Thursday, May 31, 2007
Well, the wife rented Pan's Labyrinth for me on Tuesday and I sat down to watch it last night.
Now, I'm not normally a squeamish guy. I mean I've cleaned my share of animals. Twice now, I've watched parts of a c-section. I've been sliced a few times (due to my own stupidity) and in a fight once or twice in my much younger days.
Yet, the violence in this movie made me stop watching it.
I got through nearly seventy of the film's 120 minutes before I stumbled across the torture scene which caused me to quit watching. I'm not certain why I struggled with this, as I watched worse blood and gore filled scenes while I was younger, but I found myself cringing at some of the things happening here.
By the same extension, I can't watch ER due to the medical procedures, but happily watch CSI when they show that close up view of a dead body, so who knows.
Anyways, the fairy tale aspects of this movie were quite wonderful. These are the fairy tales that I grew up hearing - not the Disney/PC fairy tales which have become so prevalent in the past twenty years or so.
These are dark stories, where things die and bad things can happen to the main character. Which I did like.
Likewise, upon making the decision that I wasn't going to watch the remainder of the film, I wandered over to RuinedEndings.com and found out what happened, and I have to say that I liked the ending as described there as well.
Ultimately, I wanted to like this movie. It had all the elements of a fantasy story that I like. Fantastical settings intertwined with the real world. Dark, vibrant characters. And even hope.
Yet the gore of the film was a turn off.
Frankly, a lot of the scenes would have worked just as well, if not better, if they hadn't been so explicit in their violence and blood. For example, in one scene a soldier is getting an amputation. We the viewer did NOT need to see the saw cutting into his flesh, a close up on the soldier's face twisted away in pain would have worked perfectly fine for that scene.
I'm not going to do the usual grading thing here, as I didn't finish the movie, but this review was something I was promising, so I felt the need to provide my thoughts on it.
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Okay, since there was only the one comment about the Anime, and that one seemed to like the thought of having the Anime reviews, here we go.
The first Anime I'm going to review is one entitled Rocket Girls. The synopisis for this show is (from AnimeNewsNetwork):
We're five episodes into the story, so I'm just going to give brief blurbs for all of them here, and do more focused reviews later.
Frankly, I downloaded this show on the strength of the name alone, and thought it was a cute story for the first episode, and that's why I decided to continue getting the episodes.
As described above, the story starts out with a sixteen year old girl, Morita Yukari, going to the Soloman Islands trying to find her father. After various hijinks ensure, she is recruited by the Soloman Space Agency to become their astronuat. It's a rather thin reason for the show, but it is amusing, so it works in that regard.
Yukari here is something of an idiot though. Well, I guess it is to say she is a typical Anime heroine in that she doesn't realize just what sorts of a situation she has gotten herself into here. But that's okay, because it's part of what makes her character endearing, when some of her character traits are a tad annoying.
The second episode starts her training, and introduces the second of the rocket girls (and also Yukari's half-sister) Morita Matsuri.
The third episode continues their training, and shows Yukari trying her best to NOT be the one to go up into space. Of course, a talk with one of the other characters makes her realize just how important it is to everyone, so she decides to start being serious about her training.
Episode four is the required beach episode, and the two heroines spend most of the episode in a bikini. That said, important things happen here. Yukari begins standing up for herself, and demands to know more about the capsule and the fuel. Frankly, in early episodes I thought she was a bit of an idiot, but here she proves me wrong.
Episode five we actually get to see the rocket launch. And of course, the launch ends on a cliffhanger.
Overall, this is a fun series. Nothing too serious, or deep, just rather mindless fluff entertainment.
Which I oddly like.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
This past weekend was quite busy.
There were two birthday parties, one for the downstairs neighbor's 1 year old little girl and the other for my little brother's 4 year old stepdaughter. My eldest son had great fun at both of them, but between that and just the general effects of living, I didn't get to prepare that much content for this upcoming week.
Oh yeah, the fact that I was reading Sacrifice also plays into my lack of time. That review is done, and should be up over at TheForce.Net soon (I'm still waiting to get my account straightened up so I can post such things myself). A few days after it goes up over there, I'll post it here.
I'm also writing the review to SW Legacy: Broken TPB, that shouldn't be too much longer in the making, and it will probably go up both here and at TFN on the same day.
The other thing is that Mrs. Kidan has rented Pan's Labrynth for me, so I'll be watching that in the next day or so, and get a review up of that soon enough.
The final thing I'm wondering about is if I should start including reviews for Anime and Manga here. I watch a decent amount of the stuff, and enjoy it immensely, but I'm not 100% certain if it falls under the purview of this blog. I know some of the stuff I watch does (as they're sci-fi animes) but if I start doing anime reviews, I'd probably want to review everything I watch and not just the sci-fi ones.
So, I'll let that rest with anyone who stumbles upon this post and comments. I'm a democratic sort, so majority rules.
Saturday, May 26, 2007
Yesterday was Star Wars thirtieth anniversary.
I'm always amused by the fact that it's the same age as myself.
Anyways, there are two things that have drawn my attention recently. The first is Tales of the New Republic. This is an animated trailer for a cartoon series featuring the events that occurred after the Original Trilogy.
While some of the images from it are awesome, there are some that are oddly... well, ugly. There's some serious questions on whether or not this is an official LFL project or if this is a fan-film thing.
One of the main reasons for the confusion is the fact that they're using the Star Wars Animated logo and the character designs appear to be based on the animated maquette series of statues. A series of statues, that even though they claim to be based on Star Wars animation have nothing to do with the Clone Wars cartoons or its character designs.
Of course this is offset by some of the uglier character designs (such as Mara Jade) which don't quit fit in with these items. At the best, it shows a couple different animators whose work aren't quite in sync with one another.
The other reason I don't think it's an official product is the use of SiteBuilder by the website author. Of course that could just my programmer instincts rearing their head.
The second thing that caught my attention today is this article about Star Wars concepts that are seriously lacking in the comic books.
Two of those I really agree with are numbers 6 and 3, which are Anakin Solo and Infinities respectively.
I'm an unabashed Anakin Solo fan. I think that he's probably the most dynamic and strong character to originate in the Expanded Universe. I make no qualms with my thoughts that his death was a truly poor decision on Del Rey's part. So anything that gets us more stories featuring the next Luke Skywalker is a good thing from my point of view.
Now, what the author of the article is suggesting for the Infinities logo is also a good idea. Every now and then there is a discussion of rebooting the EU, and while I can see the appeal of this, I would be annoyed if all those books and TPB's that I've bought suddenly weren't part of continuity and were basically pointless wastes of money. Using the Infinities in an Ultimates style reboot of the universe is a good mid point between the two concepts.
Oh well, those are my thoughts for the day at least.
Friday, May 25, 2007
The ones which amused me:
- Han Solo, being the epitome of American Power, would be blond, carry around a HUGE gun, and scare small children.
- The Emperor would have tall spiky hair and little bits of things would float upward in slow-mo when he zaps Luke.
- X-wings and Y-wings would transform, and then combine to form a more powerful craft.
- Jabba the Inju would get a lot more, um, friendly with Slave Girl Leia. (FAN SERVICE!)
- Lightsaber scenes wouldn't be 9 (counted!) per 6-hour trilogy, but per half-hour episode.
- Luke wouldn't have to use a rope to jump across a trench. Anime heroes can jump as far as they want to.
- Emperor Palpatine would have a daughter. In an amusing mix-up, Luke would be betrothed to her.
- The American voice actors would be crap, and the subtitled version would be more expensive.
- Series titles would be Star Wars, Star Wars Zeta, and Forever Star Wars Double Zeta. People would argue interminably about the time line conflicts.
There's a new fanzine out for fans of the Star Wars expanded universe.
Star Wars Outsider
The first issue is up (a 19mb PDF download). Personally, I've not downloaded it yet, for two reasons. The first is that I'm at work. The second is that I, as a software professional, hate PDF files.
Oh, I know that they're useful for many things, but they interrupt the flow of my websurfing. And that's a technical discussion better suited to my programming blog than here.
Oh well, I'll download it tonight and then talk about my thoughts on the things here, but I'm very interested in learning what everyone else thinks about it.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
I just finished my second novel by Jo Walton. It was an interesting tale, entitled Tooth and Claw. It's a novel based in part on Victorian England, with the gimmick of all the characters being dragons.
As a concept, it's a great thing to go with. I love my dragons.
Of course, I usually associate dragons with high adventure, fantastical elements of good versus evil, with massive battles between weaker creatures and those magnificent lizards. And if that's what you're expecting here, then you'll be highly disappointed. Anyways, the dust jacket, provided this as way of a blurb:
Now Walton returns with a very different kind of fantasy story: the tale of a family dealing with the death of their father, of a son who goes to law for his inheritance, a son who agonizes over his father's deathbed confession, a daughter who falls in love, a daughter who becomes involved in the abolition movement, and a daughter sacrificing herself for her husband.The story itself revolves around the Agornin siblings (two brothers and three sisters) and is basically a tale, similar in nature to Little Women revolving around them. It's a story of their relationships with one another, and their loves and battles, and by battles I'm not necessarily talking the big, explosive kind that you usually see in fantasy stories revolving around dragons. For example, one of the brothers is a clerk, and is offered a bribe. What he decides there is a battle. One fought entirely within the mind, but a battle nonetheless.
Except that everyone in the story is a dragon, red in tooth and claw.
Here is a world of politics and train stations, of churchmen and family retainers, of courtship and country houses... in which, on the death of an elder, family members gather toe at the body of the deceased. In which society's high-and-mighty members avail themselves of the privilege of killing and eating the weaker children, which they do with ceremony and relish, growing strong thereby.
Frankly, you could have pulled out the dragon aspects, and dropped in humans or cats or pretty much anything, and the story would have worked perfectly well.
Like I said, if you're expecting high adventure or grand fantasy you'll be sorely disappointed.
The plot is actually just a series of plots tied together by the family. The question is, whether it works for a story about dragons or not. Initially, I wanted to say no. I wanted to cling to my concept of what a story about dragons should be, and write a horrid review, especially when I got to this point. Yet the more I thought about it, the more I realized that that would be doing quite a disservice to the story.
The story works. Like I said earlier, it doesn't matter that they're dragons. That fact is incidental to the story. The story works because we, as human readers, can understand the motivations of the characters. Love. Pain. Anger. Vengeance. Forgiveness. Universal concepts which make stories that work. Mrs. Walton woved them into a single cohesive story line quite beautifully here.
Settings are plentiful and well written. You get a feel for the biting cold of the winters and the uneasy desperation of the city. Mrs. Walton here provides us a series of descriptions that are exact enough to visualize yet spare enough not to bog you down in narrative.
The theme is spelled out in detail above. It's not high fantasy. It's not a story about good and evil locked in battle. It's a story about family. And all the messy emotions and situations that go along with that.
The mechanics of the story were done well. I can't remember a single typo or grammatical error (always a blessing after reading some of the Star Wars: NJO stuff). I really have no complaints in this regard. Additionally, there is none of the POV shifts which made Pan's Rebirth so hard to follow.
In the end, this story is not what I was expecting. I was hoping for something closer to the Dragonriders of Pern, you know, high adventure, fantasy, but what I got was Little Women with dragons. Now, don't get me wrong-the story is a great story, just not something that I would normally read. Mechanics, characters, settings, plot, in every regard this novel works. Likewise, there are things I would like to see answered as far as the story goes. Things such as what exactly are the Yarge? I assumed they're humans, but I don't think the novel ever comes right out and says so. I would also like to read a story about the Conquest or when the Dragons rebelled against the Yarge. Those are stories that I would like to read. They have the potential for that high adventure in fantasy. Yet that is just my aimless ramblings from the part of me that wants all my questions answered, not an issue with the novel itself.
Tooth and Claw gets a 3.5 out of 4.
Monday, May 21, 2007
Because I still don't have Tooth and Claw and Legacy: Broken finished, I figured I'd throw up a quick review of TMNT.
I took my 4 year old son to see this movie at the dollar theater last week, and surprisingly had a good time at it. Am I happy that I didn't spend 5-10 dollars for the 'real' theater? Of course. But it was a surprisingly good movie, and even better one that took the source material almost seriously.
It was not as dark as the original comic books, but it lacked the camp of the movies from the early nineties. Ultimately, a good balance between the two states. Would I have liked to have seen this movie as dark as the source material? Oh yes!
That would have been awesome, but of course, that would also mean that we'd have a rated R animated movie. And though anime and cartoons in general are gaining in popularity here states-side, I don't think a major animated movie release would succeed with a rating higher than PG-13.
The plot was pretty much a standard super-hero story. Introduce the heroes, have them help each other out a bit. Introduce the bad-guy. Then fight.
Not bad, but nothing spectacular. Additionally, the "plot twists" which the movie had were somewhat broadcasted. I doubt my 4 year old caught on, but I knew what was going to happen in that regards fairly early in.
Voice acting was done quite well, and this is something that I'm ecstatic over. Too often, voice actors get that screaming thing going on (see the animes Dragon Ball Z or Naruto for examples) rather than acting in a more natural sense.
If this continues, then I can hold out hope for good voice-subbed animes over the next few years.
I can hope - but I'm not necessarily holding my breath for it.
Anyways, the movie was fine, though nothing spectacular. Like I said, I'm happy that I didn't spend the full price for a movie ticket - but I could see myself getting this movie for my boy if he ever asks for it. The drawbacks here were the usual things that one dislikes about American animated fare.
It gets a 2.8 out of 4.
Sunday, May 20, 2007
Via a link from the boards over at TF.N, I just read this wonderful article by Mr. Cory Doctorow. I think he's done a wonderful job of defending fanfic, as well as pointing out some of its obvious shortcomings.
Probably my favorite part of the article though is this paragraph:
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.It just reads so much like my own thinking on things. Thanks for the article, Mr. Doctorow!
Friday, May 18, 2007
Sorry that I don't have anything new for ya'll today. Unfortunately, work and a freelance project are taking up an inordinate amount of my free time (means less reading time) and then my youngest boy is having a bit of trouble with allergies so that means we've not been getting a lot of sleep.
Regardless, coming up we will have reviews for Legacy: Broken, Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton and hopefully a review of Pan's Labyrnth. And if I get really desperate for content, I'll review TMNT which I went and saw with my eldest boy last Tuesday.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
It's a sad, sad day. Master Replicas is losing their license for Star Wars replicas.
Like I said, it's a sad, sad day. For years I've wanted to have one of their limited edition saber handles. Yet the price tag at about $350 has always been a slight barrier for that purchase. Heck even the $120 price tag for the ForceFX has always been a tad steep for me.
I hope that these replicas are picked up again by some other company in the future, as I hope to be able to get one of the things one day.
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
For Christmas last year I got all these Star Wars M&M's (a gift from the Mother-in-law). Well not those in the picture. Those are the plushies. I got the hard, plastic figures.
Well anyways, the wifey was up at my office the other day (where I keep most of my SW collectibles) and asked why they were still in the case.
Now, the reason she asked is because most of my collection is not in their packages. I have three of the 3 3/4 figures still in the package among my 20 odd figures that I have down here. All my Legos are assembled and on display, and five of my six large Unleashed figures are out of the package as well (that sixth is still in the truck as I've been too lazy to bring it in).
But anyways, her question made me wonder just why I've not opened them. Likewise, I wonder how many of you kind folks leave collectibles in their shiny plastic graves? Or do you desecrate the sacrosanct packaging to allow you the greater joy of being able to move their arms?
Oh well, all I know is that I still want this:
Monday, May 14, 2007
Okay, now I know they're doing this type of stuff just to annoy me. Tasty over at the Star Wars Official Site has stated a brand-spanking new canon level in a forum thread. This is what he has to say:
regarding the 3d clone wars cartoon and the live action star wars tv series, are they g-canon or c-canon?For anyone who's not aware, a few years back, LFL created "levels" of canon for material produced by LFL. Movies where granted a level of g-canon or the highest possible. Novelizations were immediately beneath that. Below them where c-canon or the novels/games/comics (the Dark Horse stuff).
So far I'm using the term T-canon for the upcoming animated series and live-action series. Nothing prior is being considered T-canon.
To top all that stupidity off, the earliest EU source material was deemed non-canon, as well as (somewhat randomly) the anthology comic series produced by Dark Horse. Then to make it even more confusing, anything referenced by later material suddenly, magically becomes canon.
But not the whole story of the reference, just the reference.
So I have to wonder where this t-canon is going to come into play at. Sometimes, I have to wonder if LFL does things just to drive me bonkers.
I wanted to like this movie. It has all the hallmarks of a good science fiction film. A dystopic future. Mankind on the brink of destruction. Roving bands of bad guys. Gestapo police AND crazed, do anything, terrorists/freedom fighters. I wanted to like it. I really did.
Unfortunately, it left too many thing unanswered for me to do so. Which I'm hesitant to say is a bad thing as now I feel the need to go get the book and read it to see if it answers any of my questions.
Regardless the plot is basically that mankind is sterile (though whether that's because of nature or man's own stupidity is not clear) and suddenly a girl shows up pregnant. It's a great plot, a great story, unfortunately, the execution of it here is seriously lacking. Frankly though, I'm not 100% certain how this concept COULD be made into a good movie and still get all the questions that it needs to answer answered. Maybe changing the protagonist from an office worker to a doctor or a biologist would help, but there's still serious issues about the whole concept that I want answered.
There are two primary characters. The pregnant girl and then the protagonist office worker who gets dragged into the storyline to watch out for her. Both of these characters are likable and in general are fun characters. Well at least as likable and fun as any character can be when they're from adystopic future.
As for villains. Well we have the faceless government threat! Yeah. That's it. Whee.
Special effects are nearly non-existent. At least special effects for a science-fiction movie. The things we get here are not that much different than the effects featured in Saving Private Ryan. Of course this is not a bad thing - the strength of this movie is on its story rather than the pretty effects, and again, that's good for science fiction.
The actors, directors and other "real" folks associated with this movie, I have no complaints against. I like the actors they chose for the lead roles, and have no complaints about the cinematography.
I guess that the only thing I can really complain about is the fact that we're not provided any answers, or even the direction of the answers, from the questions raised by the plot. Things such as "why are humans sterile?" and "how did the girl get knocked up?" Enquiring minds want to know after all. Frankly, I don't even know if there is a scientific or mystic rational for it. Was it Global Warming (our current scapegoat for any of the world's ails) or was it caused by a meteor? As far as the story tells us, it could be an Old Testament-style plague. In my Æon Flux review I stated this:
A good science/speculative fiction story is supposed to make you think. That's its entire purpose.And that still holds true. I'm not contradicting that earlier statement. But making us think, and then just making us ask questions about your plot are two entirely different things and making us ask questions without providing us at least the clues to answer those questions for ourselves is just as bad as a story that doesn't make us think.
Ultimately, I'm not going to be adding this DVD to my movie collection, though I do hope to find the book at a used book store (or better yet the library) so that I can read it.
And it gets a 2 out of 4 because I still don't know the answers to my questions.
Friday, May 11, 2007
Well the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films has had their Saturn Awards and Superman Returns walked away with a large number of them. Likewise Heroes got a bunch of the awards as well.
The Award for Best Science Fiction Film went to Children of Men though. I'm hoping to have my review of that finished for tomorrow - but for now, all I have to say about it getting this award is "meh."
What's sad is that I can't think of another Science Fiction film released last year that could have won it instead. V for Vendetta maybe.
Anyways, a full listing of the award winners can be found here.
Beyond that, I have to agree with their decisions to reward the folks involved with Superman Returns and Heroes. And of course, the decision to give Natalie Portman the Best Actress V for Vendetta. That was a brilliant performance.
As for other odds and ends, I'm reading Jo Walton's Tooth and Claw now, as well as Dark Horse's Legacy: Broken TPB. So expect those reviews, plus the one for Children of Men to be up sometime very soon. Additionally, Pan's Labyrinth should be out on DVD soon, and I'll probably go rent that to see what the fuss is all about.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Well now, didn't that book just take forever.
It was over a week ago that I made it known that I had purchased a David Weber book entitled In Fury Born, and despite my impressive reading speed it has taken me this long to get it done. I'm exhausted, my eyes are burning, and I feel asleep on the accursed thing three times. At over 800+ pages in the hardcover, it's not really that surprising. The paperback version being advertised at Books-A-Million's website boasts a page count of 850. Anyways, here's the book description provided by Amazon.com
Imperial Intelligence couldn't find them, the Imperial Fleet couldn't catch them, and local defenses couldn't stop them. It seemed the planet-wrecking pirates were invincible. But they made a big mistake when they raided ex-commando leader Alicia DeVries' quiet home work, tortured and murdered her family, and then left her for dead. Alicia decided to turn "pirate" herself, and stole a cutting-edge AI ship from the Empire to start her vendetta. Her fellow veterans think she's gone crazy, the Imperial Fleet has shoot-on-sight orders. And of course the pirates want her dead, too. But Alicia DeVries has two allies nobody knows about, allies as implacable as she is: a self-aware computer, and a creature from the mists of Old Earth's most ancient legends. And this trio of furies won't rest until vengeance is served.And that's a fairly good representation of the book, though I think the description on the dust jacket of the hardcover is a better blurb.
In Fury Born is a greatly expanded new version of David Weber's popular novel Path of the Fury, which has gone through six large printings in its original mass market edition. David Weber has added considerable new material, revealing the earlier life of Alicia DeVries before she embarked on her mission of vengeance, and illuminating the universe of the original story. The result is a novel with almost twice the wordage of the original, and a must-buy for all David Weber fans.
Anyways, for characters we have Alicia DeVries, ex-Imperial Marine, a member of the elite Imperial Cadre, and she even was given numerous awards. She's smart and aggressive, the best of the best, as all Cadre are. I liked the character, she was charming, sly and held an honor about her that made her stand up for her beliefs.
Then there's a whole host of secondary characters. Most of them from her time as a Marine are not that well defined, but Tannis Cateau, Alicia's "wing" in the Cadre, and Sir Arthur Keita a Brigadier in the Cadre are very well defined, of course that might be because they get the most screen time outside of Alicia herself.
The other primary characters, are Tisiphone and Megaira, a Fury from Greek legend and the self-aware computer AI discussed in the book description. While I had no trouble with Megaira as a concept from a military Sci-Fi novel, I was less excited about Tisiphone when I began reading her story-arc. Yet surprisingly (to me at least), Mr. Weber made it work.
Beyond those, the novel is populated with a wide range of tertiary and throw-away characters. Folks who are introduced to die, that sort of thing.
As for the plot, well this is a rework of an earlier novel. I can only assume that Path of the Fury was a bit more coherent in its plot, as the first half of the novel was less focused. And according to what I've read, it's that first half that was added. Truth be told, there's not really an overreaching plot for the first half, it almost appears as if Mr. Weber took a few short stories and shoved them onto the front of the book. Alicia's time as an Imperial Marine, and then her time as an Imperial Cadre. Separately they make good short stories, but taken as the first half of the novel, they tend to drag the book down a bit. Once it got past that, and started into the main action of Alicia's vendetta, well the plot flowed really well.
Settings were so-so. Nothing amazing, nothing even really described in explicit detail. Yet at the same time, it lends an air of specificness when Weber takes time out to describe a part of the landscape. And again, a lot of this is split among the first half and second half. In the Vendetta portion of the book, we get close looks at the planets, there's one that has a lot of snow, and we feel that cold. Then there's an arid planet, and we feel the heat alongside Alicia. In the Marine and Cadre parts, we're dealing with battles almost exclusively, and the only time descriptions of the settings come into play is when they have a factor on how the battle is going.
A theme for the novel is hard to come up with. There's not a whole lot of intellectual thought going on, especially after taking a week or so to read the thing. I have vague concepts of justice and training and the way that vengeance and justice tie into one another. Ultimately though, I don't think there's so much a theme as it's just pure space opera. A novel designed for you to have a good time reading it rather than having it serve as a way for you to get something out of it.
Does that play havoc with my sense that all fiction should force us to look inward and take something from the story? Of course. Am I insane enough to think that sometimes a novel is just there to be a good read? No. At least not yet. If I was a tad more post-modernist, I could probably push some oddball theme onto the whole thing, but for now, I'm just sticking with it's a space opera without a theme.
The mechanics of the book were done well. I can't remember any typos or grammar errors, and the seventeen pages which listed all the characters made checking the spelling for Megaira might easy. Of course, part of me wishes that it had been at the front of the book, or at least a prominent note somewhere at the front about it, as I could have used it while reading. Yes, I'm admitting that I would forget what characters names were while reading the thing, heck it's 17 pages of characters, you'd forget some too.
Overall, I'm not disappointed in the book, but neither am I extraordinarily excited about it. Will I ever read another Weber novel again? Probably. Do I plan on keeping this one so I can re-read it in the future? I've not decided yet truthfully. A rather large part of me is leaning towards trading it in at the used bookstore, but I can admit to being one of those folks who likes to keep books on hand, just on the off chance that I MIGHT want to read them again in the future.
Oh well, this gets a solid 2 out of 4, which is sad, because I have the distinct feeling I would have awarded Path of the Fury a higher rating.
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
Life is always good when I run across yet another free story. Subterranean Magazine Online is a webzine which is available for viewing for free on their website. Good deal that, huh?
Anyways, in the latest issue released, John Scalzi has a fun little tale for us all, entitled Pluto Tells All. His blog describes it as a story "in which our most famous dwarf planet gets candid about life, the universe and everything, in the style of Esquire magazine's "What I've Learned" articles" (source for that quote).
And that's basically what the entire story is, a short little series of bullets answering supposed questions framed by Mr. Scalzi towards the little planet Pluto.
And sorry folks, I'm old and ornery so Pluto's still a planet to me.
But back on topic, there's not a whole lot of plot or settings here, as it's just a quick little interview style story. Likewise the only character really is Pluto itself.
But that said, there's quite a few humorous spots in this small story (it's less than 2000 words, so it's a small story).
Overall, it's a great, fun (yet short) read that pokes a lot of fun at the IAU's decision to demote Pluto from being a planet to being a drawf planet. It took only a few minutes to read (maybe 20 or so) so I highly recommend it if you've got a bit of time to kill. Heck, even if you don't have any extra time, I still recommend it.
I give it a 3.5 out of 4.
Tuesday, May 8, 2007
This article just crossed my news reader from Scifi.com:
SCI FI Channel announced "Ani-Monday," a new weekly programming block featuring anime, Mondays from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. ET/PT, starting June 11. Ani-Monday will feature a collection of movies, series and shorts from Starz Media's anime distribution arm, Manga, and marks SCI FI's first foray into original late-night programming, the channel said.I am of a decidedly mixed mind over this decision. On the one hand, I think any additional anime offerings in the states is a good thing. In fact my favorite part of Cartoon Network's Adult Swim is the anime offerings they provide - I can't stand the other fare such as Tom goes to the Mayor and Moral Orel.
SCI FI's Ani-Monday will feature the exclusive premiere of Ghost in the Shell: Solid State Society. Other titles on the horizon include the feature films Ninja Scroll, Blood: The Last Vampire, Read or Die and Blackjack. The anime block will also be home to premieres of new genre series such as Tokko, Noein and classic series such as Street Fighter II V
Yet, I'm still hesitant about this. I'm almost scared that it can reinforce sterotypes about anime and anime fans. A fear that is partly reinforced by the list provided in the news release. The titles picked appeared aimed at the Sci-Fi Channel's core demographic of 18-30 year old males that are interested in science fiction.
And I can understand this decision. I don't have a problem with it. My concern is the lack of drama-based anime on broadcast television. I have a hard time convincing my wife that anime isn't just big explosions and giant robots, without the help of the American media machine.
Oh well, I guess I should just be happy, after all I really want to see Noein.
Monday, May 7, 2007
The third installment of the Spider-Man movies was released today (Friday, May 4th) and alongside a test engineer, the guy in charge of the Network department and the Vice President of Business for the company I work for, I skipped a bit of work to see the movie. Basically, in this episode Peter Parker thinks that he's finally has everything sorted out between his identity as Spider-Man and his personal, love life which involves Mary Jane. Unfortunately, such things don't last. His suit turns black, which brings him into an inner conflict with all the worst aspects of his personality. And then he has Sandman and Venom to deal with as well.
Okay, now that we have what the movie's about out of the way, let's look at the three taglines provided by the studio on the movie posters:
These aren't nearly as horrible as those for Æon Flux, and that last one is actually quite well done.
- Next summer, the greatest battle lies... within
- The battle within
- How long can any man fight the darkness... before he finds it in himself?
Our cast of characters is once again expanding. Of course we have Peter Parker (Tobey McGuire) and Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). Then there's the secondary cast of Aunt May, J. Jonah Jameson and the other characters at the Daily Bugle. The other characters of note were Harry Osborn (James Franco) as The New Goblin - an incredibly stupid name, Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) and Venom (Topher Grace).
Peter Parker here is a much more complex character than he was in either of the original two movies. Hence the taglines of battles within and what not. This complexity is offset by Tobey McGuire's performance. While it's not horrible, there are definitely times in the movie when I was cringing at his acting abilities. Kirsten Dunst though provides another great rendition as Mary Jane while Franco's Osborn seems exactly the same as he did in the previous two movies. The two new villains were really done well though. Church provides a great performance (though shoddy makeup) as the Sandman, lending a dignity to such a funny character concept.
But the performance that shone was Topher Grace's. He's smarmy as Eddie Brock and has the thought of an insane maniac down perfectly while in the venom guise. I'll be honest, when I first heard that Topher Grace (he played Eric Foreman on That 70's Show) was going to be Venom had some serious reservations over it. After all, he's a comedy actor. He's ERIC FOREMAN! Much to my surprise, he did not live up to my expectations of granting a flat performance. He did great. You really believe that insane glint that was in his eyes.
The other character to note is Gwen Stacey (Bryce Dallas Howard), not because she does anything special in the movie, but just because I'm a geek. First, remember that Mary Jane got her role in the first movie (the bridge scene where Green Goblin tosses her off a bridge is a comic book classic moment). But the real thing I was amused by was the choice of actresses for Gwen. That amusement stems from the fact that they got a blond and dyed her hair red to play Mary Jane and then got a redhead and stuck a platinum blond wig on her to play Gwen. Maybe it was just me, but it was something that I found funny.
The plot is listed up there in that first paragraph. It's really a lot more complex and a darker movie than the previous two movies. Peter is dealing with a lot more issues here than he was in the first two movies. Mainly because a lot of the conflict here is internal to Peter - which is a good thing, especially for this character (the only superhero with more angst is Batman). The theme revolves itself around that inner conflict, the concept of fighting your inner darkness. And it's as well done as one can expect in a 2 hour 20 minute movie.
Of course, since I'm primarily a reader, both of these fall rather short of what I would have preferred. Of course this is a limitation imposed on the film due to what I like, and the simple fact that I prefer the complexity available in the written word (i.e. I like books better than movies).
Outside these things, you have a hilarious cameo from Bruce Campbell (hey it's a Sam Raimi film, it HAS to have Bruce Campbell in it) and the usual Stan Lee appearance.
Then you have the special effects. For the most part, these things are great. Sandman's transformations are beautifully rendered and the Venom stuff is even better. There is a failure in the effects though - and that's during the fight scenes and when Peter is webslinging through the city. Especially in the webslinging scenes, it's obvious when they switch from real movie to the digital stuff. Apparently, they lost the visual effects supervisor after Spider-Man 2, and in those scenes this loss shows.
Overall, I was extremely happy with this movie. It was a fun superhero flick and a great addition to the Spider-Man franchise. There was nothing mind-blowingly dramatic, but at the same time it was not nearly as bad as Æon Flux as far as being mindless action sequences sans storyline.
In the end, I give it a solid 3 out of 4.
Saturday, May 5, 2007
Congratulations are in order for Mr. Harrison. Apparently, he's gone and wone the Arthur C. Clarke aware for 2007 for his novel, Nova Swing. The SWFA site has a news release about it.
Of course, now I must go find this novel-and apparently purchase it as my local library does not yet have a copy of it. I can only hope that my trip to the second-hand bookstore next week sometime is more profitable in this regard, plus I'm hoping to pick up a cheap copy of Mr. Scalzi's works.
The next thing of interest (to me at least) is that I ordered Star Wars: Legacy Broken TPB on Wednesday and it should be here soon. I would say Saturday, but I don't think UPS normally does deliveries on Saturday, so it'll probably be Monday. Luckily, I made the intelligent decision to purchase it online rather than at a physical store the way I did with the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic Commencement TPB. After shipping and everything, I saved myself... well a dollar, but hey, that's still a soda out of the machines. If I wasn't so impatient, I guess I could have waited until Sacrifice was released or maybe have ordered something else so that I got the free shipping, but oh well. So a couple days after it gets here, we'll get a review for that.
The other thing of interest (again, to me at least) is that I went and saw Spider-Man 3 this morning. An 11:30 A.M. showing on a digital projection screen. It was a beautiful thing. I love that theater. Anyways, my thoughts on the movie will be up sometime soon as well-just need a bit more time to hash out my thoughts so that I'm not just writing "Wowzers, that was great!" or something equally trite like that.
The final thing of interest (again, this is probably just for me) is that I'll be watching Children of Men sometime tomorrow. I have to watch it before 10 P.M on Sunday as that's when its due back at the video store.
All this to do, plus my that David Weber book (800+ pages!) and Jo Walton's Tooth and Claw to read and review. And I got to do that work thing that actually pays the bills sometime in there as well. Ah well, life is fun when it's hectic.
Friday, May 4, 2007
John Scalzi's website has a link to one of his early works. It wasn't offered as part of IPST, but is freely available all the same.The novel, Agent to the Stars, is Mr. Scalzi's first novel, one which (according to the introduction) he wrote just to make sure he could. Of course this is a good thing, as it have resulted us in being given such books as his Old Man's War. The way that this book was produced is that Mr. Scalzi first offered it online as a "shareware novel". Basically, you read the story and then sent him how much you thought the story was worth. After a while of that, he managed to get it published through Subterranean Press-and if memory serves there's talk of another publisher taking a stab at it. For a story that began life as an exercise in making sure that he could produce novel-length work-it has gone over very well. He's a poster-child for what the Internet can do for a writer.
Anyways, onto the book. The blurb (found on Subterranean's website) reads thus:
Thomas Stein knows all about closing deals -- he's one of Hollywood's hottest young agents who’s just closed the biggest deal of his career. But it's one thing to sell your client when she's a hot young starlet. It's another thing entirely when your client is an entire alien species, depending on you to pull off the greatest introduction in this history of man. Stein's going to need all his smarts, all his skills, and all his wits to earn his percentage -- and his place in history.
Agent to the Stars is a gleeful mash-up of science fiction and Hollywood satire from acclaimed novelist John Scalzi (Old Man's War), a film critic since 1991 and author of The Rough Guide to Science Fiction Film. It's a whole new look at alien encounters -- and a view of Tinseltown you've never seen before.
As the blurb above says, the main character (and POV character) is an agent by the name of Thomas Stein. I really enjoyed the Thomas character here - he's funny, smart and has that right mix of smarmy good-heartedness which made Jerry McGuire so popular. Rounding out the cast are his boss, his administrative assistant, his prime client, a reporter, and Joshua.
Joshua is the smart-alecy, wise-mouthed Yherajk, who is Thomas' main point of contact with that alien race. The aliens here are responsible for some of my favorite moments in the book - especially when you consider that this is a race that has learned to speak English from our radio and television transmissions. I mean what's not to love about a Jell-o mold who quotes Yoda?
The plot is one of those first-contact plots. Of course, that plot can be handled in two different ways, first is the evil aliens which gives us things like Independence Day, second the plot has good aliens like the one found in E.T. The Extra-terrestrial. This plot has the good aliens - and the main problem facing our hero here is how is he going to introduce the aliens to humanity. A problem made complex by the fact that they look like the Blob rather than an Ewok.
The novel pretty much spends the entire time of the story in Los Angeles, specifically the area around Hollywood. It's a story that is set in contemporary times - with nothing overly obvious as to giving it a specific time frame. Though we know things like Tom Hanks is still alive and making comedies. The descriptions of everything works well, holding that perfectly blend which tells the reader what he needs to know.
Truthfully, I had trouble picking out a theme for the novel. I know not every story needs one - but this is speculative fiction. Above and beyond everything else it's supposed to make you think and consider. While you're laughing at the jokes or rooting for the good guy during the fight scene, you're also supposed to be pondering the big questions of the universe through the filter of the story.
Or maybe I'm just an optimist.
Regardless, I had trouble picking out the theme for the novel. I think it might be because I was just enjoying myself too much while reading it. In the end, what I came up with was a mish mosh of ideas and concepts. Most of them half-baked. I know that this novel is trying to tell me something, but unless it's the comments about Hollywood and culture spoken by two different characters, I just don't know what it is. If the theme is those comments, then it's bashing the reader over the head with it. If they're not, well, then I'm still drawing a blank.
This was a first person story-with all the benefits and drawbacks of that model. Typos and what not were possibly non-existent, at least I can't remember any. But I do have to say that the more of Mr. Scalzi's work that I read, the more I like how he writes. It's a beautiful mixture of humor, satire and speculation. It's is almost like reading a Heinlein novel. At least a Heinlein novel that has been ran through the Men in Black comic book. I can only hope that this way of writing stays with Mr. Scalzi as I go out and find the rest of his Old Man's War books.
Overall, this has been a fun, fun ride. I laughed, I was amused, and I even thought. I considered the potential for first contacts going through Hollywood rather than just dropping by the White House or the United Nations. Ultimately, I decided that it was an idea that made sense to me, especially when viewed through the lens of the book.
I give it a 3.9 out of 4.
Wednesday, May 2, 2007
Truth be told, I wasn't sure exactly what to expect from this movie. I have vague memories of the cartoon, and did enjoy it. Quite a bit actually. The cartoon that is. It was a complicated cartoon, and one that I doubt that I was able to wrap my mind around everything that was going on back then - after all, it was 1991 and I was a mere Freshmen (or maybe Sophomore) in high school. Of course, I was amused by the constant deaths ofÆon . She was Kenny, back before there was ever a South Park. Anyways, I enjoyed the cartoon. A fact which made me highly resistant to actually watching this movie. But I was at the video store on Tuesday to get Children of Men and it was two-for-Tuesdays so I decided I might as well try it. After all, it's free, what's the worst that could happen?
Yeah... I actually thought that. You would think that I would know better after having watched The Dukes of Hazard, Daredevil, Howard the Duck, The Flintstones and the original group of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (still withholding judgment on the newest incarnation of that series). Apparently, I like having my childhood memories squashed and flattened by Hollywood. But I digress.
I mean, let's look at the movie's taglines (they serve similar purposes to blurbs in books):
- The Perfect World Meets The Perfect Assassin
- The future is flux.
- Perfect Future Shock
Yeah. Those are real reassuring as to the quality of the movie. I immediately began to wonder if I might have payed too much to rent this movie.
Well, I queued up the DVD in my player and banished any thoughts of the cartoon from my mind and hit play. And was pleasantly surprised with the opening of the cartoon in live action. Yes, that fly-caught-by-eyelashes thing that served as the opening scene for the cartoon also served as the opening for the movie. A pleasant surprise. At least until you considered how sillyCharlize Theron looked with a fly in her eyelashes.
On to the discussion of the movie's plot. What to say about the plot. There's not a lot to consider from the source material, as the plot needs for a series of short films or half-hour episodes are quite different than a two-hour movie. But, the general concept is that in 2011 or so, 99% of the world's population is wiped out by a virus. After a cure is discovered, humanity all goes and hides in this walled city. Well 400 years have passed and folks began to want to rebel against the perfectly manicured society that was built by thesurvivors. It's an interesting enough premise to hang the actual story on, so that works for our purposes.
Anyways, our main character is Æon Flux, assassin extraordinaire for the rebels. And the more times that she appeared on screen, the more times I had to question if the character on the screen bore any relationship at all to the animated character of the same name. Frankly, the movie version of Æon Flux lacked the depth and mystery of her cartoon counterpart. It's not something that I can quite put my finger on in her actions, but it just didn't feel the same as the cartoon.
The next most important character was Trevor Goodchild, the scientist/dictator for the last city.
And, that's frankly all that I can bring myself to actually care about his character. Secondary characters? Yeah, there was three secondary characters, Æon's sister, Æon's assassin partner and Trevor's brother. And truth be told they were nothing more than shells of a character. The sister was the proverbial innocent. the partner was the by-the-books second, who puts more faith in orders than thinking for ones self (an odd trait in an anarchistic rebellion group).
I just can't get myself worked up enough to actually care about those characters.
The only place that this movie shone was in the action and the special effects.
Which distrubs me. A good science/speculative fiction story is supposed to make you think. That's its entire purpose. Oh sure, Æon Flux is set in a dystopian society. Oh, there's a military group trying to rebel against the sweet, ivory tower, manufactured society. Yet, for all the ideas that could be in this story, it seems to be more a vehicle for the special effects (including one straight out of Men in Black) than a vehicle to make the viewer question themselves and society. I think this is why I love books so much more than television or movies. You can do a magical hand-wave in front of a Blue Screen in a book in an effort to distract the consumer from realizing that this bit of speculative fiction that you've convinced them to view is really nothing more than a simple action flick set in the future. I got more subtle meaning from the Judge Dredd movie than from this one.
And that's saying a lot.
Anyways, I don't think I can recommend this movie. If you want to watch Æon in action, try to get your hands on the original cartoons first.
I give it a .3 out of 4.
And for my next IPST review, we're coming face to face with the writer who started the whole thing up as a response to writers who post materials to the web being called scabs, one Jo Walton. Specifically, it's the review of the full length novel The Rebirth of Pan. This novel had never been published - nor ever actually gotten into a state where it could probably be considered publishable. It's a mishmash of odd ideas and shatteredPOVs jumping back and forth from first person to third person omniscient. It jumps time and characters more or less random and I sat confused while reading the first half of the story. MS Word tells me that it clocked in at around 85K words, less thanScalzi's Agent to the Stars, yet it took me longer to finish reading this story. Mainly due to the confusing ideas and jumping POVs.
Yet for all of that, I found myself liking it.
This is a very character driven novel, and while there is a wide cast of characters - there's not exactly one that I can point to and say "that one is the protagonist." I guess you could say that there's a group of five characters or so that are the protagonist characters - but that doesn't quite explain the feeling I got while reading the story. Basically, it was a feeling that all the characters we got to see were.... well second string. They were the sidekicks rather than the hero - and I think that this might be an effect of the fact that we're not given aPOV to anchor ourselves to, and instead find ourselves awash in the confusion of the POV jumps.
Likewise, it's hard to find an overarching plot for the story. And this relates almost directly to the lack of a strong protagonist. After all, if you don't have a dedicated hero - how can he be on a quest? Of course hard to find is not the same as non-existent. The plot is dedicated to the rebirth of Pan - which is the only one of the Greek gods that was reported dead at the beginning of the Christian age. Pan was the god of herdsmen and the fields, and was often seen playing the panpipes.
Settings are myriad and diverse - ranging from a forgotten Irish home in the middle of a rainstorm to a boat in the middle of the Aegean Sea. Her writing in this regard is great.
Of course, where the story works best is its theme. From a philosophical standpoint I can't agree with the stances that Ms. Walton is taking here. Yet outside of that, she does raise an interesting scenario in the thought that every millennium or two the world has to be 'reborn' so to speak and that each of these rebirths are designed to teach humanity something important. For the record, what Jesus taught was compassion.
Overall, the book was not that good. It was choppy. It jumped around between characters and points-of-views.
Yet for all the problems that were inherent in it, I enjoyed the writing. While I can't quite recommend this story, I'm hoping to go get one of her other novels (I'm considering The Farthing, but if anyone else has a better suggestion, I'm open to it).
This gets a 0.7 out of 4.
Tuesday, May 1, 2007
Well, I've finally finished my re-read of Robert Heinlein's Friday. I don't know why I like Heinlein novels so much but I do. Out of all the giants of science-fiction, I'd rather sprawl out on the couch with a Heinlein novel than any other. And out of all the Heinlein novels I currently have, Friday is probably my favorite. In fact this novel is so good, that even my wife, who is not really into science fiction, has read and enjoyed this novel. Anyways, Friday was published back in 1982, receiving a nomination for the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1982 and a Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1983. After much searching (okay, only about 5 minutes) I found the blurb which is on the dust jacket of the hardcover version of the novel (my copy is second-hand and when I bought it, it no longer had the dust jacket)
Friday is a secret courier. She is employed by a man known to her only as 'Boss'. Operating from and over a near-future Earth, in which North America has become Balkanized into dozens of independent states, where culture has become bizarrely vulgarized and chaos is the happy norm, she finds herself on shuttlecock assignment at Boss' seemingly whimsical behest. From New Zealand to Canada, from one to another of the new states of America's disunion, she keeps her balance nimbly with quick, expeditious solutions to one calamity and scrape after another.And I have to say that that blurb disturbs me. This was the first time I've read it, as I bought the novel on the strength of the name attached to it. I wouldn't want to read this book based on that blurb, despite the fact that it is one of my favorite novels. And this just goes to show that even the professionals screw up blurbs sometimes.
The main (and POV) character is a young lady by the name of Friday. In this world, humans have learned the necessary technology to go about creating artificial beings. Genetically created supermen and even living artifacts such as a super-smart dog. Friday is one such being. She was engineered to be smarter, faster and stronger than normal humans. A fact which has left her with some serious self-image issues. Frankly, I like Friday. She's self-deprecating without being glum. Smart without being snotty about it. And pretty without being overbearing. She is a well-thought out character, complete with issues, quirks and good intentions.
Secondary characters are those that cross Friday's path. Her mysterious Boss. Her husbands and wives (she's a member of an S-group) in Christchurch, New Zealand. A shuttle pilot and his family (and by family I mean wife, second husband and sister and his sister's husband). And then a handful of others associated with the same secret organization that she is employed by. All of these characters are perfect balances between being interesting and dull. That golden realm where the reader can care about the characters, but not at the expense of the main character. This balance is created because the reader feels like Friday herself, cares about those characters.
The story is written as a memoir of sorts, as such there's not really an overarching plot, no single problem for the heroine to solve. Rather it is a grouping of smaller plot-lines, giving the heroine a number of small adventures to get through. This makes the novel read like an auto-biography rather than a novel. It is an interesting way to get the point of the character, and the story, across.
Settings are varied and all over the place as Friday moves about the globe quite a bit, with the final quarter of the book set on a starship in space. Regardless, most of the story is localized to the North American continent in what today is the US's heartland and Canada's British Columbia. As far as descriptions of those settings go, Heinlein uses the way that Friday tells her story to give the reader all the information that the reader needs to know. In fact, he tells a bit too much in this regard while detailing the route which the starship is taking. Even to the point of providing diagrams in the story. Yet, that is something that the reader would expect Friday to do while telling her story. It's a way that Heinlein used the character herself to do the infodump that if he was telling the story (i.e. if the story was in 3rd person) he would have to hide into the narrative.
Heinlein has a number of themes running through here. The tendency of large countries towards balkanization. The darker side of humanity and the human condition (war, crime, sickness). The idiocy of a true democracy. His personal beliefs towards socialism and society are quite evident throughout as well. And we can't forget that he makes a number of valid prophecies in this work. Things such as the wide-spread use of wireless communication devices and the availability of a full-text/image search capability using almost natural language. But probably the greatest theme is the simple fact that we must accept ourselves - as we our, regardless of our past, before we can ever be truly happy.
Above all other things that Friday learned in this story - that is the lesson that was trying to get across. And it's a good lesson, in fact, I know a couple of folks who need to learn it even today. And is the reason why I routinely re-read this particular novel. For me, that lesson is driven home every time I do so.
Style-wise this is a first-person story, with all the benefits and drawbacks to that format. Heinlein is wonderful at his craft, and it shows in this novel. Onto my personal pet peeve of typos, there was at least one that I can remember. A sign that despite how rose-tinted our glasses are towards the publishing of yesteryear, they screwed up as much as our publishers do today. Oh well, no one is perfect.
Overall, I love this story. It is my favorite of all the Heinlein stuff that I have read. Does it have some problems? Of course. First, that blurb sucks. I think I need to go to the bookstore and see if I can find a new copy of the book, just to make sure that that blurb is no longer being used. Second, despite the fact that it makes sense from the character's POV to have that infodump in the narrative - it is still an infodump.
In the end, it gets a 3 out of 4. Would be higher, but an infodump is an infodump.