Friday, August 30, 2013

An Unearthly Podcast: Worst Episodes of Doctor Who

The group meets again to talk about some of the worst Doctor Who stories to ever hit television: An Unearthly Podcast #26: Worst Episodes of Doctor Who Special!

And of course, the playlist of the full series!

And for Who newbies (or even AUP newbies who don't care about broadcast order) Chronological Order by subject playlist!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday- "Ghosts Know" by Ramsey Campbell

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:

Ghosts Know by Ramsay Campbell
Publisher: Tor Books
Date: October 1, 2013
Pages: 288

Ramsey Campbell's Ghosts Know is a fascinating exploration of the twists and turns of reality-media personalities, the line between the dead and the living…and how the truth can be twisted to serve all manner of reality.

Graham Wilde is a contentious, bombastic host of the talk radio program Wilde Card. His job, as he sees it, is to stir the pot, and he is quite good at it, provoking many a heated call with his eccentric and often irrational audience. He invites Frank Jasper, a purported psychic, to come on the program. He firmly believes that the man is a charlatan, albeit a talented one. When Jasper appears on his show, Wilde draws upon personal knowledge about the man to embarrass him on air, using patter similar to that which Jasper utilizes in his act.

Wilde's attack on Jasper earns him the enmity of his guest and some of the members of his audience. He next encounters Jasper when the psychic is hired by the family of a missing adolescent girl to help them find her. Wilde is stunned and then horrified when Jasper seems to suggest that he might be behind the girl's disappearance.

Thus begins a nightmarish journey as circumstantial evidence against Wilde begins to mount, alienating his listeners, the radio station, and eventually, his lover. As Wilde descends into a pit of despair, reality and fantasy begin to blur in a kaleidoscope of terror….

Every time I see a book that has a reality-TV angle I get really excited. "Ghosts Know" has a unique perspective in that it appears to have a strong commentary (and possible take-down) of the over-the-top style of entertainment "journalism" that seems to be the norm these days. I hope so anyway!

Books Received

Mage's Blood (The Moontide Quartet) by David Hair

For years the Leviathan Bridge was a boon for prosperity and culture. But when the Rondian Emperor turned his avaricious eyes toward it, peace became war. In successive crusades the Imperial legions and their mighty battle-mages plundered the East unopposed.

Now the Moontide has come again, the Bridge is rising from beneath the waves, and the Third Crusade is poised for release. The board is set and the pieces are moving. But three lowly pawns, barely regarded, threaten the game: A failed mage, a jaded mercenary and a lowly market-girl are about to be catapulted into the maelstrom. Their choices and their courage are about to change the world.

Come to Urte, where the moon covers half the sky and the tides render the seas impassable. Where windships ply the skies and magi with god-gifted powers rule the earth. Where East and West are divided by colour, creed, language and the sea, but drawn to each other irrevocably in a dance of life and death. The Moontide is coming, to sweep away all in its path.

Kitty in the Underworld (Kitty Norville) by Carrie Vaughn

As Denver adjusts to a new master vampire, Kitty gets word of an intruder in the Denver werewolf pack’s territory, and she investigates the challenge to her authority. She follows the scent of the lycanthrope through the mountains where she is lured into a trap, tranquilized, and captured. When she wakes up, she finds herself in a defunct silver mine: the perfect cage for a werewolf. Her captors are a mysterious cult seeking to induct Kitty into their ranks in a ritual they hope will put an end to Dux Bellorum. Though skeptical of their power, even Kitty finds herself struggling to resist joining their cause. Whatever she decides, they expect Kitty to join them in their plot . . . willingly or otherwise.

Frozen: Heart of Dread, Book One by Melissa de la Cruz and Michael Johnston

From New York Times bestselling author Melissa de la Cruz and Michael Johnston comes this remarkable first book in a spellbinding new series about the dawn of a new kind of magic.

Welcome to New Vegas, a city once covered in bling, now blanketed in ice. Like much of the destroyed planet, the place knows only one temperature—freezing. But some things never change. The diamond in the ice desert is still a 24-hour hedonistic playground and nothing keeps the crowds away from the casino floors, never mind the rumors about sinister sorcery in its shadows.

At the heart of this city is Natasha Kestal, a young blackjack dealer looking for a way out. Like many, she's heard of a mythical land simply called “the Blue.” They say it’s a paradise, where the sun still shines and the waters are turquoise. More importantly, it’s a place where Nat won’t be persecuted, even if her darkest secret comes to light.

But passage to the Blue is treacherous, if not impossible, and her only shot is to bet on a ragtag crew of mercenaries led by a cocky runner named Ryan Wesson there. Danger and deceit await on every corner, even as Nat and Wes find themselves inexorably drawn to each other. But can true love survive the lies? Fiery hearts collide in this fantastic tale of the evil men do and the awesome power within us all.

Omens by Kelley Armstrong

Twenty-four-year-old Olivia Taylor Jones has the perfect life. The only daughter of a wealthy, prominent Chicago family, she has an Ivy League education, pursues volunteerism and philanthropy, and is engaged to a handsome young tech firm CEO with political ambitions.

But Olivia’s world is shattered when she learns that she’s adopted. Her real parents? Todd and Pamela Larsen, notorious serial killers serving a life sentence. When the news brings a maelstrom of unwanted publicity to her adopted family and fiancĂ©, Olivia decides to find out the truth about the Larsens.

Olivia ends up in the small town of Cainsville, Illinois, an old and cloistered community that takes a particular interest in both Olivia and her efforts to uncover her birth parents’ past.

Aided by her mother’s former lawyer, Gabriel Walsh, Olivia focuses on the Larsens’ last crime, the one her birth mother swears will prove their innocence. But as she and Gabriel start investigating the case, Olivia finds herself drawing on abilities that have remained hidden since her childhood, gifts that make her both a valuable addition to Cainsville and deeply vulnerable to unknown enemies. Because there are darker secrets behind her new home and powers lurking in the shadows that have their own plans for her.

The Lost Boy by Greg Ruth

 Some mysteries are too dangerous to leave alone.

Nate's not happy about his family moving to a new house in a new town. After all, nobody asked him if he wanted to move in the first place. But when he discovers a tape recorder and note addressed to him under the floorboards of his bedroom, he's thrust into a dark mystery about a boy who went missing many, many years ago. Now, as strange happenings and weird creatures begin to track Nate, he must partner with Tabitha, a local girl, to find out what they want with him. 

But time is running out, for a powerful force is gathering strength in the woods at the edge of town, and before long Nate and Tabitha will be forced to confront a terrifying foe and uncover the truth about the Lost Boy.

Dark Talisman by Steven M. Booth

She's been banished from her home without a word of explanation. Assassins are hot on her tail, and she's fleeing without a plan. On the whole, her future looks pretty grim. Then again, it's nearly impossible to catch a dark elf. And even tougher to kill one.

Meet Altira. She set out to rob a sultan, and ended up stealing the deadliest gem in the world. Her mistake could cost Altira her life -- or save her race, and possibly the world as she knows it.

As Altira struggles to triumph over the vast forces arrayed against her, she acquires (mostly against her will) a rich cast of unexpected allies -- perceptive dwarves, giant Phoenix birds with mysterious powers, and ephemeral creatures made from nothing but air. Together they must find a way to defeat the army of assassins set against her, overcome the wrath of three nations, and forge allegiances with despised enemies, to reveal the truth to a people kept in the darkness for millennia.

The first installment in The Guardian Chronicles, Dark Talisman takes us into the magical land of Salustra, where ageless Guardians are locked in an eternal battle with their mortal enemy: a Dark Lord intent on destroying their world.

Assault on Sunrise (The Extra Trilogy) by Michael Shea

Less than a hundred years in the future, pollution, economic disaster, and the rapacious greed of the corporate oligarchy has brought America to its knees and created dystopian urban nightmares, of which L.A. may be the worst.

Curtis, Japh, and Jool are film extras, who—with the help of a couple of very gutsy women—survived being anonymous players in a “live-action” film in which getting killed on-screen meant getting killed for real. Surviving the shoot made them rich enough to escape the post-apocalyptic Hell that L.A. has become. But their survival was not what Panoply Studios’ CEO Val Margolian had in mind, especially since it cost his company millions.

Now he's taking his revenge. After several plainclothes police are found dead in the former extras' new home, the bucolic, peaceful town of Sunrise, California, the entire town is subjected to Margolian's invidious plan to punish the entire town…and make a fortune doing it. Margolian has created toxic, murderous wasp-like mechanical creatures to set upon the people of Sunrise, while his film crew captures the carnage in what promises to be the bloodiest “live-action” film yet. With their haven from L.A. besieged by the deadly assault, the former extras—and their fellow townspeople—are faced with a grim task: to defeat the creatures and take back their town and their freedom. Michael Shea's Assault on Sunrise is a saga of courage and sacrifice in a world gone mad.

Under the Empyrean Sky (The Heartland Trilogy) by Chuck Wendig

Corn is king in the Heartland, and Cael McAvoy has had enough of it.

It’s the only crop the Empyrean government allows the people of the Heartland to grow — and the genetically modified strain is so aggressive that it takes everything the Heartlanders have just to control it.

As captain of the Big Sky Scavengers, Cael and his crew sail their rickety ship over the corn day after day, scavenging for valuables, trying to earn much-needed ace notes for their families. But Cael’s tired of surviving life on the ground while the Empyrean elite drift by above in their extravagant sky flotillas. He’s sick of the mayor’s son besting Cael’s crew in the scavenging game. And he’s worried about losing Gwennie — his first mate and the love of his life — forever when their government-chosen spouses are revealed. But most of all, Cael is angry — angry that their lot in life will never get better and that his father doesn’t seem upset about any of it.

Cael’s ready to make his own luck . . . even if it means bringing down the wrath of the Empyrean elite and changing life in the Heartland forever.

Cain's Blood: A Novel by Geoffrey Girard

Ten Bundy. The Son of Sam. The Boston Strangler. Albert Fish. Henry Lee Lucas.

The DNA of the world’s most notorious serial killers has been cloned by the U.S. Department of Defense to develop a new breed of bioweapon. Now in Phase Three, the program includes dozens of young men who have no clue as to their evil heritage. Playing a twisted game of nature vs. nurture, scientists raise some of the clones with loving families and others in abusive circumstances. But everything changes when the most dangerous boys are set free by their creator. A man with demons of his own, former black ops soldier Shawn Castillo is hot on their trail. But Castillo didn’t count on the quiet young man he finds hiding in an abandoned house—a boy who has just learned he is the clone of Jeffrey Dahmer. As Jeffrey and Castillo race across the country on the trail of the rampaging teens, Castillo must protect the boy who is the embodiment of his biggest fears—and who may also be his last hope. Melding all-too-plausible science and ripped from- the-headlines horror, Cain’s Blood is a stunning debut about the potential for good and evil in us all.

The Grim Company by Luke Scull

The Gods are dead. The Magelord Salazar and his magically enhanced troops, the Augmentors, crush any dissent they find in the minds of the populace. On the other side of the Broken Sea, the White Lady plots the liberation of Dorminia, with her spymistresses, the Pale Women. Demons and abominations plague the Highlands.

The world is desperately in need of heroes. But what they get instead are a ragtag band of old warriors, a crippled Halfmage, two orphans and an oddly capable manservant: the Grim Company.

Dark Shadows: Wolf Moon Rising by Lara Parker

The first all-new Dark Shadows novel in years, written by Lara Parker, one of the stars of the cult classic TV show!

When a portrait is lost that has maintained Quentin Collins’s youthful appearance for over a century—and has also kept his werewolf curse at bay—Quentin begins to dread the full moon.

Meanwhile, David, the sixteen-year-old heir to the Collins fortune, has fallen in love with Jacqueline, a young girl living at the Old House who is the reincarnation of Angelique. David and Jacqueline are swept back in time to the prohibition era of the Twenties, where David uncovers the dark secrets of the Collins family history.

Most threatening of all, Dr. Nathanial Blair, an expert in the paranormal, has come to Collinwood because he suspects they are harboring a vampire. Fortunately, Barnabas Collins has returned to his coffin after a disastrous flirtation with life as a human. Nevertheless, what Blair discovers places the entire Collins family in jeopardy.

Fiddlehead (Clockwork Century) by Cherie Priest

Young ex-slave Gideon Bardsley is a brilliant inventor, but the job is less glamorous than one might think, especially since the assassination attempts started. Worse yet, they're trying to destroy his greatest achievement: a calculating engine called Fiddlehead, which provides undeniable proof of something awful enough to destroy the world. Both man and machine are at risk from forces conspiring to keep the Civil War going and the money flowing.

Bardsley has no choice but to ask his patron, former president Abraham Lincoln, for help. Lincoln retired from leading the country after an attempt on his life, but is quite interested in Bardsley’s immense data-processing capacities, confident that if people have the facts, they'll see reason and urge the government to end the war. Lincoln must keep Bardsley safe until he can finish his research, so he calls on his old private security staff to protect Gideon and his data.

Maria “Belle” Boyd was a retired Confederate spy, until she got a life-changing job offer from the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Pinkerton respects her work, despite reservations about her lingering Southern loyalties. But it’s precisely those loyalties that let her go into Confederate territory to figure out who might be targeting Bardsley. Maria is a good detective, but with spies from both camps gunning for her, can even the notorious Belle Boyd hold the greedy warhawks at bay?

Big Egos by S.G. Browne

Does your lifestyle not fit the person inside you? Then try someone else on for size!

Call him whatever. Call him whomever. He can be any legally authorized fictional character or dead celebrity he wants for six to eight hours, simply by injecting a DNA-laced cocktail into his brain stem. It’s called Big Egos and it’s the ultimate role-playing fantasy from Engineering Genetics Organization and Systems (aka EGOS.) And, as one of the quality controllers for EGOS, he’s the ultimate ego-tripper, taking on more artificial identities than advisable—and having a hell of a time doing it. Problem is, he’s starting to lose the ability to separate fact from fiction. His every fantasy is the new reality. And the more roles he plays, the less of him remains. Sure, it’s dangerous. Yes, he’s probably losing his mind. Okay, hundreds of others could be at risk. But sometimes who you are isn’t good enough. And the truth is, reality is so overrated. . . .

With his insightful wit, smart humor, and electrifying narrative, acclaimed author S. G. Browne takes readers on a satirical and provocative trip into the not-too-distant future, where, for some, pretending to be someone you’re not is just another day at the office.

Thieves' Quarry (Thieftaker Chronicles) by D.B. Jackson

Ethan Kaille isn’t the likeliest hero. A former sailor with a troubled past, Ethan is a thieftaker, using conjuring skills to hunt down those who steal from the good citizens of Boston. And while chasing down miscreants in 1768 makes his life a perilous one, the simmering political tensions between loyalists like himself and rabble-rousing revolutionaries like Samuel Adams and others of his ilk are perhaps even more dangerous to his health.

When one hundred sailors of King George III's Royal Navy are mysteriously killed on a ship in Boston Harbor, Ethan is thrust into dire peril. For he—and not Boston’s premier thieftaker, Sephira Pryce—is asked to find the truth behind their deaths. City Sheriff Edmund Greenleaf suspects conjuring was used in the dastardly crime, and even Pryce knows that Ethan is better equipped to contend with matters of what most of Boston considers dark arts. But even Ethan is daunted by magic powerful enough to fell so many in a single stroke. When he starts to investigate, he realizes that the mass murderer will stop at nothing to evade capture. And making his task more difficult is the British fleet's occupation of the city after the colonials' violent protests after the seizure of John Hancock's ship. Kaille will need all his own magic, street smarts, and a bit of luck to keep this Boston massacre from giving the hotheads of Colonial Boston an excuse for inciting a riot—or worse.

Elysian Fields (Sentinels of New Orleans) by Suzanne Johnson

Elysian Fields by Suzanne Johnson is the fun, fast-paced third book in the Sentinels of New Orleans, a series of urban fantasy novels filled with wizards, mermen, and pirates. These novels are perfect for readers of paranormal fiction and “fans of Charlaine Harris and Cat Adams” (Booklist) and RT Bookreviews agrees that “for readers missing Sookie Stackhouse, this series may be right up your alley.”

The mer feud has been settled, but life in South Louisiana still has more twists and turns than the muddy Mississippi.

New Orleanians are under attack from a copycat killer mimicking the crimes of a 1918 serial murderer known as the Axeman of New Orleans. Thanks to a tip from the undead pirate Jean Lafitte, DJ Jaco knows the attacks aren’t random—an unknown necromancer has resurrected the original Axeman of New Orleans, and his ultimate target is a certain blonde wizard. Namely, DJ.

Combating an undead serial killer as troubles pile up around her isn’t easy. Jake Warin’s loup-garou nature is spiraling downward, enigmatic neighbor Quince Randolph is acting weirder than ever, the Elders are insisting on lessons in elven magic from the world’s most annoying wizard, and former partner Alex Warin just turned up on DJ’s to-do list. Not to mention big maneuvers are afoot in the halls of preternatural power.

Suddenly, moving to the Beyond as Jean Lafitte’s pirate wench could be DJ’s best option.

Mist by Susan Krinard
Mist lives a normal life. She has a normal job, a normal boyfriend, and a normal apartment in San Francisco. She never thinks about her past if she can help it.
She survived. That’s the end of it.

But then a snowy winter descends upon San Francisco. In June. And in quick succession, Mist is attacked by a frost giant in a public park and runs into an elf disguised as a homeless person on the streets…and then the man Mist believed was her mortal boyfriend reveals himself to be the trickster god, Loki, alive and well after all these years.

Mist’s normal world is falling apart. But thankfully, Mist isn’t quite so normal herself. She’s a Valkyrie, and she’s going to need all her skill to thwart Loki’s schemes and save modern Earth from the ravages of a battle of the gods.

A Cold Season by Alison Littlewood
A dark and disturbing tale from a bold new voice in horror writing: After the battlefront death of her husband, a soldier, in the sands of the Middle East, a distraught Cass decides to move to the bucolic, picture-perfect village of Darnshaw with her teenaged son. Since Cass’s website design business can be run from anywhere with an internet connection and Ben could benefit from a change of scenery, a move to the highlands village seems like just the thing.

But the locals aren’t as friendly as she had hoped and the internet connection isn’t as reliable as her business requires. And when Ben begins to display a hostility that is completely unlike his usual gentle nature, Cass begins to despair. Finally, the blizzards thunder through and Darnshaw is marooned in a sea of snow.

When things look their blackest, she finds one sympathetic ear in the person of her son’s substitute teacher. But his attentions can’t put to rest her growing anxiety about her son and her business. And soon, she finds herself pitted against dark forces she can barely comprehend. The cold season has begun.

Revelations (The Elysium Chronicles) by J.A. Souders

The Elysium Chronicles, J.A. Souders’ riveting SF series for teens which began with the psychological thriller Renegade, continues in Revelations.

Six weeks after her arrival on the Surface, Evelyn Winters is no closer to unlocking the memories lost in her subconscious than she was when she first came. Isolated in a strange new society, Evie has only Gavin Hunter to remind her of who she once was.

But even with a clean slate, it’s easy to see that Evie doesn’t fit in on the Surface. And as her differences make her feel more and more alone, she can’t help but yearn for that place she doesn’t remember: the isolated city hidden in the depths of the ocean. Elysium. Home.

But she can’t exactly tell Gavin what she’s feeling. Not when he’s the one who helped her escape Elysium in the first place, and has the scars to prove it. Though the doctors say otherwise, Gavin believes that Evie just needs time. And if her memories don’t come back, well, maybe she’s better off not remembering her past.

But the decision may be out of their hands when Evie’s ever-elusive memories begin to collide with reality. People and images from her past appear in the most unlikely places, haunting her, provoking her…and making her seem not only strange but dangerous.

Evie and Gavin can’t wait around for her memories to return. They’ll have to journey across the Outlands of the Surface to find help, and in the end, their search may just lead them back to the place it all started…

Sorrow's Knot by Erin Bow

In the world of SORROW'S KNOT, the dead do not rest easy. Every patch of shadow might be home to something hungry, something deadly. Most of the people of this world live on the sunlit, treeless prairies. But a few carve out an uneasy living in the forest towns, keeping the dead at bay with wards made from magically knotted cords. The women who tie these knots are called binders. And Otter's mother, Willow, is one of the greatest binders her people have ever known.

But Willow does not wish for her daughter to lead the lonely, heavy life of a binder, so she chooses another as her apprentice. Otter is devastated by this choice, and what's more, it leaves her untrained when the village falls under attack. In a moment of desperation, Otter casts her first ward, and the results are disastrous. But now Otter may be her people's only hope against the shadows that threaten them. Will the challenge be too great for her? Or will she find a way to put the dead to rest once and for all?

Quick Fix (Ciel Halligan) by Linda Grimes

QUICK FIX—the second installment of the original urban fantasy series by LINDA GRIMES.

Ciel Halligan, an aura adaptor with a chameleon-like ability to step into the lives of her clients and fix their problems for them—as them—is working a job at the National Zoo with her boyfriend, Billy, and his ten-year-old sister, Molly. It's supposed to be a quick fix, giving her time to decide if it's wise to pursue the romantic relationship her charming scoundrel of a best friend wants, or if she should give Mark, the CIA spook she's crushed on since hormones first rattled her pubescent brain, a chance to step up to the plate.

Molly has already begun to show signs of being an adaptor herself. She's young for it, but she's always been precocious, so it's not impossible. What is impossible is her taking on the form of the baby orangutan she touches—adaptors can only project human auras. Until now, apparently. Worse, Molly is stuck in ape form. She can't change herself back.

Escaping from the zoo with their new baby orang, Ciel and Billy head for New York City and the only person they know can help: Ciel's brother James, a non-adaptor scientist who's determined to crack the aura adaptor genetic code. But when Billy winds up in jail, accused of attempted murder, Ciel begins to suspect Molly's unusual adapting ability is more than just a fluke. Who's been experimenting on Molly, and what do they hope to gain? And will Ciel survive to find out?

Battle Magic by Tamora Pierce

NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author Tamora Pierce returns to the magical world of Winding Circle.

On their way to the first Circle temple in Gyongxi, mages Briar, Rosethorn, and Evvy pay a visit to the emperor's summer palace. Although treated like royalty when they first arrive, the mages soon discover that the emperor plans to invade Gyongxi, posing a fatal threat to the home temple of the Living Circle religion. Accompanied by one of the emperor's prize captives, the three mages rush to Gyongxi to warn its citizens of the impending attack. With the imperials hot on their trail, Briar, Rosethorn, and Evvy must quickly help the country prepare for battle. But even with the help of new allies, will their combined forces be enough to fight the imperial army and win the war?

Monday, August 26, 2013

An Unearthly Podcast: The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang

The crew finally finishes our run of Doctor episodes by finishing with the 11th's first season finale: An Unearthly Podcast Episode 25: The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang!

And of course, the playlist of the full series!

And for Who newbies (or even AUP newbies who don't care about broadcast order) Chronological Order by subject playlist!

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Wolverine: the Best X-Men Movie With "Wolverine" in the Title

In 2000, X-Men revolutionized the superhero film genre.  Alongside 2002's Spiderman, X-Men largely dominated the genre until 2007, with the two franchises producing the first non-horror superhero film trilogies (excluding since Superman 3).  What Star Wars did for Science Fiction and Lord of the Rings did for Fantasy, Spiderman did for comic book heroes and X-Men did for superhero teams.  And, as with those other trilogies, the audiences began to grow too tired, the risks too grand, and the third film became “the bad one”, the one that strained willful suspension of disbelief that much more.  And so, both franchises cooled their heels for a while.

After The Last Stand merged the Dark Phoenix Saga with Joss Whedon's Gifted, X-Men started to release spinoffs.  Based on the most popular X-Man, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is widely regarded to be the worst X-Men film, and its public reception is believed to be responsible for the prefix not being attributed to any other movies.  Despite this, another origin film, X-Men: First Class was released, recasting the stars of the earlier films and generally inhabiting a similar, but not identical, film universe to the first three films.  The reactions to that film are varied enough to merit an entirely separate article.

For their third post-X3 outing – and, perhaps more importantly, their first post-Avengers – the X-Men franchise again returned to their star character, Wolverine.  This time, the story is set in the months following X-Men 3: The Last Stand, which puts it in a similar narrative position to Iron Man 3.  However...Iron Man 3 is a much more enjoyable movie, in many respects, and using this article to compare it to The Wolverine would be a chore for writer and reader alike.  Instead, I'm going to posit the following idea: that The Wolverine is a better film than X-Men Origins: Wolverine in all respects.

Let's start with the directing.  Good directing generally does not draw attention to itself.  It focuses attention to what is happening onscreen rather than the intricacies of film-making.  This might seem to be a description of average, and that's true for many elements of a film.  However, in most cases, not drawing attention to the fact that it is a film is a very good thing – and, apparently a difficult one.

The things that will generally draw attention to the fact that this is a film are the cinematography, the choreography, the effects and the acting.  The cinematography – directed by the second unit D.P. of  the Matrix trilogy – tended to be a fair mix of good and bad when you did notice it.  Switching between above-ground shots of the explosion at Nagasaki sweeping over the nearby fort and the top-down and bottom-up views used to show Wolverine and Yashida taking shelter was an excellent way to show the three things taking place during that scene: the detonation of the atomic bomb, Wolverine saving Yashida, and Yashida witnessing Wolvering regenerate.  Where the cinematography does fail is in some moments of “shaky cam”, which might distract some viewers.

As for the choreography, you could clearly tell that this had elements of a martial arts movie.  Few people are as good a swordsman as Yukio, and it is unlikely that real ninjas are nearly as ninjamaticas the ones onscreen.  Which is just the point: we are watching a movie about Wolverine, samurai, yakuza and ninja; maybe outstanding choreography and action-packed fight scenes are a little bit more important than visual realism in this context.

The acting is a bit less cinematic, which is to say, it is difficult to judge.  There were two characters who were clearly over the top: The over-the-top villainess and the unstoppable badass girl.  Which is to say, two characters who were portrayed exactly as they were written.  It would have been frankly preposterous for Fukushima Rila and Svetlana Khodchenkova to have attempted to be realistic.  Once you look beyond that, the most obvious weakness in the acting is...Hugh Jackman, and after the past five movies, I find it hard to lay the blame on anything but the inconsistent cues he's getting throughout the movie.  Beyond this, the actors were all fairly consistent, and there was no doubt what emotions they were intending to portray.

The special effects are nothing special.  There is a blend of CGI and practical effects, and while some of the CGI is fairly obvious, none of it is exceptionally bad.  The explosion that washes over the fort outside Nagasaki looks great, though I am doubtful it should look remotely like that.  The makeup used for Lady Viper was fairly solid, though the effects of her poison were not particularly remarkable.  The strangest thing about the visuals is that even after all of his skin is burned off – or he is shaved – all of the hair on Logan's head and face returns to the standard amount.  I'm not sure if this is part of his healing factor, or if Hugh Jackman has a clause in his contract that keeps his beard from being shaved or his hair cut.  That and the bear early on.  That was a terrible CGI bear; luckily, it was only on screen for a short amount of time.

The writing is where I have the most problems with this film.  Of the three producers, the director and the two writers, only one person with creative control over The Wolverine had done anything other than act in a superhero film other than X-Men Origins: Wolverine (which makes that movie more Hugh Jackman's fault than I ever thought).  This shows.  The Wolverine draws from the worst parts of X-Men and comic book history by reducing women in the film to the basest stereotypes, it fulfilled the role of a sequel in all of the worst ways possible, and really should have gone through a few more stages of rewrites.

I still maintain that the writing here is better than Origins: Wolverine. The film has some pretty good foreshadowing, starting off with poison and subtle visual cues and following a four point combination strategy to use Yukio's visions to lead in to a major review at the end.  Perhaps more importantly, even though in some ways this film is a sequel, it doesn't rely on the audience having watched Origins to follow the story.

Still, there are plenty of problems to discuss.  The Wolerine was clearly written following the standard “women are plot devices and motivators” ideal that worked in fiction for hundreds of years.  The first woman we meet is an idealized version of Logan's ideal lover, who appears at pretty regular intervals throughout the film, taking two hours to complete a segment of the character arc that is normally required before someone can be considered the “hero” of a film like this.  The second woman introduced in the film doubles as the unstoppable badass girl and a lonely schoolgirl fetish.  The third woman introduced in the film is your standard Wicked Witch of the West, complete with Biblical snake references, and the fourth transforms from a lost girl to a woman capable of leadership only after she has been thoroughly sexed by Hugh Jackman.  While he was dreaming about doing that to somebody else (an idealized version that doesn't get jealous, of course).

While The Wolverine doesn’t require you to sit in front of X-Men Origins with the device from Clockwork Orange, it does assume that everybody in the audience has seen The Last Stand.  At the very least, you need to ask a friend about major spoilers in the movie (or look them up) or some of the more emotional scenes make absolutely no sense.  Generally, a sequel released seven years after the previous film expects to have a segment of the audience who is new to the characters; some of them might even wish to use the film’s membership of a prestigious club as a manner of introducing more advanced elements, like character cameos or comic trivia.  The Wolverine, on the other hand, blazes forward as though The Last Stand was released a year prior and uses its own mythology only as a method of naming its main characters.  Speaking of using X-Men’s own mythology, while Warner Brothers - the company that seems to be unable to put out a well-liked superhero movie - is capable of seeing one of their most popular characters and making the connection that “fans like ninjas, and ninja training makes sense for Batman”, Fox instead takes one of the few characters who it makes sense to have samurai training and has had that in at least one of his incarnations...and makes him an ignorant American who didn’t pick up a word of Japanese fighting a war there.

None of this is to say that the writing is nearly as bad as X-Men Origins: Wolverine.  While there were face-palm worthy moments, there was nothing that made me cry out in pain and rage.  The action was better, the directing was better, and the only characters who were completely butchered were ones that don’t have their own fan-bases.  Speaking of which, there is not a single line of dialogue spoken by Ryan Reynolds, and no comically fast sword-spinning despite the ninjas and samurai, both of which are brilliant decisions compared to anything involved in Origins.  The film looks better, sounds better, and probably smells better, though I haven’t checked.

That doesn’t make it the best film of the summer, though.

"The Bone Season" by Samantha Shannon-- Ambitious but Labored


It is the year 2059. Several major world cities are under the control of a security force called Scion. Paige Mahoney works in the criminal underworld of Scion London, part of a secret cell known as the Seven Seals. The work she does is unusual: scouting for information by breaking into others’ minds. Paige is a dreamwalker, a rare kind of clairvoyant, and in this world, the voyants commit treason simply by breathing.

But when Paige is captured and arrested, she encounters a power more sinister even than Scion. The voyant prison is a separate city—Oxford, erased from the map two centuries ago and now controlled by a powerful, otherworldly race. These creatures, the Rephaim, value the voyants highly—as soldiers in their army.

Paige is assigned to a Rephaite keeper, Warden, who will be in charge of her care and training. He is her master. Her natural enemy. But if she wants to regain her freedom, Paige will have to learn something of his mind and his own mysterious motives.

If you pay any attention to the hype surrounding new books than you have likely heard of The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon. The book is described as an urban fantasy by the author because of its setting in an alternate future of London but, for its sheer complexity alone, "The Bone Season" is unlike any urban fantasy I have ever read.

"The Bone Season" is the kind of book you need an official synopsis for because it's only possible to summarize the broad strokes of a story like this. In fact, even after reading the book, I'm not sure I understand it well enough to give a coherent description. What I do understand is that our protagonist, Paige Mahoney, can send her awareness outside of her body and see the dreamscapes of other people. Despite the term dreamscape Paige's ability isn't framed around entering the dreams of other people but rather the aura of other clairvoyants. What this means is-- well, I'm not entirely sure.

Paige is described as a very rare and very powerful clairvoyant (voyant) and as the story progresses her main strength appears to be her ability to launch her awareness at other voyants and attack their aura. She develops her talents under duress during her captivity in the city of Oxford with all the other voyants taken captive during the Bone Season XX.

Bone Seasons are divided into ten-year increments though voyants are continually captured and sent to the secret city of Oxford with some of the prisoners spending years in a prison tower to weaken their resistance to their Rephaim captors. It is explained that the voyants are expected to fight an otherworldly invader, known as the Emim, in exchange for their lives and a freedom, of sorts, to exercise their aetheric powers.

Paige has lived her entire life in different types of captivity. Her life in London is lived in secret as she is always in danger of being arrested for being clairvoyant. In Oxford (now known as Sheol I) she can openly use her powers but if she doesn't live up to the expectations of the Rephaim she will be forced to live in squalor-- if she isn't killed first.

"The Bone Season" is nothing if not an ambitious book. Shannon attempts to take the well-worn trope of a dystopian future with an overbearing government and wrap it in several layers of world building; and to a certain extent she succeeds. The amount of thought Shannon puts into her version of an alternate London is detailed and impressive.

I'd love nothing more than to sing the praises of "The Bone Season" as so many other reviewers are doing but I must admit that I found the book to be confounding instead of compelling. The main problem is that Shannon attempts to lay the foundation for an enormous amount of world-building all in one book. There are several types of voyants, some of which are listed in the glossary in the back of the book, and trying to keep straight all the different types is a daunting task. But categorizing the types of clairvoyant powers is only part of the challenge because their various talents are not defined in a way that is easily understood- the descriptions are there but they don't always make a lot of sense. Shannon also includes various terms that make up part of the vocabulary of her characters (also in the glossary) and most of the definitions can be inferred by context but not always and it adds to feeling that simply understanding the story is more work than it ought to be.

Another challenge is the structure of the book because the first two hundred pages are full of info-dumps that are meant to explain the structure of the story's futuristic society and where the Rephaim fit into the overall story. The narrative does pick up in the middle portion of the book as the information overload is scaled back in favor of character development and it's in these moments that Shannon's talent finally shines through. Themes you expect to see in dystopian fiction, like the toll an oppressive government takes on a society, are touched on but also take a backseat to the fact-driven nature of the book.

The characters in "The Bone Season" are good, but not great. Paige is a protagonist in the Katniss Everdeen mold but she isn't given the same purity of motivation as someone like Katniss and, while it's easy to sympathize with Paige, she isn't a character that the reader can connect to on a deep level. However Shannon does show good restraint in how she structures the overall story and doesn't hit the reader with any heavy-handed romances or villains that ooze evil. But it is impossible to overlook the fact that Shannon overdevelops the number of characters in the book in the same way she overworks the rest of the story and after awhile I stopped trying to keep track of who's who when it comes to the secondary characters. There are a number of compelling main characters but they're never quite given enough time to shine.

In some ways I have a lot of respect for what Shannon tries to do in "The Bone Season." She swings for the fences and sometimes she hits the ball out of the park. She dreams big and doesn't compromise her vision and, while "The Bone Season" may not have tickled my particular fancy it has garnered lots of praise and attention- including being chosen as the first book to be featured in the Today Book Club; quite an accomplishment for a 21-year-old writer. I don't know that I'll be picking up the sequel to "The Bone Season" but I won't write off the possibility either. Shannon has talent and I do think she'll be an author to watch.

Other Reviews of "The Bone Season":
Love Is Not a Triangle
Jen Ryland/ YA Romantics
Ivy Book Bindings
Christina Reads YA
The Flyleaf Review

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday- "The Coldest Girl in Coldtown" by Holly Black

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:

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Date: September 3, 2013
Pages: 432

Tana lives in a world where walled cities called Coldtowns exist. In them, quarantined monsters and humans mingle in a decadently bloody mix of predator and prey. The only problem is, once you pass through Coldtown’s gates, you can never leave.

One morning, after a perfectly ordinary party, Tana wakes up surrounded by corpses. The only other survivors of this massacre are her exasperatingly endearing ex-boyfriend, infected and on the edge, and a mysterious boy burdened with a terrible secret. Shaken and determined, Tana enters a race against the clock to save the three of them the only way she knows how: by going straight to the wicked, opulent heart of Coldtown itself.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a wholly original story of rage and revenge, of guilt and horror, and of love and loathing from bestselling and acclaimed author Holly Black

I know this book has been making the WoW rounds- but you can't blame me for adding it to my TBR list. I'd add it for the title alone but the description is also pretty awesome. Even better, I only have to wait about two weeks to buy it.

Monday, August 19, 2013

An Unearthly Podcast: Army of Ghosts and Doomsday

Sorry for being absent for a bit guys.  I've been extraordinarily busy and have been taking some time to get everything together.  But, at least I am back to posting.

An Unearthly Podcast Episode 24: Army of Ghosts and Doomsday!

And of course, the playlist of the full series!

And for Who newbies (or even AUP newbies who don't care about broadcast order) Chronological Order by subject playlist!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Book Review: "Elisha Barber" by E.C. Ambrose

Many fantasy books that focus on doctors, or healers as they're commonly known, have an ephemeral feel when it comes to the topic. Often there is a laying on of hands approach that has a generic sort of energy transfer that drains the healer and, hopefully, heals the patient. But E.C. Ambrose's debut novel, Elisha Barber, has a far more direct, brutal and realistic vision of what Medieval medicine, with or without magic, would have looked like.

~Official Synopsis

England in the fourteenth century: a land of poverty and opulence, prayer and plague…witchcraft and necromancy.

As a child, Elisha witnessed the burning of a witch outside of London, and saw her transformed into an angel at the moment of her death, though all around him denied this vision. He swore that the next time he might have the chance to bind an angel’s wounds, he would be ready. And so he became a barber surgeon, at the lowest ranks of the medical profession, following the only healer’s path available to a peasant’s son.

Elisha Barber is good at his work, but skill alone cannot protect him. In a single catastrophic day, Elisha’s attempt to deliver his brother’s child leaves his family ruined, and Elisha himself accused of murder. Then a haughty physician offers him a way out: come serve as a battle surgeon in an unjust war.

Between tending to the wounded soldiers and protecting them from the physicians’ experiments, Elisha works night and day. Even so, he soon discovers that he has an affinity for magic, drawn into the world of sorcery by Brigit, a beautiful young witch…who reminds him uncannily of the angel he saw burn.

In the crucible of combat, utterly at the mercy of his capricious superiors, Elisha must attempt to unravel conspiracies both magical and mundane, as well as come to terms with his own disturbing new abilities. But the only things more dangerous than the questions he’s asking are the answers he may reveal.

"Elisha Barber" is the kind of book that opens with a bang and not a whimper. For everyone who likes grimdark fiction- this has all the gritty content you can handle. And why wouldn't it? Medieval medicine as a topic is going to be dirty and messy if it is going to have any sense of realism and E.C. Ambrose doesn't shy away from exploring the harsher aspects of what it must have been like to be a barber in the fourteenth century.

Elisha Barber takes his name from his chosen profession. As a barber he takes on the bloody jobs that higher ranking physicians consider beneath them and he often finds himself treating the lower ranking members of polite society. But once Elisha is on the battle-front his superior skill and diligence, while useful, causes resentment among the physicians even as it endears him to the soldiers he tends.

Initially the tensions of the battlefield are somewhat softened by the presence of Brigit, the beautiful young witch that introduces Elisha to his natural magical abilities. But it doesn't take long for petty jealousy and the forbidden nature of Elisha's magic to quickly escalate the danger of his situation and put his life in immediate peril.

Overall there is a lot to like about "Elisha Barber."  I was wary at first of just how dark the book was going to be because the early chapters were fairly grueling (fair warning), but Ambrose uses Elisha's hardships to establish his character and his motivations very effectively and it doesn't take long to become fully absorbed in the story.

Generally speaking Elisha is an excellent protagonist as his past and his current motivations are well developed and mostly congruent. The only slight flaw I see in how Elisha is written is that the character we read about is so conscientious and hardworking that his earlier bad deeds, the ones we're mostly only told about, are hard to believe. According to the narrative Elisha is meant to be something of a changed man because he's atoning for his past, but I still had a hard time putting the two sides of the character together- but it's a minor quibble at most.

The secondary characters in the book are a bit of a mixed bag. The people we aren't meant to like are somewhat one-dimensional. They dislike Elisha for his lowly status and his popularity among the common troops, but their treatment of Elisha goes so far beyond the bounds of reasonable behavior that their motivations seem mostly contrived. Brigit, however, is handled with quite a bit more finesse and I wasn't sure for most of the books if I should like her or hate her-- a good thing in my opinion.

The story itself doesn't necessarily break new ground but it is an interesting fusion of battlefield fiction and fantasy. Most of the story takes place in the surgery and is your normal, filthy, blood-and-guts kind of fiction in that vein; magic doesn't play a huge part of the narrative until later in the book. The magic system, when it does arrive, is somewhat vague and undefined in my opinion and I can't say that I ended up with a real grasp of how certain feats are accomplished- but there is a system that can be further developed in future books.

I was absolutely captivated by "Elisha Barber" for the first half of the book and was ready to put it on my best-of list at that point. But the book does lose momentum in the latter half as the challenges against Elisha escalate to the point where it feels as if the character is put through a lot of needless hardships just to establish who the bad people are. The redeeming aspects of the book come in the form of certain characters who form positive relationships with Elisha and soften the overall story arc- there were times when that was really needed. I also appreciated that Ambrose does allow growth in certain characters in a way that changes our impressions of their personalities over the course of the book. "Elisha Barber" is a fairly complex debut that may have aspired for more than it actually achieves but I think there's real potential to the story and will definitely read the next installment to see how the story continues to unfold.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars