure this gets the prompt attention it deserves. :)

Courtesy of Penguin Books (DAW hardcover) I have a copy of Shadowheart by Tad Williams to offer for giveaway.

Thousands of years ago the gods fought and fell in the deeps beneath what is now Southmarch Castle, then were banished into eternal sleep. Now at least one of them is stirring again, dreaming of vengeance against humankind.
Southmarch haunts the dreams of men as well as gods. Royal twins Barrick and Briony Eddon, the heirs of Southmarch’s ruling family, are hurrying back home as well: Barrick now carries the heritage of the immortal Qar inside him, and Briony has a small army at her back and a fiery determination to recover her father’s throne and revenge herself on the usurpers.
The cruel and powerful southern ruler known as the Autarch of Xis wants the power of the gods for his own, a power he can only gain if he conquers Southmarch.
And nobody knows what the Qar want, only that the mysterious fairy - folk are prepared to die for it — or to kill every living thing in Southmarch Castle and in all the lands around.
It will come to an apocalyptic conclusion on Midsummer Night, when the spirits of the haunted past and the desperate struggles of the present come together in one great final battle. Many will die. Many more will be transformed out of all recognition, and the world will be forever changed.


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 Friday November, 26th. No multiple entries please-- all multiple entries will be discarded. Open everywhere.

Good luck!

**Contest Closed**

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Winners!

I have two giveaways that have recently wrapped up and I need to announce the winners.


For 3 signed copies of "The Silent Army" by James Knapp, the winners are:


Brett Menard; Church Point, Louisiana

Howard Kohagura; Henderson, Nevada

and

Margaret McGriff; West Palm Beach, Florida


And the winner of "Betrayer of Worlds" by Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner is:


Goetz Kruppa; Netherlands


Congrats everyone!

"Sucker Punch" Trailer

This is already all over Facebook, but it's too cool not to post.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Clichés I Fall For Every Time

Sometimes when watching a movie, or reading a book, it dawns on us that we've seen this before. There are a lot of well-worn tropes that can make our entertainment run together in a hodge-podge of images and impressions that don't really stand up to hard scrutiny; which often leads us to demand more originality from our favorite authors or movie makers.

But sometimes, nothing satisfies like predictability.

I am susceptible to my own particular list of clichés. Maybe it's because I grew up watching cheesy 80's television-- I don't know. But the are some things I just always fall for. Here's my list of dirty little secrets-- maybe if I bare my soul, you'd be inspired to do the same.


Bickering Would-Be Lovers:

I could totally blame Moonlighting for this. I doesn't matter that I know my favorite TV couples have no hope of getting together until the final season, I still watch. "Castle" (with the incredibly likable Nathan Fillion) is my current weakness, though "Bones" gets points for making me tune in for six seasons. All the shows have the same formula-- verbal sparring that disguises sexual chemistry-- and I fall for it!


Woefully Outclassed and/or Young Heroes:

Harry Potter is the first one that comes to mind when I think of this category, but I think I first connected to this particular stereotype while reading The Belgariad by David Eddings. You gotta love the David vs. Goliath story though. It transcends genre and even though it now seems most heavily represented in corporate espionage films, I still think of Luke Skywalker and the vicarious thrill of seeing the little guy win one.

Spontaneous Acquisition of Super Powers:

I so wanted to be Samantha Stephens from Bewitched as a kid. I had dreams of waking up with witch powers and the ability to wiggle my nose and make anything I wanted magically appear. So it's no wonder that I would love the idea of a character like Spiderman. There are so many ways people in the superhero (and supervillain) pantheon can gain superpowers-- from mutants to falling into a vat of nuclear waste (hat tip to "Sky High")-- and I've imagined them all. And if the new show "No Ordinary Family" is any indication, I'm not the only one who wonders what their super power would be.


Stranger in a Strange Land:

I was never able to get into the book by Robert Heinlein, but I loved me some Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. This is one of those stories we can all relate to, but having gone to 11 different schools as a kid, I can really relate to this one. I never had the ability to seamlessly fit into a few environment, so I appreciate the stories in movies like "Dances With Wolves" and "Avatar" that illustrate the awkwardness of just trying not to stand out.


The Misanthropic Mentor:

Whether it's Yoda or the carelessly offensive Gregory House, there's no shortage of characters who have knowledge that is eagerly sought after-- and they're not going to give it up easily. Sometimes there will be variations, like the character of Walter Bishop in "Fringe"-- whose mental instability is the main barrier to a productive mentor/protégé relationship-- but there's something timeless about the idea of one generation passing on their knowledge to the next. I can't explain why I happen to like it better when the going is rough-- I guess I'm just complicated.


Unfortunately, I could probably do this all day. I guess there aren't really any new ideas-- just different interpretations. But this list represents the ones that pull me back again and again.

What sucks you in?