Monday, October 20, 2014

7 Days of Novels: The Shape Stealer by Lee Carroll

Shape Stealer

The Shape Stealer is something of a conundrum for me. I can describe it in ways that make it sound like my dream come true: A story featuring a Master Vampire at odds with one of his creations, multiple time travelers including a sort of Earth-based Time Lords (though more like the Round Table) as the heroes try to fix damage that has been done to the timestream and thwart the time-traveling Master Vampire and his human colleague in their plans. I can also describe it in ways that would turn me entirely off of it and make me never consider picking it up: A story that treats explanations and time travel mechanics as such unnecessary window dressing that streams and dimensions are considered mutually exclusive concepts and the very idea of attempting to understand is considered a harmful exercise, causality plays a backseat to participating in a love triangle with oneself, and new powers and plot points are seemingly added at random and with only a slight possibility of being caused by the previous entry in this series.

In other words, The Shape Stealer features an aesthetic that appeals to one idea of storytelling while operating almost entirely in another. One difference that some cite as what separates Science Fiction and Fantasy is the fact that Science Fiction focuses largely on ideas, technology, causes and effects and tools, while Fantasy focuses largely on emotions, results, reactions and spectacle. On that spectrum, The Shape Stealer falls entirely in the realm of Fantasy. The entire story is built around the way things relate to Garet. Okay, there are some other pieces focusing on Marduk, but at this point I don't really consider dedicating a fraction to the book to the villains for the sake of world-building and raising tension as anything but good writing sense.

It's worth noting that none of the Marduk/Dee sequences really go toward explaining anything. They do give the first look at the new group of villains, who are essentially temporal anarchic terrorists that – like any other eco-terrorist – see themselves as holding the moral high ground, and are therefore just as motivated to destroy an ancient demon/vampire as anybody else. This adds dimension to Garet's story, but tellingly doesn't really explain the temporal landscape we're dealing with. It gives some understanding to why it's shifting, but trying to use that as an explanation of the universe would be like taking the statement that tectonic plates are shifting to teach a geography class. No, these sequences go primarily toward making the world stranger and more inexplicable, all the more to advance the idea that trying to understand the nitty-gritty details is futile and you're just along for the ride.

The other purpose the Marduk sequences serves is to build up Will, the love interests of this story. The 400 year old vampire Will Hughes has undergone a transformation to an 800 year old vampire who has lived the same history twice, which means he is better than everybody at everything, and more moral too. He is kept offscreen through much of the story, focusing instead on building up the mystery of what he does day to day – the mystery that is pretty much explored by Marduk.

Speaking of Will, he embodies a lot of the things that this story does that are generally considered the realm of bad fan fiction. By preventing his younger self from becoming a vampire, he essentially breaks causality for the sole purpose of having two versions of himself to form a love triangle with Garret. Some attention is paid to this, but it is mostly for the purpose of demonstrating that Garet must pick one version of Will to be with...eventually. Other than that, he is the perfect Mary Sue character. Not the self-insert one that the audience can relate with – that belongs to the Chosen One who randomly picked up the ability to read minds at some point – but the Tuxedo Mask figure who can always rescue the heroine at the appropriate moment to make him as attractive as possible. Despite losing an unquantifiable amount of his vampire powers for reasons that cannot be adequately explained if you apply logic, he retains his signature ability to never be harmed by anything ever due to the ability to control every atom in his body.

I described aspects of this story as “the realm of bad fan fiction”, and I mean it. More specifically, it is proof of why bad fan fiction will always be popular, no matter how the more detail-oriented writers of the world try to stamp it out. I'm not trying to say that this story is bad, although for me (and presumably a lot of people like me) it is incredibly frustrating. Still, there's something appealing about not focusing on the hows and the whats and focusing entirely on the way things affect the main character. After all, having a character with too many powers who faces no harm no matter what happens is no stranger to the genres of Sci-Fi and Fantasy; making it explicit is just cutting out the middle man. The same with the audience-identifying female character with impossible insight into the other characters. The specifics of how time travel works are seen by some as only a distraction from the “real” story – the way it impacts the characters. More than anything, The Shape Stealer emphasizes this approach. That's not to say that it wouldn't have benefited from a good editor focusing specifically on those aspects, but for what the goal of the novel appeared to be, that was the lesser priority.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

7 Days of Novels: Maul: Lockdown by Joe Schreiber


For a long time, I’ve wanted novels that are less about the fact that they are in the Star Wars Legends universe and more drawing from the universe’s mythology and settings to tell interesting stories of another nature. I’ve long suggested that a story about a detective from CorSec investigating a murder or a daikaiju battle that was instigated by a Sith Lords would be things I would lay my money down for in a heartbeat. That’s why my interest was immediately grabbed when Maul: Lockdown was released.

Lockdown is two different types of stories: it is a prison drama and it is a martial arts story. Regarding the latter, if a fighting game hasn’t been made out of this novel, Lucasfilm Ltd was missing the point. Whether you read the prison drama as the story mode of a Tekken-style game, or the fight scenes as plot-light breaks within Maul’s investigation, the novel works.

This is accomplished by a variety of factors. Darth Maul is a very adaptable character as the Star Wars universe goes, in that there is not a whole lot to him and everything that he is draws from other genres. Maul was casted as a martial arts character, performs the plot role of an action movie villain, is made-up to be the killer from a horror movie, and in his comics and novels takes on the role of an action/spy movie anti-hero. There’s nothing innately Star Wars about any of this, and yet one cannot deny that the Sith Marauder (I have more than enough reasons not to consider him a Sith Lord, but then I’m not familiar with any of his canonical post-death stories) is clearly a part of the Star Wars universe.

For these reasons, Maul was the perfect character for this novel, and he demonstrates it in every scene. The Jason-esque stalker from Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter, the spy from Darth Maul: Saboteur, and the martial artist from The Phantom Menace are all given their time to shine in this novel. The book is told through the Zabrak’s point of view, allowing events to unfold themselves as a mystery as Maul continues to piece together the puzzle in order to accomplish his mission. The supporting cast pales in comparison, but they all complement the story nicely and I would not mind seeing any of them again in “Rise of the Empire” era media.

Lockdown is different from anything I’ve seen from Joe Schreiber to date, and that’s not a bad thing. Prior to Lockdown, Schreiber was known to Star Wars fans as “the zombie guy”. He wrote Death Troopers and Red Harvest, two novels that I enjoyed but found things to be disappointed by that essentially added up to “Schreiber is running out of ideas to use these zombies for”. In a brand new environment completely without zombies, Schreiber truly lives up to his potential, writing a story with horror elements but not as solidly in what appears to be his comfort zone as his previous Star Wars novels were. This gives the author room to explore, and explore he does, with plenty of elements for the long-time Star Wars fan to enjoy the extra work.

While I wouldn’t recommend you buy Lockdown for any children that aren’t already fans of Mortal Kombat, I heartily recommend it to any adult looking for a Star Wars-related novel that veers into other genres. Fans of the Darth Maul books to date are likely to love this book (I personally found it to be his best yet), as will most fans of exploration- and mystery-based novels. You don’t even need to be a Star Wars fan to enjoy the book, as long as you don’t mind the fact that it’s populated by aliens.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

An Unearthly Podcast #65: The Impossible Astronaut


Continuing where we left off on Friday, an Unearthly Podcast’s Mind of Moffat continues with “The Impossible Astronaut” and “Day of the Moon”!

An Unearthly Podcast: Mummy on the Orient Express

Rather than just continuing on with early Season 3, from here on I thought you might be interested in seeing the most recent episodes of the Unearthly Podcast as well. Here is our look at the latest episode of Doctor Who: Mummy on the Orient Express!

Friday, October 17, 2014

7 Days of Moffat: A Christmas Carol

"The Mind of Moffat" continues with Moffat's first Christmas special.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

7 Days of Moffat: The Time of Angels

"The Mind of Moffat" continues with all all of Moffat's returning characters in one maze.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

7 Days of Moffat: The Beast Below

"The Mind of Moffat" continues with Amy Pond's first outing in the TARDIS.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

7 Days of Moffat: Silence in the Library

"The Mind of Moffat" continues with River Song's first appearance and Moffat's last episode as a staff writer.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

7 Days of Moffat: Blink

An Unearthly Podcast Season 3 and “The Mind of Moffat” starts with a look at the two-parter “The Empty Child” and “The Doctor Dances”.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Kickstarter: Temporally Out of Order

I try not to post too many of these, because they get pretty annoying, but I also think that an important part of reviewing is to promote good work. Temporally Out of Order is an anthology featuring, well, time, plus it features Seanan McGuire, one of my new favorite authors and someone I never pass up the opportunity to read the work of.

It’s got two weeks and, as of typing this, just over $2,000 to go with opportunities to be Tuckerized, as well to get copies of Zombie Needs Brains’ previous anthology, Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs Aliens. If you want to pledge or just to share it, go here.