Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The 2014-15 TV Genre TV season so far...

One of the few downsides of spending every October focusing on a specific aspect of the horror genre is that it diverts my attention from other places - various games, books, movies and television series all have to wait until I have the time to see a few episodes and give my first impressions.

This year has actually been pretty fun overall, The Flash has been a surprisingly fun superhero story that keeps me coming back every week, Gotham, although flowed with a similar premise to Smallville (let's make a superhero show that we promise will never, ever have a superhero in it - except for maybe in the series finale), has been fun to watch and putting the focus on Jim Gordon has made for a pretty compelling story overall.

I'm a little on the fence still about Constantine - as a long time Hellblazer fan myself, and still feeling a little burned by the 2005 feature film adaption (which would have been a fine film if they just hadn't demanded we view it as a Hellblazer film), the series (which has just been limited to a 13-episode run) does some pretty neat things, in tone it's pretty much on the mark, but a bit too heavy on letting John use overt magic, but as I've found most of the episodes to be pretty fun, I think I'll stick out the run as is.

What has surprised me the most this year is ABCs Forever, a crime procedural which focuses on an immortal man which merges a standard murder-mystery with fantasy elements.  If you haven't checked it out yet, it is well worth the watch.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Book Review: Svaha

Taking a strong departure in setting from his previous works, Charles de Lint’s 1989 novel Svaha is set in a (mostly) post apocalyptic science fiction setting. Feeling very Cyberpunk (and for my fellow gamers out there, curiously close to the RPG Shadowrun), the novel mixes the stories of a corporate police officer, a messenger, and a first nations man exploring the world his people left behind centuries ago. Working a lot like a William Gibson story, the novel moves between the three storylines, showcasing just how bad this world is, and the types of people who grow because (and in spite) of the environment.

Although Cyberpunk fans may enjoy the book, it is still filled with many aspects de Lint fans (including me) have grown to love, including music, spiritualism and a strong touch of magic. The novel flows quite well, and even through it isn’t a standard fantasy story, it hits all the marks, including great character moments, wonderful imagery and a surprising number of well executed battle sequences.

A great read.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Book Review: High-Rise

A lot of the science fiction I've read over the years tends to put the blame on "the other", whether an alien invasion, technology gone wild or even "the bomb", but every once in a while I hit a story that puts the blame for its setting squarely on society, and J.G. Ballard's 1975 novel High-Rise fits that bill exactly.

The book focuses on the occupants of a luxury high rise building, which bears a lot in common with the concept of an areology, wherein a densely populated building includes schools, shopping, entertainment, etc. allowing many of its dwellers to spend their entire lives within.

This book however, focuses on how quickly things can go wrong in a confined environment and in addition to being a hyper-violent often shocking narrative, for me the focus is on how much the occupants work (both directly and indirectly) to ensure no one else sees exactly how bad things get inside the building.

The book was dark, harrowing, and surprisingly effective, and is well worth the read.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Things I've Noticed: Sometimes watching The X-Files takes some explaining

For the last couple of years my wife and I have been re-watching The X-Files with our youngest daughter, who is working her way through the series for her first time.  The show is both a lot of fun due to the surprise cameos made by all sorts of people before they were famous, and for the storylines themselves.

When watching the series with our teen daughter (born in 1997), we've tried our best to explain to our daughter just how big a show this was in its day.

Today we checked out the season seven episode X-Cops, which crossed over with the hugely popular reality show COPS - which took a little bit of describing as well - following beat cops around through the events of a tour, blurred out bystanders and suspects, and the regular interaction with the cameraman filming.

It's kind of tricky, for an episode which only takes 45 minutes to watch, we end up spending about fifteen giving our daughter backstory and context for what she is seeing.  At the same time, she seems to be tolerating all this, and is probably much more knowledgable about late '90s pop culture than a lot of her high school-aged friends.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Book Review: Lock In

Ever since I came across Old Man's War a few years ago, I've kept my eye out for the latest John Scalzi novels.  Through his writing I've read some great epic science fiction, been introduced to H. Beam Piper, enjoyed a novel that moves from science fiction to fan fiction and back again, and have even enjoyed one of my favourite mixes (although rarely done well), a Science Fiction Horror.

Last month I picked up his latest, Lock In, and at first was a little hesitant.  A brief scan of the description made the book sound like a mix between the Fox series Almost Human, and a Bruce Willis movie called The Surrogates (which yes, I know was based on a comic book).

But I figured, what the heck, it's a Scalzi, and dug right in.

The book is actually pretty great, and although it does have a lot of elements similar to those two texts (buddy cop procedural, people moving around their daily lives through robots), it actually went to a lot of places I wasn't expecting, and had a great murder mystery plot that I feel does play fair with the reader.

The book is a lot of fun, well worth the read, and I'm already looking forward to whatever the author comes out with next.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Things I've Noticed: Edmonton's Medway System is crazy big!

For the last month and a half I've been doing a walking program to increase my overall health, but as I live in Edmonton and can therefore look forward to eight months of winter a year, I've been trying to find a great way to keep up the exercise without having to spend any of it outside.

Luckily for me, I work in the downtown core, and therefore have access to a LOT of tunnels throughout the downtown core - basically I can walk for about eighty straight minutes through various buildings, malls and in one case a school, without heading outdoors and keeping my heat rate up for my entire lunch hour.

Here's what it's brought me so far - I can definitely walk a lot father than I used to be able to, and although I work up a good sweat, I'm not nearly at the level of joggers or runners but for me that's okay - right now I'm just looking for better health overall and if I can find a free way to do it in my city, that's great.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Genre Character of the week: Cynthia “Cyn” Rothschild

As a librarian myself, I’m always happy to see the profession represented in film, television an books, and as the even rarer breed of male librarian, that basically leaves me with Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Flynn Carsen from The Librarian franchise, and that’s about it. Until last month when I came across the Young Adult book Evil Librarian by Michelle Knudsen. Unlike Giles or Flynn however, this Librarian is no one’s friend, and is actually the villain to the books charming narrator and protagonist (and our genre character of the week) Cynthia “Cyn” Rothschild.

Cynthia is that rare gem in YA fiction, the realistically drawn teenaged girl. Yes, she does have a best friend named Annie and a crush on a boy, but past that she is portrayed as having her own interested and goals, both academic and extracurricular. Specifically she is working as the stage manager for her high school’s production of Sweeney Todd, and while balancing out her life something comes in from left field, a new Librarian named Mr. Gabriel has started working at the school and Annie has developed a crush on him.

There’s just one problem, Mr. Gabriel is (in addition to being a librarian) evil. Not a jerk, not a bad guy, but a literal Demon, and worse yet, one with his eye on Annie and possibly the entire school…

The book is a lot of fun, plays out well and doesn’t cheat, when Cyn makes a mistake she pays for it and when she does well things get a little better. A fun read.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Book Review: Wolf Moon

While I focused most of my efforts last month on the books published under the Penguin Horror imprint, I did set some time aside to read a number of non-horror titles, and by far my favourite was my October book by Charles de Lint, Wolf Moon.

Taking place in a realm of High Fantasy (a world of magic with no obvious connection to Earth), the novel is actually a rather small story of a Harper (a travelling musician) and his attempts to kill an escaped werewolf. The twist is that the werewolf is actually our protagonist, and the Harper the villain. For de Lint, who in every previous book he had written, to take the travelling musician (usually a good guy and protagonist in books such as Harper of the Grey Rose, Mulengo, and The Riddle of the Wren), the idea of focusing the story on the monster, and more importantly, making him sympathetic, was a lot of fun and added a lot of heart to the story.

The main character, Kern begins the story on the run from the evil Harper Tuiloch, and throughout the story finds friends, love, and perhaps even a home, if only he can find a way to outwit or defeat a man who uses his control of music and magic to control those around him.

Although the story doesn’t have the usual quest structure of high fantasy novels, its focus on the characters surrounding a small inn that Kern comes across makes the book a joy to read. A lot of fun, and yet another reason I’m really excited to be working my way through the works of Mr. de Lint.