Wednesday, March 30, 2011

New Photos of Wonder Woman in Action

They took away the plastic-looking pants and brought back the red boots. Much better.










What Does "Accessibility" Really Mean?

Accessibility. A common word in the reviewer lexicon that I'm starting to hate.

When you look at the word from a dictionary point of view it seems like a good thing:

Accessibility
  • Handiness: the quality of being at hand when needed
  • Approachability: the attribute of being easy to meet or deal with

But somehow this seemingly benign word has turned into a little bit of an insult.

Look at this definition as an example:
  • Accessible - capable of being read with comprehension; "readily accessible to the nonprofessional reader"; "the tales seem more approachable than his more difficult novels"

I know what's going on here. If a book is "accessible," what you're really saying is that it's dumbed down.

Accessibility has become one of the most overused words in reviewing-- right next to "gritty." I've used the word in the past and meant it as a compliment. One of the hardest things to do as a writer is to write in a way that has broad appeal. There are times when being likable is not the same thing as being good (*cough*Twilight*cough*) but I admire authors that can take a lot of complex ideas and convey the essence in a succinct way. Anyone who has tried to write a 200 word book review knows exactly how hard brevity can be.

I'm someone who likes books that are given the humdrum label of accessibility. But I also think we need to reexamine what the word really means when we talk about literature.

When the word is applied to science fiction, it's pretty easy to read between the lines. If I can understand it, then it's not too complicated. But how complicated should it be? Should a scifi novel read like it was written by Stephen Hawking?

What about fantasy?

I have yet to read a fantasy book I couldn't understand. There are varying degrees of complexity, but nothing that I would say is incomprehensible. The use of maps-- or lack thereof-- has no bearing on whether or not I understand the world in which the story exists. I'm not even thrown by the dictionaries that are so often tacked on the end of a fantasy novel-- I'm good like that. And I'm pretty sure that holds true for most fans of fantasy fiction.

No. These days accessibility seems to cover a lot more territory; and in my opinion has more to do with taste, and maybe the need to dismiss a differing opinion, than anything else.

Here's my gripe. I'm kind of tired of profanity in my fiction. Call me a prude, but I feel like modern entertainment has gotten really coarse. I've read, and championed, more than a few books that drop the f-bomb like nobody's business, so you'd think I wouldn't mind. And I wouldn't if the success of one author didn't spawn a dozen copycats. It's like Hollywood and it's obsession with sequels. They assume that a monster hit in the 80's will automatically generate a huge audience 20-years later because we're too dumb to know that they're out of ideas. Well, publishing has proven that it too will churn-and-burn as many books in whatever style is currently fashionable to make a profit-- not that I blame anyone. I like to make money as much as the next guy. But, like any industry, once you start worrying more about what's popular, you forget to worry about what's good. Worse, you end up with an audience that becomes to immune to subtlety.

And I guess this is where I part ways with some of the other reviewers I cross paths with. I've noticed lately that when I say I like one author more than another who is known for their "edginess" I get the cyber equivalent of a pat on the head and the inevitable observation that it's nice that I like the more "accessible" author-- but it's time to let the grown-ups talk about their books now.

Okay. I exaggerate. But I'm a little miffed that there seems to be this notion that one has to prefer books that bludgeon the reader with words rather than caress them with language. That it's somehow dumber to forgo viciousness and sarcasm for something a little more inspiring. That "accessibility" is somehow not a desirable trait.

What can I say other than I completely disagree? I think it's much harder to be interesting when you don't fall back on the lowest common denominator. In fact, I wonder what you'd be left with if you take the profanity and violence out of some current fiction-- would there be a story left? Imagine if you did that with your average video game. Or reality show.

Maybe it's my age. But I feel like the real world is mean enough without it seeping so deeply into our entertainment. I like the dark stuff too-- just not all the time. So, if that makes me unintellectual-- so be it. All you other guys can be the smart ones-- I'll be the happy one.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Liking the Cover of This Book...

I didn't actually write the review quoted here (S.M.D. did). But I'll take the name of my blog on the front cover of a book any way I can get it...





Serial Killers Incorporated

Monday, March 28, 2011

How Not to Get Your Book Reviewed-- or Published

Wow. Just Wow.

To all the self published authors out there-- here's the absolute worst way to go about promoting your book.

BigAl's Books and Pals was kind enough to accept a self published book for review and the author went ballistic with the 2 star review. After reading her poorly written summary, I say she was lucky to get the consideration in the first place. After reading her comments-- I suspect BigAl was being kind with the 2 stars.

I'd say she's burned all her bridges in the publishing industry. Well, until she gets a pseudonym. Lord knows I'll avoid her like the plague.

I worry about this though. What it will do to self-publishing if people keep imploding like this.

Friday, March 25, 2011

"Dylan Dog: Dead of Night" Trailer

Okay. I'll admit it. I'm super interested in this. I don't care if it's cheesy, I'll go by myself if I have to....

Book Review: "Deceived" by Paul Kemp

The moments of betrayal are the pivotal points about which Deceived, the latest of The Old Republic novels, revolves around. The first is of course the biggest, as the author Paul Kemp captures in prose what many gamers have probably seen in the videogame trailer – the moment when the Sith Empire strikes the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, just as on Alderaan the two sides are hammering out a truce. But the nice part for anyone who has not been following the developing videogame, or who has not been interested in keeping up with all the Star Wars books – this is set thousands of years before the movies, it makes for a similar setting without needing to know the specific histories of any characters. One of the first characters we’re introduced to is Zeerid, a reluctant smuggler who’s just trying to earn enough money to get out of debt to the Exchange and pay for his handicapped child to get either a hover-chair or prosthetics. Early in the story we learn plenty about his past with the Republic as well as how his wife died and his daughter wound up handicapped in the same accident. It’s because he had to leave the Republic service to take care of her that he wound up smuggling – a job he is embarrassed about and tries to hide from what’s left of his family. But he’s given an opportunity by his employers to get out of debt forever by doing “one last job” – delivering a very valuable spice (drug) to Coruscant, which has just fallen to the Sith. Of course, getting past the Sith blockade of the planet makes it a near suicide mission – not to mention the rival cartels that will no doubt be gunning for him. Fortunately, on his side will be Jedi Knight Aryn, whom he knows from his time as a Republic soldier. She comes looking for him just as he’s getting ready to leave for Coruscant – looking for a ride there herself. She knows that her former master, Ven, was at the Jedi Temple when it fell. She felt him die – and now she has decided to take matters into her own hands to avenge him, when the Jedi Council believes they cannot reciprocate lest the peace process break down. But first she needs to get to the Jedi temple and pull the video records so she can see which Sith is responsible. Should they be able to sneak past the Sith blockade (they don’t quite), it’s likely to be a high speed race to the surface or worse (much worse, how about high atmospheric skydiving without a parachute), so that they can to wander through the underground air circulation systems of the city-planet where all sorts of creatures and machines might want to tear them to pieces – only to find out that the powerful Sith Lord Dath Malgus is the one Aryn seeks, though facing him would be a sure death-wish on her part. I loved Malgus - he believes the Sith are serving the will of the Force, and that it is the Jedi who are the ones that do not understand the true nature of the Force. He is a man at odds with himself, because he loves Eleena, the Twi’lek girl who is also his slave – so they both must be mindful of her proper position in front of any other Sith or he risks losing not just their respect, but possibly his life. And like many Sith of this era, his position is precarious - there are other Lords looking to see him fail, looking to raise their own profile above his. The reader is given a very deep look into the mind of a Sith Lord in this book, which can always be an interesting experience. But Aryn is probably the most fascinating character explored in this book. Even though she is constantly making questionable choices, you really do feel for her and wonder what she’s going to do next. Her betrayal of self is near complete as the story comes to its end; after giving up everything she’s ever believed (and was taught by her master), used her friend and is ready to use another being to torture a Sith – we see how far a Jedi really can fall. There was also some nice thought put into her arguments early in the novel with other Jedi who want to follow her example. She makes it clear that they are not to follow her example, that it would cause a civil war within the order if the Jedi were to rebel against their leaders and strike back against the Sith in retaliation for the attack on Coruscant. I liked that she took the time to reason it out with them; it was certainly a realistic scenario that the author brought up, that there would be more Jedi who are unhappy that the peace talks continue after this betrayal has happened to them. I enjoyed the heck out of Deceived, Paul Kemp knows how to write both an entertaining story as well as an emotionally involved one. There were a couple of stand-out moments for me, like the scene out of a noir film, where Zeerid knows he's been followed. One person is coming up the stairs of the building where his daughter stays with her aunt, and one person is coming up the elevator – either could be out to kill him, and he can only choose to face one of them without giving away his position to the other. It’s a well written tense moment, and like many others in the book, kept me guessing until the resolution. Likewise there was another moment that I thought was just really fantastic – something that surprisingly no other Star Wars author has ever really brought up before (that I can remember). When Aryn meets up with Zeerid before they head off to Coruscant together, she calls it the will of the Force. I was struck by this - it's something that we as readers of Star Wars should think about more often when we ask "why is such-and-such always involved" or "how did these characters just happen to be at the right place at the right time". While yes, it's because it serves the story, it's also a nice in-universe way of explaining such phenomena. But there were also a couple of moments that nearly derailed the story for me as well. When Aryn convinces Zeerid that he doesn't need to leave Coruscant because the guy who knows about Zeerid’s family and has been actively pursuing them is such an upstanding guy that he obviously hasn't told anyone yet and so his family is in no danger - it was far fetched. And Zeerid bought it completely, which was even more far fetched (at that point, I’d have accepted some Force persuasion on Aryn’s part – but then he’d have never trusted her again which doesn’t make for a good start to a romance at the end). The other time is when Vrath is first introduced (Zeerid’s rival); he uses an overly complicated tracking method of pouring a liquid on the ground in front of Zeerid, which Zeerid steps in and then deposits nano-bot tracers on the bottom of his shoe. It's also noted that other beings step in this liquid, but that doesn't seem to be a problem for Vrath. He just tracks Zeerid - don't ask how, because there's no explanation and you just have to go with it. Really? You couldn't come up with anything more than that? Just tell me that the nanobots only activate for the first person to walk through them, or that the rest could be deactivated, or something. Even another method of tracking would have been preferred. But I pushed past both of those issues, and with just those few minor blips, I felt Deceived was a well written book. The characters were all well formed with very individual motivations and strong personalities that made them all stand out. Malgus isn't just another Sith Lord, he has his own desires and faults, but even damaged as he is he is a formidable fighter. I thought this was another strong book in The Old Republic series; it feels to me like the authors are able to succeed at making things a little more unpredictable by not being hampered by "known" characters and existing events that must be adhered to. Either way, I'll be looking forward to reading more in this era, and from this author.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Giveaway! "Among Thieves" by Douglas Hulick

Look what came in the mail today! I'm very excited to have an extra copy of Among Thieves to offer for giveaway. If you read the review I put up last week for this book, then you know how much I love it. And thanks to Penguin Books I have one to pass on to one lucky winner.

Death around the corner …

Ildrecca is a dangerous city, if you don’t know what you’re doing. It takes a canny hand and a wary eye to run these streets and survive. Fortunately, Drothe has both. He has been a member of the Kin for years, rubbing elbows with thieves and murderers from the dirtiest of alleys to the finest of neighborhoods. Working for a crime lord, he finds and takes care of trouble inside his boss’s organization—while smuggling relics on the side.

But when his boss orders Drothe to track down whoever is leaning on his organization’s people, he stumbles upon a much bigger mystery. There’s a book, a relic any number of deadly people seem to be looking for—a book that just might bring down emperors and shatter the criminal underworld.

A book now inconveniently in Drothe’s hands…


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 Tuesday April 5th. No multiple entries please-- all multiple entries will be discarded. Open everywhere.

Good luck!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Movie Review: "Limitless"

How much of our brain do we really use? For the longest time it was asserted that we only used 10%. Modern science has debunked that old myth thanks to brain scans that show activity across much of the brain. But how much we're actually using at any given time is still a mystery and it's pretty much understood (from what I've read) that parts of our brain remain dormant if it's not needed at a particular time-- like when we're sleeping.

But what if our brain was 100% engaged?

Limitless, the new movie starring Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro asks just that question.

Eddie Morra (Cooper) is a would-be writer who spends more time slacking off in his run-down apartment than working on the book that he has somehow already sold. Things get worse when his is dumped by his girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish), so Morra is somewhat vulnerable to making bad decisions when he is approached by his former brother-in-law who offers him a pill he claims will give Morra increased clarity and stamina. Morra is reluctant but intrigued and inevitably curious enough to take the pill.

The pill, known only as NZT-48, works exactly as promised. Within seconds Morra can literally recall everything he's ever seen. But it's not just his memory that's been supercharged. His whole brain is engaged and, we're told, he now has a 4 digit IQ. Suddenly Morra is a hard-charging, motivated and charming guy. The book that was an insurmountable challenge before now only requires a few days of diligent writing.

NZT-48 only lasts for a day and Eddie definitely wants more than one dose. When he tries to get his hands on some more, he finds out that just possessing the drug can be dangerous. But Eddie's life is on a fast-track trajectory and the only thing that can keep him going is NZT-48-- so Eddie takes the gamble that his new-found smarts can keep him one step ahead of those who want what he has.

"Limitless" is a fun movie. It has just enough intelligence to keep you interested without falling into the trap of being too complicated. There are a number of mysteries that aren't solved in "Limitless"-- for example, we're never told why Eddie's former brother-in-law has the drug in the first place. I also found myself wondering if someone with a "4 digit IQ" would be able to relate to other people so easily. But then I did what you do after you see a movie you like-- I started filling in the gaps myself. Maybe it isn't just the IQ that is enhanced; maybe the area of the brain that controls the personality would make the user super social-- after all, it says it facilitates use of 100% of the brain... And I really liked that "Limitless" allowed me to do that.

Movies like this are also fun for the audience because it naturally leads into those moments when we get the vicarious thrill of seeing the hero have those flashes of brilliance and outsmart everyone else. We want to see what kind of mental gymnastics are going to be performed. And Cooper, being a good looking guy, gets the women too-- so there's no doubt he's a surrogate for the audience. Who wouldn't want to have the mental and social acuity to live this kind of life? And wouldn't we also take a pill to have that too? Even if it was risky? Maybe we would...

Despite it's brainy storyline, "Limitless" is a very straightforward film that doesn't try to get the viewer into a mystery-box that has you wondering what the heck is going on rather than just enjoying the film. It has a very nice pace with just the right amount of suspense and thankfully clocks in at just under 2 hours and doesn't have you looking at your watch and praying for the end to finally come. The ending is pretty tidy and doesn't have quite the fireworks I expected and that may have kept the movie from moving from good to great. Bradley Cooper was also quite good and proves that he is more than capable of carrying a film on his own. Robert De Niro is... well, De Niro;  not necessary to the film but nice to have around.

All in all, I liked "Limitless." It won't go down as the best movie you've ever seen, but it's not a waste of an afternoon either.

4 out of 5 stars.

"Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" Official Trailer 2

I'm still not convinced to go to the theater to watch this. My attendance will be entirely dependent on good reviews...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Role in "The Dark Knight Rises" Revealed

~From MovieWeb

I'm quoting this directly because this is the first site I've seen that prints this as fact and not rumor.

Sounds interesting. You gotta give Nolan credit for not pulling out the same old, worn down storylines.

The plan was to keep Joseph Gordon-Levitt's role in director Christopher Nolan's upcoming sequel The Dark Knight Rises a secret. The actor was confirmed to be involved with the project on Friday. Now, an insider from Christopher Nolan's camp has stepped forward to reveal more information about this trilogy ending sequel.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt will be playing Alberto Falcone, aka The Holiday Killer. The character figured heavily in the original comic book story The Long Halloween, in which Alberto, refused a place at his father's side in the Gotham Mafia, goes on a Halloween killing spree. He then continues to pop up on various holidays, taking out members of the criminal underworld. He is captured by Bruce Wayne after murdering Sal Maroni.

Tom Wilkinson portrayed Alberto's Mafia chieftain father Carmine Falcone in Batman Begins, which brings this trilogy full-circle. It is not clear at this point how The Holiday Killer will figure into the storyline of The Dark Knight Rises, which also includes villains Catwoman and Bane.

At this time, Christopher Nolan is continuing to fine-tune his script. Production on The Dark Knight Rises is set to begin later this year.

The Dark Knight Rises comes to theaters July 20th, 2012 and stars Christian Bale, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The film is directed by Christopher Nolan.

Friday, March 18, 2011

First Picture of the New Wonder Woman

Looks like they've opted to put the newest incarnation of Wonder Woman (Adrianne Palicki) in a pants. I'm guessing that's more practical for all the ninja action we're going to see in this modern adaptation. She's pretty... but I'm still not sure anyone can measure up to Lynda Carter. What do you think when comparing the two?


Book Review: “Fatal Alliance” by Sean Williams

This is the first in a new series of Star Wars books taking place during an era thousands of years before the movies, a time called The Old Republic. What started out as a videogame, specifically a MMO like World of Warcraft, has become a multimedia effort bringing in books and comics to flesh out the story as well. Being the first book released for a game that hasn’t come out yet, Fatal Alliance is for many their first taste of what to expect. For those with no plans to play the game, the book has to be judged on its own merits. While I have no plans to play the game, I chose to review the book taking into consideration both angles that a reader might be coming from. Many of the reviews I’ve seen for Fatal Alliance have chosen to focus in on the core cast of characters, and the fact that they seem to have been created for the sole purpose of using every character class that’s going to be available in the game. That thought actually rarely ever occurred to me. One reason is because these character types are really what you’d expect in any Star Wars book – a couple of Sith, a few Jedi, a few soldiers, some smugglers, a bounty hunter and a spy. But what really makes it work is the author’s ability to have you care about those characters – and how well they’re integrated into the plot. So, I’m going to focus less on the characters themselves and more on the plot – and how their stories are integrated into it. In this time period, the Sith Empire and the Republic have reached a truce to the long standing war between them. A smuggler named Jet Nebula (yeah, it’s a slightly lame name, but the rest make up for it – and it does sound like the kind of name a game player would pick) winds up getting his hands on a secret item, one which could give a huge advantage for one of these powers over the other. The Hutt that he works for decides to hold an auction – inviting representatives from the Republic and Sith Empire to attend. Of course the Sith send one of their dark lords, Darth Chratis, and his apprentice Eldon Ax – figuring they will just take what they want from the Hutts. The Republic meanwhile sends Envoy Vii to represent them, who is in actuality an undercover spy for the Empire – which would ensure the Empire has the upper hand if not for the fact that the Jedi decide to secretly send their own representative to the talks as well. Padawan Shigar teams up with former Republic soldier Larin. They each have their problems – he can’t seem to get past his stage of training to become a Jedi Knight, she was dishonorably discharged for informing on an officer (who later turned out to be at fault). They both secretly enter the Hutt’s palace hoping to beat the Sith to the prize – but just as each party tries to spring it’s own trap, a Mandalorian bounty hunter named Dao Stryver makes off with it – but not before they all see that what it is that they’ve been planning to bid on. They are self-replicating robots, highly intelligent and very powerful warriors – and not only could they give one side an advantage over the other, but left to their own devices, they might be a threat to the entire universe. Now it’s a race against time to trace the bounty hunter, and through him find out the origin of these robots – and the connection their creator has with one among their number. This is a large Star Wars story, over 400 pages, with plenty for fans of this type of serial space opera to dig into. With all these different groups there are constant scene changes and mini cliffhangers, lots of action to break up the story. I didn’t feel like any character was just shoe-horned into the story, they all would have been a part of it even if it hadn’t been a class in the game. I’m not sure how much game players will actually get out of this book in terms of hints about the game (beyond what they might be able to expect while playing as one of these classes), but as a general reader of Star Wars books I found it a very enjoyable experience. Unlike many Star Wars books, in thinking back over Fatal Alliance I find that I don’t have any criticisms of the story – there were no glaring issues or strange character moments. It has an excellent ending, while still allowing for the possibility of these characters to be used again in future stories. There’s growth along the way for each one of them, so you don’t feel like anyone really stayed exactly the same from beginning to end (a fault that can sometimes appear in other Star Wars books). There are space battles, lightsaber fights, chase scenes and lots of strange planets to visit, not to mention scheming Sith lords – everything you’d want out of a great Star Wars book.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Book Review: "Among Thieves" by Douglas Hulick

Among Thieves: A Tale of the Kin by Douglas Hulick
Roc
432 pages

Anyone who reads this blog may know I finished this book about two months ago and I've been raving about it ever since. I waited to post a review because I didn't want to put this up too soon and have you forget about this title-- because I'm recommending it for sure. But we're closing in on just a couple of weeks until the April 5th release date-- and I want to get the buzz started on this one (as if I have that kind of influence). You'll thank me later.

Drothe is a member of the criminal world of the Kin. Known as a Nose, Drothe is an information gatherer by trade. He works the criminal underworld of Ildrecca and sifts through the information that might be useful to the crime lord he works for. But for all the dangers a Nose might run into while trying to navigate the dangerous world of the Kin, it's Drothe's side business of selling relics that proves to be the most deadly.

Drothe's latest attempt at moving a relic gets unusually complicated as some dangerous people start trying to get their hands on it themselves. And while Drothe is trying to figure out that puzzle, rumors of a war within different factions of the Kin begin to start gaining momentum. Drothe tries to put them off as idle speculation, but it isn't long before he gets sucked into the middle of a turf war. And the relic, which just happens to end up in Drothe's hands, is right at the center of the fight-- and a lot of powerful people want to get their hands on that relic.

"Among Thieves" is a fooler. You'll look at the cover and think it's just an average fantasy debut. You might pass it up because it doesn't have the buzz we've grown accustomed to when authors like Patrick Rothfuss or Joe Abercrombie made their well publicized entry into the genre. And all I can say is-- I'm baffled that "Among Thieves" hasn't had more buzz surrounding it. It's a really good book. So good that I was inspired to write this post outlining what I like in fantasy fiction-- and why "Among Thieves" met every criteria.

But since this is the official review, I'll go over some of those points again.

Fantasy can be tough because creating a new world with all the trappings of fantasy, including magic and the social/political structure is hard to make believable. Too many authors are tempted to fall back on the template set up by authors like J.R.R Tolkien or go so far afield that there isn't much for the reader to grab onto as things get really weird. But Douglas Hulick finds a balance that is just right in the world he creates for "Among Thieves." We've all read stories about assassins and thieves in our favorite fantasy, so it's a bit of a challenge to create something we haven't seen before. So Hulick does the smart thing and doesn't try to start from scratch. He uses the "cant" or thieves' argot drawn from Elizabethan England and Twentieth Century American-underworld slang as a foundation for the language and culture and extemporizes from there-- and it works. The culture and politics are Hulick's own, but the commonality of language lends a sense of credibility that makes the whole structure really solid.

Magic is also tricky in fantasy. I like magic that is there, but not overwhelmingly so. What I liked about how the magic is used in "Among Thieves" is that it's there, but not easy to use or cheap to buy. Drothe is a thief who also has useful magical ability that was handed down to him from his stepfather, but it's a subtle gift with some downsides that make it a hindrance to anyone who isn't up to no good. Kulick does a good job of establishing what the boundaries of the magic are without hard-to-follow info-dumps and I liked how it never interfered with the flow of the larger story.

And when it comes to the most important part of the story (in my opinion), the characters, Hulick does a terrific job. One of my main complaints with popular fiction is the temptation to use stereotypes to build characters and the unfortunate result that the characters never move beyond outlines of familiar personalities. Drothe, as a thief who is cast as the hero, is a well known personality in fantasy fiction. But Hulick does a very good job of establishing Drothe as someone who finds the honor in a largely dishonorable world. I liked that the story existed within the confines of the criminal underworld. The thieving and scheming exists in a place where people know the rules and act accordingly. But most importantly, each character has a distinct set of characteristics and motives.

The story structure was also exceptionally well done. I appreciate that Hulick didn't rush the story. The hunt for the relic that is integral to the plot isn't treated as an aside and the narrative is allowed to grow and develop at a natural pace. Other, smaller things also tickled my fancy when it came to "Among Thieves" as well. For example, Hulick doesn't use a lot of profanity, which is kind of refreshing given the frequency it seems to be used in modern fantasy these days. There is plenty of content that could be referred to as "gritty" -- to use the most overused adjective in reviewing today-- but nothing that doesn't fit perfectly into the story. I'm also not a huge fan of prose-heavy writing, so I liked the straight forward style of Hulick's writing. If I could think of the biggest compliment I would give a writer, it would be to say a book is seamless. And in my opinion-- "Among Thieves" is seamless storytelling.

Don't let the fact that this is a humble paperback release fool you-- this is a book worth mentioning. And I sincerely hope it gets the attention it deserves.

5 out of 5 stars.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Just When You Think Getting Published Couldn't Get Any Harder...

This blog has put me in touch with a LOT of aspiring writers. People with real talent who often work two jobs-- one that pays the bills and that of a full time author. It's been a heck of a learning experience for me and I've learned that being a published author is probably more due to luck than talent-- unfortunately.

But if there's one illusion I've held to, it's the one that says getting an offer from a big publisher is the end game. The point at which you can take solace in the fact that, even if you don't make as much money as you'd hoped to, you will at least see your words in print.

I'm afraid that reading this post by Ian Tregillis, the author of Bitter Seeds,  makes it clear that when it comes to getting a book published there are no guarantees. Talk about frustrating. I encourage you to click on the link and read Ian's post whether you're an aspiring author or not. It'll make you appreciate your favorite authors even more. Though it'll depress the heck out of all you writers...

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Real Life Superhero Project-- I'm Slightly Confused

Recently I saw an article for something called The Real Life Super Hero Project, and a couple of different thoughts ran through my head as I read through the piece.

My first thought was; it was bound to happen sooner or later.

My second thought; really?

The article I read at "The Daily Mail" was the typical fluff piece that is usually posted by a tabloid site. In other words, who knows how much of the information is to be trusted. But as I scroll through the actual site, I'm thinking that I don't feel that enlightened after perusing their pages either.

What exactly is the goal here? Are we looking at people who want to be Kick Ass or are we looking at Good Samaritans who like to dress up in costume?

For example, one "super hero" who goes by the name of Nyx has a semi-readable bio that, I think, tries to say that she does good deeds for the homeless. But I'm not sure. What I do know is that she likes to wear fishnet and show lots of cleavage. Other than that I'm kind of baffled.

Other bios seem to follow in the same mold at Nyx. The literally named Samaritan reads like that of a charitable guy who focuses primarily on Locks of Love-- which is great. But does one need a costume to do that?

Or what about The Vigilante Spider? He claims he doesn't commit vigilante acts and says he works with children. I'm... Uh... What?

Other heroes in this particular group do claim to do more dangerous work. Like Dark Guardian, who claims to confront and drive drug dealers out of Washington Square Park. And an online video appears to substantiate his claims.

I'm kind of on-the-fence on how I feel about this. In the case of the "heroes" who do wonderful, charitable works within their communities and like to wear costumes while doing it-- I say go for it. If it makes you happy and you're not putting yourself or anyone else at risk, what's the harm?

But the wannabe vigilantes? I gotta say, unless you have the financing and training of a real-life Bruce Wayne, I don't think any attempts at real-life superhero work is going to end well. Worse I worry that well-intentioned but untrained people are not only going to hurt themselves, but perhaps others as well.

Given our culture, this was inevitable. Most people are decent-- I do believe this. But we also crave attention and significance. I like these people a heck of a lot more than I like the idiots who look for fame through reality shows that feature their drunken behavior. But being well-intentioned doesn't always equal being smart.

And judging by the comments at the site, the attention these people are getting is definitely inspiring other would-be heroes to join the club. So what does that mean? More costumes or more potentially hare-brained behavior? I suspect a little of both. I'm mildly interested to see where this goes-- and slightly apprehensive as well.

Okay. Mostly apprehensive. Something tells me this isn't going to end up a lot like the Justice League.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Graphic Novel Review: Superman - War of the Supermen

When I first heard about a Superman miniseries called War of the Supermen, well that title alone caught my attention. As I delved deeper into it, I started to discover that this was in reality the finale to a long-term Superman story that had been running in the comics devoted to that character for a number of years – a way of wrapping up those loose ends before J. Michael Straczynski took over the reins of the book (which turned out to be short-lived, but that’s neither here nor there). But long-term wasn’t really what I was looking for – I didn’t want to go back and read years-worth of Superman collections to be able to read this War of Supermen. So, I decided to give it a try on its own, to see what I thought of it as is. And amazingly, it actually stands pretty well all by itself. Oh sure, it feels like the final act in a much longer story, and I’m sure that if I had been an invested reader in the book I’d have gotten even more out of it. But, it was entertaining for this fan of the character – and it’s not such a bad story for fans of the films to read a little Superman action either. This is all a part of a story called New Krypton, in which Superman and Supergirl discover the shrunken Kryptonian city of Kandor (filled with Kryptonians) and they proceed to free them and make them a part of Earth society. Only the Kryptonians are met with hatred from much of the Human race, and led by Zod they found their own new homeworld in our Solar System – but neither race intends to leave the other alone. Superman has tried to work from the inside with the Kryptonians to get them to stop their plans for war against humanity, but as this story opens, it is an inevitable clash. Meanwhile, Supergirl must decide where her loyalties lay – with her mother, a woman who has no issue torturing humans to achieve security for Kryptonians, or with the people of her adopted planet. Superman knows that Zod must be defeated, but even he is unprepared for how far the people of Earth are willing to go to stop the Kryptonians – between the use of weapons of mass destruction and casualties in the millions – this is a book that doesn’t hold back. I like how this book brings in some of the mythology of the Superman movies (in the form of Zod, Ursa and Non) as well as trying to expand the Superman cast to include some of the aspects that were used in ages past (like Flamebird and Nightwing) – but updating those concepts along the way as well. It seems that along the way Clark and Lois got to raise a Kryptonian boy (Zod’s son I believe) – the child they could never have for themselves, though his fate along with many others are left in question at the very end of this story. I’ve read mixed reviews of this story, and perhaps it’s because of how little is really resolved at the end of the story – yes the war is over, but it’s not because some peace has been agreed upon, more that those who were perpetuating the war have been isolated. But there’s nothing preventing these circumstances from arising again. As a way to highlight battles between Supermen though, this succeeded on multiple levels. Clark doesn’t have to hold back – these enemies can take all he can give (and will give back in return). There are some genuine shocks to be found within these pages, but perhaps most shocking of all is how easily a person who hasn’t read the entire New Krypton saga could easily read this and understand what’s going on. Everything you need to know is within these pages, including a summary of what’s gone before. With all the Superman books I’ve been reading recently, you’d think I’m a much bigger fan of the character than I am (I’d say I’m only a mild fan), but I’ve certainly been enjoying most of what I’ve read and that’s got to count for something. I felt like War of the Supermen would make a great superhero action flick, the kind of thing you wish you’d see in a Superman movie. I only hope Christopher Nolan is paying attention.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Book Review: "Blackout" by Rob Thurman

There really hasn't been a paranormal series that I have enjoyed as much Rob Thurman's Cal Leandros series. I can be a harsh critic of urban fantasy because the genre has already defined itself with a series of clich├ęs including snarky protagonists and monsters that induce romantic fantasies rather than nightmares. But Thurman's series about half-Auphe Cal and his human brother Niko worked for me because Cal had good reason to snark and the inventiveness of the series brought a freshness to a genre that seemed to quickly be collapsing under the weight of a glut of copycats trying to capitalize on the new hot thing. But, and I really hate to say this, after six books the series seems to be losing some steam as it succumbs to clunky writing and a seeming lack of ideas.

When Cal Landros wakes up on the beach in beginning of the aptly named Blackout he doesn't know he's a monster, but he does quickly realize that he is a monster-killer when he sees the bodies of several giant spiders lying in the sand and the knowledge that he's the reason for the carnage. And Cal's okay with that even though he can't remember anything else about who he is or where he comes from.

Fortunately Cal wakes up in the fairly idyllic town of Nevah's Landing where amnesiacs are taken in like strays in given work at the local restaurant without too many questions. But before Cal can settle in, his brother Niko shows up and Cal begins to realize he didn't know that much about monsters after all.

"Blackout" is a book that spends a lot of time inside the head of the amnesiac version of Cal Leandros and I haven't decided if that's a good place to be. I've always liked Cal but I'm not sure how much interaction I want with the innermost thoughts of a twenty-something guy and his thoughts about this size of his family jewels-- and Rob Thurman isn't so polite when it comes to how she refers to said jewels; which is kind of jarring when that happens more than once.

All kidding aside, "Blackout" is a big departure from what I've come to expect from this series  and different isn't always a good thing. Cal is a dark character. He has a rough history that shapes his character and it is interesting to see what kind of guy he would be without carrying all that baggage. But it becomes apparent after the first one-hundred pages or so that a reader can only handle so much introspection before you get a little bored. When I pick up a book by Rob Thurman I expect rapid-fire dialog, action and a wide variety of myth-based bad guys and "Blackout" kind of falls short on every level.

But if I had to point to one thing that I have to critique, it's the clumsiness of the writing. I did notice that the last book of the series, "Roadkill," didn't always have a flow that was easy for me to follow, but I didn't want to mention that in my last review because I was reading a review copy and I was sure that sort of thing would be ironed out before the final copy hit the shelves. Now I wonder. As I read "Blackout" I had a few moments where I would have to stop and fight my way through a paragraph to make sure I understood what we being said. At first I put this down to the stream-of-consciousness thing that goes on when you're reading a narrative based on someone's thoughts. But, as time went on, it became more distracting and that's when I started marking the pages so I could go back and quote passages like the one that follows-- with particular emphasis on the italicized portion.

      I was still tasting blood from the Wolf's kiss when we made it home. The tang didn't mix that badly with the wasabi mayonnaise, but it was still blood and we found more of the same waiting for us. The window hadn't been fixed yet...It was so high that getting anyone out there was going to be a pain in the ass. I saw learning glass replacement and where to find tall-ass ladders in NYC in my future.
     The blood would've been carried through that break in the glass...and rested in the eight hearts that had once contained them. I'd smelled it a block away--as little as it was, which was why Nik unlocked the door and then went through ahead of me with a sword drawn and an elbow in my gut to keep me back.

That's how the passage is written- exactly. I can't make heads or tails of it. When the writer speaks of the eight hearts that once contained "them" are we taking about blood being a "them?" I'm so confused. I read and re-read this over and over...and still don't get it. Is it me? If it seems as if I'm being nit-picky, let me just say that this wasn't the only sentence of dubious structure to show up. It was just the one that I chose to mention.

And that for me sums up my frustration with "Blackout." It just didn't feel like the earlier books. I like that Thurman chose to explore Cal's character, but a lot of what made the series great just isn't present here. I loved that little creatures like the bodach would find their way into the story in past books and scare the bejesus out of me. There is the requisite villain, but the character doesn't have much oomph. She's described very prettily, but has little depth. The loyalty between Cal and Niko is also still there, but I missed the shared knowledge between the two that forms the glue of so much of their story. In the end this books feels a little rushed between the choppiness of the writing and the predictability of the ending.

When you look at my review and compare it to what you seen on Amazon (mostly 5 star reviews so far) it's going to seem that I'm being unduly hard on "Blackout," but I don't think I am. From my view that simply means that readers have lower expectations when it comes to paranormal fiction and review accordingly. And maybe that's fair most of the time. But I personally think Thurman is a better author than this. She's proven that paranormal fiction doesn't have to be sweaty werewolves or preening vampires and for that reason I have set an uncommonly high standard for her. I'm sad that "Blackout" didn't work for me. I will give this series a chance to pick up the slack, but I fear that Thurman is trying to write too many books too quickly nowadays (three series'?) and the overall quality of the work is suffering. I'd still give the book 3 out of 5 stars for being better than most paranormal fiction, but still... I was hoping for more.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Giveaway! "Hellhole" by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

Courtesy of Tor Books I have a copy of Hellhole by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson to offer for giveaway!

Only the most desperate colonists dare to make a new home on Hellhole. Reeling from a recent asteroid impact, tortured with horrific storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, and churning volcanic eruptions, the planet is a dumping ground for undesirables, misfits, and charlatans…but also a haven for dreamers and independent pioneers.

Against all odds, an exiled general named Adolphus has turned Hellhole into a place of real opportunity for the desperate colonists who call the planet their home. While the colonists are hard at work developing the planet, General Adolphus secretly builds alliances with the leaders of the other Deep Zone worlds, forming a clandestine coalition against the tyrannical, fossilized government responsible for their exile.

What no one knows is this: the planet Hellhole, though damaged and volatile, hides an amazing secret. Deep beneath its surface lies the remnants of an obliterated alien civilization and the buried memories of its unrecorded past that, when unearthed, could tear the galaxy apart.


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 March 30th. No multiple entries please-- all multiple entries will be discarded. Open everywhere.

Good luck!

Monday, March 07, 2011

Warner Bros. Begins to Offer Movies Directly on Facebook

I get a lot of press releases through my email, though I rarely elect to post about them here. But this one caught my attention. Netflix streaming has really changed the way people watch movies. With a huge library to choose from, and the comfort of your own home, fewer people are electing to pay full price for the "movie theater experience" and are instead opting to invest in home theaters. And who can blame them when your movie selection seems to be little more than an endless parade of sequels? I've been wondering how the movie industry was going to adapt and it seems like Warner Bros. is attempting to find a way to deal with the challenges brought on by changing technology and trends.

BURBANK, CALIF., March 8, 2011 – Warner Bros. Digital Distribution (WBDD), a market leader in video-on-demand and electronic sell-through, today announced it will begin testing an offering of selected movies for purchase or rental through Warner Bros. Entertainment’s Facebook movie Pages. Consumers will be able to use Facebook Credits to easily buy or rent a title, all while staying connected to Facebook.

Starting today, millions of fans who “Liked” Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster film “The Dark Knight” can rent the title through its official Facebook Page (http://www.facebook.com/darkknight). Consumers simply click on the “rent” icon to apply their Facebook Credits, and within seconds they will begin enjoying the film. The cost per rental is 30 Facebook Credits or $3. This offering is presently available only to consumers in the United States. Additional titles will be made available for rental and purchase on a regular basis over the coming months.

“Facebook has become a daily destination for hundreds of millions of people,” said Thomas Gewecke, President of Warner Bros. Digital Distribution. “Making our films available through Facebook is a natural extension of our digital distribution efforts. It gives consumers a simple, convenient way to access and enjoy our films through the world’s largest social network.”

Fans will have full control over the film while watching it through their Facebook account for up to 48 hours from purchase. They can choose to watch it in full screen, pause the movie, and resume playing it when they log back into Facebook. Consumers will also have full Facebook functionality including the ability to post comments on the movie, interact with friends and update their status.


Interesting...

I haven't checked out how well "The Dark Knight" plays, and I probably won't since I already own the movie. But I will be very interested to see what titles they offer in the future. Will it work? That probably depends on the release date of the movies they're offering (who wants to pay for something they've already seen ten times?) But it's a start...

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Winners!

Wrapping up the contest that have just ended...


The winner of a copy of "Among Others" by Jo Walton is:

Shaun Duke: Gainesville, Fl


And the winner of a copies of "Devil's Kiss" and "Dark Goddess" by Sarwat Chadda is:

Doug Kosik: Murphysboro, IL


Congrats to the winners!

Newest "Game of Thrones" Trailer



(Thanks to Pat for the heads up)

Friday, March 04, 2011

Graphic Novel Review: Cinderella – From Fabletown with Love

Take the subversive Fables story where the fairytales you grew up with live among us here in the real world and often have very different lives outside those stories you grew up with and mix in a different genre, in this case the spy/James Bond type story, and you’ve got a sense of what to expect with Cinderella’s latest book. And this is exactly the kind of book this fan, who has somewhat fallen off the Fables wagon, was looking for. Cinderella isn’t exactly what she seems to be, in fact she’s almost playing the role of a normal comic book superhero. She poses as the owner of a shoe shop in Fabletown (a hidden block in New York City where the Fables live right under our noses), a high brow divorcee socialite who barely has time to stop into her store to see how things are going for her shopkeeper before moving on to her next high fashion event. But in reality, she goes to all of these events wearing that persona as a disguise – in reality she’s a highly trained spy, doing work for the Fabletown government across the world, helping to preserve their secret from anyone who might seek to harm them. Like any good Bond adventure, the book starts with Cinderella finishing up her prior mission, and then trying to unwind afterwards, only to find herself on a new important quest – with the end of the Fables war with their Adversary in their Homelands, magical artifacts from their world have started to crossover into the real world. These are often very dangerous objects, like Genie lamps, and would not only expose their secret but could do incalculable damage to the world itself. So Cinderella finds herself at the source of the inflow – Dubai, on a whorl-wind adventure that will see her entering an abandoned oil rig “Solid Snake” style (for those who know the Metal Gear videogame series) and finally at a forgotten land where these magical items are originating from – and an unexpected mastermind behind the entire scheme. She’ll also team up with Aladin (who works as a spy for the Arabian Fable community and is tracking down the same source), call upon some talking animal friends, and generally figure out a way to save the day before Fashion Week. Everything that I feel used to be great about the Fables series was present in this mini. You get the side-stories, like Cinderella’s storekeeper who finds himself in hot water when he decides to create his own magical shoes (against her wishes) only to discover the Fables can’t take them off – causing quite the ruckus and becoming a running gag over the course of the entire book. Because the Fables are immortal, we also get to see flashbacks to prior missions that Cindy has gone on, as she relates them to the events happening to her right then in the story. It also has all the things that make this an adult fairy tale, from the themes to the language and violence – so don’t go in expecting this to be for kids. But if you’re looking for a high-octane spy adventure with a dash of magic, you’ve definitely come to the right place.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

"Limitless" Trailer

This is the first movie that has really interested me since "Inception."

SYNOPSIS
Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro star in Limitless, a paranoia-fueled action thriller about an unsuccessful writer whose life is transformed by a top-secret “smart drug” that allows him to use 100% of his brain and become a perfect version of himself. His enhanced abilities soon attract shadowy forces that threaten his new life in this darkly comic and provocative film.

Aspiring author Eddie Morra (Cooper) is suffering from chronic writer’s block, but his life changes instantly when an old friend introduces him to NZT, a revolutionary new pharmaceutical that allows him to tap his full potential. With every synapse crackling, Eddie can recall everything he has ever read, seen or heard, learn any language in a day, comprehend complex equations and beguile anyone he meets—as long as he keeps taking the untested drug.

Soon Eddie takes Wall Street by storm, parlaying a small stake into millions. His accomplishments catch the eye of mega-mogul Carl Van Loon (De Niro), who invites him to help broker the largest merger in corporate history. But they also bring Eddie to the attention of people willing to do anything to get their hands on his stash of NZT. With his life in jeopardy and the drug’s brutal side effects taking their toll, Eddie dodges mysterious stalkers, a vicious gangster and an intense police investigation as he attempts to hang on to his dwindling supply long enough to outwit his enemies.