Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: The Dragon Sebeth

Hi folks, just like on Monday I'll be having a shorter post today as I'm pretty heavy into school work right now (and a tiny bit of Dead Space but honestly, it's mostly a school thing!) so let's dive right into this week's character: the dragon Sebeth.

Last week I read Jo Walton's novel Tooth and Claw, which features dragons as it's main characters who are living out a drama of society, manners and the law in the style of Victorian author Anthony Trollope.

The backbone of the entire novel focuses on a lawsuit between two members of a family over the inheritance offered by a dying father at the beginning of the novel. Sebeth is the mistress of the young dragon pressing the suit against the other and unlike the rest of the characters in the book, comes across as quite mysterious, as she lives well outside the social norms of the dragons world.

The novel is a lot of fun, and after a few chapters where I was struggling to understand this strange new world, the struggles of each of the characters began to work for me and by the end of the novel I was very inversted in what would happen to all the members of the family .

Monday, November 28, 2011

Book Review: 11/22/763

A quick one this week as I've had a lot of school work (all right and Dead Space work (SORRY!)) on my plate.

Stephen King's 11/22/63 is a pretty cool book - rather than his usual horror fare, this is more of a time travel fantasy story, like Richard Matheson's Somewhere in Time, or Replay by Ken Grimwood (both of which are also excellent time travel stories). In a way, it reminded me most of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander, in that the time travel aspect isn't science-driven and the story focuses more on romance and character than on concept.

The story in a nutshell, High School English teacher Jake Epping is introduced to a hole in time where he can travel to 1958, allowing him to change history. The catch, every trip resets the history changed from the previous trip, and it always begins in 1958 - so when Jake decides to save Kennedy in Dallas he has to live for five years in the late fifties and early sixties to get his shot.

The story is fun, clever and was a huge demmand on my time (well, the book and some space zombies). The book is relatively new, so it may be a while before you can get it from your libraries or in paperback, but it is a lot of fun and definitely worth the read.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Things I've noticed: How my PVR saves my time

For the last few years I've had a PVR, or Personal Video Recorder, hooked up to my television - like TiVo for you folks in the States, and the thing is, for a device I purchased due to all its time saving abilities, I am sure devoting a lot of time to watchig stuff on it.
Here is what my PVR offered me when my wife and I decided to get it:

1) No more commericals (unless I wanted to watch them)

2) We could record two things at the same time, while watching a third thing (as long as it was a thing already waiting in our PVR)

3) The machine could hold hours and hours of television for us

4) We could tell the machine which shows we like, and it would tape them at whichever weird hours they aired.

A few years later and my machine is just short of 90% full for the fifth or sixth time and I'm looking at my weekend and thinking, how many of these shows can I watch before new stuff starts airing on Monday?

You know, back in the '70s, before PVRs or even VCRs, the choices for a nights entertainment were pretty simple: Was there anyting you wanted to watch airing on television? If not, go make your own fun.

Then came the '80s and the ability to both tape a show to watch whenever you liked as well as however many times you liked. In theory this meant more freedom, but suddenly people started getting a back log of tapes, which soon included movies and even television shows. DVD and Blu-Ray have given us more options, but suddently the day doesn't seem to have enough hours.
And now, as I look at the freedom offered to me by my PVR, I start to wonder, would I be better off without TV for a while?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Genre Character of the week: Isaac Clarke

For the last few weeks I’ve been playing the 2008 PS3 game Dead Space. My wife got it for me as an Anniversary gift (our 14th! which means if our marriage was a kid it could apply for a Learner’s permit!) and I’ve been playing it on the weekends ever since.

The game in three simple words?

Zombies. In. Space.

Seriously, it’s like back in 2007 someone at Electronic Arts went “Hey I think we should make a videogame for that Bookmonkey guy, and I’ve got just the right idea, Zombies in Space! Who is this Bookmonkey? Well let me tell you, next year this upstart Canadian Dad is going to jump onto the blogging bandwagon and a few months after that over a dozen people will be publicly following him on blogger – seriously! Now, it’s important to remember that he won’t be getting a PS3 until late 2010, and won’t even be touching this game until after Halloween in 2011, but we might get lucky and strike a chord with some other players between now and then, who knows, maybe more than one guy likes the idea of fighting space zombies!”

Anyway, my theories of game design (delusional as they may be) aside, the game follows an engineer named Isaac Clarke, named after Science Fiction authors Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke (neither of which wrote about space zombies) who spends the entire game fixing a massive mining ship in deep space while fighting off zombies and also happens to be our genre character of the week.

Isaac doesn’t actually speak, but he is resourceful, brave and willing to fight his way through some of the nastiest zombies I’ve ever come across – seriously the game has some pretty nasty visuals, so make sure your kids are in bed before you start playing.

I guess what I like best about Isaac is the fact that he’s not a soldier, but instead a guy who goes around fixing things and making his world a better, zombie-less place.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Book Review: The Walking Dead Rise of the Governor

Long time readers of my blog will be pretty familiar with this, but for those of you visiting The Wisdom of Bookmonkey for the first time, I'm a pretty big fan of zombie stories; yup, whether comedic, terrifying, or post-apocalyptic, I have always been a pretty big fan of stories involving the walking dead.

Currently The Walking Dead is both my favourite comic book series and my favourite television series, so when a novel came along focusing on one of the comic-book series biggest villains I had to take a look.

The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor, written by original series creator Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga follows a small group of friends and family just after the initial zombie outbreak and shows us a much darker view of the world normally inhabited by Rick Grimes and crew. The story moved quickly, answered more than a few questions about the main character and even had a couple tie-ins for the fan of the comic book series.

The novel was a lot of fun, and I believe that even if you haven't read the original series or seen the show, it still stands quite well on its own. It was originally conceived as the first in a series of novels focusing on characters from the comics and if that is the case, I am definitely looking forward to more of these in the future.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Things I've Noticed: The More Anticipated the book, the less time to read it

Over the last couple days I've been working on the novel The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga. I ordered the book from my local comic book store a few months back and shifted things around so I could read it as soon as I got it added to my collection.

The thing is, it seems that the more I anticipate reading a title, the less time I actually have for reading it. Considering I read more than half a dozen books a month, it always seems that whichever book I look most forward to reading, the more busy my life tends to get.

Case in point, over the last few weeks I read the Starman Omnibus six volume collection by James Robinson (now don't get me wrong, I totally enjoyed that series and strongly recommend it here, but the books sat on my shelf for months - or in some cases years while I waited to own the entire collection), and overall things were going pretty smooth; I was on top of my assignment for my course, things were going good at both home and work and I moved through that series at a pretty good clip (roughly ninety comic issues in about five days).

Since I started this newest book, I've had a massive workload increase (both at my job and at school), people continue to walk up and chat with me every time I crack open the book (and yes, of course I stop reading to chat with people - I passed out of my moody, "Leave me alone I'm READING!!!" phase a few years back), and a pretty terrible snow storm added to a crowded bus ride home mean that I've had no time to read on my commute for the last couple days.

People often talk about a work/life balance, but for me there is a work/life/reading balance that requires extra work, and until I have that balance perfected, I will just have to resign myself to the fact that the books I'm most interested in reading will end up taking me three or four times the amount of time to read that all of my other books do.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: Starman

Often when writing these character reviews, I’ll say something like “this week’s genre character is definitely not someone I’d want to have over for dinner…” or “not someone I’d want to hang out with my kids” so I thought I would try for something different this week. This guy is actually someone I would happily have dinner with, and would be very interested in doing a used-book-store run with as well; the hero of Opal City, Starman, aka Jack Knight.

Written by James Robinson from 1994-2001, the comic series Starman follows Jack Knight, son of Ted Knight, who spent the majority of his life as protector of Opal City, Starman. The comic opens on Jack's brother David, the current Starman of Opal city, about a minute before he is (mild, 19-year-old spoiler) killed, and about a day before Jack decides to take up the name Starman for himself, for a limited time.

The series focuses on a type of superhero called a legacy hero, which is where different people over different generations act as the same hero, like the Nite Owl character in Watchmen. We see Jack, his father, others who took up the mantle and yes, even David all acting as Starman and while this is happening we see something happen in comics that I absolutely love:

Character development.

Jack starts out the series as a bit of a screw-up, having a strained relationship with his father and focused on his personal passion, collecting. Its funny, but with all the collectors who spend time reading comics, I think this is the first time I've ever come across a comic book character who is himself, a collector. Over the eighty issues of the series, Jack grows into a guy I really connected with, and honestly, a guy who sits right up at the top of my favourite comic book characters list, with Swamp Thing, Sandman, and Hellboy (my three personal favourite comic book characters).

If you've never given the series a shot, try it. I absolutely loved it.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Movie Review: Source Code

Last week I finally got around to seeing the film Source Code, directed by Duncan Jones, who made one of my favourite Science Fiction films of recent years, Moon.

The premise of the film follows a man named Colter Stevens who awakens on a train without remembering how he got there and quickly discovers that everyone on the train sees him as someone else. Then eight minutes later he and everyone else on the train die in a horrible explosion.

Stevens then awakens in a chair and is told he is on a mission where he must figure out who set the bomb in a repeating eight minute chunk of time - being the last eight minutes of another mans life.

The story moves quickly and I liked the acting of all the leads, but it wasn't quite as fun a movie as Moon (which I talked about here). The movie is a lot of fun, an although I probably won't end up owning it, it is definitely worth the watch.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Things I've Noticed: My library keeps sending me batches

It’s not really a complaint, per se. I mean, I enjoy getting new movies from my local library like everyone else, the problem is, I’ll put a who bunch of holds on items listed as “On Order” and although my position in the hold queue varies from #1 of 15 copies to #284 of 29 copies, everything seems to show up on the same weekend.

Last weekend I got the following films: Pom Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Rio, Unknown, Tabloid, and Source Code (which will get its own post soon).

This week I’ve got the following films: Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary, The Conspirator, Limitless, and The Lincoln Lawyer.The problem is that as all of these films (excluding Dracula – a title I got recommended to me from the very enjoyable Scotch & Comics podcast) have a very small window in which I can watch them and they keep showing up in these big batches. At my local library you can only keep DVDs for a week (which is pretty standard) and you can’t renew the DVDs you have out if someone else has a hold on the title (which is also pretty standard). This tends to leave me with about a week to fit in a half dozen new release films (90 minutes to 2 hours in length) with my own television watching, family time and schoolwork.

So I guess my problem with my local library comes down to the fact that they are too efficient and have many films I am quite interested in sitting in their current collection.

Ummmm…. I guess that isn’t really a problem so much as yet another reason I like my library a lot.
Never mind.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: Edward Mallory

Ahh, Science Fiction. After a month of focusing on Horror reimaginings, taking the time to read a book focused on the “What if?” rather than the “Who goes there?” is a great treat. One of the book club selections I read this month (I’m in two) was The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. The novel is an alternate history in which Victorian England has been transformed by the creation of Charles Babbages success in ushering in an era of working mechanical computers (in real life he did create many devices, but none that could work on the scale used in the novel). Although the book has three main character, the one I’ll be examining for this week is Edward “Leviathan” Mallory.

Why I really liked Ned Mallory in five words or less:

Ned Mallory, Paleontologist of Action

The novel itself begins by following a woman named Sylvia and ends following a spy/mystic named Laurence Oliphant, each of which get about ten percent of the story to themselves (Sylvia at the beginning at Laurence at the end). The majority of the book follows the adventures of Ned Mallory through the strange mechanical-computer based world of Victorian England. If I had to describe the style of writing, I would say the story works more as a series of vignettes than it does as a single narrative.

Mallory is a straight-forward man of action, who spends the majority of the novel caught up in dealings involving the highest levels of government and a number of cloak and dagger adventures. Although not quite a Steampunk-style Sherlock Holmes, I would say he was a Steampunk-style Alan Grant (even with the dinosaurs – sort of), in that he is a man of science required to be a man of action.

The book itself had a lot of references to Victorian England that simply went over my head (I was constantly using Wikipedia to see who all the supporting characters were in our timeline) but overall was a lot of fun, and like Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula (which was definitely more my cup of tea) introduced me to an alternate version of the era in a fun and unique fashion.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Book Review: A Dark Matter

The 2010 winner of the Bram Stoker Award for best novel was A Dark Matter, by Peter Straub. Having been a huge fan of the author from my first exposure to his works (The Talisman, which he co-authored with Stephen King in 1984) I can’t promise you an unbiased review, but hopefully a good one.

The book is kind of a mix of Rashamon (a Japanese film where an event was told and re-told from various points of view) and a faustian tale where someone makes a deal and ends up getting much more than they initially hoped.

The narrator is a novelist named Lee Hayward, who has been affected by an event he didn’t participate in from his childhood that involved each of his best friends (including the girl who would end up being his wife). The novel follows Lee as he attempts to put together exactly what happened on a day in 1966 when four of his friends accompanied some college kids and a sort of cult leader-type to try and perform some sort of ritual which ended up causing the death of one of the college kids and the disappearance of another.

The story works by describing the events from the point of views of each of the people involved and although they all describe the same event, there are some significantly telling differences between the versions we read. In the end the novel definitely spooked me, gave me some chills and then actually left me with a strange sense of hope. Totally worth the read.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Movie Review: Tower Heist

Last month I checked out an advanced screening of Tower Heist, which opens tomorrow, and although it isn’t actually Horror or SF, there is more than a little fantasy involved in the film.

My wife described the premise as “an everyman’s Ocean’s Eleven” and honestly that may be the best description I can give. The film focuses on the staff of a fancy-shmancy apartment building in New York who find out one day that the financial genius living in the penthouse was a scam artist and has bankrupted the entire staff’s pension plan. So, lead by the building manager, four of the staff members get together to rob from the rich and give to the poor – the poor being the rest of the staff at the tower.

The film was directed by Brett Ratner, who directed the Rush Hour series with Jackie Chan and Red Dragon, a really good remake of the 1986 film Manhunter, so I figured the movie would probably be a pretty fun evening.

Honestly – the movie was great. Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy play off each other really well, and it’s nice to see Eddie moving away from the Disney films he’s been putting out for the last few years – honestly, the more foul-mouthed and less family friendly he can be, the funnier he gets.

The movie has a great sense of humour and honestly, as November and December tend to fill up with drama’s contending for the Oscar, a nice comedy would be a great palate cleanser. A really fun film.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Genre Character(s) of the week: Tucker and Dale

Part of what I love about horror movies is that every year I come across a horror movie that goes far beyond what I usually expect from the genre. Three years ago it was Let the Right One In, Two years ago it was Thirst, and last year it was I Saw the Devil. On Sunday I went with my BFF Mike, my youngest daughter and one of her friends to see the film Tucker and Dale vs. Evil. The movie was incredibly fun, made locally (I’m from Alberta) and introduced me to this week’s genre characters, Tucker and Dale.

Tucker and Dale, two long-time friends, are heading off to their very own vacation home, a place where they hope to do some fishing, drinking and bonding, when they happen to drive past a group of college kids. Their first meeting does not go as well as can be expected and although they go out of their way to be friendly and even rescue one of the college kids when she falls into a lake, certain misunderstandings begin to occur.

Unfortuantely, these misunderstandings mostly mean that these two incredibly nice guys (played wonderfully by Tyler Labine and Adam Tudyk) get to watch as a group of really, really stupid college kids start killing themselves in an attempt to rescue their friend. Also, as the bodies begin piling up, it starts to look more and more like these two friends must have something to do with all these murders, after all, they are hillbillies, and these are a bunch of college kids.

The movie is great, the friendship between the two leads comes across as honest and well meaning and this may be the goriest, funniest film I’ve seen in a long time. With homages to the likes of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, and even The Blair Witch Project this film seems like a perfect way to remind me what is great about horror films after spending a month in the world of reimaginings.

An original story, a lot of fun, and a definite must for both my DVD collection and my future Halloween parties, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is a great film.