Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday is a blog meme hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine to highlight upcoming books.

This week's WoW selection is:

Only the Good Die Young by Chris Marie Green

Publisher: Roc
Date: February 2014

You know the theory that ghosts are energy trapped when someone dies violently? It’s true. I know it for a fact...

My name is Jensen Murphy, and thirty years ago I was just an ordinary California girl. I had friends, family, a guy who might be The One. Ordinary—until I became a statistic, one of the unsolved murders of the year. Afterwards, I didn’t go anywhere in pursuit of any bright light—I stayed under the oak tree where my body was found, and relived my death, over an over. So when a psychic named Amanda Lee Minter pulled me out of that loop into the real world, I was very grateful.

So I’m now a ghost-at-large—rescued by Amanda (I found out) to be a supernatural snoop. I’m helping her uncover a killer (not mine—she promises me we’ll get to that) which should be easy for a spirit. Except that I’ve found out that even ghosts have enemies, human—and otherwise…

I have to give a hat-tip to Book Chick City for this particular find. I am in an urban fantasy mood right now (recommendations for current releases welcome) and the description of "Only the Good Die Young" is just what I'm looking for. Too bad I have to wait until next year to read it... :(

Sunday, May 26, 2013

TV: Doctor Who Series 5

Of all the people I know- people with very varying viewpoints that I’ve largely come to understand, people who I tend to agree with, people who I tend to disagree with, and people whose points of view are as alien to me as minds that are neither obsessive nor experience compulsions and are not prone to bouts of imploded self esteem- I seem to like Doctor Who Series 5 the least. Which is strange, because I can’t find anything to dislike about it. It might well be one of the top three seasons of the show, but there’s just something missing for me.

Series 5 is a reinvention of the show. We’ve had them from time to time. Often, they’re gradual. The production team changes, then the companion changes, then the Doctor changes, bringing the state of Doctor Who completely from one creative vision to another. An example of this is the complete reversal of direction that the show went through in 1980 and 1981 with the introduction of John Nathan Turner, Peter Davison, and three new companions. Sometimes, the change is much more abrupt, such as the change in creative direction, format, producer, Doctor and companions that occurred in “Spearhead From Space."

Another such transformation takes place in “The Eleventh Hour”. New Doctor, new screwdriver, new TARDIS, new producer and head writer, and new companion. This season introduces Steven Moffat, former writer, as show runner, Matt Smith as the Doctor, and Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) as the new companion. She’s not the only companion- there are three for the next two seasons- but she’s the young, sexy, female one so she gets literally all of the poster time for this season.

But I think Amy might be one of my “problems” with this season. I put “problems” in quotes because Amy’s a “problem” the way that Carol Ferris is a “problem," or the way that Bones McCoy is a “problem." Because when a show has taught you to expect a certain amount of character growth and development, and certain anguishes and heartaches from its protagonists, the failure of the next writer to continue those trends will strike someone who is most affected by that sort of writing. The fact of the matter is, Steven Moffat is able to write strong, sassy, independent women, and he’s able to write them being believably and sympathetically victimized. That’s not to say that he has any sort of underlying ideology that this is the role of women or anything- the show clearly tries to break that mold at certain times, either with the role of the women or the sort of struggles they face. The problem is, almost every time it does, it fails.

This isn’t a problem if Rory is the person you find yourself most drawn to. Actually, it is, because Rory is in five of the ten stories presented this season. As a result, we have one character who is the Doctor- a Doctor who is intentionally written as more alien, which is fine in and of itself, but lacks certain characteristics that drew people to the Tenth Doctor- one character who goes through no change and whose only emotional challenges lie in things that other individuals did that hurt her, and one character who isn’t present enough to have much of an arc. Actually, we have two companions who fit that last description, but River was on my nerves from the first episode she appeared in last season and neither of her appearances here do anything to make me find her more appealing.

What this era of the show lacks in variety and arc, it makes up for it in episodes. I mentioned that it might be one of the top three seasons of the show, and it should come as no surprise that both seasons I’d rank above it are about women with low self esteem learning to become something more. As to seasons I’d rank below it, it’s generally due to flaws that stand out in the episodes, and filler episodes like “Amy’s Choice” (which I only call “filler” because removing it would do nothing to impact the season, although it does show more about the characters) aren’t sufficient enough to earn a demerit. In fact, the largest complaints I have about episodes in this season is depression being portrayed as a psychotic disorder, and a scene in the finale two-parter in which individuals who won’t meet the Doctor for over a thousand years and don’t have any time travel technology are portrayed as enemies of the Doctor. Each of these items is small enough in the grand scheme of their particular episodes that, while they should have been fixed, they certainly don’t result in a “bad” episode.

In the end, what makes this episode stand out less to me than one that clearly has more flaws is the utter stationary quality of it all. Things happen, but they’re more or less undone in certain ways. The relationship between the Doctor and Amy is no different in "The Big Bang" than it was in "Vampires in Venice." Neither are the relationships between Amy and Rory or the Doctor and River. Add that to the literal way in which the events of the season are made to be memories of a broken universe that never existed, and you could very easily say that the last ten minutes of "The Big Bang" take place directly after “The Eleventh Hour” and you’d have justification both in-universe and in regard to character arcs. For a season that is otherwise regarded as so good, this is bad.

By now, I’m trapped in the position of trying to recommend a burger joint that uses the best beef and buns you ever heard of, but doesn’t believe in condiments except for the American cheese that they only carry Monday through Friday. I can’t honestly supply any reason not to watch this season, but I also can’t in good faith give the whole hearted recommendation that I gave Series 4. It’s a better season than Series 3, but it just didn’t stick with me the same way, and as a result I’d rewatch Martha’s season before this most days.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Book Review: "This Case is Gonna Kill Me" by Phillipa Bornikova

Thanks to John Grisham and Scott Turow legal thrillers have become a staple of popular fiction.  In her first book,  This Case Is Gonna Kill Me, Phillipa Bornikova attempts to add a new genre to the paranormal aisle by fusing urban fantasy and the legal-eagle mystery-- with middling results.

Linnet Ellery is fresh out of law school but, thanks to rich and influential parents, lands a job at a high powered "white fang" law firm run by vampires. She's assigned as an assistant to a low-ranking lawyer and expects to spend lots of time doing tons of pointless busywork and navigating some vicious office politics. But the case takes an alarming turn after a werewolf attack and kills one of her co-workers and Linnet realizes she might also be in danger as the case she's working on seems to have more intrigues than anyone knew.

"This Case is Gonna Kill Me" was a frustrating book for me in a lot of ways. In some respects it's a very readable book in the typical action-oriented way of most paranormal fiction. I kept turning the pages hoping that hints dropped regarding certain potential plot point would turn into something, only to be disappointed when I turned the last page without any clarity on a number of things.

Bornikova, like a lot of writers of paranormal fiction, attempts to rewrite the traditional vampire/werewolf story by tweaking certain elements. The big difference in here is that neither supernatural entity is allowed to turn a woman into their particular form of monster- but we're never told why. It's speculated upon by a couple of characters but there's no attempt to move the story along in that way and the way it's dropped doesn't give me enough confidence that I should pick up the second book in hopes of solving that mystery.

But the most baffling thing about "This Case is Going to Kill Me" has to be the legal aspects of the story. Linnet is presented as something of a legal wunderkind who, if I'm being honest, comes across as something of a Mary Sue-ish kind of character. She's the plucky, fresh out of school kind of girl who breezes into her new job and quickly demonstrates that she's more insightful and courageous than all the cutthroat lawyers at her firm. She cleaves her way through all the sexual politics of her firm (including a weird, out-of-sync sexual encounter with one of the vampire partners) and soon has the previously aloof women of the firm rallying around her. Only in a fantasy book could things play out so neatly. Additionally she's given a lot of leeway to investigate the case that may have precipitated the werewolf attack with little input from her superiors and virtually no interference or interest by the police.

But if I had to pick one thing I think my biggest gripe about "This Case is Going to Kill Me" is that the book really seems to follow a rote pattern for paranormal fiction without really developing the characters in a way that feels natural. There are moments when Linnet's history is touched upon, like the fact that she was raised by vampires, but those elements of the story are addressed in a hit-and-run fashion that never offers enough clarity to satisfy the reader. The would-be romance in the story is handled in the same way and there is absolutely no chemistry or common ground between the two main characters. The story can be engaging at times but the writing and storytelling is generally choppy and abrupt and sometimes had me flipping back and forth trying to keep track of characters that jump in and out of the plot. Minor character quirks, like Linnet's love of horse riding, are also shoehorned in but don't make a lot of sense in the overall scheme of things and the author's assumption that the reader would know the peculiarities of horsemanship without explanation (I had no idea what a piaffe is and couldn't intuit what kind of horse maneuver it was from the dialoge or description in the book) don't serve the narrative very well either.

There is a glimmer of an idea here that could work very well as a sub-genre of paranormal fiction but "This Case is Gonna Kill Me" feels off in its execution and the narrative never flows smoothly. I wanted to like this book but honestly found it to be mostly frustrating and unsatisfying.

2 out of 5 stars

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Day In the Life: Sci-Fi and Fantasy in my Day to Day Life

I thought I'd take a moment and reflect on the status of my life as regards to Fantasy and Sci-Fi.  Between moods, convenience, and the pacing of what I'm reading, I tend to have multiple projects going on at once.  I've gone over a week without finishing a book for the first time since I got my new job, which is making me feel restless.  Not to mention I have the two newest Ender universe books sitting right next to me, staring at me, boring into my soul.  This is the part where I would invite you to my Goodreads profile, if it weren't experiencing technical difficulties right now.

Shianshenka: The Rise and Fall of the Perfect Creation.  This book is by Norwegian author Rowen Sivertsen.  I didn't know what to expect reading this, and to an extent I still don't.  The story tells how culture sprang up on a world and eventually decays, which means that it starts off slow and builds up as civilization is born.  The first few pages of this book I went by about a page a week; I'm now reading 15 pages a day on most days and I expect that number to keep increasing.  Interestingly enough, for a book that starts off with a human populating a world with man-made organic species, there doesn't seem to be any sort of "playing God" message, which might be a first (and might be a result of reading a book that's not from a country I'm used to reading from).  I'm on Page 52 so far
Crisis on Infinite Earths.  I've actually finished this maxiseries, but upon reading it I realized that a single article will not do this series any good.  I'm working on a series of 12 articles about this story, which I may post on Fantasy & SciFi Lovin' when an opening comes up.

Blackest Night: Rise of the Black Lanterns.  I'm really enjoying this comic, although its nature of being a series of one-shots is causing me to read one story at a time when I return to it.  The pages aren't numbered, but I'm five stories in.  This is exactly what I had hoped Black Lantern Corps would be and it may be my favorite Blackest Night spin-off.  I enjoy this series, and this book is probably the best example of why.
Dragonball Omnibus Vol 2.  This collects Volumes 4-6 of Dragonball, and it's actually very frustrating for me because my local library keeps claiming that Volume 3 is on shelves and it never is.  I'm just about finished with this, and the only reason I haven't written my articles and returned it is that I'm still keeping up hopes for finding Volume 3 and reading it.  I'm actually now getting past the parts that I read in high school, and I might be at the limits of what my library can sustain, which is unfortunate because I was looking forward to the opportunity to read the whole series in time for the 30th anniversary.

Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi: Into the Void.  This book by Tim Lebbon is a tie-in to the comics by Dark Horse Dream Team John Ostrander and Jan Duursema.  While I have doubt that a new (for Star Wars) author is going to hold a candle to the main stories that Ostrander and Duursema are putting out, I do love these "origin of the galaxy" stories, though, so I'll hold off on even that amount of judgment till I get farther in.  This is the shortest hardcover I've ever owned, but as I'm only 16 pages in so far, that doesn't say much in terms of my experiencing the story.

Stephen King: The Stand and The Wind Through the Keyhole.  Neither of these books are in their original format, and there's a reason for that.  When I used to read three books at a time, I used to have one Sci-Fi book, one Stephen King book, and one Star Wars book.  Until I took the comic version of N. out of the library, I hadn't read a Stephen King book since Cell.  His books are damned long is why.  I'm reaching the point where I don't need to pump out books and reviews quickly, and I'm willing to reread books now, which will help when you consider that I've read about half of his library and a public library can only supply so much.  The Stand is a full length comic series retelling the original book, and as far as I can tell so far, it's a literal adaptation.  I'm on Chapter 3 of the 3rd volume (the only one at my library) and believe me, it's bringing back memories.  I still haven't read the Extended version of the book, so this may be the impetus to me finally seeking that out.  
As for The Wind through the Keyhole, even when it was released I realized I was going to struggle to get it into my reading schedule.  I love the Dark Tower books, and they're probably the reason I embraced Doctor Who so readily, so I knew I had to read this eventually.  I finally made the decision to take out the audio book from the library, and I'm about a ninth of the way through right now.  Like The Stand, damn, this is bringing back memories.

Pokemon Emerald is something I'm starting to wean myself off of.  This game is insidious is that it's built in such a way that 200 hours in, I feel like I'm not even close to finishing the game.  I'm going to focus on a last few sidequests and finish it up.  After that, I'll probably go back to one of the RPGs I've only put 100 hours into.  The biggest gripe I have about this game is the "aftergame".  In most generations, there are high level dungeons, so that you can achieve aftergame goals with a standard amount of effort.  Here, there's no such dungeon, so level grinding is virtually impossible.

I am at a crossroads in one regard: I've just finished Angel Season 5.  That means that the Buffyverse, which has consumed my Netflix time since the last week of March, is finally done.  Well, unless I buy Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 8, which is a comic, or watch the movie, which isn't entirely canon.  I would recommend both shows, by the way, though all twelve season aren't entirely equal.  But now I need something else to do while I'm reading a comic book, playing a game, or writing articles for you.  Something that I can throw on episode 1 of and watch it straight through.  I'm catching up on some webshows I've been neglecting for various reasons right now, but by the start of June I'll need a new show, preferably something Sci-Fi with multiple seasons on Netflix.  I haven't started looking yet, but I thought I'd bring it up because it's part of my process and something that was part of my day to day up until this week.

There is one ongoing show that I feel is worth bringing up, though.  That's because it's as much a part of my job as watching a movie once a month.  Doctor Who is not going to running weekly, but I do make sure to watch at least one episode a week.  As this article posts, I'll be preparing to discuss the Series 7 (not Season 7, that was four decades ago) finale.  Also, if you missed it, I just watched Star Trek Into Darkness, and reviewed it for this site.

So there's my day to day in Sci-Fi and Fantasy.  I like to keep myself busy, and I like to expose myself to as much of the genre as I can.  Also horror, but the two works I'm reading by a horror author right now are both Fantasy rather than horror, and it's hard to categorize Buffy and Angel as anything other than Fantasy (and Action-Drama).  I have about a dozen Sci-Fi and Fantasy books waiting for me to start them, so I'd like this article to become outdated within a week, but we'll see what happens.

Hope this was at least mildly entertaining for you.  Please, feel free to comment about anything I mentioned here and let me and everybody else know what you think of them.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday is a blog meme hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine to spotlight upcoming books.

This week's WoW selection is:

Sea Change by S.M. Wheeler
Publisher: Tor Books
Date: June 18, 2013
Pages: 304

The unhappy child of two powerful parents who despise each other, young Lilly turns to the ocean to find solace, which she finds in the form of the eloquent and intelligent sea monster Octavius, a kraken. In Octavius’s many arms, Lilly learns of friendship, loyalty, and family. When Octavius, forbidden by Lilly to harm humans, is captured by seafaring traders and sold to a circus, Lilly becomes his only hope for salvation. Desperate to find him, she strikes a bargain with a witch that carries a shocking price. 

Her journey to win Octavius’s freedom is difficult. The circus master wants a Coat of Illusions; the Coat tailor wants her undead husband back from a witch; the witch wants her skin back from two bandits; the bandits just want some company, but they might kill her first. Lilly's quest tests her resolve, tries her patience, and leaves her transformed in every way.

A powerfully written debut from a young fantasy author, Sea Change is an exhilarating tale of adventure, resilience, and selflessness in the name of friendship.

I wouldn't have found this book if it wasn't for the WoW meme-- the cover doesn't scream "fantasy" to me and I would have totally overlooked it if not for the other great bloggers who brought this to my attention. With so much fantasy still focused on werewolves and vampires, it's refreshing to see something different-- and who would have thought a kraken could be a main character?

Monday, May 20, 2013

In Theatres: Star Trek Into Darkness

J.J. Abrams’ 2009 entry into the Star Trek franchise - the one that has enough elements of both a reboot and a sequel that nobody can quite pin it down as one or the other - has a lot of fans.  It also has a lot of detractors.  It’s a film with stunning visuals, a resurrection of a franchise that hadn’t seen the big screen in seven years, and Leonard Nimoy’s first appearance in a Trek film since 1991’s The Undiscovered Country.  It was also a film that backtracked on 43 years of continuity, recasted iconic characters, and was directed by a Star Wars fan with very little interest in Trek

Rumor has it that, in the process of filming, Star Wars Episode VII director J.J. Abrams learned about the Star Trek spirit.  That might be true, because this film feels a hell of a lot more like what Trek is supposed to feel like than the last one did. It’s still some strange hybrid of old and new, but every character felt more like what they were supposed to than they did before.  There are still some kinks to work out - Uhura is an entirely new creation in her Vulcan-dating incarnation, and Sulu is missing some of the giddyness that George Takei brings to the table - but 9 times out of 10 when a member of the Enterprise crew spoke, it was either a line I could imagine their original actors saying, or one that was related to the new universe.  I’m not entirely certain how Leonard McCoy met a Gorn before the Enterprise went on its first five year mission, but hey, at least we’ve got Bones and Gorns...and his goddamn catchphrase.

Into Darkness starts off with an innocuous opening, leaving viewers to expect a generic terrorism story and finds its way to something that fans of old will recognize.  Something that I hope will entice new fans to seek out the film they pay homage to.  Anybody who’s familiar with the “Into Harkness” spoof posters that shot up around the first poster of this film will be happy to know that Noel Clarke has a brief role in this film.  It turns out that a rogue Intelligence agent bribed him into blowing up a secret military facility, leading to Clarke turning himself in.  After he was blown up.  Actually, I’m okay with believing that the guy who claimed Mickey turned himself in was lying, because that would add another layer of foreshadowing to this movie.

Meanwhile, Jim Kirk is having his own problems.  He’s been demoted, visits memory lane with his commanding officer, and ends up at a crisis meeting to discuss the terrorist attack.  We get our first glimpse of this Kirk showing the character’s trademark insight - like Han Solo and thousands of other characters that Star Wars vs Star Trek: Would the Empire Kick the Federation’s Ass? would classify as a “Scoundrel”, Jim Kirk is a complete idiot when it comes to keeping his ass out of the fire and a genius when it comes to thinking of things that nobody else in the room has considered.  I’m...actually not sure if this can be considered foreshadowing of events later in the film, so I’ll discuss that as we get there.  If I haven’t made it clear yet, I’m going to need to spoil quite a bit in this film to really discuss it.  If you need a visual to end the review with so that you’re not subjected to heavy spoilers, let it be the idea of Sylar fighting Evil Neo (as played by Sherlock Holmes) in a fit of rage.

Just as Kirk develops the theory that the true purpose of the attack was to gather important military targets into one meeting, the terrorist (known as John Harrison) attacks said gathering.  This results in the death of Christopher Pike, which means the old man isn’t going to be cosplaying as Davros, conversing with R2-D2, or spending most his life livin’ in a psychic paradise.  Harrison then uses a personal transmat - er, personal beaming device - to escape to the Klingon homeworld of Qo’noS.

The Enterprise, with revenge-focused Kirk at the helm, is sent to assassinate the terrorist.  When Spock and Scotty convince the Captain to be more rational, the end result is  their target saving their lives from Klingons and then surrendering to their custody, despite Kirk’s fit of rage that results in the prisoner being bashed in the face repeatedly.  In the midst of all of this, Spock and Uhura have a discussion about Spock’s seeming uncaring attitde in the face of death, and the truth of the overwhelming reactions he’s been fighting off ever since the destruction of Vulcan.

Believe it or not, nothing in the film to this point has failed to be setup for something else.  Spock’s emotions and dealing with death, combined with the concept of revenge and holding back from killing.  Kirk doesn’t need to come up with any plans to save the day, but Spock does.  Spock also has a conversation with himself from the original Trek universe about events that took place in a previous film in which Kirk survived only by being the smartest man in the sector.  Somehow, the meeting scene foreshadowing events that happen either in another universe with another officer is still less strange and timey-wimey than “The Name of the Doctor”.  To top it all off, toward the end of the film one of the most iconic scenes to feature Kirk and Spock is replayed with a subtle twist that keeps everyone in the audience on their toes.  Once several of Chekov’s guns are fired (Anton Chekov, not Pavel), we’ve finally reached a conclusion.

Flaws can be found in the writing of this film, but ultimately I find it hard to expect this to have been done much better.  Our returning villain in his third appearance could have been a little smarter, a little more true to character, some of the dialogue could have been tweaked, and as I mentioned there was some weirdness with what exactly was being foreshadowed with Kirk.  Still, even my brief synopsis shows that there was a lot going on with this screenplay and I’m rather amazed that it held together as well as it did.

The bulk of the problems, then, can be laid at the hands of visual decisions.  Which means that I’m probably looking at J.J. Abrams himself with most, if not all of these problems.  There is the issue of Kirk and some others surviving falls that should have resulted in multiple broken bones without a scratch. That’s a common enough form of dramatic license that I can overlook it, though.  More importantly, let’s talk about something that a franchise that will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in three years should know better.

In the trailer for this movie, a large number of men shown in a military uniform appeared, plus Zoe Saldana in a wetsuit.  Spoiler: men wear wetsuits, and Uhura wears a uniform.  If that (and the length of the female officers’ skirts) isn’t indicative of a trend here, we have the unfortunate sight of a female senior officer in the midst of a brutal terrorist attack, being exploited as an opportunity to show teenaged boys some female leg as she’s knocked to the ground.  Even the film’s editor was ashamed of this shot - the camera lingers on it just enough to realize how appalling its inclusion was before cutting away.

Conversely, the most blatant incidence of sexual fanservice...actually makes sense to me.  Carol Marcus, who longtime fans will know both foreshadows the villain of the piece and will - in another universe - bear Jim’s child, has a scene in her underwear.  No one’s trying to be sneaky about it, it looks good (if you’re into that sort of thing), and nobody has to be exploited or demeaned (except perhaps Jim “I said turn around” Kirk) in order to pull it off.

Almost as though daring me to get too comfortable, there are also small aesthetic things that either feel a little out of place or certainly are.  While I can understand the humans calling Qo’noS the adapted “Kronos”, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for the captions to do so- if the captions need to be there at all.  And if they do, they should really not be using pre-Stardate system dates.  That’s probably the worst problem at all, when you take into account the fact that the biggest criticism of the previous film was how little it felt like Star Trek.

Into Darkness is a fun movie.  It’s a good movie, if for no reason other than the screenplay has no massive holes and character actions happen in a mostly organic fashion.  I wouldn’t consider this my favorite Trek film, but it probably falls in the top 5.  As far as works in progress go, Star Trek Alternate Universe (as I’m going to call the series until it actually comes up with a name) is shaping up to be something, although the fact that they still haven’t bothered to make a TV show out of such a profitable property known for its television presence is rather baffling.  Still, if you’re interested in Sci-Fi action with a hint of drama and a sprinkle of cheese, you wouldn’t go wrong to watch this movie.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday is a blog meme hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine to highlight upcoming books.

This week's WoW selection is:

The Falconer by Elizabeth May

Release Date: (UK publication September 19, 2013; US publication approx May, 2014)
Publisher: Gollancz (UK); Chronicle (US)
Pages: 368

Heiress. Debutant. Murderer. A new generation of heroines has arrived.

Edinburgh, Scotland, 1844

18-year-old Lady Aileana Kameron, the only daughter of the Marquess of Douglas, was destined to a life carefully planned around Edinburgh’s social events – right up until a faery kills her mother.

Now it’s the 1844 winter season. Between a seeming endless number of parties, Aileana slaughters faeries in secret. Armed with modified percussion pistols and explosives, every night she sheds her aristocratic facade and goes hunting. She’s determined to track down the faery who murdered her mother, and to destroy any who prey on humans in the city’s many dark alleyways.

But she never even considered that she might become attracted to one. To the magnetic Kiaran MacKay, the faery who trained her to kill his own kind. Nor is she at all prepared for the revelation he’s going to bring. Because Midwinter is approaching, and with it an eclipse that has the ability to unlock a Fae prison and begin the Wild Hunt.

A battle looms, and Aileana is going to have to decide how much she’s willing to lose – and just how far she’ll go to avenge her mother’s murder.

I hesitated at first to list this title because of the uncertain US release date-- but I love the description too much not to share. I hope I don't actually have to wait a year to read this!

Marvel's "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." -- Trailer 1

Yay for the return of Agent Coulson!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

TV: Doctor Who 2009 Specials

By “Journey’s End”, it had been announced that both Russell T. Davies and David Tennant were leaving Doctor Who.  But nobody (apart from them and Stephen Moffat) knew what form that was going to take.  What the public did know was that “Journey’s End” had a happy ending in which the Doctor survived and dropped all of his companions off on Earth and alternate Earth.  Would the Doctor take on a new companion at the last minute intended for his next incarnation?

Not so much.  Instead, the story took a page from “The Deadly Assassin”’s book and gave the Doctor some time on his own.  Some who count companions would argue that that this “season” has as many as five companions.  I would say that that’s completely ridiculous unless you’re going to count every guest star in every episode as a companion.  Only Wilf arguably counts as a companion, and he’s pretty much Earthbound throughout his tenure in Doctor Who, even if you count his appearance in the 1960s.

I call these the “2009 Specials”, but actually, of the 5 specials, only 3 of them were actually in 2009.  This period started on December 25, 2008 and continued until January 1st, 2010, so forgive me if I extend 2009 by seven days for the sake of simplicity.  These specials are “The Next Doctor”, “Planet of the Dead”, “Waters of Mars” and “The End of Time”.  They were aired on Christmas, Easter, November, Christmas, and New Years, respectively (the end of time was aired in two parts).  And they were not very good.

“The Next Doctor” is definitely my favorite of the bunch, my primary complaints being that it had too much time to slow the pacing down (each of the specials is fifteen minutes longer than the average episode, save “The End of Time Part 2”, which is thirty) and that it would have worked better with a seasoned companion for the Doctor to work off of.  The premise is no less functional than the average episode, save the fact that the entire special was a trick set up by Russell T. Davies to trick the audience into thinking that the Doctor was regenerating into David Morrissey.

The premise of “The Next Doctor” is a Cybermen invasion of Victorian England.  It features a steampunk interpretation of the TARDIS (a hot air balloon) and of a giant mech created by the Cybermen.  The titular “Next Doctor” is a man who, following a traumatic break with reality, had thirty seasons of Doctor Who downloaded into his brain in a single day, and that’s never meant to happen.  Convinced he was the Doctor, he built a TARDIS (in this case, “Tethered Aerial Release Developed In Style”), took on a companion (Rosita) and fought the Cybermen.  There are plenty of things to nit-pick about this episode, sure, but ultimately it’s an average episode of Doctor Who that’s main fault was trying to be an extra long special.

“Planet of the Dead”, the Easter special, is thoroughly forgettable.  The story features a wormhole, a cat burglar, stingray monsters that the Doctor doesn’t care about as long as they don’t get to Earth, and is filmed in Dubai because there are no deserts with better politics to give the BBC’s business to.  Christina is the standout element of the episode, but as the Doctor’s not in the mood to travel with a companion, she’s left behind and forgotten, removing all trace of this special except for a psychic’s premonition of someone knocking four times.  This leads to a lot of people knocking and banging on things for the rest of 2009.

The November special, “The Waters of Mars”, is by far the most popular of these stories in my experience.  It’s an interesting story, and probably the worst thing about it is the way that the next special lops off the better part of the ending, leaving the worse part of it to be the part that sticks.  That “worse part” is the idea that there are absolutely no consequences to deciding you’re going to disregard the laws of time because the people who usually guard them are dead.  The Doctor realizes that this idea is going a bit too far at the end, but as I mentioned, the next special throws that part out the window.

The story proper of “Mars” is the Doctor being trapped into what this era refers to as a “fixed point”, an event that is so entrenched in time that the fabric of the universe would be warped if something actually managed to change it (which is supposed to be impossible, especially since a Time Lord’s deepest instinct is to keep all time travelers far away from them).  The last time the Doctor found himself at a fixed point, he ended up causing the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and the destruction of Pompeii.  Needless to say, he’s not eager to repeat the experience, yet for some reason he stays and interferes.

In the midst of this, a parasitic outbreak is threatening the crew.  Interestingly, the idea of “the potential of infection outweighs the need of the survivors” is never brought up, though at least the crew of scientists on Mars do their best to isolate the source of the infection and ensure that nobody infected has a chance of escape.  I imagine there’d be a lot less drama if Captain Brooke had simply declared escape to be out of the question thirty minutes into the episode.

The episode ends with an Ood telling him “something bad is going to happen”, which leads us into the next episode.  “The End of Time” is a story that is so dramatic that it didn’t bother me the first time, when everything was a mystery, but subsequent viewings have shown it to be less than a quality story.

The Master was believed to be killed, but unbeknownst to the Doctor he became a disembodied consciousness.  He goes on to possess Eric Roberts, and wait, actually, that’s a better TV movie than this one.  It does provide some kind of precedent for this sort of event, however, as the Master survived in the form of a ring with Gallifreyan writing on it.  Here is where I would normally comment on the technology and how clever or stupid various characters were in relation to its use, however, it’s treated as a magic artifact that requires a magic ritual in order to conjure up a new John Simm.  The ritual is interrupted, which results in the Master being able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, shoot lightning from his hands, become a spooky and/or comical skeleton for brief periods of time, and become a speed eater for reasons that may or may not have been entirely the result of a directing mistake.

By bringing the Master back to the series so quickly, several problems are brought to light.  One is the fact that every time John Simm is on screen, he’s knocking four times.  Really, the titles for “The End of Time Part 1” and “Part 2”, and “The Sound of Drums” and “Last of the Time Lords” could have been switched with their respective alternates and nobody would have noticed.   If you didn’t like John Simm’s Master because he’s so over the top, you’ll hate him here, where the most over acted scene of “The Sound of Drums” doesn’t hold a candle to the most subtle scene he appears in here.  If you liked him in the “Sound of Drums” two-parter... again, the most over the top scene of that story is more subtle than his most subtle scene here.  If you didn’t like the Doctor wanting to travel the universe with one of the most notorious mass murderers in all of time and space, well, at least that idea has less screen time here than Bernard Cribbins gathering everybody old enough to have bought tickets to his first Doctor Who appearance together to scour London for the Doctor, because a mysterious person who may or may not have been either Susan or Romana said that he may return.

On top of that, this story gives us Rassilon reduced from a wise immortal to a raving lunatic (as are most of the Time Lords by this point), and the Doctor convinced that his regeneration (which takes ages) is going to mean the end of the world.  I defend this scene by saying it’s a nod to the arrogance and the Superman complex that the Tenth Doctor has developed, and that radiation poisoning isn’t instant... but those are shallow defenses of a scene where the failsafe of a nuclear device is “if somebody else enters, the person about to die may leave”.  The Doctor is right to complain about that scene- the only reason such a device could possibly exist in this movie is if it’s placed there specifically for the purpose of forcing him to regenerate.  Even though it gives him time to take several trips in the TARDIS to visit all of his friends.  It’s a shame the Doctor doesn’t have the ability to force lethal amounts of radiation into his shoe or something.

Altogether, this “season” is almost definitely the least entertaining and least intelligent thing that Russell T. Davies has contributed to this universe.  The sole purpose these specials exist is to foreshadow and then follow through with David Tennant’s regeneration, which to me translates as a sacrifice of five hours of pointless, largely forgettable television that is completely driven by plot convenience, for the sake of “Journey’s End” having a happy ending.  It’s doubly a shame when you realize that Dalek stories in the past have had about a 50% chance of getting rid of either a Doctor or a companion.  It would have been fitting for Davros’s first on-screen appearance in decades, ending a Dalek-heavy run of the show, would give Davros his first victory over the Doctor.  “Journey’s End” could have been the “Logopolis” of the new series, completely skipping the need for these specials.  Both the episode and the show would have been better for them, and maybe fans of this era wouldn’t have quite so much to defend.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday- "Apocalypse Cow" by Michael Logan

Waiting on Wednesday is a blog meme hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine to highlight upcoming titles.

This week's WoW selection is:

Apocalypse Cow by Michael Logan
Publisher: St. Martin Griffin
Date: May 21, 2013
Pages: 352

If you think you've seen it all -- WORLD WAR Z, THE WALKING DEAD-- you haven't seen anything like this. From the twisted brain of Michael Logan comes Apocalypse Cow, a story about three unlikely heroes who must save Britain . . . from a rampaging horde of ZOMBIE COWS!

Forget the cud. They want blood.

It began with a cow that just wouldn't die. It would become an epidemic that transformed Britain's livestock into sneezing, slavering, flesh-craving four-legged zombies.

And if that wasn't bad enough, the fate of the nation seems to rest on the shoulders of three unlikely heroes: an abattoir worker whose love life is non-existent thanks to the stench of death that clings to him, a teenage vegan with eczema and a weird crush on his maths teacher, and an inept journalist who wouldn't recognize a scoop if she tripped over one.

As the nation descends into chaos, can they pool their resources, unlock a cure, and save the world?

Three losers.
Overwhelming odds.
One outcome . . .

Yup, we're screwed.

Oh my god. Zombie cows? And that title- I'd pick this for the name alone. 

"Ender's Game" Trailer

Monday, May 06, 2013

Pepper Potts: Heroine of Iron Man 3

Every once in a while, a trailer will convince somebody to watch a film they otherwise wouldn’t have seen. The premise sounded boring, but the trailer promises action. The name was lame, but it actually looks pretty cool when you see some clips. Or in this case, the Iron Man films were all mediocre films with some comedy, uninteresting action and an intentionally unlikable protagonist, that finally decided to put out an honest to god action flick.

I’m not what you’d call a big “action movie” person. I’ve never seen a James Bond movie, nor a Bruce Willis movie that wasn’t an M. Night Shyamalan drama. When I watch action films, it’s generally for the Sci-Fi aspects, like Terminator, or because they’re more martial art films than what’s generally considered to be action. There are even some action films that seem like they would be interesting to me, yet I can’t bring myself to get excited for them. Something about seeing yet another gunfight or explosion, yet another vehicle chase, does for my interest in a movie what brussels sprouts hitting the intestinal tract does for a romantic mood. If more action movie trailers looked like Iron Man 3, I’d call myself a fan.

Superhero movies have largely been considered their own genre. This is because at the heart of what is essentially a Sci-Fi/action genre, there’s so much drama that it’s often hard to invest oneself in these movies. A lot of emotions that are either set up to be resolved in the third or fourth sequel, or simply resolve over the action scenes, in which case, why not use some of that down time for the sake of the action scenes? Add that to the fact that they often follow the same formula, re-telling origin stories that lost their fresh and exciting flavor well before they developed the technology to put many of them onscreen. It’s often not until several installments that the film makers are confident enough in the ability of the audience to watch the film without being told decades-old stories with new visuals that they feel free to tell their own story.

While Iron Man 3 is largely about a familiar Iron Man villain, Iron Man 3 is anything but a rehash. Everything about this movie is fabricated especially for this movie’s universe; this is almost the way Christopher Nolan would adapt the character, though not quite. That’s likely to be the largest complaint from fans about this film, and I could easily write an entirely separate review of this film from the perspective of a comic fan, but as somebody whose favorite thing about Iron Man has always been the 1960s’ cartoon theme song, I could easily separate this from the quality of the film itself.

Central to this film is the role that Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) plays. First and foremost, she’s a female character in a comic book movie. I suppose that had to be said, and when you look at Carol Ferris, Mary Jane Watson, and Batman’s girls of the week, that sets a certain expectation. Pepper starts off the film by rejecting the intellectual (and implied physical) advances of a newly attractive man from her past. She then has an argument with her husband, and when he concedes fault, she tones it down to look at his point of view. She comes up with a plan to seek safer ground- not because she’s a coward, but because she’s traditionally been the most sensible person in the series- and Tony disagrees with her. Again, this isn’t because he’s entirely masculine and arrogant, but because he has genuine concerns about his ability to protect his non-superpowered wife in a different location.

Their entire relationship is based on this: Tony and Pepper recognize one another’s strengths and weaknesses. Pepper doesn’t allow Tony to get away with things because he’s her man or some other tripe, she doesn’t believe he has any ability to resist her demands. She just recognizes that he’s human, and has a tendency to make certain types of mistake, which she will forgive him, scold him or correct him for, depending on the situation. When he fails to prevent an attack from an unexpected angle, Tony is also quick to recognize the flaw in his plan and the value in hers, and makes no attempt to take credit for it.

Pepper is taken prisoner, yes, but so are both of our male leads, which gives us about 4 instances of male Damsels in Distress and 1 of Pepper. Iron Man is more successful at freeing himself than Pepper is, but he’s notably no more successful at freeing her. Or saving her. At all, in any way, despite really wanting to. “But Damsels in Distress dying to further the male hero’s story is nothing new” I hear you saying. And you’d be absolutely correct. But just because the male hero fails to save his wife doesn’t mean that she dies. And just because he fails to save himself doesn’t mean that he dies, either.

Pepper Potts is a true inspiration for me as a storyteller. She proves that a male character can be written with a standard by-the-numbers plot without the female character suffering for it. She goes through suffering, yes- the same amount of suffering as the superhero that she chose to spend her life with. But she doesn’t suffer as a character. Assuming that she did not become a female Human Torch in the comics, if you can’t get behind her in this film, you are simply not going to be pleased. It might have been nice to see some growth for this character, but for a secondary character who has found success in her career and love life and falls in the moral and logical right far more often than not, it would have been hard to include any that wouldn’t have distracted from the intended plot.

And the intended plot is nothing to sneer at. As I said, they took this franchise and released a serious action film of the sort that could make me look entirely differently at action films. A large part of this is that Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark spends a large portion of his time out of his Iron Man armor, doing things like thinking and having human emotions. He’s still the semi-lovable dick that we’ve been with through the past three films (the argument could be made that this is Iron Man 4, following The Avengers), but he’s grown as a person. There are references to Tony’s womanizing days from the first film, and it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t miss that lifestyle in the slightest.

When it does come time to pull out the CGI suits, this film pulls out all of the stops. There were concerns by some fans over whether this franchise would include Iron Man’s true strength: adaptability. Well, not only does Iron Man prove he’s adaptable out of his armor, but we see somewhere between twenty and forty suits of armor, including the fan favorite Hulkbuster armor. They’re clearly not as useful when he’s not at the helm, but they make the climax something awesome to behold.

Iron Man 3 may well be on its way to becoming my favorite superhero film of all time. It has all of the elements that many superhero films lack (many of those elements being the role Pepper Potts plays in both this film and the franchise) and all of the best elements of many such films. I did use the scenes with the child sidekick to refill my drink and empty my bladder, but even these scenes weren’t as bad as many shoe-horned in child sidekicks are, and in fact seemed like they were intended to be parodies of such scenes. One thing’s for certain: this is not the last time I’ll be watching this film.

Friday, May 03, 2013

"The 5th Wave" by Rick Yancey-- Books Like This Are Why I Still Read YA Fiction


After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.

Now, it's the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth's last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie's only hope for rescuing her brother--or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

Stories about alien invasions never get old. In fact, I'd argue that the more technologically savvy we get the more fearful we become because we know that an advanced civilization could devastate us with one well placed attack-- something that is explored in Rick Yancey's multi-layered new book.

Cassiopeia (Cassie), the heroine of The 5th Wave, might have her namesake immortalized in the stars but her name is the only romantic thing about space in the bleak, solitary world in which she is trying to survive following a cataclysmic alien invasion. The aliens attack in waves that obliterate the world's population and 16-year-old Cassie knows her chances of survival aren't any better than the billions of people who have already been killed. But she made a promise to her brother Sam that they would be reunited and family is something that has become incredibly rare in the few short months since the first attack.

Cassie is my kind of girl. Her life is divided into two parts and she is, predictably, a different person following the alien apocalypse. She instinctively knew, when the ship first appeared in the sky, that they weren't a benevolent presence and the same fierce intelligence that guided her through the early days is what keeps her going in her quest to find Sam. She's not the type of girl who suffers fools easily. Her father's childlike acceptance of the invasion and naive hope generally infuriates her and it's not surprising that Sam's fate ends up in her hands.

"The 5th Wave" spends more of its time exploring the emotional and physical impact of the invasion rather than delve into the minutiae of an alien civilization. In fact we don't know what the aliens look like throughout most of the book. Yancy does a masterful job of taking plot elements that we've seen before in other works of dystopian fiction and tweaking them so that we don't know which characters are the villains and which ones are the good guys. You'll see comparisons to "Ender's Game," "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and even "The Stand"-- and in some ways they're all apt. Yancey takes a multitude of end-of-the-world scenarios, including an Ebola epidemic to engineered tidal waves, and fuses them with a not-so-standard alien invasion that is a marvel of interweaving story lines.

My favorite aspect of "The 5th Wave" has to be that it is nothing like the angsty YA fiction that you usually find on the shelf these days. Cassie does sometimes brood about Ben, the boy she had a crush on in her former life; and there is Evan Walker, the mysterious boy who saves her life. But there isn't the typical does-he or doesn't-he-like-me moments in "The 5th Wave" because everyone is trying too hard to survive and trust doesn't come easy enough for relationships to form quickly. Yancey also spends some time pondering the impact of loneliness and isolation and how tough-minded one must be to survive chronic aloneness. Cassie copes by keeping a journal and it serves as a window into her mind and what drives her to keep going when the temptation to give up looms large.

The only thing that keeps me from giving "The 5th Wave" a 5-star review is a fairly extended interlude in Cassie's travels that bring her and Evan Walker together. It's interesting in some ways but Evan's character is a little bit hovering and reminiscent of Edward Cullen ("Twilight"); though Cassie is no Bella (thankfully). And yet that interlude does allow Yancey to break away from Cassie's story for a little bit to focus on Sam and the mysterious military base he's been taken to, along with all the other children, for safekeeping. At that point the narrative takes on a more ominous vibe as Yancey explores the ease in which children can be manipulated to accept, and do, almost anything.

Overall I really liked "The 5th Wave." It's the kind of book that encourages me to keep picking up YA fiction because it explores dark themes without pummeling the reader with explicit violence or sexuality while still maintaining an elegant and intricate plot. Yancey doesn't dumb the story down to meet a YA criteria-- quite the opposite. Cassie is clever and real and a great leading lady- one I believe we may see again (I certainly hope so). There is enough of a reveal to get a sense of what the alien invaders are in "The 5th Wave," but the fate of the last human survivors is largely unknown. There is a hint at a love triangle of sorts, but Yancey doesn't overplay that particular plot point. Basically, there is a lot of story yet to be told and I'm more than willing to back and see how it all works out.

4 out of 5 stars.