From the Desk of Bookmonkey, Happy Holidays to all of readers today. My plans are to sit back, relax, and enjoy the Holiday season (chocolates and all) - tomorrow I'll get back to my healthy living plan, but today is just for living. Your old pal, Bookmonkey
The second volume of Phillip José Farmer's The Dungeon series, The Dark Abyss, by Bruce Coville, picks up immediately where The Black Tower left off. Major Folliot and company continue their search for the Major's missing brother and the mysteries of the dungeon get both deeper and stranger.
The second book is a faster read than the first, Coville moves the narrative along at a nice pace and as the characters have already been introduced the action can begin immediately. The novel takes the group through two levels of the dungeon, pits them against some of the most dangerous creatures they've met so far and manages both to answer some questions from the first novel while still leaving the reader looking for more.
As the third book is by Charles de Lint (who happens to be the reason I've picked up this series now), I'm looking forward to getting to the halfway point of the series, so will be starting almost immediately.
Okay, I'm going to admit something a little embarrassing here. When I was a young boy my favourite two heroes were Superman and Hercules (classical mythology character rather than the Marvel Comics character - who I've never read, but I'm sure I'd like), and NO, that isn't the embarrassing part. I used to think that if I were to grow up to be a superhero, I would either be called SuperKirk or Kirkules. Also I made friends and certain siblings call me these names sometimes, and also I may have had a theme song or two I would sing to myself... Anyway, I bring this up to provide context. Anytime a new Hercules film or show comes out I'm bound to check it out and then to comment. And as I have this convenient blog sitting here, I think I'll get up on my soapbox and begin. This movie was fun. It was like a mix between the plots of Dragonheart (1996) and King Arthur (2004), in that Hercules is depicted as a man who puts on a show, and that the story is played as a type of story-behind-the-legend type of narrative. One thing I will definitely say about Dwayne Johnson's performance, he really comes across as a man who has spent years fighting and working at his craft (being a warrior), and his portrayal of a man living up to a legend was actually one of the highlights of the film for me, even more so than the action sequences, and they were great. The film does play around a little with 3D, so watching it on my regular-old 2D television at home makes it look a little strange anytime things poke out at the screen, but otherwise, the story was fun, the visuals were great, and honestly the end-credit sequence was surprisingly fun and enlightening. Well worth a watch.
Although I'm a huge fan of console games (currently, I'm playing the PS3 pretty much exclusively, but we have a Wii and over the years I've enjoyed a number of Mario and Zelda games on that console as well), I have to say that every once in a while a good old computer game just grabs my attention and won't let go. Take And Yet it Moves, for example - I purchased the game a few years back after hearing a positive review on a show called Little Miss Gamerand found it to be one of the most fun maze style games I've ever come across - the music and images are great (think a sort of papier-mâché collage look), but the mechanics, wherein you not only control the character but also the game world make for an incredibly intriguing game that feels incredibly satisfying to complete level by level.
In the last two weeks I've actually heard a lot about a couple of games that are definitely going to end up on my January purchase list (I don't buy anything this type of year for fear that I may make someones Christmas gift to me obsolete). The first is called Gone Home, and as soon as I saw the trailer, I immediately thought, "Wow, this is exactly the kind of game my wife would love", mysteries, a lack of punch-and-jump action sequences and a really great immersive feel.
Finally, I've been hearing a lot about the game Thomas Was Alone, which looks like exactly the sort of game I can play when I have a few minutes and also the kind of game that is all right to play while my kids are in the room (I'm looking at you God of War series, for some uncomfortable gaming experiences that started with, "Hi Dad, what are you playing - EWWW!!!!) Anyway, I just thought it might be worth a mention that the games I'm most excited about right now are pretty cheap, available online, and winning all sorts of awards - Way to go, Computer Games!
One of my favourite features that my local public library's website has is the "Just Ordered" menu, which lets me both know, and put holds on, materials that are currently on order, but not yet available in the library. Case in point, the 2004 British Mystery series, Afterlife, which I had never heard of before, but due to the intriguing cover art of the box (pictured left) and the fact that it starred a pre-The Walking Dead had me interested enough to add it to my hold queue. The first series lasts six one hour episodes and works as a mystery, following a medium named Alison Mundy (Lesley Sharp - who I loved in Bob & Rose) and an interested academic, Dr. Robert Bridge (played by Andrew Lincoln) who begins the series believing Alison is some sort of con-artist, but begins to believe her view of the world throughout the first season. The episodes were creepy, intriguing, and had a lot of great personal drama going on, digging into both Robert's recent personal tragedies and Alison's view of the world. For a mystery-of-the-week series with an intriguing supernatural bent, I'd say it is well worth the watch.
So here we are, the end of the second Middle Earth trilogy, and what can I say? If you loved the previous films, this one will be right up your alley, but if you didn't, there are plenty of other things you could go see at the theatre this weekend. Taking place almost entirely in the last few chapters of the book, the film has almost 45 minutes of straight combat (which depending on the reader may entice or warn them away from the film). The image is spectacular, the story works by moving back and forth from the epic (a battle with five armies) to the personal (a friend trying to help another) seamlessly and paying close attention to all the little moments fans will be hoping for. Was it as good as Return of the King? Yes and no, the original film worked on a much grander scale, but this film only has one ending. Much praise must be given to the actors, as they humanize (or hobbit-ize, drwarf-ize, or elf-ize, whatever the case) the story and really draw the audience in. If you plan on seeing it, absolutely attempt to do so in theatre as the story works best on the big screen. Now all I have to figure out is what my Christmas movies will be for the next three years...
The retelling of fairy tales has always had a particular interest for me, whether as viewer, player, reader, or even attempting to try my hand at writer. I've long been a fan of Bill Willingham's Fables, and before that the Snow White, Blood Red series, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. So, a little burned from Disney's last attempt "Oz the Great and Powerful", my family decided to give the 2014 film Maleficent a try. To begin, the movie looks amazing, the effects are great , the imagery is wonderful, and it visually ties in quite nicely with the 1959 Disney film. The story works from the point of view of the "evil" fairy Maleficent, who in the original story is the one who curses Beauty to die on the day of her sixteenth birthday. Stories told from the villains point of view are always tricky; how, in their back story, can you show the audience the reasons behind their dark deeds, and hopefully win their sympathy? In Maleficent, they (mild spoiler) do this by introducing Sleeping Beauty's father as a character years before the events of the fairy tale. This works really well, but does ad a certain darkness to the film that moves the intended audience up by quite a few years from that of the Disney Classic. In the end, both of my kids loved the film, and my wife and I were cautiously optimistic about it. It's not my favourite villain retelling of a fairy tale, for that you'd need to read Neil Gaiman's Snow, Glass, Applesbut it was a pretty great show nonetheless.
Having worked my way through 80% of David Pringle's Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels, I've read a lot of different types of SF; from dystopian futures to time travel and space opera, but until yesterday I had never read anything quite like Barry N. Malzberg's 1975 novel, Galaxies. The book (sorry for the mild 39-year-old spoiler) is stealth metafiction with a strong satirical bent, but you'd never guess this from the cover. In fact, the cover image, of a spaceship flying into a skull, looks and reads exactly like a standard classic science fiction novel, still smelling faintly of the pulps, and probably published somewhere in the mid to late 1950s. Once you open the book however, things go sideways very fast. The novel moves between the writer talking about himself and his life to concepts of main story and back again, with quite a few musings on science fiction as a genre, it's readers and it's writers. I absolutely loved this book - the story was fast paced, intriguing, and hard to forget, which honestly describes a lot of the fiction I love. Well worth the read.
This weekend I got to re-watch a film from my childhood with my youngest daughter, an Anime film from 1979 called Wind of Change. The film is a retelling of five stories from Classical Mythology: Actaeon, Orpheus and Eurydice, The House of Envy, Perseus and the Medusa, and Phaethon. Narrated by Peter Ustinov, the film has the same two characters, a young boy and girl playing the various roles in each version (and sometimes overlapping), and as it was the late seventies, there is plenty of disco music as well (which can be a plus or a minus, depending on the viewer). For me, the stories are pretty great, and except for the fact that the narrator goes into Falsetto for his female characters, and often falls into a Southern United States Drawl for some characters, the visuals are pretty great, the stories are timeless, and much of the imagery is breathtaking (although may be too intense for young viewers. Check out the trailer on YouTube and if you happen across a copy, give it a chance!
In general, I'm pretty big on horror comedies. Although I may not be an expert in the sub-genre, I would definitely say I'm a buff, or perhaps an enthusiast. So when my friend Ron sent me a link to a blogpost a few months ago about Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, it quickly moved to the top of my "gotta see" list. The show is a series within a series, being a fictional supernatural horror series from the 80s which has finally been released in 2004 (which is the actual year in which the series is released, starring actors who are playing other actors and filmed using techniques, editing and music made to appear as if the show was created in the 80s). The six episodes are interspersed with retrospective interviews from the cast (agin, actors playing the actors who are looking back at their time filming Darkplace), which are pretty darn great. Yesterday Ron showed us the entire series and I cannot believe that 1) I haven't seen it before, and 2) It isn't available for Region 1 DVD or Blu-Ray players. Because this show is amazing, you need to see it, and if horror comedy is your bag, this show must be seen to be believed.
The Dungeon was a series conceived of by author Phillip José Farmer, and written by Richard A. Lupoff (vol. 1 & 6), Bruce Coville (vol. 2), Charles de Lint (vol 3 & 5), and Robin W. Bailey (vol. 4). As I’ve been working my way through the works of de Lint, and had come across used copies of various volumes for years, I finally decided to give the series a try this month, which was a pretty good decision as I was introduced to it’s protagonist (and this week’s genre character) Major Clive Folliott.
In the first book of the series, Clive travels from his home in 1869 England to find the location of his missing brother, the explorer Neville Folliott - his journey ends up taking him to another place entirely, a location (World, Level, Dimension?) called "The Dungeon".
What I like best about Clive is both his sense of honour (he searches for his brother mostly on principle - they were not close), and his willingness to step back and look at each new situation with a calm eye (a pretty great attribute for any leader to have). The story is filled with all sorts of characters out of place and time, and I'm really quite interest to see where the various authors will take it next.
It started out simply, as with every other game I've played on the PS3 for the last few years, I finished the previous game, decide on which to start next and then work at it two hours a week (Saturday and Sunday), for as many weeks as it takes to finish. To be fair, I've always had a harder time with sandbox-style games (or emersive games as my "Understanding Video Games" course taught me), where you can do all sorts of side missions, explorations, and also buy new outfits, weapons, etc. (or play dress-up, as my wife calls it). Basically, it's just so easy to say, "5 for minutes and this side mission is complete!", only to discover that your five minutes has stretched into 95 minutes. Like last night in my latest obsession, Red Dead Redemption (2010), which allows you to play the role of John Marston, who in 1911 visits the western United States to complete some unfinished business. Last night I decided to do a quick side mission, wherein I would help an old-timer put together a bouquet of flowers for his wife's birthday, only to find the task involved travelling to the far corners of the game map and getting into a pretty significant shoot-out. But in the end the story (sorry for the mild four-year-old spoiler) ended up being a reference to Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily", so I found yet again, another place in my video-game playing life where high school English turned out to be pretty useful. At this point I'm about a third of the way through the game, and I'm digging it a lot - the mechanics are pretty great, the setting is incredibly well done, and the story is a lot of fun. In the past I've played previous RockStar games like L.A. Noire and some of the Grand Theft Auto series, but this has been a great find. Maybe I'll play for a little bit tonight, you know, just for a quick side-mission...
Although I’m now two months past my Penguin Classics themed run, I recently saw one of the more interesting adaptations of Frankenstein I’ve ever come across. Enthiran (Robot) first came to my attention back in 2011, when a scene from it was released on YouTube as “Best Action Scenes Ever!!! Which seems to have borrowed heavily from The Matix, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, and various anime.
Screened for me by my friend Ron, the film actually works best as a version of Frankenstein, in which a scientist creates a machine, loses faith in its abilities, and then discards it, only to find the machine doesn’t disappear that easily.
Like most Bollywood films, the movie has comedy, tragedy, action, musical numbers and high drama, but on top of that it adds a lot of truly spectacular special effects, and a protagonist you cannot help but sympathize with.
If you’ve never given Bollywood a shot, I’d highly recommend it, the story is great, the songs are a lot of fun, and the action is pretty fantastic.
Having entered the final month of 2014, I’ve got eight books ahead of me and hopefully a couple weeks I can dedicate to clearing out the various magazines, comics and trade (collected comic) collections I’ve gathered over the last year.
Most exciting for me will be the first three volumes in Phillip Jose Farmer’s The Dungeon series, a six-volume collection that has intrigued me for years as I came across various volumes at various used-bookstores, and as I found earlier this year that volumes three and five were written by Charles de Lint, I’ve now got the excuse to finally buckle down and check them out.
Each year after I’ve finished my various pre-selected reads, I hit the magazines and comics I’ve added to my collection – top spot this year goes to the zombie-themed Afterlife with Archie, followed by the Hack/Slash Army of Darkness Crossover, and hopefully catching up with Astro City again.