Monday, April 30, 2012

Movie Review: Highlander: The Source (2007)

Highlander is a flawed movie- not terrible, but flawed. The Shadow is not seen as a very good movie, and the spawn of the two is a largely forgettable movie that becomes the best of the Highlander sequels. Highlander: The Quickening and Highlander: Endgame are not good movies by any stretch of the imagination, but they each have a degree of synch with the Highlander mythos that allows rage at them to simmer, after a time.

Perhaps this is why, knowing about the Guardian, knowing about the Elder, knowing what the Source truly was, Highlander: The Source caught me off guard. In a series that ranges from good to coherent storytelling, forgivable bad acting to Sean Connery, is scored by Queen and never fails to edit in such a way that a story is told, The Source is several orders of magnitude less Highlander than The Holiday Special is Star Wars- and that’s still an insult to the largely boring and inane special that introduced fans to Mallatobuck, Attichitcuk, Lumpawarrump and Boba Fett.

What is it about The Source that just screams “this is a huge mistake”? Is it the lighting, that manages to somehow simultaneously be inconsistent in and of itself and unlike anything else Highlander has ever put out- in a shoddy sort of way? Is it the secret of what “The Source” is, an insult to every fan of anything else that has carried the Highlander name? Perhaps it’s the score, which at about the halfway mark introduces Queen covers that are so bad they are painful to listen to?

At the core of Highlander: The Source it is about a quest, to find the Holy G- no, sorry, this movie doesn’t deserve a good-natured riffing. This movie deserves to be killed with fire taken out of the bowels of the Angry Video Game Nerd and Delonge Wannabe, as well as the bladder of the dog from A Nightmare on Elm Street 4. It’s not that I’m a huge Highlander fan, it’s that I’m a living, breathing human being who on occasion watches movies, and I was subjected to this trash and told it was a movie. Not only that, but it made so little sense at times that I had to watch it twice in order to write this review. I loathe each and every last one of you right now.

Most of the acting in this film is unremarkable, in either a positive or a negative manner, but that doesn’t really matter because there’s one character who over-acts enough for the rest of the cast. My recommendation to aspiring actors is that if you don’t know what kind of accent or voice mannerism you want to have in this movie, either pick one and stick with it or at least try to be low key when you switch back and forth between accents with no rhyme or reason. This isn’t helped by a script as ridiculous as the Big Bad’s appearance, and choreography and visual effects that indicate that budget and talent were two things that stayed as far away from this movie as I should have.

I mentioned a quest. When an immortal finds himself coming closing to “The Source”, a mystical item or location that Conner MacLeod and Juan Ramirez neglected to mention at any point in the first four films, Duncan (I’ll call him MacLeod-Lite), who doesn’t believe in The Source, takes up the quest. This might have something to do with the planets of our Solar System saying “forget orbit, let’s form a conga line” and coming so close together that I imagine that the Earth was torn asunder mere seconds after the ending of this movie. At least it would save MacLeod-Lite and his wife from having seen the reviews of this movie.

At the beginning of his quest to find the Wizard of Oz, MacLeod-Lite picks up Reggie, the unfunny comic relief character, Methos, apparently another Kurgan/Jacob Kell figure who instantly achieves frenemy status, and Giovanni, an arrogant zealot of an immortal who probably started the Spanish Inquisition, as well as Anna, MacLeod-Lite’s wife who left him because he couldn’t have babies but came back to him because she read the script and saw how the movie would end.

Anna also has dreams of the director telling her to visit The Elder, a cousin of Pearl from Blade, who exposits plot details and reminds us that not one character really knows what they’re looking for. That way, the audience can take a hint and realize that there’s no emotional connection to be made to this quest to care whether or not they complete it. This is actually a pretty good hint to take, because as far as quests go, this is a pretty aimless one. This is where the terrible writing and editing I mentioned really comes into play. Sometimes, our Wacky Adventuring Party (at least with a Cleric, a Rogue, a Fighter, and another Fighter with a level in Sorceror that the MacLeods forgot about after the third movie, it’s a fairly balanced party) is in a house, while sometimes they’re driving. Occasionally they stop in the forest to have a sex scene followed by a hilarious attack by the Guardian, and once they stop a group of random men from burning another random man because the producer said there weren’t enough action scenes in the movie.

I would say that the unnecessary, aimless drivel that makes up the middle half of the movie could be cut out and skipped (and with the terrible “Princes of the Universe” rendition that follows the above action sequence, I do recommend this), but that would imply that the beginning of the movie has anything worth watching and that the ending wasn’t asinine, terribly executed and insulting to fans and film-lovers alike. This is the line where I would normally tell you the only thing worth watching in this movie and how hardcore of a fan you need to be to watch this. If you’re a stupid, thick-skulled, masochistic reviewer who can’t take a hint and enjoys wallowing through trash, I still suggest you don’t watch this movie. All drivel and no plot makes Man in Black a crap reviewer. All drivel and no plot makes Man in Black a crap review. All drivel and no plot makes Man in Black a crap reviewer. All drivel and no plot…

Bill Silvia is a regular contributor at Fantasy & SciFi Lovin' News & Reviews. You can find more of his content at http://www.MiBreviews.com

Friday, April 27, 2012

Audiobook Review – False Gods by Graham McNeill

I have a long drive into work on the days in which I have to be in the office, and I’ve often relied on audio books to help get me through. I’ve especially loved the audio dramas from The Black Library, but my one experience with their regular audio books (the first disc of Horus Rising was offered as a free MP3 download sometime last year) didn’t do much for me. I’ve since received a number of other audio books (note: not dramas) from them, but haven’t paid them much mind.

And then I came to really enjoy Graham McNeil’s Eve of Vengeance, and noticed that I had the abridged audio book of his False Gods – the second novel in the Horus Heresy series. So I bit the bullet and gave it another try – and I absolutely loved it.

My first thought upon finishing the final disc was, this is the scifi version of A Game of Thrones. Now let’s be clear, you’re not getting the familial interplay or the drama of who’s going to marry whom or the son of whom, but political machinations are a major plot point in both of these series.

Warmaster Horus is leading a crusade of Earth’s finest warriors (the Astartes) across the stars in order to bring disparate human colonies under the one banner of the Imperium (and it’s leader, the Emperor) and to destroy any aliens who might stand in the way of human expansion. When he receives word that one of the colonies he formerly brought into line has gone rogue again, he brings his Legion (formerly the Luna Wolves, now the Sons of Horus) to Davin to force their submission.

On a moon of the planet, his army will face their undead brothers, corrupted by some unknown force which has infected the people Horus left behind. They have laid a trap in a derelict spaceship, one which will result in a mortal wound for Horus – and a desperate gamble by his most loyal soldiers to save his life by entrusting him to the superstitious magic within a temple on the planet of Davin.

Inside the temple, Horus receives a vision of the future of mankind, and he must decide what role he will have in the fate of the galaxy. Meanwhile, his Astartes’ brother Lokan is uneasy about the decision his brothers have made for their leader – it goes against every rule they hold dear. He is also beginning to suspect that Erebus – leader of the Word Bearers – is in fact responsible for leading Horus into this trap. But before his accusations can come to light, Horus recovers from his wounds and directs his crusade to their next destination – a system where humans have been corrupted by technology. The campaign here will be hard-fought, lasting months and resulting in high casualties – and possibly just being used as a cover for the murder of specific individuals who have been known trouble-makers in the past.

While not an audio drama, Martyn Ellis does his best to give each character a distinct voice in his reading of the book, and his Horus in particular is very memorable, sounding much like Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Henry VIII in his later years of The Tudors TV series. There are also a number of notable moments when music has been added into the production, which really adds a nice touch to what is already great dramatic material.

I've focused above on Horus, and while he is one of the main characters, he is mostly viewed through the eyes of his subordinates - giving glimpses of his personality as well as a closer look at how deeply his warriors care for him and how he has instilled such fervor in them. There are at least half a dozen "main" characters focused on in the story, as well as at least a dozen secondary characters who are also well developed. There is the historian/Librarian friend of Lokan who sees that the great crusade has begun to be corrupted from the inside, or the Astartes who rises to fill the rank of his fallen brother who dies in the trap on the moon of Davin. There is the human investigator who wants to ensure the Astartes are brought up on charges due to the murder of other humans at the landing pad when the warriors callously swept aside anyone standing in the way of their delivering the wounded Horus to the medical staff. Towards the end of the book other Primarchs and their legions are also brought into play, setting up additional conflicts between established characters and ones who will likely have a role in the events to come.

The book is light on female characters, a pilot or ship’s captain here or there, but the sheer variety of characters and depth to which we learn about them more than makes up for this. This is a story taking place in a far future, these people need to be seen almost as no longer being human, and not subject to many of the social standards we are accustomed to today. But they do have codes, often different even among the various battle groups, and they struggle against them and forge unlikely friendships and harbor the seeds of treachery, all while engaging in colossal battles.

I wasn’t sure I would be all that interested in The Horus Heresy series, now I know I’ll be listening to as many of them as I can, and reading the series as well. I can’t wait to find out what happens next, and I can’t remember the last time I was this excited to start a new series. If you’re on the lookout for a scifi equivalent to A Game of Thrones, this seems like an excellent place to start.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday

This is a blog meme hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine to spotlight upcoming books.
This week's selection is:

Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes
Publisher: Razorbill
Date: December 11, 2012
Pages: 400

Sixteen-year-old Cleo has grown up in luxury, the royal heiress to a prosperous kingdom. But beneath her nation’s seemingly peaceful surface lies dangerous unrest. Whispers of war are growing ever louder—intensified by a murderous incident for which Cleo’s betrothed, Aron, is accused.

Amidst the ongoing intrigue, Cleo has a more desperate mission. She defies her father’s orders and sets off on a secret and perilous journey into a neighboring country, seeking a magic long thought to be mythical. If it’s real, it could be the cure that heals her ailing sister. If it’s only legend, Cleo will be stranded in a kingdom that has just declared war on her own.

This sensational series debut melds intricate storylines with unforgettable characters and vibrantly imagined magic. Falling Kingdoms is ideal for fans of Kristin Cashore, Cinda Williams Chima, and George R.R. Martin.


I knew as soon as I saw the cover of this book that it was going to make my WoW list-- isn't it gorgeous? Though I am a bit baffled that it is drawing comparisons to Kristin Cashore AND George R.R. Martin- they're not authors I'd usually put together in the same sentence. We'll see...

TOR to Go DRM Free

File this under whoa!

Tom Doherty Associates, publishers of Tor, Forge, Orb, Starscape, and Tor Teen, today announced that by early July 2012, their entire list of e-books will be available DRM-free.

“Our authors and readers have been asking for this for a long time,” said president and publisher Tom Doherty. “They’re a technically sophisticated bunch, and DRM is a constant annoyance to them. It prevents them from using legitimately-purchased e-books in perfectly legal ways, like moving them from one kind of e-reader to another.”

DRM-free titles from Tom Doherty Associates will be available from the same range of retailers that currently sell their e-books. In addition, the company expects to begin selling titles through retailers that sell only DRM-free books.


As someone who reads books on various readers of different formats, I find this is a huge plus and a much appreciated convenience. I understand that DRM was conceived as a means to stop online piracy- but it seems to me that it hasn't been a huge deterrent as people will outsmart the technology fairly quickly. 

John Scalzi has already weighed in with his thoughts on the issue (very reasonable IMHO) and I look forward to seeing what everyone else has to say. 

"The Night Circus" by Erin Morgenstern-- Beautiful Prose Elevates This Dreamy Fantasy

It all started with a contest of magic. Two masters agree to pit their students against each other in a contest to determine whose technique is superior- and the venue is Le Cirque des Reves (The Circus of Dreams).

 The circus arrives without fanfare: an empty field suddenly dotted with tents of white, black and grey. The acrobats perform without nets and the carousel runs an impossible route of twists and turns. There's a wishing tree that may grant real wishes and The Pool of Tears that carries away all your worries. The wonders of the circus are amplified by the magicians who use real magic in a contest to see who can create the grandest exhibition.

 But for Marco and Celia the undefined rules of the contest and the years spent magically sheltering the circus are taking a toll. The need to compete is waning in the face of their growing love for each other and all they really want is for the contest to end. But the rules of the contest are not bent so easily and the fate of the circus becomes more tenuous as the participants become more unhinged from reality.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is a dreamy fantasy full of gorgeous prose. The narrative jumps around with an indistinct sense of time as the story weaves into increasing complexity. The list of characters starts with only the master magicians and their students, but grows to include members of the circus and the people who were behind its creation. The strength of the book lies in Morgenstern's gift for description. The spectacle of the circus is deftly illustrated and you can almost feel the lush fabrics of Celia's dresses and hear the tick of the great transforming Wunschtraum clock that sits at the entrance of the circus.

However most of the energy of Morgenstern's writing goes into the descriptive parts of the book and the pacing does get bogged down periodically. Most of the whimsical elements work but the quirk of having the narrative jump around in time- back and forth in spurts of a year or two or ten- isn't one that really gelled with me and didn't seem necessary to the story. I also felt that the intensity of the love story would have been better served if Celia and Marco had had a real competition throughout rather than the fairly tepid attempts to add on to each other's displays at the circus. The magical elements are thinly defined, though not entirely lacking in description. If one is looking for a fully fleshed-out magical system they will be disappointed.  But the illusions themselves are vividly drawn and Morgenstern has a real knack for evoking the feeling of really being in a dream circus- one that I wish I could visit myself.

"The Night Circus" isn't a hugely angst-ridden book. Bad things happen, but not in a graphic way. The characterizations are somewhat uneven and I found myself only occasionally affected by the fate of certain characters-- largely based on how much time we had been allowed to spend with them. Only a few had what I felt were sufficient ticks to make them seem like real people. Everyone is beautifully described on a physical level, but the personalities are not always as distinct.   Most of the characters were likable, and that's actually a flaw when I should have felt more antipathy toward certain people.

Whether or not one enjoys "The Night Circus" will likely have a lot to do with whether or not the reader prefers a story that enjoys a romantic dreaminess, as this one does, or if they're looking to read something with more bite. If you're like me and don't really enjoy pointed political commentary or casual sexual titillation, then you might really like the measured pace and elegance of a book like "The Night Circus" since it avoids any of the easy trappings of popular fiction. Despite the few critiques I had, I really enjoyed its etherial atmosphere, beautiful prose and poignant romance. What it lacked in tension it made up for in its evocative imagination and I can still easily add this one to my list of recommendations.

4 out of 5 stars.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Movie Review: Highlander: Endgame (2000)

At some point in the history of Highlander, a writer or producer decided “Hey, we don’t have enough immortals. MacLeod being the last immortal prevents us from charging people to watch stories about more immortals!”

This is completely independent of the fact that Conner MacLeod killed the last immortal not once, not twice, but three times, and the fact that Highlander had yet to put out a sequel that anybody who liked the original movie enjoyed. Hence, a Highlander TV series came out.

But there’s more. Christopher Lambert wasn’t the star of the TV show, but economics demanded that the name recognition of “MacLeod” be attached to the star. Hence, Duncan MacLeod was born, a character who was perhaps tangentially related to Conner MacLeod but was a whole lot less memorable and a whole lot more available.

Highlander: Endgame was the movie designed to replace the movie series of Conner MacLeod with the movie series of Duncan MacLeod. If you can’t tell by the subtle comments I’ve made so far, I didn’t like it very much. Perhaps if you read my comments again with that knowledge, you might get an inkling as to why. In fact, you’ll wonder how you got any other impression.

But the last Highlander movie was The Sorceror, also known as The Final Dimension. How do you top that? By adding a whole bunch of magic powers in the trailer, of course! This would have been a pretty good step, actually. After all, Conner MacLeod has inherited the ability to create illusions from Kane by this point. All you’d have to do is insert this into an epic fight and-

No. There actually is an illusion, but somehow I don’t think putting a dead immortal’s face over the living one’s was intended to be a continuity reference. Nor does it lead to an epic fight of Magic vs Magic. MacLeod seems to have forgotten the magic he inherited from Sean Connery (via Kurgan) and Mako (via Kane), and Kell forgot all of his between the filming of the trailer and that of the movie.

I haven’t really gotten into the plot or the characters yet, and for good reason. Duncan and Conner MacLeod know each other all of a sudden, because it’s the premise of the movie, and several scenes ranging over numerous centuries have been added in to show how Conner was the Ramirez to Duncan’s… Conner.

Conner has decided he just can’t take the untimely deaths of the people he loves that have surrounded him, not realizing that these characters were dying primarily because the same actresses were not returning for new movies. He enters a Sanctuary for immortals that nobody’s ever heard about, and a character from the TV show explains to Duncan once he asks. It turns out the Game Master felt this was cheating, and sent an NPC named Jacob Kell to kill everybody in the Sanctuary except for MacLeod, who was forcibly removed.

More characters from the TV show arrive and explain to Duncan that Kell has changed the rules of “The Game” before forcing him into the Sanctuary to keep Kell from winning the Prize that Conner supposedly won in the first movie. And then another character from the TV show arrives just to make sure we’re terribly confused, and shows us some numbers that make no sense. Apparently, the Kurgan and Kane were really just pushovers, because Conner and Duncan still have less accumulated immortal kills put together than Kell does.

Duncan discovers that his ex-wife, bitter because Duncan turned her into an immortal against her will (this actually makes some sense, but it doesn’t get developed much more in any way that does), is working with Kell, effectively going the extra mile to transform this into a Duncan story. Kell also reveals that he’s the cause of many of Conner’s loved ones dying unexplained deaths, and Conner decides that he needs to be killed by Duncan’s hand so that Duncan can take over the movie franchise. Really, that’s the only explanation that makes sense, because every argument that the two use is because they’re holding themselves to rules that Kell can not be defeated under because he breaks them every chance he gets. The most basic example: Neither of them can defeat Kell, who routinely uses a half dozen minions to wear out his opponents before they fight him, in a one on one fight.

Not just because I’m grateful to end this review, there’s not much to say about the climax. As I said before, we don’t get some epic battle between MacLeod and Kell, settling old grudges and proving that they’re the most powerful immortals alive. No, we get a sword battle with no particularly special choreography, a special move that makes about as much sense as any of the other things that didn’t make any sense, and that’s pretty much it.

Perhaps I didn’t go into every aspect of this movie as deeply as I could. Perhaps I could go on about how petty Jacob Kell is, what with his centuries-long quest for revenge against a man who killed someone during an attempt to save that man’s mother, or about the ridiculous attempts to be hip, or the character that has the most reason to stick around and be awesome simply killing himself to serve the plot (and I’m not talking about Conner, either). The fact of the matter is that it’s a chore to review this movie, and that subsequent viewings only to serve to deepen the feeling of how bad it really is.

Don’t worry, though. It’s not the worst Highlander sequel. No, that honor is reserved for the next movie: Highlander: The Source.

Bill Silvia is a regular contributor at Fantasy & SciFi Lovin' News & Reviews. You can find more of his content at http://www.MiBreviews.com

Friday, April 20, 2012

Audiobook Review – Eve of Vengeance by Graham McNeill

It’s been a little while since I was really enthralled by a Black Library audio drama release. The last few have ranged from good to just ok, but that hasn’t kept me from looking forward to the next release with some anticipation. More often than not I’ve been very impressed with these audio dramas, and I’m happy to report that Eve of Vengeance is one of the excellent ones.

Other than one short audio drama in The Lightning Tower by Graham McNeill, I’ve had no real exposure to his work in the WH40K universe. I will say that after listening to this though, I’m convinced that his Ultramarines books are ones I need to take the time to read (and I’ve got a couple just waiting for me to get to). The Ultramarines seem to be the best of the best in terms of the Astarte (cybernetically enchanced human) warriors, and the opening of Eve of Vengeance does a great job of introducing the listener to the current state of their war against the heretics as well as the Ultramarine order.

In Eve of Vengeance, one of the key agriculture planets of the Imperium has been invaded by the Bloodborn – dark priests who scavenge anything mechanical to create their army. Even battles that are won by the Ultramarines leave behind shattered machines – giving new fodder to the Bloodborn to reinforce their army. A prolonged engagement works only to the Bloodborn’s favor, and the Ultramarine hierarchy knows the only way to ensure long-term victory is to destroy the Bloodborn’s forge in an early decisive strike.

Sergeant Telion and his sounds may be the only ones who can get the job done. But they’re going to have to first make their way behind the enemy lines, and a vicious battletank, before making their way into the Bloodborn forge where they will face all sorts of mechanical monstrosities.

This was a case where everything really came together perfectly for an audio drama. The story driver is a good one, with a clear mission and goal, but with a few interesting side-trips along the way. When Telion and his troops take witness the destruction of the battletank, the carnage is felt by the listener (and it becomes more real when the tank turns its attention to Telion’s team). There would be no fear if it weren’t for the fact that the characters are well developed, they come across as more than just generic soldiers – but real people who make mistakes as well as being capable of incredible acts of heroism.

I love that they’ve been expanding the music in these audio dramas, I think the last two that I’ve listened to have had completely different music from each other as well as anything that went before (prior to that, I was hearing the same music cues in all of the audio dramas). At the same time, I think what I’d really like is for them to do a little of both, introduce new music, but use some of the same cues from prior audio dramas, to build upon but also connect the series all together.

There is an immersiveness about these audio dramas which are in part driven by the background noise present even while the narrator is describing a scene. The earliest chapters of this audio book are excellent examples of this, where you can hear the whine of the engines of approaching drop-ships and the marching soldiers. This was a great story made even better by the sound effects, and one of my favorite Black Library Audio Dramas (listen to an extract here).

Thursday, April 19, 2012

"Dark City" --Wish I Had Seen it Before "The Matrix"

The nature of reality isn't a new concept but back in 1999 I had thought "The Matrix" delivered one of the most unique versions of the theme. But after seeing Dark City I realized that if I had seen it when it was released in 1998, "The Matrix" wouldn't have seemed so groundbreaking.

The atmospheric noir fantasy of "Dark City" centers around John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell), a man who wakes up in a hotel bathtub with total amnesia. A phone call from the strange Dr. Shreber (Kiefer Sutherland) alerts him to the presence of a dead woman in his room and the fact that he is being pursued by a bizarre group of fedora-wearing men later revealed to be known as the Strangers.

When John ventures outside of his room he's confronted by a strange, dark world in which he is the only man, other than the Strangers, awake during the late night hours and the realization that he appears to be able to manipulate the world around him with his thoughts. He starts to piece together his identity and finds his estranged wife Emma (Jennifer Connelly) and learns that he is a suspect in a string of prostitute murders throughout the city. As John struggles to remember who he is he meets an apparently insane detective who investigated the murders and tells him that nothing is what it seems: that the memories of everyone in the city are being manipulated by the nefarious Strangers. As John considers what he has been told he becomes obsessed with finding his childhood home of Shell Beach and discovers that there is no way out of the city, and that it exists in perpetual night-- something the other inhabitants of the city do not seem to realize unless pressed to try to remember the last time they were outside.

As the story progresses and the mystery behind the Strangers is slowly revealed "Dark City" turns into a story of many layers- much like the well-known "Matrix" that comes only a year later. Many have described both films as Kafkaesque but the similarities go well beyond the surreal maze of dueling realities. Both movies have main characters that are distinct in that they can manipulate the hidden worlds depicted in the film in a way that no other "normal" person can- basically they are able to beat the villains at their own game. The stylized atmospheres have a certain timelessness, though "The Matrix" goes for an ultra-modern sensibility while "Dark City" looks a lot like 1930's America with a few modern touches- and trench coats are popular in both. Neo and John are both introduced to the alternate realities in a cryptic fashion, though John isn't given nearly so much guidance as Neo. And while I could spend just as much time listing the differences between the two films, it is an inescapable fact that watching one will force you to reflect on the other. Both are visually stunning. "The Matrix" has a much louder, gun-shot ridden, explosion laden, kung-fu fighting vibe. "Dark City" goes for the slow reveal and requires the viewer to take a more cerebral approach to the story (at least if you watch the director's cut it does). If the two hadn't been released so close together I would definitely think "The Matrix" had borrowed from "Dark City." As it is, I'm just amazed at the synchronicity.

Once I got over comparing the two films, I had to admit to myself that I liked "Dark City" a lot. It's not as cinematically flawless as "The Matrix" and the effects can verge on hokey at times, but once you're immersed in the noir feel of the film it's easy to overlook the flaws. Rufus Sewell isn't given the opportunity to do much more than look bewildered throughout the film, but it has to be noted that he does it far less woodenly than Keanu Reeves. William Hurt, as Inspector Frank Bumstead, brings a low-key gravitas while Sutherland channels Peter Lorre as the odd and mildly sinister Dr. Shreber. John and Emma don't have the flashy love story of Trinity and Neo, but it is nice to see the human connections in a world where reality and memory are manipulated on a whim.

It's a shame that "Dark City" got lost behind it's flashier counterpart. It deserves credit and recognition for a lot of the things "The Matrix" was praised for. I'm a little sad that I didn't get to experience the mind-bending feel I would have gotten from "Dark City" if I had seen it when it was originally released- but it's a definite 'must-have' in my sci-fi collection.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Winners!

I'm so late in posting the winners to my latest giveaways (sorry!)- but the books are on their way.


The winner of a copy of "A Temptation of Angles" by Michelle Zink is: Nicola Donoghue; Cheshire, UK

and

The winner of a copy of "Dead of Night" by Jonathan Maberry is: Sharon Ratcliff; Davenport, IA


Congrats to the winners!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday

This is a blog meme hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine to spotlight upcoming books. This week we're featuring picks chosen by SQT and Jim.

SQT's can't wait to read selection is:

Wake of the Bloody Angel by Alex Bledsoe
Publisher: Tor
Date: July 3, 2012
Pages: 352

Twenty years ago, a barmaid in a harbor town fell for a young sailor who turned pirate to make his fortune. But what truly became of Black Edward Tew remains a mystery—one that has just fallen into the lap of freelance sword jockey Eddie LaCrosse.

For years, Eddie has kept his office above Angelina’s tavern, so when Angelina herself asks him to find out what happened to the dashing pirate who stole her heart, he can hardly say no—even though the trail is two decades old. Some say Black Edward and his ship, The Bloody Angel, went to bottom of the sea, taking with it a king’s fortune in treasure. Others say he rules a wealthy, secret pirate kingdom. And a few believe he still sails under a ghostly flag with a crew of the damned.

To find the truth, and earn his twenty-five gold pieces a day, Eddie must take to sea in the company of a former pirate queen in search of the infamous Black Edward Tew…and his even more legendary treasure.


The Eddie LaCrosse series by Alex Bledsoe is some of the best fantasy fiction being written right now in my opinion. It's similar to UF, but with more of noir feel to it. The series pays homage to everything from Raymond Chandler to Arthurian myth and yet somehow manages to have a modern sensibility to it. I am definitely looking forward to this one because.... pirates!

Jim's can't wait to read selection is:

Hellcyon by Lucas Marangon
Publisher: Dark Horse
date: 4/24/12
pages: 104
Military cadet Nika McKay returns to his birthplace, the distant colony-moon of Halcyon, only to witness the ruthless suppression of the colony's fledgling independence movement. Joining would-be insurgents, Nika aids in the capture of military "jackets," combat suits of incredible power and capability. Carrying out a guerilla campaign, Nika and crew become local legends and targets of Earth's ire. Dubbed the "Suicide Division," their nickname may become a prophecy!

Graphic novel featuring giant robot mecha? Sounds like my kind of book.

"The Pack" by Jason Starr-- Not What I Had Hoped For

Simon Burns is your typical beta male. He goes to work but can't climb the corporate ladder because he lacks the requisite ambition and willingness to resort to cut-throat office politics, yet he is still shocked when he is unexpectedly fired. A bad economy soon forces Simon into making an unconventional decision and he ends up as a stay-at-home dad to his three-year-old son Jeremy. It's a tough adjustment and when Simon runs into another group of dads at the playground he's relieved to find a group of guys who seem to understand his situation.

His new friends are a close-knit group that possess an eerie physicality, but Simon brushes off their oddness in his desire to find a comfortable niche in his new life. He soon progresses from playdates at the park to nights out with the guys- but when Simon wakes up in the middle of the woods with no memory of the previous night, blood on his clothes and a sudden strange craving for meat, he begins to realize that his new friends aren't exactly what they seem to be.

When I was first offered "The Pack" for review I was drawn to the differences in the concept of the werewolf story. Who wants the same old thing with all the were-themed fiction out there? But the promise of flip-flopped gender roles and the pull of a charismatic pack leader ended up being only a small part of the narrative as the execution gets bogged down in mundane repetition and discombobulated characterizations.

The difficulty I had in reading "The Pack" primarily came from a feeling that nothing had a natural flow to it. When we're confronted with strange situations most people have a native wariness. We might talk ourselves out of paying attention to our gut reactions, but not until we've run through some rationalizations first. But the characters in "The Pack" have a shared tendency to disregard frightening circumstances and leap into things when they should run in the other direction. To explain this behavior we're told that the would-be leader of The Pack, Michael, is an unusually charismatic guy. That he has the ability to overwhelm with his presence and make people trust him. The problem with that description is that he is never written in a way that makes this believable. Michael really just comes off as odd and I could never suspend disbelief enough to go along with the idea that people would do what he wants so easily.

And the disjointed feeling carries over into the most pedestrian aspects of the story. Simon doesn't have to go through any kind of initiation into the pack-- he's basically accepted on sight and brought into the fold for no other reason than he's a stay-at-home dad. His odd behavior does cause his wife some alarm, but her reactions are all over the place. She runs an emotional obstacle course that goes from accusing Simon of having an affair to being gay and even fears Simon will hurt Jeremy at one point. But when it becomes convenient to the narrative for her and Simon to be together, she goes through a massive change of demeanor and decides everything is fine. I couldn't decide if the author thought all women were that wishy-washy, or if that was particular to this story. But the only other female characters aren't given more credit for being perceptive- or sane- so I didn't love the way women were treated in the book.

Not to nit-pick this book to death, but I also have to mention that for a thriller "The Pack" spends a lot of time on not-so-thrilling minutia. Much of Simon's day, after being essentially turned into a werewolf, revolves around eating meat, running laps and doing push-ups to burn off his new-found energy or taking his son to the park. There are a few glimmers of what the book could be when Simon interacts with his former co-workers but it never finds its potential. It feels like more time is spent describing the changes in Simon's eating habits than showing the fear and anger that should accompany such a life-altering situation.

I wanted to like "The Pack" because I think it has such a good premise. Starr touches on the idea that women like passive men on an intellectual level, but respond to the alpha male on an instinctive level. The conundrum of having Simon being financially passive while physically aggressive is something I wish had been explored more. I also think Michael could have been developed in a much more convincing manner and I was disappointed that *the pack* that is the central idea of the book was more of a concept that a well fleshed-out part of the story. In the end I felt like "The Pack" was a collection of good ideas that needed refining.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Movie Review: Highlander III: The Sorcerer (1994)

Highlander III: The Final Dimension or The Sorcerer is something of a reboot. Rather than following along in the timeline set by The Quickening, The Sorcerer ends Connor’s marriage to Brenda and is set in modern time (1994), before the climate changes in The Quickening. But does the ignorance of a terrible sequel make this even a halfway good one?

At the end of Highlander, Connor MacLeod was the last immortal alive, and he won The Prize- the ability to commune with the thoughts of all living people and supposedly the chance to die as a normal human. If this is true, any sequel that captures the feel of the original is impossible- MacLeod would be just another swordfighter in a world where more such adventures wouldn’t make much sense. Highlander II circumvented this issue in an okay manner, by introducing immortals that weren’t on Earth during the time of the original Highlander, but the execution was so terrible that this idea had to be abandoned for the next sequel.

Instead, to quote the Big Bad of this movie: “All those nice years thinking you were the only one left, but you see the prize was never yours, and now, it never will be.”

Shiwan Khan- I mean, Kane- is an immortal who wants to learn the powers of the Tulku- I mean, immortal illusionist Nakano. We learn that after the death of Ramirez, MacLeod trained under Nakano, but before he could learn Nakano’s secrets, he was killed by Kane, the Asian version of the Kurgan. Kane and his two minions (both of the Khan clan, speaking of Shiwan) are trapped, allowing them to evade the gathering of the first film. For the first and last time in the Highlander films, we see the beheading of an immortal by another lead to a transfer of skills, as Kane becomes the master of illusion- the Sorcerer- that he’s always dreamed of being, and he uses these abilities relentlessly against MacLeod (whom he would not have any advantage against otherwise).

Another element The Final Dimension introduces over the original is Jake, Connor’s adopted son. The inability of immortals to conceive children is covered slightly more than the original, with Connor having a lover centuries after Heather who eventually has children with another man after believing MacLeod to be dead. After believing himself to have won the prize and therefore desiring to live a mortal life, Connor adopts Jake, who for largely acts as a MacGuffin to force MacLeod to fight Kane to the death.

The final difference between Highlander and Highlander III is that there is no attempt to make this look like the end. By this point, this is the second sequel and there are two television series on the air- it’s clear there’s going to be more, so why act like MacLeod won the Prize, again? This backfires. On one side, they’re not lying to the audience, which the original film (very unintentionally) did. On the other hand, they make the “prize” in the first film an isolated event, which is odd when you consider that Kane and eventually Jacob Kell are each as dangerous as the Kurgan, yet he’s the only one with the special animation. There’s also the fact that the lack of this, coupled with the lack of introducing a new mythos to us, contributes to making this the least memorable of all the Highlander films.

Highlander III received, if anything, worse criticism on sites such as Rotten Tomatoes than The Quickening, and I think this explains it. Highlander II was stupid, ridiculously so, but it was unique. The Final Dimension, far from being that, is just a rehash of Highlander without any of the unique touches that made Highlander what it was. It definitely states for the audience that there can only be one.

On top of that, another movie came out the same year with the exact same plot. Surprise surprise, this movie didn’t exactly receive a ton of praise, but at last I found The Shadow entertaining and interesting, in addition to carrying an origin story for its characters and a performance by Tim Curry. If you took The Shadow, stripped out all of the proper nouns and specific powers and replaced them counterparts from Highlander, stripped out all of the backstory and suspense that made The Shadow and Highlander so entertaining, you get a bare premise for a story that doesn’t hold much in the way of memorability, and that’s where you get Highlander III: The Sorceror.

Highlander III isn’t a terrible film, but it’s not a must-see either. If you’re a Highlander fan, it’s the best of the four sequels, but that doesn’t make it nearly an equal movie. If you need to watch a Highlander sequel, make it this one; if not, give it a pass and watch either Highlander or The Shadow, as both are superior films.

Bill Silvia is a regular contributor at Fantasy & SciFi Lovin' News & Reviews. You can find more of his content at http://www.MiBreviews.com

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Angry Robot's "Open Door 2012" Submissions Starts Tomorrow

~From Angry Robot

Don’t forget – if you are an unagented author with a completed Classic Fantasy novel, we’d love to see it – but you only have 2 weeks in which to send it to us.
Starting tomorrow, until the end of the month, we are accepting submissions for Classic Fantasy novels (standalone books and series).

This page contains everything you need to know, and a magic uploady button (apologies for the tech-speak) will appear tomorrow morning – some time between 5.30am and 7.00am (UK time).
Good luck!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Books Received

The Coldest War by Ian Tregillis

In Ian Tregillis' The Coldest War, a precarious balance of power maintains the peace between Britain and the USSR. For decades, Britain's warlocks have been all that stands between the British Empire and the Soviet Union—a vast domain stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the shores of the English Channel. Now each wizard's death is another blow to Britain's national security.

Meanwhile, a brother and sister escape from a top-secret facility deep behind the Iron Curtain. Once subjects of a twisted Nazi experiment to imbue ordinary people with superhuman abilities, then prisoners of war in the immense Soviet research effort to reverse-engineer the Nazi technology, they head for England.

Because that's where former spy Raybould Marsh lives. And Gretel, the mad seer, has plans for him.

As Marsh is once again drawn into the world of Milkweed, he discovers that Britain's darkest acts didn't end with the war. And while he strives to protect queen and country, he is forced to confront his own willingness to accept victory at any cost.



Dark Eyes by William Richter

Wally was adopted from a Russian orphanage as a child and grew up in a wealthy New York City family. At fifteen, her obsessive need to rebel led her to life on the streets.

Now the sixteen-year-old is beautiful and hardened, and she's just stumbled across the possibility of discovering who she really is. She'll stop at nothing to find her birth mother before Klesko - her darkeyed father - finds her. Because Klesko will stop at nothing to reclaim the fortune Wally's mother stole from him long ago. Even if that means murdering his own blood. But Wally's had her own killer training, and she's hungry for justice.




Lucky Bastard by S.G. Browne

Meet Nick Monday: a private detective who’s more Columbo than Sam Spade, more Magnum P.I. than Philip Marlowe. As San Francisco’s infamous luck poacher, Nick doesn’t know whether his ability to swipe other people’s fortunes with a simple handshake is a blessing or a curse. Ever since his youth, Nick has swallowed more than a few bitter truths when it comes to wheeling and dealing in destinies. Because whether the highest bidders of Nick’s serendipitous booty are celebrities, yuppies, or douche bag vegans, the unsavory fact remains: luck is the most powerful, addictive, and dangerous drug of them all. And no amount of cappuccinos, Lucky Charms, or apple fritters can sweeten the notion that Nick might be exactly what his father once claimed—as ambitious as a fart. That is, until Tuesday Knight, the curvy brunette who also happens to be the mayor’s daughter, approaches Nick with an irresistible offer: $100,000 to retrieve her father’s stolen luck.

Could this high-stakes deal let Nick do right? Or will kowtowing to another greedmonger’s demands simply fund Nick’s addiction to corporate coffee bars while his morality drains down the toilet? Before he downs his next mocha, Nick finds himself at the mercy of a Chinese mafia kingpin and with no choice but to scour the city for the purest kind of luck, a hunt more titillating than softcore porn. All he has to do to stay ahead of the game is remember that you can’t take something from someone without eventually paying like hell for it. . . .



Siege: As the World Dies, Book Three by Rhiannon Frater

Siege is the conclusion to Rhiannon Frater’s As the World Dies trilogy, which should appeal to fans of The Walking Dead. Both The First Days and Fighting to Survive won the Dead Letter Award from Mail Order Zombie. The First Days was named one of the Best Zombie Books of the Decade by the Harrisburg Book Examiner.

The zombie illness has shattered civilization. The survivors who have found tenuous safety in Texas defend their fort against the walking dead and living bandits.

Katie has made peace with the death of her wife and is pregnant and married to Travis, who has been elected Mayor. Jenni, her stepson, Jason; and Juan—Travis’s righthand man—are a happy family, though Jenni suffers from PTSD. Both women are deadly zombie killers.

In Siege, the people of Ashley Oaks are stunned to discover that the vice president of the United States is alive and commanding the remnants of the US military. What’s left of the US government has plans for this group of determined survivors.




Royal Street by Suzanne Johnson

As the junior wizard sentinel for New Orleans, Drusilla Jaco’s job involves a lot more potion-mixing and pixie-retrieval than sniffing out supernatural bad guys like rogue vampires and lethal were-creatures. DJ's boss and mentor, Gerald St. Simon, is the wizard tasked with protecting the city from anyone or anything that might slip over from the preternatural beyond.

Then Hurricane Katrina hammers New Orleans’ fragile levees, unleashing more than just dangerous flood waters.

While winds howled and Lake Pontchartrain surged, the borders between the modern city and the Otherworld crumbled. Now, the undead and the restless are roaming the Big Easy, and a serial killer with ties to voodoo is murdering the soldiers sent to help the city recover.

To make it worse, Gerry has gone missing, the wizards’ Elders have assigned a grenade-toting assassin as DJ’s new partner, and undead pirate Jean Lafitte wants to make her walk his plank. The search for Gerry and for the serial killer turns personal when DJ learns the hard way that loyalty requires sacrifice, allies come from the unlikeliest places, and duty mixed with love creates one bitter gumbo.




Silence by Michelle Sagara

It began in the graveyard. Ever since her boyfriend Nathan died in a tragic accident Emma had been coming to the graveyard at night. During the day she went through the motions at her prep school, in class, with her friends, but that’s all it was. But tonight was different. Tonight Emma and her dog were not alone in the cemetery. There were two others there—Eric, who had just started at her school, and an ancient woman who looked as though she were made of rags. And when they saw Emma there, the old woman reached out to her with a grip as chilling as death….


Zac and the Dream Stealers by Ross Mackenzie

It's up to one boy to take back the night!

Zac can't sleep. And neither can anyone else. A bunch of bad dreams keeps robbing the whole wide-awake world of rest, and one night as the clock strikes twelve, Zac is torn from his own not-so-sweet slumber to be tossed-and-turned into a strange, surreal realm. Nocturne, this land is called, and its frightening nightmares are a sign that a nasty band of dream stealers is seizing control. Zac won't rest -- he CAN'T rest -- until he finds a way to stop these silver-skulled "insomaniacs" and take back the night!

If he doesn't, you might never sleep again.

A big idea made beautifully simple, about the purest, most universal form of magic: dreams.





Life Guards in the Hamptons by Celia Jerome

Publishers Weekly
Fans of Jerome’s Willow Tate, a cheerfully melodramatic writer and Visualizer, will find much to enjoy in her fourth adventure. Willow tries to stay away from her psychic-ridden hometown of Paumanok Harbor and its hunky but incontrovertibly normal veterinarian, Matt, but is inevitably drawn back by a combination of mysteries, family obligations, and savage arthropods. Her part in the rescue of sea god M’ma (in 2011’s Fire Works in the Hamptons) has attracted more supernatural attention, including a seabird with a speech impediment and a vengeful sea serpent bent on destroying Paumanok Harbor. Willow is an unlikely but affable protagonist, undercutting her neurotic self-absorption with cheerful humor and a strong desire to perform good deeds. Unfortunately, she never actually does very much, and the big climaxes aren’t so much experienced as discussed at length.




Chicory Up by Irene Radford

THE BATTLE FOR THE TEN ACRE WOOD CONTINUES..

Skene Falls, Oregon, was a typical small town where everyone knew everyone else's business. But even small towns have their secrets — sometimes magical ones. Skene Falls was not only home to Desdemona and Benedict Carrick and their parents, it was also the dwelling place of the Pixies. When Thistle Down was exiled from Pixie and stranded in a human body, it marked the beginning of a campaign that would prove dangerous to all. Could Thistle, her human friends, and one Pixie named Chicory avert disaster?



Suited by Jo Anderton

Tanyana has chosen to help the Keeper, to stand against the Puppet Men, who continue to force the Debris into unnatural creations.

And when even her own suit becomes aggressive against her, Tanyana must weigh some very personal issues against her determination to serve the greater good.




The Hammer and the Blade by Paul S. Kemp

Kill the demon.
Steal the treasure.
Retire to a life of luxury.
Sounds easy when you put it like that.
Unfortunately for Egil and Nix, when the demon they kill has friends in high places, retirement is not an option.

Egil and Nix, adventurers and swords for hire, are pulled into the dark schemes of a decadent family with a diabolical secret. A fast paced adventure redolent with the best of classic sword and sorcery tales.


vN: The First Machine Dynasty by Madeline Ashby

Amy Peterson is a self-replicating humanoid robot known as a VonNeumann.

For the past five years, she has been grown slowly as part of a mixed organic/synthetic family. She knows very little about her android mother's past, so when her grandmother arrives and attacks her mother, Amy wastes no time: she eats her alive.

Now she carries her malfunctioning granny as a partition on her memory drive, and she's learning impossible things about her clade's history - like the fact that she alone can kill humans without failsafing...



The Killing Moon (Dreamblood) by N.K. Jemisin

The city burned beneath the Dreaming Moon.

In the ancient city-state of Gujaareh, peace is the only law. Upon its rooftops and amongst the shadows of its cobbled streets wait the Gatherers - the keepers of this peace. Priests of the dream-goddess, their duty is to harvest the magic of the sleeping mind and use it to heal, soothe . . . and kill those judged corrupt.

But when a conspiracy blooms within Gujaareh's great temple, Ehiru - the most famous of the city's Gatherers - must question everything he knows. Someone, or something, is murdering dreamers in the goddess' name, stalking its prey both in Gujaareh's alleys and the realm of dreams. Ehiru must now protect the woman he was sent to kill - or watch the city be devoured by war and forbidden magic.



Blue Magic by A.M. Dellamonica

This powerful sequel to the A.M. Dellamonica's Sunburst Award–winning contemporary fantasy Indigo Springs starts in the small town in Oregon where Astrid Lethewood discovered an underground river of blue liquid—Vitagua—that is pure magic. Everything it touches is changed. The secret is out—and the world will never be the same. Astrid’s best friend, Sahara, has been corrupted by the blue magic, and now leads a cult that seeks to rule the world. Astrid, on the other hand, tries to heal the world.

Conflicting ambitions, star-crossed lovers, and those who fear and hate magic combine in a terrible conflagration, pitting friend against friend, magic against magic, and the power of nations against a small band of zealots, with the fate of the world at stake.



A Temptation of Angels by Michelle Zink

Even angels make mistakes in this page-turning epic romance

When her parents are murdered before her eyes, sixteen-year-old Helen Cartwright finds herself launched into an underground London where a mysterious organization called the Dictata controls the balance of good and evil. Helen learns that she is one of three remaining angelic descendants charged with protecting the world's past, present, and future. Unbeknownst to her, she has been trained her whole life to accept this responsibility. Now, as she finds herself torn between the angelic brothers protecting her and the devastatingly handsome childhood friend who wants to destroy her, she must prepare to be brave, to be hunted, and above all to be strong, because temptation will be hard to resist, even for an angel.

Michelle Zink masterfully weaves historical fantasy with paranormal romance to create a gripping tale of love and betrayal.



Vengeance by Ian Irvine

Ten years ago, two children witnessed a murder that still haunts them as adults.

Tali watched as two masked figures killed her mother and now, she has sworn revenge. Even though she is a slave. Even though she is powerless. Even though she is nothing in the eyes of those who live above ground, she will find her mother's killers and bring them to justice.

Rix, heir to Hightspall's greatest fortune, is tormented by the fear that he's linked to the murder, and by a sickening nightmare that he's doomed to repeat it.

When a chance meeting brings Tali and Rix together, the secrets of an entire kingdom are uncovered and a villain out of legend returns to throw the land into chaos. Tali and Rix must learn to trust each other and find a way to save the realm — and themselves.


Lover Reborn by J.R. Ward

Ever since the death of his shellan, Tohrment is a heartbroken shadow of the vampire leader he once was. Brought back to the Brotherhood by a self-serving fallen angel, he fights again with ruthless vengeance- and is unprepared for a new tragedy. Seeing his beloved in dreams—trapped in a cold, desolate netherworld—he turns to the angel to save his former mate, only to despair at the path he himself must take to set her free. As war with the lessers rages, and a new clan of vampires vies for the Blind King’s throne, Tohr struggles between an unforgettable past, and a future that he doesn’t know he can live with… but can’t seem to turn away from.


Deadlocked by Charlaine Harris

It's vampire politics as usual around the town of Bon Temps, but never before have they hit so close to Sookie's heart...

Growing up with telepathic abilities, Sookie Stackhouse realized early on there were things she'd rather not know. And now that she's an adult, she also realizes that some things she knows about, she'd rather not see—like Eric Northman feeding off another woman. A younger one.

There's a thing or two she'd like to say about that, but she has to keep quiet—Felipe de Castro, the Vampire King of Louisiana (and Arkansas and Nevada), is in town. It's the worst possible time for a human body to show up in Eric's front yard—especially the body of the woman whose blood he just drank.

Now, it's up to Sookie and Bill, the official Area Five investigator, to solve the murder. Sookie thinks that, at least this time, the dead girl's fate has nothing to do with her. But she is wrong. She has an enemy, one far more devious than she would ever suspect, who's set out to make Sookie's world come crashing down.




Black Dawn: by Rachel Caine

In Last Breath, the rain brought a new and dire threat to Morganville and its vampires... their ancient enemies, the draug. Now, the vampires are fighting a losing war, and it will fall to the residents of the Glass House: Michael, Eve, Shane and Claire, to take the fight to an enemy who threatens to destroy the town, forever.

Lovers of Morganville, rejoice: Black Dawn takes the intrigue, romance and nail-biting suspense of the series to its highest level yet!



Forged in Fire by J.A. Pitts

Sarah Jane Beauhall, the blacksmith turned dragon slayer, has it all figured out—little things like dealing with the political intrigue of dragons who secretly run our world, and learning to wield the magic that she has been given by none other than Odin, who has been fighting the dragons for millennia. And then there is the matter of coming to terms with who she is…and how to build a life with her partner, Katie.
All these things are forced into the background however when a magic-wielding serial killer starts prowling the Pacific Northwest. And all of his victims have ties to Sarah.

Sarah must unravel the web she finds closing around her as a powerful necromancer and a crazed blood cult known as the Dragon Liberation Front work to tear apart everything she holds dear.