Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: Alan Grant

This morning I finished the 2004 novel State of Fear by Michael Crichton, leaving me only two more of his books to go before I've read them all. Like pretty much everyone my age, I first became aware of the author back in 1993 when Jurassic Park came out, which features our genre character of the week, Palaeontologist Alan Grant.

Like the leads from most other Crichton books, Dr. Grant is respected in his field, passionately dedicated to his work and a bit of a jerk. What I like best about the character is the fact that while running from terrify hoards of dinosaurs (I was sixteen when the movie came out, but come on - that stuff is pretty amazing), he learns a little about himself and actually helps out a couple of kids who need him both for his expertise and as emotional support.

Sure the story was pretty much a 1950's B-Movie plot dressed up with state-of-the-art Special Effects, but darn it if it doesn't hook me every time I watch or read it (I've read the book twice and seen the movie six or seven times).

Both the book and the film are great summer entertainment, and if you haven't checked them out for a while, it is definitely worth picking them up again.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Book Review: The Gunslinger

For one of my book clubs this week we chose The Gunslinger, by Stephen King. Friends of mine from Junior High (when I went through my first Stephen King mania) will remember me going on and on about how cool this book was, even though it was sort of a western. Friends from five years ago (when I read The Dark Tower series as well as all connected books over the course of a year) will recall me going on and on about the mythic feel of the book and the impressive structure of the story - for instance the fact that the first part of the first story in The Gunslinger is actually told backwards; While chasing the man in black across the desert, Roland recalls his last meeting with another person, and while there he discussed his actions in his last town, etc.

But today I'm just going to talk about how much I love this book.

First of all - until I saw Firefly years later, this was the first time I can remember a cross-genre book wherein one of the genres was a western.

Secondly, the mythic and dream-like qualities of the book are pretty amazing, the world inhabited by the gunslinger has modern day (well, 1981) references, high tech machinery (and robots if you read the 2003 revision), as well as a connection to King Arthur and Merlin.

Finally, This bizarre fantasy/Horror/SF/Western series is so good I got my SF loving BFF Mike to read it and he really liked it!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Things I’ve noticed: It’s not that easy being green

So here I am a week later, and am trying to put together how I felt about the film Green Lantern. Here’s what the movie had in its favour, space travel, aliens, a rich back story, Ryan Reynolds, and the fact that I saw the poster for it in the film I Am Legend four years ago.

In a summer filled with Super hero films (so far I’ve seen Thor, X-Men: First Class, and Green Lantern – next month I’ll be checking out Captain America: The First Avenger), it is really easy to compare the film to its contemporaries. So lets do that.

Compared to Thor, Green Lantern wasn’t quite as funny, or epic in scale. Sure there was this whole alien corps of Green Lanterns, but with the exception of three of them no member of the corps did anything but cheer or die. I did like the villain character of Hector Hammond more than I liked Loki (from Thor), but by the end of the film I felt the character had been under-utilized. I realize that Thor and Green Lantern have two very different tones (one leaning towards SF and the other towards Fantasy), but I felt more connected to the characters in the one from Marvel.

Compared the film to X-Men: First Class is significantly trickier as the Mutant titles has four films worth of back story to draw upon and therefore doesn’t have to explain everything that is going on as it happens. As a film, I liked X-Men First Class a lot due to its pairing of a superhero movie with a film in a historical setting. I did keep hoping throughout Green Lantern that there would be a Superman or Batman reference, but to be fair I kept hoping for the same thing with X-Men: First Class, which had references to the other X-Films but nothing about the larger Marvel Universe.

Personally, I’ve never been much of a Green Lantern fan – the character is cool and all but in terms of DC Comics I always preferred Batman (or more honestly, pretty much anything in their Vertigo line). The character seemed cool, and a Green Lantern-themed article in the onion was the funniest thing I read in 2002, but overall, except for his appearances in Justice League comics I have very little knowledge of the character and back story.

I felt the film hit me with a lot in one movie, three major villains, super powers, an intergalactic corps of policemen, and throughout I wondered if some of these things could have been saved for later films. The movie was fun, I enjoyed myself while watching the film but it didn’t really stand out in any way for me. I’m sure my kids will end up owning it, and if they make a sequel I’ll go see it (I’ve always felt that most Superhero films do better as sequels), but other than saying it was a good film, and I do recommend seeing it on the big screen.

I honestly believe the overall problem comes from the fact that lately there are (sorry fellow fanboys) too many big budget superhero films out there. The ones I’m most excited for these days are the Marvel Avengers-based ones, as each film not only stands on their own, but is also building towards something.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: Cormac Wallace

Last Friday I had the pleasure of reading Daniel H. Wilson's Robopocalypse. This book, which took me a day to read is bascially as disaster-movie-style novel set in a near future (our cars drvie us around and most people have robot butlers) where all of the robots in the world get switched to evil and attempt to destroy mankind.

The novel is being made into a movie in 2013 and although the novel does, at times, read like a film treatment, it was an incredible read, full of excitement, robots and a lot of horror. As my pet sub-genre is post-apocalyptic fiction, I've got to say this works incredibly well for me, it features a large cast of engrossing characters, and specirfically this week's genre character, Cormac "Bright Boy" Wallace.

The book follows eight characters through the build-up, the event, the aftermath and the eventual rebellion against the machines. Cormac begins his journey in Boston, and ends up swept up in one of the most frightening wars imaginable, because unlike an alien or zombie-based apocalypse, Robopocalypse feels much more like a nuclear one, an end of our own devising.

What I like best about Cormac is that he is definitely the stories every-man; he's not a soldier, computer genius or politician, he's just a kid swept up into something really terrible. Through it all however, he always does his best, and like most of my favourite characters, he learns.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happer Father's Day from Bookmonkey

Hi everyone,

Just a quick post this morning as my kids have plans for my entire day - Happy Father's Day to all my fellow Dads out there!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Things I've noticed: Sometimes you can overthink a video game

For the last two weekends I've been playing my newest game for the PS3 - Assasin's Creed. So far I'm loving the graphics, but I've got to say, somewhere down the line someone really over-thought this game.

The game suffers from having a number of early drawn-out cut scenes which focus entirely on exposition. There are a lot of these, and they go on for minutes. In my current favourite PS3 games, Katamari Forever, Brutal Legend and Little Big Planet, you actually get to play the game in the first half hour of game play, in this game, you get to spend a lot of time watching the cut scenes.

Next up, the game has a bizarre game-within-a-game set-up, you play some guy who is strapped into an Avatar-style bed which allows him to play around as an ancestor of his who happened to be an assassin in the middle ages. This seems needlessly complicated to me. Why can't you just play the assassin and cut out all of these strange cut scenes focusing on the modern-day guy. It's not like in Super Mario Brothers you play a guy who is strapped into a machine so he can play a plumber looking for a princess - that would be ridiculous! But that is exactly what this game has you do.

Finally (and this may change as I continue to play through the game) the open ended nature of the game, when it finally lets you start playing seems really vague. so far I've wandered around climbing towers and jumping off of them. That's about it, plus I've killed a couple guys and had some practice riding a horse. If I can't figure out what to do next by the weekend, I'll find a walkthrough online to give me some tips, but considering I'm only a couple hours into the game, this seems pretty strange to me.

At this point, I'm mostly playing the game because I've heard the sequels are great and secondly, as I spent $8 for this game I'd like to get some good play-time out of it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: Raederle of An

One of the best parts of getting my Bachelors degree is that my free reading time has gone up significantly, so for the last couple months I’ve upped my fun reading from seven to ten books a month. As far as categories go I’ve simply added a second horror, fantasy, and Science Fiction (SF) novel to the roster each month. For horror and SF this means I get to read more authors, but for Fantasy, this means I can start working through some series I’ve been meaning to look into.

Case in Point: The Riddle-Master of Hed trilogy by Patricia A McKillip. Having previously enjoyed her World Fantasy Award winning novel The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, I’d been meaning to check out this trilogy for a while now. Last month I read the first novel, The Riddle-Master of Hed, and this month I’ve been working through the rest of the trilogy. Today I’m going to be looking at the main character from book two, Heir of Sea and Fire, Raederle of An.

In quest-based Fantasy novels, the staple of the princess at the end of the quest is a long known one. Usually the hero must go through many journeys and dangers before he can claim the princess as his bride. There are two things I like a lot about the way these books work:

1) The hero, Morgan, begins the first book having already beaten a ghost king at a riddle contest, and therefore is owed the hand of Raederle of An, a princess. The problem is, as he is the ruler of a small farming community, he hasn’t told anyone he has beaten the ghost as he is unsure of whether or not the princess would like to spend the rest of her life on a farm.

2) Raederle does something that I wish I saw more of in Fantasy books, after waiting for the winner of the contest to claim her throughout the first book (which is told from Morgan’s point of view), she begins the second book by decided that she has waited long enough and begins her own quest to hunt her betrothed down.

In fact, throughout the entire second book we follow her, as well as a female warrior and Morgan’s sister as they quest to locate the missing ruler of Hed.

For me, the idea of the princess at the end of the quest being willing to meet you halfway was such an amazing idea I couldn’t stop smiling while I read the book (except in the scary parts, where there was a heck of a lot of danger going on).

I haven’t read the final book of the trilogy yet, Harpist of the Wind, but if it is anything like the first two, I’m definitely going to like it.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Book Review: Pavane

Since I started reading through this list of classic SF novels a few years back, I'm pleased to say that with only one small exception (yes, I'm looking at The Cornelius Quartet), I've really enjoyed all of the works of SF I've come across. A lucky few have even cracked my top ten SF novels of All time (I'm looking at you Earth Abides) and a few, including the latest book on my list have introduced me to new areas of the genre.

Pavane, by Keith Roberts is the second Alternate History book I've read on the list, the first being the amazing Bring the Jubilee by Ward Moore, and I've got to say that the more I read Alternate History SF, the more I'm liking it.

Rather than a traditional novel, Pavane works as a sequential series of short stories following a (mild spoiler) family line in England from the 1960's to about the year 2000. The key difference is that during her reign, Elizabeth I was assasinated and therefore the Spanish Armada defeated Britain. The following five centuries are dominated by the Roman Church and the innovations in technology we live with today have actually been banned, so that the last half of the twentieth century still has steam engines and mass communication is transmitted by Semaphore rather than telephone, or even telegraph signals.

The stories are all pretty great (although some are definitely better than others), and all in all it does a remarkable job a painting a dark world of what might have been.

A seriously good book and strongly recommended.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Things I've Noticed: Sometimes Pomp and Circumstance can be pretty cool

I just got back from my university convocation - kind of like a graduation, but with strange medieval style hoods and a lot more razzmatazz that anything I've been to before.

The picture to the left sort of looks like the outfit I had, only there wasn't a hat and the red area was a little fancier.

When I was seventeen I skipped the province rather than attend my own high school grad, so today was my first education-related ceremony I've attended since my daughter's high-school grad last year (or my junior high farewell back in the early '90s - our slow song of choice that year was More than Words by Extreme), and I've got to say, this was a pretty amazing shindig.

Good eats, nice people and very fancy, I'm also quite enamoured with the various items you get to wear with higher education - the hats are pretty amazing!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: Eddie Russett

I spent about a week last month reading the novel Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde, and although my BFF Mike has put up a great review here, I thought the main character definitely had what it takes to be a Genre Character of the week, so without further ado, Eddie Russett.

Eddie lives in a dystopian future, (our existence is referred to as “The Previous”) wherein all society is divided into a class structure based on the member’s perception of colours. Eddie is a Red, who at the beginning of the novel is travelling with his swatchman (healer) father to East Carmine, a town on the Outer Fringes. While there, Eddie has been commanded to perform a chair census as a punishment for a practical joke he played on the prefect’s son of his home town.

I can’t go into much more of the plot as it gets increasingly complicated and by the end of the book I’m pretty certain none of the characters are actually human (or entirely human, anyway). Eddie himself starts out as a teenager who believes he has planned out his entire life only to discover that life has plans for him far outside of his wildest dreams.

As a character, Eddie is cursed with a curious nature, always focusing on asking the why’s of various things, and it is exactly this curiousity which will control his destiny.

The book appears to be the first of a trilogy, and as the others are not yet published it might be worthwhile to wait if you don’t like taking breaks between sequels.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Movie Review: X-Men First Class

On Saturday I went with my mother, brother, youngest daughter and a friend of her's to see X-Men First Class. This was actually a pretty good movie, the effects were great, the story was compelling and the acting was far better than I was expecting.

Set in the early 1960's, the film focuses on the early relationship between Charles Xavier (Professor X) and Eric Lehnsherr (Magneto), as well as the first group of kids who could be classified as X-Men.

The villain in the film is called Sebastian Shaw, and is played by Kevin Bacon and his group, (called the Hellfire Club) includes some pretty powerful mutants as well - specifically Emma Frost, played by January Jones (Betty Draper from Mad Men).

My favourite things about the film were 1) Michael Fassbender as the young Magneto. I've liked this guy a lot in the films I've seen him in (300, Centurion, Inglorious Basterds), but he is pretty darn amazing in this film, 2) James McAvoy as the young Professor X (who I've liked in everything from Last King of Scotland and Shameless to the first Narnia movie), who also shows us a pretty compelling character throughout the film, and finally 3) I really loved the pairing of a superhero film with a historical setting (specifically the Cuban Missile Crisis in this film), as it gave the audience a double treat, working both as a historical fiction film and a superhero film.

I don't really have a lot of complaints about the film - I wish we could have seen more of the new team (both Jennifer Lawrence and Nicholas Hoult were great and I've loved to have seen more with them, and the was a lack of any end-scene after the credits (something I've grown used to in X-Men movies in the past).

In the end, a strong, solid film, and well worth your cash.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Things I've noticed: The Trouble with Jerry Cornelilus

Here’s the thing about my relationship with author Michael Moorcock – as an older teen getting out of Dungeons and Dragons and into Vampire the Masquerade, I started to notice that my fellow gamers were talking less about Dragonlance novels and more about Elric of Melnibon√©, who was apparently the Emperor of an alternate Earth, an albino, and an elf. At the time I was getting pretty heavy into reading Role Playing Game rulebooks from cover to cover so I decided to hold off on the character.

My next brush with the author came with a book called Nomad of the Time Strems, a collection of stories about Oswald Bastable, a British Captain travelling through an alternate earth through some of the coolest Alternate history stories I’ve ever read.

Last month I hit my most recent connection, in a best of SF novels list I've been working through I came across The Final Programme, the first of the Cornelius Quartet. I decided that I'd try to read all four of the books, and as there are many people who say how great this character is I thought I'd have a great treat ahead of me.

The first book was, okay. A little weird, with more than a little creepiness thrown in, it went all over the place, following multiple characters and forcing me to read and re-read chapters to try and understand what was going on. In the end I was confused, but assumed the series would make more sense as I worked my way through.

Next up was The Cure for Cancer, and I'm sorry to say this is where I stopped. The chapters followed Jerry through a desolate future wherein most of the western world was clearly running down and althrough I could follow the events from chapter to chapter it was mostly an exercise in frustration for me.

Here's the thing, I've heard a lot of good stuff about this series, but as I was really not enjoying myself through the second book I figured that I should take a break and re-visit the books later (maybe in my '40s the story will make more sense).

In the end I love reading, and challenges can be fun as well, but if I'm not enjoying myself, I don't see anything wrong with taking a break.