Thursday, December 29, 2011

Things I've Noticed: 2011 was a good year for genre

Happy New Years Everyone (a little early, but my next post would be a little late).

As we move towards the end of 2011, rather than looking forward to the new genre films and stories of 2012, I want to take a quick moment and look back at my favourite stuff from 2011.

In Fantasy, 2011 was definitely the year of Game of Thrones, from those with the cash to get HBO I heard a lot of great things about the series, but I'll have to wait until it's available on DVD to make a judgement of my own. Personally I'll always think of 2011 Fantasy as the year of Thor, whether in the comic series I read in the spring, or in the motion picture. In addition, a special mention for Bill Willingham's Peter & Max, a tie-in novel to his comic book series Fables which I loved, and surprisingly a nod to the Gallager Pub trilogy of romance novels by Nora Roberts that I read for one of my book clubs (romance is definitely not a genre of choice for me) and totally fell in love with.

In Horror, 2011 was my year to understand the remimagining of slasher films that has kept horror in the cinema for the last decade. Looking at the books I most enjoyed, Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead, Tim Seeley's Hack/Slash, and a number of non-fiction works about the genre definitely stood out, and in movies my favourite two were both horror comedies, Fright Night and Tucker & Dale vs. Evil.

Finally in Science Fiction I found a lot in comic book series that totally amazed me; Starman by James Robinson may perhaps sit as my favourite superhero comic to date, and a series I just started in December Elephantmen by Richard Starkings was a stand out as a wonderfully drawn and intriguing look at a future in which human-animal hybrids are raised to be warriors. Although they came out earlier, 2011 was the year I read The Hunger Games series and out of new stories, Stephen King's 11/22/63 was a personal favourite as well. Also Dead Space gives me hopes for the sub-genre of Zombies in Space.

So there you go, my 2011 in genre stories, television and film. Thanks for taking the time to check out my blog and I'll see you all next year.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Gene Character of the Week: Dr. John Watson

On Christmas Day my family and I continued our yearly tradition of seeing a matinee showing at our local theatre of whatever tickles our fancy. In years past we've seen Sherlock Holmes, Gulliver's Travel's, and Yes Man (Which involved a pretty awkward scene to sit through with my two teenaged daughters). This year we saw Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, and that brings me to this week's genre character, Dr. John Watson.

Although not my favourite Watson (that would be Martin Freeman in the BBC series Sherlock), the Watson in these two most recent motion pictures based on the character is a lot of fun. Yes, he does punch, kick, and shoot much more than any other version of Watson I've come across, but at the same time, actor Jude Law does a wonderful job of showing us a character trying desperately to be a responsible doctor and husband who just can't shake his BFF Sherlock (like a fungus, Sherlock kind of grows on you).

The film was full of action and some pretty spectacular effects, and I would be remiss not to mention Jared Harris as Moriarty in a particularly chilling performance. The film was fun, impressed both my wife and my teenaged daughters and did a great job of mixing action, thrills and laughs.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

What did you get in your stocking?

Merry Christmas everyone from all of us at Wisdom of Bookmonkey (and by us I mean me - and my lovely wife for giving me a few minutes to bang out a quick Christmas post).

As a kid there were three basic staples when it came to my Christmas Stocking - Mandarin Orange, Socks and Underwear. As I've gotten older and more genre enthused however, the contents of my stocking has changed.

This year I got an expansion set for the Zombies! board game (a fun little zombie themed party game that works quite well if you are looking for something horror themed that lasts about an hour), as well as a Zombie desk calendar. Past that I got the standard mandarin orange, as well as a Terry's Chocolate Orange and some underwear (some things never change).

Anyway, as that is about all I have time for, just a quick question - What did you get in your stocking this year?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Things I’ve Noticed: Video games really want you to stay out of the water

For the last couple weeks I’ve been playing the PS3 game Infamous, wherein you play a bicycle courier who was granted super-powers after being at the epicenter of a huge explosion. Given powers over electricity, you can either run around the city as a good guy or as an infamous force of terror. I decided to play it good, but I’ll probably revisit the game in a few months and let my inner baddie out.

One thing the game did get me thinking about however, was just how common it is for games to deny the player access to the ocean. Some games (Tomb Raider, Uncharted, and God of War all come to mind) have many underwater levels, but for the most part the ocean is off limits for the player to explore. Put simply, if the game doesn’t allow water exploration, there is a lot less you have to design.

A lot of games have no reason for this at all (When Altaiir in the first Assassins Creed game falls into the ocean he simply dies (amazing assassin –yes, as good a swimmer as a five-year-old -no, or when Tommy Vercetti in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City hits the ocean it’s also lights out – which makes me wonder why he moved to a city with an ocean on three sides of it) but there are a few games that are actually pretty clever in explaining why you just can’t take a dip.

Bookmonkey’s Top Three excuses for why your character can’t go in the water.

#3 Electrocution (Infamous)
Sometimes your strength can also be your weakness; in Infamous Cole MacGrath has the ability to manipulate electricity to do all sorts of things: hurl lightning, throw objects around, even heal the sick, but the downside of having electricity-based powers is that when electricity touches water – you’re gonna hurt.

#2 Ancient Family Curse (The Castlevania Series)
All right, I’ll admit that this ridiculous reasons for vampire hunter Simon Belmont (who is cursed so that he can’t touch water) – would obviously leaving him dead of dehydration in a matter of days) but honestly, while playing the games I’m so focused on killing vampires and other creatures of the night that the idea of an ancient family curse works just fine for me.

#1 CHOMP! (Spore)
A few years ago I got my wife the game Spore; a kind of super civilization-style game. You start by playing a micro-organism, then evolve into a creature, then control the creatures tribe, then it’s nation, it’s civilization and eventually travel through space. As a creature in the second stage of the game, you wander around on an island (or continent) dealing with other creatures and getting more evolved, but if you go out into the ocean, a giant sea-creature will simply come out of the water and eat you. In the end, you can’t get much simpler than that.

P.S. A quick side note, one of my newer favourite blogs, Renaissance Dork posted this link to the new trailer for The Hobbit, now if it could only shoot me forward a year so I could see the movie!!!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: Corin

Last weekend I watched the newest version of Conan the Barbarian, and although I'm still definitely a classic Conan fan, I was happy to find my next genre character of the week, Conan's father; Corin.

Played by one of my favourite actors, Ron Perlman, who I've loved in everything from Hellboy to Cronos and am currently in awe of in Sons of Anarchy, Corin is a small role, but basically gives the audience the understanding of where Conan comes from. Personally, I found the newer film to be a little lacking in story and character arc as compared to the original but I will say that the early scenes with Corin were some of my favourites. Living in a brutal world, Corin does his best to be fair to all members of his tribe as well as show his son his love. Honestly, it was better than I was expecting from the film.

Although I wouldn't necessarily own the movie, I would definitely recommend it for a fun afternoon (and also my teenaged daughters were quite fond of Jason Momoa (the actor playing Conan), but I'm not really sure if it was for his acting.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Book Review: Hack/Slash Omnibus volume 1

Have you ever had a book that you always seem to be passing in the book stores and never get around to checking out? Month after month you keep passing by the same shelf and keep thinking, “That book looks kind of cool, If only I had more time and cash I might pick it up.”
For me, that title was Tim Seeley’s Hack / Slash Omnibus Vol. 1. Looking at the cover (Pictured Right), and the book itself, here was everything I knew; our main character was a girl, the comic promised a significant amount of violence (Although the beheaded clown on the cover is a bit of a bait and switch) and, according to the back cover it was optioned as a movie, had The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman as a fan (and doing a cameo), and seemed to be based on the slasher movies I grew up with (Halloween, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, etc.).

It actually wasn’t until my BFF Mike let me borrow his copy of Lovebunny & Mr. Hell (an excellent, if uneven comic book itself), that I decided to give this book a try. Lovebunny & Mr. Hell is a basic super-hero buddy story, between a sidekick who wants to go out on her own (after she was dumped by her boyfriend/super hero partner) and a horrible Cthulhu-inspired demon as they fight crime, create a reputation for themselves and quickly become best friends. Although the art was sometimes a little too exploitive for me (you see a lot of underwear), the sense of humour was a lot of fun and led me to see what else the author had in store for me.

The Hack/Slash Omnibus volume 1, introduces you a world wherein slasher killers run rampant have their own mythology and also have two Dexter-esque slasher-slashers hunting them down one by one. Cassandra Hack and Vlad are the daughter of a slasher and a deformed Sloth (from The Goonies)-like giant who travel across the country trapping slasher killers and stopping them, for good. The series works sort of like an ongoing series of the film Scream, wherein the characters are aware of the rules and are also trapped in a slasher-style story. Broke most of the time, Cassie and Vlad travel all over the place and get the job done in fight sequences that are both action-packed and gruesome (or sometimes funny). The artwork is a little up and down in places and the pacing definitely gets better as you go along. My personal favourite two stories?

Trailers – a series of movie-trailers involving potential adventures for Cassie and Vlad (I love the one set in space), and

Hack/Slash vs. Chucky – wherein Cassie is forced to partner up with the killer from theChild’s Play franchise to save Vlad. The artwork is great, they did an amazing job of getting the right “voice” for Chucky and the story definitely left me wanting more.

This series will definitely end up in my collection.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Things I've Noticed: The Hold Queue can be a good thing

Although it was only a few weeks ago that I was complaining about how my public library sent me too many of my holds, I’m now sitting in a large number of hold queues; basically I will be lucky if any of the 23 items I am waiting for will be available before January.

So with a whole bunch of time on my hands (the next three books I’ve scheduled myself to read are all loaners from friends who I won’t be seeing for a few days) I’ve decided to dig into my comic books. Having read Starman last month, and reading Justice Society of America for this month, it’s time for me to check out a few titles I’ve been meaning to get around to reading.

Over this week I’ve read Joe Hill’s Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft, Things Undone by Shane White, Tim Seeley’s Hack/Slash Omnibus #1 (I’ll have a book review of it up on Monday), a bunch of Hellboy titles and some Astro City as well. The best part is I can read a couple a day and get a nice dose of great genre fiction.

In the end, I’m always looking forward to my library holds, but spacing like this allows me to check into a lot of my own stuff, so it works out for everyone.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: Jennifer Corvino

Last week my friend Dr. Teeth leant me some pretty cool comics (so far) and a movie starring a 13-year-old Jennifer Connelly called Phenomena. The movie actually kind of has to be seen to be believed, but I’ve got to say that after watching it I was easily able to find my next genre character of the week, Jennifer Corvino.

Jennifer (played by Jennifer Connelly) is the teen daughter of a film celebrity who has just been sent to a private school for girls in Switzerland. Unfortunately for Jennifer, this is happening in a film written, directed and produced by Dario Argento; the guy who ten years earlier created the film Suspiria, about a young girl sent to a private school in Switzerland, and all sorts of horrible things occur throughout.

Like the heroes of many genre stories, Jennifer has both a talent and a bit of a handicap; she can empathically communicate with insects and she’s a sleepwalker (I didn’t say the two things had to be balanced out). Jennifer is also perhaps the only person who may be able to solve a rash of serial killings going on in the area. (As a father of two teenage daughters myself, I think I might ask any potential school about serial killers in the area who are attacking their students BEFOREI enrolled my kids, but hey, I’m crazy that way).

The movie has all sorts of concepts and ideas running through it, a sort of “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks approach” that I quite appreciated. My favourite five (with only mild spoilers)

1) A Narrator who only speaks once, for about 30 seconds and is then never used again in the entire film.
2) A girl who can communicate with insects
3) A Chimpanzee plays a significant role in the film
4) The soundtrack is actually pretty good – I found myself bopping to the music throughout
5) The kindly old man helping Jennifer through the film is played by Donald Pleasance, who I first saw in Prince of Darkness and loved in Halloween.

If you can get a hold of the film, it is pretty fun (although it is horror, so be aware there is some graphic violence). Is it my favourite Jennifer Connelly film? No, that’s still a toss-up betweenLabyrinth and Dark City, but it is definitely worth the watch.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Book Review: A Stir of Echoes

Like most people, I’ve seen a lot of movies based on books well before I ever got around to the novel, if at all. Often the film ruins any exciting plot twists you might have found in the book so there is even less of a reason to pick up the original work. But sometimes…

A few years back while in Germany I read Robert Bloch’s Psycho, a book that has become one of the most famous films ever made. Yes there is a secret ending, yes it is incredible, no I will not spoil it for the six or seven people out there who don’t know (it is that cool), so you would think that the original novel would have little to offer a reader who is “in the know.” To my surprise, that book was fantastic, scaring me almost all the way through, and surprising me in story elements that would not have translated well into the medium of film.

Two years ago I read Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby, and the same thing occurred; even though I had seen the Polanski film at least five times, the book brought a wicked sense of humour to the material that I was not expecting and totally enjoyed.

This brings me to my current book, A Stir of Echoes by Richard Matheson. Like most people, I saw the 1999 Kevin Bacon film first (and yes I’ve won more than a few games of six degree of Kevin Bacon using this film or Tremors as a link; interesting note, Serious SDoKB players consider it a cheat to connect through star-studded films like JFK or Apollo 13). It’s kind of funny actually, as at the time the film came out there was a sort of backlash against it, saying it was basically a rip-off of The Sixth Sense, which is funny, because the book is based off of a novel published forty years earlier in 1958.

The book is actually a lot of fun, definitely helped by the fact that I saw the movie more than a dozen years ago so the story seems a little fresher. Add to that the fact that the victim and the killer are different in the novel than in the movie, and you end up with a story even someone who just saw the movie could still enjoy today.

This is the six Richard Matheson novel I’ve read in the last half year (the others were Someone is Bleeding, Fury on Sunday, Woman, I Am Legend, The Incredible Shrinking Man) and I love reading any authors work in order of publication because I get to see them grow as an artist. The book is quite good, and makes me want to go back and check out the movie again.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Things I've Noticed: Sometimes backstory is overrated

Right now I’m reading the Justice Society of America comic book series, which started in 2006 under James Robinson (Starman) and David Goyer (Batman Begins, and also The Crow: City of Angels, which was the movie my wife and I saw on our first date) and after Robinson left would be written by Geoff Johns.

The thing is, the Justice Society was pretty much one of the first major super-hero teams, with stories published as far back as the 1940s, so there is a lot of continuity going on here. I’m reading the series for one of my book clubs, and before I started reading it, I read the 80 issues of James Robinson’s Starman (which I wrote about here) and was then told it might be worth my while to read the 50 issue run of Infinity Inc., as there were many crossovers and story arcs which start in the earlier series and play out in the JSA I’m currently reading.

I did end up reading Starman, as I owned the entire series and was looking for an opportunity to read them, but I decided against Infinity Inc. before starting the JSA. Mostly it came down to a lack of time – I was both finishing my first course for my Masters of Library Studies degree and was enthralled with the PS3 game Dead Space (the ending by the way – very cool!). So I figured I’d just try to read JSA on its own and see how much of it made sense.

Twenty issues in and so far I’m doing pretty good. I’m glad I read Starman before I started this, as the earliest issues were written by the same author so I recognized many characters and settings that might have slipped past me, but otherwise I’m doing pretty good. I may not necessarily know who all these heroes are, but there is enough description in the series to allow me to understand the story and invest in the characters.

A few years back I wrote about how I was nervous any time I tried a new series that I would require a lot of back story to appreciate the stuff I had access to, but you know what.

Sometimes you don’t really need that much back story, just trust that the story you’re reading will get you through.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Genre Character of the Week:Colonel Mack Tavernor

Over the last few days I’ve been reading the 1969 novel The Palace of Eternity by Bob Shaw, a science fiction novel taking place on the planet Mnemosyne (an artist’s colony) and taking place during a war with a strange alien race called the Syccans. Our main character (and our genre character of the week) is Colonel Mack Tavernor.

Tavernor is introduced to the reader as a repair man living in a colony of artists, musicians, and poets. He is 49 years old, and keeps many of the planets indigenous creatures in his home as pets. Throughout the novel we learn of his childhood (he was a lone survivor of a planet-wide Syccan attack at age eight) and his military career, as well as the events leading to his current situation.

The novel has a lot of obvious parallels with later SF books, namely Ender’s Game, and Falling Free (from my point of view), and Tavernor is definitely one of my personal favourite kind of genre characters; the working-Joe just trying to mind his own business and live a quiet life who gets swept up in something huge.

I don’t want to go into too many spoilers of the novel, but trust me, Mack’s journey is a pretty major one, and it had me intrigued, excited and honestly shocked at various points throughout. Although the book may require you to make a trip to your local used-book store, it is definitely worth the trip.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Book Review: Sixkill

Author Robert B. Parker passed away in January of 2010 (which I wrote about here) and since then I’ve slowly but surely been working my way through the remaining books he wrote during his lifetime. On Friday I finished Sixkill, his final novel and honestly, it was a little bitter-sweet.

The story features his main protagonist (Spenser – a Boston Private Investigator) attempting to solve the murder of a young girl who was found dead in a hotel with a movie star named Jumbo Nelson. Like all of his books, I found it engaging, full of action and great one-liners. For me, these novels work best as a character study of the main character. Spenser sits for me as one of my favourite detectives in fiction (the others include Brother Cadfael, Sherlock Holmes, and Miles Vorkosigan) as he comes across as a bit of thug, but at the same time has one of the most straight-forward views I’ve ever come across in fiction. If there is a problem, he works to solve it, if he can’t solve it directly; he sits around and makes trouble until there is something he can do.
It’s funny, but as I was heading through the last few chapters of the book I kept taking pauses (I was reading on the bus and would wait until the bus made its next stop), I was really enjoying the story, but knowing that this would be my last first-time reading a Parker novel, I really wanted to savor it, and you know what.

That guy could really write.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Things I've Noticed: My Next few months are filling up with Non-Fiction

As we move towards the end of the year I can honestly say I've had a great 11 months in genre reading and am looking foward to a little non-fiction over my Christmas holiday!

What titles will I be reading? Why I'm glad you asked.

Here are my top five non-fiction books I plan on getting around to in the next three months:

The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary, by Simon Winchester
A bit of a cheat here, as I'm almost finished the book (it's for a book club), but the idea of reading the story of how the most comprehensive dictionary I've ever come across came about has a lot of appeal to me. (Side note: the most common reaction I get from people who see me reading the book? Hey Bookmonkey - you could just ask me you know! Honourable runner up: 42!)

Here comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations, by Clay Shirky
This one comes as a strong recomendation from my wife, who after spending nearly a decade listening to me go on and on about communication theory and popular culture says that she has found a book right up my alley and if I don't take the time to read it after spending a whole month last year focusing on Twilight she's going to buy me a Team Edward shirt and make me wear it as the new image for this blog!

The Net Delusion: The Dark SIde of Internet Freedom, by Evgeny Morozov
A book that talks about how much damage the Internet does without focusing on Adult Content? As a blogger myself, I've got to say the title alone has me pretty interested.

The Swerve: How the World became Modern, by Stephen Greenblatt
The book focuses on one of the most influential poems in history, On the Nature of Things by Lucretius and how its rediscovery helped usher in the Renaissance. As a big fan of Ancient Rome, and lately of the Showcase series The Borgias, I'm starting to get pretty interested in this period of history.

The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood, by James Gleick
The idea of a book looking at the history of Information as a concept, and how it has basically become the currency of our current era sounds pretty cool to me, so yeah, I'll definitely be checking it out!