Monday, December 31, 2007

2007, an Anime Year In Review

Well, apparently it's common in the anime blogging world to do a year-end recap detailing their favorite animes for the year, and the reasons behind that. Look for something similar next year. I was a tad busy this year for such an exercise, but hey, I do do a bit of anime blogging here, so I figured a micro-version, in the form of a top-10 list, would work. Apparently, I've been infected with a top-10 bug this weekend.

10. The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi. This show is about a girl who has the power to create and destroy reality at whim. Fundamentally, it's a show about a girl and the guy who loves her, and that she loves, though neither wish to admit that. Trapped around Suzumiya Haruhi are the very things that she hunts for, yet which she feels must not truly exist in this world. It's an interesting set up. One of the characters even goes so far to hail her as the god(dess) of this world, which given her powers is perfectly understandable. Of course, that concept breeds worry, because Suzumiya is bossy, brash, and has a tendency to enforce her will on those around her. Yet despite all that, I enjoy the series.

9. Manabi Straight. The other show about a goddess. Yet, while Haruhi is a goddess in the classical Greco-Roman sense, Manabi is a goddess more in line with Judeo-Christian sensibilities. She inspires and helps others to do their best. She provides an energy and a power to those around her, rather than running ram-shod over those too slow to keep up with her. Of course, I liked it above and beyond the fact that it provides a good counter-point to Haruhism; in fact I watched this series first, and I've still yet to get the last few volumes of the Haruhui DVDs.

8. Kimikiss Pure Rouge. This was actually a toss up between this series, and the fun Myself; Yourself. Unfortunately, the latter ended leaving me feeling confused and less than thrilled, while this one is still going on, and the storyline is building up.

7. Clannad. Basically, this year's Kanon.

6. ef - A Tale of Memories. This was an odd experience. A splash of surreal colors and themes, coupled with intersecting love stories and deep themes. I'm hoping to do a marathon watch of this series, and write a more formal review, but despite what some critics think, I thought it was a good series.

5. Zombie Loan. Zombie hunters. Zombies. Chibi Shinagami. And a girl that can see those that are near death. I enjoyed Zombie Loan just for the sheer energy the show gave off, and the utter enjoyment I got watching it. No complicated story lines, no enthralling romances, just good old fashioned zombie killing fun.

4. Sky Girls. This was probably my guilty pleasure out of all the animes I watched this year. Truthfully, I didn't expect to like this show. I thought the entire premise was weak. Yet, once I started watching it, I found that I actually enjoyed it. Basically, it took all of the fun of Rocket Girls, and made it even better.

3. Coil - A Circle of Children. Intelligence For The Win! Being a bona fide computer geek, I couldn't help but like this show. A wide-area virtual reality network, accessible via specially built glasses, and complete with tactile feedback. Just the setting makes my computer geek alarms go off. Then couple that with a compelling storyline, and you've got an awesome anime.

2. Hitohira. This is the show that made me realize just how much I like drama/slice of life animes (I reviewed it here). I feel sorry for all the anime fans state's side that won't get to watch this series if it never gets licensed.

1. Sōkō no Strain. This was my favorite show from this year (see my review here). I loved the character designs, the plot, story and even the themes the story was built around. I'd be ecstatic if they continued making shows this good. Unfortunately, we're also getting things like Heroic Age.

10 Resolutions for 2008

I've never really seen the point of New Year's Resolutions. They always seemed so superfluous to me, that I just never really bothered. Couple that with a preacher having once preached that resolutions that we don't keep were like lies to ourselves, then I had even less reason to consider making such things.

Interesting enough, it was Crusader's New Years post over at That Anime Blog which made me reconsider. He pointed out:

Note that a resolution is hardly a promise just a simple goal for the year that you may or may not ever fulfill given how lazy the average human is. Like most Americans I tend to make more resolutions than I actually see through and even then rarely ever successfully. But it serves nicely to see how little progress I make in improving my life.
It's an interesting take on things, and being the geek that I am, I had to go see how correct his definition was. So, I hiked over to our local dictinoary website, and looked up the definition for resolution, and was provided this:
A course of action determined or decided on.
Not a bad definition, and it appears that that blogger was closer than that old preacher ever had been. There is no thought of promises or any form of contract here. It is just something that I've determined to accomplish over the course of the next 365 days.

So, without further ado, here are my resolutions:
  1. Get back into drawing. I know that I've been telling myself this one for years, but it's something that I really want to get back into. My goal is that for this time next year, I'll have the start of a web-comic in place.
  2. Original Fic. I will finish my original fiction story.
  3. Lose 30 lbs. I'm nearing 200lbs these days. Sitting at a desk, being happily married, such things are anathema to maintaining ones weight. Somehow, I will find the time to lose that weight. Which means I'll probably have to get up at 5:30 or some similar God forsaken hour and go running.
  4. Write more for my other blogs. I need to produce more content for both my programming blog and the KrashPAD, and I need to do so without sacrificing content that is generated for No Krakana. Either that or fold everything into one blog. That was something I really had not wanted to do, as I like the thematic separation which distinct blogs provides.
  5. Read the NJO in order from the beginning. Does one really need to explain Star Wars?
  6. Get a pay raise. What can I say, I like money.
  7. Finish unpacking. We still have boxes hanging out in the garage. I need all of those things out of there, so I can start parking in there, and so we can get a deep freezer.
  8. Convince my wife of the need to have a Star Wars ForceFX Lightsaber for the mantle. Yes, I know that I'm dreaming of this one, but hey, I can resolve myself to try, right?
  9. Finish my programming project. This one means a lot to me, I have got to get this done, which means I need to focus time to it.
  10. Find a trustworthy baby sitter. I can admit that we're a bit... protective of our kids. Regardless of that, we need to find ourselves someone's teenage daughter that we trust enough to watch our monsters so we can have the occasional night out. How else am I going to get to see all those SF movies that are appearing in theaters over the next year.
So, those are my 10. Now that I have them written down, is it not customary to promptly ignore and forget them? So, what resolutions are you going to forget about this year?

Friday, December 28, 2007

Review: Alien vs. Predator: Requiem

About three years ago or so, there was an horrible comic book/video game movie entitled Alien vs. Predator. Fortunately for my sanity, I did not see this movie in the theatres but rather rented it when it was released on DVD. I say fortunately, because this movie was unequivocally bad. Poor story, poor acting, poor cinematography, everything about it was less than stellar. Especially when you compare it to the second Predator movie or the first Alien movie.

Christmas day 2007, a sequel to that bad movie got released. Oh, what did we, as the collective genre fandom, do that was so bad that Santa decided we needed this as our gift. I'd rather have gotten coal. That sequel was entitled Alien vs. Predator: Requiem. Amusingly enough, this movie had two directors and five writers. One would think with that many folks working on it, it would have been a better experience. I'd also like to point out that the word requiem is actually the Catholic mass for the dead, or a grand piece of music. My own opinion of things is that the requiem here is for our intelligence which this movie killed.

Anyways, the plot is fairly simple. Aliens pop up, Predator pops up, both start killing. Gore abounds. The story itself begins immediately after the first movie, with the Predator that had been impregnated there hatching his Alien (yes, I know that Predators are called Yuatja, and Aliens Xenomorphs, but that's too much geek for this early in the morning). From that point on, the story falls apart in ever more gore-filled, chest-exploding ways. And I mean that quite literally. The story line tosses away logic, common military operating procedures, and past continuity from the franchises associated with this movie. Personally, I believe it's that last one that really annoyed me in regards to this movie, especially the speed of the Aliens growing up, and the lack of the Queen laying face-hugger eggs. I'm also left wondering why just a single Predator come after the other ship sent its distress call?

So, for this story we have two cipher characters (the predator and the alien) and then a handful of human POV characters that we're supposed to relate to. I found it somewhat hard. After all, the characters we received were: the con, the little brother, a love interest, ex-military person, the idiot, the cop and the innocent. Sure, it's a fine place to start a cast for a movie like this, but that's what it should be, a start. Unfortunately, those archetypes are the be-all and end-all of the characterizations. There is no growth, no development, and in fact we get some character regressions. The most egregious examples of this would require spoilers, so I'll forgo them, on the off chance someone wants to make their eyes bleed by watching this movie.

Beyond the story, and characters, there is how the director/cameramen got this movie onto the celluloid (or its digital equivalent). For the scenes where there was enough light to see what was happening, it was fine. Unfortunately, those scenes were few and far between. Even the Predator's hunting tools made making out what was happening hard. Occasionally, the screen would switch to what the Predator's helmet would show: and frankly, it sucked.

Of course, the continuity issues, poor characters, and even the bad lighting, I could handle. It would have gotten the movie bad marks, but there was a few things which just sat ill with me. They were unneeded, unnecessary and frankly, in incredibly poor taste. The first was an Alien popping out of the chest of a twelve-year old boy. The second, was the "Queen" implanting eggs into a pregnant woman, and then those eggs popping out of her. I was somewhat ill, by the scene of them pushing against her stomach. I remember my wife's pregnancies, and I remember seeing little hands and feet push against the exterior of her stomach. It was an amazing, beautiful thing. We didn't need to see the Aliens killing/breeding in the humans in that particular state. We know the Aliens are evil incarnate, that was unnecessary. The final scene was a nursery. While we don't see the Aliens eating the newborns (I would have gotten up, left and demanded a refund at that) that action was heavily implied in the way the Alien bumped its head against the glass.

In the end, I could have enjoyed this movie. I doubt I would have ever liked it, but it could have lived in my memory in the same place I relegate those old, gore-filled SF horror movies, similar to The Blob or Army of Darkness. If the scenes I discovered in the paragraph above this one had not been there, I would have given this an incredibly different review. It would have been light in tone, amused at the gore, the violence, and the utter lack of intelligence stimulating content. Yet the writer/directors felt the need to attack children, to show us just how evil and inhuman the Aliens are in that regard. Maybe it is because I am a parent, but I found that content disturbing, and it did leave quite a sour taste in my mouth over the whole movie.

I have to give this movie a 0 out of 4.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Movies for '08

Well the studios have released their SF/Horror lineups for the 2008 theatrical season. Slice of SciFi has been kind enough to compile a listing for us to enjoy.

That said, I'm quite enthralled with this year's crop of movies, and these are the ones I'm looking forward to the most, and will probably attempt to drag my wife to view (in alphabetical order, the '♠' ones are those which aren't really up for debate):

  • Babylon A.D.
  • Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
  • Cloverfield
  • Dragonball
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
  • Jumper
  • Speed Racer
  • Star Trek
  • Superhero
  • The Dark Knight
  • Wall*E
Of course, there are a host of other movies that I'll wait until they arrive on DVD and then rent. That list, starts with any of those above I don't convince my beloved wife she needs to view, and continues with:
  • Get Smart
  • Hellboy II: The Golden Army
  • Horton Hears a Who
  • Inkheart
  • Iron Man
  • Possession
  • Punisher: War Zone
  • The Eye
  • The Happening
  • The Incredible Hulk
  • The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
  • The Spiderwick Chronicles
  • The X-Files: 2
A lot of movies to watch. One has to wonder why so much geek-love is coming out of the movie houses. Not that I'm complaining mind you. Anyways, I have to wonder what everyone else is excitedly awaiting release?

Post-Christmas bliss

Well, after a few issues with Amazon/UPS getting me my Christmas gift, it finally arrived yesterday (just a few days later than they originally estimated, and an entirely separate order). Despite the fact that it was late, I have to give major props to Amazon. When I realized that it was overdue, I emailed their customer support on Saturday night. Monday morning, I got a reply stating that they were next-daying a second instance of my order. I had no expectations that the 'next day' would mean Christmas day, so I was expecting it to arrive on Wednesday. Lo and behold, around 3 in the afternoon there it was.

So, now I have a pretty 80 GB second-gen Zune on my desk, right next to the keyboard. I've been playing with its features, and even downloaded a video converter so I could convert some of my backlogged anime into a Zune compatible format. Well, my first attempt was using the native WMV format, and I'm less than pleased by the preliminary results (I've yet to watch a full episode, but the ten minutes I did watch kind of froze near the end). Tonight I think I'll convert them into the other supported format of DIVX and see what happens with that.

My other Christmas gifts involve the latest version of Blade Runner, a couple of pairs of pajamas and a few other odds an ends.

Plus, I'll soon be getting a glass front cabinet in which I can store a portion of my geek stuff. We're still not certain if that'll go in the living room proper or in the foyer, but I'll be happy to have my SW Legos and Unleashed figures out for viewing again.

The other news of note is that I bought Darth Bane: Rule of Two last night. I started it before I began playing with my Zune and am thrilled with what I've read so far. Expect a review once I get it read twice. Speaking of reviews, I'm also almost done with my second reading of Hal Spacejock: Second Course which means that its review will soon be begun.

Finally, I'll be going to see Alien versus Predator: Requiem tonight with the Mandalorians (the SW Fan group located here in the Jackson metro area). Expect a review of that either sometime Friday or maybe Saturday.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

SF Meme

Well, I finally found one of those annoying meme's that I'll actually do. I was searching for something, and stumbled across this post from SF Signal.

Science Fiction, Fantasy or Horror?
Science Fiction.

Hardback or Trade Paperback or Mass Market Paperback?
Depends on the book. Some, I just want to have in Hardback (Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, etc) while others I'd only buy in paperback (Foundation, anything by Vonnegut, etc)

Heinlein or Asimov?

Amazon or Brick and Mortar?
Brick and Mortar is my preferred version. I like holding books, and feel the need to read the blurb before making a buy decision

Barnes & Noble or Borders?
Books-a-Million? My favorite store gets no love. Of course it's a bit too far away from my new home, so I fear Barnes & Nobles get my business these days...

Hitchhiker or Discworld?
Hal Spacejock.

Bookmark or Dogear?
Depends. Dogear for mass market paperbacks (unless I have a bookmark handy), bookmark for everything else.

Magazine: Asimov's Science Fiction or Fantasy & Science Fiction?
Asimov, though I don't really read either magazine.

Alphabetize by author Alphabetize by title or random?
Fear it has to be random. An active, book-loving, 14 month old keeps books from being organized.

Keep, Throw Away or Sell?
Keep. Much to my beloved's chagrin

Year's Best Science Fiction series (edited by Gardner Dozois) or Years Best SF series (edited by David G. Hartwell)?
Don't touch either

Keep dustjacket or toss it?

Read with dustjacket or remove it?

Short story or novel?

Harry Potter or Lemony Snicket?
Harry Potter

Stop reading when tired or at chapter breaks?
When tired--probably be more accurate to say "when asleep"

"It was a dark and stormy night" or "Once upon a time"?

Buy or Borrow?
Buy. Again to the wife's chagrin

Buying choice: Book Reviews, Recommendation or Browse?
Browsing. I love physically holding a book, looking at it, and making the buy decision there on the spot

Lewis or Tolkien?
Depends on my mood. Tolkien is great, but he requires a lot more thinking than Lewis does..

Hard SF or Space Opera?
Hard SF

Collection (short stories by the same author) or Anthology (short stories by different authors)?

Hugo or Nebula?
Neither bother me. I usually remember to look at their nomination lists after the actual awards have been handed out.

Golden Age SF or New Wave SF?
I like them both. I love my Heinlien, Asimove and Bova, but the stuff that Doctorow and Scalzi are putting out are wonderful as well.

Tidy ending or Cliffhanger?
Tidy ending

Morning reading, Afternoon reading or Nighttime reading?

Standalone or Series?

Urban fantasy or high fantasy?
High fantasy.

New or used?
Depends on how much I'm looking forward to the book.

Favorite book of which nobody else has heard?
Dead Heat by Del Stone, Jr.

Top X favorite genre books read last year? (Where X is 5 or less)
1. His Majesty's Dragon by Noami Novik
2. Old Man's War by John Scalzi
3. Ringworld by Larry Niven
4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by you-know-who
5. Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town by Cory Doctorow

Top X favorite genre books of all time? (Where X is 5 or less)
1. Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein
2. I, Jedi by Micheal Stackpole
3. Conquest by Greg Keyes
4. Foundation by Asimov
5. 1984 by Orwell.

X favorite genre series? (Where X is 5 or less)
1. Star Wars by Lucas Books
2. The Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCraffey.
3. The Tremaire series by Noami Novik
4. Asimov's Robot & Foundation books.
5. Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis

Top X favorite genre short stories? (Where X is 5 or less)
err...sorry, blacked out here...

Review: I Am Legend

Since my Mother-in-Law was in town, me and the Mrs. decided to go see a movie. In my SF induced craze, I managed to convince her that we needed to go see I Am Legend. Frankly, I'm quite happy that she agreed. I Am Legend is Mr. Will Smith's latest flick, and is based upon a Richard Matheson's novel of the same name. This is an older book, set during the mid to late seventies, while this latest movie is set in the near future. I say latest movie, because it has been made as a movie twice in the past, once entitled The Last Man on Earth and starred Vincent Price and the other was The Omega Man and stared Charleton Heston.

Anyways, the plot for I Am Legend is that Robert Neville (Will Smith's character) is attempting to find a cure for a virus which was created to cure cancer, but instead either killed or transformed people into photo-sensitive mutants (called Darkseekers in the movie). It's very similar to the novel's plot in which a bacteria runs rampant and creates what are effectively vampires, yet it fails in a couple of serious ways, at least for the logic minded. First, this 'cure for cancer' is based on the measles virus--but are we not all inoculated against measles at a young age these days? Would not the white blood cells designed to destroy the measles virus attack this cure just as fast? The second thing I'm stuck wondering is why on earth none of the Darkseekers appeared during the human clinical trials; or even better the years upon years of clinical animal trials (and if this isn't a worse-case scenario for animal trials, I don't know what is).

Yet those issues aside, the plot is fine, because it is merely the driving force that allows us to watch Robert Neville. It really doesn't matter what he's fighting or why nearly every person on the planet is dead, what matters is that we get to watch his psychological progression. We drop into his existence as he goes about his daily routine; which includes hunting via a Mustang Shelby, systematically looting the city for essentials, and sitting at the dock waiting for survivors to appear. It's a horrifying situation where he spends days with his dog, and talking to manikins in an attempt to have human interaction. It's a wonderful look at one person's decent into madness at the lack of human contact, similar in nature to what happened to Chuck Noland in Castaway. On the actor side of things, I believe that this is the best performance that I've seen out of Will Smith. I thoroughly enjoyed him in the Men In Black series as well as Independence Day, but I believe that this was his best performance ever. Especially disturbing was the scene where he was quoting Shrek, of course that could be because he was quoting Shrek.

Anyways, the other character of note in this movie are the Darkseekers. These are the survivors of the cancer-cure virus, that have been mutated. UV radiation burns them, and they lose skin pigmentation and hair. At first, we're to believe that they are basically mindless drones, with their only concern being attacking anyone or anything that's not aDarkseeker . This is shown via his experiments on infected rats, and then the sheer fear which Neville displays as dusk comes on. Yet, that is a disservice to theDarkseekers, in the book, and surprisingly in the movie as well.

There are a few thematic issues in this movie. Despite the trappings of a dystopic future (and I call it dystopic, because we can see ourselves destroying ourself using genetic research into curing diseases--or at least I can), there is a strong undercurrent of love, hope and the survivability of man. If anything, this movie shows man's will to survive. As a species we WANT to be on top of the world, and we want to survive. That is so hard-coded into our behavior that we look upon suicide as something obscene and wrong. Likewise, we'll turn against beings that are similar to us, on the off chance that our particular branch of the species survives. Hence Neville's willingness to kill and destroy the Darkseekers, despite the fact that, fundamentally, they just have a disease. But onto the love and hope themes, it shows in the way that even after three years, even believing that he was the last survivor, that he searched for a cure to the Darkseekers disease. Despite the fact that he firmly believed that no one "normal" survived, he still worked to cure them. Despite that he believed that all traces of humanity had gone from the Darkseekers, he still sought to cure them. If that's not hope and love, I'm not certain what is.

In fact, Neville himself talks about this (which is actually a good holdover from the novel) when he's talking to another survivor about Bob Marley. If memory serves, the quote in question is thus:

Bob Marley almost had a virologist way of thinking. He believed that you can cure-actually cure hate and racism, by injecting it with love and music. Two days before Bob Marley was supposed to perform he was shot. Two days later he walked on stage and performed and they asked him in a interview why didn't he rest, and he said 'the people that are trying to make the world worse never take a day off, why should I? Light up the darkness.'
I can admit something here. When they said that quote, I had a sudden fear that the disease was going to be cured by them playing old Bob Marley songs to one of the Darkseekers. Irrational maybe, but I've seen worse endings to movies over the years.

Yet, I digress, the hope shown by Neville is outstanding. Yet, there's a cynicism in his character as well. A desire to not see those attributes in the Darkseekers. He is so set in seeing them as mindless brutes, that he cannot comprehend why he's being stalked by one of the Darkseekers. Which is slightly humorous, because everyone else in the theater seemed to catch onto it.

Finally, the title I Am Legend has a distinct meaning. In the book, the meaning is based upon what Neville does to the vampires, while here, it is what he does for the survivors. A slight shift in context, but fundamentally not a problem. Though, I believe I like the book's stance on it better (as an aside, it makes me wish to go rent The Last Man on Earth as it is supposedly adheres best to the novel's plot line).

Overall, I liked this movie. A lot. Some parts of it scared my wife, and I was startled by the lions, despite seeing them in a preview, but this was fundamentally a SF story, despite the distinct horror leanings of the source material. Viruses, genetic research and man playing God are all horrendously shown in the stark devastation. I am slightly... well, it's not really disturbed, but that is probably the best term, by a religious subplot that was introduced for this movie. Thinking about it now, I can see how it does make a bit of sense, as seeing that the disease suddenly mutated after undergoing 10,000+ clinical human trials, unknowable animal trials, and let's not forget the onerous FDA approval process. Despite some of the film's weaknesses, I enjoyed it, and enjoyed it immensely. It shows a possible horror of tinkering with the building blocks of viruses, and shows us man's capability to hope, and to survive. The only drawback is that whole plot question on its sudden mutations, and the Darkseekers never showing up until the disease gets released into the general population.

So, I'm giving it a 3.7 out of 4.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Monday Morning Rambling, Christmas Eve edition

All right, I know I've said in the past that we've recently moved, and during that move, we managed to snag ourselves a house. Of course, with a house comes all the usual tidbits of hassles, such as plumbing.

Well, the toilet in the master bath just doesn't want to flush appropriately, so I've been fighting with it for a while. Well, during one of those duels, I turned on the tub in order to use that water to attempt of force a flush. Imagine my disdain when the water refused to go down.

So, I did what any reasonably intelligent man would do: went to Lowe's. While there, I picked up a package of sulfuric acid. The good stuff that eats paper towels, skin and other organic materials. So, following the directions on the package, I poured two cups of the stuff down the tub drain, followed by four cups of water, every 15 minutes. Nothing happened. I waited overnight, the stuff still wouldn't drain down. So I go buy a snake. It refuses to go down the drain, every time I attempt it, I manage to hear a dull clunk sound.

Which is when I look at the drain control and noticed that it was in the 'up' position. Mumbling dire things under my breath, I pushed it down and watched the water happily flowing away.

So that's happy, but my toilet is still annoying, despite four cups of the acid poured down its gullet.

If this evil keeps up, I may be forced to... hire someone.

My own stupidity aside, I've not gotten a lot of SF stuff since Friday. Been a tad busy with family and shopping. I did manage to get my wife a number of gifts; all but one of which she asked for.

I just hope that I'm getting some good fun geek gifts for Christmas this year.

Speaking of gifts, AnimeNetwork the website has given us a wonderful gift in the form of a broadband service video service. There appears to be some good series on it, so I'm hopeful.

Unfortunately, AniMonday is on hiatus for the next two weeks, as they're providing us a Stargate Atlantis and then Twilight Zone marathons. I think I'd rather have the anime.

Books-wise, Darth Pane: Rule of Two will be released Wednesday, and I'm in the midst of reading the infinitely wonderful Hal Spacejock: Second Course. Reviews will be up soon concerning them. Additionally, on the review front, I've gotten some feedback over at theForce.Net concerning my reviews: specifically that they don't focus enough on characters, content, and overarching problems with the books. So, I was wondering what other folks thought about them.

Hope everyone has a Merry Christmas, and that they don't have to suffer through more than one showing of Star Wars: The Holiday Special.

Friday, December 21, 2007

It's Friday!

Well, it's been a bad week for SF Television this week.

Not only has the Writer's Strike hastened early season ends to many of the shows on the boob-tube, but now USA has announced that they have dropped both The 4400 and The Dead Zone. The list of dead shows from NBC Universal also includes: Journeyman, Chuck, and there are rumors that The Bionic Woman is not coming back.

On, the other hand, movie news things are looking up. We have Jackson on board for The Hobbit and better yet there are rumors that Sam Riami is going to helm that one. Also, the Wachoski brothers are pushing us Speed Racer, and Chow Yun Fat has been announced as a member of the Dragonball cast. And then has this wonderful article. The only problem on the movie front is the usual utter disregard for genre flicks when it comes to awards.

But enough about that; I'm annoyed at Anime Network On Demand. I thought this was a great thing, that there would be Anime available all the time to watch. Sure, I've seen the first few episodes of Virus versus Venus, and the first episode of Tokyo Majin. Yet, that's all they've put up. I'd have better luck watching Anime if I had the regular Anime Network. I'm enjoying Adult Swim On Demand much more, as I've been watching Samurai Champloo and Eureka 7 in order on there.

Oh well.

I do have a new book though. I've gotten my hands on the second in the Hal Spacejock series, titled: Hal Spacejock: Second Course. I did happy, freaky dance when I realized what was in that white mailing package from Australia. Of course, my wife fussed when she realized that I had left a stack of bills unopened in order to open the book.

Again, Oh well.

Next week, I'm going to go watch AvP:R with the Mandalorians, and I'm hoping to convince the Mrs. that we need to go see I Am Legend one night while her mother is in town for Christmas.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Review: Fury

Well, we're here with Book 7 of Legacy of the Force, and Allston's last entry into this particular saga. It's entitled Fury (ISBN: 9780345477569) a mass-market paperback clocking in at 356 pages. It's a book that starts shortly after the events of Denning's Inferno and as is usual with LotF novels takes place over the span of a few weeks. Its cover proudly displays a photoshopped version of Anakin Skywalker... oh wait... that's supposed to be Ben isn't it. I guess it's just another instance of Del Rey's unending reliance upon the prequels for their inspiration.

But that's enough of my pessimism concerning the state of the GFFA, let's look instead at the blurb for this book:

Fighting alongside the Corellian rebels, Han and Leia are locked in a war against their son Jacen, who grows more powerful and more dangerous with each passing day. Nothing can stop Jacen's determination to bring peace with a glorious Galactic Alliance victory--whatever the price.

While Luke grieves the loss of his beloved wife and deals with his guilt over killing the wrong person in retaliation, Jaina, Jag, and Zekk hunt for the real assassin, unaware that the culprit commands Sith powers that can cloud their minds and misdirect their attacks--and even turn them back on themselves.

As Luke and Ben Skywalker struggle to find their places among the chaos, Jacen, shunned by friends and family, launches an invasion to rescue the only person still loyal to him. But with the battle raging on, and the galaxy growing more turbulent and riotous, there's no question that it is Jacen who is most wanted: dead or alive.
Now, we can look at my pessimism concerning this back cover blurb. First and foremost, this particular blurb does pique my interest. It worked well for the purpose of getting my interest, and also attracting it in such a way that I would be willing to purchase the book. What ails me about it is that post-reading, I'm trying to figure out what this blurb has to do with the book I had read. Odds an ends of the blurb look familiar to the story, yet the way that they're put together just doesn't read like the book.

The plot itself is the the standard fare for Star Wars novels in LotF. Basically, the plot is a number of loosely (if at all) connected story threads, all in service of the over-arching plot line. Which in some senses is a sad state of affairs for this novel. After all, it means that it just doesn't hold up as a stand alone book. Read in a vacuum, this book lacks an overarching plot to hold the characters to some grand task. To some extent this is something that has afflicted all the LotF novels, but none have been quite as bad as this one.

You have the usual mix of Star Wars characters here: Ben, Luke, Han, Leia, Jagged, Alema, Jaina, and Jacen. Then you also get a whole host of secondary characters, many of whom we've seen before. Yet, the joy here is that a lot of these secondaries, though we've seen before, are getting real, honest-to-goodness page time here. Seha, Wedge, Syal, and of course Kyle Katarn. In all truthfulness, it is these secondary characters who shine the most in Allston's novels. While he has a firm hand on the primary characters, I find myself most interested in the lesser knowns who he brings into play. After all, it's always great to see Kyle Katarn and Valin Horn--or any other Jedi that's not named Solo or Skywalker--swinging lightsabers. Even greater to see are characters like Syal in fighters or just interacting with the older characters.

All that aside, the character I liked the most here was Seha. You see her desire to do the right thing, to be a good Jedi, despite her past, and especially despite what she did in regards to Ben in a previous novel. Also, we get a decent amount of back story for her, explaining WHY she did the things she did. Out of all the younger Jedi introduced I think I like her the most. Oh wait, we've only seen her and Ben; the next youngest character is Valin, who happens to be nearly thirty. Poor Ben. He has no hopes of having a significant other unless someone gets on the ball and starts creating characters his age.

Anyhow, we also have Alema in this novel. Truthfully, I've long felt bad for Alema. She's never been given the time or attention from Luke that she should have gotten. In fact, she's been written off as Dark Side fodder since the death of her sister back during the NJO. An odd stance from Luke, when he never wrote off the twins when their brother died, and has no questions about Jaina's fealty to the Light even with Jacen's decent into the Dark. Maybe it's just Luke's attachment to his family, but personally, I think it was a bad characterization decision on Luke's part to not help her heal. Yet, that's standard behavior where Luke and the Jedi are concerned: if you can't overcome your own mental problems without specialized, psychiatric help, then you get what you deserve when you inevitably snap. Something of a self-fulfilling prophecy I fear.

Moving past the predestined Dark Jedi, we have the settings. Which I can admit to loving in this novel. The descriptions of the various settings (especially the abandoned Imperial facility and Kashyyk) are wonderful, filled both with mood and details. I wish I could paint pictures with words as easily as Mr. Allston makes it appear here.

Beyond the pretty pictures in my head, the book itself is physically well done. I don't remember any typos or grammatical errors. Even more important, I don't remember any continuity flubs being generated by this particular book. Which is increasingly rare within the context of Star Wars EU. Outside the obvious dependence upon AOTC Anakin, it is a perfectly decent cover, though I wonder how much could have been trimmed from the costs of the book if they hadn't used the foil and embossing for the Star Wars logo. Not that such savings would have been passed on to us consumers, of course.

As implied above, this book lacks a theme as much as a plot. That is due, in my opinion, upon the reliance upon the overarching LotF plot/theme. This is a pity, as Star Wars, at its most fundamental, is myth and morality play rolled into one. The various plots of Star Wars are firmly rooted in the concept of the Hero's Journey--with all the mythological and moral implications that implies. Yet, that is lacking here, and in the other LotF novels. While that lack of the fantastical, of the mythological, is not as pronounced as it was in the NJO it is still sorely missed; at least by this reviewer.

Ultimately though, I enjoyed the novel. I enjoyed reading it. That said, it was not a good book. It lacked an overall plot, and there was not a true journey which any of the protagonists went on. Sure two of them were different at the end of the novel than they were at the beginning. Yet those changes were from discussions rather than the events of the missing plot. Despite this being a good read, as I said, this was a bad novel; probably the worse that I have ever read from Allston's pen (or keyboard as the case may be). As a small portion of Legacy of the Force it worked fine, and once the whole story is laid bare, and is available to read from one Betrayal to Invincible, this book will be an integral part of the plot, and sorely missed if not there. The problem is that we are so close to the final conflicts of that overarching plot that its demands are getting pushed harder against the various authors. Which means we should probably expect a similar lack of plot in the novel over the next two LotF novels, because I definitely am.

The pessimist in me wants to take this time to point out that had each author not re-tread the same ground over and over again (read how many times Han disowned Jacen), then maybe the rush wouldn't be so pronounced as it is now.

The optimist in me wanted to take this moment to point out that we get a hint of Mandalorian activity here, amazingly enough, outside of a Traviss novel (while the pessimist pipes in that it's even less than a cameo, it's a box).

My dual natures aside, I enjoyed the read, but found the book lacking as a stand alone novel. As much as I like Allston's writing, as much as I had fun reading this book, the lack of a plot means that I have to give this novel a 1.9 out of 4.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

12 Days of Christams, Trek-style

And here are the 12 days of Christmas for Trekkies.

Enjoy, I love the concept of the Hako Bridge.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Monday Morning Rambling for December 17th

And I'm once again back to my usual, boring blog title. I like the random ones, but on occasion, I just have too much to do. Anyways, coming up for this week will be my review of Star Wars: Fury, and my top 10 Star Wars stories. Additionally, I'm hoping to put together a year-in-review post, but who knows if I'll have the time and energy to accomplish that.

After all, it's not like I have extreme amounts of time these days. What with my job, family and having to deal with chores, it seems that I barely have the time to read my two novels a week, watch a few hours worth of anime, write a couple thousand words daily and work on programming side-projects. And somehow, I really want to put drawing back into that particular picture. Oh well.

Anyways, this evening, Blood the Last Vampire and Dead Leaves will be on AniMonday. Both of which promise to be interesting anime series.

Which reminds me. Saturday night, me and the family went to the Mandalorian's Christmas party. The Mandalorians are a fan-club set up here in the Jackson, Mississippi area. We had a great time, though my wife was a bit flabbergasted. I had purchased the Dark Crystal manga, and my wife thought it was going to bomb as a gift. Imagine her surprise when it was passed around a number of times via the "Dirty Santa" game.

Of course, now she questions why I have such a hard time getting her a gift.

For some odd reason, she's not accepting the 'but I understand them' response.

Oh well. I did find out some information about the Galaxy of Stars Con which is held here in Jackson. Which means to say that I found out that it is definitely not worth the money they're charging for it.

And I was so looking forward to actually going to a convention.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Talifan & Me

All right. I've been promising an essay about the use of Talifan in fandoms by authors directed towards fans for quite a while now. It truly is an interesting thing; held in derision by fans and authors alike, except in those odd cases when fans take it as a badge of honor. It's an oft misunderstood term, as it's bandied about in those areas with huge fan followings, and usually centered about a controversial subject.

What on Earth is a Talifan?

Since I first thumped upon the idea for this essay, I've been shifting through the archives of the Internet, hunting for the beginning of this particular phrase. The first instance I could find of it, was an appearance in newsgroups in late 2001. Oddly enough, that early instance in the Google Archives was a reply to an earlier post in a NASCAR newsgroup. For anyone who doesn't know, NASCAR is the major stock car racing group here in the States. Despite what some Star Wars fans think, it's not a term coined by Karen Traviss. It's older than that. Older than Karen Traviss being a writer without a doubt, and Karen Traviss herself has stated that she doesn't know who originally coined the term.

What is agreed on though, nearly unanimously and across fandoms, is some variation of this definition for a Talifan:

someone so zealous about their personal vision of their chosen franchise that they threaten, abuse, libel or stalk writers who work in what they consider Their World, but who don't accede to their demands because there's that pesky business of the franchise owner wanting things written a certain way.

Most definitions usually leave off writer as a specific, replace it with their celebrity of choice, be it a car driver, a football star or even video game designer. Additionally, please note that this is Karen Traviss' own definition of the term. Also, this is a definition from within industry, not from the fandom itself. It originally was bandied back and forth by authors and other celebrities about their fans. It is not a term of endearment for those who take a position diametrically opposed to a fandom's content creators.

Sure, some fans can be aggressive in their discussions and talking with their celebs of choice. The case books abound with stalkers of famous actresses. Without a doubt, these folks exist.

Let me repeat that: these folks exist.

They even exist in popular media as characters. Routinely villains, but they exist. Merely, look towards a little book/movie combo by Stephen King entitled Misery for an example.

Wow, I'm way off where I thought I'd be with this, so to drag this back to Star Wars, let's get a bit of history as to what caused this term to come to the forefront of the fandom's consciousness.

Clones for Talifans, '09

It started with a bit of imaginative numbering of the Clones from Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, and Karen Traviss putting their number at a mere 3 million. Then, rather than fix such an oddly low number for a galactic army charged with protecting billions of planets, she shrunk the other side's army to a matching number, despite evidence of a much, much larger droid army in other EU material.

Well, Star Wars fan are a...well, let's just say we really like our franchise. So, of course, the various forums out there (TheForce.Net, StarDestroyer.Net, theGalacticSenate.Net & which have a wide following of Star Wars fans visiting them kind of erupted.

There was name calling, and other troll-like behavior. And then the author jumped in.

We won't get into the whole fiasco, but there were bannings from various sites of long-term posters, and other such things. In general, it was some rather nasty business.

But for the purpose of this essay, it's somewhat irrelevant.

What I'm here to discuss today, is does the existence of the phrase 'Talifan' hamper discussion among fans.

I have to say that it does. Without fail.

Do these people exist? Sure. Is every person currently banned from a website because they've had that label applied to them one? I truly doubt it.

Frankly, I wrote an article over at the KrashPAD (my politics/rants focused blog) dealing with the phrase Intolerance and how it has changed over the years. If we, as a fandom, are not careful, then we will start labeling any fan that we don't agree with a 'Talifan.' This behavior is something that we see in the 'real world' already. There are phrases, that when applied to a discussion, will stop it, without fail, and without recourse. Calling someone a racist, a sexist, or intolerant does that. Those, and other words like them, are designed, and given the weight of political correctness, to stop logical discourse about a subject.

Over at the KrashPAD I often have discussions on subject matter ranging from free speech to religion, and one of the threads is how there is plenty of evidence (both in actions, and in the way those actions are not denounced) that Muslims are not all that peaceful in regards to those who are not Muslims. On one of those posts, I had received a comment, with someone yapping at how intolerant I was regarding Muslims. The commenter's entire post, was dedicated to that. The entire argument against my little rant (it was about those Denmark cartoons and the Muslim cry for blood over them, a cry evidenced by multiple published news reports) was that I was an intolerant cretin who should know better than to bad-mouth people.

Notice that rather than this person defending what they felt with thoughtful, logical discussion, the commenter resorted to calling me intolerant. A blatant attempt to make me realize the error of my ways of not being 100% politically correct. At other times, I have been called a racist for arguing against slave reparations, sexist for arguing that there are genetic, built-in differences between men and women, and homophobic for arguing that children need a mother and a father and that is a reason why non-married, non-heterosexual couples, should not adopt children.

These name callings have always been someone's attempt to shame me into silence.

Is Harry Potter a Talifan?

For more examples of this, let's look over at the Harry Potter franchise. This article (If you're an obsessed Harry Potter fan, Voldemort isn't the problem. It's Hermione versus Ginny.) was published back around the time when Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince was released, dealing with the various 'ships attached to Harry at that point. Similar disruptions occurred in that fandom when the founder of Mugglenet referred to Harry/Hermione shippers as "Delusional," and then Rowling didn't help matters by chuckling. Of course there are no indications that this was done in anything but jest, but it didn't matter. An entire subset of the fandom felt attacked, so of course, they fought back, in the form of hate mail describing the parties involved in rather colorful terms.

Think about it, simply calling a group of fans delusional was enough to start this avalanche of hate-filled discourse; grinding discussion on the franchise to a stop while the fans dealt with the backlash from that single, simple comment.

Was it right or wrong? That's irrelevant. It stopped true communication as people responded with emotions--in this case anger.

When people are called Talifan by other fans or authors, the attempt is to shame them into silence. They don't want to discuss or logically defend their position, so they have this handy term to stop the discussion, to turn the person they don't agree with into an outcast of the collective group which the discussion is being held in.

Dumbledore's outing

Yet there is another aspect of this issue, and it relates to something in the news recently as well. Namely, Rowling's "outing" of Dumbledore. A number of fans were outraged, howling with derision for this (to some people) rather random thought of the author. The side of my brain that deals with the KrashPAD's rants is definitely wondering how NAMBLA will use Dumbledore's sexuality in their political and social propaganda, but I digress.

Anyways, this news created articles and blog postings on both side of the creative divide. With some rushing to Rowling's defense, while others continue to deride her, and while the defenders have not gone so far as to call those who dislike the news "Talifans" one has to wonder just when that will appear.

Regardless, it goes into a concept of just who owns these characters. John Scalzi over at Whatever (here's his article about it), posts this in the comments:

You are under the impression that you jointly own the character with the author, but the author is neither obliged to agree with this formulation (not in the least because typically the author owns the copyright to the character — i.e., the actual legal ownership), nor is bound to be circumspect in discussing the characters because a reader assumes an ownership.

It's an interesting thought from the creator's side of things, but it does leave me wondering about things. In years past, stories were owned by the community. They were passed down orally from generation to generation, with each story teller giving a slightly divergent view of the story. Fans love these characters, they feel invested in them. Yet, typically authors look down on fans that try to do this active reading of "their" characters. Doctorow describes this concept over at a Locus Online feature (In Praise of Fan Fiction), and has this to say:

Writers can't ask readers not to interpret their work. You can't enjoy a novel that you haven't interpreted — unless you model the author's characters in your head, you can't care about what they do and why they do it. And once readers model a character, it's only natural that readers will take pleasure in imagining what that character might do offstage, to noodle around with it. This isn't disrespect: it's active reading.

I am an Active Reader

So, what does this all mean to us? What does all this have to say about Talifans? About fans in general?

First off, there are real fans out there who are hateful to the creators and actors of our beloved franchises. They stalk them, send death threats, or even shoot President Reagan.

Yet too often, authors and fans alike are so bent on defending their interpretation of characters, settings, and scenarios that their arguments get lost in a smattering of rhetoric and name calling. They fail to realize that maybe, just maybe, the other side, really does have a point in what they're trying to say.

Should the fans have attacked Traviss when she numbered the clones at a mere 3 million? Of course not. Yet, should Traviss have modified the number of droids out there as a reaction to that, and justification for, her initial low number? That's harder to justify, but since it is a shared universe between her and other Lucas Books authors, I have to say no. She stomped on another author's contribution to the GFFA in an order to defend her own stance, and as an attack against the criticism (whether just or unjust doesn't matter) she was receiving.

Likewise, should the readers who dislike this "new" interpretation of Dumbledore be sending death threats to Rowling (as an aside, I don't know that she has received any for her recent announcement, nor do I particularly care to know, I'm just using this as an example)? Of course not. Yet why did she feel the need to make such a pronouncement? What need was there?

The cynic in me says it was just to stir up controversy and drum more publicity for her work. But I see money-grubbing behind just about everything, an aspect of being an unabashed Capitalist I guess.

Ultimately, it is the copy-right owners who have the right to make such announcements and do such to their intellectual property. At the same time, authors, and other creative types, need to realize that for fans to actually care about their characters, they are going to internalize them. Wonder about what else these characters have done or are doing. They are going to make up stories about them.

And they are going to get upset and defensive, if and when the creators change the view of these imaginary worlds without warning.

In the end, all Talifans do it. It is the definition at the start of a Talifan to be so upset about changes to their view of imaginary worlds that they libel, defame, stalk, etc the creators. On the other hand, not all who do so are Talifans.

And that is why authors and fans alike need to be wary of using the term Talifan as a label; after all, it will easily become something that is used in order to shut up someone who they don't agree with, and that's not good for anyone.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Christmas Still Chugging Along

Well, Christmas is still chugging along, happily infecting the world around me with visions of sugar plums, candy canes, and thousands of glowing, blinking, colored (and white) lights. As you've might have guessed, I'm something of a scrooge over this all, but that's all right, my beloved wife loves me in spite of my views on this overly commercialized, and over-baked holiday.

Of high interest is that the Star Wars group in my area is having a Christmas party, complete with Dirty Santa give giving. Of course that means, I need to go get a gift--I'm thinking some shojo manga would be appropriate.

Anime-wise, not much has been happening. The series I've been watching have been coming out slowly, and I find myself watching Adult Swim more often. But, good news there is that I can start watching Bleach from the beginning, as it has recently restarted. Now, as long as they don't yank it off the air I'll be all sorts of happy. AniMonday will be playing the short movie, Blood: The Last Vampire (the precursor to the Blood+ anime series currently playing on Adult Swim) this Monday, so we can all look forward to that.

Final bit of important Anime news is that The Anime Blog is having a Christmas giveaway. The deadline is 20 comments on the post, so hurry up and post something (sorry to my readers from other countries, but it's only open to the continental USA).

Much more important than Christmas to a Star Wars fan though, is the fact that Boxing Day is the day which Lucas Books is pushing out the Darth Bane sequel, which Drew talks about on his blog. Personally, I can't wait for this book, as I loved Path of Destruction. Of incredibly high interest is this particular quote from him:

I can honestly say this novel gets pretty dark - I was actually amazed at some of the things my editors at Lucas let me get away with. I went in determined to explore the depths of the dark side, and they didn't make me pull back one bit.
Yes, I'm doing a happy Dark Side dance right about now.

I'm actually eager to read this book. Way to go Drew!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Yet Another Monday Morning in SF Land...

I've been hiding. Not from my family mind you, but rather from all those folks I normally interact with on the net. Why?

Two reasons. The first is that I'm re-reading the Harry Potter books which I own (the last 4 for those curious). The second reason is why I am also suffering a few blisters upon my right hand: yard work.

Yes, imagine our great surprise that after all the leaves had fell from the tree that's nearly directly in front of our front door that lo and behold we had numbers up on the edge of the roof right above the front door. So a quick trip to Lowes later, and I had myself a saw and a few other tools, and was trimming the tree back so that come Spring it won't cover our pretty numbers.

Anyways, with the writer's strike in full swing, I find myself not that impacted, as most of my television watching habits are imported; such as tonight's airing of Perfect Blue on SciFi's AniMonday. For those curious, I'm also watching Bleach, Inuyasha, DeathNote, Eureka 7 and Blood on Adult Swim.

The other thing of interest for television is that SciFi is airing a Firefly marathon this Friday starting at 7/6 Central. I, like all good SF crazed megalomaniacs, already have the entire series on DVD. Of course, such things as owning where I can watch it whenever I desire won't keep me from subjecting my wife to it all over again.

Also, expect the review of the latest Star Wars novel (Fury) to be up sometime very soon. As well as one of my fun little essays which I'll occasionally throw together. At least that's my hope.

Finally, we've thundered through the day of the year when COSPLAY is socially acceptable in the US, brushed through gluttony day, and we're now pushing through the season when grown men can actually go into the toy department without their kids and not get evil looks from the moms hanging out in there.

My question for everyone is: what SF do you expect to find in your stocking this year?

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Star Wars Fans HATE Star Wars

JIVE Magazine has an awesome article up entitled The Complex and Terrifying Reality of Star Wars fandom.

Brilliant, hilarious, and oh so true.

EDIT: It's actually from 2005, but it's the first time I've ever seen it...

Invincible Covered



Hopefully, this will be worth all the effort.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The ills that befall a SF Fan...

It's another Monday morning here in No Krakana land, and as usual, I'm up to my armpits in computers and SF goodness.

On the SF Book front, as noted last week, I recently, finally, found myself a copy of the Niven novel Ringworld. It was a great read, and goes firmly on my stack of books that need to have reviews written (a stack that includes the Tremaire series of novels by Noami Novik). Additionally, I went to a Borders for the first time (we didn't have one in Pensacola) this weekend, and picked up the latest Star Wars novel: Fury. That is read, and its review will probably be up before any of the others, as it goes to TheForce.Net in addition to being displayed here.

Truthfully, I'm still pondering whether or not I should request a Kindle from the gift fairy (i.e. my Beloved Wife) as it is an incredibly interesting device. How can I not love a device that has a rudimentary web browser, cross-nation, free WIFI internet, and is literally designed to allow you to read books on it. Of course, I still have my concerns about the device (and Sony's eReader 2) which I listed in this previous article.

Anime-wise it's a fun time in Denmark... or Mississippi as the case may be. First, the series that are currently on-going in Japan are happily being consumed here States-side by yours truly, and I'm enjoying them. My current list of anime that I'm watching is:

  • Dennou Coil (which is almost over)
  • Sky Girls (again, almost over)
  • ef - A Tale of Memories
  • Clannad
  • Bamboo Blade
  • Blue Drop
Additionally, I have a couple of things that I plan on watching over lunch breaks, once I get either an iPod a gen2 Zune:
  • School Days
  • Lyrical Magical Girl Nanoha Strikerz
Beyond that, new content is appearing on Anime Network On Demand which I'm thoroughly enjoying. Venus versus Virus is up there (episode 2 was watched Saturday) as well as Tokyo Majin. Oddly, Air TV and Ah! My Goddess 2: Flights of Fancy and Kurau Phantom Memory are listed in the online VOD Schedule for Comcast. I say oddly, because they didn't show up on the "Just Released" section for the channel. Yet another reason to snarl at Comcast I guess.

Anyways, there is no AniMonday tonight, as it has been subverted by the Tin Man miniseries. Next week, we get a movie though--Perfect Blue. This has nothing to do with Blue Drop, and promises to be an interesting movie. Depending on how I'm feeling, I may just record it on the DVR rather than watching it tonight. After the new years apparently they're restarting Noein from the beginning as well as launching the series Tactics. I'll probably record both--as that'll give me a chance to watch Noein in order from the beginning for a really good review of the series.

Speaking of Tin Man though, I set to record it on my DVR last night, forgetting the fact that I have a tech coming out today to do some maintenance on my DVR, which will probably mean that it gets replaced wholesale. Yet that's okay, because it's the SciFi channel and that means taht we'll get Tin Man repeated at least once every three days for the next two months.

Well, that's all the rambling I have for this week, if anyone has seen Tin Man I'd like to hear about your impressions, at least before I waste 4 hours of my life watching it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Review: Cell

More and more often, I'm finding what is solid genre fiction in the stacks of department stores sitting besides the "regular" fiction. Stephen King's novel Cell (ISBN:0743292332) is one of those books. It clocked in at 350 pages (not bad, considering I bought it on the discount stacks for less than a paperback costs these days), and qualifies here because Cell is basically Mr. King's take on the zombie motif. While zombies may be considered a staple of horror movies these days, their start is securely in speculative fiction (i.e. old fantastical tales of the walking dead).

Anyways, let's look at the blurb that managed to make me shell out the cash for this novel:


On October 1, God is in His heave, the stock market stands at 10,140, most of the planes are on time, and Clayton Riddell, an artist from Maine, is almost bouncing up Boylston Street in Boston. He's just landed a comic book deal that might finally enable him to support his family by making art instead of teaching it. He's already picked up a small (but expensive!) give for his long-suffering wife, and he knows just what he'll get for his boy Johnny. Why not a little treat for himself? Clay's feeling good about the future.

That changes in a hurry. The cause of the devastation is a phenomenon that will come to be known as The Pulse, and the delivery method is a cell phone. Everyone's cell phone. Clay and the few desperate survivors who join him suddenly find themselves in the pitch-black night of civilization's darkest age, surrounded by chaos, carnage, and a human horde that has been reduced to its basest nature...and then begins to evolve.

There's really no escaping this nightmare. But for Clay, an arrow points home to Maine, and as he and his fellow refugees make their harrowing journey north they begin to see crude signs confirming their direction: KASHWAK=NO-FO. A promise, perhaps. Or a threat...

There are one hundred and ninety-three million cell phones in the United States alone. Who doesn't have one? Stephen King's utterly gripping, gory, and fascinating novel doesn't just ask the question "Can you hear me now?" It answers it with a vengeance.
It's a very good blurb. It tells us in no uncertain terms that Clayton is a survivor for this huge event, and then dredges up questions for the reader to ponder over. Questions that can only be answered by the reader actually reading the whole book. Or going on-line and reading one of those sites that gives away the plot details. One has to wonder if Mr. King has to generate his own blurbs, or if his publisher has someone in marketing who writes them--and if so, why don't all authors get these folks? But I digress...

The plot is a SF/fantasy staple: the end of the world as we know it. Along with that, comes all the usual tropes: wandering bands of idiots, young teen girl, zombies. It's a fun plot, and would work well as a straight end-of-the-world story without the horror aspects which Stephen King has added in. And it's stories like this one (and his Gunslinger and the 2 Peter Straub collaborations) which make me think that inside of Mr. King is a genre writer screaming to get out. Unfortunately, he's been stuck into this little subset of fiction, and allowed to kind of fester there. Sure, he's producing great materials, but come on, let the man write one good, SF story! You know you want to read it.

Anyways, my digressions aside, as far as characters go, there are a handful that matter the most. The first of course is our protagonist Clayton Riddell. After him, we have his compatriots: Tom, Alice and Jordan. On the other side of things are the Flocks and of course the Raggedy Man. What is interesting the most is the fact that none of these characters are really heroic material in the classical, Hero's Journey sense. They don't really overcome the trails arrayed against them rather they just struggle to survive. Of course, that could be considered overcoming, but in traditional SF, the hero would have rid the world of all evils, and saved the world, and blah, blah... Those types of things, just don't seem to happen in a King novel though. A traditional, happy King ending is where everyone but 1 or 2 bit players are all dead.

Of course it is interesting watching the psychological hoops which Clayton, and the rest of his little gang, must jump through in order to survive. Clinging to small tokens, or not wanting to say good-bye to a beloved pet; there are any number of things which characters do in order to try and preserve their sanity. Of course, one must truly question whether or not it succeeded, but that's a whole other story.

The Flocks (i.e. the human horde from the blurb) are another story. They are fundamentally a force of nature. There doesn't seem to be any type of character arc for them, rather they are foils on which to force the protagonists to suffer their psychological traumas.

Settings are various. Sometimes we're given really well thought out descriptions which allow us to easily see what's happening, while at other times; well, it's not quite as good. For about 75% of the book, the settings are great, it's just that other quarter where I was left scratching my head, and struggling to figure out what he was trying to describe.

The theme seems to be hiding so deep that it's impenetrable. Or, there could just not be a theme, as the story is designed to be merely a good, fun read. Despite the fact that it's a post-apocalyptic story, there's nothing about the human spirit overcoming adversity. There's nothing about generosity winning over evil. Mr. King does take the time to take a swipe at evangelical Christians, by having one verbally attack the teen-aged sidekick to the protagonist. Out of all that though, if I had to pick a theme, it's the fact that nothing changes if you don't act. There are two or three times, when a character thinks, or says, something along the lines of "well at least we did something," and the story actually ends on a similar note.

All that aside, this is a well-written story. It's a fast-paced, King novel with all that that title entails. What's odd about King's writings is that his books either gravitate towards the nearly perfectly done side of things, or at the "what was that?" side of things. This novel falls more into the former category than the latter, and is one of the better novels of his that I've read recently (I just have no love for the Gunslinger series). Likewise, there's a lot going on for this novel. It's a grand concept, and it shows that King is enjoying his playing with zombies, yet for all that I enjoyed the story, the final two chapters or so leave a lot to be desired.

In the end, I've got to give it a 2.8 out of 4.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Monday Morning Rambling...

Well, it's another Monday morning. Thanksgiving is over, Black Friday has come and gone, and now we're just happily barreling down the calendar until Christmas. Amusingly enough, my son picked up a 'wish list' ad flyer from Wal-Mart somewhere, and has proceeded to cut out the pictures of toys from it in order to send a wishlist to his much loved grandparents.

Now, one would imagine a child doing this. It's what children do. It's why those flyers are produced in the first place.

The thing is, most kids pick and choose which pictures to cut out.

Not my son though, he's proceeded to cut out every toy for boys in the flyer.

Oh well.

And thinking of Christmas, I'm actually excited for my son this year. It's a little known fact, but I do actually plan ahead. In truthfulness, I've been planning for this Christmas for nigh upon two years now. After all, it was nearly two years ago when I picked up the first Transformer which my son will be opening on that morning a month or so from now. Basically, for the past 2 years, I've been slowly picking up transformers when they go on clearance, all on the slim (but perfectly justifiable, and ultimately justified, hope) that he'd like transformers for this particular Christmas. Yet, all these Transformers were older models, we had nothing from the new movie for him.

At least until this Saturday, when we stopped at a place called Hudson's. We managed to get the brand-new Optimus Prime for like $25, which anyone who goes to the toy department knows, is about a $15 savings.

Speaking of Saturday, we also stopped at the Book Shelf, which is the used bookstore closest to our house. While there, I finally managed to find myself a copy of Ringworld. As I was doing a happy dance over that, I walked up to the juvenile section where my son was digging through a bin of books, deciding on which one he wanted. When I looked up, I noticed three hardcover Harry Potter novels, two of which I didn't own. So, I also picked up Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix for $10 each.

By the way, the book my son picked up was The Bernstein Bears go to the Moon. Solid SF for the pre-school set!

Oh well, enough of my commercial musings from this weekend, and onto more solid SF stuff. Which, since this is Christmas time, I am seriously lacking in. We're mid-season for the anime series, and there's not any SF/F movies out at the moment. Well, I guess Beowulf could be considered a fantasy movie, but I just don't have the energy to go see it, and Hitman is based on a video game, but that's even harder to work up the energy for. After all, they turned Doom into a movie.

At least I have my reading.

Anyways, a few final things, one of the blogs I read on a consistent basis (The Anime Blog) is running a few contests.

Both of these have the same deadline:
Deadline is numerical: 60 unique comments (minimum). The winner will be randomly drawn when 60 comments have been posted.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Black Friday '07

Well, it's the annual assault against poor store workers--many of whom are having to work obscenely long shifts this very day; all in the name of capitalism. Now don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of capitalism, but I'd rather have slept in myself.

All that's neither here nor there at the moment though, because Amazon's recent high-profile release of the Kindle has my mind on other things. Namely the concepts of an e-book reader.

Personally, I like the concept of e-books. I like the thought that I could carry my library around with me, without lugging around a few hundred pounds of paper (and yes, that's a highly conservative estimate). At the same time, I love the feel of traditional books in hand. That said, if there was a decent e-book reader I don't think I wouldn't mind purchasing at least some of the many, many books I read as e-books.

Now, Princess, when you read this, note that I said some. I would still want to buy the occasional real, physical novel, as there's something to be said about holding a book, that I doubt an e-book reader will ever catch up on.

But the Kindle has problems. First, it's tightly tied into the Amazon's Kindle purchasing system. Sure, they open up a few extra formats (HTML, Text) that you can shove a file onto the machine and be able to read, but that's just not good enough. Second, is the main reason why I've not looked harder at e-book readers in the past: my collection is in hard copy.

Consider all those folks out there with iPods; actually, let's just consider my wife. I got her an iPod for Christmas last year. It's what she wanted, and today she has hundreds of songs on the thing. Yet, how many did she purchase off of iTunes? 5? Maybe 10? Rather, she spent weeks sitting at the PC ripping all those CDs that we had. She took her physical copy of the music she had already purchased and digitized it for use on her music player. In effect, it replaced her old Discman, and saved her the hassle of actually carrying discs.

I want that capability for my book collection.

In my opinion, there's a few things that are needed for a e-book reader to truly work:

  • It's a pretty book, but how much is it? The Kindle Store's $10 price point for an electronic novel is too expensive. Sure, I understand that you've got to pay the cover artist, the editors and the author, but that $7.99 paperback pays all those people, and I get a real, physical object as well. Try something more along the lines of a per-word basis: 3 cents per 1000 words would put a 150K word novel at about $4.50 while a 50K word novel (something the size of Catcher in the Rye) would be $1.50.
  • My collection; my precious collection. This one is near and dear to my heart. There needs to be some way that all of us with physical copies of our novels can get an electronic version of those novels. I don't want to have to purchase a copy of a book, just to use it on this device. I know my wife doesn't want me to.
  • Hardcopy v. E-Copy! The fight of the season!. Which is better? Why make us choose? Give us an electronic copy of the book when you buy a hardcopy. Do note, that I didn't say to go the other way though.
  • DRM is the 3v1l!!1! I think just about everyone but the RIAA & MPAA have realized by now that DRM is pretty much useless. It will always be cracked, broken and ignored by those who want to do that thing, and in the end just creates hassles for those users who legitimately use whatever is hiding under DRM. It's always a bad business model to attack your customers; which is what DRM effectively is. In the end, I want my library to be mobile. I don't want to have to re-purchase my entire library if I switch between the Sony reader and Amazon's reader. If there's DRM involved, I'll probably just keep with my hard copys thank you.
  • I need my Wi-Fi. I want wireless syncing, over the internet between my PC and multiple e-book readers. I leave novels laying about the house. They're in the living room, beside the bed, under the couch cushions, in my desk drawer, in my truck, and in the bathroom. It's how I read. I go from book to book, based upon my current location. Why would that change because I now have electronic books? I could see me having a reader in various rooms and want to be able to access my library from pretty much anywhere. After all, the device's memory is finite, and I don't want to be caught in the bathroom without reading material.
  • Easy, breezy, nice-n-easy. Ease of use is a requirement. The device needs to be easy to set up, easy to read, easy to scroll through pages, easy to add books to the device, easy to purchase new content. Everything about it needs to be aimed at being easy for the user. If it takes me more than 5 steps to do a task, then I'm already bored and will have picked up a hard copy of my book.
  • Stop, drop and roll! I have two boys. One's just about 5 and the other is 1. They're rough on consumer electronics. Yet, they both have also inherited my love of books. In fact just the other day, we sat on my eldest son's bed, I was reading Cell, my eldest was reading Dick and Jane and the youngest was flipping through Goodnight Moon. Any e-book reader I get will HAVE to stand up to being picked up and tossed about by a child. They will see me staring at the device a lot, therefore they will want to look at it too.
  • Children are the future. Speaking of children, they are the future. To get true, wide-spread acceptance, children need to be raised using the things. That means, Fisher Price needs to be out there, and put out a toddler's e-book device that can be truly abused (above and beyond the occasional throwing described in the bullet above). Additionally, the reader will need to be able to display colored picture books for them as well. After all, what's the point of reading Where the Wild Things Are if it doesn't have the pretty color pictures?
  • Textbooks are boring. Finally, one needs to get wholesale acceptance of the university presses. College textbooks are heavy, arcane tomes, that cost way too much. Turning them into e-books alleviates so much of that. Additionally, that filters down throughout the entire schooling process. How much money could schools save, by requiring every student to have one of these things (which could be used over multiple years) and then just hand out e-books? Think about it. A textbook is on average $100. Every year, a student gets 5-7 textbooks to read through. For 1st through 12th grade that's around 70 school books. If an e-copy of a textbook is $20, that's $1400 for books for that student. Compared to say $3000 for textbooks associated to a student (on the theory that textbooks are replaced every 4 years, meaning a student has 30 "new" books associated to him and "40" used books depreciating). Sure it may not be as cut-and-dry as all that, but I have no doubt there would be a costs savings.
Now, I just have to wonder if I'm just trading in a bit of speculative fiction here myself. Are these things just pipe dreams? Probably. But there was a time when cell phones and color television were considered pipe dreams. Besides, SF authors are taking a proactive approach to determining what type of business model will exist in the future for novels, and have opened up a wiki in order to facilitate discussion on that.

Gotta love SF authors, they're always thinking.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Review: Death Star

Ah, well, after an excess amount of travails, I've finally finished reading the most recent Star Wars hard cover: Death Star (ISBN: 9780345477422). This is a collaboration produced by Michael Reeves and Steve Perry. Both of whom are veteran Star Wars authors. Mr. Perry wrote Shadows of the Empire while Mr. Reeves gave us Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter. Additionally, together they have given us the MedStar duology under the Clone Wars imprint. Anyways, this was an average sized novel at 363 pages, with an average price tag of about $25. Not the cheapest hard cover I've bought recently, but definitely not the most expensive. There was one thing that was unique about this book though, but I'll touch on that later.

Anyways, on with the blurb!

The Death Star's name says it all, with bone-chilling accuracy. It is a virtual world unto itself--equipped with uncanny power for a singularly brutal purpose: to obliterate entire planets in the blink of an eye. Its annihilation of the planet Alderaan, at the merciless command of Grand Moff Tarkin, lives in infamy. And its own ultimate destruction, at the hands of Luke Skywalker, is the stuff of legend. But what is the whole story, and who are the players, behind the creation of this world-killing satellite of doom?

The near extermination of the Jedi Order cleared the way for Palpatine--power-hungry Senator and Sith Lord--to seize control of the Republic, declare himself Emperor, and usher in a fearsome, totalitarian regime. But even with the dreaded Darth Vader enforcing Palpatine's sinister will, the threat of rebellion still looms. And the Emperor knows that only abject fear--and the ability to punished dissent with devastating consequences--can ensure his unchallenged control of the galaxy. Enter ambitious and ruthless government official Wilhuff Tarkin, architect of the Emperor's terrifying dream come true.

From inception to completion, construction of the unprecedented Death Star is awash in the intrigues, hidden agendas, unexpected revelations, and daring gambits of those involved on every level.The brightest minds and boldest egos, the most ambitious and corrupt, the desperate and the devious, all have a stake in the Death Star--and its potential to control the fate of the galaxy.

Soldiers and salves, loyalists and Rebels, spies and avengers, the innocent and the evil--all their paths and fates will cross and intertwine as the Death Star moves from its maiden voyage to its final showdown. And a shadowy chapter of Star Wars history is stunningly illuminated in a thrilling, unforgettable adventure.
Did you get all that? While its not the longest blurb that's graced these pages, it's still a whopping 290 words. I shudder to think how they're going to fit a blurb like that on the back cover of the paperback. All that aside though, there's an even more important thing going on here in this. The blurb is supposed to sell the book. It's supposed to draw folks in and make them want to place their 25 dollars onto the counter, and get this chunk of wood pulp, glue and ink handed to them. Yet, I don't see that here. This blurb did nothing for me. It reads like an infomercial directed at Star Wars EU fans (i.e. those folks who are going to buy this book anyways). In the end, I have to say that this blurb is a dismal failure.

Now, onto more meat-filled things: the plot. Well, at least that's what one assumes when one picks up a hardcover novel. Even after reading this thing, I'm struggling to decipher enough of what happened in it so that I'm able to define a plot. There are a number of interwoven story threads for the various primary characters, but that's not a plot for the novel. There's things that could almost be considered a plot; things dealing with the choices folks make, and how they support evil when they don't deny it. Yet, that never gets off the ground, plus it's more of a theme than a plot. The feeling that I ended up with, after reading it, was that it was a fictionalized account of an historical event. Basically, it's the Star Wars version of Command the Morning (ISBN: n/a) or Los Alamos (ISBN: 9780440224075).

On the character front of things, we have a lot of characters here, but only 13 of whom are important enough to warrant inclusion in the Dramatis Personae. These thirteen are: Atour Riten, Celot Ratua Dil, Conan Antonio Motti, Daala, Darth Vader, Kornell 'Uli' Divini, Memah Roothes, Nova Stihl, Rodo, Teela Kaarz, Tenn Graneet, Villian Dance, and Wilhuff Tarkin. If anything, it is these 13 characters that are the protagonists for this novel. Unfortunately that doesn't leave us with any antagonists. Of course, if you read the paragraph before this where I discuss the plot, you'd have caught on that there's not really any conflict needing an antagonist. All that aside, for those of us who care about these characters, the stuff we learn about Daala, Motti, Vader and Tarkin is good stuff, and provides interesting insight into their characters and actions in the films and other EU sources. Additionally, watching the character arcs for a couple of the new characters was interesting, and probably saved my ability to actually read this novel.

Theme-wise, I'm left with nothing. There's some vague things about standing up against evil or weapons of mass destruction breeds other WMDs. Yet it's all vague and ill-defined. Sure, the characters learned something, but that something is something that every 9 year old who has seen the original Star Wars already knows: the Death Star (and by extension, the Empire) is bad mojo. Of course, in a somewhat macabre form of amusement, we learn that there were contractors even on the first DS when Luke makes it go boom--and that yes, some of them are innocent. As an aside, if you don't know why that was amusing I highly suggest you stand up, get dressed, go to the nearest video store, and beg them to allow you to rent a copy of the movie Clerks; and be happy that you're not hunted down and beaten with phone books.

That digression aside, let's stumble over to continuity. Ah, continuity; how I like to point out your blessed flaws in the new novels. Truthfully, there wasn't a lot of flaws here. The first one that stuck out in my mind was a mention of Hoth. Hoth's discovery is a bit of contention in the canon of things, but beyond that, one has to wonder why it is a world that Vader would think of while comparing Tatooine to Mustafar years before the Battle of Hoth. If memory serves, there was no record of Vader having visited that world before that battle, so why wouldn't they have used one like Rhen Var where Vader had actually visited. Of course, this, like all the continuity issues I stumbled over, were minor things. Yet, I'm even now, wondering why they didn't take this time to give Daala a first name.

This book was billed as providing the definitive answers to the Death Star. I remember some claims (though I can't find them any longer) that it would answer all the questions we had about the Death Star. I'm still wondering if I agree with that. Sure, it answered a lot of them (including the big one from Clerks) and it did do a good job of tying various continuity flubs together into something resembling a coherent whole. Little things like the Maw installation and the prototype Death Star there are addressed and dealt with. That said, I'm left wondering if the authors weren't given a list of things to address and then wrote a story around that list. What's sadder is that the last quarter or so of the book deals almost exclusively with things from the original movie. We get a lot of repeat scenes, just from a different point of view.

Yet, for all that, I was bored.

And that's that uniqueness I alluded to at the start of this review. This is the first Star Wars novel that has bored me. There have been novels that I disliked. There have been novels that I thought did not read like Star Wars. Yet, this is the first Star Wars novel to actually bore me. The new characters were a mixed bag of interesting and useless, and one of them only served to introduce issues into Luke's hunting for Jedi adepts in later novels. The existing characters did have some growth. We actually got to see behind the mask so to speak for Tarkin and Motti, and we got a bit of useful info for Daala. Yet for all that, I couldn't bring myself to truly care about what happened in the novel. I only held the slightest interest in whether or not the characters would get flash-fried when Luke does his little shooting gallery thing. Is it a well-written novel? Sure. There's nothing mechanically wrong with the thing. It's just lacking that essential something that makes books fun to read for me.

In the end, I have to give this novel a .4 out of 4.

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