Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Genre Character of the Week: Evan (The Time Traveler's Room-mate)

Last weekend I went out with some friends to see the nominees for the Live-Action Short category of the 2012 Oscars. The experience was actually pretty cool as usually when the Live Action-Short and Animation-Short categories are announced I’ve seen exactly none of the nominees.
Out of the live action shorts, my favourite was Time Freak, a time travel comedy about a guy named Evan who finds out that his room-mate has created a time machine.

Evan comes across as a good friend, and a guy who can clearly see through his buddy’s schemes and plans without a lot of difficulty.

As the film was short, I can’t say much else without spoilers, but if you have the option, definitely check out this little gem as it was a whole lot of fun!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Genre at the 2012 Oscars

Often I'm asked by friends and co-workers why it is I get so excited about the Academy Awards every year considering how little genre is represented in the nominations. Basically if you remove Art Design, Makeup, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Cinematography, Visual Effects and Music (Original Score), you've basically cut out every movie involving Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction.

This year, however, after working my way through seven of the nine Best Picture nominees and the entire Live-Action and Animated short categories there were actually three films which stood out to me as genre films worth watching.

So here you go - my cheat sheet of the 2012 Academy Awards if you just want the good genre stuff.

1. Watch the Live Action-Short and Animated Short films Time Freak, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, and A Morning Stroll. These films involve time travel, mad science and even (SQUEEE!) Zombies.

2. Give the movie Midnight in Paris a shot. Considering I've tended to shy away from Woody Allen films in the past (They all seem to merge into one amorphous blob of neurotic New York self-indulgence for me), I really fell in love with this movie about a man (Owen Wilson) in love with the past and then getting a chance to visit it.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Things I've Noticed: Classics and Genre Fiction

*A quick note – When I say Classics and Genre Fiction I’m not talking Classics of Genre Fiction (Asimov, Matheson, Tolkein) but am instead talking about Classics (Homer, The Bible, Plato) and modern genre fiction.

For years I’ve had the feeling that I should be reading classics of literature, but where to start? There are tonnes of books which can be considered classics and honestly, in my life I am not going to have the time to read them all. A few years ago I received a gift from my BFF Mike and his lovely wife Trish which ended up being one of my favourite books ever.

How To Read a Book by Mortimer Adler (1972). The book itself focuses on how you can take a skill the literate world takes for granted, reading, and how to do it more effectively. It covers how to read histories, fiction, school texts, science and mathematics books and a whole lot more. In the back of the book he gives a reading list that starts at the beginning of Western Civilization and moves forward to the 1960s.

So my current plan is to move through his list (you can see it here) at one book a month. February’s book is The Iliad and so far I really love it. The story is nearly 3000 years old and involves magic, gods, and the kind of violence I haven’t seen since reading Richard Laymon’s The Cellar. I’m reading the book a chapter a day and honestly I’m really enjoying it. The fact that the story is referred to in over and over again throughout classic and modern literature is just a bonus. Next month for me is The Oddessy, and after that I’ll be checking out Aesop’s Fables.

It’s just kind of cool, at the beginning of this project that when I step away from Horror, Fantasy and Science Fiction to read some stuff that is “good for me” I’m met with a significant amount of Horror and Fantasy.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Genre Character of the Week: Ico

So as I’ve been working my way through the PS3 catalogue of games I came across one called ICO/Shadow of the Colossus at in a bin at a grocery store for $20. I figured that although the games listed were PS2 games upgrade to work on the PS3, they came out to $10 each and hopefully someone thought they were good enough to be put on the newer system. (NOTE: After writing the review, it became apparent to me that both games actually rank highly on many gamers best games ever lists – but I was unaware of this until after writing the post)

Anyway, I haven’t touched Shadow of the Colossus yet, but I did just finish the other one and can now introduce you to this week’s genre character: ICO.

The game is incredibly minimal in back story, so here is just about everything you know about the character: he’s about ten-years-old, he comes from a village in some sort of fantasy world, he has horns (see picture), and because he has horns, his village has sacrificed him to die of starvation in some creepy sort of statue in a giant spooky castle.

Due to a mild earthquake the statue breaks, freeing Ico, who then proceeds to try and escape from the castle. Along the way he finds a strange girl named Yorda who he spends the majority of the game trying to help escape (she can be both intriguing and incredibly frustrating throughout), and the majority of the game is sort of like Myst but with fighting involved. Basically you solve puzzles and move Ico and the girl through the castle looking for a way to escape.

Although you (the player) use the character of Ico to solve the various puzzles to escape from the castle, as a character this little kid is really smart and very dedicated to rescuing his friend (even though they don’t speak the same language).

In the end the game took me two weekends to finish (so it was pretty short), but at the same time it was visually stunning and well worth the purchase, and for me a big part of that was due to the title character.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Book Review: Before I Go To Sleep

One of the things I love best about my wife is that she is not afraid to stop me from doing whatever I’m currently doing and then tell me what I should be doing instead. Okay, maybe that bothers me a little when it comes to chores vs. Videogames, but when it comes to reading, she’s the best.
Case in point, I was about to start Jack Whyte’s The Eagles Brood on Tuesday (which I’ll be reading next week) when she thrust a book at me and said;

“Stop reading whatever you’re reading, you have to read this!”

And then she gave me a copy of S.J. Watson’s Before I Go To Sleep.

Before the review proper – Thanks Hon, you were, as always, right about the fact that I would love the book you suggested, and if it wasn’t for you I’d probably still only be readingDragonlance novels (Sorry Dragonlance lovers, I’m mostly saying that she opened my eyes to a whole new world of genre fiction).

Anyway, Before I Go To Sleep is a first Novel, and like the last first novel I read Joe Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box, it is fun, raw and has introduced me to a very engaging new voice in fiction.

I guess I can explain the novel as follows – think of the 2004 romantic comedy Fifty First Dates, but imagine the story is a thriller and told from the amnesiacs point of view.

I really want to say more, but I don’t want to ruin anything. It is really, really good.

Go read this book.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Things I've Noticed: I'm Starting to become a Zombie Expert

I once heard that if you want to be an expert in anything you need to spend 10,000 hours studying it. When I think of the things I’ve spent even close to that time studying the list gets pretty small (Obvsiously not including my wife, kids, schooling, etc.l.

1) Post-Apocalyptic Fiction
2) Fantasy Stories
3) Horror Stories
4) Science Fiction Stories
5) Reading
6) Watching Television
7) Watching Movies

After that, there are a few things I’ve studied for maybe 5000 hours; comic books, vampire stories, role playing games and zombie-themed horror stories

For Christmas last year I received a Zombie-themed desk calendar, which has been giving me new quotes, books, movies and games related to zombies for the past 47 days. Slowly but surely I’m building my knowledge of zombies in popular culture and this nifty little calendar his given me a lot of interesting starting points.

Now here’s my question for today – we (well, most of us) have losts of chunks of 10,000 hours to go in our lives – what exactly would you like to spend them on towards becoming an expert at?

For me (right now) it’s zombie trivia and knowledge, but eventually I’ll want to add Grandparenting, swimming, and other stuff to the list.

So I’ll leave you with the best advice I can give you on the topic, in the immortal words of any number of zombies...


Read into that what you will.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Genre Character of the Week: Gully Foyle

Sometimes the characters that interest me are those that have such an incredible focus that I can’t help but stare in awe and wonder at what they are doing, Edmond Dantes and Jim Profit both come to mind, but I’ve got to say in all my readings of genre fiction, I have never come across a character quite like the protagonist of Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination, Gulliver Foyle.

Gully starts out as a man adrift, before the events of the novel begin, he is described as a nobody – Education: None, Skills: None, Merits: None, Recommendations: None. But then when his ship the Nomad, is attacked and he lasts as the sole survivor for 170 days afloat in deep space something begins to change. First of all, another ship arrives and he may be rescued, but then for reasons unknown to him the rescue ship simply leaves, marooning him to certain death. Suddenly given a direction in life, Gully begins to change, and the change is spectacular.

Like Jim Profit, Gully is not a nice person – through the course of the book he commits any number of terrible crimes. But his simple drive, to get revenge on those who left him for dead on the Nomad, just keeps me turning the pages.

I suppose at some point I should actually list my top ten Horror, SF and Fantasy novels on my blog – it’s tricky though as there is so much good stuff out there.

One thing I can say for sure however is that The Stars My Destination has been on my top ten list ever since I first read it, and a huge part of that comes down to the character of Gully Foyle.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Movie Review: Chronicle

For the last few weeks I've been watching best picture nominees in preparation for the Oscars later this month, but due to a scheduling conflict today, my mother, brother and I ended up seeing the film Chronicle.

Holy cats - why wasn't I waiting for this film with baited breath?

Honestly, I had never heard of the movie until three days ago when I saw the Roger Ebert review.

The film in a sentence: A Cloverfield-film about three teenaged boys who develop superpowers.

The movie starts out as a kind of fun romp but soon it becomes apparent we are looking at a really well put together film starring three really talented young men (Dane DeHaan - who I loved in season 3 of In Treatment, Michael B. Jordon who was great last year on Parenthood and Alex Russell, who I haven't seen before but will sure keep an eye out for now).

Honestly, I'm going to be buying the movie, and considering it's based on an original story, rather than being adapted from a comic book, I've got to say it's a great super hero origin film as well.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Things I've Noticed: Prepping for Valentine's Day can be tricky

As I’ve mentioned previously, having the perfect Valentine’s Day with my wife can be tricky. Her favourite genre romance film is The Fly (1986), and although I agree that the film is a great look at why you shouldn’t start a romance with a mad scientist, it totally creeps me out, yes me; a card-carrying horror fanatic (make sure to comment on this post if you have any great horror fanatic card designs, right now I just have a dog-eared Garbage-Pail-Kid card to prove my credentials).

So I’ve currently got four days to plan out an amazing Valentine’s day celebration with my lovely bride. Here are the variables:

1) I’ve taken the day off work

2) My wife is not a fan of crowds, so no dinner out

3) My wife is not a fan of me spending a lot of cash on gifts, so I have to keep it small(ish)

4) Both my daughters will see my efforts as acceptable Valentine’s day efforts from potential future boyfriends – so I need to show effort.

5) Most of my favourite romance DVDs of the last few years have been purchased for me by my wife already, so they are not available.

Actually, that’s about all I have right now, as any surprises I have for her can’t be disclosed at this early date due to the fact that she sometimes reads my blog.

Best advice from me? Try to pay attention to your lady’s likes and dislikes and give her a gift that lets her know you pay attention.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Genre Character of the Week: Snake the Healer

Taking a ten-year jump in my Science Fiction reading, from Bug Jack Barron last month to Dreamsnake this month I think I need to take a quick pause and explain my reading choices. As I’ve said in a number of previous posts, I’m currently working my way through a list called Science Fiction: The 100 Best Books by David Pringle, which had me starting in 1945 with 1984 and currently has me beginning the ‘70s with Poul Anderson’s Tau Zero (next month, hopefully), but at the same time I’m working my way through the winners of various genre fiction awards, of which Vonda N. McIntyre’sDreamsnake won the Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards for best novel. Anyway, this week’s genre character is Snake the Healer.
Snake is a recently graduated healer in a post-apocalyptic world that may or may not have been Earth all along. She begins her story in the desert (like many great post-apocalytic stories do) on the way to doing a healing for a nomad band. Things do not go as planned.

The story is a great example of world building, reminding me of Earth Abides and Lord Valentine's Castle. What causes this book to stand out however, is the characterization of Snake, a woman trying her best to make the world a better place. As she travels through her world (it is never named), she faces a huge number of challenges and I loved exactly how she sorted each of them out, this character is pretty amazing.

Would she be allowed to come and visit my house? Yes, but I would be pretty nervous about the large number of snakes she would bring with her.

A great read.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Book Review: The Woman in Black

One of my favourite parts of being a fan of any genre is when things come together in unexpected ways. Take the book I'm looking at today; the 1983 horror novel The Woman in Black by Susan Hill.

I came to read this book for a number of reasons:

1) My kids love Harry Potter. Daniel Radcliffe stars in the film recent film adaptation.
2) I've spent the last year or so watching my way through the films of Hammer Horror, a prolific horror making company most famous for films in the '50s, '60s, and '70s
3) After nearly 30 years away from making new films, the company started again in 2008, and in 2010 did the remake of Let the Right One In, which I really liked - now they've done the adaption of The Woman in Black
4) In our house we have a standard rule for the kids - if you read the novel - I'll take you to the movie, and as my youngest wanted to see the movie so we got the book.
5) I get to read a book in my favourite Genre, that my kid is interested in, and that has a tie-in movie.

So - to the review; the book is a 160 pages story about an old man remembering an encounter he had with a ghost as a young man.

It freaked me out.

Honestly, that's about all I can say without spoilers - if you are a fan of ghost stories it's worth your time, it is an excellent example of just how effective atmosphere can be and after you finish it there are a number of images that probably won't leave your mind for a long time.

A great little story!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Things I've Noticed: Having a cold is a great excuse to hit the books

For the last few days I've felt a little under the weather - luckily not so bad that I can't concentrate and keep nodding off. Nope, right now I'm just that perfect level of sick where I need a box of kleenex nearby and I'm drinking tea like it's nobody's business.

The reason I like this specific shade of sickness is that it lets me get some good reading done.

For whatever reason, sickness lets me be a little less sociable, allowing me to get a few more pages ahead in whatever I'm reading and gives me the opportunity to read my equivilent of comfort food. Short horror novels.

Now I know, sometimes when you're down you want to read your Tuesday's With Morrie, or maybe something by Nicholas Sparks (botha great book and a fun author BTW), but for me, I like a little bit of horror give me a delicious chill between my alternating sweats and uncomfortable chills. Right now I'm reading The Woman in Black by Susan Hill, which may end up being a movie I see this weekend if I take a turn for the better.

Would I wish my level of uncomfortable sickness on anyone? No. But while I'm suffering through it I think I'll take advantage of any scary novel coming my way that is less than (roughly) 200 pages.

*A Quick note - I've recently done a guest post on one of my favourite local blogs Renaissance Dork - check it out and make sure to comment!