Sunday, April 29, 2012

Book Review: Aesop's Fables

Since February I've been finishing off each reading month with a classic of Western Literatures.  My goal is to simply get a better understanding of where our culture comes from and that's about it.  I don't have a degree in English, English Lit, or Classics (My degree is in Communications Studies (TV, Movies, Radio, Internet, etc.)) so you'll have to forgive me if I'm making connections which seem incredibly obvious to you.

So far I've read Homer's Iliad and Odyssey and found both to be interesting (if difficult) reads.  As a guy I enjoyed the constant blood and guts slaughter going on in the Iliad(seriously, a guy gets hit hard enough his "eyes fell into the dust at his feet" - and who says that horror is a new genre) as well as the many fantastic elements in the Odyssey (Sirens, Cyclops, Magical Imprisonment, etc.)

The list I'm working through can be found in Mortimer J. Adler's How to Read a Book (One of my all-time favourite books, btw), but I have made some additions.

This month for example, accruing to the original list, should be the Old Testament, but I thought that before I dive into it again (this will be my second time), I should start with Aesop.

I think that like all people I have a passing familiarity with Aesop's Fables, going in I remembered there was something about a Lion with a thorn in its paw and something about a crane and a fox being jerks to each other.  What I didn't realize was this selection of fables is actually where all sorts of modern animal-based sayings come from.  The city mouse and the country mouse was one of his, as was The boy who cried wolf.  It's from Aesop we get the saying, "Look before you leap" as well.

The edition I read was an Everyman Library Children's Classic edition, which is a 17th century translation by Roger L'Estrange.  Unlike the majority of the other classics of Western Lit I've been buying (currently through the Penguin Classics Imprint) I purchased this one through Everyman because the book looked so good - hardcover, nice feel, and was less than $20.

It was strange that every fable had an obvious Christianity-based reflection at the end (seeing as Aesop supposedly lived around 700 BCE, which puts his fables and morals well into Ancient Greek, rather than Christian morality - some of the stretches of logic to turn the understanding of his stories into a later belief structure seemed a little off to me.

Overall I'm quite glad I checked the book out, it was a lot of fun, pretty fast and continually gave me moments of "That was Aesop?  Holy cats!"  The Edition I got also includes a significant essay on the life of Aesop (which although not based on a lot of historical detail) was a very intriguing read.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Things I've noticed: I'm a huge fan of Jasper

Not the bear (although I did fill out the costume at a Canadian Library Conference once, but the National Park.  I'm currently in a library course for the School of Library Sciences at the University of Alberta where I'm learning about networking and trend spotting.

This one-credit course is being held at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge (pictured left) for the annual Alberta Library Conference.  What this means for me is a few days of some serious work (networking is definitely not my strong suit) and a lot of fun.

What this means for my loyal blog readers is that rather than typing this up at home in Edmonton, I'm doing it up in the Rocky Mountains.

My life is pretty cool.

But don't worry, I'm still working on my genre reading, in addition to the Hellboy stuff I spoke about on Tuesday I'm reading the classic zombie anthology, The Book of the Dead, which helped introduce the sub-genre Splatterpunk to horror fans in the '80s.

Although I know an awful lot of people who are currently making their way to southern Alberta for the Calgary Expo - where you can get your picture taken with the entire cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation, I'm looking forward to a weekend of library-themed sessions on everything from comic books to social media.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Genre Character of the Week: Abe Sapien

Here’s what I love about Abe: for a guy who can sometimes appear more fish than man, he is really relatable to the reader.  As I’ve just about finished up my load of books for April (Just the original zombie anthology, 1989s The Book of the Dead to go), I finally have some time to catch up on some magazines and comics before I start reading my next eight books for May (Most excited about The Keep by F. Paul Wilson, and To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis), which means I get to catch up with the Hellboy Universe.
Since I read my last few Hellboy trades there are actually four I haven’t touched: Hellboy vol. 12: The Storm and the Fury, BPRD: Hell On Earth vol. 2: Gods and Monsters, Edward Grey: Witchfinder vol. 2: Lost and Gone Forever and Abe Sapien vol. 2: The Devil Does not Jest which is the one I’m currently most excited about.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Hellboy Universe, Abe is a member of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defence (BPRD), and is also a sort of bizarre amphibian or fish-man (scientifically classified as Icthyo Sapien) who lives naturally underwater but can survive in open air for a limited time (longer with a re-breather).  Found in a state of suspended animation in 1978 in a hidden laboratory beneath a hospital in Washington, D.C. his name comes from a date written on a slip of paper attached to his tube (April 14, 1865, which was the date of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln) hence, Abe and Sapien from the scientific classification.
Abe’s history before he was discovered is shrouded in mystery (actually it is explained but as that is a pretty major spoiler you’ll either have to get reading the series or cheat and look at Wikipedia), and in addition to his amphibious nature he is also telepathic and can perform psychometry (reading a psychic history from a physical object).  For me, it is Abe’s search to understand and better himself that appeals the most.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Movie Review: Dylan Dog: Dead of Night

As I've worked my way through horror films over the years, one of the more interesting areas I've come across are the Italian horror films (called Giallo (Italian for yellow) films.  My personal favourites of this sub-genre of film are Phenomena, Zombi 2, and Danger Diabolik.  Although only the first two were horror, the third is based off an Italian comic book, just like today's movie, Dylan Dog: Dead of Night.

The movie is a cross genre between the classic film noir detective story and a monster movie.  Dylan Dog (played by Brandon Routh) is a retired investigator who specialized in monster-based crimes (specifically vampires and werewolves).  The film uses a standard narration structure and takes place in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Like all noir detectives, Dylan has a past involving a beautiful girl who died on his watch, and some sins of his own.

For me, the best part of the film however as the comedy elements of Dylans friend Marcus (played by Being Human's Sam Huntington), who (mild spoiler) after being killed early in the film is returned as a zombie.  Unlike most zombies in film however, Marcus is still self-aware, and his denial/acceptance of his new un-dead situation made for many of the best parts of the movie.

Overall it was a lot of fun, a little silly, and did a good job of staying within the lines of horror and noir, and with the comedy elements my kid liked it, and the villain being played by Taye Diggs meant that my wife was also a fan.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Things I've noticed: Some things you can't un-see

Anyone who has taken the time to read a few posts on my blog can probably tell a few things about me: I’m married, I have kids, I enjoy Horror, Fantasy and Science Fiction in my television, movies, reading material and heck – even breakfast cereal (well, not horror in my breakfast cereal, except for Count Chocula, or Frankenberry... you know what? never mind), and finally the fact that I’m a guy who likes to look over an artist’s entire body of work.

Whether reading the collected works of Richard Matheson or watching the rash of recent horror re-imaginings, I’m the kind of guy who likes to pick a creative person, start at the beginning of their work and enjoy it the way I would have if I had been around since the beginning. I even do this with the shows I inflict on my children – when we watched Star Trek with them, we took weeks off between seasons, and a whole summer off between the original series and the movies (with a quick week spent in late July watching the Animated series). Anyway, my methodical approach to genre works out pretty well for me, most of the time. Take for example the works of Robert R. McCammon – his first novel Baal was not the best I’d read, but by reading each of his books in publishing order I think I actually get more out of them than a casual reader Unfortunately, sometimes I overlook an early work by an artist and have to go back, throwing my order out a little.

So where was I? That’s right, Roland Emmerich. This German-born writer director has been behind a number of the Sci-Fi blockbusters I’ve enjoyed over the years (Independence Day, 2012, The Day After Tomorrow, Godzilla (and yes I was one of the tens of fans who liked his version of GODZILLA! I HAVE NO SHAME!)) and my wife is a pretty big fan of his 1992 Jean-Claude Van Damme film Universal Soldier. Anyway, as a horror comedy fan (and if you haven’t been there yet check out Paul Castiglia’s Scared-Silly blog for a much deeper look on the topic than I’ll ever do) I got pretty excited when I heard that Emmerich had done a horror comedy film in 1987 called Ghost Chase (aka Hollywood-Monster), so I requested it from my online rental place and immediately watched it with my wife and younger daughter last night.

This move was not good.

I can’t even begin to explain where it went wrong... okay I’ll try.

The sound on the DVD we got was horrible – if the actors had their back turned to the screen you couldn’t here them. The story was a little confusing, but had just enough humour in it that you stayed with it in case it was some sort of hidden gem.

This movie was not a hidden gem.

Basically you have two wannabe horror-movie makers who find they have inherited a briefcase which includes a clock haunted by the ghost of the butler of one of their grandfathers, so they build a sort of mutant cross between ET, Yoda and the devil and this ghost inhabits it. The ghost (designed to be cute, I think) can comfortably be considered one of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen (I’m talking super creepy, like that clown doll from Poltergeist).

Personally, I’m a fan of Roland Emmerich; I’ve enjoyed his movies and seen most of them in the theatre, but this one, wow. Like I said in the header, some things you just can’t un-see.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Genre Character of the Week: Louise Miller

One of my favourite things about exploring my top three genres (Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction) is that I get to celebrate the bad along with the good; not tolerate mind you, but celebrate. I will admit there are some pretty terrible things out there to watch if you are trying to be a genre completist (for example, I just inflicted the 2001 Canadian film Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter on some friends over the weekend and I’m not sure if it irreparably damaged our relationship), but just above the really horrible stuff is the stuff that is horrible and awesome, sort of horribl-awesome (Horriblossom?) if you will, which brings us to this week’s genre character, Louise Miller.

So back in 1985 there was this little film called Teen Wolf. In it, Canadian actor Michael J. Fox played Scott Howard, a high school kid who finds out that he (and his family) are actually werewolves. Being a werewolf makes him quite popular, but in the end he learns that he should like himself for who he really is rather than his other half(as a guy who identifies as half-white half-native, there are some interesting sub-texts to this film I could look at, but then we’d never get to Louise). Fast forward four years and the folks at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer decided, “Hey, if this works for guys, why don’t we make a similar story for women?” (Let’s ignore the fact that Val Lewton did this in the 1940s with Cat People and it had been remade three years before Teen Wolf came out) And so the film Teen Witch was created.

So how best to describe Louise? She isn’t very popular, she has a best friend, and oh yeah – She lovesBRAD POWELL – this guy at her school. Yup – pretty much everything that happens to her in the film is related to one of these three traits, unpopular, has a crush on BRAD (sorry for the bold font, but after you hear her lament over BRAD for the thirty-fifth time, it just seems natural to say his name in all capitals and with a bold font), and has a best friend (sometimes best friend is replaced by annoying little brother, and a few times with that tiny lady from Poltergeist).

Why exactly have I listed Louise here? Well – although the movie has many flaws (a lack of character arc, story arc, a satisfying ending, etc.) it does have the ability to entertain, and as I showed it to my children a few weeks ago they spent much of the film in laughter – and whether genuine or ironic, if a film can create that many chuckles you know you have something special.

Also Louise uses her witchy powers to make her friend win a rap-battle with a team of three rapping high school boys (also this sub-plot goes nowhere).

Oh right, Louise is a witch – well, by that I mean at age sixteen Louise comes into her witch-powers, which mean that she can wish whichever wishes she wishes. Also I'm pretty certain based on their reaction that my girls loved the song "I LIKE BOYS!!!"

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Lost Girl Season 2 Review

As a Canadian I’m always happy to see Horror, Fantasy or Science Fiction coming from my own country and on television that goes as well. So when Showcase started airing a little show in 2010 called Lost Girl, I was definitely excited. Here we had a show focusing on a succubus in an urban fantasy setting and it included all sorts of crazy fairy creatures (which are called Fae in both the show and the folklore).

My original opinion of the show is listed here, but now it’s time to move on to the second season. Obviously some spoilers will follow as we are talking about season two.

First off, unlike the first season, when the competition from the major networks were pushing heavy Science Fiction fare like The Event andNo Ordinary Family, this season offered a lot of competition for Lost Girl from the major networks in the states with series like Once Upon A Time (which I prefer to call, let’s take all the great ideas and concepts from Fables and ruin them) and Grimm (which I like to call – Lost Girl (US Version))

Season Two follows up the appearance of Bo’s (the succubus) mother from the first season (sorry for the spoiler, but what can I do), Dyson spends the majority of the second season dealing with the fact that he gave up his love of Bo to help her deal with her mother at the end of season one (again, sorry!), and overall the season moves away from the new-kid-in-town vibe of season one and into a closer examination of the world of the Fae in this season.

The writing is great, the acting is well done (again with many of the best lines going to my favourite character, Bo’s human friend Kenzie), and overall I think it was a strong season.

In the next couple of weeks season one is going to show up on DVD and you know what? I think I’ll be picking it up.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Things I’ve Noticed: My introduction to ‘70s SF was pretty awesome

So for the last few years I’ve been working my way slowly but surely (and sometimes a little surly) through the book Science Fiction: The 100 best novels an English Language Selection, 1949 and 1984, edited by David Pringle. Right now I’ve read the first 63 in order (from George Orwell’s 1984 (1949) to Poul Anderson’s Tau Zero (1970) and 68 overall. With Tau Zero I have finally left the ‘60s and moved into the Science Fiction of the 1970s, which for me was the decade of some of the more influential SF films (Star Wars) books (Rendezvous with Rama) and television (Mork and Mindy) of my childhood.

Ahead of me I have 24 ‘70s-era science fiction novels, (excluding The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, which I read a few years back) and event though I’m not familiar with all of the titles or authors, this list has treated me pretty well so far, giving me a number of books that happily sit in both my top ten list of Science Fiction novels and even one that sits in my top ten favourite books list (Flowers for Algernon).

My first entry into ‘70s science fiction from the list was Poul Anderson’s Tau Zero, which focuses on a colonizing ship (crew of 50) travelling to a nearby star system in an attempt to see if the planet will work as an Earth Colony. The book is great, I don’t want to wreck it with any spoilers – simply find this book and read it.

I know that for my BFF Mike the ‘70s were not his favourite era in SF (he was reading his way through the Hugo Awards), but I’m hopeful that I’m going to be hitting a lot of good stuff.
BTW, if anyone out there has read any of my next five books: Downward to the Erath (Robert Silverberg), The Year of the Quiet Sun (Wilson Tucker), 334 (Thomas M. Disch), The Fifth Head of Ceberus (Gene Wolfe), The Dancers at the End of Time (Michael Moorcock) or Crash (J.G. Ballard) be sure to let me know what you thought.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Genre Character of the Week: Desmond Miles

Having finished Shadow of the Colossus over the Easter long weekend, I moved on to my next PS3 game, Assassin’s Creed II. Like the Uncharted series, I am way behind on the current games, but at the same time I’ve never paid more than $20 for a game so there you go.

Assassin’s Creed II is actually kind of clever in that it both picks up immediately where the first one left off and also takes place 260 years later. The reason for this is the protagonist, and this week’s genre character: Desmond Miles.

Desmond is basically used as part of the framing story for both games (there are three more games in the series that I haven’t played – not including games for the PSP and Nintendo DS), but from the little I’ve seen of him in the games, he comes across as a pretty decent guy.

Working as a bartender at the beginning of the first game (which could be modern day or near-future, there really isn’t enough info to tell), Desmond is captured by people working for a company called Abstegro. Here he is locked in a laboratory/dorm room and forced to help two doctors by entering a machine called the ANIMUS, which allows him to re-live the life of one of his ancestors, Altaïr ibn-La'Ahad, an assassin who lived in the middle east during the 1190s A.D. Desmond spends the first game entering and exiting the ANIMUS and trying to find a way to escape from his capture. In the end (mild spoiler) he gains an ability from his time as Altaïr, and with it he discovers writing all over the walls of his prison in strange and cryptic writings.

In the second game (which, again I have only played for a few days), one of the doctors helps (again, mild spoiler) Desmond escape and together they join some sort of small group who are willing to help Desmond train to be an assassin in his own right, by entering the ANIMUS 2.0 and following the training of another ancestor who lived in Florence during the Italian Renaissance, Ezio Auditore da Firenze, Desmond begins to learn the skills of the Assassin himself.

What I like about Desmond is that he acts like a normal guy in an extraordinary situation, trying his best to learn all he can about his captors and then working to better himself in an effort to fight back. I’ll fully admit I’m a sucker for characters who are willing to do hard work and try to better themselves in any way, so Desmond was pretty much a shoe-in for me right from the start.

If you haven’t tried any of the games before, I recommend starting with the first one – the narrative does flow from one to the other and abilities gain in the first one follow through into the second. So far, I’m having a lot of fun with this series.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Book Review: Earthbound by Richard Matheson

My continuing journey through the works of Richard Matheson led me to the 1982 novel Earthbound this week (which he wrote under the pseudonym Logan Swanson), and it was pretty darn cool.

Having recently read his What Dreams May Come, which could basically be described as a romance set in the afterlife, this book is a lot darker, a little spookier and definitely more adult in nature.

The novel follows a married couple, David and Ellen Cooper, who have travelled back to the site of their honeymoon to try and rekindle the romance of their marriage as well as get over an affair David has recently had.

Unfortunately, the little cottage they stay in has another resident, a beautiful and mysterious woman named Marianna, who takes an immediate and intense interest in David.

The novel was a lot of fun, I enjoyed the fact that both the leads were in their forties (they are soon-to-be-grandparents) and found the atmosphere pretty interesting. The novel is described an erotic ghost story, so be warned, some of the book gets pretty graphic.

Overall a lot of fun, and leaves me looking forward to his next novel, a western called Journal of the Gun Years.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Things I've Noticed: Wow, We had a lot of snow today

All right, I'll admit that as a guy who is usually focusing this blog on my own Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction interests there isn't usually a place for weather, but today was something else.

Here is Sunny Edmonton, Alberta, Canada we've had a pretty mild winter, some snow, some days where we needed to have heat packets and heavy parkas but nothing too bad (we are a considered a northern city by some), but over the last week we've had some pretty good weather; I switched to my lighter jacket, stopped carrying my monkey-themed snow hat and even began carrying my books and lunch in a regular bag rather than a heavy duty one.

I took today off from work to run a few errands, (updating government documents, doing my taxes, etc.) and figured, "hey, with weather as nice as this, it will be a lovely day to sit in various government offices reading my latest Matheson and drinking tasty coffee.

This morning I woke up to some crazy heavy snow, basically the really nasty stuff, non-stop, wet and unpleasant. So of course I decided to trek out and do my errands anyway.

My bus stalled a few times taking me into the downtown core, but once I got down there it wasn't so bad at all - mostly because I stayed indoors. Very few people decided to brave the weather so I worked my way through those various government offices at a pretty nice speed and got some good reading in as well.

Of course as soon as I stepped back outside the snow had melted enough to flood both of my boots and drop giants gobs of itself down the back of my jacket.

Actually, now that I'm home it's a pretty nice day. Long Weekend of video games, reading and hanging out with my family, here I come!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Genre Character of the Week: Parker

All right, for the last few years I've heard of the Parker series by Richard Stark, but other than the fact that it has tonnes of fans and was written by Donald E. Westlake under the Stark alias from 1962 to 2008, I didn't really know what to expect.

Oh yeah, and I'd seen two film adaptations of the first book, The Hunter, first a Lee Marvin movie called Point Blank and secondly a Mel Gibson movie called Payback (Although the character is called Porter in that one).

So yesterday I started reading The Hunter for one of my book clubs and you know what? This stuff is really great. The novel itself is a kind of bare-bones revenge story set in the criminal underworld. Parker is a man who was wronged and is trying to set things right.

Quick note - Parker definitely falls into the category of genre characters I was intrigued by, but would in no way want to meet in real life - life Jim Profit or Bertie Wooster (Although Profit, Parker and Wooster would make a terrifying team of crazies, so there you go.)

The character is brutal, violent and driven, but the story was so engrossing I couldn't put it down.

The series of books featuring him runs to almost thirty titles, but I'm thinking I just might give them a shot - this was some seriously great crime fiction.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Book Review: Elephantmen #2: Fatal Diseases

Back at the end of 2011 I wrote about my favourite science fiction of the year, and among that list was Elephantmen volume 1: Wounded Animals, by Richard Starkings, which introduced me to a world where giant hybrid animals (kind of like the teenaged mutant ninja turtles, but bigger, like elephants, crocodiles and rhinos) who, having been raised for war but have since been released, were now attempting to make their way in an obviously Blade-Runner inspired universe.

Last week I read the second volume, Fatal Diseases, which continued the story introduced in the first volume, and continues to develop the main characters of Obadiah Horn (Rhino), Hieronymus Flask (Hippo/Detective) and Ebenezer Hyde (Elephant/Detective) as they continue trying to live their lives in a strange new world.

First things first, the art in these books is incredible - seriously some of the most beautiful stuff I've seen in comics period.

Secondly, I love the stories and character development throughout.

Finally - there are many explosions, mixing mystery with scenes of high action. Basically everything I loved about the ninja turtles but with great writing to boot.

Seriously - if you can get your hands on this series, check it out!