For the last two months I've been working my way, slowly but steadily, through the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in preparation for Avengers: Age of Ultron - I watched two movies a week starting with Iron Man (2008) and The Incredible Hulk (2008), and finishing up yesterday with Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). All of these were second or third viewings, but many were the first viewing since the original film. Here's what I learned. 1) Avengers: Age of Ultron better be pretty great, as I've spent a lot of time doing prep work to enjoy the film. I'm aware my personal efforts in watching the movies are not the same as those who made, studied, cos-played or otherwise enjoyed the films - but still - ten movies? I feel they better raise the bar a little. 2) 3D is pretty overrated. Of all the films, I saw the vast majority in 3D and re-watching them in old-fashioned 2D at home made the colours brighter (looking at you Winter Soldier) and the images much crisper - I think I'll be hunting for 2D showings from now on when possible (I do have to admit that Guardians of the Galaxy in 3D was a treat - but the colour palate of that film was very bright and largely in primary colours - so even dimmed-down a little it was still very effective). 3) How come we haven't had another Hulk movie yet? I found The Incredible Hulk to be a lot of fun, and with the massively positive response to the character in The Avengers (2012), I was honestly a little surprised that a Hulk sequel doesn't even show up on the proposed schedule to at least 2020. In the end, the films were all well worth the watch and have me pretty excited for next week's follow up.
There's always a risk that when it comes to adapting a beloved story something is going to go wrong. When that story happens to be one of the classics of a beloved genre, it gets even trickier... So imagine my apprehension at seeing that a movie version of "the mother of all Time Travel stories" was about to be made into a major motion picture. Robert Heinlein's 1959 short story All You Zombies, is, for many people, one of the classics of the genre, right up there with Clarke's The Nine Billion Names of God or Bradbury's A Sound of Thunder (also a must-read for time travel fans), All You Zombies stands pretty high on the must-read list of science fiction. The film totally impressed me - working it's way through the labyrinth-like storyline and using simply unbelievable makeup and visual effects the story caught my attention, stayed true to the original, and even gave it a twist or two I wasn't expecting. Totally worth a viewing.
Wow. So I saw the new horror film It Follows today, written and directed by David Robert Mitchell and I was pretty much blown away by how creepy it was. Seriously, I haven't actually come across something as creepy as the villain in this film since I first saw the Weeping Angels in the Doctor Who episode "Blink" back in 2007. The pacing is great, the tension building steadily from the first scene and the music (a great throwback to the synthesizer music in great horror films of the 80's). I can't really say much about the film other than go see it. I loved it, and yes, it'll be added to my personal collection as soon as I can get a hold of it. Wow.
Having finally reached the point where Charles de Lint crossed over into my favourite genre, Horror, I have to say I was pretty excited about reading the first of the three horror novels he wrote under the pen-name of Samuel M. Key (also side note - his reason for choosing that particular pen name is near and dear to my heart!)
The first of the three novels, Angel of Darkness, feels an awful lot like the video game series Silent Hill - except for the fact that this book was published almost a decade before the first game in that series. The story follows the first responders to a horrible murder, who seem cursed to shift between their own world and two increasingly darker versions of the world after being exposed to the crime scene. (For non-gamers, the three shifting worlds is a pretty big part of any game in the Silent Hill franchise).
The open sequence is pretty gruesome, and may scare away readers, but trust me, if you can make it through the first chapter this is an intensely good read, forever keeping you off balance but playing fair in terms of a good horror novel.
The characters are well written, both good and bad alike, and the story definitely gave me a serious case of the heebie jeebies.
Having now hit the year of my birth (1976) in my copy of David Pringle's Science Fiction: The 100 Best Books published in English from 1945 to 1985, the stories are getting a little different for me; Although some of the concepts and technology still requires me to look them up, I'm getting to the point where I'm sharing the same (or at least a similar) frame of reference with the author and the target audience. Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time is a little different from most of the science fiction I've come across, as much of the story can either be viewed as a tale of a telepath or the ravings of a crazy person. The story, taking place in 1976, follows Consuela (Connie) Ramos, a 37-year-old woman who begins to book by being unjustly sentenced to a mental institution by her niece's boyfriend and also happens to be receiving telepathic transmissions, and visits, from a few hundred years in the future. The book moves back and forth between Connie's psychic visits to a pretty Utopian future world (it's not perfect, but pretty close) and her attempts to escape or graduate from the institution she finds herself in (which is pretty similar to Ken Kessey's 1962 novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest). A lot of what I really liked about the novel (which I viewed as actual visits from the future, btw), was how easy it would be to discount Connie's experiences and assume they are a fantastic world she has created for herself, but I found the book to be much more interesting if viewed as actual visits from and to the future. A Fascinating Read!
So I'm a pretty big fan of NBC's Grimm, a fantasy and fairy-tale themed crime procedural which focuses on a man who can see various fairy tale creatures and his attempts to keep his town safe. But I think I may watch it a little different than most - I've been taping episodes of the current season (4) since last October on my PVR and won't actually start watching them until next month. For the last few years I've saved up each episode and eventually watched them at a rate of once a day leading up to the season finale, which I then watch live. In some ways I think it's my family's style of binge watching, only instead of checking out a season over the course of a weekend, it takes me a couple weeks to a month, but at this slightly accelerated rate I feel like the season-long story arcs tend to work a little better for me. In the last few weeks my wife and I have watched X-Company (CBC), The Americans (FX), Better Call Saul (AMC) and Vikings (History) this way, and honestly, it's working out pretty well for us. It may not be for everyone, but I have to say, I feel like I get to enjoy the stories without the whole season becoming an amorphous blob in my memory.
So here's the thing - as a long-time fan of Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction reading I have a sort of internal measurement in which I can say which genre has more sway on my reading habits at any given time.
I like to think of it as my "Zombie Robot Unicorn" meter. Basically I liken my current reading habits to an internal image of a Zombie Robot Unicorn and use it to describe my current thoughts about whatever I'm reading.
In practice the image shifts to a much more "zombie-fied" robot unicorn in October and perhaps a bit more "Unicorn-ed" Zombie Robot during the winter.
Over the weekend however I went through my book award and top 100 lists I've been reading my way through over the last decade and realized that I'm actually steadily reading more Science Fiction than either of the other two and have been for some time...
I guess my Zombie Unicorn is much more robotic that I've previously though.
For the last few years I've fallen steadily behind in my mainstream comic-book reading. Luckily as the big two competitors (DC and Marvel) like to reboot their lines every few years there are a lot of jumping-on points, but even those come with complications. Take Guardians of the Galaxy for example - the new series (written by Brian Michael Bendis) started back in 2013 when the film was given a release date and I started purchasing it, as it look kind of cool and I was unfamiliar with any of the characters (except for Groot - who's origin story I had read a few years earlier in the excellent Marvel Monsterworks). So there I am, happily reading my Guardians of the Galaxy, when a crossover occurred with something called INFINITY - basically this was an Avengers tie-in and seemed to connect on a couple points with my comic but as I was only focusing on my own title, I ignored the connecting titles and moved on. Next was The Trial of Jean Grey - a tie-in with Bendis' other title, All-New X-Men. This one was a six-issue story alternating between the two titles, so I purchased the three issues of X-Men and enjoyed the story for what it was. In the last few months however, Guardians has begun a crossover event called The Black Vortex, which includes issues from - All-New X-Men, Captain Marvel, Cyclops, Guardians of the Galaxy, Guardian Team-Ups, Legendary Star Lord, and NOVA. This was clearly too many comics for me to purchase and stay happily married, so I decided to see if any of these other titles were available at my local library. The answer was yes, and I started catching up on NOVA and X-Men. The problem was, one of the X-Men titles crossed over with The Indestructible Hulk (written by Mark Waid) as well as Uncanny X-Men (written by Bendis), so I put requests in for these titles. My BFF Mike helpfully loan me the Hulk and Captain Marvel titles, but as I started reading Hulk I saw tie-ins with Dardevil and Thor, both of which the library have and both of which tie into any number of other Marvel titles. The other problem is these are a lot of fun to read, but I'm starting to feel a little overwhelmed... oh wait, in this issue Hulk meets King Arthur! Okay, I'll stick around for a few more, but THAT'S IT! Probably...
A few years back for one of my book clubs I read Diana Gabaldon's 1991 novel Outlander (originally published as Cross Stitch) and was pretty impressed. At the time I hadn't had a lot of experience with Romance novels (my tastes normally move more in the "Zombie, Spaceship, Wasteland" direction), but was really surprised at just how great this first novel was. Flashing forward to last year, my wife (who has read the entire series to date) and I began watching the recent Ronald D. Moore television adaptation, and I admitted that I would have to check out this series and soon. Or as my wife likes to say "If you can spend a whole month inflicting me with Twilight the least you can do is read something good once in a while..." Point taken. As I read horror, fantasy and science fiction works each month I've noticed that Fantasy tends to work best in series readings, so for the next year, give or take, I'll be checking out some time travelling historical romance fiction. Image Credit Outlander Series image from https://www.pinterest.com/explore/dragonfly-in-amber/