Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Genre Character of the Week: Columbus

Deep down I think everyone would like to believe that in a crisis we would act like Bruce Willis in Die Hard. While all hell was breaking loose we would steadily and methodically take care of the problem and save the day. To be fair, I do love Die Hard, it's one of my favourite Christmas movies, but at the same time, lets be honest, I'm no Bruce Willis. When looking around at characters in these kind of terrible scenarios, I think the one I come closest to is Columbus from Zombieland.

Part of what really appeals to me about the character, despite his inherent awkward sweetness, is his collection of rules. Very much in tune with the attitude of my very first post, he has decided to be the very best Zombie apocalypse survivor he can be, and to do so he follows a pretty specific list of rules. These rules have allowed him to survive far longer than many others in his terrible new world, and in the end, they rarely let him down.

As a character (played very well by Jessie Eisenberg, pictured right), Columbus starts out as a University student with very few actual social connections. He lives in the comfortable bubble of his apartment and does most of his social interactions through the computer. In fact it is only after the world has been overrun by zombies that he is willing to step out of his door.

As with most other Genre Characters of the Week, I love the fact that the character has a story arc, that he changes throughout the film, and even in a world where mankind has lost, he begins to find hope, friendship and the ability to change into a better person.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Top Five books I’ve read on Blogging

It’s been just over 10 months since my first post, and since then I’ve actually done really well at my goal - three posts a week, every week on my explorations in genre fiction film and games, as well as the occasional thing I’ve noticed.

At this point I thought it would be kind of fun to look at the books that have helped me the most in my aspirations to be a good blogger. The first major blog I began following was Neil Gaiman’s, which initially was a record of the book tour for his 2000 novel, American Gods. It had everything I was looking for in a blog at the time, a project (documenting the tour), a recognizable voice (I’ve been a fan of Gaiman since Sandman - you can read about it here), and it was easy to read. Luckily, rather than going back to his oldest posts, you can simply find the book Adventures in the Dream Trade (pictured left), which collects the initial run of his blog as well as a number of other writings.

So when I first got interested in creating a blog last summer I had been a dedicated reader of one blog and that was about it. Like everything in my life I try to do as best I can at any new project, so I started by grabbing a couple books out of the library and began to figure out how not only to create a blog, but also how to maintain one. The two most helpful were No One Cares What You Had For Lunch: 100 ideas for your blog (pictured right) by Margaret Mason, and The Rough Guide to Blogging, by Jonathan Yang. Both books gave me a lot of tips, not only on content, but on how to get my blog out there, and I have to say that a lot of the postive results I have achieved can be traced back to these books.

These days I’m actually taking a slightly more academic look into the phenomenon of blogging and have just picked up a book both intriguing and slightly creepy regarding the blogosphere. The Peep Diaries (pictured left), by Canadian author Hal Niedzviecki looks at the culture around blogging, Facebook, Reality TV, Twitter and YouTube and attempts to see what it is saying about us as a people - I like the fact that the book raises some interesting questions, but at the same time gives a lot of the positive aspect of these things as well.

My favourite part of reading about blogging is finding new authors, and my current top pick of the blogger / professional writers is definitely Jen Lancaster, blogger (www.jennsylvania.com) and author - although to be honest my wife found these books and strongly suggested I check them out. Honestly, if you only check out one of the books I’m recommending here - check out her first book, Bitter is the New Black (pictured right), as it is one of the funniest, bitchiest, heartbreaking/warming non-fiction books I’ve read this year.

It’s kind of funny, with the one-year mark in sight (only a month and a half away), I’m trying to figure out my challenge for year two - I was thinking of fooling around with podcasts - but if you have any suggestions, feel free to comment!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Things I’ve noticed: The Internet Makes Classic Horror Fiction Easy!

As a pretty dedicated horror reader, I’ve spent a lot of the last few years reading a lot of classic horror – the problem is that often I can’t find it in bookstores or my local library. Like it’s genre siblings Fantasy and Science Fiction, horror is usually limited to paperback copies and until recently there haven’t been a lot of dedicated collections of older horror that people can borrow from.

In the last few months, however, I’ve gotten a lot of use out of Project Gutenberg, the world’s oldest digitized collection of books. Basically they are volunteer driven, and only focus on materials in the public domain (old enough to no longer be covered by copyright).

From the point of view of a classic horror fiction fan, this has been a godsend for me. I waited over six years before I found the online copy of the Complete John Silence Stories I reviewed a couple weeks back. Next up for me is William Beckford’s The History of Caliph Vathek (1782).

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Genre Character of the Week: Zane

Thinking back over the fantasy novels that most affected me as a teen, I’ve got to say that one of the most memorable was Piers Anthony’s On a Pale Horse, and most specifically the novel’s protagonist, Zane.

The world Zane inhabits is very similar to ours, but with magic considered a very real part of day-to-day life. It is in fact a run in with a magic gem merchant who cheats Zane out of a chance at love that brings the character to the decision to kill himself and the events of the novel.

Very much like the Tim Allen film, The Santa Clause, Zane is startled by the appearance of a fabled being (Santa for the film, Death for the novel) and is the cause of the persons death. Laws which govern the universe demand that the responsible party take over the job and that is the main thrust of the novel.

Zane must become death.

What I like best about Zane is how he asks many questions that anyone would in the same scenario, how he tries to do things that make sense for the reader and how he is awakened to the fantastic world that is death.

I love the idea of something so terrifying becoming fascinating, and I can’t think of a better character than Zane to show us the way*. Also the fact that the character and the book lead to one of my favourite shows of the last few years (Dead Like Me), gives it a big plus.

* I know that Terry Pratchett’s novel Mort follows many of the same concepts, but in that one Death takes an apprentice, so this works a little differently – plus I read On a Pale Horse much earlier in life.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Movie Review: The A-Team

My two lovely daughters took me to see the film The A-Team for Father's Day, and when I think about a review of this film all I can say is:




Unlike my poor friend Mike (who re-watched The A-Team and Greatest American Hero as an adult and found them both not-quite-as-good as he remembered them), I watched the A-Team as it aired from '83 to '88 (I would have been ages ages seven to twelve), and haven't seen it since, so I remember it as one of the best action series ever to have run on television.

The movie was pretty simple, it was both an origin story and basically explained how the team ends up in the position they started in for the television series.

The action sequences were fantastic and I've got to say that some of them simply blew me away. This film is an excellent example of what I call a popcorn movie - a film that is excellent to enjoy with a big bowl of popcorn as a summer matinee.

All four leads were great - having seen Liam Neeson as an action star in Taken, Bradley Cooper doing comedy in both The Hangover and Nip/Tuck, and Sharlto Copley doing wonderful in District 9, the only actor who I wasn't familiar with was Quinton "Rampage" Jackson as B.A. Baracus, and you know what? I really liked him too.

The movie had more than a few nods towards the original series (in both music and cameos - definitely stick around until after the credits!), and I was happy that my years of watching Star Trek had a small payoff as well.

This movie was really, really fun, and in the end, what else to you want from an action film?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Things I've Noticed: The Horror of the iPod Touch

It started with the smallest indiscretion, I was sitting on the couch with my wife and the movie we were watching featured some actress I was sure I had seen somewhere before. Normally I would simply think - good for you, actress whose name I don't remember - it's nice to see you're getting more work. But sitting on the end table next to me was my newest piece of tech, (new for me, anyway - I got it as part of a deal when we bought our latest Mac), the iPod touch, and I knew that if I used my IMDB app, I could have the actresses name and filmography in seconds.

Barely taking my eyes off the screen I did a quick search and there she was, I informed my wife that the actress in question had played the daughter on some TV show we watched a few years back and I thought that was that.

Then my wife added game apps to the iPod, and worse for me, a Tangram app. Tangrams for me are like Sudoku for most people - I can't just solve one, and this little app had almost 500 simple puzzles for me to solve (I finished in just under a month).

Last week, while watching a television show (we're working our way through Nip/Tuck right now) my wife looked over at me and asked me if I could attempt watching a show without using my iPod at the same time.

The worst part is that this behaviour is exactly the stuff I have railed on at my friends and family about over the years - people sort of listening to me while they text, listen to their iPods or worse yet, talk on their cell phones. I've always been big about giving my entire attention to whatever it is I'm trying to pay attention to, but now I think, why not pay slightly less attention and try a quick game of solitaire.

I'm currently putting my iPod on the other side of the room when I watch television, but I can sense it calling me, asking me if I should check my email, my Facebook status or even simply play a quick game of Bejeweled 2.

Seriously, this thing is starting to freak me out!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Genre Character of the Week: Walter Dangerfield

When I was a young man, my career goal was split 50/50 – either I was going to be an actor of stage and screen, or I would be a drifter, traveling from town to town, like The Littlest Hobo or The Incredible Hulk. What I never expected at the time was to be doing what I am now – Library work. In a lot of ways, this week’s genre character is in the same sort of boat, or spaceship as the case may be. Let’s look at Walter Dangerfield.

In Phillip K Dick's novel Dr. Bloodmoney, we are introduced to Walter and his wife Lydia at the beginning as Earths two shining stars, the couple selected to begin colonization on Mars, they have been supplied with a lifetimes supply of food and are shot into orbit waiting for the order to proceed to Mars. Unfortunately, just like everyone else in the novel, they are blindsided by a Nuclear war.

Unlike the rest of the characters in the book, who must find their own ways in this strange new world, Walter and Lydia are literally trapped on their shuttle in the Earth’s orbit, doomed to circle it until they die or some group on Earth gets back the means to bring them back home. The book makes many jumps forward in time and about a third of the way through the book we see how Walter has fared – years ago his wife committed suicide so he is alone, yet he broadcasts hope to the world.

In a world where communication travels only as fast as horse travel, Walter has become the way the world communicates on a global level. He has basically become a DJ, circling the globe and broadcasting over radio waves his advice, music from before the war and messages back and forth between people who contact him from around the world. What I admire most about Walter is his ability to roll with the punches, to make the best of his new situation (which, to put it bluntly, includes probably never seeing another living human in his life), and bringing the world hope.

What I admire most about Walter is that even though he didn’t end up doing what he thought he would in life, he made the most of whatever situation he was in and found happiness there. Like Walter I ended up in a different place than I expected I would be, professionally speaking, but also like Walter I've found a lot of happiness where I am.

Also I would have been a terrible drifter.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Movie Review: Splice

On Saturday I checked out the film Splice and I had a pretty fun time - The reasons were pretty simple:

1) Canadian production
2) Directed by Vincenzo Natali (who made my last favourite Canadian horror flick - Cube)
3) Wasn't the opening week, which is important to me as I hate sharing a movie theatre with other people; my friends and family sure, a hundred other people who bathe in perfume or wish to share the AXE effect with me - no thanks.

The theatre had a grand total of five people in it; which is just about perfect and here's what I've got to say about the film itself; it was pretty cool! A modern-day take on the classic Frankenstein story, with human cloning thrown in and willing to go places I definitely was not expecting.

I love watching these kind of movies with my BFF Mike as he loves SF and I love horror, and therefore usually I can blame his genre for everything that goes wrong in the events of the film.

Bookmonkey: Would there even be a monster if those scientists hadn't gotten so uppity?

BFF Mike: ...

Bookmonkey: (While shaking his fist in the air) SCIENTISTS!?!

The actors were great, I like both Sarah Polley and Adrien Brody and neither disappointed here, the visuals were very cool, and the actress who played the adult version of the creature was very effective.

I had a lot of fun - this film gets a big recommend from me.

My only complaint was with the trailers - Twilight Saga: Eclipse (although I'm not a fan I guess I can see why they put it here), and then a collection of comedy films - where were my horror trailers before my horror movie?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Things I've Noticed: Hammer Horror is pretty cool

Over the years I’ve watched a lot of horror, as a little kid I watched whatever I could find on television, then as a teen I made my way through the standards of a kid growing up in the ‘80s (Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Lost Boys), and as I grew up I began exploring all sorts of aspects of the genre in film, from world cinema (if you haven’t seen it, the 2006 Korean film The Host is probably my favourite monster movie of the last 10 years) to the silent film and Universal classic monster movies.

For whatever reason, I had never got around to the Hammer films before last year. I knew they were supposed to be high on atmosphere and were considered shocking at the time, but I simply didn’t have access unless I wanted to purchase them. Since I began using an online DVD rental service these films have become available to me and I’ve got to say they’re a lot of fun. So far I’ve seen Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula, and Revenge of Frankenstein, and all three of them are definitely worthwhile.

For starters you’ve got some pretty good star power, Christopher Lee (as Dracula and the monster in Curse of Frankenstein) is fantastic, and Peter Cushing (pictured right) is unrepentantly evil in the Frankenstein films, sleeping around and using his creature to clean up after his indiscretions.

Part of what I love about these movies is the ability to simply lose myself in them, the cinematography is brilliant and even though I am very familiar with the source material, I made enough gasps of shock throughout Horror of Dracula that I had my wife laughing at me from across the house.

Next up for me is The Mummy, and so far I’m looking forward to working my way through these films, up to and including the ones with the kung fu vampires from the ‘70s.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Genre Character of the Week: John Silence

Continuing on from my review of Thraxas, a detective in a fantasy world, we are now going to look at my second genre-crossing favourite detective, Dr. John Silence.

Written by Algernon Blackwood in 1908, the John Silence stories were six intriguing stories which focused on various interactions with the supernatural by “The Psychic Doctor,” Doctor John Silence. Portrayed as an incredibly calm, rational man with the knowledge of an Egon Splanger and the deductive abilities of Sherlock Holmes, the Doctor, along with his assistant (and our narrator), Mr. Hubbard, went up against spirits, elementals, demons and the like.

Silence has clearly traveled throughout the world studying paranormal phenomena and is definitely a psychic himself, although he sees no need to use cards, trances or automatic wrting at all. In his own words he states that “Systems of divination, from geomancy down to reading by tea-leaves, are merely so many methods of obscuring the outer vision, in order that the inner vision may become open. Once the method is mastered, no system is necessary at all.” (from Case I: A Psychical Invasion)

What I really admire about the character is his interest in the supernatural world, while at the same time saying that everything has an explanation if you only look for it. Like Sherlock Holmes, a lot of his best work is done via observation and gut instinct. “If you pay attention to impressions, and do not allow them to be confused by deductions of the intellect, you will often find them surprisingly, uncannily, accurate.” (from Case III: The Nemesis of Fire)

Like a lot of the things I read, I had been pointed at the series from multiple angles – first from Horror: The 100 Best books, next from the recommended reading list of the RPG Hunter the Reckoning and finally I had read that H.P. Lovecraft (1890 – 1937) considered the author as one of the Modern Masters of Supernatural Horror, so I definitely wanted to take a look at these stories.

If you can find these stories they are quite a treat – easy to read, full of horror and action, and a great way to introduce detective novel readers to horror and vice versa.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Movie Review: Despicable Me

Early Saturday morning I went to see an advanced screening of the Film Despicable Me with my 13-year-old daughter Kaia, my BFF Mike and his lovely wife Trish.

Although I've never attended a movie screening at 10:00am before, I can say it was a fun but strange experience, there were a lot of families there with little kids, no introduction from anyone (usually there is a radio station sponsoring the screening so someone gets up and talks before the movie starts), and afterwords no one asked us for feedback.

The movie itself was a lot of fun and we all left the theatre talking about how great the film was. What I noticed about Mike's comments was that they focused on things like the great animation and story and totally avoided the best thing in the entire film.

One Word: Vector (pictured below)

Vector (voiced amazingly well by Jason Segel, who I've been following since Freaks & Geeks), dressed in a striking orange warm-up suit and using vast amounts of weapons and traps is clearly the superior super villain in the film. From his first appearance (wherein he excitedly shows the "main" character Gru a fascinating weapon) to the cleverness of his name (a vector has both a magnitude and a direction - excellent qualities for a super villain), Vector himself is the young turk of the film, out villain-ing Gru every step of the way while still being portrayed human enough that we can see his love of a good coconutty cookie.

In my humble (but often correct) opinion, a film is only as great as it's villains and this movie defintely features a great one.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Thing's I've Noticed: Robots make music videos better

This morning I was watching one of my current favourite music videos; I Feel Better by Hot Chip, when I noticed something - the best part of this video involves Laser Eyes and a floating head. Now I don't know about you, but for me lasers and floating heads mean one thing - Robots (pictured left).

It was at this point that I also realized robots added a significant cool factor to virtually any music video, and that I could spend today's post listing my favourite robot-based music videos.

Woken up by a robot, the band proceeds to sing and dance in their usual style - but unlike the majority of their videos, I honestly like this one, the visuals are cool and the yellow robots dancing with Nick definitely gave this video a pretty high cool factor. If you take into account that I heard all of this band's music constantly when my oldest daughter was in grade six, the fact that I could find any joy in a video by the band shows just how cool the robots in it were.

For a video featuring significant levels of awesomeness already (a high speed car chase and Bruce Willis!?!), I didn't think that the addition of a robot could do much, but then you make the robot short out and you get something very very cool.

Telling the honest story of a post-human, robot contolled world, this high-concept / low-budget video shows many of our societies fears of technology, as well as the super-coolness that is Flight of the Conchords.

Alright, I'll admit that the two lovers in this video are probably mannequins rather than traditional robots, but you know what - too bad! I grew up thinking they were robots so as far as I'm concerned that's exactly what they are.

Like virtually all of the rest of videos I've looked at, this one focuses on electronica music, and the robot in question might be a cyborg, but you know what, it's still pretty cool. In addition to robots this video has spaceships, so you get twice the Sci-Fi bang for your buck. Also it's new enough you might not have seen it yet, so there you go.

If I've missed any major robot-themed music videos let me know, I'm sure somewhere out there is a comprehensive list of all robots appearing in music videos, these are just my favourites (sorry Daft Punk, but the robot you have in your Technologic video gives me a major case of the heebie jeebies),

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Five Great Places to Start with Phillip K. Dick

Yesterday I was over at my BFF Mike’s blog (where he is slowly, but surely reviewing every novel that won a best novel Hugo award) and saw that he was talking about the classic Science Fiction novel The Man in the High Castle.

At the end of his review he stated that in regards to Phillip K. Dick

Your friendly neighbourhood Bookmonkey loaned me many PKD books in my early twenties.
He'd be glad to recommend some to you.

I am indeed a huge fan of Philip K. Dick - this guy's stories have influenced everything from The Matrix to Memento - So I figured today I should list five good places to start if you’d like to check out Phillip K. Dick (pictured left).

Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said If you’re only going to read one of Phillip K Dick’s novels, let it be this one. The story is Pretty simple, imagine that tomorrow you woke up in an unfamiliar hotel room. You still have your wallet and cash but your ID is missing and even though everything looks the same, there is no record of you anywhere – not even your friends or family have any recollection of you. The main character of the story, Jason Taverner has exactly this happen, only in his old world he was a celebrity. This was the only Phillip K. Dick novel to be nominated for both a Nebula and a Hugo and it is totally worth it.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep Simply put – this is the novel Blade Runner is based on – it has a few different turns from the film and is pretty straight-forward as far as most of his novels go. A personal favourite which looks at whether or not Robots deserve to be considered life forms of there own.

It’s post-apocalytic fun and features one of my upcoming Genre Characters of the week. Totally worth a view. After a nuclear holocaust we follow the lives of a number of people trying to pick up the pieces of the course of a decade; with mutants, marauders and astronauts, this story is incredibly cool.

Ubik I’m a huge fan of any story where the world appears to be going wrong and no rational explanation can be drawn for what is happening. This should not be your first Phillip K. Dick
book, but if you find you are liking his stuff, this one is a must read.

This one is actually a short story, but as there is an upcoming Matt Damon movie based on it (see the trailer here), I figured it would be a good place to start as well.

So there you have it, five great places to start exploring the works of Philip K. Dick.