Saturday, April 30, 2011

Review: Containment

containmentThis review is for Containment, a SF novel by Christian Cantrell. This is one of a number of $0.99 (as of 04/30/2011) novels by this author, and they are all self-published by the Cantrell Media Company. Personally, I'm fine with self-publishing of novels like this. I mean I'm all for authors receiving 70% of the cut of a sale that Amazon provides on sales of Kindle books. Especially when one considers some of the… well I can't think of a good enough word to imply bad karma… things that publishers do to authors concerning digital books (basics are that they list them as 'licenses' when they sell to the end user, so that the end user loses the rights of ownership, and lists them as sales to the authors, because by contract an author gets a higher percentage of licenses than sales).

The product description for this book reads as thus:

As Earth's ability to support human life begins to diminish at an alarming rate, the Global Space Agency is formed with a single mandate: protect humanity from extinction by colonizing the solar system as quickly as possible. Venus, being almost the same mass as Earth, is chosen over Mars as humanity’s first permanent steppingstone into the universe.

Arik Ockley is part of the first generation to be born and raised off-Earth. After a puzzling accident, Arik wakes up to find that his wife is almost three months pregnant. Since the colony’s environmental systems cannot safely support any increases in population, Arik immediately resumes his work on AP, or artificial photosynthesis, in order to save the life of his unborn child. Arik’s new and frantic research uncovers startling truths about the planet, and about the distorted reality the founders of the colony have constructed for Arik’s entire generation. Everything Arik has ever known is called into question, and he must figure out the right path for himself, his wife, and his unborn daughter.

As for characters, we only get a single POV character in this book, and that's of Arik Ockley. Who, though well defined, and with a distinct voice, has a subtle character flaw in that he's a super-genius. Now, I know that the how's and why's of such things are touched upon in the novel, but it would've been a bit better if there had been some flaw to his character above and beyond just not being that athletic. But, even with that, Arik's character is believable, and has 'voice' remains the same throughout the novel—which is something that not everyone accomplishes.

The plot is a standard conspiracy-theory motif, just set on a Venusian colony rather than the corridors of power in Washington or the Vatican. It has the potential for fun, without adding anything new to the concept.

In truth, there are two things that really bothered me about this novel. The first, is that the author seems to be in love with his research, and wants us all to know all the finite details involved in it. He has certain things that he wants to say in this book, and rather than have the concepts explored by the setting, he has the protagonist tell you how wonderful those things are. One gets pages upon pages of what is in effect, whitepapers about future technology that exists solely as filler. Frankly, I could have skipped roughly 75-100 pages of this type of content and not have lost anything plot wise

The second (and personally more aggravating) issue I had with this novel is the way that it jumped back and forth in time without warning.  I would be reading, and it just changed the time-setting. This made it a very disjointed read, and would often force me to go back a few pages trying to find the cue that I  missed where time shifted. This is a grave error since the whole point of my reading the book is to not be shifted out of the story.

IMO, it would have helped immensely if the author had bothered just including LINES in the text indicating that a section had changed.

Ultimately, a standardized Gary Stu main character, uninspired plot, and two major issues in the fundamental structure of the book hinders what is otherwise a decent read. I'll probably not bother reading it again, which in an of itself says a lot, but I'm not exactly sad that I only spent $0.99 on it.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Monday's Rambling….

It's been a while since I've ranted and raved on this thing on a Monday, but I'm trying to get back into the habit of blogging.

Sadly, there's not much going on in the geek-world at the moment.

There's the usual set of books available for reading (I just finished my first Culture novel, and am now working on something called Containment). Then there's the Spring 2011 anime season.

Of the anime that are out there this season, the following are those that I'm really enjoying (so far at least):

  • Tiger & Bunny
  • Deadman Wonderland
  • C – Money of Soul and Possibility Control
  • Ao No Exorcist
  • Hidan no Aria
  • Denpa Onna to Siesshun Otoko
  • Hoshizora e Kakaru Hoshi
  • Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namea

Which is a somewhat large list for me. It's been a while since I've actually wanted to watch this many shows in a single season. Of course, I'm still not certain on the last 3 or so, and I may end up dropping them.

As usual, the American TV fare is horribly lacking in geek-apropos material. Especially with SyFy's insane decision to drop Stargate Universe. Yet, there's good news on the horizon in that regard. There's Falling Skys and Terra Nova, both of which promise to be good, clean geek fun. Now, if only they can live up to the hype…

Now, it's time to head off…

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Series Review: Puella Magi Madoka Magica

MadokaAh, another series review, rounding out two of the three shows that I really enjoyed for the Winter 2011 anime season. This time, it's concerning Puella Magi Madoka Magica (aka Magical Girl Madoka of the Mage), and I enjoyed it immensely. Even more than Yumekui Merry.

For the first few episodes, I thought this was going to be your run-of-the-mill, typical Magical Girl anime. Helped along this way by the sheer fact that that's what they called the show.

To me, Magical Girl anime are something of a mixed blessing. Basically, despite the oft cringe-inducing theories on how the power of love, hope and friendship will stop all the bad guys, this is tempered with the sheer exuberance which the shows are often drawn with. Sailor Moon and Lyrical Nanoha both often faced things which could destroy the world, and they rose to the challenge and whooped upon it. Most often, by turning the enemy from the first half of the season into a friend.

But I digress. The reason this show worked so well is the fact that they played with the normal dynamic which one expects out of these shows. And they did it in such a way that the shifting of the sands, so to speak, of the entire foundation upon which a magical girl show are built, actually helped the plot.

Basically, what I'm saying is that this show rocked because it had a great story

Of course, the characters played a huge part in that. After all, each character had to be enough of a well-defined model that they were able to play their part in the story. More importantly, the characters had to make us care enough about them, that as each soul-shattering aspect of just what being a Magical Girl in this particular universe means hit them, then we would cringe with them. Because we could feel the emotions behind what was happening, because we could understand the joys and the griefs, then we rooted for the girls and believed in them and the story.

It made the plot matter.

Of course, this all works so well because of the familiar. In most Magical Girl shows, the girls have a familiar. Someone or something which helps guide them through the steps of the wider universe the girls are stepping into. And while most of the time these familiars are mysterious agents, they typically have the girl's best interest at heart.

Kyubey - Pyscho of PsychosAh, but this little psychopathic familiar was not that way. Despite being much… cuter than Luna for Sailor Moon, Kyubey was anything but. He pushed the girls into being Magical Girls for his own purposes, with the fore-knowledge of the pain that this leads too.

The other thing I really enjoyed was the shifts to reality when the Magical Girls fought either each other or a Witch. The chaotic patterns of designs and colors, which always had an overarching theme that hinted at a pattern beneath the chaos.

When used in conjunction with the 'real world' which Madoka inhabited, a world of glass and steel, and clean places, these witch realms were shocking and a mixture of insanity and a vibrancy which the clean vistas of Madoka's real world seemed to lack.

Like I said earlier, I really liked this show. Both for its great story/plot and for the way it tinkered with the foundations of magical girl genre. Even if it decided to hit the cosmic reset button on the way it had tinkered with those foundations. Truth be told, I'm fine with that. I don't want every magical girl out there to become some depressing anti-hero. I get enough of that from my Star Wars EU literature since Anakin Solo's death.

Was there plot holes? Were there moments when the animation wasn't perfect or the music somewhat disconcerting? Were there times when one has to wonder why Kyubey's mouth just didn't move? Yes to all of those things. 

But even if there are unanswered questions, or things not explained perfectly, I'm okay with that. I still thought the series worked, and more importantly worked well.

Madoka & friends

Friday, April 22, 2011

Series Review: Yumekui Merry

Yumekui Merry-Most watched belly button of winter 2011Yumekui Merry (aka Dream Eater Merry) ended up being a fun ride of a anime series.

Which actually surprised me a bit.

Here's a confession, I almost dropped this series after the first episode.

You see, I wasn't that enthralled with the concept as described in the previews for the season. I mean, the summary describes this show as thus:

Huju-wara-kun is your ordinary adolescent boy , but 10 years ago he noticed he had a power to see multicolored auras surrounding the persons body which he looks upon through his fingers. Every so often Huju-wara has dreams about a war with cats , but one day a girl fell on top of him …. what will happen now with his incoming feline enemies?

Not a whole lot going on according to that blurb. I was truly unimpressed, and downloaded the first two episodes, as that's standard behavior.

Even still, the first episode wasn't that great of a thing, and it was a few weeks before I watched the second. At which point I realized that, yes, they had actually bothered with a story here.

Now, was this a perfect outing?

Sadly, and despite how much I enjoyed it overall, I'm going to have to say no.

Mainly, because we're left with a few gaping holes for plot lines. Which one can  hope that will be resolved with (at least) a second season or OVA. But that's in and of itself is not a bad thing. The real problems with this series were some issues with consistency. Every episode was paced and toned wildly differently from one another. And even the fights would leave one with a feeling of "huh?" on occasion.

Which really isn't the thing one hopes to feel in the midst of the climactic battle of the entire season.

Now, what makes this such a fun ride is the characters. A lesson that Hollywood really, really needs to learn (yes, I'm looking at you, Skyline).

Especially in regards to the main characters (Merry and Yumeji).

Merry, for all the animators obsession which drawing her stomach, is a great character. She's funny and strong, while at the same time shows hesitance, a longing for home and a need for acceptance (which is part an parcel of that longing for home). 

Yumeji though, is a standout character just for the fact that he's not the typical indecisive, non-masculine, non-descript male leads that are often show cased in anime. I'm not sure if it's just a difference of my Western POV of man-hood, versus what's expected in Japan, but sometimes the…. indecisiveness of male leads irks me to no end.

But, it gets really notched up a level when the two of them are working together. Think of Temperance Brennan and Seeley Booth from Bones or even (and possibly even a better example of this) Maddie Hayes and David Addison from Moonlighting (at least prior to episode 314 of that series).

Did they mine old '80s dramady's for inspiration?

Of course, now I'm wondering if I should lead in the Moonlighting reference. That does seem to show my age a bit, but I digress.

Anyways, as I stated at the start, I liked this show as a whole, a lot. One can hope that they'll give the underlying manga a year (or three) to create some more plot, and then give this a second season to finish some things and answer those questions they left around for us.

And if they do, I'll be waiting and willing to watch. Which is more than some shows have gotten from me.

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