Monday, March 30, 2015

Book Review: The Shade

Last week my friend Ron loaned me James Robinson's 2013 mini-series, The Shade, a spin off of one of my favourite superhero comics of all time, Starman.

The character of The Shade has always been intriguing to me, as an immortal with shadow-based power his abilities can be pretty stunning, and his motivation often seems to go beyond simple blank and white morality to something a little different.  He likes a challenge, and if that requires him to play hero or villain, he's up to the challenge to reach his goals.

The mini-series is pretty great, giving the character a back story, taking place all over the globe and reminding me that as diary entries in comics tend to be written in cursive (handwriting), many of these stories will have to find a way to adapt as students are no longer being taught to read and write in cursive, making stories which use this device all but impossible to understand for some.

For Starman fans, the series is a must, as it brings back the flavour of the original comic but looks at the world through a very different set of eyes.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Book Review: Drink Down the Moon

Moving through the works of Charles de Lint from the ‘80s to the ‘90s, I’ve found a couple of great reads, but so far nothing has compared to Drink Down the Moon, his sequel to his 1987 novel Jack the Giant Killer.

The book takes place a few years after Jack saved the fae of Ottawa in the first book, and brings a much darker threat to the citizens of Kinrowan (the fairy side of Ottawa), and one with terrible plans for all.

As with many of his previous books, this novel focuses on myth and folklore as well as a lot of music and even a mention of Cat Midhir (the protagonist from his earlier book Yarrow - who I'm hoping to come across again in a future story).

The story is a lot of fun, moving back and forth between Jackie's story and that of a young musician who is just beginning to see the fairy world...

The book was pretty great and has me looking forward to to more of the shared world that De Lint has created in his later works.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Movie Review: Song of the Sea

One of my favourite things of working my way through Oscar nominations is getting to see movies I may not have heard of before and and are absolutely blown away by.

Song of the Sea is an incredibly beautiful film dealing with the traditional Irish folklore surrounding Selkies (creatures who live as seals in the sea but human on land).  The 1994 film The Secret of Roan Inish touches on much of the same material, but I have to say Song of the Sea may be one of the most beautiful animated films I've seen in years.

Seriously, I don't want to spoil the film, so simply enough, go see it.

Simply amazing.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Book Review: Trigger Warning

Okay, fair warning - I'm a pretty big Neil Gaiman fan - I've got all the books and movies, even the BBC Neverwhere series and a couple of CDs, so short answer - I loved the book and yes you should read it.

Okay, now to go a little in depth.

The book has over twenty stories and poems; including ones focusing on Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who, and even Shadow Moon (from his 2001 novel American Gods).  In addition the book includes a great fairy tale theme story called The Sleeper and the Spindle as well as a couple great tribute stories to both Ray Bradbury and David Bowie.

The book collects stories that have been published in various anthologies over the last few years, so as it's a great way to catch up on any stories you may have missed out on.

A great read.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Movie Review: CHAPPiE

As it turns out, I'm pretty sure 2015 may end up being the year of "Robots doing what they shouldn't" on film - with movies like Ex Machina and Avengers: Age of Ultron around the corner, I started my year of robot films (not actually a planned thing, just sort of turned out that way) with Neill Blomkamp's CHAPPiE.

To be fair, let's begin by saying that a story about a robot gaining sentience is something I'm pretty familiar with: with all of your Short Circuits, Not Quite Humans, WALL-E's and let's not forget Star Trek: The Next Generation touching on fairly similar ground.

So going into the film, I'm looking for something new, perhaps a little different, and something that gets me caring about the characters.

CHAPPiE actually does a pretty good job at this: the robot is one of the neatest visuals I've seen in a long time and actually had me questioning "how did they do that?" more than once.  As CHAPPiE begins his story at a small child's level of intelligence and awareness, the film allows the viewer to quickly connect with the character, and finally the movie did something I wasn't quite expecting.

It focused an awful lot on how people (regular joes likes you and me) may react if suddenly something genuinely new showed up, like say, artificial intelligence.  

The picture may not necessarily be the most flattering to us, but it did make for an intriguing film.

Although some of the plot points seemed a little strange to me, I did find the film was well worth seeing and for the effects alone a big screen viewing may be the best way.

Monday, March 16, 2015

RIP Terry Pratchett

Although I’m a pretty voracious reader, I can only think of six authors who have inspired me to read through their entire bodies of work; Terry Pratchett was my fourth.

I found my way to his work through Good Omens, co-written by Neil Gaiman (being the third author I’ve taken that journey with in my life) and absolutely loved the humour and adventure of that book. Quickly finding many of my friends had read a Discworld novel here or there, I decided to go back to his first book, The Carpet People (written at 18) and after finding it a fun read (with an even better “about the author” section*) I decided to read a Pratchett book a month until I caught up with his current work.

This took me from June, 2005 to July, 2008 - afterwards I waited, like all his other fans for each new book to come out and take to me some pretty great places.

Each month I was more and more stunned by how he could build a world from something as simple as a parody of Larry Niven’s Ringworld into something that started talking to me about my world, my life as a friend, husband, parent, and reader.

At the moment I’ve got all of his books sitting on my shelves from The Carpet People to last years The Long Mars and I can honestly say they are some of my favourites in genre fiction I’ve ever come across.

Kirk "Bookmonkey" MacLeod

*a section which stated in many of his books that “…started work as a journalist in 1965 and saw his first corpse three hours later, work experience meaning something in those days”**

**have I mentioned how much I loved his use of footnotes?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Book Review: Silver Screen Fiend

There is something unbelievably satisfying about checking an item off a list – whether grocery, to do, or bucket, the simply act of saying “Yes, I’ve done that” is a deceptively simple action, but one that can lead to unexpected consequences.

In Patton Oswalt’s follow-up to Zombie Spaceship Wasteland (2011), he focuses on a four-year period during his mid-twenties where he became addicted to watching classic movies, a simple enough habit that led to all sorts of problems both professional and personal before he kicked the habit in 1999.

Unlike his first book, which read more as a collection of humorous essays, Silver Screen Fiend looks at a period in his life where he go carried away with a hobby, and, considering we’re not dealing with alcohol or drug addiction issues here, it does get quite personal, looking at his career during the period (from staff writer at MadTV to film and television work, all the while working on his stand-up comedian work), I found an awful lot to relate to – from the joy of finding that he could check a movie off of two (or even three) lists at a time after seeing it, to the way films connect and use visual language to speak.

As a guy who works his way through lists all the time (Oscars, Hugos, World Fantasy, Best SF, 1001 Movies to see before you die, etc.), I can definitely relate to how addicting it can be to move through a collection, and to be fair I’m a pretty big fan of his work, so I may be more than a little biased, but I definitely found this to be a pretty great read.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Book Review: The Alteration

Alternate History novels have always been pretty interesting to me, whether the classic "What if World War II" had gone the other way of Phillip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle, or having the alteration to history occurring further back like in Keith Robert's Pavane.

Kingsley Amis' 1976 Alternate Fiction novel The Alteration asks (sorry for the mild 38-year-old spoiler here) what if The Reformation hadn't occurred? How would our modern world (modern being the 1976 the book was published) look like?

The novel follows a ten-year-old protagonist called Hubert Anvil, a talented singer who is chosen by his church authorities to be altered (castrated) so as to protect his God-given talent from the damage puberty may bring it.

The novel follows Hubert as he attempts to decide whether he would like the procedure or not - looking at the world in general and attempting to find a rational solution to his dilemma.

The Altered world of 1976 lives largely under Papal control, although there is a cold war in existence between the Christian and Muslim world.  A free country of sorts exists over part of our America, but even it doesn't work quite as well as one may hope.

One of my favourite aspects of this book is Hubert's love for Alternate fiction stories (including The Man in the High Castle and a cleverly renamed Pavane), allowing Amis to acknowledge previous benchmarks in Alternate history (there are a number of similarities between the key historical event and contemporary worlds of The Alteration and Pavane).

An interesting read all around - not sure if I'd revisit it, but glad to have made its acquaintance.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Things I've Noticed: Hovering at the top of my hold queue can be frustrating

All right, let's start by admitting that this really isn't a problem.

That when it comes to getting (effectively) free stuff from the library should not lead to me complaining.

And most importantly, that my problem is entirely a problem of my own making.


So my local library (which is wonderful, by the way) allows you to put holds on titles you might like to take out (pretty much like every other library), and even allows you to put holds on items they have ordered, but which have not yet entered the actual collection.

My problem is that my account lets me put twenty five items on hold at one time, and as I regularly check on "just ordered" items and also make use of my library's Inter-Library Loan policy (where one library borrows an item from another library), I tend to have a lot of items on hold at any given time.

Like say, twenty five.

Which means that when new stuff shows up - and yes, I know complaining about my library getting new stuff that they are willing to loan me for free makes me sound pretty terrible - I cannot put holds on anything and instead have to add it to my "for later" shelf - which allows me to keep track of things I'd like to check out someday, but not today (also an amazing service, by the way).

Which leaves me with maybe one or two slots available at any given time to put one or two of the fifty or so items I want on hold...

Aw man - looking back at my complaint I'm pretty sure I've just written a decent advertisement for my local library.

So there you go.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Keeping up with the Top 40

After finishing grad school last year I did what a lot of folks do and attempted to catch up on the various books, films, games, music, and television shows I had been putting on hold while working on my Masters.

Being a relatively organized guy, I decided the simplest thing to do was to track the popular stuff from the last few years (using everything from Nielsen Ratings to Publishers weekly and IMDB to track down what sold the most and then figure out how far behind I was.

For Film and TV I actually didn't do too bad - I ended up with less than a dozen series and about 40 films behind my kids and friends, so I could catch up pretty quickly.

With books I was a bit further behind, but as my BFF Mike tends to read the current big SF I wasn't doing too badly either.

This left me with music.

In terms of popular music I was actually about twenty years behind anything that was really popular.  This doesn't mean I wasn't listening to anything good, just not anything really current.

So I decided each week I would start listening to the top ten songs in Canada.  Then, bowing to the inevitable, I added the US top ten list (an awful lot of overlap) and after a few months decided to add the UK top ten list as well (which actually introduced me to a number of Canadian artists) and about a month ago I added the Australian top ten list as well.

So far the experiment has been pretty fun - I recognize way more songs on the radio and in the malls, and every once I a while I surprise my musically-inclined friends with some trendy info.

So there you go - I'm creating a baseline understanding of current Top 40 music in the western world - not sure what I'll do with this info, but I have to admit it's a lot of fun!

Monday, March 2, 2015

On Fraction’s Hawkeye

So here I am, two days before “All New Hawkeye” by Jeff Lemire and Ramon Perez begins, and I’m finally just getting Into The Matt Fraction era of Hawkeye that ended a few months back. To be fair to my well-read book club friends, I’ve had a number of people pointing me at this series for a while, it’s only now that I got ahead enough in my regular reading to dip into some new comic titles.

So last week I got the first three collected volumes (Issues 1 – 11, the first annual and issues 14, 16, 18, and 20) of the 22 issue series, and over the course of three days I got myself well into the series.

Here what I’ve found out (again, well after almost everyone else).

1) You should really take the time to check out this series
2) The artwork is very clean, has a unique feel that runs through each story arc and
3) Sometimes it’s a great idea to go beyond the A-lister’s (being, Batman, Superman, Iron Man, Spider-Man, etc.) as the second stringers tend to have a little more slack in what can be done with their stories (I’m thinking Sandman, Swamp Thing, Starman, and other similar series here)
4) The writing moves from incredibly relatable to hilarious to heartbreaking with ease and left me wanting to read more RIGHT NOW!
5) Perhaps I should listen to my friends recommendations more often, because this stuff is FANTASTIC