Wednesday, September 30, 2009

You Owe it to yourself #7: The Classics

When my daughter (not pictured to the left) was six-years old, she informed me that no good music (which to her meant boy bands) had existed before N*Sync. And it didn't matter how much I tried to explain that there were dozens of other popular boy bands who had existed before N*Sync that she might like (Yes - I'll admit I watched The New Kids on the Block Cartoon way too much in my early teen years, but that's beside the point) - she was not even willing to listen.

I've had people explain to me that no good movies existed before Star Wars - none, that somehow before May 25 1977 every other motion picture was simply a waste of film.

The problem is, as a boy band fan - unless you've listened to your Jackson 5 and Menudo, or as a Star Wars fan, seen your Lawrence of Arabia and The Hidden Fortress, you are missing out on the origins of whatever it is you are interested in.

If you love horror, take the time to check out the original five monster novels (Dracula, Frankenstein, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Invisible Man, and The Werewolf of Paris) If you loved 10,000 BC check out Clan of the Cave Bear and Quest for Fire. If you read lots of Science Fiction - Give the ABCs a Try (Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Arthur C. Clarke)

No matter what kind of stuff you are into, the classics in that genre deserve your attention. You never know where checking them out might lead you (a few years back I got very interested in Demonic Possession stories and started reading everything I could find - Classic books full of demons? How about Matthew, Mark, Luke and John? Jesus exorcizes all kinds of demons in those books!)

Eventually my daughter listened to enough boy bands that she became willing to try other music (thank god), and now she's got amazing and wide ranging taste in music. So check out the classics, everything that came after owes something to them, and admitting you are into the classics may help people forget that you said you used to watch The New Kids on the Block cartoon - I hope.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Book Review: Dark Ladies

I've been reading horror books as far back as I can remember, starting with fairy tales, Greek myths and Halloween books (I was born too young for Goosebumps, and I was too male for Christopher Pike books) and eventually moving into the mainstream with Stephen King, Dean Koontz and even a quick run through Anne Rice. A few years back I came across a book called Horror: The 100 Best books, edited by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman, and was finally able to begin a look at some really cool classic horror. I have now read a lot of horror from the 1800s - and I'll probably post on the value of reading it in a few weeks, but one of my favourite finds in the book was a novel called "Conjure Wife"(1943) by Fritz Leiber.

It is very difficult to pick a favourite book by Fritz Leiber (pictured right). I love this guy's writing, he goes from classic Fantasy (his Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series were one of the main influences on Dungeons and Dragons) to award-winning Science Fiction (he won two Hugo awards for best Novel - The Big Time in 1958 and The Wanderer in 1965), but the books I'll be looking at today were in the horror genre.

Yup - I said books. I cheated a little, I'm using the book Dark Ladies, a collection of two of his horror books, Conjure Wife and Our Lady of Darkness (1977). When I went looking for a copy of Conjure wife, all I could find was this two-in-one edition, but the other book - Our Lady of Darkness, was both extremely Lovecraft influenced and looked a lot like one of my favourite RPGs of the 1990s, Kult (Sorry Vampire: The Masquerade, but I like the REALLY dark stuff).

Anyway, back to the reasons you should read these two books - The plots are simply awesome:

Conjure wife focuses on a college professor who comes across witchy stuff his wife is keeping, which she says she has been using for years to help his career, and in fact she says that most college professor's wives do the same thing. Being a bit of jerk, he demands that all of it be removed from the house as it is all just superstitious mumbo-jumbo. Unfortunately, at this college it isn't, and when this up-and-coming professor loses his magical protection, things get very bad VERY fast.

Our Lady of Darkness (which won the World Fantasy Award for best novel in 1978) is a little trickier as a read. If you are looking to start reading Leiber, I would only suggest this one if you are really into H.P. Lovecraft, as this book takes the ideas from his Cthulhu Mythos and updates them to 20th Century San Francisco. The book focuses on a writer who becomes aware of a cult and begins to see just how massive it's control of the city is. I really liked the book, but I am definitely a big Lovecraft fan so I have a lot of bias.

Both books are worth a read, but if Horror is not your thing, check out his Fantasy or SF, they are all older, so should be available at your local library and are some of the coolest fiction I have had the luck to come across in the last few years.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Things I've Noticed #6: 80% of Fantasy series are pointless

Growing up in the Prairie Provinces of Canada with bad asthma and where winter lasts more than half the year, I spent a lot of time indoors. While the other kids were skiing, skating, and having snowball fights, I spent most of my time doing a lot of reading, and although Horror and SF where my favourites growing up fantasy series definitely had a special place with me.

Both of my parents loved fantasy books, so you could say I have the love of Fantasy in my blood (True fact - my Dad originally
wanted to name me Conan - the fact that I ended up with at a career in libraries would have ended me). The Lord of the Rings, Dragonlance, and The Xanth Series were huge favourites of mine, and when I say huge I mean those three series alone took up most of my bookshelves.

Now, just to clarify my complaining, I am not talking about episodic series, where the main characters go on different adventures (Farfhd and the Gray Mouser or Conan the Barbarian). I like these books and many of them are still favourites of mine.

The Fantasy series I really have a problem with are the "Quest" series, which basically cut and paste from other, better books. This quest fiction, wherein some evil takes over a world, and a band of plucky youths my travel the land collecting parts of a fantastic treasure to ultimately defeat the villain is repetitive and pointless (The Sword of Shanara is a complete rip-off of The Lord of the Rings - I liked the rest of the series, but that first book shamelessly steals from Tolkein). Author Neil Gaiman actually calls this cut-and-paste process "plot coupons" and explains it very nicely here.

I think that unless the author actually has a story that MUST be told in more than 10 sequels they should go out and try something new. Heck, I would even be happy if they told other stories in their own world - I'm a huge Terry Pratchett fan, but if you break down his Discworld series into books about each character, the numbers are actually pretty conservative.

In the end, the best fantasy stories can still use the standard plots, but they do it from a new angle, or bend the rules to dazzle the readers (Fables, by Bill Willingham is a wonderful example). As of late my favourite Fantasy books are definitely stand alone ones (Neverwhere), or series that seem to be going somewhere - but in their own unique way (Percy Jackson and the Olympians).

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

You Owe it to yourself #6: Reading your favourite Author more effectively

One morning while reading the paper I was struck by an interesting idea - what if you read all of an author's books in chronological order? Would it change your perception of the world? Would it change me from a black-and-white '50s Dad into some sort of demented bookmonkey? Only one was to find out.

I started the habit back in 2003 - never having read any crime fiction I thougt I would try some Elmore Leonard, and more specifically, I would read his books in the order he wrote them. I had just finished reading all of Louis L'Amour and as Leonard started with Westerns before he moved to crime fiction, I figured it would simply be a fun couple of months reading.

6 months and 40 novels later, my reading habits had changed. I was hooked on reading authors in publication order.

What I noticed as I went through Elmore Leonard's books (his first novel, The Bounty Hunters, was published in 1953) was that over time, the quality improved. I love his early stuff (again, big fan of westerns - thanks Mom), but by reading his books in order I could see that over time his pacing, his descriptions and his already amazing dialogue just get better and better.

I only had two problems with my experiment: first, reading 40 books of a similar style and tone in 6 months kind of made all their plots run together, secondly, it felt really cool to read an author like that, really, REALLY cool - I had to do it again.

The next author I tried this with (starting in July of 2004) was Terry Pratchett, and to solve my first problem I limited myself to one book of his a month. I just caught up with him this spring (March 2009). Pratchett wrote his first book - The Carpet People, when he was 17 years old, so again, over the course of nearly 50 books and 30+ years I got to see the evolution of a writer.

Since then I've done the same with a few more writers - Lois McMaster-Bujold, Michael Crichton, Robert B. Parker, Pierre Burton, and Robert R. McCammon, next up is Canadian fantasy author Charles De Lint.

The rewards are great - especially if you are personally looking to get into writing yourself. What I do not recommend is doing this with an untested author - often their first book is the worst place to start - read something you've heard good things about first, and once you've decided you want to commit, then you can go back to the beginning.

It'll show you a lot of stuff about the writer you might not have noticed before, which will make you appear much smarter (and slightly annoying) to your friends and family.

If you've already done this - congrats - get yourself a celebratory piece of cake and send me a comment letting me know about your experience, otherwise give it a try, after all, you owe it to yourself.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bookmonkey's top 5 SF books for Kids

I got hooked on Science Fiction (SF) as a kid back in the '80s, so the majority of this list will reflect the fact that MY SF is better than YOUR SF, and now that we have established my obvious bias, let's go:

My 5 sure-fire books that will get your kids hooked on SF are:

First published in 1895, The Time Machine by H.G. Wells introduces kids to time travel, giant lobsters, Morlocks, Eloi, and most importantly a really wonderful sense of "What if..." Also the book is very short - so reluctant readers are more likely to give it a shot.

This series of books is almost identical to the "Choose Your Own Adventure" series, with one big difference - not only did you travel back in time and fight dinosaurs, samurai, knights and cowboys, but you also went into the future and kicked alien butt. One of my favourite parts of this series was reading all the ways you (the reader) could die by flipping through the book - and trust me, lots of them were pretty darn disgusting.

The only book in this list I did not read as a child, Interworld, by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves was originally a TV show concept that ended up as a Young Adult book. Imaging a war straddling across dimensions, where all of the heroes and villains fight for the sides of Chaos or Order and every single one of them is an alternate version of you. Simply an incredible book.

Before I read this book I had seen the 1981 Television series, so I thought I knew what I was getting into, but nothing could have prepared me for this incredible story - starting at the end (literally - the world is destroyed right at the beginning of the book), we follow a main character who is probably the least prepared traveller in existence as he makes his way through the galaxy with a friend, an extremely helpful book, and a towel. This book also receives massive kudos due to the fact that it is the first book I ever read out loud from cover to cover.

I read this book in Junior High - probably grade seven, so that puts it somewhere between 1988 and '89. Even though this book isn't meant for kids, and looks kind of like a Fantasy-Western, it has dimensional travel, robots, mutants, Hey Jude by the Beatles, and mention of a company called North Central Positronics. The book is terrifying, brutally violent, and told in a reverse narrative (it starts at the end and moves backwards). This book started me on all sorts of freaky stuff, perfectly mixing all three of my favourite Genres (Fantasy, Horror, and SF), and started with possibly the coolest first line of a novel I have ever had the pleasure to have read.

So there you have it, my picks for the books most likely to get kids hooked on SF; I know my list is different than my wife's, my friend Mike's, or even my kids - but the list of best SF I want to know about is your - so tell me, what do you think the best SF books for kids are?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Things I've Noticed #5: Age Appropriate Materials

Whenever you look up a top ten list of horror movies, you are bound to come across The Exorcist, it's the horror equivalent of Madonna on a top ten pop music list of the '80s. It joins Psycho and Texas Chainsaw Massacre as horror movies everyone has to see, like Star Wars and 2001 are to SF fans.

So as a die-hard horror fan I have seen this movie a lot, and let me tell you, the first time I saw it (age 12) my opinion was this:

BORING! By the time I got to the end I was definitely checking out a book instead of watching the film. (Picutred above - and yes I was reading a Grover book at age 12 - that book is AWESOME! and for the record, more suspenseful to my 12-year-old self than The Exorcist anyday) I mean, you spend most of the movie watching a mom wander around Washington D.C. talking to people, you don't even get to the devil stuff practically until the end and it's over pretty fast.

At age 16 I saw it again, and my opinion changed - the girl is pretty scary and I was beginning to be able to appreciate camera angles and the strange imagery throughout the film.

As a parent of 2 at age 20, I watched the movie again and you know what (pictured left) This is one of the scariest movies ever. The stuff with the mom finally clicked with me - to have a child so sick that you end up going back and forth between doctors and therapists, who give you no hope, and end up going to priest for help (the mom is a capital-A Atheist) suddenly became very relatable to me.

Here's my theory, certain books and movies work best at a certain age. The Exorcist doesn't work for kids, because the scary stuff is aimed at parents. You get more out of it when you can relate with the main character (the mom). This happens with books too, I first read Lord of the Rings when I was in grade 5 - but to be honest, I mean I first read Fellowship in Grade 5 and then all the Sam and Frodo bits of the next two books. I simply didn't have the patience to wade through all the rest of the book at that age.

Now, does this mean I think kids shouldn't even give The Exorcist a try? Of course not, but what I do think is that certain books and movies benefit from being revisited. Earlier this week I talked about my first impression of The Terminator (at age 10), At first it was scary, when I re-watched it in Junior High it was awesome, and only last year (age 32) did I see the Christ story parallels and the fact that every machine in 1984 is also trying to stop Sarah Conner.

So we can view it one of two ways - either certain books are aimed at certain audiences, and therefore resonate better with them. or (and my personal favourite) I may be getting smarter...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

You owe it to yourself #5: Book Clubs

In the last three years I've joined two book clubs, the first one really wasn't for me (basically we just read the Oprah book of the month), but the second one has been a really great experience. I mean really, what's the first thing that comes to your mind when you think, Book club?

HEY! Fine, I guess some of you thought of some sort of reading circle from the 1800s (pictured above), but reading clubs don't really have that "Anne of Green Gables" feel any more. Let me tell you some of the great stuff I've done in my last three years at the club. I've massively expanded the kinds of books I read, met tonnes of great people and eventually found the inspiration to do these posts.

And for you guys out there who think book clubs are only for the ladies, remember, men reading books are sexy! (pictured right - my reading nemesis, James "Sawyer" Ford) And especially for you single fellows out there - the ratio of men to women at a book club is usually 5 or 6 to 1, so there you go.

The club I belong to selects a new genre every month, so we read all sorts of stuff, including non-fiction, short-stories, and more. Basically, being in a book club forces you to read a lot of books that you wouldn't otherwise look at, as well as sharing your own personal favourites with other people and doing it all with a nice cup of coffee (pictured left).

Check out local book clubs, you'll read great books and meet great people. After all, expanding your horizons is good and you owe it to yourself.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Book Review: The Lightning Thief

Every month I try to read at least one SF, one Fantasy, and one Horror novel, and even with the amount of books I read a month, I really don't have time to read all of the stuff I'd like to. Luckily for me, one of the benefits of having kids is that sometimes they can recommend some great stuff, and wow - am I glad I listened to my 12-year-old on this one.

The best Fantasy book I read this summer was by far "Percy Jackson and the Olympians #1: The Lightning Thief," by Rick Riordan (pictured, right). This book mixes together the best bits of the Harry Potter Series (kid out of their element, big scary adventure, magic) with Classic Greek myth (Huge powerful gods, searches for amazing artifacts) and a summer camp adventure story (cabins, activities, bullies and summer romances). Reading this book takes me back to my own favourite fantasy book when I was twelve, The Talisman, by Stephen King and Peter Straub.

Now I know lots of people are going to say that the Talisman is the superior book, and yes of course it is - it takes elements of Huck Finn and puts them together with one of the most emotional coming-of-age stories I have ever had the pleasure to read.

What I do mean is that the wonder, joy, and sheer "Damn, that's cool"-ness of The Lightning Thief takes me back to the feelings I had reading my favourite fantasy adventure series as a kid.

The book is the first in an ongoing series, and I am limiting myself to reading these books at the rate of one a month because I just really - REALLY - loved them. You get magic power, demigods, centaurs, harpies, Medusa and more in this series, and I haven't even talked about the gods themselves yet.

Basically, this book is just fantastic - I enjoyed it the whole way through and it passes my own personal book-judging test with flying colours:

1) would I buy it? - Yup.
2) would I recommend it to anyone? - definitely.

If you are looking for a great adventure read with a dash of Classical myth involved, look no further. I give this book my top recommendation. But I'd get a copy soon, because I just saw the trailer for the movie - and I think there will be a lot of demand for the book in the next few months.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Why I love Horror: The Early Years

Yesterday I wrote a post about something I definitely do NOT like in genre fiction, specifically horror, and it got me thinking - Why exactly do I, a 33-year-old husband and father, still have such a strong love for the genre?

Going back, I think it comes down to a few simple images from my childhood.

When I was three or four, I wandered downstairs late one night and walked in on my parents watching the Stephen King TV movie "Salem's Lot" and specifically the image of a little kid vampire floating outside of another kids window (pictured above). I was obviously shocked enough that my parents found me behind the couch and sent me back to bed, but that image still freaks me out today.

When I was 10 (and my sisters were a couple years younger), we were all baby-sat one night by a kid called Daniel who brought along a VHS copy of "The Terminator" Now I don't remember the whole movie from that night, but what I do remember is the scene in the hotel room where the terminator removes its human eye (pictured above), because our babysitter rewound that scene and re-watched it with us about a dozen times!

Like lots of young tweens, I loved having movie posters in my bedroom, and having only sisters I preferred horror movie posters, as kind of a "No Girl's Allowed" sign. As a twelve year old I had up Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees, and a the movie poster for John Carpenter's "Prince of Darkness."(pictured above) Even as a kid I had a need, a BIG need, to walk the walk - so if I had the poster, I needed to have seen the film; and sweet cheese and crackers Prince of Darkness is so scary it still works as a great heaping bowl of nightmare batter for me when I watch it.

These three early films (for me) may not have been even vaguely age-apropriate, but believe me, they got me very interested in what goes bump in the night, and what I would do if it wanted to bump into me or my friends.

As kind of a fun exercise, think back to the earliest things that made you love whatever it is you follow, whether we're talking Science Fiction, Soap Operas, or Comic books. You might find that by examining these things, you get a better hold on why you love what you love.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Thing's I've Noticed #4: Genre books only work if they play fair

So two months back I purchased a copy of Scott Smith's The Ruins and really hated it. At first I couldn't understand why, the critics liked it, lots of people bought it, heck, they even made a movie out of it, but something about it rubbed me the wrong way. It is huge in page count, but that wasn't it. No the problem with the book can be stated in three words:

"The Ruins" cheats.

You see, its villain (a sentient plant by the way) is internally inconsistent. Here's what I mean (I have to give some spoilers to make my point):

In the beginning
of the book, we are shown the villain is a man-eating plant. (Pictured to the left) Okay, I'll buy that.

Next we are shown that it can mimic sounds (it pretends to be a cell phone) to attract it's victims, so its a man-eating, sound-making plant, weird, but I'm reading a horror, what can I expect.

Then we are shown that it can mimic people's voices and it uses this ability to taunt its victims with stuff that other people have said in its presence, and it takes those sayings out of context so that the victim will become upset... Right, so it's a man-eating, sound-making, perfectly mimicking plant, which understands context and psychology. This is getting a little dodgy - and it's been done before.

But wait - this plant (located in Mexico by the way) actually calls a German man a Nazi at one point, taking the original phrase made by another victim both out of context and somehow understanding that this would be very upsetting, so it's a man-eating, context understanding, perfectly mimicing plant with a knowlege of world history of the last 50 years. (Pictured to the right)

This is when I threw the book across the room.

Look, I'm a University student - there are books I HAVE to read, so when I'm reading a book for pleasure, it has to be worth my time.

My opinion is this; Horror fiction, and by extension all genre fiction has to do one thing to keep the fans happy - be consistent. That's pretty much it, I mean, If the cover has a demon, robot, or unicorn your average genre fan will happily pick it up and give it a try, after all we like demons, and robots, and unicorns. Tell us your book is about something we like and we'll give it a shot.

But our willingness to accept these monsters or aliens or whatever basically ends there - Genre readers give the author all of our suspension of disbelief right at the premise. To keep the fans happy, the story had better follow its own rules, and with genre fiction you really have to tell us the rules in the first chapter if you want to keep us as fans. Sure you can add in plot elements later, but even if you add a massive twist, it has to have played fair or it won't be any good.

If I pick up a book about vampires - because I like vampires - and later on in the book you tell us that vampires stay out of the sunlight because they frickin shine - I will be pissed.

I love fantasy, horror and SF, but you can always tell the good books from the bad, because the good books play fair.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

You owe it to yourself #4: Author Reccomendations

In the summer of 1991 I was almost 15 years old, huge into horror movies, and loving the Dark Tower series by Stephen King. Junior High was behind me and High school was just a few weeks away. I was down to the last 10 pages of King's book The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands - and for those of you who haven't read it, this book has one of the biggest cliff-hangers I have ever come across, we're talking life or death, impending crashes on a massive scale and a riddle contest so thrilling it brings back echoes of Bilbo and Gollum under the Misty Mountains. It was at this point that I realized there were no more Stephen King books - I had literally read them all, and I had no idea what I was going to read next.

Everyone has a favourite author, and if you're anything like me you can probably relate to the unfortunate experience of catching up to them - that is, reading everything they have published up-to-date. At that point you can feel lost and don't really know where to get your next book from.

My suggestion - look to the authors themselves. Lots of authors mention other books inside their own fiction, and usually have one of their characters say something positive about them.

2 quick examples:

On page 1 of Robert A. Heinlein's "Have Space-Suit, Will Travel" the protagonist's father is reading a book called "Three Men in a Boat" by Jerome K. Jerome, a book so beloved by the character that he knows it by heart. (BTW - after reading "Three Men in a Boat" I can honestly say that this may be the funniest book I've read in the english language, I'm serious, don't read this book anywhere where laughing uncontrollably would be frowned upon.)

In Stephen King's book Lisey's Story, the protagonist's husband (A Science Fiction writer) raises a toast, "This ones for Alfie Bester, and if you haven't read him you should be ashamed!" King later states that the character's favourite novel is Besters "The Stars, My Destination." (This book currently sits in my top 10 SF novels of all time.)

We can all agree that authors are voracious readers. Therefore, it follows that just like anyone else who has read a good book, they like to recommend good books to their friends. Keep that in mind the next time you come across a book title in whatever book you are reading - the author didn't put that title in randomly.

If you don't want to go through all the trouble of keeping track of which books your authors mention in their own works, let the Internet do the heavy lifting for you and go to the website Fantastic Fiction. Enter your favourite author in the "Search Authors" box and when you get to their page, scroll down to the [Your Author] Recommends section to get a list of at least 10 books they have said good things about.

Your authors' almost all want to share their favourite books with you, and if you like their stuff, you will probably like what they recommend. Give it a try, after all, if you're really a fan, you owe it to yourself.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Bookmonkey's top 5 books in a Post-apocalyptic setting

Last week I took a look at Guillermo Del Toro's The Strain, a 2009 horror novel focusing on the beginnings of a vampire apocalypse and stated that the Post-apocalyptic sub-genre is one of my personal favourites. So now I guess it's proper Internet etiquette to hold up my top choices for you to compare and judge (be gentle!).

So here we go:

5. The Stand, by Stephen King
My own personal first taste in the sub-genre, this massive story (over 1000 pages - yes I know I was all on about how giant books like this are the death of genre fiction, but come on - It's The Freaking Stand!), did a lot for me, it made sure I take getting the flu seriously, ensured I would be law abiding - nothing would be worse than being trapped in a jail cell when everyone else died, and heightened my already healthy fear of underground tunnels. For those of you who don't know, Marvel is doing a great adaptation of this series, it's totally worth a look.

4. I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson
To be fair I liked the movie (more than Omega Man, and not quite as much as The Last Man on Earth), but the best part of the book comes down to two words - Ben Cortman. Ben is a former friend and neighbour of the protagonist, Robert Neville and spends most of the novel being a HUGE thorn in his side, as Robert spends most of his days hunting for his former friend/Vampire nemesis. Unlike the 2007 film, the vampires in the book are sentient, smart and still have all their human memories.

3. Swan Song, by Robert R. McCammon
For those of you unfamiliar with Mr. McCammon's work, I would actually suggest starting with Boy's Life (a winner of the World Fantasy Award), but if you want some great post-nuclear disaster, good versus evil, hint of magic type stuff, than this book is definitely for you.

2. The City and the Stars, by Arthur C. Clarke
Probably the only pure SF book on the list, This story takes place when a city of people who have survived generations after an apocalypse and are basically immortal, bring to life a young clone (they are all clones) who has the drive to go outside of the city, and what he finds out there changes the world forever.

1. Earth Abides, by George Stewart
This book probably deserves its own review (coming soon), but it is hands down my favourite SF book of the '40s (sorry 1984), and definately my favourite post-apocalyptic book period. It starts by following the life of a Berkeley graduate named Isherwood (Ish for short) Williams, just after WWII, follows him through the apocalypse (a plauge like in The Stand) and then continues to follow his life for the next 4o years in the post-apocalyptic world! Books that follow people through an apocalypse probably make up 80% of the sub-genre, books that take place generations after the apocalypse make up 15% of the sub-genre, but a book that takes the long view definately stands out on its own. Put simply - buy this book.

Now I know I've missed tonnes of peoples favourites in this sub-genre, but believe me, this category is one of my fav's - I could do a top five comics, top five young adult books, top five of classics, the '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, and that doesn't even touch movies, TV series or Anime. I'm just talking novels and even with a category this narrow I had to think long and hard about which books would make the cut.

Honourable mention: Children of Men, The Long Tomorrow, A Canticle for Liebowitz, The Handmaid's Tale (I am Canadian after all) - I'm sorry, I'll stop now.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Not sure how I feel about the new "Book of Blood" Movie

I just saw the trailer for the new film Book of Blood, based of the short story by Clive Barker and I'm not exactly sure how I feel about it.

First off - I love Clive Barkers books, I own all of them and I even bought the six-part short story that came with all the nasty looking toys from MacFarlane Toys (story was worth it (totally keeping that) - but the toys are in a box in my basement somewhere - any offers?)

Although some of his movies are hit and miss - Loved Nightbreed (probably because it takes place in my home province of Alberta, Canada), Liked The Lord of Illusions, and was steadily disappointed by the Hellraiser series. I have heard great things about The Midnight Meat Train, and have it on my Ziplist.

Anyway, I found the trailer for this upcomming movie and here are the pros and cons as I see them.

- Starring Jonas Armstrong (Pictured right) - loved him in the BBC Series Robin Hood

- Directed by John Harrison - who worked on the Dune Mini-series for the SciFi Channel and directed one of my favourite episodes of Kindred: the Embraced.

Con - actually only the one
-The story the film is based on is a framing story for the six-book series The Books of Blood; basically it shows us where all these great stories come from, and gives the collection of short stories a starting and ending point. Even if you take the final story in the series and add them together, you get a page count of 15 pages!

So there you have it - I like the director's work, the lead actor's work, and the story the film is based on, but how do you make even a 90 minute film based on 15 pages of prose?

and let me know what you think.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Things I've Noticed #3: Following your favourite comic-book author may bankrupt you

A quick look at my history with comics in a convenient timeline:

Ages 4 – 10, (1980-1986): I’m pretty much limited to Archie comics

Ages 11 – 13 (1987 - 1989): My own personal Dark Ages - I only read a few scattered X-Men I found in friends basements, dentists offices, etc.

Age 14 (August 1990): Wandering into my local comic book / used book store I came across Sandman #18 (Dream of a Thousand Cats). I had a couple extra bucks and the Dave McKean cover artwork totally grabbed me so I went for it, and I've never looked back since.

Since then I’ve been a big purchaser of series, mostly collections in trade paperbacks as I don’t have the patience to wait month by month for my stories to finish.

My problem with comics actually came a few years back. Basically I had my favourite three series (Sandman, Swamp Thing, Transmetropolitan) and was looking for a fourth. As I had followed Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore into their other works I decided to give Warren Ellis a try.

I looked him up in my library and found they had two books of his, Planetary and The Authority. As Planetary was pretty much stand alone I started there – it was awesome. The libraries copy of the Authority was stolen, lost or damaged before I could give it a look, so I headed off to my local comic book store, where I was told it actually was a continuation of a previous comic of Ellis’ called Stormwatch. Figuring I should probably read Stormwatch before I started the Authority, I decided to look into purchasing the previous 8 years worth of comics (I attempted this in 2001).

Two weeks of research later and here was the problem in a nutshell:

1) I wanted to read more Warren Ellis, so

2) I wanted to give The Authority a try, but

3) The Authority was made up, principally of surviving members of Stormwatch, and

4) Ellis only started writing Stormwatch at issue 37.

5) Before that, the title was written by Ron Marz, who spent a great deal of time tying it in with James Robinsons WildC.A.T.S., to the point where I would need to read WildC.A.T.S. to understand the earlier run of Stormwatch

6) and I didn’t have the three bazillion dollars needed to purchase all these old titles

So there you have it. It’s now been almost 8 years since I decided that maybe reading The Authority would be cool and I haven’t done a thing. I’m scared that in the incredibly complicated tie-in, crossover, dingo-crazy world of comic books that I will end up obligating myself into purchasing more comics than my house can physically hold.

Instead, I’ll call it a day, and go back to my dependable, never-charnging, you can always count on me classic: Archie.


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

You owe it to yourself #3: Award Winners

All my life I've watched movies - tons of them. So when I got a job at a video store at the age of 20 I got to watch eight hours of them a night, five nights a week, for almost a year.If you asked my twenty-year-old self if I was a movie buff, the answer would definitely have been yes. But unfortunately, I had a secret shame; even though I had seen hundreds of movies, there were some large gaps in my repertoire.

I had never seen Rocky - Rocky II, III, IV, yes, but never the original.

I had never seen Cassablanca.

And yes, to my incredible shame as a young man in Canada, I had never seen Porky's (which by the way was the top grossing Canadian film from 1982 to 2006). For those of you in the States, this is like saying I had never seen Revenge of the Nerds, which as we all know, for a guy who grew up in the '80s, is entirely unacceptable.

So one day I went online and found a list of all the movies that had ever won a Best Picture Oscar, and over the course of 2 years, watched them all. (It actually was my wife who ensured that I watched Porky's - thanks Hon). And you know what - in addition to seeing a lot of really great movies, I started getting a LOT more of the jokes in episodes of The Simpsons.

Inspired by my success, I then decided to try the same thing with my reading, and found genre books have awards too!

For Fantasy books - The World Fantasy Awards (since 1975)

For Horror - The Bram Stoker Awards (since 1987)

For Science Fiction - The Hugo Awards (since 1955)

Although I'm completely up-to-date with the Bram Stoker awards, I'm still working my way through the Hugo's and the World Fantasy's, and let me tell you this - these books let you check out the classics, the innovative, and the current best books in these three genres. And for those of you who aren't into any of these, there are awards for westerns, romances, and even literature out there as well, just waiting for you to check them out.

If you visit these award websites you are going to find one of three things. 1) You've already read all the winners, and deserve to treat yourself to some cake! 2) You've read a bunch of the winners and now have a list of other books to check out, or 3) You've read none of these books, and believe me, an awards list is a great place to start.

Take the time to read the award winners, even if they are just a popularity contest, you owe it to yourself to be familiar with the big books in the genres you love.