Friday, September 30, 2011

From the Desk of Bookmonkey

As my next month of posting will be focusing on recent re-imaginings of the horror films I grew up with, I thought I would take my last post to fill you in on my what to expect when things return to normal in November:

1) I should have a whole new bunch of books to review – the one I’m most excited about? Shock Value: How a few eccentric outsiders gave us nightmares, conquered Hollywood, and invented modern horror, by Jason Zinoman. The book focuses on the horror genre in film throughout the ‘70s, and as any number of my favourite horror films were made in that decade it has me pretty excited!

2) Although I won’t have many “First Impressions” posts regarding the new genre television shows (Terra Nova is actually the only one that comes to mind right now, and I’m not hearing a lot of great stuff about it), I will be taking a look at a number of my favourite genre shows growing up.

Hope you have a great weekend, and be sure to check back all next month as I review the recent reimagining of horror.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: Morgaine

As I mentioned last Friday, I’m currently reading the 1983 fantasy novel, The Mists of Avalon, and as I’m nearing the end of that story, I’m happy to say I’ve found this week’s genre character, Morgaine.

The premise of the book is pretty simple – tell the story of King Arthur from the point of view of the women in the legend; His Mother Igraine, Half-Sister Morgaine, and his Wife, Gwenhwyfar. The interesting thing about the book is the many levels it works on; showing a human side to an epic legend, showing the opposing world views of paganism and Christianity, and looking at the legend while specifically keeping in mind the rules and responsabilities that women held at the time.

The majority of the story comes from Morgaine’s point of view, and she is portrayed as a tragic character; starting as a young woman abandoned by her parents and feeling as if the world is using her poorly throughout. The appeal for me is how complex the character is shown as well as having a really interesting character arc.

The story does hit all the major beats of the legend (Arthur, Merlin, Round Table, Camelot, Lancelot, Mordred, The Quest for the Grail and others), but shown from Morgaine’s point of view, the events take a new light and show a world order being overwhelmed by something new.

The book is really big (my copy runs at 876 pages) and I’ve been reading it for over a week now, but in the end it is definitely worth checking out.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Top Five Comics I'm still getting around to reading

As I'm sitting here typing away in my study, I'm faced directly by my bookshelf of books to be read and I'm realizing that my comic book and graphic novel collection is starting to pile up. I've been pretty focused on novels and school work for the last year and therefore the important business of comic book reading has fallen to the wayside a little (Interestingly I've read a number of books about comics this year, but that's not quite the same thing).

So here we go - Bookmonkey's top five list of comics I own but still haven't gotten around to reading yet:

5. Tiny Titans - this kid-aimed comic actually belongs to my youngest daughter, but those teeny tiny little versions of the Teen Titans are consistently awesome - I'm about 10 issues behind.

4. Jack of Fables - I got up to volume 5 (I think), to just about where the Great Fables Crossover occurs and haven't gotten back to the series since - I own them, I just haven't read them yet - I'm about 4 trade paperback collections behind.

3. Fables - Same story as above, only I'm about 5 trade paperback collections behind ( I did read Peter & Max, however, and it was awesome).

2. Hellboy - This one is a little embarrassing, although I'm only one trade paperback collection behind (and it only came out about a week ago), I'm usually so good about reading this title that a new collection doesn't spend a night in my house without me checking it out.

1. Starman - This one is actually the worst (not the series, I haven't read it yet), I mean this is my worst offender, as I own all six Starman Omnibus collections in hardcover, have heard nothing but praise from my friends who have read it, and it has a Hellboy crossover and I still haven't gotten past issue one! The series looks so good, but I just haven't had the time to begin!

So there you go - the comics I own that I still need to get around to reading. I've just got a few more books to read this month and then I'm totally going to start (only next month is happening in just over a week and then I have seven more books to read...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Things I've Noticed: The Ladies love The Mists of Avalon

One of my favourite parts of commuting to work is that I get some extra time for reading; both on the buses and trains I take as well as at the bus stops while I’m waiting (my commute is both strange and interesting), and I love when people approach me to talk about whatever it is I’m currently reading.

Last year while I read the Twilight series for my October posts, there were a lot of comments, but most of them went along the lines of,

“Hey, check that guy out – he’s reading Twilight!”


“Doesn’t that guy realize that only little girls read Twilight?” (The Team Edward backpack my BFF Mike leant me probably didn’t help).

Currently I’m reading The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley (a 1983 novel which tells Arthurian legend from the point of view of the women in the story) and I can honestly say I haven’t had this positive response to whatever I’m reading for quite a while.

With the exception of one ride, I have been approached by at least one woman per bus trip I’ve taken to work or school (eight trips so far this week), who will ask me how I’m liking the book so far, if I’m aware of the many prequels and sequels and whether I have seen the 2001 TV mini-series adaptation.

I’m not complaining about the attention (and yes, my lovely wife, I make sure to mention you in my first reply, for example, “Yes, I am enjoying the book; my wife, the apple of my eye, my one and only, and the mother of my children, has been telling me to read this story for years!), but it is pretty impressive to me that a book that is currently creeping up on thirty years since it was published still gets this level of attention.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: Mark

Last month I turned 35, and as was demanded in some local by-law (I’m pretty sure), it required me to take a good look at my own mortality. Here’s the thing, at 35 I’m somewhere between a third and halfway through my expected life span (The guys in my family tend to die of natural causes somewhere between age 56 to their late 70s), and even considering the fact that I don’t drink or smoke, It is pretty safe to state that I’m either nearing the top of the roller coaster or beginning to head down the other side (which is, after all the really fun part).

Last weekend I finished reading the 1977 novel Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm, and I’ve got to say the book is pretty cool. The premise is pretty simple – as the end of the world begins to become apparent to a well situated family, they decide the way to ride out the coming storm is through cloning. The novel follows (mild spoilers) the human creators, their first batch of clones, a later batch of clones and eventually, this week’s genre character, Mark.

Yesterday I spend some time thinking over how best to describe what appealed about the character – he comes generations after the first protagonist has died, and in his own way, may be the savior of a future human race. He is an outcast in a society of clones (his parents created him the old fashioned way), and although he has a lot of loneliness and anger to deal with, he really loves the people who he shares his world with.

I know that in the long view, I have put my faith in my kids to live a good life, hopefully telling their kids and grandkids a little about old Great-Grandpa Bookmonkey, and maybe, just maybe, leave their world a little better than it will be when they first show up.

In the end, that's all I'm hoping for myself.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Movie Review: Danger Diabolik

I love how sometimes things just line up to bring awesomeness directly into my life. Case in point; a few weeks back I was reading Supergods by Grant Morrison (a really great book about the history of super-hero comic books and their effect on the culture) when I came across a reference to a comic book movie I had never heard of called Danger Diabolik.

The reference in the book named the director as Mario Bava, who had directed a 1961 horror film I really enjoyed called Back Sunday which mixed some really disturbing imagery with a pretty creepy concept and reminded me that I should really be looking at Italian Horror someday soon.

Anyway, as I had heard of the director and now the film, it was time to research whether or not I could get my hands on the movie when my good friend Ron mentioned he owned the movie on DVD and would be happy to bring it over.

Having just seen the movie a couple days ago here is my unbiased and critical opinion...

Danger Diabolik is awesome.

Yup, that's what all my research into spy films, comic book films and Italian films has got me - the movie is incredibly cheesy - I mean, honestly I can't even begin to describe how utterly ridiculous and at the same time totally awesome this movie is to me.

The main character, Diabolik is a criminal, stealing unbelievable amounts of money and specializing in the ridiculous. The film is filled with action sequences, explosions and some of the most incredible I-can't-believe-I-just-saw-that moments I've come across in a long time.

If you can get a hold of this movie, see it. If not, I'm sorry.

Thanks Ron!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Things I've Noticed: FREEDOM!

Finally! After weeks and weeks of confinment in my fibreglass prison I am free to wreck my vengeance upon humanity! Lock me away will you? Now nothing can come between me and my plans for... ummm... I dunno...

(Sound of embarrased Bookmonkey attempting to think of a quick plan)

All right, honestly my biggest plans right now involved taking a shower without wrapping my arm in a towel and stuffing it in a garbage bag for good measure, and also work, and blogging, and sleeping without accidently wacking my wife with my cast in my sleep.

A quick thanks to my BFF Mike for handling my anniversary post as I was in no position to write it myself.

Right now I'm feeling pretty great - looking forward to exercising and doing all the things I was unable to do while I was incapacitated, also looking forward to my family no longer bothering me about how much I complained about my enforced imprisonment.

I'm FREE!!!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: Gwen Cooper

Yesterday I started watching Torchwood: Miracle Day with my youngest daughter and about halfway through I realized that I had never done a Genre character of the week for anyone from the series as of yet, so this week lets focus on my favourite character, Gwen Cooper.

As soon as I typed in her name I hit a pretty tricky dilemma; Torchwood is filled with plot-twisting goodness and just finished it's fourth season, and if you haven't ever seen the series before, I don't want to wreck anything for you (honestly, if you've never seen the series before, go on and check it out - it is significantly darker than its parent series, Doctor Who, but at the same time, rides the really hard to find line between Horror and Science Fiction with some of the most wondrous and creepy stories I've ever come across in television).

So, what to say about my favourite character from the show without giving away any spoilers, okay, here goes.

1) In 2006 Gwen entered the series as a police officer in the city of Cardiff
2) She is portrayed amazingly by actress Eve Myles
3) She ends up tied as (mild spoiler) my favourite character of the Doctor-Who-niverse (is that a real word?)

For those of you in the mood for a darker series, Torchwood is a great place to start, and after you check it out, I can tell you all why I like the character so much.

Monday, September 12, 2011

RIP Cliff Robertson

Here's the thing about Cliff Robertson, for me, even though I saw him most recently in the Spider-Man movies (in which he played Peter's Uncle Ben), he will always be best remembered as Charly Gordon in the film Charly (based on the story Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes).

For me, Charly was the first example of a science fiction film that didn't rely on action (laser guns, space ships, etc.), but instead on character to get its point across. The film (and if you haven't seeen it, stop reading and go request it from your local library now) sits as one of my favourite SF movies overall, and the biggest reason for that is the main character, as portrayed by Cliff Robertson.

Honestly, the guy helped lead me towards the more cerebral SF (and stories overall) I enjoy as an adult.

We'll miss you.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Things I've Noticed: Life with a short arm cast can be interesting

I've got a week left with my cast on - next Thursday they'll be taking it off and hopefully the x-rays they take will allow them to leave it off.

Having spent the last three weeks wearing a cast here is what I've learned:

1) No matter how cool you think casts are, they are not worth breaking a bone over.
2) As I broke a bone in the wrist of my dominant hand, my handwriting has suffered significantly
3) I can type, but I need to take my time and a number of breaks
4) I miss just being able to go for a walk without carrying an emergency garbage bag and elastic band in case of rain.
5) People are actually quite interested in casts, and will go out of their way to come and talk to you about it.

In the end, I'm really REALLY looking forward to being finished with my arm cast, but it hasn't been all bad - also getting people to sign my cast has been a real hoot.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: Songbird

Have you ever felt like you were the sole voice of reason in a roomful of crazies? How about if those crazies were all super-powered? A couple weeks back I was loaned a copy of Warren Ellis' Thunderbolts: Faith in Monsters, which follows a team of super-powered folks in the post-Civil War Marvel Universe who spend their time tracking down unregistered heroes. The character that caught my attention the most, Melissa Joan Gold, aka Songbird.

All right, let me back up, Civil War (which I never read) was a massive Marvel comic crossover event back in 2006 which ruined not one, but two comics I was currently reading (Fantastic Four and Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man), and basically ended up with all the heroes in the Marvel Universe (Iron Man, Captain America, The X-Men, Spider-Man, etc.), taking sides on whether or not the government should be involved in their business.

In the end the decision was yes, and somehow a team of super-villains were put together to hunt down heroes who refused to register. The team included Spider-Man villain Venom, Daredevil villain Bullseye and as a boss they had Norman (The Green Goblin) Osborn. As the team existed before Osborn's reign, there were a couple holdovers, including the once-villain-now-conflicted-hero Songbird.

Songbird spends much of the story arc attempting to bring the extreme level of violence her new team-mates like to use down to merely terrible levels. Honestly, this series really looks at the idea of making the best of a terrible situation and takes it to superhuman levels. As a story it was very violent (I wouldn't let my 14-year-old read it), but as with all of Ellis' writing, it was very, very good.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Series Review: Falling Skies

Over the last week I’ve watched the 2011 SF series Falling Skies with my wife and youngest daughter. Two months ago I posted my impressions of the first couple episodes and now that we’ve finished the first season here’s what I’ve learned.

1) My youngest daughter likes bad boys (this does not bode well for her dating years)

2) The series is a pretty decent post-apocalyptic drama, which I’d rank slightly above Jericho (Aliens trump bombs), but slightly below Jeremiah, Survivors (2011) and my currently tied favourites The Walking Dead and the Battlestar Galactica reboot.

Throughout the ten episodes which made up the first season, the stories focused on the importance of sacrifice, family, teamwork and good communication. Also I really enjoyed the references to military history in terms of fighting an alien menace. The acting was strong, the story was engrossing, and although I wouldn’t have made all the same choices these survivors did, the fact that they focused on some pretty tough ones made for good drama.

As the series was renewed for a second ten-episode season to air next summer, I definitely look forward to it.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Things I've Noticed: Historical Fiction is pretty amazing

A few months back I did a “Genre Character of the Week” featuring Matthew Corbett, the protagonist of the Robert R. McCammon novel, Speaks the Nightbird. The story in question followed a magistrate’s clerk in 1699 America and his involvement with a witch trial. Earlier today I finished the third novel in the series, Mr. Slaughter.
These three novels (The second is titled The Queen of Bedlam) give a really interesting look at colonial life in the context of a mystery novel. Once a historical novel becomes a series the opportunity to world build starts showing up and these books definitely do not disappoint. Starting in the Carolina colonies and moving to New York well before it became NYC, the stories, which I would describe as a mix of action, mystery and horror, show a world I wasn’t terribly familiar with before. The closest example I can give of how much I like this series is to compare it to my two other favourite Historical Fiction mystery series, The Cadfael books by Ellis Peters and the Novels of Ancient Rome mysteries by Steven Saylor.
Although I’m mostly a Fantasy/Horror/SF guy myself, I have to say that the more I read of historical fiction, the more I’m digging it.