Sunday, February 28, 2010

Book Review: The Wanderer

One of my favourite sub-genres of the Action movie is the disaster movie, from classics like The Towering Inferno to interesting twists like Airplane! and giant special effects bonanzas like last years 2012, I sure love a story that follows a bunch of people and then blows up whatever vehicle, building or planet they are on.

Last week I read The Wanderer, a 1964 novel by Fritz Leiber which followed people around the globe as they react to the sudden appearance of a new planet orbiting the Earth just beyond the Moon.

The novel works in the same style as most of these films, wherein you cycle through a number of protagonists and see how each of them reacts to the horrible event going on. The main character of The Wanderer is a scientist named Paul Hobart who gets the most answers as to what is actually going behind the events of the novel.

I enjoyed the descriptions of the damage that hit our planets shores in super-tides due to another body in our orbit as well as the way that people on the other side of the world tended to write off the reports of people who can see the planet as mass hysteria.

My favourite Leiber novel is definitely Conjure Wife, which I dedicated a post to before, and after that the Farfhd and the Gray Mouser series. Although The Wanderer doesn't knock any of those books out of place, it was a fun SF read and I'd recommend it to anyone with an interest in classic SF.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Things I've Noticed: My magazines are starting to stack up

Like lots of people, I collect a magazine or two a month, some with a high degree of regularity and others if the cover seems interesting or there is an article I'd like to check out. Usually I save my magazines for the end of the month - after I've read whatever novels I had planned and before the next month begins. At six novels a month this gives me somewhere between a week or two to catch up on my magazines.

Over the last year however I've started to fall behind - as a full time husband, dad, library technician and part time university student and blogger, my unread magazines currently go back to November '08. Since October of last year I've been a little more aware of my piles of unread magazines due to the fact I watch the show Hoarders on A&E with my wife.

So here is a quick break down of the magazines of Bookmonkey, and my (hopeful) plan to get caught up with them by July.

I started collecting Men's Health back in the summer of '08 - at the time I checked out both it and Men's Fitness, but this title seemed to be a little more focused on lots of aspects of men's health overall, and not just how to get more ripped - I'm in my early thirties - ripped is a younger man's game, my goal is to be in good enough shape to do the things I like to do now for the rest of my life.

This Canadian magazine focuses on the outdoors; backpacking, camping, canoeing, hiking, etc. I bought my first one due to the cover article - 100 things you must do before you die, (I'm at about 18 right now) I liked the fact that the majority of the list was things you could do in Canada, as well as things a regular fellow could do. Following the list I've howled with wolves, gone caving and read more by Farley Mowat - all very fun stuff.

Part of what I love about Realms of Fantasy is the short stories - they can be clever, frightening, and wondrous, and right now the idea of getting a story into this magazine is a really fun dream of mine (in the past I've sent off a couple stories to my local genre fiction magazine - hoping to work up to this one). Also I love the reviews and updates regarding Fantasy Books, Movies, TV and Video Games.

As my local magazine stores don't stock this title, I only pick it up when I'm in my cities magazine store, which works out to once or twice a year. The stories in this horror magazine are really good, and I'm a huge fan of the book reviews. Although I'm big into horror, it's not so much the gore side, so Fangoria just doesn't do it for me. Cemetary Dance, on the other hand, has lead me to some great new favourite authors.

5. Various / Comics
The Final group of magazines I have are singe issues of something where the cover caught my eyes (a couple issues of Vanity Fair) or comics (both in single issue or trade paperbacks). Due to the speed with which I can read a comic, they tend to wait until I'm done my monthly reading before I start with them - up next, I'm reading my BFF Mike's collection of She-Hulk comics.

So, in the end how do I get through these? Especially without taking time away from my other priorities? I think I'll work on the "article a day" theory, I'll take my oldest magazine, and check out an article every day - this works out to about 10 pages - for some magazines, Men's Health, for example, I'll just stick to ten pages a day, as their articles are one or two pagers mostly. Taking a quick stock, I've currently got about 30 magazines waiting to be read, with at the very least a new Explore being added every month (my wife got me a subscription). After they are done, I keep personal favourites, but donate the others to local non-profit agencies, so other people can enjoy them and my house doesn't start to look like a crazy persons.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Genre Character of the Week: Paul Blart

One of the fun perks about being a parent is getting to show your kids the books, movies and TV shows you loved growing up. Over the years I've shown my kids the classic Star Trek series, the classic Universal Monster Movies (Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man) and lots more. The only problem arrives when you have a favourite film that is not for kids. For me, that movie is Die Hard, which is probably one of my favourite Christmas movies of all time - Unfortunately, as my youngest kid is 12 I can't show her that movie yet. Luckily there is a solution, a little film called Paul Blart: Mall Cop.

Paul is a pretty straightforward character; a single dad living with his daughter and his mother. Paul comes across as a mild mannered guy who hopes to one day become a State Trooper -but as that hasn't panned out for him yet, he is a security guard at his local mall. Past that, he doesn't handle alcohol well and has a crush on a local sales girl, Amy.

What I love about Paul as a character is simple, when the mall is taken over by clever thieves, he finds a way to fight back. Rather than being a tough-as-nails cop like Bruce Willis in Die Hard, Paul is an overweight teddy bear of a man, with little to no training as far as things go, who puts it all on the line to defend his mall. What I love best about him however, is the fact that while gathering weapons to defend the mall, he stops at a gift card shop.
Kevin James (pictured above) is really good in this role, you spend the film feeling alternately sorry and hopeful for the character, and considering it will be a few more years before I can show my 12-year-old Die Hard, this is a wonderful family friendly version I can show her now.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Top Five Underrated Genre Gems pt. 2

Back in November I wrote about five genre films that may not have been box office smashes, but definitely deserved a second look. Today I'm going to continue the list into genre flicks you might not have got around to, but should seek out if you have the time or interest.

So here we go - Bookmonkey's next top five overlooked genre gems (including a couple TV shows):

This Canadian Fantasy series asks a very simple question, if you could go back in time and change any regrets in your own life - what would you change? The story follows a 32-year-old Canadian girl named Erica Strange who has in many ways hit a massive wall in her life, professionally, personally, emotionally, you name it. Then one day she meets a therapist called Dr. Tom who takes her on as a client and begins the process of changing her life, one regret at a time. This show hit all the marks for me as Erica is my age and from my country, so all of the music, hair styles and events from her past were things I could remember myself. The show is at turns funny and heart breaking, and if you haven't seen it yet, go check it out.

If, like me you've just spent the last few months watching Heroes vs. the Carnival, you may feel burned out on the idea of Carnival-folk with special powers. Let me say, however, that HBO's Carnivale is very different; set in the Great Depression, the show follows two men, a farm boy and a preacher who are destined to fight for the fate of the world's magic, both light and dark - the interesting thing is, the show does a great job of not exactly pinning down which guy is good, and which is evil.

I'm a big Robert Rodriguez fan, I love everything from the Desperado movies to the Spy Kids flicks, but I've always had a special spot for one of his earlier films. The Faculty mixes an Invasion of the Pod People story with high school, students vs. teachers and goes to some pretty freaky levels. It is definitely a horror film (so be wary if you thinking of showing it to kids), but is also incredibly fun.

As a Library Technician myself (I'm slowly but surely making my way to my Master's Degree), I would not be doing my job if I didn't point you towards this series of films. The concept is simple, what if there were a librarian whose job it was to house all the great mythological treasures of the world, and what would he do if something were stolen. Think a B-Grade Indiana Jones and you've got the idea. The characters are all very fun and if you've ever wonder what Bob Newhart would look like kicking butt, you might want to check this series of films out.

Last year, Director Danny Boyle got international acclaim with the film Slumdog Millionaire. The movie (if you havne't seen it) is really wonderful, but for genre fans, his big break was probably 28 Days Later; which in a lot of ways revitalized the Zombie and Post-apocalyptic sub-genres of Horror. In 2007 he directed the Science Fiction film Sunshine, about a crew of astronauts working to re-ignite a dying sun. The film is really fun, and it has some nice meetings between the SF and Horror genres.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Thing's I've Noticed: Bad Movie Adaptations get all the press

Earlier this week when I reviewed The Wolfman and Percy Jackson movies, I was met with responses from friends and family telling me how much the Percy Jackson film didn't match up with its sources materials. This is the tricky part of watching the film version of the books I love. One of the reasons I really liked The Book of Eli back in January was the fact that the movie was an original screenplay.

The comments and responses about my post got me thinking - what are my favourite movies adapted from books? I've got a huge list of movies where things didn't work out but how about the good - no the great ones?

So here you go, my top three favourite films based on books (in alphabetical order)

Coraline, based on the novel by Neil Gaiman
The idea of this movie was tricky for me, as I had loved both the novel and the audiobook adaptation (Stephen Merritt sings the rat songs - very cool). The concept of it being in 3D had me wondering what if the film was just going for flash or if it would respect the source material. My biggest fear was the introduction of Wybie, a character who had not existed in the novel. Thankfully, when I saw the film, my hopes were fulfilled and I can honestly say that it is one of my favourite kids genre movies of the last decade.

The Lord of the Rings, based on the novels by J.R.R. Tolkein
Looking back, these incredibly ambitious films were simply awe-inspiring. Yes, they had flaws but considering the idea that no one thought these movies could exist in a live action format (The 1978 animated version was pretty good, even though it only goes halfway through the story) they were simply amazing. As the anticipation for the movies built however, there was a lot of negative press going along the lines of "How dare Peter Jackson try to ruin my precious series!?!" It's funny, because afterwards, the films (and I am definitely talking about the extended editions here) have become some of my favourites and have paved the way for many more fantasy books to come to film - for good or bad.

The Witches, based on the novel by Roald Dahl
This book creeped me out. It was, simply put, one of my earliest written examples of a horror novel I can remember being affected by, and so, when I heard a movie was coming out, I actually thought that there would be no way it could match up with my memory of the novel from Elementary school. Wow, was I wrong - this movie is incredible - the effects are Henson-riffic, the portrayal of the witches (especially the early flashback) are just this side of terrifying, and I've just got to say it - this is one of my favourite horror movies for kids.

There you go - a trio of awesome movie adaptions, in my opinion. Let me know if I've missed any great ones, or if you disagree.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Genre Character of the Week: Yorick Brown

I think that around the age of 13, when I was too afraid to talk to girls but was starting to get really, really interested in them I began having the fantasy that a lot of young men have - What if I were the last man alive? Then she'd talk to me, right? The character we'll be looking at this week is given exactly this scenario, and unfortunately for him, it is not nearly as cool as my 13-year-old self thought it would be. This week, we're looking at Yorick Brown from Brian K. Vaughan's series Y: the Last Man.

An escape artist and slacker, Yorick begins the series as a man in need of a direction. He's working part time as a monkey trainer, but that's about the only contribution he appears to be making to the world, and he's not really doing so well at training his first helper monkey, Ampersand.

For those of you who haven't read it yet, the premise o the series is pretty straight forward, one day every male on earth (yes, animals included) simply dies. After all the plane crashes and car crashes, the women of Earth pick themselves up and begin moving on. There's just one thing - Yorick Brown is still alive, in fact so is his male monkey Ampersand.

What I like best about Yorick as a character is (in addition to the always wonderful character arcs) his ability to grow as a person. I'm also a sucker for the fact that he stays pretty faithful to his girlfriend/fiancé Beth (who begins the story in Australia) for years. Yorick starts the series as a guy going nowhere fast, and throughout the series begins to adapt and change to fit his new world.

Also as a huge fan of post-apocalyptic film and fiction, I love how the series asks a "what if?" question that could only come from a 13-year-old boy, and follows the concept wherever it might lead.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Double Feature Review: Percy Jackson and The Wolfman

For someone who loves genre movies, I tend to average about one a month. This weekend I actually made it out to two films, something I haven't done in quite a while and had a pretty good time at both of them. So for what it's worth here are my opinions of the two films I saw.

On Saturday I saw the The Wolfman with my mother and 16-year-old brother. As a big fan of the original 1941 film, I had pretty high hopes for this movie, and for the most part wasn't disappointed. The actors were all quite good, the settings were dark and spooky and the makeup/CGI effects for the monster were quite good. Knowing the story already there weren't too many surprises, the violence level was a little shocking (it was at about the same level as a zombie movie), and the fact that the main character spends some time in a horrible asylum was a nice twist. Overall it was fun, I don't think I'll buy the DVD, but I had a fun afternoon.

Earlier today I took my 12-year-old daughter and a friend of hers to see Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. The movie was a lot of fun, it was aimed at kids and kept a consistent tone throughout, I liked all of the nods to classic myth and the actors did their jobs well. The effects were spectacular - this was definitely a big-screen movie and it will get added to my DVD shelf when it becomes available. My only complaint was the fact that the movie skipped over a lot of the book - but to be fair the Harry Potter films are guilty of the same crime as well. As an Ancient Greece buff, I had a good time and hope that a sequel will follow someday.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Things I've Noticed: Catching up with your old hobbies can be strange

We've all had it, that bizarre meeting with an ex you dated way back in your childhood - I'm talking about elementary or possibly as late as junior high before dating got really complicated, someone who you haven't really thought of in years and then bang - there they are with kids, a husband and a life all of their own. The same thing just happened to me, but instead of with a girl, it was with the world of Dragonlance.

Back in grades eight and nine, I was into role playing games. I played Dragonlance (pictured right) or Robotech with my friends every weekend, watched the Dungeons and Dragons animated series (thankfully I went through my D&D phase well before the movie came out), and read a lot of sword and sorcery books, my favourites being the Dragonlance series.

Basically, for those of you who don't know, Dragonlance is a shared world series of books that follow many adventurers through a world called Krynn. There are elves, dwarves, wizards, etc., and for a time, these were my favourite books in the world. I had just come out of a big horror movie phase and my junior high kept all of the Stephen King books on a hidden shelf behind the circulation desk so for the time being, Dragonlance was all I had.

But, as with many things, I got older, moved to other books and Role Playing Games and didn't really think of Dragonlance that much after the fact. Sure it got mentioned in some of my posts as a nod to my childhood, but that was about it.

A couple weeks ago, one of my book clubs selected the book Ashes and Amber by Margaret Weiss as our February selection, so I sat down to revisit the genre equivalent of one of my childhood sweet hearts.

The book is pretty darn good - the world is fleshed out nicely and the adventures are fun, plus this specific novel is a sort of merging of horror and the Sword & Sorcery genres, which appeals to me a lot. I was so impressed by how this book was going, that I thought to my self that maybe I should give Dragonlance another try, I read at least 20 of the novels when I was younger, it should be pretty easy to catch up.

So I went online and asked, How many books are there in the Dragonlance series? The answer brought me to this page which gave me this answer:

[There are] well over 100 at the time of this writing.

Wow. That is a lot of books, so I went to Wikipedia, where I learned that Dragonlance is one of the most popular shared worlds in fiction (right up there with Star Wars and Star Trek). It was at this point that I realized that my childhood hobby had not stopped when I left it 20 years ago, that for the last two decades it had had a life all of its own. The heroes I loved had gotten married, had kids and now those kids were the ones adventuring across the world.

So, in the end I'm happy for Dragonlance, we had a good thing for a few years way back, and I feel pretty good that the series continues to thrive. I have fond memories of our time together, and sometimes I like to think back to the original main characters, the Heroes of the Lance (pictured below), and wonder what they got up to.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Genre Character of the Week: Concrete

We've all gone through changes, finishing high school, getting a new job, or moving to a new place can be both exciting and terrifying at the same time. It is just that mixture of fear and adventure that also fills this weeks genre character, Concrete.

Now to be fair, Concrete's change is a little bigger than ones I was talking about before. Captured by aliens while on a camping trip, political speech writer Ron Lithgow had his brain transplanted into a body that is made of a concrete-like material, he is super strong, has unbelievable endurance and superior vision, the down side, he is no longer male (the alien body has no sex organs). Along with a personal assistant and a scientist assigned to study his new body, Concrete begins a series of adventures across our world.

The thing I like best about Concrete is how he is always trying to make the best out of his new life, like the rest of us he stumbles, but overall he thrives.

If you want to give non-super hero comics a try, Concrete is a great place to start. I find it amazing how author Paul Chadwick gets you to connect to this strange creature. Also the whole series is only seven trade paperbacks so it is not a major time crusher.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Top five albums I listen to while reading

A while back I wrote a post talking about setting up for a good reading session, and I mentioned the idea of having a theme song to read to - this got a lot of responses from friends and readers who asked me what kind of CDs I listen to while reading, so to satisfy your curiosity, here you go:

Bookmonkey's top five current albums to listen to while reading

Or specifically the instrumental tune "Call of Ktulu," which I can listen to exactly 5 times in a row on repeat while I'm walking home (yes, I do read while walking - something that has lead to uncomfortable contact with lamp posts, other people and once an uncomfortably personal contact with a fire hydrant). Usually I keep the song specifically for horror reads.

This one is really new for me, I've only been listening to it for a few weeks, but I really love all the songs and even though they have lyrics, I don't find that they get in the way of my reading at all - they just comfortably groove with whatever is going on in my book - currently my favourite tune is All My Days.

This soundtrack is really fun, doesn't fill my head with lyrics (which can be distracting while reading), and most importantly reminds me of a story about a kid reading a story, so if I'm listening to it while I'm reading I'm getting all Meta. Favourite track - Swamps of Sadness.

I'm actually a pretty big fan of Tangerine Dream, a lot of the music is instrumental, and while I worked at a video store in the late '90s I watched a videocassette of theirs that showed images from the Grand Canyon over and over again because I liked the tunes. My favourite song on the Legend soundtrack is called Cottage - it works very well for reading high fantasy stories.

1. Virtually anything by James Horner
Over the years I've probably purchased at least a dozen James Horner (pictured left) Soundtracks, from Star Trek III, to Legends of the Fall, Aliens and Titanic, I've just really loved what this guy can do with music - here's a quck taste of one of my favourites, the One Last Wish theme from Casper.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Things I've Noticed: Choosing your next author can be hard

Alright, I'm going to explain my reading schedule to you - yes I'm aware that I hold to a rigid schedule while readings books and yes, I'm aware I may over-think this aspect of my life - but you know what, I'm a reader, so I should be doing it the best I can.

Every month I read six novels (It's normally ten, but I'm nearing the end of my Undergraduate education so I've cut down for the time being), they break down as follows:

1) Read one Fantasy book
2) Read one SF book
3) Read one Horror Book
4 & 5) Read whatever my two book club books are, and
6) read a book by my current author

Usually I pick the Genre books off of either an awards list, the best-sellers list, or a list of top 100 books I'm working through for each (that top 100 horror books book? Yeah, there's one for both SF and Fantasy as well).

The book club books pick themselves and that just leaves me with my own choice.

Back in 2003 I read the complete works of Elmore Leonard, and got hooked on the habit of reading complete authors. Right now I'm just about up-to-date with Robert R. McCammon (Horror, then Horror/Fantasy, then Historical Fiction), and have just caught up with the Ancient Rome mystery novels of Steven Saylor.

My dilemma is this - who should I read next? Here are my three choices and reasons why I should pick them.

A big reason for reading Crichton is that I've already done most of the work - like a lot of people I got into his stuff after Jurassic Park came out and read virtually all of his fiction in my twenties. I think I have about 8 books of his left (including the non-fiction) and then I could be finished with his stuff - plus his last book was a pirate novel.

I'm a pretty big fan of Urban Fantasy, so the idea of a Canadian Urban Fantasy writer definitely peaks my interest, in addition my wife is a big fan and his earlier books were horror fantasy novels, makes him a strong contendor, the fact that I'd be signing myself up for over 60 novels (and still counting) makes me a little hesitant.

Having read three of his books (I Am Legend, Incredible Shrinking Man, and Hell House) I know I would enjoy the books, plus the fact that a couple of them are westerns appeal to me (I did go through that big Louis L'Amour phase a while back), added to the fact that I've got about half a dozen books of his on my shelf make him a pretty strong contender.

It's tricky stuff - I'll eventually read them all but where to start? Any ideas?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Best Picture category at the Oscars 2010

This year they doubled the number of films nominated for best picture at the Academy awards. With 10 films to choose from we actually have three genre films represented: Avatar, District 9 and Up! As there hasn't been a genre win for best picture since 2004 Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, this is pretty exciting. Here are my opinions on the chances all three titles have.

District 9: I've heard a mixed bag of reviews of this film (no I haven't seen it yet, although it's in my ziplist - that's like a Canadian Netflix for you US residents) mostly positive ones from people who don't watch a lot of genre and very negative ones from genre fans who preferred the film when it was called Alien Nation. I do cheer the fact that it means we can look forward to more world genre films entering the mainstream.

Up: The movie was amazing, beautiful, and actually brought me to tears at one point. Although I'm talking about Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which like Up, was nominated for Best Pic and best Pic in another category (forgien for Tiger, Animated for Up) back in 2001, I can say the exact same thing about this gem from Pixar. I think people are happy Up was nominated, but being up for the same award in two categories will kill it's chances of taking home the big one.

Avatar: Sorry haters, but this film without a doubt has the best chance of being a genre Best Picture. It's list of wins and nominations so far is pretty extensive, and like I said in a previous post, it may be seen as a great SF flick in the long run.

So there you go, my final impression, Avatar has the best chance of the genre pics nominated to win, but we'll see in March.