Sunday, May 31, 2015

Book Review: Man Plus

Okay, Man Plus in a nutshell.

Earth is dying, everything is going terrible, and the concept of terraforming our nearest option (Mars) is too pricey to attempt... but what if we could modify a man to live on the Red Planet unassisted?

What could go wrong?

Frederik Pohl's 1976 novel Man Plus not only attempts to show what could possibly go wrong, but also what exactly would go in (and have to come out) of a person to make living on Mars a viable options.

The novel focuses on Roger Torraway, an astronaut who has volunteered (sort of) for the Man Plus experiment and then we (as the reader) get to go along for the ride and see exactly how much of his human-ness he can  lose while still keeping his humanity.

The book begins as a question of science and moves quickly into body horror, a sub-genre of horror involving losing control over that which we identify with the most, ourselves.  Roger's experience sits between heartbreaking and horrifying and left me trapped, wanting to get away from the story, but unable to put the book down.

The novel is well worth it - makes you think about just how far we would go to guarantee mankind's survival and whether or not we would even still be men when we finally got to where we were going.

Well worth the read.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Movie Review: Mad Max Fury Road

To be fair, I should mention that I am a little partial to post-apocalyptic stories.

I've read and seen a lot of them...

And a big part of my love of this stuff came from seeing two big movies in the 80s, The Terminator which showed in a few brief examples what the world could look like, and The Road Warrior, which showed a post-apocalyptic world in all its terrifying glory.

So I'm a little biased.

At the same time, they were switching up the star, and I've seen a whole lot of disappointing sequels, reboots and re-imaginings when it comes to my favourite genres over the last few years, so I went in a little cautiously...

This movie was pretty fantastic.

Yes it was a little light on story, and yes the dialogue is pretty minimal.

But oh my god did I love seeing this on the big screen.

The fact that almost 80E% of what you will end up seeing is crazy car and physical effects rather than CG makes this to be one of the most visually stunning things I've seen in a long long time.

Will it end up on my DVD/Blu-Ray shelves?  Yes, no question.

Should you see it on the big screen while you still can?


Sunday, May 24, 2015

Movie Review: Tomorrowland

On Friday my eighteen-year-old daughter Kaia and I went to see the new Brad Bird film Tomorrowland and it was pretty darn amazing.

The film mixes a nostalgic look at the Tomorrowland section of both Disney World and Disneyland theme-parks and tells a story about the love of science and innovation as well as a pretty great coming of age story to boot.

We saw the film in IMAX and this makes the second time I've ever done that (the first was Pacific Rim a few years back) and I'm happy to say it was totally worth it.  The film was filled with action and adventure as well as some pretty amazing visuals and I feel it works well for both kids and adults.

Definitely worth checking out - especially if you feel you may be overdosing on the post-apocalyptic subgenre of science fiction right now (not me though, as I followed Tomorrowland up with Mad Max: Fury Road the next day and absolutely loved it!)

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Book Review: The Dreaming Place

I've long been a fan of Young Adult (YA) fiction, so with Charles de Lint's first YA novel, The Dreaming Place, published in 1990, I found a pretty great story involving two young women, Ashlyn and Nina, cousins who have been living together since Ashylyn's mother died and Nina's parents agreed to take her in.

The novel alternates point of view between Ashlyn and Nina, Ashlyn dealing with her grief and Nina suffering from a series of terrifying nightmares.  Although the story begins in a pretty real world setting, it quickly moves into the Urban fantasy that de Lint is most famous for writing.

Including magic, spiritualism and an intriguing concept regarding the consequences of actions, the story works quite well and would be a good introduction to the author's works.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

So I've started Mass Effect...

Continuing my hobby of starting games years after they've been popularized, I'm now giving the 2007 Science Fiction game Mass Effect a try.

To be clear, I'm the type of player who grinds away at these type of games for an hour or so a day a couple times a week until I finish after a month or so - no all-night binge sessions for this guy.

At this point I've played the game for a non-consecutive 30 minutes, leaving me with the following impressions:

1) Like a lot of role playing games, a lot of early effort goes into character creation, unlike say a game like Uncharted, don't expect to actually play anything for the first little while - but definitely expect to create some backstory for your character!

2) After going through the work of creating your character, get ready to walk around and talk to a bunch of people.  Like many similar games you get to effect how your conversations will go, but again, no early running and jumping.

3) Finally getting to run around and shoot a little, my character has touched down on a planet under siege and gets to shoot aliens and collect various bits of equipment I'm sure I'll get to use later.  Not quite as intense as the Dead Space series, the gameplay seems kind of fun, although I'm pretty sure I'll miss being able to jump - also it looks as if I'll be in charge of a group as I move along.

So far that's about all I've got - I haven't completed the first mission yet (wait till next week), but the graphics are fun, the gameplay is pretty straight forward, and expect for a clear impression of where I'm supposed to go (probably a feature I'm currently unaware of so far), the game looks like it's off to an interesting start.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Book Review: Half Wild by Sally Green

A little less than a year ago I read the first of Sally Green's Half Blood series and really liked it.  The story, a dark fantasy following a boy named Nathan Byrn in a world of Black and White witches, moved with a breakneck pace and asked a lot of nature vs. nurture questions.  Nathan has mixed heritage, his father is a notorious black witch and his mother was a well loved white witch.  Raised in White witch society, Nathan is distrusted by all around him, as they feel he is destined to become as dark as his father.

Half Wild picks up almost immediate where Half Blood finished and is begins the build to the war between the Black and White witches that the series is clearly leading up to, with Nathan working for a loose alliance of Black and White witches against a draconian White rule.

The book was a lot of fun, but the immense cast of characters leads me to feel you should read the books back to back and the violence level should put the book at the upper end of Young Adult fiction.

Although it didn't wow me quite as much as Abercrombie's Half a King, it was a fun read and I'm looking forward to the next in the series when it comes out next year (hopefully).

Monday, May 11, 2015

Book Review: Dragonfly in Amber

As I mentioned last month, I'm currently working my way through Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, which follows (so far) Claire Beachamp, an army nurse who travels in time from 1946 (just after World War II) to the mid-1700s Scotland, where she immediately gets embroiled in the buildup to the Jacobite Rising of 1745.  Also she meets a fine strapping Scot called Jamie Fraser and all sorts of romance and adventure soon follow.

The majority of the first book (Outlander, 1991) focuses on Claire's attempts to return to her own time and her husband Frank, but by book two (sorry for the mild 22-year-old spoiler) she has decided to stay with her new husband Jamie and make a go at changing history.

The books are both a lot of fun, but what I enjoyed best in Dragonfly in Amber was how much larger Claire's world has become since the first novel, much of the story takes place in France (during the reign of Louis XV) and even just moving the narrative out of Scotland suddenly shows just how big a world Claire is currently living in.

Filled with inruige, action and yes, some pretty steamy romance, the book is a lot of fun, and although it stands at more than 700 pages, I finished it strongly wanting to continue immediately onto the third book in the series (Voyager, 1994) but that will have to wait until next month.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Genre Character of the week, Prince Yarvi

Looking back over the last few month's worth of posts, I realized that I'd dropped one of my favourite entries on this blog, my "Genre Character of the Week" posts.  So today I decided to make good on a promise I made a little over three years ago and check out Joe Abercrombie's novel Half a King.

The novel focuses on prince Yarvi, the second son of a King and destined to become a Minister (sort of a priest/adviser/healer), when the sudden deaths of both his father and older brother lead him to the throne.

The book is a pretty great story of a young boy becoming a man and although it definitely felt a little pulp-y (which is fine as I like pulp fiction), the intriguing thing for me was the intriguing grey scale of morality and ethics in the book - no one is entirely good or evil and as we see the world through Yarvi's eyes, it is an exceptional education that we are taken through.

The book is the first of a trilogy, and it works to both guarantee I'll finish the rest as well as checking out the other books by the author.

I guess listening to a random guy on a bench a couple years ago can pay off.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Book Review: 100 Bullets

About two weeks ago my friend Ron loaned me the first Deluxe edition of the Vertigo comic book series 100 Bullets, written by Brian Azzarello and Illustrated by Eduardo Risso.  Have collected a large number of Vertigo titles over the years, I was familiar with the name of the book, but had never gotten around to reading it.

First of all - thank you Ron.

Holy cats is this an incredibly cool book!  It ran from 1999 to 2009 (so all you cool folk who have already read the series are one up on me), and featured a pretty interesting premise.

If you were offered a way to take your vengeance on the person who hurt you most in your life, perhaps the murderer of someone you loved, or maybe the thief who ruined your life or reputation, and were guaranteed that if you took advantage of the deal that nothing would come back to you, there would be no investigations, no arrests, or anything else heading back your way after you got your vengeance, would you do it?

The series begins as a series of stand-alone stories, a wronged person is approached by the mysterious "Agent Graves" and is given the offer, then they decide whether or not to act on it.  The stories are urban, violent (sometimes brutal), and filled with some simply great artwork.

Once you've got a few more issues in however, things start to take shape, connections begin to be made and it seems that perhaps Agent Graves may have some sort of agenda.

In some ways the book reminds me of Frank Miller's Sin City, or Greg Rucka's Stumptown, but it is definitely going in it's own direction by the point I'm at (issue 19 of 100).

Right now this is all I know, as I only borrowed volume one, but you can bet that I'll be reading the second volume as soon as I can get my hands on it.  I may be coming late to the 100 Bullets party, but believe me, I'm not leaving till I'm finished.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

An Introvert's Guide to Library Conferences

This trip to the Alberta Library Conference actually marks my fifth - two as the Librarian for a non-profit in the mid-00s, one as a student during my time at the School for Library and Information Studies and twice since then, as a conference / mini-vacation with my lovely wife.  In addition I've done four American Library Association conferences and two local day-conferences, so this marks my eleventh Library Conference overall.

In all these trip there are a few things I've learned to do to make my experience, as a bookish, introverted guy, into the best one I can have.

So here goes:

1) Relax: Library conferences actually have a pretty high number of Introverts attending, and many of them are just as nervous as you.

2) Find (and help) other nervous attendees: Look around the various rooms you are in (whether dining hall, meeting room, or exhibit hall) and find the person or persons standing by themselves - chances are these are also people a little nervous about the event and may be glad to have someone come up and chat to them - ask how they are enjoying the conference so far to begin.  Also quick tip - hit the exhibit hall early as it is marginally less crowded, but definitely make sure to swing by, these are the people who are often sponsoring the event and deserve a hello!

3) Realize you can take some time for yourself: as a guy who needs some solitude to charge up before and during large events, I make sure to get up early (where I can have some breathing room) and that I will return to my hotel room at a set time each night, as just knowing that you have an end in sight can allow you to work your way through various social events and other (potentially) stress inducing events with relative ease.

4) Do what you can to help improve other's conference experience: In my life I've gone home from excellent, fair, and terrible events, and you know what the key difference is?  At the excellent events someone took the time to help me have a better time, either saying hello over coffee, informing me of where the best desserts are, or even just asking me how my day was going.  After attending a number of these I decided to start trying to help other people leave the event thinking it was pretty excellent - doing this has increased my enjoyment of the various conferences I've attended tenfold.

5) Keep a book on you at all times: Seriously, I have know idea how this works, but if you have some reading material available, lines will move faster, people will approach you to say hello, and most importantly your day will move much smoother.  Every time I've attended with no reading material, I've ended up waiting in endless lines, often surrounded by people I don't know and desperately wishing I had something to do.  NOTE: It is very unlikely you'll ever get to read the book, so bring something lighter.