Wednesday, June 29, 2011

New "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" Trailer

Written and Produced by J.J. Abrams (Star Trek, Mission Impossible III) and Directed by Brad Bird (many Pixar movies), Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol comes out December 16th.
I loved the first film, thought the second was fairly dreadful, and enjoyed the third outing. This preview makes it look like they may have succeeded in incorporating the best of them all.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Graphic Novel Review: Green Lantern: Rebirth

When the Man Without Fear becomes the darkest villain his allies have faced- and been defeated by- in centuries, what does it take to redeem him and save them all?

For somebody who never owned more than three issues of Green Lantern before 2011, I'm about as big a fan as you're likely to find. This winter, I spent a lot of time reading comics at the Borders Cafe, and what kind of comic nerd would I be if I spent all my time reading Dark Horse? One of the first DC novels I had to get my hands on was Green Lantern: Rebirth.

The only issue of Green Lantern I own featuring Hal Jordan is from 1983. At least, I thought it was. I also thought that was the issue in which Hal Jordan destroys the Green Lantern Corps. So either that happened twice, the comic had a startling moment of prescience, I had an incredibly realistic dream, or a very strange mismemory. I can’t find that comic, though, so I can’t check.

Anyway.

Green Lantern: Rebirth by Geoff Johns is the story of Hal Jordan’s return to the Green Lantern Corps, and as such the return of the relevance of Green Lantern. Not to be cynical, it’s just that the GLC being relevant to DC without Hal would be like a friend of Peter Parker’s putting on the Spiderman suit and maintaining his pre-eminence. Never mind that I hear that’s what they’re doing with Captain America? According to Gutters. Anyway, I would hope that with a title like Rebirth, what I just said wasn’t a spoiler.

Rebirth is, on top of all that, one of the greatest examples of retcons that fans like. Without having read the past decade of Green Lantern, from my understanding none of the revelations in Rebirth existed before this volume was written. Everything in it comes completely out of left field- however, when fans demand it, is it really out of left field?*

I’m aiming for a brief review, but sometimes, you’ve just gotta talk. If you know the deal with Parallax, you can skip most of this. Anyway, in 1993, during the events leading to the return of Superman, Coast City, the hometown of Green Lantern Hal Jordan, was destroyed. The story, as the grapevine describes it, is that he lost it, went crazy, effectively destroyed the GLC, the Guardians, and the central power battery himself. He snapped his long-time foe Sinestro’s neck in a fit of rage, and became the villain Parallax. As Parallax, Jordan went on a reign of terror before finally sacrificing his life to save the sun.

But Hal Jordan isn’t dead- he lives on in the ghastly Specter, who took him on in the hopes of destroying… Parallax. Parallax is revealed to be an independent sentient, and one of incredible power. Sort of like if Return of the Jedi ended with a battle between Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader. Yet, with how Rebirth explains it all, Hal Jordan’s fall and redemption comes across as more realistic than the falls of Anakin Skywalker and Arthas Menethil’s best points put together.

This is one of the best written comics I’ve ever seen. While characters can be disagreeable, there are no moments that I would consider poorly characterized- the biggest “what the hell?” moments that I encountered were the sudden appearances of characters such as Kilowog where they hadn’t been before. It’s sort of sequential, but sometimes the use of first-person narration in Kyle Raynar’s scenes caused me to question whether certain things were flashbacks or not. It’s possible to read this scene and not be confused- that’s not the way it happened for me, though.

Ethan Vans Sciver’s art (not to mention the work of the rest of the art team) is phenomenal. I’ve seen well done comics, although the truly impressive ones are relatively limited. Many are either cheesy or simply sufficient; only Star Wars: Legacy really stands out in my mind as a comic that I’ve read in the past few years and the art really impressed me, as sequential art goes. Rebirth surpassed that. I think the defining moment of the art in this comic is where Kilowog appears, steaming with rage and under the influence of fear.

I’ve always loved ‘Wog’s appearances, mostly as an example of ridiculous character design combined with a serious character in serious situations. He just combines cheesyness and awesomeness in every panel he’s in. Not here. There is nothing cheesy about this Kilowog. At least, if you don’t automatically see the humanoid equivalent of an angry pink hippo or rhino as amusing. The detail on this guy leaves me awestruck. For the first time, I could envision Kilowog as a live action character.

Oh, and let me not forget Parallax. I’ll let the character design speak for itself here.

What to say about the story itself? Well, it’s about as poignant and emotional as a story that declares itself a retcon over and over again can be. And apparently, that’s pretty damn emotional.

Coming into this as I did, after reading Blackest Night, there’s a ton of foreshadowing here. (That’s not to mention the unintentional parody of naming individual issues “Blackest Night” and “Brightest Day”, just going to show how overused those terms are in Jordan’s saga, and with good reason.) Black Hand’s appearance, for instance… I imagine maybe people saw it as nothing more than a cameo, and presumed that the character would vanish from continuity for a few years. Yeah.

But as for this story… well, we have Batman, Green Arrow, Kyle Rayner, Guy Gardner, John Stewart, Hal Jordan and Sinestro. In classic dramatized comic style, every character’s strengths are up-played and there are a ton of hardcore finishing moves (and lots of cameos). Sinestro is brought into play as badass as he possibly can be, in league with the embodiment of fear itself, facing off against the old and new Green Lanterns.

Green Lantern: Rebirth is a must for any fan of Green Lantern or comics in general. It might be a little confusing for anybody not familiar with the backstory, but a token effort is made to explain Hal’s fall and return, which I think was handled fairly well for its position as a minor detail to the story. If you’re the type of reader who enjoys seeing iconic characters return to their glory (not just Jordan!) or seeing things like a Guardian of the Universe laying a smackdown or even younger heroes officially accepted by the great legends of their time, this is a story you might want to check out.

*If it’s not, it’s certainly written as it is. I did include all necessary disclaimers.

The Man in Black is a weekly review at Fantasy & Sci-Fi Lovin' News & Reviews. For more of his reviews, you can visit his home page at www.MiBreviews.com

Saturday, June 25, 2011

On Hiatus

I'll be taking a break from blogging for the next week. Jim Haley and The Man in Black will still be here doing their regular Monday & Friday posts-- so you probably won't even notice I'm gone. Have a nice week everyone.

Friday, June 24, 2011

New "Captain America" Trailer

Getting excited!

Star Wars ebooks are coming - where should I start?

About a month ago, the official Star Wars website confirmed a story that the New Jedi Order Encyclopedia broke about all/most of the Star Wars books being released in ebook format on June 28th. For those who might not have ever given a try to the Star Wars books, or who did but were unhappy for some reason or another with the book they read, I'm going to take a little time to talk about some of the best choices for new readers to check out among the many many offerings coming as an ebook next week. The Star Wars Expanded Universe (books, comics, videogames, etc) is unique in that (at least so far) it all matters, it's all interconnected - the story that happens in one book, the events and character changes, are not ignored in books that take place after that point in the timeline. That's not to say that there aren't good entry points, but it does mean that people should be selective - there are really bad places to start your reading, which could really put off someone trying it out for the first time. With that in mind, these are not necessarily my all time favorite Star Wars books ever (though many of them are) but they are all good entry points, and should appeal to different types of readers No list of Star Wars books should begin with anything but Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn. It is really the first book of the modern Star Wars literature era, the first book to explore the story after Return of the Jedi, and because of that it carries the least amount of baggage (you need only have seen the original Star Wars films in order to read this book). If you are interested in the further adventures of Luke, Leia and Han, this is the book for you. Timothy Zahn introduces two of the greatest new characters in this book as well - the brilliant military tactician Grand Admiral Thrawn, the blue skinned alien who just might defeat the Rebels turned Republic. Meanwhile, Mara Jade, former assassin of the Emperor, may just get one last chance to fulfill her Master's last command - to kill Luke Skywalker. The entire Thrawn Trilogy is great (with the last book actually being my all time favorite Star Wars novel) and this should be the place for most everyone to start.
That said, Heir to the Empire isn't for everybody. Perhaps Luke & Co. aren't your thing - you're more of a prequel person. After reading The Clone Wars: Wild Space by Karen Miller, my first thought was, this is THE perfect book for a new reader. Similar to Heir to the Empire, Wild Space requires very little knowledge past the prequel movies (and The Clone Wars animated movie - and even that you could probably forego). Wild Space picks up immediate in the aftermath of the Battle of Geonosis (the finale of Attack of the Clones) before moving on to just after The Clone Wars movie. It slowly eases the reader into the time-frame of the early Clone Wars, and ultimately becomes a buddy story featuring Obi-Wan and Bail Organa (Leia's future adoptive father) on a mission to a lost Sith world.
Should you find The Clone Wars era appealing, I'd also recommend No Prisoners by Karen Traviss (which features the characters from that TV show) but an even better selection from her would be Republic Commando: Hard Contact. Let's say you want to read stories about OTHER characters in the Star Wars universe, not the ones you see in the movies. Hard Contact is a military scifi story featuring a group of clone troopers that Traviss' created for this series. It fuctions completely on it's own as a story about those clones and their Jedi General on a mission behind Seperatist lines - though if you enjoy the book, there are more in the series that you can continue with. These will especially appeal to those who enjoy the more military scifi books.
Speaking of that, there are also two excellent entry points in the classic movie era in two X-Wing novels, Rogue Squadron and Wraith Squadron. These books feature some minor movie characters (like Wedge Antilles) along with lots of new characters, going on space combat missions and fighting to mop up the lingering forces of the Empire shortly after Return of the Jedi. Rogue Squadron by Mike Stackpole is probably the better known book (because of the name) and while a good book, it's not his best (that would be I, Jedi), meanwhile Wraith Squadron by Aaron Allston is an excellent book that doesn't require you to have read any of the prior books in the series (despite being called book 5) with large doses of the humor you'd find in the movies and great characters as well as moving plots. This is a book I highly recommend, and one of the few Star Wars books I've actually reread (and will again).
But perhaps you're a little leary of any books taking place right around the movie eras, but you enjoy the setting of Star Wars in general. There are books that can fill in the blanks for you about story elements just hinted at in the movies, like Darth Bane: Path of Destruction by Drew Karpyshyn. This is the Sith Master who plotted against his own kind in order to put in place the Rule of Two (only one Master and one Apprentice), a directive that would last for a thousand years and culminate in Darth Sidious (the Emperor) and Darth Vader. Darth Bane is the kind of villain you enjoy reading about, never quite sure if you ought to be rooting for him, but doing it just the same. A completely stand-alone book, that should you enjoy it has two sequels as well (continuing his story and that of his apprentice).
Going back further in time to the era of the upcoming videogame The Old Republic, when both the Jedi and the Sith were numerous, both Fatal Alliance by Sean Williams and Deceived by Paul Kemp are great entry points for new readers as well. I also thought very highly of Knight Errant by John Jackson Miller, a story about a Jedi way behind enemy lines, lost in Sith space during what is essentially the Dark Ages of Star Wars (between The Old Republic and Darth Bane).
For the Horror fans, there are two good choices in Death Troopers and Red Harvest by Joe Schreiber. The former takes place just before A New Hope (think of it as The Stand meets Star Wars) and the latter taking place during The Old Republic era. Despite the horror theme, these books are lighter fare, more along the lines of the pulpy inspiration for Star Wars in the first place, similar to Sean Williams' The Force Unleashed as well (you need not play videogames in order to enjoy any of the Star Wars tie-in books). There are also some short story collections if you're looking for just a taste of Star Wars, I was particularly fond of Tales of the Bounty Hunters (despite the IG-88 story), Tales from the Empire and Tales from the New Republic.
There are some "deeper" Star Wars books (like Traitor by Matthew Stover), and some epic series - but those are really books for fans who've really delved more deeply into the Expanded Universe. The above would provide a nice starting point for any new reader, just remember the pulp roots of Star Wars - these books are meant to entertain, not change your life. And most of all, enjoy!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Random Thoughts

  • Mundane things stick out to me when I read certain books. Like, how is it that people are so well rested when the world is falling apart? I can't tell you how many times I've read books where the hero is attacked by demons/zombies/etc., and half their group is wiped out-- and what do they do? They fall into an exhausted sleep at the end of the day. Really!? I'm pretty sure the last thing I'd be able to in those circumstances is sleep. And how many times do people fall asleep in the arms of a friend/lover after a traumatic experience? Does that really happen? I don't know about you, but I can't sleep if my husband even thinks about touching me with his foot-- I am not a cuddly sleeper. 
  • Dystopian fiction seems to be the new black. I currently have several books based on a not-so-distant future after our current economic collapse goes demonic and/or zombie infested. Fun stuff. It's not surprising that entertainment would be inspired our current economic climate to get ideas-- I'd think it's strange if it didn't. But it's really odd to see reality shows featuring super-wealthy housewives in contrast with shows like "Falling Skies" and "The Walking Dead." I don't know about you-- but I don't care about a bunch of spoiled housewives. I'll take the zombies. 
  • Religion also seems to be on everyone's mind these days. Angels and demons everywhere! I need to read more of these books to get a handle on where people are going with this topic, but one thing I'm really interested in is how people would react if they definitively knew what their options were after death. So much of our lives are spent wondering what might happen -- but what would we do if we didn't have to wonder?  What kind of bargaining do you supposed people would do if they knew God was real? I feel some inspiration coming on and some writing in my future...
  • I just read a very charming book set in a small town full of quirky characters. Why don't I ever live in cute little towns like that? I never get the neighbor who feels my head bumps to determine my personality. Though I do frequently get the nosy neighbor-- so there is that. The closest thing I have ever gotten to this in my real life is when my mother-in-law spent a year as a Wiccan. I do have an online friend who is in the roller derby-- and that is way cool. But I fear my immediate neighbors will never be this adventurous. I'd do the roller derby myself if I could, but I'm too breakable these days. Is there a formula for coming up with a roller derby name?-- Because I'd like to at least have the name. (I have the best porn name ever-- Bambi Royall)
  • I never thought a kids' show would have me plotting revenge against my kids. But after waking up to Full House every morning for months, I need a way to get even for suffering through such ghastly preciousness. This show has not aged well and if I have to sit thorough one more "special" episode I am going to lose it. I've tried showing pictures of the grown-up Olson twins in their bag-lady outfits in an attempt to convince my kids they're no longer cute, but it's not working. 
  • In the theater of the absurd I think I like intelligent cartoons animals best. I would really love to have a cat that could laugh like Sebastian from "Josie and the Pussycats" or a dog that says "rut roh" like Scooby Doo. I would like to have a conversation with Foghorn Leghorn, be outsmarted by Bugs Bunny and even have Daffy Duck spit on me. I want to spar with a kung fu panda and have a St. Bernard bring me brandy in a barrel. I do not, however, want a rat to cook my dinner. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"Puss in Boots" Trailer

I'm burned out on Shrek-- but as a cat lover (and someone who has not yet grown up) I can't help but be drawn to this.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Books Received

Sins of the Angels by Linda Poitevin

A detective with a secret lineage. An undercover Hunter with a bullet-proof soul. And a world made to pay for the sins of an angel...

Homicide detective Alexandra Jarvis answers to no one. Especially not to the new partner assigned to her in the middle of a gruesome serial killer case-a partner who is obstructive, irritatingly magnetic, and arrogant as hell. Aramael is a Power--a hunter of the Fallen Angels. A millennium ago, he sentenced his own brother to eternal exile for crimes against humanity. Now his brother is back and wreaking murderous havoc in the mortal realm. To find him, Aramael must play second to a human police officer who wants nothing to do with him and whose very bloodline threatens both his mission and his soul.

Now, faced with a fallen angel hell-bent on triggering the apocalypse, Alex and Aramael have no choice but to join forces, because only together can they stop the end of days.



Undead and Undermined by MaryJanice Davidson

All-new in the New York Times bestselling drop-dead funny series.
Vampire Queen Betsy Taylor thought she couldn't die. So what's she doing in the morgue? It could have something to do with a time- traveling trip she made, and a foe with a wicked agenda that could finally be the real death of Betsy-if she's not careful.





Song of the Dragon by Tracy Hickman

Once humans had magic and an alliance with dragons. Now they and the other races have been enslaved by the Rhonas Empire-the elves-and can't even remember the world the way it used to be. But thanks to the intervention of one determined dwarf and the human slave warrior known as Drakis, all of that is about to change.




Deadline by Mira Grant

Shaun Mason is a man without a mission. Not even running the news organization he built with his sister has the same urgency as it used to. Playing with dead things just doesn't seem as fun when you've lost as much as he has.
But when a CDC researcher fakes her own death and appears on his doorstep with a ravenous pack of zombies in tow, Shaun has a newfound interest in life. Because she brings news-he may have put down the monster who attacked them, but the conspiracy is far from dead.
Now, Shaun hits the road to find what truth can be found at the end of a shotgun.



City of Ice by Laurence Yep

Two-time Newbery Honor Award-winning author Laurence Yep returns with the action-packed sequel to the critically-acclaimed City of Fire.
From the islands of Hawaii, Scirye and her loyal companions pursue the villainous Mr. Roland and evil dragon Badik all the way to the city of Nova Hafnia in the Arctic Circle. With the help of a trader, Prince Tarkhun, and his daughter Roxanna, the companions chase their enemies into the vast and desolate Wastes. Scirye and her friends are determined to stop Mr. Roland from getting his hands on the second of the Five Lost Treasures of Emperor Yü, which will give him the power to alter the very fabric of the universe. But few who enter the Wastes ever return, and Scirye has no choice but to call on the spirit of the North for help. As wild and unpredictable as the Arctic itself, will the spirit turn out to be friend or foe?



Flashback by Dan Simmons

The United States is near total collapse. But 87% of the population doesn't care: they're addicted to flashback, a drug that allows its users to re-experience the best moments of their lives. After ex-detective Nick Bottom's wife died in a car accident, he went under the flash to be with her; he's lost his job, his teenage son, and his livelihood as a result.
Nick may be a lost soul but he's still a good cop, so he is hired to investigate the murder of a top governmental advisor's son. This flashback-addict becomes the one man who may be able to change the course of an entire nation turning away from the future to live in the past.
A provocative novel set in a future that seems scarily possible, FLASHBACK proves why Dan Simmons is one of our most exciting and versatile writers.



My Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland

Teenage delinquent Angel Crawford lives with her redneck father in the swamps of southern Louisiana. She's a high school dropout, addicted to drugs and alcohol, and has a police record a mile long. But when she's made into a zombie after a car crash, her addictions disappear, except for her all-consuming need to stay "alive"...




Naamah's Blessing by Jacqueline Carey

Returning to Terre d'Ange, Moirin finds the royal family broken. Wracked by unrelenting grief at the loss of his wife, Queen Jehanne, King Daniel is unable to rule. Prince Thierry, leading an expedition to explore the deadly jungles of Terra Nova, is halfway across the world. And three year old Desirée is a vision of her mother: tempestuous, intelligent, and fiery, but desperately lonely, and a vulnerable pawn in a game of shifting political allegiances.

As tensions mount, King Daniel asks that Moirin become Desirée's oath-sworn protector. Navigating the intricate political landscape of the Court proves a difficult challenge, and when dire news arrives from overseas, the spirit of Queen Jehanne visits Moirin in a dream and bids her undertake an impossible quest.

Another specter from the past also haunts Moirin. Travelling with Thierry in the New World is Raphael de Mereliot, her manipulative former lover. Years ago, Raphael forced her to help him summon fallen angels in the hopes of acquiring mystical gifts and knowledge. It was a disastrous effort that nearly killed them, and Moirin must finally bear the costs of those bitter mistakes.


The Plain Man

Magick and reality collide in a new, fast-paced Max August thriller.

Max August is not invulnerable, but he never ages—a gift he earned while studying under the legendary alchemist Cornelius Agrippa. August, now an alchemist himself, is using his magickal abilities to fight the right-wing conspiracy known as the FRC, which seeks to control all aspects of society. At the top of the FRC is a nine-member cabal, each member of which is a powerful force in one area of society, such as media, politics, finance…and wizardry.
When Max learns that two members of the cabal are en route to Wickr, a Burning Man–like festival held in the American Southwest, he stages a plan to gather information from them and, he hopes turn one member against the others. Max has been careful not to leave a trail, but the cabal sees all, and an “accident” at a nuclear waste facility just 100 miles from the festival would send a clear message to those who oppose the FRC. Max may be timeless, but he is running out of time to stop the FRC and save millions of lives.


Citadels of the Lost by Tracy Hickman

The Rhonas Empire of elves is built upon a thirst for conquest, disdain for other races, and an appetite for hedonistic self-gratification. They have complete control of the Aether — the mystical substance that fuels their magic. One use of this Aether is to compel total obedience of the slaves drawn from the races they have defeated.
But there are legends that tell of a time when humans and other slave races were free and dragons flew the skies. And they speak of a hero who will return to lead an uprising against their masters: a human named Drakis.
When Aer magic, the magic of nature itself, is wielded by Jugar, a captive dwarf, it signals the start of a rebellion straight from legend. In the ensuing chaos, the former warrior-slave Drakis Sha-Timuran, with a small group of slaves, flees for his life and freedom — lured by a melody that conjures visions of dark wings, scales, and fire. Following the melody he alone can hear, Drakis stumbles on the truth behind the legends: the dragons are real!
Can they survive the dangers of this treacherous realm and bring the truth behind the legends to the army of rebellion?



The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman

Raised from early childhood in the Redeemer Sanctuary, the stronghold of a secretive sect of warrior monks, Thomas Cale has known only deprivation, punishment, and grueling training. When he escsapes to the outside world, Cale learns that his embittered heart is still capable of loving- and breaking.
But the Redeemers won't accept the defection of their prized pupil without a fight...




Rule 34 by Charles Stross

"The most spectacular science fiction writer of recent years" (Vernor Vinge, author of Rainbows End) presents a near-future thriller.

Detective Inspector Liz Kavanaugh is head of the Rule 34 Squad, monitoring the Internet to determine whether people are engaging in harmless fantasies or illegal activities. Three ex-con spammers have been murdered, and Liz must uncover the link between them before these homicides go viral.


Heaven's Shadow by David S. Goyer

The science fiction epic of our time has arrived.

Three years ago, an object one hundred miles across was spotted on a trajectory for Earth's sun. Now, its journey is almost over. As it approaches, two competing manned vehicles race through almost half a million kilometers of space to reach it first. But when they both arrive on the entity, they learn that it has been sent toward Earth for a reason. An intelligent race is desperately attempting to communicate with our primitive species. And the message is: Help us.


Conan the Barbarian by Michael Stackpole

Born in the fires of battle, Conan of Cimmeria lost his father and village when they were slaughtered by the cruel warlord Khalra Zym. Wandering the world alone, Conan was forged into a peerless warrior by hardship and bloodshed.
Years later, he crosses paths with Zym and his armies. But before Conan can exact vengeance, he must contend with the warlord's daughter-the seductive witch Marique-and a host of monstrous creatures. Only then will Conan's quest bring him face to gave with Zym in an epic battle to avenge his people and save the world.




Shark Wars by Ernie Altbacker


Gray is already bigger than all the other sharks in his clan, or shiver. He can’t stop growing, and when his hunger gets him into trouble, he’s banished from the reef. Luckily his best friend Barkley comes with him…but their hunt for food forces them to journey deep into the dangerous Big Blue.
Then Gray and Barkley accidentally swim into Goblin Shiver territory. They have no choice but to join the shiver. They’ll help fight against the rival sharks of Razor Shiver in return for training, protection, and food. But who can Gray and Barkley trust when the ocean is full of slippery fish and one mistake means you’re someone else’s dinner?






Surrender the Dark by L.A. Banks


National bestselling author L.A. Banks’s electrifying new paranormal series is set in a sizzling world where Dark and Light are trapped in an eternal struggle for the fate of mankind.
Celeste Jackson has fought all her life against a fog of hallucination and substance abuse, but it’s not until she meets her protector, Azrael, an angel who has left the safety of the Light, that she learns of the evil forces that have been trying to ruin her, and why. A fierce battle for control of the mortal realm is brewing, and only Celeste—with the help of the Remnant, her half-human, half-angel brethren—can stand in the way. Together, Celeste and Azrael must gather an army of sensitives to defeat the dark powers that have ruled humanity for centuries, but time is running out. If Azrael surrenders to his growing desire for Celeste, he risks being trapped among humanity forever. But the longer he stays, the harder she is to resist. To save the world, Celeste must draw on her own dark experiences with addiction to help Azrael overcome the one temptation that could possibly make him an eternal prisoner—his obsession with her.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Movie Review: Green Lantern (2011)

Green Lantern: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Green Lantern has been many things over the past fifty years, from a man who called his best friend “Pieface” and was upset that a black man was chosen to be his understudy, to a psychotic villain capable of tearing holes between realities and threatening the end of the universe as we know it, to the brightest light of the Green Lantern Corps. Which of these Hals did Ryan Reynolds play in WB's Green Lantern?

Ryan Reynolds stars as Hal Jordan, Ferris Aircraft's best test pilot, flying the new F/A-35 Joint Strike Fighter (although not in so many words; the movie only calls the plane the F-35). He's also a bit of a lady's man (“Now you'll fly with anyone who gets in the cockpit”) who lives life in the fast lane because he forgot to set his alarm for work. He's also so focused on the task at hand that he forgets he's only a test pilot and that sacrificing his plane to kill the enemy isn't going to help his career any.

After that, it's a series of open origin questions, at least for any Green Lantern fan. In his various origin stories, at the time of initiation, Hal has been a test pilot courting his boss with a politician for a brother, a drunken former testpilot who works with both of his brothers and whose boss is already his ex, and an Air Force test pilot who gets dishonorably discharged before meeting his future boss and ex. This time, his boss's daughter (Daddy's around, so Carol Ferris technically holds no position in Ferris Air in this movie) is his ex at the time he meets Abin Sur, played by Temuera Morrison, after attending one of his nephew's birthday parties (I'm shocked he actually made it to one). While I'm comparing origin stories, it may be noteworthy that the only thing that prevents him from drunk driving is being jumped, and there's nothing to say he didn't do the deed off screen.

For Green Lantern non readers, this is about the point when you'd like to think I'm going to stop comparing this fourth origin of Hal Jordan to the first three disparate origins. And you'd be right. Sort of. I'm going to be brief, then. Hector Hammond is now a college professor, friend (presumably from high school or college days, as they're no longer close, yet Hal and Hector quickly recognize each other) of both Hal Jordan's and Carol Ferris's, and is never exposed to any conventional or fan-known contaminant. Instead, this film's version of Parallax, the living embodiment of fear in the Green Lantern universe, is the source of his powers. Actually, in this film Parallax is actually the Cloud-Galactus from Fantastic Four 2: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Oh, and Cloud-Galactus-Parallax's origin is that Krona tried to conquer Parallax for the Guardians and became possessed, the way Hal was in- ah, forgot it. Trying to avoid needlessly mangled characters and continuity in this review is like trying to avoid mentioning James Earl Jones in a discussion of Attack of the Clones. Never mind the way Abin Sur through the years went from an average Green Lantern, to Sinstro's friend, to his mentor, to being the Lantern responsible for imprisoning Parallax in the first place.

With all of this continuity-based bashing, it's about time I put a positive twist on one of these changes. In the Showcase Green Lantern origin story, it was yellow bands of radiation surrounding the Earth that cost Abin Sur his life. In Emerald Dawn, it was a powerful alien life-form encased in an impenetrable yellow armor that did the deed and convinced almost the entire Green Lantern Corps to give in to the fear of failure. And in Secret Origin a monster from Ryut who was aboard Sur's ship first convinced Sur to give in to his fear, which caused his ring to fail and allowed him to be killed. Take into account that yellow embodies fear in the Green Lantern universe, and there's a common theme here: Abin Sur was killed by yellow or fear in every version of his story- in two cases via a bodily attack aboard his ship. In Green Lantern, Abin Sur was killed by an invincible yellow life-form from Ryut whom he was afraid of that attacked him aboard his ship (and killed him, of course). Yes, it's another needless change in a story when Hector Hammond really was all the villain this movie needed, but at least they finally cut to the chase.

That's this movie in a nutshell. It tries to be an epic comic book, but without all the epic. It wants to have a personal heroic conflict, an emotional conflict and an epic universe-spanning conflict all at once, but it's just not ready for that. It took Star Wars 3 movies to do that right. It takes hundreds of pages of comics to do that. And it's going to take more than an unoriginal, generic love interest (which doesn't define Carol Ferris except for the worst Silver Age moments), a villain whose powers aren't properly explained and don't match up the explanations most fans know, serves his purpose and is discarded as soon as its time for a climax, and the Sinestro sequel-bait plot which is... did anybody writing this even read the comics about Sinestro? I know Geoff Johns had something to do with the movie, but... I don't want to give away the ending to this movie, or the brushed aside point of contention between Hal and the Corps that is required in these stories, but damn! I thought Arthas Menethil's fall to the Dark Side was contrived, but this beats that. Sort of. It beats it in the sense that something nobody bothered to think hard enough about to make a full story about can beat a terribly written story. That's what they accomplished with four writers; imagine the masterpiece they could pull off with five or six!

I've been coming down on this movie pretty hard, and that's because the things that I enjoyed about it are hard to put into writing. I had a fairly decent time recognizing Honnu (despite the terrible CGI used for him), Salaak (who had no speaking part), Sten and other veteran Lanterns from the comics, just as I enjoyed Tomar-Re's suit (which really should have been used instead of the one Hal ended up with, despite the scale design). Cloud-Galactus-Parallax-Krona and most of the other graphics in the first third of the film before he turns into Cthulhu and Mr. Hanky's love-child are very solid. Hal Jordan is written true to character, except when he's written as Hannibal King. My two cents: finish the script before you cast the main character! I didn't watch Green Hornet because it was clearly going to be a comedy; I held out hope for Green Lantern because at least Reynolds could pull off a passable Kyle Rayner. He could certainly pull off some of Hal's scenes, but throughout the entire movie I couldn't help but think that Tom Cruise should have played this character.

The last positive I want to note is Sarsgaard as Hector Hammond. Was he true to the character? Of course not. But he was true to the script he was given. He played the role very well and was the most convincing person on screen. His plot was jerked around like a puppet with a hefty insurance policy, but he delivered well. Peter “if the movie goes down, I want to go down with it” Sarsgaard might not take the praise very well, though.

That's really all the positives I have for this movie, and they were enough to enjoy it to some extent. We all knew this movie would be a CGI explosion comparable to the Star Wars prequels, so the fact that some of it was pretty good is a plus, hurt by the fact that all the good stuff made it into the trailers. The characters work in some ways, particularly the establishing of Hal and Hector, while they really don't in others, like in every scene Carol is in and much of Kilowog's introduction (which is all the relevant Kilowog we get). Beyond some of the decent character writing and the bare bones following of the Green Lantern origin formula, the writing is a mess, and the love interest is the least interesting one in Green Lantern and possibly comic book history (though she still manages to one-up Hal). There are enjoyable things about this movie, but, well, what can I say?

You've lost that loving feeling Oh, that loving feeling You've lost that loving feeling Now it's gone, gone, gone...

The Man in Black is a weekly review at Fantasy & Sci-Fi Lovin' News & Reviews. For more of his reviews, you can visit his home page at www.MiBreviews.com

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Happy Father's Day

To all the dads out there-- Happy Father's Day. To my husband (and father of my children)-- you are my superhero; I love you babe.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Comic Review: Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors

When you’re an aging supervillain who has decided to get married and raise a family, where else can you possibly send your little ones to learn the tools of the trade than to Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors. With courses in monster creation, designing your secret headquarters, and gym, it is truly a place where only the most evil of students can possibly learn to survive (come on – we ALL know how gym was). I don’t normally do reviews of individual issues of a comic, preferring instead the format of a collected edition, but I was given the opportunity to check out the first two issues of this series and from my initial glance it reminded me enough of Atomic Robo that I decided to dive in and check it out. And boy am I glad I did. Yes, it’s filled with some of the same kinds of irreverent humor as Atomic Robo is, though where that book tends to be more of an X-files spoof, this is aimed squarely at the superhero genre (with maybe a touch of Harry Potter thrown in for good measure). Some of the humor is situational – the ridiculousness of having young children in these extremely dangerous situations learning how to control their powers… hey wait a minute, that sounds a lot like the X-Men. Then there’s the Superman clone sitting down with his nemesis before their upcoming scheduled battle to plan out how the play-by-play is going to go. There are fun things going on in the background as well though, and it’s not played up for laughs, and could ultimately be the backbone of what’s probably going to be larger plotlines in the overall story of this comic. Like how the adults talk about a peace treaty that already exists with the heroes when no children are around, though there are some who would like to see that treaty broken. Or the two children who seem particularly psychotic, who’s mother is currently serving time and strikes fear into even the most powerful of teachers at the school. And then there’s the budding romance between Mummy Girl and Kid Nefarious – it might be boring to have these kinds of standard tropes if it weren’t for the names of these kids. But at the same time, it's also comfortine that despite the outrageous nature of this kind of school, these same kinds of problems are universal. So, yes, I enjoyed the heck out of these first two issues of Gladstone’s School for World Conquerors – and if a little irreverence for the superhero genre is something you might enjoy, I’d recommend you check it out too.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Premier Review: "Falling Skies"


Series Premier:
Sunday June 19th 9-11 (TNT)

Alien invasion stories are nothing new. In fact, alien invasion stories by Steven Spielberg aren't new either. But Spielberg has credibility thanks to movies like "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "War of the Worlds" and even "E.T." So it's no surprise that science fiction fans, myself included, have been eagerly looking forward to the new TNT series Falling Skies thanks to its distinction of being helmed by Spielberg along with DreamWorks Television heads Justin Falvey, Darryl Frank and Graham Yost and screenwriter Robert Rodat ("Saving Private Ryan").

For those wondering if Spielberg has successfully brought the alien invasion epic to television-- the answer is yes.

It's impossible not to watch "Falling Skies" and not draw parallels to shows like "Battlestar Galactica" or "The Walking Dead" due to the inevitable similarities in stories that focus on humanity's struggle to survive after a massive catastrophe. But "Falling Skies" does the unexpected by jumping ahead past the initial shock that propels most shows of it's kind and settles in after most of the Earth's population has been wiped out and mankind is nothing but ragged bands of survivors divided up into groups of fighters and civilians. Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) is a Boston history professor who has three sons, two of which are with him and one who has been taken by the aliens (referred to as "skitters" thanks to their spider-like form) and "tethered" along with other teenage humans and used as a form of slave labor for unknown reasons. Despite his career as an academic Mason has proven to be an effective fighter thanks to his knowledge of military tactics and has become one of the leaders among the surviving populace.

Because the survival of the human race is so much in doubt the fighting men and women have taken leadership  and  anyone old enough to hold a gun is thrown into the battle. Tom's oldest son Hal (Drew Roy) is already battle hardened at seventeen, though by no means the youngest warrior. Anna Glass (Moon Bloodgood) becomes the voice of the civilians as one of the few doctors to survive the initial attack as she tries to shelter the children of the group and help them cope with their new reality.

Watching "Falling Skies" it's easy to wonder why the show was made on the heels of the cancellation of the series "V" and the continuing run of "The Walking Dead" because of their similarities. But once the show gets some momentum it becomes clear that, while it is built on archetypes, that isn't where it intends on staying. The academic-turned-warrior isn't new to most audiences, but once Mason's credentials as a man who can conveniently quote military lore are established, the character is quietly allowed to evolve. The fears I initially had that the military might be characterized as heavy-handed dictators was quickly put to rest as the script deftly weaves a kind of truce between the various groups. There will be animosity later for sure, but it's unlikely to be one-sided.

But what really moves "Falling Skies" is the cast. Noah Wyle is the heart of the show and he couldn't be more perfect for the part. He's not a showy actor but he's credible as a man who has not only the strength to fight for his sons, but for the entire human race. Moon Bloodgood is also very believable as Dr. Glass and doesn't come across as just a pretty face. But if I had to pick an early favorite it would have to be Colin Cunningham in the role of outlaw biker John Pope; whose transition from the stereotype of the racist redneck to someone with a surprising level of erudite depth is unexpected. It's unclear whether Pope will land as a good-guy or a bad-guy, but one thing is for sure-- I want to know more about this character.

The motives of the alien invaders aren't  known and it doesn't seem as if that's a question that will be answered any time soon. We get a close up look of the "skitters" and their mechanical sentries ("mechs") and a far-away glance at their Earth-bound stations, but the ships that brought them there are still not seen. A big component of the show seems to be the pacing and the slow reveal of certain facts and there is no reason to believe that any mysteries will be solved anytime soon. So the show doesn't rely solely on action sequences or scary aliens to make the show interesting and the human story is smartly allowed to be told.

Like "Battlestar Galactica" it appears that questions of faith will also be a recurrent thread throughout the show as people try to reconcile the notion of God and the proof of alien life. But, thankfully, the topic is brought up briefly and with enough tact that I don't think we're in for any particular metaphorical bomb-throwing. The script is actually very impressively done as it walks a fine line among many potential narrative hazards. While the characters themselves may hold to particular beliefs, it doesn't seems as if the show itself is making any judgments and that is a very good thing.

As I watched the show I found myself ranking it among my favorite sci-fi series' and I'd have to say that, so far, it has the potential to be a really good show. While it doesn't hit you with the opening intensity of "Battlestar Galactica"  or "The Walking Dead" it has a consistency within the first two episodes that bodes well for its future success. But the best measure of how good a show is whether or not I want to see more-- and after the cliff-hanger in the second episode, I'm wondering how I'm going to wait until the next installment.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Emotional Payoffs-- What are Yours?

     I like to think of myself as a logical person. And compared to most women I meet-- I am. I recently joined a book club with some other moms in my area and I'm currently struggling to get through yet another book that I have no interest in. I logically thought that joining a book club among my peers would be good for me: broaden my horizons and all that nonsense. And I won't say it hasn't introduced me to some titles that I actually liked very much, but overall I've realized that what tickles my fancy doesn't often coincide with that of other people. I'm very good at dissecting books and listing the reasons why I don't like what I'm reading and in doing so I have discovered that my logic actually often gives way to emotional triggers when reading. In other words-- a book can be relatively poorly written, but if it has the right emotional payoff I can overlook almost any flaw.

     I have also realized that the personality traits that make me the kind of person who prefers sci-fi over soap-operas also makes it really hard to find common ground with women who want to read stories about the emotional journey of losing a child/spouse/parent etc. etc., ad nauseum. Or the journey of child/spouse/parent with cancer/alzheimer's or other tragic disease. Why do people read this stuff?

     Well, to be fair, I suppose people read that stuff because it resonates with something inside them. Perhaps it's a situation that they've dealt with and they need the solace in knowing they are not alone. Or some other psychobabble-- I don't know. So what does that say about me? Why do I want books that are completely outside of the real world? Why do I prefer an emotional journey that features magic, vampires, sword fighting and many other things I'm unlikely to encounter in this lifetime? I don't know-- and I can't afford the therapy to figure that out.

     But the one thing I have really gotten out of this book-club journey is the realization that I'm not as logical as I thought. I'm not interested in broadening my horizons. What I'm really looking for is the connection one gets from meeting other people who are interested in the same things; pretty much all the reasons I started this blog.

     What has stood out to me is the fact that what feeds me emotionally when I read is vastly different than what feeds my real life-- though it's not a universal rule.

For example:

Revenge Stories: Love them. I get a vicarious thrill from watching movies like "Payback" and "Kill Bill." But I'm not at all vengeful in real life. Seriously. When I feel wronged, I stew for a bit and then walk away. I might fantasize about a few bits of petty revenge, but I would never, ever act on it. I've never even called ex-boyfriends just to hang up on them (back in the day when we could do that). I suppose I admire the chutzpah of the people in those movies. Wouldn't it be great to just act on your impulses like that?

     So what other triggers do I have?

Impossible Romance: Don't look at me that way-- I am a girl after all. I admit it, I'm a sucker for "Pride and Prejudice" and I've viewed it a bazillion times. I don't watch a lot of romantic comedies but when I do I tend to trend toward the ones that feature the classic Cinderella story. In fact-- I like Cinderella stories of all kinds. Give me a good against-the-odds football story like "The Blind Side" and I'll cry like a baby. But, like the revenge-thing, I've never had this particular struggle in real life. I was never attracted to the bad boys and I hate the emotional roller-coaster of unstable relationships. Hate it! But I do like happy endings, so that must be it.

Comic Book Heroes (being saved by...): When other women tell me they don't like comic book movies I'm baffled. Who couldn't love Batman? I mean seriously. There are few movies that will get me in line faster than anything featuring someone who wears an armored suit of some sort. I guess I am a sucker for a guy in uniform-- who knew? I don't think this is a hard one to figure out. Justice is hard to come by and many caped crusaders operate on the vigilante side of the street-- so it goes hand-in-hand with my love of revenge flicks. Only in costume! But what really gets me in the gut are the moments when the hero swoops in to save the day. I hope I'm never dangling off a bridge in a bus-- but if I am I would love to live in a world where there's a chance that Superman could hoist us all to safety.

Vindication: Something tells me this is probably a universal trigger. How many times have we been sure of something only to have everyone we know tell us we're nuts? My personal grudge comes from arguing with people over the housing market during the boom-- try to tell a house flipper you think the market it going to take a turn for the worse; it doesn't go over well. And do they ever admit you were right? Never. So seeing a movie or reading a book that validates the main character is sooo satisfying. I think J.K. Rowling had this down to a science in the Harry Potter series. Almost every book had a situation in which Harry tried to warn everyone about Voldemort-- only to be met with scorn. And then, events play out and Harry is vindicated. And the best part is that Harry actually gets credit for being right! I get a rush just thinking about it.

Outsider Success Stories: I blame John Hughes for this one. "Pretty in Pink," "Breakfast Club," "Some Kind of Wonderful" and "Sixteen Candles" all featured lovable misfits who come out on top. Mostly they negotiate the treacherous world of high school and pitfalls that come with trying to edge up in rank among the cliques. I watch those movies and think that's me! And no matter how well we do in our adult lives those insecurities never leave and it's nice to think that sometimes the nerds do finish first.

Well, I think I've exhausted my well of clichés for the day (I wrote this in a rush). So now it's your turn. What flips your emotional switches?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Giveaway! "Dead Iron" by Devon Monk

I have come to a conclusion regarding steampunk as a genre; I really, really like the Wild West themed steampunk. So when I got the newest title by Devon Monk in my mailbox I was instantly interested. Well, I fell in love with the cover first-- but you get the idea. So you can imagine how excited I was when Penguin Books sent me an extra copy of Dead Iron that I could offer for giveaway!

Welcome to a new America that is built on blood, sweat, and gears...
In steam age America, men, monsters, machines, and magic battle for the same scrap of earth and sky. In this chaos, bounty hunter Cedar Hunt rides, cursed by lycanthropy and carrying the guilt of his brother's death. Then he's offered hope that his brother may yet survive. All he has to do is find the Holder: a powerful device created by mad devisers-and now in the hands of an ancient Strange who was banished to walk this Earth.
In a land shaped by magic, steam, and iron, where the only things a man can count on are his guns, gears, and grit, Cedar will have to depend on all three if he's going to save his brother and reclaim his soul once and for all...


Just add your information to the form below to enter (all information is guaranteed confidential and will be discarded once contest ends) and I will randomly pick one winner by Friday July 8th. No multiple entries please-- all multiple entries will be discarded. Open everywhere.

Good luck!

**Contest Closed**

Book Review: Deadline by Mira Grant

In May of 2010, a pen name named Mira Grant published a novel named Feed. In my NSFW Halloween video review of that novel, I commented that the Newsflesh trilogy opening was one of the better novels I have read in several years, that it had nowhere up left to go, and that the second novel, Deadline, would have no choice but to go down. I come here today to eat those words, because Deadline goes anywhere but downhill. The world of Feed and Deadline is that of the zombie apocalypse after it has ended. You know how the entire way that we interacted with one another and traveled changed after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001? The way that real world 2005 might have been an interesting setting for a thriller written in the 1990s, predicting the attacks as a work of fiction? Take those changes, and amplify them. Amplify, yes, like Feed‘s Kellis-Amberlee virus- that is to say, make them into a zombie. Change the way we travel, change the way news works, change the way we conduct ourselves and interact with one another. In Feed, the protagonists, including Georgia Mason (named for George Romero) and her brother Shaun, find their careers catapulted forward as they follow presidential candidate Peter Ryman- and subsequently find their lives in shambles as Georgia is among those killed by terrorist acts perpetrated by a sinister conspiracy that seems to lead straight to the Center for Disease Control, the most powerful organization in America. Deadline picks up that story a year later. Shaun Mason, now sole owner and leader of “After the End Times”, has found no more leads, but he hasn’t forgotten what cost his adopted sister- companion, best friend, and possibly lover- her life. After a start in the field that hearkens back to the first volume, the new team- both similar and different from the old team in just the way a sequel’s cast should be- finds themselves thrown head first into the plot. The opening Act ends with Oakland, California going up in a column of fire, for no reason other than to kill Shaun and his team- or so it seems, as the real reason is just that much more cold-blooded. Perhaps because, like Feed, it is told in the first person, Deadline is a very character driven story. The story is told from the perspective of a changed Shaun Mason- one who is less interested in chasing zombies down on the field than he is having conversations with his dead sister. This doesn’t come across as weird as you think- Mira Grant’s ability to break down and truly express the Masons is ultimate, and I think you’d be hard pressed to find a psychotic break that comes across as more sane than this one. Without Georgia’s presence in person, however, Shaun has to interact with a wider cast of relevant characters than were ever really necessary in Feed. Becks, his replacement as resident Irwin, who also manages to wear makeup and all that stuff, Alaric, resident not-yet-certified Newsie and Maggie, the Fictional who was a friend of Buffy’s and really, doesn’t that tell you all you need to know about her? Mahir from Feed returns, as do a handful of others and several more new faces. All of these characters are fleshed out with the fullest. That’s not to say every character is the main character, but even characters who were created just to die in this novel continue to be felt. They all have a presence; not in the way Georgia does, mind (not all of us can be Obi-Wan Kenobi) but they continue to be relevant and they’re more than red shirts. This team of bloggers- not to mention a former lab rat who was sent to her death, and a number of sources that help them as any news team attempting to attack the top levels of a government agency is bound to have, spend the novel being chased, having zombies sicked on them, having guns pointed at them (but not actually being shot at, this time), having sex (in a non-explicit way), ordering takeout, and surviving the second zombie apocalypse. You know, all in a day’s work. The takeout does sound really weird in that list, but then again, this is the 2000s, and I think most conspiracies, plots and insurgencies happen with takeout involved. This adds a touch of realism to the novel and gives us much-needed breaks in the action. It also gives me a place to put the book down and go to sleep after I accidentally stay up until 4 in the morning reading about the aforementioned zombie chases and what happens afterward. Besides, as a blogger of sorts myself, I can honestly say that if I was involved in a world-changing investigation and kept narrowly escaping death and zombification, there would be a lot of takeout involved. The writing is, once again, phenomenal. Even though the protagonist is a man, there’s something about the way the characters act and think, and their descriptions, that really stands out as this novel being written by a woman. I love me some Stephen King and Thomas Harris, but there’s something about the description of “the-sweet-salt-sex smell of her” that really stands out against my usual stable of horror authors. You don’t get, say, the cognitive analysis of survivor’s lust that Michael Stackpole gives in Star Wars: Wedge’s Gamble, but you still get the emotional results that come from such a scenario. I could nit-pick this style to death, but taking a wider view, I did like the minority take on things, and the book was still extremely detailed. Those of you who’ve read Feed will be happy to hear that the chapter-by-chapter blog posts return. For those of you who haven’t, think of it as similar to the mood-setters that Stephen King likes to use between chapters, except featuring the writing of the characters rather than a blend of that and samples purchased from the real world. They exist to set the mood, as well as providing some of the blog updates that most male authors I can think of would have included as part of the chapter. In fact, this approach to the chapters makes them flow so fluidly that it’s rather abrupt when things such as a page-long email are thrown into the story. Normally, that would seem like a rather standard thing, but here, it’s relatively choppy. I can’t tell whether to call that a minor complaint or the exception to a compliment- it’s like an incredibly realistic looking movie with dragons in it- the dragons don’t look as good as the rest of the movie, but it probably wouldn’t help the movie to make it look more like the dragons or to take the dragons out. There’s a bit of imperfection required in any art, just like there’s imperfections in any gem that allow it to be broken down and distributed. I’ve largely avoided plot details and spoilers in this review, which has prevented me from mentioning things like the foreshadowing, which was seamlessly woven into the story in a manner that makes an experienced reviewer like myself curse my inability to expect certain developments and see them coming, while a more casual reviewer might simply say, “Well, that wasn’t completely out of the blue. I had some information with which to accept it”. For a somewhat more in-depth look at this book, possibly with some spoilers, wait on for my video review. I can guarantee I’ll enjoy it, and I think you will, too. As for this review, though, pick up this book if you’re old enough to handle characters swearing and acting like adults in your novels, whether you like zombies or not. If you ever read the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew, but want something a little more adult and with a little bit more on the line, pick up Deadline. I recommend you pick up Feed first, though- it’s not a requirement, but why watch The Empire Strikes Back without having watched Star Wars when you can watch both? The Man in Black is a weekly review at Fantasy & Sci-Fi Lovin' News & Reviews. For more of his reviews, you can visit his home page at www.MiBreviews.com

Friday, June 10, 2011

Audiobook Review: The Madness Within by Steve Lyons

I'm still new enough to the Warhammer 40,000 universe that I have not been exposed to all of the regular writers nor the various Space Marine chapters they have developed. The Madness Within features...

The Crimson Fists are among the most famous of Space Marine Chapters. Almost
destroyed when their homeworld was invaded by the brutish orks, the few survivors work relentlessly to rebuild their shattered Chapter and defend the Imperium.

In this story, the Crimson Fists are protecting a world where only the toughest human colonists may survive, a fine trial-by-fire from which the best of the best can be chosen to join the Crimson Fists and be transformed into Astartes. But something else has come to this world...

Desperate and isolated, Sergeant Estabann and Brother Cordoba of the Crimson Fists Space Marines are hunting the daemon that destroyed their battle-brothers. Their only hope remains with a Librarian on the edge of sanity, a potentially tainted Astartes who they are forced to trust. His psychic abilities can lead them to the daemon, where Estabann and Cordoba can avenge their brothers’ deaths. But is the greatest threat a foul denizen of the warp, or the power contained within a psyker’s mind?

I've copied portions of the CD cover above, for a few reasons - but the most important is probably this, if it weren't for those descriptions I probably wouldn't even be able to remember what was supposed to have happened. It's disappointing for me to say this, because normally I'm a huge fan of the Black Library Audiodramas, but The Madness Within just didn't do anything for me at all. Despite how interesting the story described above might seem, it wasn't particularly memorable while listening to it. In fact, mostly it's these same three characters going back and forth between the same few rooms of a cathedral, and things fading to black anytime the action actually seems like it might get going.

This might make for a good book, but it makes for a boring audio experience. It's made worse by the fact that the things I thought would make for a good story - like how the Librarian turned on his brothers just prior to when this story begins - are never fully explored. Or the setting, which reminded me of Salusa Secundis (from Dune), a planet so harsh it's used as a training ground for new troops. Some of those people should have been brought into this story, forced to rise to the occasion when so many Space Marines had fallen. Instead, it feels too much like it's trying to hard to be a "horror film" version of Warhammer 40,000.

Which might have been helped by some really outstanding audio, but even here I found it lacking this time. There's nothing that I can point to and say "this is why it was made an audiodrama"; in general it was well done but nothing amazing. As I said, I'm usually a big fan of these productions, so it's hard for me to have to say I just can't really recommend this one. I'm not sure if it's just a case of the story not really fitting the format, but I certainly hope my next experience will be more in line with my expectations from the Black Library.

Magneto Sings "Born This Way"

I love this.



H/T John DeNardo @ SF Signal

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Movie Review: "X-Men: First Class"

**Spoilers Included**

Sequels, prequels and remakes seem to be the rule of movie-making these days and it's often hard to dredge up any enthusiasm for films you feel like you've seen before. But X-Men: First Class interested me thanks to a new cast and some very good trailers.

Like the last "Star Trek" movie, "X-Men: First Class" goes back in time to the younger days of well-known characters to establish the back story and flesh out the foundations of the relationships we're already acquainted with. The movie opens with the same scene from the first "X-Men" movie in which we see Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender) being held back as he is separated from his parents as they are being escorted into a concentration camp and the subsequent awakening of his powers. This time, however, we are allowed to see what happens to Erik after his mutant abilities are revealed and his manipulation by a man known as Dr. Schmidt-- who would study and exploit Erik's power.

The story then cuts to a young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and his first meeting with Raven Darkholm/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). Unlike their adult characters Raven and Charles are very close as youngsters and grow up much like brother and sister thanks to their shared experiences as mutants. But Raven and Charles grow apart as they get older because of Raven's desire to fit in, and her inability to do so because of her striking natural appearance.

Charles and Erik's paths cross after Charles is approached by the C.I.A. to help them investigate a man known as Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon)-- who just happens to be the same Dr. Schmidt that terrorized a young Magneto. Erik's anger has fueled his desire to hunt down Shaw, but it has also impeded his ability to fully develop his powers. Charles sees Erik's struggle and helps him to control his anger and the two become friends as they begin to recruit young mutants into their group as they begin to find out what Shaw's larger plan is for his own group of mutant accomplices.

The plot of "X-Men: First Class" is surprisingly similar to the other films in the series. The theme never really wavers from the division among mutants into groups who trust non-mutant humans and those who are certain humankind will only mistrust and fear them. What makes "X-Men: First Class" interesting is the evolution of Charles and Erik's relationship and the early glimmers of what will become the Charles Xavier school.

"X-Men: First Class" is a hard movie for me to classify. Do I recommend it? Well, yes and no. This is a movie that when it works, it's great; when it doesn't work, it lands with a thud.

The movie shines when it focuses on Charles Xavier. James McAvoy not only has a wonderful charisma, but he is also very believable as a young Charles. Unlike the portrayal of Captain Kirk in the prequel version of "Star Trek" you never feel like McAvoy is doing an impersonation of Patrick Stewart. I liked how the young Charles was presented as a smart but slightly egotistical flirt whose relationship with Raven is much defined by his failure to understand her. There are times when the script gets hokey in trying to portray Charles' 'wisdom,' like when he spouts some nonsense about Erik finding his focus somewhere "between serenity and rage"-- which sounds like a bunch of meditative gobbledygook to me (don't all emotions fit somewhere between the two?). Though I'm sure many will think it's the height of enlightenment.

Fassbender is good as Erik as well-- though I can't say the character developed much beyond his need for revenge against Shaw. The story arc between Shaw and Erik is intriguing because much of Erik's beliefs regarding humans mirrors that of Shaw. It's never spelled out explicitly, but it is assumed that Shaw had many years to imprint this philosophy onto a young Magneto who didn't reject those early lessons despite his hatred of Shaw.

Kevin Bacon is great, as always, and he definitely seemed to enjoy playing the villain-- the early scenes in the concentration camp are especially gleeful. There are endearing moments with the rest of the cast as well, though the overall effect was sometimes uneven. Lawrence, as Mystique, alternates between sweetly wistful and sullen brooding, but she doesn't have the edge I've come to associate with the character. Zoe Kravitz, as Angel, was also generally flat throughout, though the award for most wooden acting has to go to January Jones as Emma Frost. I couldn't figure out if she was trying to convey a coldness in keeping with her character's ability to turn to diamond form, or if she was just boring. For an evil henchman (or henchwoman) Emma should have seemed to be something more than indifferent, but she never got there.

But the biggest failure has to be the lack of consistency in the script. The good parts are very good. The movie isn't afraid to be smart and it doesn't shy away from presenting moments of genuine horror. One scene in particular evokes the terrible moments caught on camera during the 9/11 attacks and the awful reality of what a falling body sounds like when it hits the ground. I don't know if it was the intent of the filmmaker to remind the audience of that day, but it was what came to my mind. But I won't say I find that objectionable; it fit with Shaw's character to terrorize his enemies that way. There were nice moments of humor and the Wolverine cameo made me laugh out loud. And I would say that I was thinking this movie was a sure-fire purchase until it got to the climatic sequence.

Where the script falls apart is the moment that it assumes humanity will destroy all mutants at the first opportunity-- no hesitation. Despite the defense Charles puts up for non-mutants, the story itself doesn't back him up. It's like every movie that has the friendly alien being chased and exploited by evil government forces. Or any script about the noble savage and the ignorant white man. There are no shades of gray and very little nuance, which is annoying when you consider that the audience for an "X-Men" movie is likely to be pretty open-minded to begin with. I couldn't figure out, when the moment came for the mutants to be betrayed, whether the writers were trying to make a statement of some kind, or whether it was just a convenient sequence of events. Either way, I was so irritated that I was fully taken out of the movie and what would have been a largely positive review was instantly turned around.

If it hadn't been for that one-note turn of events, I would be an enthusiastic cheerleader for this film. I'd say that despite some slightly cheesy special effects and wooden acting, it had charm and flair. I'd say it was fun and an encouraging harbinger of a better movie season. But that one scene... What to do with that? It deflated my enthusiasm faster than I would have thought possible and I don't know whether to recommend the film or not. That's a first for me. I'm also not sure if I would be open to seeing a sequel or not-- I am that much on the fence.

And that leaves me presenting the most ambivalent review I've ever written.

George Lucas Strikes Back

Okay. I admit it. This is filler. (I'm still finishing my latest post). But anything featuring a blown-up Jar Jar Binks can't be all bad...

Monday, June 06, 2011

Giveaway! "Chicks Kick Butt" - Edited by Rachel Caine and Kerrie L. Hughes

Okay-- I've had way too many posts lately that dwell on the negative aspects of being a woman. So to make up for that I'm putting up a very pro-girl selection of stories, that I have courtesy of Tor Books, up for giveaway.

Chicks Kick Butt~ Edited by Rachel Caine and Kerrie L. Hughes

Chicks are awesome--and never more so than when they are kicking some serious vampire/werewolf/demon/monster butt.

Chicks Kick Butt is an anthology that features one of the best things about the urban fantasy genre: strong, independent, and intelligent heroines who are quite capable of solving their own problems and slaying their own dragons (or demons, as the case may be).

Edited by Kerrie Hughes and Rachel Caine, Chicks Kick Butt features original stories from thirteen authors, eleven of whom are New York Times bestsellers:
- Rachel Caine (with a story from her bestselling Weather Wardens universe)
- L.A. Banks
- Rachel Vincent
- Karen Chance
- Lilith Saintcrow
- Cheyenne McCray
- Susan Krinard
- Jeanne Stein
- Jenna Black
- Susan Krinard
- Jeanne Stein
- Jenna Black
- Elizabeth Vaughan
- Carole Nelson Douglas
- P.N. Elrod
- Nancy Holder


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 Tuesday June 28th. No multiple entries please-- all multiple entries will be discarded. Open everywhere.

Good luck!


**Contest Closed**

Winners!

Time to announce the winners of a couple of contests.


The winner of a copy of "Fuzzy Nation" by John Scalzi is-- Richard Dickson; Waller, TX


And


The winner of a copy of "The Nebula Awards Showcase 2011" is-- Anderew O'Higgins; British Columbia, Canada



Congrats to the winners!

Sunday, June 05, 2011

The Most Challenging Thing I've Ever Read

I don't know about you, but I tend to blog in waves in which certain themes pop up with some regularity until I feel like I've exhausted everything I have to say on the subject. Hopefully I don't exhaust those who read this blog in the process.

So, going along with the trend I started with Literary Deal Breakers and continued with the subject of Rape in Fiction, I began to think about the most disturbing book I ever read. I've talked about books I choose not to read once certain things occur within the story, but that doesn't mean I walk away from everything that makes me uncomfortable.

I read a book about three years ago that left an indelible mark on my psyche-- so much so that I don't ever have to think twice about which book I would say was the most troubling thing I have ever read. Surprisingly it wasn't something that was full of graphic violence. It wasn't a horror novel like something written by Stephen King. It was a psychological thriller called "Neuropath" by Scott Bakker, and it pushed the boundaries of what I'm able to tolerate so much that I wanted to scrub my brain when I was done.

As I look over the review I wrote for "Neuropath" (shown below) I realize that, if I were to try to read this book now, I'd probably walk away. But then again... The thing is, the content that really bothered me didn't show up until I was at least halfway through the book; and by then I HAD to know what was going to happen. Not gonna lie-- I should have just put it down.

Have you ever read anything that left you feeling as if you ended up with a bruised psyche? Something that kind of...hurt? That's what this book is to me.

What stories, if any, have scarred you?



Ignorance is Bliss.

If I could come up with one phrase to sum up my feelings after reading Neuropath by Scott Bakker it would be ignorance is bliss.

Why?

Because Bakker's novel is relentless in that it won't let us sit back and accept all the assumptions we have made about ourselves. Not just ourselves as individuals, but us as human beings. If you have ever sat back and thought about all the big questions: What is consciousness? Are we more than a bundle of bone, muscle, nerve endings and brain tissue? Do we rationalize an existence beyond this life simply because we are too afraid to contemplate the alternative? Are emotions like love, shame, fear and desire real, or are they simply evolution's way of making sure we, as a species, continue to procreate and survive?

Those are all questions that Bakker weaves into a novel that is by turns thoughtful and horrifying.

"Neuropath" follows the story of Professor Thomas Bible, a psychology professor at Columbia, who is still trying to pull his life together after his divorce. One night, his best friend and college roommate Neil Cassidy, drops in with a bottle of whisky and a confession; he's been secretly working for the NSA interrogating terrorists with a new science that allows him to turn off neural switches in the brain that literally makes the terrorists want to tell him all their secrets. These revelations renew discussions about The Argument that Neil and Thomas had debated throughout their college career. The Argument is, at its core, the idea that free will is an illusion. That we are nothing but meat puppets who believe that consciousness is real and that we will rationalize our self awareness no matter how much evidence we see to the contrary.

After a drunken night of disturbing revelations, Tom manages his bleary way into work the next day where he is confronted by FBI agents who have a video of a crime that is beyond heinous-- and Neil is the main suspect. After that Tom's life is literally thrown down the rabbit hole. All the assumptions he had made about his life, his marriage and his friendship to Neil are turned inside out. And not only does Tom have to confront a lot of uncomfortable truths, he has to help the FBI get inside the head of Neil Cassidy; something Tom is uniquely qualified but reluctant to do.

The Argument isn't a new philosophy, but Bakker doesn't let it lie as nothing but an abstract discussion, he brings science to the conversation to back him up. The book takes place in a not-so-distant future, though Bakker doesn't specify exactly when. So the science that may or may not prove The Argument is more than simple philosophy isn't fully developed; but it is developed enough to put most of our assumptions about existence into question.

In many respects this is the hardest book I've ever had to review. There's no question I highly respect what Bakker has done here. This is a book that makes you think, hard. It is also totally uncompromising. Let me explain.

The villain in "Neuropath" is not only convinced that we have no free will, he's on a mission to prove it. High profile people who stand for something, whether it be religion, politics or even sex, are kidnapped so that they can be used as living examples that demonstrate the truth of The Argument. I was often reminded of the movie Se7en as each kidnap victim, and the results of their torture, is revealed. The only difference here is that instead of making a statement about sin, Bakker is making a statement about free will. But Bakker's statement goes beyond the shocking images we saw in the movie "Se7en" because he brings children into the mix.

I understand why Bakker chose not to exclude that which most of us find completely repugnant-- children as victims. If one is to fully give in to The Argument, as we are to believe the villain in "Neuropath" has, then there is no reason that children would be exempt from the atrocities committed. There is no moral high ground here because morality is an illusion, just as every part of consciousness is illusory. However, by using children as part of mix, Bakker takes the book to whole different level of disturbing. I have children myself and seriously considered putting the book down because it hit too close to home.

But I continued to read. Why? Because I wanted to see how The Argument ended; at least within the context of the story. But Bakker isn't about Hollywood endings I can't claim to have walked away from the book satisfied. Instead I walked away disturbed.

Now, I won't say I lost any sleep over this book. I didn't. I think this is because I put the book down frequently in order to ponder the philosophy within. As Bakker himself states his belief in free will in the Afterward of his book, I also choose to believe that we have free will. I choose to believe that our consciousness is more than an illusion. I can't claim to have any proof to back up my belief, but after reading the book I don't believe that science or the book "Neuropath" have proven, yet, that we are nothing more than animated bundles of firing synapses. In fact, that is what I think is the fundamental flaw in an otherwise exceedingly well thought out book. There is no real opposition put up against The Argument.

I don't know about you, but I need to hear both sides of an argument to pick a side--usually. I won't accuse Bakker of creating a straw man argument here though, there's too much science and philosophy to back the assertions made in creating The Argument. But every time it is presented in "Neuropath" it is presented almost as a fait accompli. Which is a shame because there is no character more perfect to show the contradictions between belief and action as Thomas Bible. In fact, there are many times that he, despite his apparent belief in The Argument, beseeches God to intercede on his behalf-- despite an absolute belief in the futility of prayers. The contradictions in human nature and science are never demonstrated as clearly as in those moments. But the moment that I really was waiting for, the moment where Thomas abandons his reasoning, his Argument, out of desperation for his family, never happens. Therefore The Argument loses some of its impact because of its lack of opposition, and that lack left me feeling the culmination of the book was missing the full-circle it could have had.

This is a work that is worthy of respect though. The amount of philosophy packed within it's pages is profound, though overwhelming at times, but it will force you to think. It will disturb you for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that Bakker creates characters that are relatable and you will connect to them; making the tragedies they suffer more powerful. "Neuropath" is a thinking man's thriller and there's no doubt it will make you question some of your most fundamental beliefs.

Perhaps leave you with the feeling that, indeed, ignorance is bliss.