Monday, January 31, 2011

Guest Post & Giveaway: Featuring a signed copy of "Messiah" by S. Andrew Swann

If you're a fan of science fiction, there's a good chance you're familiar with S. Andrew Swann. I first became familiar with him when I got the first book in his Apotheosis Trilogy, Prophets,  back in 2009 (and promptly hosted a giveaway for this very-interesting book) and since then I have seen excellent reviews pop up for both Prophets and the second book in the series, Heretics over at SF Signal; as well as a recent podcast featuring today's guest author. So when I was asked if I would host a guest blog and giveaway for S. Andrew Swann-- it was a no-brainer. This one is for all of you clamoring for a good sci-fi series to get into.

~SQT


He calls himself Adam and he believes himself to be God. He descends toward Earth in the midst of a cloud of thinking matter that was once part of a solar system surrounding Xi Virginis, a solar system that he had disassembled molecule-by-molecule. The cloud orbits the earth, descending and coalescing into thousands, ten of thousands, hundreds of thousands of
dropships simultaneously crashing into every population center on earth. One burning teardrop of living metal blows through the dome of St.Peter’s and begins consuming the Vatican, and Adam walks out of the maelstrom and into St. Peter’s square. He places his hands on the pope’s shoulders and asks, “Do you choose to serve me?”


That’s pretty much where my novel, Messiah starts, with the end of the world. It’s a fitting send-off to a series of books where I have repeatedly indulged in my penchant for blowing stuff up. Messiah is the final book in the Apotheosis Trilogy, which is itself the third trilogy in the Moreau/Confederacy universe, a series that started with a limited nuclear war in Asia before the first book even began, and has followed through with a genocidal interstellar conflict, worlds ravaged by runaway nanotchnology, colonies with near light-speed projectiles fired from orbit, the destruction of entire star systems, and the explosive annihilation of a network of about ninety wormholes across several light years.

The Apotheosis Trilogy is, quite literally, the singularity as Armageddon.

The universes I create, in most every case, are in the process of either emerging from the chaos of the old order’s collapse, or are on the cusp of descending again into that chaos and collapse. If you’re writing against the wide swath of history— real or invented— these are the times that are the most fun to write about. However we may desire it in our own lives, in fiction, stability is boring. I much rather write about stuff blowing up, burning down, or otherwise going to pieces. And many times at the end of my stories, the carefully structured status quo is in far too many pieces to reassemble in anything remotely resembling the original.

In the end, to survive, my characters must face the fact that they can’t save the world— the old order. At best, they have a hand in forming the new order, which is just as transient. However much you fight it, things change, and they will always change.

Society collapses, but individuals continue.

S. Andrew Swann is the pen name of Steven Swiniarski. He’s married and lives in the Greater Cleveland area where he has lived all of his adult life. He has a background in mechanical engineering and— besides writing— works as a Database Manager for one of the largest private child services agencies in the Cleveland area. He has published 19 novels over the past 15 years with four more coming over the next two years.

Messiah: Apotheosis: Book Three

The last stand against the self-proclaimed God, Adam, has retreated to the anarchic planet Bakunin-a world besieged by civil war. Humanity's last hope lies with Nickolai Rajasthan, a Moreau who believes that the human race that created his kind is already damned beyond redemption.


Just add your information to the form below to enter to win a signed copy of "Messiah" by S. Andrew Swann (all information is guaranteed confidential and will be discarded once contest ends) and I will randomly pick a winner by Tuesday February 8th. No multiple entries please-- all multiple entries will be discarded. Signed copy open in the U.S. only. BUT because I love you guys... I have an extra copy of "Messiah" that I am going to open up to worldwide entries. So that means there will be TWO winners of this contest-- one copy signed by the author, which will be for U.S. entries only -- and a non-signed copy for worldwide entry.

Good luck!

Winners!

Time to announce the winners of a couple of contests that have ended...


The winner of my Paranormal Sequel Giveaway featuring "Hellforged" by Nancy Holzner; "Alien Tango" by Gini Koch; and "Night School" by Mari Mancusi is:

Nick Holmes; United Kingdom


and

The 4 winners of a copy of "The Templar Conspiracy" by Paul Christopher are:

Eric Johnson; Cushing, OK

Thierry Tito; Clay City, KY

Jeff Voyles; Beattyville, KY

and

Charles Gramlich; Abita Springs; LA


Congrats to all the winners!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Random Thoughts...

  • Who started the whole endless series thing? Was it Robert Jordan? I only ask because I can't figure out how people stick with a series that long. I think I read the first eight books of "The Wheel of Time" series before I finally thought is this ever going to end? Now I'm so far out-of-the-loop as far as the story goes that I'd have to start all over and I don't know if I care enough about it to do that. And that goes for pretty much any series that goes beyond five books. How do the rest of you do it? Do you take notes? 
  • So it was just announced that some unknown guy has been cast as the new Superman. Phew! I was afraid that the other unknown guy who was cast to be Spiderman was going to be the only emo, slightly feminine superhero out there. Actually I'm kidding. I'm sure they're both very manly. But it must be hard to celebrate being cast in the bazillionth reboot of their respective franchises. How many confused looks they must get when they say "I'm the new...." People must say didn't they already do that? an awful lot.
  • It's official. The Academy Awards are completely irrelevant. Christopher Nolan did not receive a nomination for "Inception;" as egregious an omission as "The Dark Knight" in my humble opinion. I've read on some entertainment sites that Nolan was not nominated because he isn't cozy with the right people in Hollywood. There is also, so I hear, quite a bit of jealousy regarding the freedom he has to do his own work. Which just goes to show-- no matter how rich and successful you become, you're still going to have to deal with the same cliques you did in high school. 
  • Speaking of cliques... I've noticed that the feed on my Facebook page flows in two distinct directions. One is all about sci-fi/fantasy related stuff and the other has a lot of stats about sports teams that I know nothing about. I feel like a geek who has been allowed to sit at the 'cool' table for lunch-- only to wish I could return to the geek table. 
  • I finally got an eReader for Christmas-- but I'm not sure how good this is for me. It's waaaay too convenient. The instant gratification of getting a book immediately is scary for me and my wallet. Which is the point as far as the booksellers go-- I'm sure. I barely get into my newest book before I'm surfing the net looking for the next one. Oh well. At least I'm freeing up some shelf space. Gotta look on the bright side. 
  • I'm trying to think of another "thought" or two to put on the list here, but I keep getting distracted by a ridiculous set of commercials that keep running on the television right now. I have "National Treasure" on the television right now (there is nothing on television tonight) and they've got some bizarre "celebrity treasure hunt" tie-in going on. Seriously? How desperate to be on television to you have to be to do this stuff? What a life. Can you imagine if your job description was "reality television star?" I think I'd rather flip burgers at McDonald's. I'm almost embarrassed for these people. 
  • Yep. Now my mind is a blank. After those commercials and the subsequent ads for "Celebrity Apprentice" my brain is scrambled. This is your brain on reality-tv...

Friday, January 28, 2011

Graphic Novel Review: Superman Earth One

Superman is one of those classic superheroes that I love as a concept, but rarely read any really good stories about. There are probably lots of reasons for that; his near invulnerability, his Earth-bound adventures despite having a very science fiction origin, his lack of very many powerful enemies, his boy-scout nature, even his hidden identity thing can be a bit hit and miss. And yet, there’s something appealing about him, something that makes me seek out stories featuring him hoping for something that’ll really stand out. Superman Earth One is that kind of story. I’ve read a number of reviews that have said you need to forget what you think you know about Superman. I suppose that one way of looking at it. You could also consider this an addition to his origin if you so choose, it didn’t entirely have to be set in an alternate universe from the one we normally understand these characters to come from. I also found a lot of the reviews focused on the differences in Clark’s origin, or his broodiness at the beginning of this book. Honestly, neither of those things are particularly worth dwelling on except to say that yes, there are some differences here and there – just like there are differences between the origin of Batman in different films. Here we see that Clark is an incredibly smart alien life form, like his scientist father, and could do any multitude of jobs here on Earth with ease. He’s also only a young man, who hasn’t quite figured out what he wants to do with his life – but who gets thrust into the role of hero because no one else can handle what’s been thrown at the Earth. Which is really where this story shines, because J. Michael Straczynski really knows how to add in the science fiction elements. You see, he takes things that are known about Superman’s origin and asks questions that very few others have tried to do before. Krypton was destroyed, but planets don’t just blow up – unless they’re at war with another planet, a war in which the other civilization intends to make sure that there are no survivors. They are aware that one ship escaped the destruction of Krypton, and they’ve searched for years along its trajectory and have finally come to Earth. The battles are spectacular, because this is an enemy that knows the weaknesses of Clark’s race, not to mention that they’re so advanced and he’s such a novice. Into the mix comes Lois and Jimmy, the only ones who don’t run when the going gets rough, and help this complete stranger who may be Earth’s only hope at survival – which in turn helps convince Clark that he wants to join the paper at the Daily Planet, where perhaps he too can learn to make a difference. Throw in a little government conspiracy stuff, where they’ve long held Clark’s ship but never known if the alien lived through the landing on Earth – and now that Superman has appeared they want to get their hands on him, and you’ve got the makings of a nice sequel. But Superman Earth One stands completely on its own, certainly as one of the best Superman stories I’ve had the pleasure of reading.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

My "Good Fantasy" Checklist

Have you ever read a book and though this book tickles my fancy in every way possible? Well, I just did. I received an ARC of Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick and LOVED it. Love love loved it. I'd like to put up a review right now but the book doesn't come out until April, so I'll have to wait until it's closer to it's release date before I post.

The reason for my digression, and the point of this post, was that as I was reading the book I kept thinking who wouldn't love this? It's so great... And I ticked off the points of excellence in my head. But it also occurs to me that what makes for great fantasy in my mind isn't going to work for everyone else. I don't know how that could be-- but still I must acknowledge that we all have different tastes. So I thought, what the heck, I'm going to put up my bullet points. The things I look for in a in a good fantasy.

  • Different-- But Not Too Different: The great thing about fantasy is that it can take us into new worlds and introduce us to new things. I grew up on sword and sorcery fiction with elves and princesses- and I'll probably always have a weakness for that. But familiarity breeds boredom and it's inevitable that authors are going to experiment with the genre. This often results with fantasy worlds with vaguely humanoid creatures that might have antlers or carapace but still speak the same language as human beings. Sometimes this works but I usually find it off-putting. The scenery can go off-the-rails too at times with floating cities and skies that aren't blue-- or whatever. I don't always dislike that, but it's rare to find an author that doesn't go overboard with their creativity. 
  • Magic-- But Not Too Much Magic: Most writers get this. But every once in awhile you get a book that bleeds magic from every page. Every character has some wizardly power. Or they may be a witch or a demon or something that can shoots flames out of their hands. I don't know. But after awhile the overuse of magic gets boring. It's like the last "Star Wars" trilogy-- the lights sabers aren't that interesting if you have a bunch of Jedi masters whipping them out every few seconds. 
  • A Character Should Know Their Limitations-- and Stick to Them:  Why does everyone have to be a badass these days? I have never seen so many characters who are experts with samurai swords in my life. Everyone knows as least two forms of karate and has been studying since they were two. They also look spectacular at all times and turn the head of every opposite-sexed character they see. Because it's so much more interesting when the main character is perfect. Only not so much. I actually like to worry about the main character a little. I want to root for the underdog and it's hard to do that when no one is average anymore.
  • Action With Purpose: One of the things that drives me crazy about some fantasy, and paranormal fiction is biggest offender here, is the tendency to have the characters blunder from one precarious situation to the next without any real direction. Often it's the female lead; the one with the snarky sense of humor who can't seem to walk into a room without shooting her mouth off and needing the handsome hero to swoop in and save her. These books are full of dues-ex-machina moments because there's no logic to them and the only way to pluck the character of their newest impossible mess is to think of an impossible solution. A good writer knows how to set things up so they follow a logical path and reading a well-crafted novel with a tightly woven plot makes me very, very happy. 
  • Complex-- But Not Complicated: This is a tough balance to strike. Even books I really like can venture into overly complex territory. I like big, epic fantasy. But it's hard to keep a story that requires maps and a list of characters to an acceptable level of intricacy. My personal preference is that a book should have a solid core of characters and not venture too far from maybe 5 or 6 main characters. Maybe that's simplistic (you can tell me what you think) but I have a hard time keeping track when the number gets too much higher. I also can't keep up when there are great gaps in time when a storyline is dropped and then later picked up. Though that could just be a sign that my age is catching up with me.
  • Take Time Developing the Story: This is probably the thing I loved the most about "Among Thieves;" the author didn't rush the story. Action is great when it moves the story forward. But there are times when characters need to be developed and the stage has to be set. That doesn't mean the author needs to fixate on every piece of furniture in the room when the main character walks in; but I do appreciate a few details to get a general sense of the surroundings. I like meeting the characters in their comfort zone and seeing how they relate to each other rather than the busy rush of some books that mistake action sequences for storytelling.  
  • Surprise Me: I love a good twist. But it's hard to make a sudden turn of events credible. It's really easy to fall back on clich├ęs that have characters coming back from the dead thanks to some magical voodoo you just knew was going to happen. I like it when an author sticks to the human story and doesn't resort to magical trickery to force a solution. 
  • Be Consistent-- But Diverse:  Have you ever read a book that frustrated you because you couldn't get a handle on the main character? I've read books that described a character as brash only to have them back down from every confrontation. Another pet-peeve of mine is when all the characters speak in the same way. I read one book that had every character cursing up a storm. It didn't matter if it was a lowly soldier or a high-class matron-- they were all fond of four-letter words and it made no sense at all. Different people need to have different personalities. 
There's my checklist. If you read a review of mine, and I rave about a book, there's a good chance I was able to check off the bullet-points above. My list may look very different from yours. And there will always be exceptions to the rule. But this is generally what I look for.

What would make your list?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Book Review: "Ghost Country" by Patrick Lee

Ghost Country by Patrick Lee
384 pages
Harper

For decades, inexplicable technology has passed into our world through the top secret anomaly called the Breach.

The latest device can punch a hole into the future . . .

What Paige Campbell saw when she opened a door into seventy years from now scared the hell out of her. She and her Tangent colleagues brought their terrible discovery to the President—and were met with a hail of automatic gunfire after leaving the White House. Only Paige survived.
Fearing a terrifying personal destiny revealed to him from the other side of the Breach, Travis Chase abandoned Tangent . . . and Paige Campbell. Now he must rescue her—because Paige knows tomorrow’s world is desolate and dead, a ghost country scattered with the bones of billions. And Doomsday will dawn in just four short months . . . unless they can find the answers buried in the ruins to come.

But once they cross the nightmare border into Ghost Country, they might never find their way back . . .


Even though I named this blog "Fantasy & SciFi Lovin' I love thrillers as well. Combine the two, and it's like the perfect peanut-butter/chocolate combination. So "The Breach," the first book in Patrick Lee's new series, was a real treat for me. I couldn't wait to get my hands on "Ghost Country" and, just like the first book, it didn't take me long to tear my way through Lee's latest offering.

The Good: There's a lot to like about "Ghost Country." Patrick Lee is a writer that knows how to write in a way the evokes powerful visuals. The name "Ghost Country" is a very apt description but it only partly conveys the eerie image of a long abandoned New York, and Lee does a great job of showing us what that would look like. Lee also knows how to write action sequences that have a kind of cinematic feel with lots of explosions and gun battles. It's the sort of take-no-prisoners writing that is made for big-screen adaptations. I can easily see this book as a movie. Lee also handles his 'big-reveal' moments in a way that not only surprise you, but they also hit you with a sense of awe; and sometimes horror. But the real star of "Ghost Country"-- and the series as a whole-- is the advanced technology. It's reminiscent of the dimension-jumping that goes on in the television show "Fringe" without feeling derivative of anything else. It has it's own unique mythology and feel that drives the story. It's not overly complicated but complex enough to keep the reader constantly engaged.

Not Sure: As much as I liked "Ghost Country," it didn't quite have the same payoff for me that "The Breach" did. Though I must admit I had almost unreasonably high expectations after being wowed by the ending of "The Breach." I felt like the first book left off with a pretty good sucker punch and I was really looking forward to seeing the story pick up where it left off. But-- and it's hard not to get too detailed here without offering too many spoilers-- Lee side-steps the conundrums of the last book by using the sleight-of-hand a writer can get away with by using the super-advanced technology featured in the series. The questions I had about The Breach were left dangling on the periphery and I admit to wanting more than I got. "Ghost Country" also deals a lot in "what ifs" and there are vivid images of what the worst-case scenario would look like. There was a sharp contrast between the 'normal' world and the world of 'what if?' and I wanted to see what the journey looked like in the middle. The way Lee writes the story makes perfect sense, but I craved more detail. Though I should mention that the story did follow through at the end with the promise of getting back to the story-line that drove the first book and perhaps get back into the heart of the story I was looking for.

Bottom Line: "Ghost Country" is a worthy successor to "The Breach." It has all the elements from the first including high-energy action and mind-bending technology. And while I might have wanted more detail and back-story, I will definitely be picking up the next book in the series. And the one after that.

4 out of 5 stars.

Monday, January 24, 2011

"Paul" Trailer

This has potential thanks to Simon Pegg and Jason Bateman.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Giveaway! "Farlander" by Col Buchanan

I was so happy to get an extra copy of Farlander by Col Buchanan (courtesy of Tor Books) this last week. I know I've been looking forward to reading this (it is on my 'most-wanted' list after all), so I'm pretty sure there will be more than a few of you looking to get your hands on it too.

The Heart of the World is a land in strife. For fifty years the Holy Empire of Mann, an empire and religion born from a nihilistic urban cult, has been conquering nation after nation. Their leader, Holy Matriarch Sasheen, ruthlessly maintains control through her Diplomats, priests trained as subtle predators. Ash is a member of an elite group of assassins, the Roshun, who offer protection through the threat of vendetta. Forced by his ailing health to take on an apprentice, he chooses Nico, a young man living in the besieged city of Bar-Khos. At the time, Nico is hungry, desperate, and alone in a city that finds itself teetering on the brink.
When the Holy Matriarch’s son deliberately murders a woman under the protection of the Roshun; he forces the sect to seek his life in retribution. As Ash and his young apprentice set out to fulfill the Roshun orders, their journey takes them into the heart of the conflict between the Empire and the Free Ports…into bloodshed and death.


Just add your information to the form below to enter (all information is guaranteed confidential and will be discarded once the contest ends) and I will randomly pick one winner by Monday February 14th (just in time for Valentine's Day) ;) No multiple entries please. All multiple entries will be discarded. Open everywhere!

Good luck!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Graphic Novel Review: Fables vol 14 - Witches

I started reading Fables in 2009, catching up with all the graphic novels over the course of a few months which was a great experience; so much material to get through, always something new and surprising to discover. Those things are still true, but now I have to patiently await each new chapter (in trade paperback form) like everyone else. The latest is Witches, which continues on from the great Fables crossover from the last volume. For those not in the know, the general state of this universe is that Fables (such as Snow White) live among us – they had been driven from their various worlds into ours because of an adversary who was hunting them down. Having recently defeated that adversary, the Fables have found themselves homeless because their victory has unleashed another evil, Mister Dark. As the book title suggests, this story focuses in on a coven of Witches who live among the Fables, from Frau Totenkinder (of Hansel and Gretel fame) to Ozma (of Oz) and many others. This coven is trying to determine a way to defeat Mister Dark, even as they fight for leadership among their group. Meanwhile, part of the destroyed Fabletown has actually just gone missing – fallen into a dimensional rift as the city was destroyed. One of the flying monkeys from the Wizard of Oz, along with Frankenstein’s head and some wooden soldiers and fairies have to find a way to defend what’s left of their home from the likes of the Witch Baba Yaga and evil Genie’s who have escaped their imprisonment. And in the final story, we revisit the Frog Prince, who has set up a kingdom in the reclaimed lands from the Adversary. The Prince is faced with his first difficult decision as ruler, how to punish someone who has broken the rules that have been imposed on all Fables living their. He also struggles to make peace with his growing feelings for Red Riding Hood, sometimes to comical results. While I’ve enjoyed the last few volumes of Fables, I feel like the story has been a little aimless since vol 11 (the battle with the Adversary). The Dark Ages (v 12) began this new storyline with Mister Dark, and The Great Fable Crossover (v 13) didn’t really advance it. Now this volume comes along and tries to progress the plot, but doesn’t succeed all that well. Mister Dark is doing something – but we don’t know what. The Fables want to find out, but everything they try is foiled. The Witches want to come up with a plan, but they’re too busy fighting among themselves to do so. The strongest story is actually the one with the flying monkey, which is odd since there are so many strong characters that could be focused on (even the Witches themselves could have been better utilized here). I’m holding out hope that the next volume will really pay off (I suspect it will include issue #100 which was just recently released to critical acclaim), because I’m afraid that I’ve grown somewhat tired of this story otherwise and don’t find myself rushing off to read it the way I used to. I actually think Witches was stronger than the previous few volumes, but still not enough for me to say that it’s equal to any of the first 11 in the series.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

New Promo Shots of "X-Men: First Class"


X-Men: (L-R) Michael Fassbender (Magneto), Rose Byrne (Moira MacTaggert), January Jones (Emma Frost), Jason Flemyng (Azazel), Nicholas Hoult (Beast), Lucas Till (Havoc), Zoe Kravitz (Angel), Jennifer Lawrence (Mystique) and James McAvoy (Xavier)


Summary: X-Men: First Class is an upcoming American superhero film, directed by Matthew Vaughn, based on the characters appearing in Marvel Comics. The film is the fifth installment of the X-Men film series and a prequel to the other films. X-Men: First Class is scheduled for release on June 3, 2011.

The film, set during the 1960s, will focus on the relationship between Professor X and Magneto and the origin of their groups, the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Mutants. The film stars James McAvoy as Professor X and Michael Fassbender as Magneto. It also stars Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw, the antagonist of the movie. Other cast members include January Jones, Rose Byrne, Jennifer Lawrence and Lucas Till. The film is mostly being shot in England and parts of the United States. Fox envisions this film as the first in a new trilogy.






Did someone say Kevin Bacon?





Very Retro






We Play Chess So You Know We're Smart






Magneto: The Early Years







Can You Tell I'm Thinking Hard?





I kid I kid. Could be good. We'll see.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"Your Highness" Trailer

Ordinarily I'd be "meh" on this. But I'm starting to really like James Franco-- and well, Natalie Portman is good too. :)

Anne Hathaway Cast as Catwoman

Just saw this over at The L.A. Times...


Anne Hathaway will play Selina Kyle, the slinky and savage outlaw who is known as Catwoman, in next year’s Christopher Nolan film “The Dark Knight Rises,” according to a press release from Warner Bros.

Tom Hardy, already announced as a cast member, will play Bane, the chemically created brute who first appeared in the comics in 1993 — making him a far “younger” villain for Nolan’s Batman mega-franchise, which has most prominently featured the Joker (who first appeared in 1940) , Two-Face (1942), Ras Al-Ghul (1971) and the Scarecrow (1941).

Catwoman — then just called “The Cat” – first appeared in 1940 as the creation of Bob Kane and Bill Finger, and she has brought leather-clad sexual tension to the Batman adventures both on the page and beyond; she was portrayed by Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt and Lee Meriwether on the 1960s television series starring Adam West as the caped crusader, and Michelle Pfeiffer memorably cracked the whip in the role opposite of the masked Michael Keaton in Tim Burton’s 1992 film “Batman Returns.” In 2004, Halle Berry starred in the character’s own solo film, “Catwoman,” but the film became an infamous flop and was jeered by comic-book fans after director Pitof jettisoned years of comic-book lore and character touchstones.

Nolan, in the Warner press release, said: “I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Anne Hathaway, who will be a fantastic addition to our ensemble as we complete our story.” Of Hardy, who worked with Nolan on “Inception,” the director said: “I am delighted to be working with Tom again and excited to watch him bring to life our new interpretation of one of Batman’s most formidable enemies.”

Nolan will direct the film from a screenplay he wrote with his brother, Jonathan Nolan, from a story by Nolan and David S. Goyer. Nolan will also produce the film with his wife and longtime producing partner, Emma Thomas, and Charles Roven. “The Dark Knight Rises” hits theaters on July 20, 2012.

– Geoff Boucher



She's certainly beautiful enough. I'll reserve judgement on whether or not she can pull off the attitude until I see it. So far Nolan hasn't steered us wrong, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Love the casting of Tom Hardy though.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Giveaway! "Trouble and Her Friends" by Melissa Scott

Courtesy of  Tor Books I have a copy of Trouble and Her Friends by Melissa Scott to offer for giveaway.

Less than a hundred years from now, the forces of law and order crack down on the world of the computer nets. The hip, noir adventurers who get by on wit, bravado, and drugs, and haunt the virtual worlds of the Shadows of cyberspace, are up against the encroachments of civilization. It's time to adapt or die.

India Carless, alias Trouble, got out ahead of the feds and settled down to run a small network for an artist's co-op.
Now someone has taken her name and begun to use it for criminal hacking. So Trouble returns. Once the fastest gun on the electronic frontier, she had tried to retire-but has been called out for one last fight. And it's a killer.


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 February 9th. No multiple entries please-- all multiple entries will be discarded.

Good luck!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Most Anticipated Books of 2011

Science fiction and fantasy are the best genres (in my humble opinion) when it comes to pure originality. Every year there is a list of new titles that I can't wait to get my hands on. Here's what has caught my attention so far.


The Hammer by K.J. Parker (Orbit Books; Jan 5th)

Gignomai is the youngest brother in the current generation of met'Oc, a once-noble family exiled on an island for their role in a vaguely remembered civil war. On this island, a colony was founded seventy years ago. The plan was originally for the colonists to mine silver, but there turned out not to be any. Now, an uneasy peace exists on the island, between the colonists and the met'Oc. The met'Oc are tolerated, in spite of occasional cattle stealing raids, since they alone possess the weapons considered necessary protection against the island's savages. Gignomai is about to discover exactly what it is expected of him, and what it means to defy his family. He is the hammer who will provide the spark that will ignite a brutal and bloody war.


Farlander by Col Buchanan (Tor; January 18th)

The Heart of the World is a land in strife. For fifty years the Holy Empire of Mann, an empire and religion born from a nihilistic urban cult, has been conquering nation after nation. Their leader, Holy Matriarch Sasheen, ruthlessly maintains control through her Diplomats, priests trained as subtle predators. Ash is a member of an elite group of assassins, the Roshun, who offer protection through the threat of vendetta. Forced by his ailing health to take on an apprentice, he chooses Nico, a young man living in the besieged city of Bar-Khos. At the time, Nico is hungry, desperate, and alone in a city that finds itself teetering on the brink.
When the Holy Matriarch’s son deliberately murders a woman under the protection of the Roshun; he forces the sect to seek his life in retribution. As Ash and his young apprentice set out to fulfill the Roshun orders, their journey takes them into the heart of the conflict between the Empire and the Free Ports…into bloodshed and death.


The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie (Orbit Books; Feb 7th)

Publishers Weekly
This blood-drenched, thought-provoking dissection of a three-day battle is set in the same world as Abercrombie's First Law Trilogy (The Blade Itself, etc.), but stands very well alone. Union commander Lord Marshal Kroy coordinates the fight with the aid of a motley group of incompetent, self-important officers. The strangely sympathetic Col. Bremer dan Gorst is officially a royal observer who nurses a burning desire to kill or be killed. Leading a much smaller army against the Union is Black Dow, whose grip on the throne of the Northmen is tenuous and based on fear and brutality. Calder, a slippery and cunning egotist, advocates peace while plotting to take Black Dow's place. Abercrombie never glosses over a moment of the madness, passion, and horror of war, nor the tribulations that turn ordinary people into the titular heroes.



The Fallen Blade by Jon Courtenay Grimwood (Orbit Books; Jan 27th)

Venice is at the height of its power. In theory Duke Marco commands. But Marco is a simpleton, so his aunt and uncle rule in his stead. Within the Serene Republic, their word is law, but for all their influence, Venice’s fate still lies in other hands . . .
Lady Giulietta is the Duke’s cousin. She enjoys greater privilege than many can even dream of, but her status will demand a terrible price. Atilo Il Mauros is head of the Assassini, the shadow army that enforces Venice’s will-both at home and abroad. Prince Leopold is the bastard son of the German emperor and leader of the krieghund-the only force in Venice more feared than Atilo’s assassins. And then there is Atilo’s angel-faced apprentice. Only a boy, Tycho is already stronger and faster than any man has a right to be. He can see in the dark, but sunlight burns him. It is said that he drinks blood.




Bloodshot by Cherie Priest (Spectra; January 25th)

VAMPIRE FOR HIRE

Raylene Pendle (AKA Cheshire Red), a vampire and world-renowned thief, doesn’t usually hang with her own kind. She’s too busy stealing priceless art and rare jewels. But when the infuriatingly charming Ian Stott asks for help, Raylene finds him impossible to resist—even though Ian doesn’t want precious artifacts. He wants her to retrieve missing government files—documents that deal with the secret biological experiments that left Ian blind. What Raylene doesn’t bargain for is a case that takes her from the wilds of Minneapolis to the mean streets of Atlanta. And with a psychotic, power-hungry scientist on her trail, a kick-ass drag queen on her side, and Men in Black popping up at the most inconvenient moments, the case proves to be one hell of a ride.




Blackveil by Kristen Britain (DAW; Feb 1st)

The long-awaited sequel to Green Rider, First Rider's Call, and The High King's Tomb.
Once a simple student, Karigan G'ladheon finds herself in a world of deadly danger and complex magic, compelled by forces she cannot understand when she becomes a legendary Green Rider-one of the magical messengers of the king. Forced by magic to accept a dangerous fate she would never have chosen, headstrong Karigan has become completely devoted to the king and her fellow Riders.
But now, an insurrection led by dark magicians threatens to break the boundaries of ancient, evil Blackveil Forest-releasing powerful dark magics that have been shut away for a millennium.




Blackout by Rob Thurman (Roc; March 1st)

When half-human Cal Leandros wakes up on a beach littered with the slaughtered remains if a variety of hideous creatures, he's not that concerned. In fact, he can't remember anything-including who he is.

And that's just the way his deadly enemies like it...



The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss (DAW; March 1st)

My name is Kvothe.

I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.

You may have heard of me.

So begins the tale of a hero told from his own point of view — a story unequaled in fantasy literature. Now in THE WISE MAN’S FEAR, Day Two of The Kingkiller Chronicle, an escalating rivalry with a powerful member of the nobility forces Kvothe to leave the University and seek his fortune abroad. Adrift, penniless, and alone, he travels to Vintas, where he quickly becomes entangled in the politics of courtly society. While attempting to curry favor with a powerful noble, Kvothe uncovers an assassination attempt, comes into conflict with a rival arcanist, and leads a group of mercenaries into the wild, in an attempt to solve the mystery of who (or what) is waylaying travelers on the King's Road.

All the while, Kvothe searches for answers, attempting to uncover the truth about the mysterious Amyr, the Chandrian, and the death of his parents. Along the way, Kvothe is put on trial by the legendary Adem mercenaries, is forced to reclaim the honor of the Edema Ruh, and travels into the Fae realm. There he meets Felurian, the faerie woman no man can resist, and who no man has ever survived...until Kvothe. In THE WISE MAN’S FEAR, Kvothe takes his first steps on the path of the hero and learns how difficult life can be when a man becomes a legend in his own time.



Wolfsangel by M.D. Lachlan (Pyr; March 22nd)

Wolfsangel begins a stunning multivolume fantasy epic that will take a werewolf from his beginnings as the heir to a brutal Viking king down through the ages. It is a journey that will see him hunt for his lost love through centuries and lives, and see the endless battle between the wolf, Odin, and Loki, the eternal trickster, spill over into countless bloody conflicts from our history and our lives.


Dark Jenny by Alex Bledsoe (Tor; March 29th)

Freelance Sword Jockey Eddie LaCrosse is in the wrong place at the wrong time while conducting a undercover investigation on the island kingdom of Grand Bruan. When a poisoned apple kills a member of the Queens personal guard, Eddie becomes the prime suspect in the murder. He must do do some fast talking to keep his head attached to his shoulders. Trying to clear his name and find the real killer, Eddie becomes embroiled in a nasty political scandal. Someone is trying to ruin Queen Jennifer, and they don't care who they kill on the way.

The River of Shadows by Robert V.S. Reddick (Del Rey; April 19th)

In the gripping sequel to Robert V. S. Redick’s acclaimed epic fantasy novels The Red Wolf Conspiracy and The Ruling Sea, the crew of the vast, ancient ship Chathrand have reached the shores of the legendary southern empire of Bali Adro. Many have died in the crossing, and the alliance of rebels, led by the tarboy Pazel Pathkendle and the warrior Thasha Isiq, has faced death, betrayal, and darkest magic. But nothing has prepared them for the radically altered face of humanity in the South. They have little time to recover from the shock, however. For with landfall, the battle between the rebels and centuries-old sorcerer Arunis enters its final phase. At stake is control of the Nilstone, a cursed relic that promises unlimited power to whoever unlocks the secrets of its use—but death to those who fail. And no one is closer to mastering the Stone than Arunis. Desperate to stop him, Pazel and Thasha must join forces with their enemies, including the depraved Captain Rose and the imperial assassin Sandor Ott. But when a suspicious young crewmember turns his attentions to Thasha, it is the young lovers themselves who are divided—most conveniently for Arunis. As the mage’s triumph draws near, the allies face a terrible choice: to break their oaths and run for safety, or to hunt the world’s most dangerous sorcerer through the strange and deadly dream kingdom known as the River of Shadows, and to face him a last time among the traps and horrors of his lair. Brimming with high adventure, dark enchantment, and unforgettable characters, The River of Shadows deftly secures Redick’s place in the ranks of epic fantasy’s most original and enthralling storytellers.


The Dragon's Path by Daniel Abraham (Orbit; April 7th)

Summer is the season of war in the Free Cities. Marcus wants to get out before the fighting starts. His hero days are behind him and simple caravan duty is better than getting pressed into service by the local gentry. Even a small war can get you killed. But a captain needs men to lead -- and his have been summarily arrested and recruited for their swords. Cithrin has a job to do -- move the wealth of a nation across a war zone. An orphan raised by the bank, she is their last hope of keeping the bank's wealth out of the hands of the invaders. But she's just a girl and knows little of caravans, war, and danger. She knows money and she knows secrets, but will that be enough to save her in the coming months? Geder, the only son of a noble house is more interested in philosophy than swordplay. He is a poor excuse for a soldier and little more than a pawn in these games of war. But not even he knows what he will become of the fires of battle. Hero or villain? Small men have achieved greater things and Geder is no small man. Falling pebbles can start a landslide. What should have been a small summer spat between gentlemen is spiraling out of control. Dark forces are at work, fanning the flames that will sweep the entire region onto The Dragon's Path -- the path of war.


The Edinburgh Dead by Brian Ruckley (Orbit; August 17th)

Mixing real history and historical figures with magics and conspiracies, this novel imagines the Edinburgh of 1827, populated by mad alchemists who treat Frankenstein as textbook rather than novel, and by a criminal underclass prepared to treat with the darkest of powers.
The plot follows the progress of an officer of the recently formed Edinburgh City Police as he follows a trail of undead hounds, emptied graves, brutal murders and mob violence into the deepest and darkest corners of Edinburgh’s underworld – both literal and magical – and back again to the highest reaches of elegant, intellectual Edinburgh society.

New Trailer for "Game of Thrones"

With a nice peek at the Iron Throne...


"Tangled" -- My Belated Review

Oh to be a paid reviewer...One who had access to showings designated especially for reviewers. That's the dream.

But, as is the case for most of us, I'm lucky if I make to the theater at all and all I can do is add my voice to the chorus that has already chimed in their opinion on a certain movie. Most of the time I take a why bother attitude when I'm two months late to the party, but I will make an exception when a movie is just too good not to mention.

Like many Disney films Tangled is the story about a princess. But the princess in this case, Rapunzel, spends most of her life not knowing she was born to royalty. Gravely ill while pregnant with Rapunzel, the queen is given a broth made from a flower with the magical ability to heal. As a result the baby Rapunzel is born with golden hair that is infused with the magic of the flower.

The only person who knows the secret of Rapunzel's magic hair is an old witch named Gothel who had been using the magic of the flower to stay young. Realizing that Rapunzel is the key to her continued youth, Gothel steals the baby, stashes her in an isolated tower and raises her as her own daughter. Distraught at the loss of the baby the king and queen release thousands of floating lanterns every year on Rapunzel's birthday in hopes that she will see them and use them as a beacon home. Little do they know that the princess has spent eighteen years in her tower amusing herself by painting the walls with pictures of the lanterns she longs to see in person.

Rapunzel, whose hair cannot be cut or her magic will be lost, hauls Gothel up and down the tower with her impossibly long hair. But she never leaves because she has been raised to believe that the outside world is cruel and covets her magic. But as her eighteenth birthday approaches Rapunzel becomes increasingly determined to see the lanterns and when a thief known as Flynn Rider suddenly finds her tower, Rapunzel takes the opportunity to venture out into the world for the first time.

If there's one thing Disney does really well it's that they know how to tug on your heartstrings in the best way. "Tangled" follows in the vein of most of the "princess" movies in that our heroine finds her independence along with the love of her life in the course of her adventures. But Rapunzel is also a modern princess. She isn't singing "someday my prince will come"-- she's actually more likely to smack the male lead upside the head with a frying pan. The real theme of Rapunzel is the emotion prison that had held her captive for all of her young life. Like any child Rapunzel loves and trusts her "mother" but Gothel doesn't understand love; her selfishness knows no bounds and the manipulation she uses to keep Rapunzel isolated and compliant is both masterful and cruel. The effect this has had on Rapunzel is hilariously and adeptly illustrated in a sequence that shows her alternatively ecstatic and remorseful over leaving her tower.

There are also characters that fit the normal template of a Disney film, including animals of unusual intelligence-- though they do not talk in this particular case. And while Rapunzel's main companion, a chameleon named Pascal, is adorable-- it's a horse named Maximus who steals the show.

Rapunzel and Flynn, voiced by Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi, are immensely likable and Levi in particular has a voice with a wonderful range of emotions that comes through very well. The musical numbers don't have the same quality of instant classics like "Under the Sea" ("Little Mermaid") or "Beauty and the Beast" but Gothel has a memorable number titled "Mother Knows Best" that is excellently performed by Donna Murphy.

"Tangled" is one of those movies that hits all the right notes. It makes you laugh-- a lot-- but it also has a huge sentimental streak that might make your eyes well up, but it never dwells too long on the sad parts. The movie takes its tone from its leading lady. It has a wide-eyed innocence and utter sweetness that is bound to win anyone over. It's just a joy to watch.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Audiobook Review: Helion Rain by George Mann

On the planet Idos, humanity is under siege from the alien tyranids, and only the superhuman cybernetic soldiers of the Space Marines known as the Raven Guard have any chance of beating them back. Most of the forces of the Raven Guard, under Captain Corrin, are engaged in a front-line holding action – completely against their nature of working covertly behind the lines to take down an enemy. But one small team led by Sergeant Grayvus, separated from the rest of the battle, are given a mission with very little idea of how it may help improve the situation for their brothers, one that requires them to destroy a power plant. This is a task which would be difficult under normal circumstances, but is made even more impossible by the fact that they have no explosives on them. They have little more than their personal arms to fight with, and creatures who want nothing more than to drain their very DNA from their bodies and absorb them into their own biomass. Meanwhile, everyone must deal with the constant rock rain falling from the sky, the remnants of the moon Helion, which humanity mistakenly destroyed while trying to defend Idos from the invasion. The setting is half the fun of this particular story, there are a number of times when the battles are broken up because of the need of both sides to protect themselves from the Helion rain. It’s one of those great ideas that makes for a memorable background to set the rest of the story against, helping it rise above what might otherwise just be another “only one team can save the day behind enemy lines”. This story was also my first introduction to the tyranids, which also helped set it apart from the other audiobooks I’ve listened to so far from The Black Library. They’re like the organic version of the Borg, they’ll absorb your memories along with your very DNA and make it a part of their collective – and they’re disgusting creatures with large spiked protrusions and tentacles vying for some way to make contact with their prey. I liked how Grayvus team wasn’t given the information by Captin Corrin on what the purpose of their mission was, just that they were to get it done. Very military-like and ultimately it helps build the suspense for the listener; until they succeed we know what the result will be. At the same time, if I have one issue with this story it’s that none of the characters particularly stood out to me. But, along with the usual high quality of the audio work that The Black Library does on these things, the combination of the other elements of the story help this one rise above its one flaw.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

I Knew Casting Seth Rogen as The Green Hornet Was a Bad Idea...

The reviews are starting to come in for The Green Hornet and they are not pretty. As anyone who reads my site knows, I despised this idea from day one. Comic book heroes are not supposed to be slackers-- ever.

Kurt Loder, at Reason.com backs me up on this.

Although Sony denies it, one can imagine the studio’s dismay upon first seeing this mess. The picture was originally scheduled for release last summer; then, in order to (what else?) convert it into 3D, it was rescheduled for December 23. Now, here it finally is, in the depths of January. Where it belongs.

But that's nothing compared to what the San Francisco Chronicle has to say about the film.

The film's insurmountable problem is that Rogen and Goldberg are committed to the comic notion that Britt is an idiot. This becomes a box that the character and the movie can't escape. At no point does Britt's strategy of doing good while pretending to be evil ever reveal itself to be coherent. On the contrary, Rogen's Green Hornet doesn't do anybody any good, not even by accident - he just wreaks havoc. Britt is a joke, a parody of a fatuous rich heir. That provides the occasional laugh, as when Britt comes on to his secretary (the long-suffering Cameron Diaz), who loathes him. But when the violence comes, who cares if this fatuous, ineffectual, trouble-making idiot survives?

It's strange, but even in an action comedy, if the audience doesn't care whether the protagonist gets killed, it's a big problem. Without that one human element, all the carefully orchestrated action becomes mere commotion - and sleep-inducing.


Oh boy.

There are a handful of good reviews over at Rotten Tomatoes, so there may be an audience for this. But, from what I've read, many reviews are backing up my initial assessment that Rogen was never going to be the right guy for this role. But Dana Stevens over at Slate, who has had a chance to actually see the movie, sums up the basic problem.

Seth Rogen must be a master at creating a Rat Pack-like atmosphere of dudely camaraderie on set, because in movie after movie he's given a huge amount of creative control. While he and Goldberg have proven their gift for writing amiable guy-on-guy repartee, they haven't yet been challenged to structure a story, and The Green Hornet doesn't suggest they're about to start challenging themselves. This movie is about a pampered, arrogant young man who rushes to don a crusader mask he's nowhere near ready to fill. Rogen—who's far from untalented, both as an actor and a writer—should take care that the film's story doesn't become his autobiography.

I doubt I'll even rent this one...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Giveaway! "King of the Crags" by Stephen Deas

One of the more notable debuts to come out last year was The Adamantine Palace by Stephen Deas. I never got around to doing a "best-of" list for last year, but I think that book might have made my top five. So when the sequel, The King of the Crags, arrived I knew I had to offer a copy for giveaway. And thanks to Penguin Books I am able to do that...

In his "utterly fascinating" (Book Smuggler) debut, The Adamantine Palace, Stephen Deas "restored [dragons] to all their scaly fire- breathing glory" (Daily Telegraph). Now, as the Realms teeter on the brink of war, the fate of humanity rests in the survival of one majestic white dragon.

Prince Jehal has had his way-now his lover Zafir sits atop the Realms with hundreds of dragons and their riders at her beck and call. But Jehal's plots are far from over, for he isn't content to sit back and watch Zafir command the earth and sky. He wants that glory for himself- no matter who he must sacrifice to get it. The one thing Jehal fears is that the white dragon still lives-and if that is so, then blood will flow, on all sides...


As always, 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 Thursday February 10th. No multiple entries-- all multiple entries will be discarded. Open everywhere.

Good luck!

Winner!- "The Lost Gate" by Orson Scott Card

My contest featuring "The Lost Gate" by Orson Scott Card has closed and it's time to announce the randomly selected winner--

Shauna Roberts; Riverside, Ca


Congrats Shauna!

Monday, January 10, 2011

What Would We REALLY Tolerate?

I posted a link a couple of days ago on my Facebook page from an article at Cracked.com about the "5 Things TV Writers Apparently Believe About Smart People" (great read if you haven't gotten to it yet) and it got me thinking about the hyper-reality world that exists on-screen and the disconnect between it and the real world. The Cracked.com article specifically speaks to the super-intelligent types we see on shows like "House" and "Fringe," and the bad behavior they can get away with thanks to being smarter than anyone else in the room. But I think the topic can be broadened to encompass all kinds of behavior that we'll accept as normal just because we see it on television. But what would we REALLY tolerate?

Would We REALLY Tolerate a Serial Killer Vigilante?

Batman is the classic vigilante of the geek crowd. We don't just love him because he fights crime, we also love him because he has all the cool gadgets and a cape. But the television show Dexter takes vigilantism to a whole new level. Based on a series of books by Jeff Lindsay, Dexter follows the story of an ordinary seeming guy who has the heart of a serial killer. Trained by his adopted father-- a career cop-- to only target the unpunished dregs of society, Dexter preys on the worst-of-the-worst criminals. On screen we can sympathize with Dexter because the idea of a child-predator getting what they have coming to them isn't hard to root for. But how would we feel if we found this was happening for real? Something tells me this kind of compartmentalization can only happen in a fantasy world and I'd be mighty nervous with Dexter as my neighbor.

Would We REALLY Tolerate Someone Who Turns to a Life of Crime When Things Get Tough?

We already know the answer to this don't we? We hear stories all the time of people who fall on hard times and resort to theft, drug-dealing or other crimes to supplement their income, and our usual fall-back position is one of get a job! But shows like Weeds and Breaking Bad somehow get us to suspend judgement long enough to watch the hair-raising experiences of an average Joe (or JoAnn) try to negotiate a path through the sleazy world of selling drugs. We bite our nails and cringe in sympathy as long as we know it's not real, but if these people ended up the nightly news I doubt we'd think twice about their jail sentence no matter how compelling the sob-story is.

Would We REALLY Tolerate Rudeness if it Was Delivered as Comic Aside?

Suppose for a second that the Transformers story was plausible. I know I'm asking a lot-- but just pretend. And imagine if you were an alien who observed the human race through our entertainment. Just think of the kind of behavior they would think was normal. They'd assume a Vince Vaughn style monologue was a normal means of communication. That Jane Lynch's nasty comments as Sue Sylvester on "Glee" wouldn't get her fired or sued. That, like the Cracked.com article states, you can get away with murder (metaphorically speaking) if you have a high I.Q. Insults fly fast and furiously on our favorite shows and while they might register, briefly, thanks to the laugh-track, the snark goes mostly unrecognized and unpunished if it's delivered in the right way. But supposed this happened in the real world-- how would that go over?

Would We REALLY Tolerate Comedic High-Jinks in Place of Common Sense?

Those of you who are a little bit older, like me, will remember the show Three's Company. It set the standard in my young mind for situation comedies back then. For those who don't know the premise-- it's this: Jack Tripper (John Ritter) is a single guy living with two attractive women (Suzanne Sommers and Joyce Dewitt). In order to keep up his living arrangement (which apparently was the business of the landlord in those days) Jack pretended to be gay (which raised fewer eyebrows in the 70's than co-ed living in this scenario). Every week a new crisis would occur that could "out" Jack and he and his roommates would have to come up with some elaborate scheme to keep their secret. Make sense? Yeah, absurd I know. But this is what situation comedies do. Instead of just telling someone they have bad breath, an unflattering hairstyle or that you don't like their cooking (the normal solution) these shows have our main characters coming up with convoluted plans that often involve dressing up in costume (if you have kids you see this on Hannah Montana all the time) or some other ridiculously unrealistic ordeal. When has this happened in real life? Ever?

Would We REALLY Tolerate Someone Coming to Work Dressed Like a Catholic School-Girl?

I know all the guys are thinking yes-- yes I would. If you watch NCIS then you probably know where I'm going with this one. Abby Sciuto (Pauly Perrette) is the forensic expert on the show who regularly comes to work in very short skirts, dog collars and platform boots. A goth Catholic school-girl really. She's presented as being savant-like smart and therefore oh-so-quirky. But does this happen in real life? I mean, my husband works for a corporation that frowns on male facial hair (I don't know what the policy is on feminine facial hair). It seems like a lot of shows have this fantasy portrayal of science/computer geeks as being so indispensable that company policy never applies and they can be as sloppy, rude or anti-social as they want to be. But I have never actually seen this in real life. What I think this really means is that a lot of geeks end up writing television scripts.

I could go on. When I think of NCIS I also think of Jethro Gibbs and the whole renegade-boss thing. You know, the guy who constantly breaks the rules but get's away with it because he's that good. Or the super-sexy female agent like Ziva David, who fits into the same mold as Sidney Bristow ("Alias"), that can not only kick your butt but speak five languages while doing it.

It's obvious that we like our fantasies. And that's fine. But there does seem to be a line that is invariably crossed that makes it harder and harder to play along when the storyline gets really outrageous. When it 'jumps the shark' as it's commonly now referred to. It's also becoming clear that Hollywood is pretty much always recycling ideas. I mention a few specific shows here, but I'm sure everyone can think of more than one show (or movie) that fits each example above.

What would you REALLY tolerate?

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Book Review: "Right Hand Magic" by Nancy A. Collins

Right Hand Magic by Nancy Collins
Roc
304 pages

Summary: Like most Manhattanites, aspiring artist Tate can't resist a good rental deal-even if it's in the city's strangest neighborhood, Golgotham, where for centuries werewolves, centaurs, and countless other creatures have roamed the streets.
    Her new landlord is a sorcerer name Hexe, who is determined to build his reputation without using dark, left-hand magic. As Tate is drawn into Hexe's fascinating world, they both find that the right hand does not always know what the left hand is doing-and avoiding darkness is no easy trick...


The Good: The world of Golgotham is great. It's interesting, inventive and has a culture that's entirely believable. It seems very natural to ride in a hansom cab pulled by a centaur or walk into an Irish pub with real leprechauns.

Needs Work: The problem with most paranormal fiction is, in my opinion, the tendency to rely too heavily on the flashier elements of action and magic rather than character and plot development-- and "Right Hand Magic" falls squarely into that category. The city of Golgotham is basically a character in an of itself; and the best developed one at that. But everyone else kind of falls flat. Tate is hard to get a handle on because we're told she's the kind of girl who'll punch a guy (in his most sensitive parts) if he crosses her, but when the actual confrontations appear she'll flee the scene as often as she'll fight and verbal confrontations leave her mortified. Toward the end she grows a spine, but it's hard to know what inherently goes with the character.
    Hexe-- the love interest-- is so perfect he's blandness personified. Not once do these characters bicker or disagree and Tate is welcomed into his world so seamlessly that there's never a sense of tension. Hexe isn't given any moral ambiguousness despite the fact that Golgotham is a world that doesn't seem to have any objections to "left hand" magic-- or spells that curse rather than cure. We're also told that "right hand" magic is supposed to be much more difficult than "left hand" magic, but Hexe doesn't seem to have any undue difficulties when faced with any problem. Basically, everything fits too neatly into place.

Bottom Line: Like most paranormal fiction there is a definite likability to "Right Hand Magic" and fans of the genre will appreciate the setting and the light romance. But there are too many flaws to take this above a middling effort in my opinion. The characters are uneven and though there is some effort to broach the subject of racism, the dialog runs toward hackneyed monologues and never develops a natural flow. I liked the setting and the inventiveness of the world-building but I doubt I'll be picking up any sequels.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Graphic Novel Review: Tron - Betrayal

I am a fan of the original Tron movie; having seen it as a child with my father in the movie theaters, and since watched it a few times on VHS. My most anticipated movie of this past year was Tron: Legacy, and it lived up to my expectations. But before I saw the new film, I had the chance to read Tron Betrayal – the bridge story between the first movie and the second. It starts with a recap of the original movie, using the graphics style of that film in the telling, which should be welcome for those fans. But after that first section, we are introduced to The Grid, the world inside computers, which is a very different graphic style from what came before. It’s not long before we’re introduced to the concept that this is a new world that Kevin Flynn has created – not the original computer world from the first movie, and that he brought over the Tron program (originally a security program in the first movie, but now repurposed as a game – the videogame Tron that we all knew back in the 80s) to help him in this new world. Tron is popular in the games, just as the game is in the real world, but there’s very little security work he’s needed for at first. Meanwhile, Kevin finds that now that he’s going to be a father, he has less and less time to spend in The Grid – so he needs someone who can guide the world in his name. So he creates Clu, a program who looks just like him, to maintain order and build the perfect society. Into this mix comes the unexpected, programs that begin to self-create – called Isos. They have no User (programmer); they are a new life-form – something Kevin understands to have huge ramifications. Unfortunately along with these Isos come new computer bugs and glitches in the operating system, which causes Clu no end of consternation, especially since Kevin wants the Isos protected. How can Clu create the perfect society if there is one unpredictable element, and to what lengths will he go to follow his primary programming? For those who’ve seen the film, this will fill in more background into how The Grid came to be at the point where it’s first shown in the movie. It also gives more depth to the Isos and the war Clu wages against them. Unfortunately, it only aggravates the one element that was unneeded in the film, the fact that this is not supposed to be the same cyber-world as the first Tron. It’s an unneeded story point, yet it’s constantly brought up in this book (moreso than the movie, where you could pretty much overlook it). Also the action scenes can get confusing, especially any Disc battles, which is unfortunate since it could have been a highlight of the book. It’s not necessary by any stretch to read this book before seeing the movie, but for fans of the films it’s definitely worth seeking out and reading. Even with my minor qualms about the story (which stems from a script problem in the movie more than this book), the art really captures the look of both films, and the story that is here is well told, if slightly predictable.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Guest Blog (and Giveaway!) by Paul Christopher

Like a lot of people I read a lot of books that veer off of the path of what we think of as "strictly" fantasy or science fiction. Stories that feature characters like James Bond aren't that so far removed from my favorite genre and I can seldom resist books that deal in historical conspiracies-- as Dan Brown has become so famous for thanks to "The Da Vinci Code." So when I was asked to host a guest post and giveaway featuring author Paul Christopher, author of the newly released The Templar Conspiracy I was immediately on board. And after reading the post sent over by my guest blogger-- I'm more interested than ever in checking out his new book. I hope you will be too. Read on and enter the contest featured at the end of this post for a chance to win one of 4 copies of "The Templar Conspiracy."
~SQT

I've always been a fan of dystopic novels from George Orwell and 1984 to John Wyndam’s novels and most particularly and most affectionately  to Death of Grass by John Christopher. On the movie side it’s been a long love affair with flicks like Wyndam’s The Midwich Cuckoos, known in the U.S. as Village of the Damned and on the ‘realistic’ side, Seven Days in May, the Manchurian Candidate and FailSafe.

One way or the other, all of those stories inform and inspire the Templar Series, particularly the latest—The Templar Conspiracy, which, in many ways, despite what Publisher’s Weekly said has more to do with Seven Days in May that The Manchurian Candidate. I’ve had a growing sense that with the advent of the Patriot Act and the very 1984 style Homeland Security (the word ‘Homeland’ ring a bell very much like the German Fatherland and the Russian Motherland) we have been steadily stripped of our basic human rights to the point where Life Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness may very well depend on what you look like, the sound of your name, your religion and the possibility of having your name accidentally put on a No Fly list.

The Templar Conspiracy is really more about the ease with which enormous events can happen and how lives can change direction on the turn of a dime. Of all the themes in my writing that has always been one of the most important. As time passes I’ve also come to the regrettable decision that the Internet, in all its fundamental richness and freedom will probably be the death of culture, truth, history and everything else I find important. One of these days some future bigger and nastier entity in the WikiLeaks mold is going to appear and the whole, fragile thing is going to collapse in a Babel of Tweats Twitters, Skypes, texts, e-mails and E-trades, putting us all back in the Stone Ages.

Oh yes, and Happy New Year.

~Paul Christopher


The Templar Conspiracy
In this suspenseful thriller, only former army ranger John Holliday has the ability to solve a modern Templar conspiracy. In Rome, a pope is assassinated by an unknown sniper on Christmas day which unleashes a massive investigation and Holliday’s skills are put to test when he uncovers the real motif behind the pontiff’s murder. When a private confession leads to the discovery of a grisly murder under a D.C. parkway, Holliday must unravel the Templar’s deadly plot to extend their influence to the highest power.


Courtesy of Penguin Books (Signet) I have 4 copies of "The Last Templar" to offer for giveaway (U.S. entries only). Just add your information to the form below to enter (all entries are guaranteed confidential and will be discarded once contest ends) and I will randomly pick 4 winners by Friday January 21st. No multiple entries please-- all multiple entries will be discarded. Open in the U.S. only.

Good luck!

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Book Review: "The Breach" by Patrick Lee

It's funny how we decide to pick up books sometimes. I was introduced to David Eddings by some fanboy-types I knew while going to college. I think I'm grateful I wasn't running with the Oprah-crowd back then. I don't think I could handle the angst. Anyway. The Breach by Patrick Lee is a book I wouldn't have even known about if it weren't for John DeNardo over at SF Signal and I might still have passed it up if it wasn't for the occasional tweet to remind people that it might be worth checking out. So I picked it up over the holidays and I probably read it faster than anything else I picked up in the last year.

Travis Chase is an ex-cop and an ex-convict trying to forget the past. As part of his new life he heads to Alaska and tries to lose himself in the icy wilderness. But when a plane crashes into the mountainside Chase is camping on, circumstances take a dramatic and strange turn. After rushing to the site to look for survivors Chase is thrust into a bizarre series of events when he discovers the body of the First Lady aboard the plane. It doesn't take long before Chase is caught in the middle of a major intrigue when he saves hostage Paige Campbell while she is being tortured for information about an artifact that was on the plane and an organization known as Tangent. What starts out looking a lot like a typical mystery/thriller soon takes on an "X-Files" like flavor as Travis is introduced to the secrets of The Breach and he learns that our world may butt-up  against another dimension full of dangerous technology that could destroy our world.

"The Breach" is a fun book that kind of reads like the literary love-child of Lincoln Child and Dean Koontz. It fiddles with scientific theory but never gets detailed enough to be confusing for the scientifically illiterate (like me).  It has all the action you would expect from a thriller but it also adds a nice bit of fantasy flair that keeps you guessing wondering what the next revelation is going  to be. But what really impressed me about Lee's writing was his ability to stay just ahead of what could have been a real credibility gap. Every time he'd throw another twist into the mix a half-dozen questions would pop-into my head; you know the type-- the ones that make it impossible to suspend disbelief long enough to enjoy the book. But Lee does a good job- really good- of quickly checking each one off the list and allowing you to get back into the flow of the story.

But if I have to give one reason why I would recommend "The Breach" it's the ending; I didn't see it coming. Maybe that's a reflection on my skills as a reader. But it's rare that a book can surprise me and this one did. I loved the twist at the end and couldn't wait to get my hands on the sequel, Ghost Country-- which happens to be the first book I have pre-ordered since the last installment to the Harry Potter saga.

"The Breach" isn't one of those philosophically profound books. It's not a life-changer (though how often do you find one of those?). But it is really entertaining. A book I couldn't wait to get back to and finish in record time.