Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Genre Character of the week: Scott Pilgrim

First off, I have to admit my biases - I'm Canadian, I enjoy reading manga, and references to video games and role playing games make me very happy. I actually only got into this comic series earlier this year, but it is fast becoming one of my favourites. The main reason for this is definitely the main character, and my genre character of the week, Scott Pilgrim.

Here's the basic run down of Scott, he's 24 (at the start of the series), lives in Toronto, Canada with (or you might say off of) his room-mate Wallace, is the basist for a band called Sex Bob-omb, and has just met the girl of his dreams. The only problem, Ramona (the girl in question), has seven ex-boyfriends, each of which want to kill Scott and will fight him one-on-one in a series of martial arts battles.

The things that blows me away most about this crazy series, is how real it feels. Scott begins the series by dating a girl he really isn't into when Ramona comes along and his break up scene with his current girlfriend is pretty painful. The idea of dating a girl whose past won't stay in her past is pretty easy to relate to for most people, and Scott's past does not exactly stay where it should either.

What I admire most about Scott is that he's trying. I like a guy who is putting effort into himself and is attempting to be better. Scott is a definite slacker, though, so it is a work in progress, luckily he does have a great number of friends (pictured right) who are there to help him out.

A film version of the comic series is due out in August of 2010, so if you haven't checked out this great series by Bryan Lee O'Malley, give it a look, it is pretty awesome.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Top Five books I want to read in 2010

As New Years is just around the corner, this is usually the time of year when I start to think of things I'd like to get done in the next year. 2010 for me will likely include doing some more University courses, hopefully writing some more stories and hopefully dropping more than a few pounds.

The resolutions I would like to talk about here however, are the book I will definitely want to be reading at some point in the next year, and as I usually read more than a hundred a year, I think I'll just stick to my top 5.

Bookmonkey's top five books to read in 2010

5. The Fall: Strain Trilogy #2, by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan
One of my very first blog posts was about the first book in this trilogy, wherein Vampires began their plan to take over the world, and a few dedicated humans did everything they could to stop it. The sequel comes out in May, and even though I'll have to wait until February 2011 to finish the trilogy, I will be reading this book as soon as I can. (Sorry - couldn't find an image of the cover!)

4. Fury on Sunday, by Richard Matheson
Over the years I've read a number of books by Richard Matheson, Hell House, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Somewhere in Time, and I am Legend. This guy can really get under your skin. This year I'm going to try my best to read all of his books in publishing order. That starts with a 1953 novel I may have a lot of trouble finding, but as I love this guys books, I'm really gonna give it my best try.

3. The Glass Teat, by Harlan Ellison
As I'm working towards getting a Bachelors degree in Professional Arts, majoring in Communicates Studies (TV, Movies, Internet, etc.), sometimes I'll hear of a book that both interests me personally and might give me good arguments for upcoming university courses. Ellison's book, a non-fiction look at America's dependence on Television written back in the 1970s, appears to be just this kind of book.

2. Queen & Country, by Greg Rucka
I started reading these graphic novels from my public library a few years ago and loved them, basically they follow British MI-6 and specifically a spy named Tara Chase. The writing was tense, sometimes brutal, and felt totally real. Unfortunately for me me, the library had only the first 5 collections so I had to wait. But for Christmas this year I got all 4 Definitive Edition of the series, which means I finally get to finish this incredible series.

1. Paradise Lost, by John Milton
Every year I try to read something that is not only good, but good for me as well. Last year it was The Iliad of Homer, this year, I'm going to attempt Paradise Lost. It's kind of funny as a big part of why I am reading this book is the fact that I've had a novel called To Reign in Hell sitting on my "To be Read" shelf for the last couple of years, and it is a modern retelling of this classic. I'm doing the same thing with Dan Simmon's Hyperion and the Canterbury Tales, but I think that that book will have to wait for 2011.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas from Bookmonkey

Hello everyone,

Just wanted to wish you all happy holidays and hope you're reading or watching some great stuff this year - if it's really great, let me know!

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

In defense of Avatar

Normally I would be doing a character of the week right now, but as I saw Avatar last night and then read or watched all kinds of negative reviews on it today, I thought I would give my opinion of the film.

Many of the reviews basically saw that although the film has some stunning visuals, it's story is derivative of films ranging from Dances with Wolves to Ferngully (which is entirely true by the way). In my opinion however, this misses the point.

The point of a story is to bring the audience in and keep them engaged, something that for me and my twelve-year-old daughter, Avatar definitely succeeded in.

Deciding whether or not a film has value in the big picture is tricky. Watching the film I definitely saw many aspects of earlier SF films that I had seen as a kid, but the thing I try to keep in mind is that films like Avatar are the ones that SF writers 20 years from now will have seen in their youth. People say this film doesn't say anything new, but they forget that to take into account that it is speaking to a new generation of fans.

In the end, I found the film a good way to pass an afternoon, but for my daughter, it said some new things, and it will be these kids, who in 10 years will really be able to tell us if the film was a classic or not.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Book Review: Nor Crystal Tears

Today has been a pretty big SF day for me, I started the day by watching the newest Doctor Who special: The Waters of Mars (excellent), followed it up this afternoon by watching the Spanish time-travel thriller Timecrimes (intriguing) and now I'm reviewing one of my favourite SF novels focusing on first contact between alien species - Nor Crystal Tears, by Alan Dean Foster.

A big part of what I love about this book is the fact that the main character, Ryo (an insectoid alien called a Thranx), is going through the process of handling a first contact situation with humans, so we get to see ourselves through the eyes of others. There is a similar feel in the William Golding novel The Inheritors (Neanderthal meeting Cro-magnum), and in Hal Clement's Mission of Gravity (tiny little caterpillar-like aliens doing a rescue mission for humans), but this book gives us half of the novel with just the aliens before the humans even appear.

The main character is an agricultural expert who is thrust into the situation involving first contact with a new and bizarre race, and although he is basically a giant Preying Mantis, I actually find him quite relatable. With the trend inn SF focusing on darker and more gritty stories, the simplicity and wonder involved in this story are like a breath of fresh air for me.

Alan Dean Foster (pictured right) has for me, mostly been the guy who wrote the novelization of many of my favourite films (Alien, Star Trek, Tranformers) so I was a little nervous when I first came across this story, but honestly, I can't think of a better way to take a look at ourselves as a species than through the eyes of a very remarkable alien.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Thing's I've Noticed: Used Book Store shopping is an art

Like many men, I shop in a hunting style. I am not very good at all when it comes to browsing through a store and gathering what I need. I like to know what I'm shopping for, and then like a hunter I slip in at the best time (usually right after the store opens), head directly for my target and scoop it up. I tend to stay away from stores like Winners and Costco due to their constantly shifting merchandise - sometimes I can get overwhelmed in such a store and then the hunter can become the hunted (pictured above), and instead of leaving the store with the simple item I wanted, I end up leaving with bags and bags of stuff I might need.

This is infinitely worse at Used Book Stores.

As a huge fan of genre books, Used books stores (pictured right) carry a big threat for me and my wallet. I can easily spend hours looking through a store in case an item was shelved strangely. The horror novel I'm looking for could be listed under Horror, Thriller, Authors, Staff Picks, or sometimes Movie Tie-Ins.

Therefore, like I do with many things in my life, I prepare ahead. Here is my simple 5 step strategy for Used Book Store shopping.

1. Make a list
Considering how easy it is to add books to your to be read pile, it is a good idea to keep a list in your wallet of all the used books you would immediately purchase if discovered. I have a list of about 20 books that fall into this category. BTW I've checked to make sure that my public library doesn't have them, because that may save me a few bucks in the long run.

2. Have a budget
Knowing exactly how much you are willing to spend on a trip makes a huge difference. If I know that I'll only be spending $40 (the cost of a new hardcover), I will be less likely to go crazy and come home with multiple shopping bags full of books (why yes, I have been watching Hoarders on A&E, how did you know?)

3. Go on a regular schedule
In my home town we have about half a dozen really good Used Book Stores to shop in, and thankfully (for me) most of them are not within walking distance of my house. I tend to spend a day going through the various used books stores about once every three months. This allows the stores to change their product from the last time I was in and gives me time to read all the books I purchased between trips.

4. Remember to check in unexpected places
When it comes to finding your book, you have to remember that the staff in the store are only human and unless the cover of the book has a well known author, or an obvious genre image (Robot for SF, Unicorn for Fantasy, or Possessed person for Horror), the book may get misplaced. Also keep in mind that if you ask the staff, they may have boxes of books in the back that they might let you check out.

5. Go with a friend
The single greatest piece of advice I can give is to do your used book shopping with a friend, preferably a friend who is also into reading. This gives you a chance to hang out for a day, and effectively gives both of you a spotter in case the other is going a little crazy with purchases. For the last couple years I've gone with my BFF Mike, and in addition to getting a lot of book shopping done (6 or more stores in 1 day), it is a great way to see what kind of things your friend is into lately.

There you have it, my suggestions on how to make the most of a shopping trip to the Used Book Store. If you have any great tips that you think might help me, feel free to let me know, I'm always looking to improve my technique.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Genre Character of the Week: Chris Romero

One of my favourite things about blogging is getting to meet and read so many other great bloggers out there, because when you start finding people with similar interests, you get pointed to movies and books you might never have seen before. Case in point, Night of the Creeps, a 1986 horror/comedy that I had never heard of before, and then was pointed to by Paul Castiglia (who writes the classic horror/comedy blog Scared Silly) and BJ-C (who writes a feminist view of horror blog called Day of the Woman). Thanks very much to both of them I have just enjoyed an incredibly fun film and have found this weeks Genre Character, Chris Romero.

When the film was first brought up to me, it was described as the closest thing you will ever see to Archie and Jughead in a horror film. Our main character Chris is a guy who is still getting over a break up with his high school sweetheart and then sees Cindy. His best friend A.C. (pictured right with Chris) introduces them and it looks like these two cute kids are gonna hit it off.

Unfortunately, first they'll have to deal with a host of zombies, and space slugs, and a serial killer. What I really like about Chris is his ability to freak out like anyone would under these horrible conditions and then he gets the job done anyway. The end of the film is probably one of the coolest zombie stand-offs I have ever seen and along with Cindy (pictured left), Chris really gives it his all.

I love this guy, he comes across as someone you'd really like to get to know, and if alien-infested zombies ever do come calling, you will definitely wish you could have spent some time with this guy.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Bookmonkey's Top 5 Holiday Stories

I'm sure everyone has them, holiday books, movies or TV shows that come out each December. As a kid I can remember re-reading The Night Before Christmas every year around Christmas. It was a simple poem that got me excited for Christmas morning and after a few years of reading it around this time of year it became a habit for my entire childhood.

These days, I've still got a few fun Christmas treats that make their way onto my shelf each year, but they have definitely gone beyond the classics.

Bookmonkey's top five Genre stories for Christmas

For my first seasonal story, I like re-reading Neil Gaiman's 100 word poem, Nicholas Was. Like many of my favourite stories, it takes a common concept (Santa Claus), and shows it to you in a different way; a horrible, horrible way. I actually found this as a christmas card a few years back and sent it to many friends - some of whom still talk to me at Christmas.

I'm a pretty big fan of the Angry Video Game Nerd, so last year when I was working my way though his videos I came across this bizarre little gem, wherein he teams up with Captain S to save Christmas, I had to check it out. If you haven't heard of Captain S, start watching the series now! It is incredibly fun, and for those Sega Genesis fans out there, it is simply awesome. You can see the Christmas video here (just scroll down to the 5th video).

I've been showing this movie to my kids since there were toddlers as a Christmas movie. It's great fun and if you have an edition that contains them, check out Tim Burton's Frankenweenie and (my personal favourite) Vincent, after you watch this freaky, but funny holiday flick.

Every year my wife and I attempt to do all of our Christmas shopping before the end of November, why? Because we hate the non-stop Christmas music you are constantly attacked with at every store in December. When I first watched the Nostalgia Chick's (pictured right) video on these songs I couldn't stop laughing. I love the way that this video focuses on the frightening and creepy side of these holiday classics.
This is actually a John Constantine: Hellblazer, comic (Issue 27), that takes a deeply scary concept - a ghost which whispers "Hold me" and then sucks the warmth (and life) out of its victims, and a full-time a**hole (John Constantine), and brings them together in what ends up, for me, to be a story that says everything that the holiday season should be about.

So there you have it, five quick views or reads that help put me in the holiday spirit!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Things I've Noticed: Non-Traditional Superhero Stories are becoming my favourites

One of the best things about Superhero stories is that they have rules. The traditional European story tends to follow folklore; A young boy is granted magical powers and must rise to be a hero (Spider-man or King Arthur), If you follow the classic American story, a town is in trouble, a stranger arrives and fixes it, and then leaves (Superman, Incredible Hulk). The best part of having these rules is that now different writers can play with them and tell us stories in ways we haven't thought of before.

Today I'm going to look at five of my favourite Superhero stores that play with the rules a little and tell some very compelling stories. Since they are all great, I'm just going to list them in alphabetical order.

1. 52
As this is my 52nd post, I wanted to write about one of my favourite comic series of the last few years, 52. The comic, written by Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka and Mark Waid, followed the DC universe for the period of a year without relying on any of its big three heroes (Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman) and doing by releasing a new issue each week (52 issues). It focused on B-level heroes and at the same time really made you care about them. When people ask me where to start with DC comics, this is definitely it.

One of the hardest parts of getting into Superhero comics is that there is so much back story you need to know, it can become overwhelming (I definitely found this out myself a while back). So when a new series, set in an entirely new world comes about, it kind of feels like a breath of fresh air. Astro City actually follows the lives of heroes, villains and normal folks in a city not unlike New York in the Marvel Universe (which houses everyone from the Fantastic Four to the Punisher). Author Kurt Busiek has chosen to follow a location rather than a team or a specific hero, and in doing so, has brought us a comic series that paints a far clearer picture of a world populated by Superheroes.

Joseph Torchia's novel follows a pretty simple structure; a young boy whose life and family are in trouble, tries to make sense of his life by writing to his hero Superman. This novel is really good at showing the relation between readers and comics and how they can help in very difficult times. A warning though, bring some Kleenex, this book is heartbreaking.

Recently I was emailing a friend who was explaining to me that:

"I've read a lot of novels and graphic novels in which the origin story of the superhero is regurgitated for the umpteenth time"

and just how frustrating that can be for the reader. In my opinion, if you want to see an origin story, rather than going for one that focuses on a well-known hero, you should look at one that focuses on the origin itself. In my opinion, M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable was exactly this. A very simple and quiet origin story for a Superhero. Also the fact that it didn't have a sequel added to its impact. Although the massive amount of origin stories out there can get tiring, this one is probably the purist example of an origin story I can recommend.

This anthology series of mosaic novels (wherein many authors get together to tell one story) is one of my personal favourites when it comes to Superheroes. The format is intriguing, as the stories don't have the pictures you would get in a standard comic book. The feel is very similar to the back-story of Watchmen, wherein you follow a number of characters through an alternate history to our own. Oh yeah, and the sex and violence levels are pretty high (which really appealed to me when I started reading these books at age 15). Like all anthologies, some of the stories are better than others, but overall this series of books is definitely worth the look.

So there you have it, five Superhero stories that play with the format a little, and are all the better for it.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Genre Character of the Week: Jim Profit

For me, a favourite character of the week usually means a pretty decent guy, someone you'd have a coffee with, or would turn to in a crisis. This week's character however, is someone you could not pay me to come into contact with, Jim Profit.

Airing on Fox back in 1996, the television series Profit tried to do something pretty unique for TV - have the bad guy as our main character. Now I know, if you go into soap operas, this had been used before, but the character of Jim Profit is so awful, so crazy, that he basically blows all previous attempts of bad guy protagonists on TV out of the water.

The shows premise in a nutshell; At a multinational corporation called Gracen and Gracen, a newly hired executive, Jim Profit, is not all he seems. Jim wants to be the power behind the throne at the company and he will do anything (murder, blackmail, his Stepmother!?!) to achieve his dreams. The character addresses the audience directly, explaining his plans and we watch them unfold while the companies security chief, Joanne Meltzer (pictured with Profit), tries to figure out the mystery behind this compelling, yet terrifying man.

The show really confused audiences at the time, who not feeling comfortable with rooting for the bad guy, found other things to watch. Lasting only 8 episodes, Profit was, for me, one of the most compelling shows on television at the time. It borrowed a lot from Shakespeare - in fact it was originally conceived as a Richard III in the corporate world, it's main character was willing to do anything for his goals, and some of my favourite shows of the 2000s (Deadwood and Dexter to name the most obvious ones) are very similar in concept or tone.

Jim Profit was terrifying, engrossing and just damaged enough to leave you wanting more. If you haven't seen the show, check it out, you won't be disappointed.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Book Review: Superfolks

One of the reasons I love reading Introductions to books is that often they will point me to other books I've never heard of before. Case in Point, Astro City: Confession, by Kurt Busiek. The introduction is done by Neil Gaiman and in it, he points out a number books which focus on super-heroes but come at them from a different direction. It was in this introduction that I first heard of Superfolks by Robert Mayer.

Basically, I would describe this book as an R-Rated version of The Incredibles. The main character, David Brinkley, is a retired Superman-type character who lost his powers ages ago but now is beginning to be able to use them again. The novel does go a lot into the sexuality of super-heroes, a topic many fans speculate on, but writers (especially before this book came out) didn't really touch on. Overall the book is really, really funny, I love the action sequences and you really get a good understanding of the main character, a man who has grown up, started his own family, and is suddenly offered the chance to re-live his boyhood dream.

The book was written in 1977, and any familiarity you have with that decade, and the state of pop culture back then will help you with the enjoyment of the book. You don't need to know everything about the era to understand the story, but you may miss certain references or in-jokes if you don't.

Robert Mayer (pictured in 1977 to the right), is actually a journalist and Superfolks was his first novel. I haven't found any of the other 7 books he's written to date, I found Superfolks in my local comic book store, but I am definitely looking, as his first book was so good. It's not for kids, but a more grown up audience will really love it.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Things I've Noticed: Advice on exploring

Back in 2008 I found the Angry Video Game Nerd's review of the old Friday the 13th Game for the 8-Bit Nintendo. As a kid I had played and hated this bizarre little game so I was happy to see someone had put it to good use. Checking out the rest of the Nerd's videos I came across the Feud with the Nostalgia Critic and that brought me to one of my current favourite websites,

Like most people, I enjoy sharing the funny stuff I find online, but, like most other people in the library professions, I try to help people in the most effective way I can. I'm going to assume that a new person coming to the site will begin with the Nostaliga Critic Reviews, the Bum Reviews, and the Ask That Guy with the Glasses videos. Which videos should a person go to after that? Here are my suggestions.

Bookmonkey's advice on exploring

There are so many great reviewers on this site it is easy to become overwhelmed. At the rate of 3 or 4 videos a week over the last 2 years there are still reviewers I've only managed to see in one or two videos so far. When I'm asked by friends where to start however, it is almost always with one of these five reviews.

1. The Nostalgia Chick's review of She-Ra: Princess of Power
Like the rest of the reviews listed here, this is not the Nostalgia Chick's first review, but I think for a person new to the site, having seen the Nostalgia Critic's review of Masters of the Universe, this videos is simply comic gold focusing on fandom from a girls point of view, plus her shock at all the homo-erotic material in this kids movie was priceless.

2. Linkara's review of Superman at Earth's End
The reasons for my suggestion of this video are pretty simple, a) you actually see a "bad comic burn," b) You see the beginning of the "I AM A MAN!!!" bit, and c) I laughed so hard during this video I may have passed out for a minute.

3. Spoony's review of Yor the Hunter from the Future
The things about this video is that even though Spoony is quite well known for his Video Game reviews (my current favourite is FMV Hell: Make my Video), I love the fact that he reviewed this, because as a kid I was exposed to Yor, yes people, I am Bookmonkey, and a childhood survivor of Yor the Hunter from the future. This is a great place to start checking out Spoony's reviews.

4. Lee's review of Arcana Heart
Lee is probably my personal favourite reviewer from the site at the moment, simply because I love the genius behind the format of his videos, still photographs and an audio track. Very simple, definitely leaving me wanting more, and really, really funny. Arcana Heart was the first video of his I saw that went beyond the basic review format and had costuming and a skit aspect - very cool.

5. Little Miss Gamer's Review of Missile Command
Almost more like a television show, Little Miss Gamer tends to start with a skit and then move into the review proper. I actually found her by following the Angry Video Game Nerd, as I watched his Christmas Crossover video with Captain S and then started checking out the other videos available through PBC-Productions.

I cannot stress enough that these are just the tip of the iceberg on the site, I love so many of the reviews there I could go on for ages. If you want to start exploring the site past the main content however, I think all five of these videos are a great place to start.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Genre Character of the Week: Andrew "Ender" Wiggin

Compared to most of my SF-loving friends growing up, I got on the Ender's Game train very late. While they were going on and on about how awesome Orson Scott Card's books were with little kids being used by the military to become super soldiers, my personal favourite SF at the time was Ray Bradbury or maybe Phillip K. Dick. A few years ago (I was 31) I finally decided to give the book a try, and now I can definitely count Andrew "Ender" Wiggin as one of my favourite characters of Genre fiction.

Like Miles Vorkosigan, Ender is the type of character who grows over the course of his series, as well as making some significant career changes along the way. I've only read the first four books of this 12 book series, but the later books appear to be following Ender's story from a different point of view, so I feel pretty confident that I've got a good hold on what the character is like.

Ender's journey begins at age six, where we witness him brutally attacking a schoolyard bully. His internal logic simply dictates that this is the best defense he has against such an attacker. Soon after he is picked up by the military and his training begins. The first book feels a lot like the opening training montage in 300 mixed with the film Real Genius, where we get to witness the child becoming the military genius he appears destined to become. The end of the book takes a pretty interesting twist however (even though most of you have probably read it, I'll try to stay away from spoilers) and the later books move in an entirely different direction.

I think the character of Ender actually has a lot to offer in a role-model capacity. He is, at heart, a problem sovler, and in later books when those problems stop being military ones he literally changes entire civilizations with his ideas. You can't really ask for a better role model than that.