Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: Louis Sacchetti

In addition to working through Horror and Fantasy classics, over the last few years I’ve been working my way through the list from Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels: an English Language Selection, 1949-1984. This list has lead me to some of my favourite SF stories (seriously, some year I’m just going to give copies of Earth Abides to everyone I know for Christmas), and at the same time has definitely helped change my view of life and the world around me – actually I once read that SF fans are the people most comfortable dealing with change – if you broke people up into categories by genre fandom.

This week I’ve just finished Thomas M. Disch’s Camp Concentration, and his protagonist; poet, lapsed catholic, and prisoner Louis Sacchetti is my genre character of the week.

Not willing to take part in an ongoing war, Sacchetti is imprisoned and through the wishes of a past acquaintance, he is eventually sent to Camp Archimedes, a special prison for a special group of prisoners. (Mild Spoiler warning) At the camp, the prisoners have been infected with a disease that has two specific effects: 1) The infected person becomes a genius, and 2) Everyone dies about nine months after they have been infected.

The novel is written in the format of Sacchetti’s journals – first in a regular prison and then at the camp, where he has been brought to chronicle the events going on. One of the prisoners, Mordachai Washington, went to the same high school as Sacchetti and after finding out he was imprisoned, requested his relocation to the camp.

Sacchetti himself comes across as a man desperately wishing to serve out his sentence and go home, he seems to think that everything happening to him is incredibly unfair (and yes, this is surrounded by men guaranteed to die within the year), and his relation with the prisoners is less than perfect. The reason I chose the character is due to the character arc he undergoes throughout the story. If you come across the book (I had to get it from my local university’s library), it is definitely worth the read. Think of it as an SF mix of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Flowers for Algernon.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Book Review: Let the Right One In

So a few months back I had a strange experience online. I was looking for an older post I had written on the Justin Cronin novel, The Passage, and rather than combing through all of my old posts I figured it would be simpler to Google the terms bookmonkey, Cronin and passage. I did get directed to a post about the book The Passage (a great post-apocalyptic vampire novel, by the way), and it was done by Bookmonkey, but it was a different bookmonkey.

The weird thing was, even though this bookmonkey was from a different country, and was a girl, she was reviewing a lot of the same materials as me, and in one specific review, had done a book I had been meaning to do for a while now, John Ajvide Lindqvist's Let the Right One In.

So last week I finally got around to reading this novel and you know what? It is pretty awesome.

Having spent last October reviewing Twilight, I've got to say there are a lot of easy comparisons; 1) both books feature a human starting a relationship with a vampire, 2) both films were released on the same day in North America, 3) Both book helped change my opinion on vampire fiction.

Let The Right One In follows a young boy named Oskar who is consistently being bullied by kids at his school, his parents are separated and life is not going to well for him. Then he meets the new girl who has moved in to his apartment building. Eli has some pretty strange habits; she only comes out at night, her father doesn't really act like a dad and her arrival is strangely timed with a recent string of murders.

Here's the thing about the book - it is really, really good. It works as a young romance, a horror novel and a vampire novel. I will say this about it compared to Twilight however; Twilight is an excellent gateway book for young adults to get into supernatural fiction, while Let The Right One In is pure horror - if you're not sure if you like scary stories, you might want to warm up with some other stuff first.

Not for the faint of heart - Let the Right One In is definitely on my must-read list for great vampire stories.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Things I've noticed: Making Top Five lists can be tricky

Last night I watched a show on ABC with my wife called Best In Film: The Greatest Movies of Our Time. The show was basically a collection of Top Five lists – best action film, best comedy, best kiss, etc., but for me, the most interesting list was their best Science Fiction film list.

Here were the top five SF films they listed:
5. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
4. The Matrix (1999)
3. Avatar (2009)
2. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
1. Star Wars (1977)

As I watched this list being televised, I turned to my wife and said, “I’m okay with Star Wars – it belongs at number one, and E.T. and Close Encounters was pretty awesome, but do either the Matrix or Avatar actually belong on this list?”

Now, before all you Avatar fans or Matrix-heads start getting mad at me, let me state, I loved both movies (although I hated both Matrix sequels – deal with it), I’m just not sure that either film belongs on a Top Five list of all Science Fiction films of all time.

My first choice for a replacement – Avatar director James Camerons first big film (no not Piranha II) The Terminator. Seriously, I could probably spend a good afternoon doing nothing but going on about how amazing that film is, and I’m sorry but in my books it beats the pants off of the two newer films that one.

Next up, a little film I like to call Back to the Future. Seriously, that movie takes a classic SF concept (Time Travel) and creates one of the funnest films I’ve ever seen.

Here’s the thing though, both of those films come from my childhood – I would have seen both of them before I was fourteen, so am I being biased? After all, whenever a best Science Fiction films list has been created in the past it couldn't be considered complete without 2001: A Space Odyssey (hee hee hee, I can hear my BFF groaning at that title), or perhaps films like Metropolis, or even Modern Times?

I’ll be the first to admit it’s tricky, but in the end I’ve got to realize that top five lists are entirely subjective. My list will be different than your list and your list will be different than mine.

For the record – I’ve been thinking about my own top five science fiction film list for the last day, hoping I could add it to the end of this blog post, and you know what? There are simply too many amazing movies for me to choose from.

I promise I’ll try harder next time.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: Kratos

For the last month I’ve been playing the Playstation 2 game God of War on my PS3 (I bought it as the God of War Collection which contains the first two games of the series), and as I finished it on the weekend, I thought it would be a good idea to look at the Ghost of Sparta himself, as our genre character of the week, Kratos.

When you first begin the game, Kratos is pretty unsympathetic. He’s more of an anti-hero actually. He yells a lot, is incredibly single-minded and that’s almost it. Throughout the game more back story is given and you begin to understand why this man acts the way he does.

It’s also important to remember that Ancient Greece (even a mythological one featuring heavy God involvement and monsters) is pre-Judeo-Christian, and therefore instead of following a “treat others as you want to be treated” moral, Kratos follows a “help your friends and hurt your enemies” one. Only problem, he doesn’t really have any friends and he goes out of his way to hurt his enemies (meaning everyone).

Like Jim Profit, Kratos is not a person I would want anywhere near me or the people I care about, but at the same time, also like Jim Profit, he doesn’t let anything stand in the way between him and his goals (in the case of the first game, killing Ares, the God of War).

The game was fun (and in parts a little too adult to be playing while my youngest kid was around), but as a character, Kratos really stood out. I’m looking forward to starting the sequel this weekend.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Play Review: Frankenstein

Last Thursday I went to a local movie theatre and checked out the latest National Live Theatre presentation, Frankenstein, directed by Danny Boyle and starring Johnny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch. The premise of National Live Theatre is that a live stage show in the UK is broadcast to movie theatres throughout the world. The ticket was a little more expensive (about $20), and the theatre was pretty empty – approximately 25 people in total.

The production has a bit of a gimmick, the two leads actually switch parts every show, so depending on which day you go one will be playing the monster and the other will be playing the doctor. Thursdays show featured Cumberbatch as the creature and Miller as the Doctor. The show began on time, without trailers and was introduced by a pleasant on-screen woman introduced the play as well as a short, behind-the-scenes film about the making of the play (it ran roughly ten minutes).

The play began by focusing entirely on the creature – if you’re not familiar with the novel, most adaptations begin with the creator going through his young life on the road to creation (technically it began at the end of the story and he describes his story to the captain of a ship, but ignoring the framing device, the story follows the doctor and we perceive the creature through his eyes). The doctor makes a very brief appearance at the beginning and then the play basically becomes focused on the creatures story. A quick side note – I was totally thrilled to see the blind man who befriends the creature was played by Karl Johnson, who I’ve loved in both HBO’s Rome and Lark Rise to Candleford.

The second half of the play focuses largely on the doctor, and it is exactly that format – the creature in the beginning and the doctor in the end that really got me looking at the story in a new light. The two leads were fantastic, having only seen Cumberbatch in Sherlock and Atonement, I was blown away by his portrayal of the creature. As the Doctorm, Miller was pretty much exactly the dark intense character you expect Victor to be – which is funny because I’m most familiar with his work in Eli Stone, where he played a lawyer/prophet and Hackers where he played a young criminal – both far cries from the creator of this plays terrible creature.

In the end the play was fantastic, I am definitely hoping to see it with the roles reversed and if you’re interested, you should definitely check out the encore performance on Thursday, March 31st, at wherever is closest for you.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

RIP Michael Gough

Tonight I’m off to see the Nation Live Theatre Production of Frankenstein, starring Johnny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch, and as I probably wouldn’t have a lot of time to come up with a post I decided to check my usual newsfeeds for anything I could comment on.

Then I read that Michael Gough had passed away at the age of 94. Wow.

Like most kids my age (I was 13 in 1989) I was introduced to Michael Gough as Alfred Pennyworth in Tim Burton’s Batman. Even though I spent a lot of the film fixated on Batman and the Joker, I had to admit that Alfred was a pretty cool dude.

Over the last twenty-two years I’ve come across his work in everything from comedies like Top Secret! to appearances in the Hammer Horror films and even The Avengers (the ‘60s series I watched a few months back) – also a quick note for my BFF Mike – he was married to a Doctor Who companion for a while as well.

To be honest it was my interest in seeing a younger Alfred that led me to Horror of Dracula, which led me to checking out Curse of Frankenstein, which led me to the show I’m checking out tonight, I guess that just shows the effect a really good actor can have on you.

He’ll be missed.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: Thor

Okay Okay, I’ll admit it, I was just talking about Thor last week and as that was the case what on Earth can I say about the guy less than a week later? Well let me tell you.

First of all – having now read the second Thor Visionaries collection, I’m beginning to feel that Thor is more a romance than an action story. Thor #357 ends with the Asgardian God being bewitched by a love potion used on him by an enchantress, and then one of my favourite teasers for the next issue I’ve come across in comics:

Is THOR becoming a ROMANCE COMIC? Has Marvel’s fabulous rock-em, sock-em book denigrated into nothing more than puerile SOAP OPERA? Will kissing become the rule rather than the exception? Is nothing sacred? Don’t hold your breath!! And don’t miss our next issue! => When Dalliance Was in Flower

Here’s the thing about Thor – the guy is a romantic at heart, he loves humans (and not as playthings) and he is as close to an innocent as I’ve come across in super-hero comics. The guy seems pretty willing to understand virtually anyone’s story, and although this makes him gullible more than a few times, his faith in humanity is kind of heart warming. Plus the guy has a pretty incredible code of ethics – more than once he lays his life on the line as a moral decision, rather than out of desperation because, you guessed it, it’s the right thing to do.

Seriously, as a hero, this guy is pretty old school, and that’s awesome.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Movie Review: Paul

Last Thursday my friends Mike and Ron managed to get a double guest pass to an advanced screening of the movie Paul, so my wife and I joined them to check it out.

Here’s my impressions of the film.
1) It was pretty darn funny
2) It is the closest thing I’ll ever see to an Alf movie (and I liked it better than Alf)
3) It has the makings for an excellent movie-lovers drinking game
4) It continues to show me that you can’t go wrong if you’re teaming up Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.
5) Kristen Wiig wears the funniest shirt I’ve seen in months

If you haven’t seen the trailer yet, check it out, but basically the film follows two guys who pick up an alien hitch-hiker and spend the rest of the film on the run from shady government agents. The movie nods at tonnes of classic genre films (seriously I tried to keep count by after hitting reference #27 I just gave up and enjoyed the film) in very clever ways.

The alien (a CG creation voiced by Canadian actor Seth Rogen) is pretty incredible, making him both foul-mouthed and loveable. I think it’s fair to say that if you’re a regular reader at my blog, there will be a lot you’ll like about the film (no it doesn’t spend a month looking at Twilight, that was just me). In the end, a very fun flick.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Thing's Ive Notived: Thor circa 1983 is pretty awesome

So the movie Thor is coming out in a couple months and as I'm a guy who likes to do a little background research I decided to read some Thor comics. Rather than starting with the Stan Lee stuff from the '60s however, I decided to start with Walter Simonson's run which began in 1983 (Also it was one of the only Thor comics my library had).

Here's what I knew about Thor before cracking the cover 1) The guy is a god, 2) He has a magic hammer, 3) That little girl in Adventures in Babysitting loved him.

Three pages in and here's what I knew. 1) Thor has (had) an alter-ego named Donald Blake, 2) When Blake struck his cane against the ground he became Thor, 3) Nick Fury didn't always look like Samuel L. Jackson, 4) Nick Fury has a flying car 4) Nick Fury has a giant Floating Aircraft Carrier 5) ALIENS ARE ATTACKING!!! Here's the thing about these first 11 issues of Thor - stuff is happening all over the place, from Alien ivaders to demon invasions and even a fight with Faeries.

Thor seems to cross over into every genre possible and kicks butt wherever he goes. Simonson follows multiple characters (Thor, Odin, Loki, Beta Ray Bill, Baldur, Lorelai, etc.) to create a very dense storyline and by switching back and forth between these characters plotlines you get non-stop character development and cliffhangers. I've still got a couple Simonson collections to go, and my library does have the J. Michael Straczynski run as well, but I've got to say if the film has anything like the Simonson stuff I'm reading, it will be pretty awesome.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: Bill Compton

As I've filled this section of my posts with girls for a while now, I think its time to get back to the boys, and one of my personal favourites in current vampire fiction, Bill Compton (pictured left), from the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris.

For those who haven't read the books or seen the series, Bill is a vampire, having been changed during the American War Between the States (or Civil War, depending on your point of view), he works to help ensure the safety of the vampires in his area, with a computer.

Here's what I like best about Bill - he's a gentleman. Bill comes across as a mainstay in supernatural romance novels - a very dangerous, but at the same time, proper gentleman. Throughout the books, Bill comes across as a guy in a very tough place who is simply trying to do the best he can for the girl he loves.

Now I've only seen season one of True Blood, but I do have to say that I'm very fond of Stephen Moyers' portrayal of the character and am definitely looking forward to season two as well as the next book in the series, Dead Reckoning.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Book Review: The City and The City

Almost a month ago I read the novel The City & The City by China MiƩville but because it was a book club selection I felt I should wait until now (we finished our monthly meeting about an hour ago) to talk about the book.

First off, I'll admit bias - I really liked this book - it might be because I'm a fan of The Night Watch Series of books, or recently read a couple Kafka novels, and had read the author's first novel and loved it, but I came to this book hoping for something pretty cool and I got exactly what I was expecting.

Next, I'll admit that my BFF hated this book... he HATED it, and as usually we have pretty similar tastes in genre fiction, it surprised me how much he hated something that I liked a lot, but I do respect his opinion so I'm putting it out there.

In my mind this book works better the less you know about it. So I can't say a lot - it's a murder mystery, an intriguing look at the power of ideology and it has some of the coolest chase scenes I've ever come across.

In the end I suggest you give the book a try - if you're not a fan afterwards, okay. From my point of view however, it is a pretty awesome murder mystery set in one of the most interesting locations I've ever come across in fiction.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Things I've Noticed: Picking a book for book club can be tricky

My problem with choices has always been finding some way to narrow them down – I’m not good with having dozens of choices, I like having three – do this, do that, or do something else.

I’m pretty sure that just a few days from now I’m going to have to have a selection for my book club’s April book. The problem is that I’m not entirely sure what I want to read. I could go for a comic book series (I did that with the Greg Rucka series Queen & Country a few months back) or perhaps a new genre book I’ve been looking forward (I did that with the then new Stephen King book Under the Dome last year), or maybe I could just randomly pick a book from the dozen boxes of old Fantasy/Horror/SF paperbacks I’ve got sitting in my basement.

I already have a pretty good idea of the books I’ll be reading for the month of March – I have a little song that reminds me of my seven categories, it goes;

Horror, SF, Fantasy
Book Club, Book Club, Jeeves and Me

Which represents my tactic of reading one book from each of my favourite genres, one book for both of my book clubs, the next in the Jeeves and Wooster series by P.G. Wodehouse (3 more to go and I’m finished) and finally one book that merely tickles my fancy.

The problem is I’ve read a lot of books over the years and most of what I’m reading these days falls into the “hard to find” category, a category you specifically do not want to use for a book club selection. So now I’ve got to think about which book I would like to read that is a) available in sufficient numbers at my local library, b) of interest to the members of the club (who range from being interested in Classic Lit and Non-Fiction to Archie Comics), and c) hopefully an overlap with one of my regular monthly books so that I can double up on some genre reading.

In the end I’m leaning towards either some dark fantasy (I’ve always meant to start reading Charles de Lint, and his earlier stuff was pretty dark) or maybe one of those Young Adult books I was going on about last week.

You know, being in a book club is trickier than you think.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: Tiffany Aching

When you talk about a writer who has books numbering in the dozens it can be tricky to find the character you feel most connected to (especially if he has more than one main character). In the case of Terry Pratchett’s discworld series of novels there are at least half a dozen characters I’m very attached to, but as this is genre character of the week not genre ensemble of the week, I have to pick favourites, and in terms of discworld, my favourite is a girl we met at age nine in the book The Wee Free Men, Tiffany Aching.

Through four incredible Young Adult novels (being, in order, The Wee Free Men, A Hatful of Sky, Wintersmith, and I Shall Wear Midnight), author Terry Pratchett has created a young girl who is both sympathetic and terrifying. Tiffany begins her journey in pursuit of a missing younger brother, ends up fighting faerie queens and the personification of Winter and eventually ends up featuring in what might be my favourite ending of a fantasy book I’ve ever come across.

At her heart, Tiffany is a young girl from a small rural community who is quite talented at making great cheese (a talent she never downplays, regardless of how formidable her witching prowess becomes), she is very focused on getting things done and has the ability to not just think about things, but to think about the way she thinks about things.

If you’ve never cracked a Discworld novel before, and don’t want to start way back at the beginning (the books are a shared world series, so with some exceptions you can read them in virtually any order) the four books featuring young Miss Aching would be a wonderful place to start exploring the series.