Thursday, July 28, 2011

Things I've noticed: The oldest stories are still the best

When it comes to classic tales of horror, Frankenstein has pretty much everything you need in it: Guy creates a monster, monster chases man, man and monster destroy each other (sorry for the 110 year spoiler).

The 2010 South Korean horror film I Saw The Devil is a modern twist on this classic tale. In this version, the monster exists first, brutally killing a woman early in the film. The twist is that the cop going after hiim turns himself into another monster, playing a deadly game of cat and mouse with this horrible killer.

The film is really, really intense and quite graphic, so I wouldn't recommend it for the newcomer to the genre. The monsters in the film are all human and there are a lot of very disturbing images throughout.

For me the most shocking thing about the film was how it took this classic story of a man creating something that should not be and having the thing that should not be turn a man into another thing like itself.

Although it was a harrowing experience the film was definitely worth checking out, story and character are so often under-used in horror.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: Valentine the Juggler

Every time you read a book or watch a movie, you begin by putting together a basic understanding of who the characters are – like I said in my review of the YA book Twilight, the book begins by stating

“My Mother drove me to the airport with the windows rolled down.” As far as a first sentence goes, it does the job – I know the story will be from a first person perspective, that the narrator is going on a trip, probably without her mother, and that wherever she is leaving from has a nice enough climate to drive with the windows down.

The book I read this week actually begins much more like the film Memento, wherein the main character is also trying to figure out who he is from the context presented in his story so far. Valentine, the lead in Robert Silverberg’s “Lord Valentine’s Castle” begins the story outside of a small town, walking down the road. He feels as if he has walked for a while, but past that he doesn’t have the slightest idea where he came from or who he is.

The novel itself is one of self discovery, as Valentine puts together who exactly he is, the reader is shown the world of Majipoor, a planet which was colonized by “Old Earth” thousands of years ago. The story is an intriguing mix of Science Fiction and Fantasy and definitely works as both.
The first people Valentine meet are jugglers, and he takes up with them and begins to learn the trade himself. Also, kudos to the author for making me very interested in the mechanics of juggling, something to which I’ve only had a passing interest up until now.

The book is pretty cool, and although it does include a significant amount of world building (where the author spends a lot of time describing his setting), Valentine’s world comes off as a very interesting one.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Book Review: Who Made Stevie Crye?

Last week I read a 1984 horror novel called Who Made Stevie Crye? by Michael Bishop. The book begins as a horror novel, and then begins to move in a pretty surreal direction, ending up with a novel that works both as horror and as parody.

The story in a nutshell - Journalist Stevenson (Stevie) Crye is a mother of two and a recent widow. Her husband Ted, before dying of cancer left her a typewriter which she could use for her work as a freelance journalist. The book begins as the typewriter dies, leaving Stevie little choice but to get it repaired.

The repair, done by a suspicious young man named Seaton for $10 (the book was written in the '80s so the costs seemed a little small to me), begins acting strangely, first typing on its own and eventually transcribing Stevie's dreams. The strangest part about the writings however is they are given chapter numbers, numbers which match the chapters in the novel and are made up of the same text...

The book gets pretty strange but I've got to admit it was a fun ride and it definitely had me confused throughout (as was its aim) as to what was actually going on.

A fun read.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Things I’ve Noticed: The 2011 Remakes are tempting me

When it comes to genre films, reboots come with the territory. In fact, one of my favourite horror films The Thing (1982) was a remake of a 1951 movie, The Thing From Another World. This year there are not one or two, but five remakes I'm looking forward to seeing in theatres.

There are four in August; Conan The Barbarian, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, Fright Night, and Rise of the Planet of the Apes and then in October a prequel for The Thing. Personally I'm a pretty big fan of the originals of all of these (except for Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, which I've never seen but my BFF Mike has at least twice) so on paper the idea of remaking two films from the '70s and three films from the '80s seems a little stranger to me.

Personally I've always been a purist on classic versions of films (I'll go much deeper into this in my upcomming string of October posts - The Reimaging of Bookmonkery), so it would take a pretty big reason for me to even be considering checking these films out in theatres.

Here's why I'm probably going to check these movies out anyway:

Conan The Barbarian) I am really a huge fan of all things Conan (little known secret, my father's first choice for my name was Conan) so even though I was severely disappointed in the director's previous film Friday The Thirteenth (Which will become a post of its own in October), I honestly will have to check out the newest interpretation of my favourite barbarian.

Don't be Afraid of the Dark) is co-written by Guillermo Del Toro, author of The Strain series and director of any number of movies I love.

Fright Night) David Tennant is going to co-star, and darn it I loved him in Doctor Who.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes) looks really, really cool. Also after seeing pretty much every film starring James Franco from Freaks and Geeks forward, I'm interested to see how he does in a Science Fiction film.

The Thing) Honstly, when it comes to The Thing, it was already a remake, so a prequel is just continuing in the tradition of the 1982 film, and who am I to argue with tradition?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: Mandy Stevenson

Last year my friend Ron leant me The Avengers (The '60s UK series) on DVD and introduced me to a sub-genre of the espionage story - Spy-Fi (Wherein Spy stories included Science Fiction Elements). The series was pretty amazing and got me interested in more '60s television. Next up for me was The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and after 24 pretty great episodes in season one, I got to see this week's genre character, Portuguese translator Mandy Stevenson (pictured at left) in episode 25.

Here's the key concept behind The Man From U.N.C.L.E., each episode follows the exploits of two key agents, Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuriyakin who work for the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, in their struggles against THRUSH (no acronym given by the point I'm at in season one). Each episode follows their exploits from the point of view of an innocent, someone entirely unfamiliar to the dangers of Spy vs. Spy.

In my personal favourite episode of the first season, The Never-Never Affair, the innocent is a Portuguese translator for U.N.C.L.E. named Mandy Stevenson. Mandy is pretty bored with the hum-drum life of office work, and craves to do some actual fieldwork. Humouring her, Napoleon Solo sends her on a fake mission, leading her to believe that the risks are deadly (he's actually sending her to get a special brand of tobacco for the boss) and due to a misunderstanding at the office, sends her out with a real document of importance, which ensures the men after her will take extreme measures to get it back.

Played by Barbara Feldon (made famous as Agent 99 in Get Smart), Mandy come across as someone who is tired of the daily grind and really wants to get into something dangerous, and the epoisode does not disappoint: from a gunfight in a movie theatre (playing a war film) to one of the more exciting fight scenes of the season (in a mechanics garage and involving flying blades as well as fire), the episode is packed with misunderstandings and the simple bravery and initiative of this young woman.

Although the episode is number 25 in the season, The Never-Never Affair would be a great place for anyone interested in the series to get a taste for what the series can offer.

Monday, July 18, 2011

First Impressions: Falling Skies

Over the weekend I watched the first two episodes of the new SF series Falling Skies and so far I'm really liking it. The series stars Noah Wyle (from er and The Librarian series) as Tom Mason, a former history professor who is caught up in the aftermath of an alien invasion.

Unlike The Event, Falling Skies gives us aliens and an invasion directly from the beginning - instead of building up a mystery, we are given an action-drama set in the aftermath of an alien invasion.

The core of the show comes down to Tom and his three sons, an older teen, a middle teen and a little kid. The second son has been taken away by the aliens and put in a harness - a device the creatures use to control children and use them as manual labour. Tom and his other two children are part of a smaller group of rebels called the Second Massasuchetts, a group of 300 survivors looking to go to survive.

So far the series is pretty cool, and as a huge fan of post-apocalyptic stories, I've got to say it's right up my alley.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

300 Posts

Today marks the three hundredth entry I’ve made on my blog, and although I won’t be celebrating my two-year blog-aversary for another couple weeks (August 19th), I thought it would be good to use today’s post to describe my favourite parts of being a blogger in a top five list. So here we go:
Bookmonkey’s Top Five favourite things about being a blogger

5) Blogging has actually got me way out of my comfort zone – before I started blogging if you asked me to come out to some strange new activity I’d probably say no. As I am now in constant need to have new stuff to talk about here, my answer is definitely a yes (most of the time).

4) Blogging has help me respect the blogs of others – before I started blogging I took a look at a few blogs that impressed me, but wasn’t a regular reader of any blog. Since I started blogging I’ve got much better about publically following other blogs and making sure to comment where I can (comments are special little bursts of awesome every time I come across them – or they are SPAM, but what the heck – a comment is a comment)

3) Blogging has helped ensure I keep up to date on movies, TV and books, as well as reading my classics. Knowing that I have an online book review due each week has definitely helped ensure that I keep up my reading speed; otherwise I’d have quickly begun to run out of things to say. I tend to average around ten books a month and I owe a big part of that to all of you.

2) Blogging helped me become an “A Student” – growing up I was really good at gettings 90s in the classes I loved (English and Drama) and 50s in everything else. A large part of this came down to my reluctance to write. I read a lot, but my out-put wasn’t great. After writing a mini-essay three times a week for a year, I started noticing that the 2000 word essays I needed to do for University didn’t seem to bug me as much, and eventually I began to enjoy writing them. Once this happened my grades started going up and all because I started giving myself some weekly homework.

1) Blogging led me to the Blogosphere. Before I started blogging I had one blog I regularly visited, the one run by my favourite author, Neil Gaiman. Since I started blogging the number has long since run into the dozens as I am more and more impressed and awed by the quality of material I find out in the blogosphere, from blogs on Horror and Nutrition through to blogs which keep me updated on what my BFF is watching, I just can’t stop being impressed by my fellow bloggers.

Thanks everyone!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: Lavinia

Two of my favourite types of stories are those dealing with the Ancient World (see Gene Wolfe’s Soldier of the Mist series or the mysteries of Steven Saylor) and those that tell stories I think I’m familiar with but from a different point of view (Fables is great for this, but my personal favourite is Neil Gaiman’s Snow, Glass, Apples), so my current book, Lavinia, by Ursula K. Le Guin scores on both accounts and gives me this week’s genre character, Lavinia.

Lavinia retells a portion of Vergil’s Aeneid (an epic poem designed for Ceaser Augustus that “shows” a direct connection between the survivors of the Trojan War and the settlers of Rome), from the point of view of a bit character. In the actual poem, Lavinia, (a teen-aged princess) says nothing, but due to a bizarre event (a mystical fire appears over her head) she shuns the proposals of the royals around her and waits to marry Aeneas, the leader of the Trojan survivors of the ten-year assault on Troy described in Homer’s The Iliad.

The story itself follows our main character from an early age as an uncertain teen through to her own reign as a wise queen. There are definitely bits of fantasy throughout the story, but not as many as in the original texts (no gods get personally involved, but she does meet the ghost of Vergil, who won’t be born for centuries after her story takes place).

This is the eighth book I’ve read by Le Guin, and I have to say it now sits at the top of my list of her books (The Lathe of Heaven stands a close second, followed by A Wizard of Earthsea), but I can honestly say this book definitely ranks in my favourites of the last ten years.

A quick note for readers who might not be familiar with the Ancient World: Although I had some knowledge of the source material going in, I’ve never read the Aeneid, but I still found I could easily follow what was happening.

A great read.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Book Review: The Gods Themselves

As a fan of Science Ficiton, I've tried to make sure I've read the classics; Bradbury, Clarke, and Dick were all heavily featured in my reading habits as a young man, but I have to admit, aside from a few short stories, I had never read any Isaac Asimov before this week.

Before giving my review of the 1972 novel The Gods Themselves, here's what I knew about Asimov before reading the book.

1) Asimov created the three laws of robotics
2) His stories were behind the films Bicentennial Man and I, Robot
3) His Foundation series is a must read for Classic SF fans

My BFF Mike had read the book, but was pretty underwhelmed, although he freely admits to preferring Heinlein and Niven when it comes to classic SF.

For me, the book, separated into three parts looks at a suspiciously-perfect energy source which has recently arrived on a future Earth. We view the new device and it's potential problem from three different sources, one Earth-based, one Moon-based, and one based in another dimension from the point of view of three separate but connected creatures.

I loved how the structure of the story follows the structure of the alien creatures (three parts giving a whole picture) and was happy to see that for a Hard-SF book it looked at a lot of the reasons behind why different scientists acted the way they did.

A fun read, and honestly, a pretty decent introduction to Asimov.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Things I’ve Noticed: Some short story collections are better than others

Today I finished the short Story Collection, Dark Feasts: The World of Ramsay Campbell. I’ve only ever read one novel by the author – The Doll Who Ate His Mother, which was a pretty good read and created a kind of monster I had never read before. The reason I read this collection is that it was the 100th book of from the non-ficiton title, Horror: The 100 Best Books, which I’ve reviewed elsewhere.

This collection features a selection of short stories written by the author presented in publication order – specifically stories published from 1964 to 1987. This gives the reader the ability to see how the author has changed and grown over the years, from his earliest Lovecraft-inspired stories, through to some of the creepiest stories I’ve read in quite a while.

*Quick note – my personal favourites of the collection were In The Bag (1976), The Companion (1977), and The Fit (1980).

Earlier this year I read The Call of Cthulhu and other Stories, by H.P. Lovecraft which worked in the same format, allowing the reader to see the evolution of the author's style.

I do enjoy all types of anthologies and regular short story collections, but there is something I’m finding really cool about reading stories which were published over a long period of time and show just how much a writer's skill can grow.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: George Lonegan

Yesterday my wife and I watched the 2010 film Hereafter, starring Matt Damon and directed by Clint Eastwood. In addition to being a pretty good film, the movie also ended up including this week’s genre character, George Lonegan.

George is psychic. Whether or not he speaks to the dead or simply reads the spirit of live people well enough to think he speaks to the dead is up for debate, but what isn’t is his ability. He takes hold of your hands, makes a connection, and is then able to talk to you about someone you know who has passed on.

The last few years deluge-ion (delusion? – I mean a bunch), of Super Hero movies has shown me a number of varied and interesting super powers, but George views his as more of a curse than a blessing. Everyone he knows is enamoured with his ability, but also distant emotionally. There is an early event in the film involving a possible romance for George which seems to be working out well until the girl finds out about his ability, and then she needs to ask...

George works in a warehouse, doing a pretty basic job, as he has left his psychic job of the past behind and now merely wants to live life.

The movie itself works quite well, matching George’s story with that of a young British boy and a French reporter, and rotating between the three tales. The story is great, but the performances are what really got me.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Movie Review: Super 8

On Friday I went to check out the film Super 8 with my youngest daughter and some friends. The early trailers for the film didn't do much for me, but when I saw the first full trailer, and realized that this movie was going to be an homage to personal favourite films of my own including E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, it quickly moved up my list of must-see films.

Set in 1979 in a town called Lillian, Ohio, the film follows a thirteen-year-old boy named Joe Lamb, who, with a number of friends is hard at work on a film they are making for an upcoming contest. The film follows this young group of friends through the making of their film which is interrupted by a train wreck which releases some thing into the area.

Overall I enjoyed the film, but much like the videogame Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, it felt almost like two seperate stories spliced in the middle. What begins as something sort of like E.T. very quickly begins to move in a different direction.

I was very impressed by the special effects and the acting on behalf of the kids - the three main kids: Joel Courtney, Riley Griffiths, and Elle Fanning all brought a great sense of fun and realism to the film that I found wonderful and refreshing.

The film does have a more than a few plot-holes, but is totally worth the watch and if you can, it does deserve a big screen viewing.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Things I've Noticed: Sometimes I speak too soon

Happy Canada Day everyone! (for those of you South of the boarder, that means we get Friday rather than Monday off this weekend).

A couple weeks ago I gave my first impressions of the PS3 Game Assasins Crreed. I used phrases like "cut-scenes that go on forever," a "Bizarre game-within-a-game set-up," and finally an open-ended style that was "so vague" it came off as unhelpful.

Now, a couple weeks later and just about halfway through the game I'd like to re-address these issues.

First: Sorry - I spoke too soon and as my playing style (a couple hours each Saturday and Sunday) limits the amount of time I'm playing any game, I found it hard to get involved with the story. Four weeks into the game and I'm actually having a lot of fun.

Second: The open ended nature of the game, although difficult to figure out at first, gets to be a lot more fun as I start exploring the cities throughout the game. Basically you begin by climbing to the high spots throughout the city, then look around and get a bunch of mini-missions to do - the more mini-missions completed the better a chance you have at assassinating the bad guy in each level. Once the game got rolling I found this to be a lot of fun.

Finally: I'm still not a big fan of the game-within-a-game structure, every once in a while the character wakes up, is able to view two scientists argue and then goes to bed. Seriously, although you can wander around the lab, and occasionally read some emails or find a secret code, there isn't really a lot to this aspect of the game (so far - see I can learn!)

Anyway, almost immediately after my first review the game started to be a lot of fun, and in the spirit of all Canadians everywhere, I'd just like to say - sorry.

Happy Canada Day Everyone!!!