Sunday, December 31, 2017

Book Review: The Little book of Lykke

Following up on his 2016 book The Little book of HYGGE, Meik Wiking's The Little Book of Lykke: The Danish Search for the World's Happiest People is a delightfully brief dip into the factors that bring individuals, families and society happiness in life.  

Focusing on six areas: Togetherness, Money, Health, Freedom, Trust, and Kindness, the book works as a great "get back to basics" examination on what actually succeeds at bringing happiness to people, along with a fairly fun introduction to Danish world-view and some really neat examples of really great creative non-fiction.

A fun, beautifully put-together little book, it works as both a great companion to Wiking's first book or simply as a great read all on it's own.

All in all an excellent book to end 2017 on.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Book Review: The Walking Dead: Return to Woodsbury

Jay Bonansinga's latest (and eighth) entry into The Walking Dead novel series, Return to Woodsbury, continues the saga of Lilly Caul, the long-suffering saviour of one of the most unforgettable towns in Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead comic and television series, Woodsbury.

Although there were a number of problems I had with this novel (including the introduction and casual killing of a character for little reason past shock value), I've got to admit that I find Lilly compelling as a protagonist and the work Bonansinga puts in to her drive, her planning, and her grace under pressure keep these books moving along at a nice pace.

Certainly not a good place to start for newcomers to the series or the genre, the book is still a fun read, but I'd say the series largely falls to the law of diminishing returns.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Book Review: A Bloodline of Kings

Thomas Sundell's A Bloodline of Kings follows Phillip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great from birth through his famous son's birth. An interesting side note, the very first thing you see when you open the book is an inverted map of Ancient Greece with Macedon at the top and the islands at the bottom. This is done " illustrate the point of view of the Makedones. Their world centers on the Aegean Sea and the strongest cultural influence is from the heartlands of the Hellenes". Part of what I loved about this is the fact that most of us are very aware, at least in a broad sense, of the story of Alexander the Great, but this is coming from a different perspective, and even the maps in the end pages prepare you for this.

Phillip (spelled Phillipos throughout the novel), is shown from birth through his childhood as an incredibly smart young man raised as support for the rightful king of Macedonia. The fourth child in his family, Phillip seems destined to be forever used as a pawn in his older siblings plans for rule. In many ways similar to Robert Grave's I, Claudius, the royal family of Macedon is seen as filled with potential conspirators, rulers, spies and others all bent on the crown, and it is only through Phillip's ability to navigate his world that he ends up in a position to rule.

The novel is told in present tense and switches often from character to character (including all of Phillip's siblings, wives, and many other friends and foes). Considering he is often viewed as the precursor to the greatness of his son, it is fascinating to see the story of just how fractured Macedonia was when he came into power and the shape he moved it into before the birth of his son.

A fascinating read, and one I hope someday will be followed by a sequel.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Movie Review: The Disaster Artist

The Disaster Artist, James Franco's 2017 retelling of the making of The Room is a really fascinating look at the lure of Hollywood, Celebrity, and film making in general.

The Room is a 2003 cult film that has been referred to as Garbage, The Citizen Kane of Bad Films, and Trash Cinema. As an owner of the film myself, I'll say it is bizarrely watchable, nonsensical and the cinematic equivalent of an ear-worm. Once you've seen it, the movie just sticks with you and the more you try to explain its appeal to others the crazier you seem.

Based on the book The Disaster Artist: My Life inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell, the film follows the friendship of the two leads of The Room, Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero, from meeting in an acting class through their experiences trying to find work in Hollywood and finally through the creation and production of this truly strange film.

The very first thing I've got to say about the film itself is just how blown away I was by James Franco's performance; his Tommy goes beyond a one note parody of Wiseau's accent; Franco's Tommy is an incredibly interesting portrait of a man who is famously unwilling to share personal information about himself. Yes there are a number of laughs at Tommy's expense, but the character is more than a simple impression, showing a deep loneliness and strong sense of loyalty to the young man who has reached out to him in friendship.

As with other comedic films about filmmakers, Ed Wood (1994), Bowfinger (1999), etc., The Disaster Artist takes a gleeful look at how the industry can run versus how it does, and then exactly how it interacts with a man who completely ignores every piece of advice offered to him and simply makes exactly the film he wants to make.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Blog: Sleeping Beauties

Stephen and Owen King's Sleeping Beauties begins with with a strange sleeping sickness occurring across the globe, women are falling asleep and not waking up, in fact, if disturbed in any way they get murderous and then immediately fall back asleep. With no end in sight society begins to shift, falling apart in some places and pulling together in others.

Much of the novel takes places in one small town affected by the sleeping epidemic, and the nearby women's prison. Following law enforcement we begin on night one and therefore a large part of the early chapters follow women attempting to not fall asleep.

The novel builds at a really nice pace and even the crazy things that occur later in the book (this is co-written by Stephen King after all), feel like they come from a logical (sometimes deranged logic) position.

A thrilling story that merges fairy tales with pulse pounding thrills - well worth a look.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Book Review: The Fox

M.N.J. Butler's 1995 novel The Fox was almost the one that killed my current streak of one historical novel set in Ancient Greece that I've been doing for the last two years. Following the list found here, I've been slowly but surly working my way from the mythic age, through the Trojan War, Persian War, Peloponnesian war and am now just getting into the age of Alexander the Great.

The Fox follows a spartan soldier called Leotychides who was raised as royalty, through his entire Spartan upbringing, and cleverly sets it against the fall of the Spartan Empire. Similar in many ways to John Gardiner's The Wreckage of Agathon (1970), which is itself set in the beginning of the Golden Age of Sparta and narrated by a philosopher asking where it all went wrong, The Fox shows how a society built on one principle, an elite warrior class who ignore everything else, could not easily stand against the Athenians over any length of time once a shared enemy no longer existed.

The novel was a really fun dip into an area of history I'm becoming quite fond of, and thanks to the power of Inter-Library Loans (wherein one library borrows a book from another) I was able to read this long out-of-print book and continue on with a winning streak that will take me through Alexander the Great's life next year and the fallout after his demise (sorry for the 2300-year spoiler)

A great read!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Book Review: Artemis

Andy Weir's 2017 follow up to The Martian, Artemis follows the story of a young woman, Jasmine "Jazz" Bashara who works as a porter on the lunar city of Artemis.

As with The Martian, much of the novel comes down to timing and problem solving, but unlike his first work, a clear man vs. nature story, Weir has created an entire society with Artemis, working to outline its economy, class structure and characters ranging from the porter/smuggler protagonist through to city leaders, technical staff, the police and others.

The story moves along quickly and with a great sense of tension as Jazz takes a simple job that quickly becomes complicated and then moves straight into some truly dangerous and exciting territory.

A really fun read and well worth the look.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Book Review: The Mask of Apollo

Mary Renault's The Mask of Apollo focuses on Nikeratos, an actor of some repute living in Syracuse in the aftermath of the reign of the tyrant Dionysius.

The book does a remarkable job of following a society in which a young man (Dionysius II) has been placed in control entirely in conflict with the fact that he is not a leader, doesn't care for his people and wishes to spend all his time at his hobbies.

The novel focuses largely on the lives of actors in the era and seeing the story of a young man's professional career against the backdrop of great change in the world (Alexander the Great's father Phillip of Macedon makes an appearance in the framing chapters of the story).

A remarkable read and one that has me looking forward to the remaining three Renault novel's I'll be reading next year as I finish my read through this list.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Book Review: The Arrows of Hercules

Although I have spent the last month switching from game to game in the Five Nights at Freddy's series, in my off time I've been enjoying a number of books from all sorts of genres, including todays little voyage to Ancient Greece in L. Sprague de Camp's 1965 novel The Arrows of Hercules.

The novel focuses on an engineer named Zopyros who creates early siege weapons for Dionysius of Syracuse.  The story is full of all sorts of derring do, and from my own experience in fantasy fiction felt an awful lot like a Dungeons & Dragons campaign, including the four random fellows of different backgrounds and temperaments who decide to team up for no reason and seek their fortunes.

A lot of the fun of the novel for me was in the way that de Camp relates Zopyros's work to our modern tech-focused world - wherein he has been hired by someone to do a job no one has ever done before and instead of simply spending his time working on his concepts, he ends up spending an awful lot of it dealing with professional rivals and coworkers hellbent on undermining his efforts.

The novel was a lot of fun and following Manfredi's Tyrant, which focused on Dionysius himself, this was a great way to get a man-on-the-ground feel for how one city state dealt with the aftermath of the Peloponnesian war.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Night Thirty-One

So here we are, the end of my trip through five games, two novels, a guidebook, any number of YouTube videos and a family-themed restaurant with some over-enthusiastic animatronics.

In the end, Five Nights at Freddy's works as a pretty fun introduction to horror video games and horror stories - although the game levels can certainly get frustrating, the tension you build in yourself while listening for movement in the restaurant beyond what you can see on the security cameras can be a lot of fun, and the jump-scares are pretty great too.

Although the deeper mythology of the games was a little trickier for me to get a handle on, I cannot deny the marketing, and as you can see in the picture above, you can get all sorts of things from Freddy Fazbears if you're interested.

A neat little horror franchise I was glad to experience.

That's all folks!

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Night Twenty-Eight

So here we are at the final (latest) game, Five Nights at Freddy's: Sister Location and this game finally allows you to move around, more than just from side to side in the same room, and ends with some pretty terrifying concepts.

For me the problem was that each night sort of seemed like a great rough idea of a stage, but then clearly hadn't gone through any sort of revision...

Basically the game has you monitoring an animatronic factory, wherein new animatronics are created and maintained to be rented out for parties.  As with the original three games, you play night staff who must survive your shift by completing different tasks depending on the factory rooms you enter.

In the end, I found the game to be fun, but under-realized, I think if some more work and time had been put into it, it could have been pretty amazing, but as it stands the game is good for a few scares but is largely forgettable.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Night Twenty-Four

Trying desperately to make my way through Five Nights at Freddy's 4 I turned to the official guidebook to the series, Five Nights at Freddy's: The Freddy Files.  This book is a game by game guide to successfully passing each game, including maps, character descriptions and fan theories for each game and both novels.

In addition it explains the mini-games, a staple of the series from the second game forward, in which eight-bit style games are interspersed between each night and work to tell the various back stories of each game.

All in all, for a guidebook it was pretty fun, but I do wish there had been a chapter on Cawthon's original creation of the game, rather than simply focusing on in-game strategy and backstory, as behind-the-scenes info can be some of the most interesting.

Although 4 is almost certainly a wash for me, I've still got a few days to try and crack Five Nights at Freddy's: Sister Location before the month is over.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Night Twenty-Two

So after making my way through two novels and three games, I appear to have left the restaurant (or theme park) and found myself solidly back in a childhood bedroom, hearing things moving in my house and trying to make it through the night.

Five Nights at Freddy's 4 appears to have left the setting of all the previous games behind, there is no longer a fellow calling on the phone, nor are there security cameras.

Instead you play a child in their own bedroom, listening to noises in your house and either shining a flashlight or holding the door closed as something makes its way towards you.

First up, the graphics are really good - the animatronics look incredibly detailed and the ability to move (even just moving across your room) makes the game feel much more immersive.

The problem for me comes from the sound.  Now to be fair, I think if I had a limitless amount of time I could more easily figure out which sound means which creature is coming and more importantly which door to guard, but as I've only got nine days left this month, I'm afraid I'll have to live with the half week I spent trying to get through this game and then move onto the fifth and most current game Five Nights at Freddy's: Sister Location - which is where I'll be spending my virtual time next week.

A really neat game and one I'm sure to return to when I've got the time!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Night Nineteen

Having just finished the third game, I moved on to the second novel.  Cawthon and Breed-Wrisley's second novel, Five Nights at Freddy's: The Twisted Ones, follows Charlie a year after the events of The Silver Eyes.  Now a student in University, Charlie is finding she may have her own talent in robotics, following in her father's footsteps.

Having destroyed the original Freddy Fazbear's in the previous novel, all of the original animatronics are long gone, except now there appear to be three new giant-sized animatronics on the move, and this time not limited to one location.

As the novel just came out (it's release date was less than three months ago), I don't want to go too deep into the plot, but it was a pretty engrossing sequel and set itself up for a third entry.

Well worth the read.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Night Seventeen

So here we are at Five Nights at Freddy's 3, set thirty years after the first game and taking place at an amusement park called Fazbear's Fright.

As with the previous two games the main points are the same; you have to survive from midnight to six in the morning over the course of five nights to completed the game.  Much of the gameplay comes down to timing out when to check various cameras or take other actions to slow down the creatures (or creature in the third game) and the game is filled with eerie imagery ending with some pretty freaky jump scares if you fail on any given night.

The main villain of this game is Springtrap - a sort of rotted version of Bonnie from the first two games and although you hallucinate many other Freddy characters throughout the game, Springtrap is the only actual animatronic that can attack you.

Of the three games, this one took me by far the longest, taking me almost two weeks to complete, and although the villain was pretty terrifying and I enjoyed using one of the creepiest parts of the previous game as a weapon in this game, I did miss the valuable use of sound the previous games had to complete levels.  I was actually able to complete two nights in this game with the sound off, which would have been impossible in either of the original games.

A challenging game, but as it was so far removed from in time from the previous games, it sort of felt disconnected for me.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Night Fifteen

While I continue to work my way through Five Night's at Freddy's 3 (I just finished night 4 y'all!), I decided to read the first novel from the franchise, Five Nights at Freddy's: The Silver Eyes by series creator Scott Cawthon and novelist Kira Breed-Wrisley.

The novel follows a seventeen-year-old girl named Charlie, who returns to her hometown of Hurricane, UT, to attend a memorial for a friend who passed away during a horrific event as a child.

The novel follows Charlie and a number of her friends as they begin to deal with what occurred and find themselves revisiting the old Freddy Fazbear's pizza, which has been closed down for years since the event that cost their friend his life.

As a YA novel, the story moves along nicely, although it left me with more questions than answers - first of all, how this ties into the series, secondly, if reading the novel helps with the games or vice versa; I mean, both stories include the crazed animatronics, and there are elements from games 1 and 2 that appear in the novel, but the setting is different and although I really enjoyed the restaurant as described in the book (an abandoned, walled up establishment, waiting in the centre of a closed outlet mall), none of the games I've played to date have that as their setting, and I'm not sure any future ones will.

An interesting story, and yes, I'll be reading the sequel next week, but tangentially tied to the game series at best.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Night Fourteen

The Animatronics

Over the course of the first three games there are a number of animatronics to deal with.

First off is Freddy himself, a friendly-looking brown bear in a top hat and bowtie, who plays the toreador waltz while he approaches you for the final kill.

Next are Chica and Bonnie, a Chicken and a Bunny who are the most active in the first game and are equally upsetting in how the attack.

Finally, in both the first two games Foxy the Pirate is the most dynamic of the villains, requiring much more attention as well as being the fastest moving of the animatronics you'll have to deal with.

The second game involves puppet, mangle, and balloon boy, and currently I'm working my way through the third game which involves a pretty terrifying rabbit balled Springtrap, who you spend the majority of the game attempting to defeat.

Even though there is virtually no onscreen violence, these creatures do begin as ominous and become threatening pretty quickly.  

Okay, back to my game...

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Night Ten

After successfully spending Five Nights at Freddy's, my reward was to immediately download the second game and begin.

On the surface, Five Nights at Freddy's 2 works very similar to the first game - you play a night security guard, watching cameras and switching on lights to ensure animatronic monsters don't make their way to you and kill you.

A couple key differences with the second game.

1) You have a flashlight, as well as the ability to shine a light while looking at security cameras
2) You have a Freddy Fazbear suit that you can put on quickly, often fooling the animatronics that get too close, and
3) There are now mini-games, which to be fair took a little work (and wikipedia help) to both figure out and understand how they connect to the backstory of the game.

The game also includes a music box which requires constant winding or a terrifying puppet creature comes after you with little chance to stop it.

At this point I realize that there are enough creatures in the game I should dedicate a post to them all...

Friday, October 6, 2017

Night Six

Okay, so here's how the basic gameplay of Five Nights at Freddy's works.

You check the hallways to either side of the security office, then you scan through the security cameras.  

The problem is the animatronics move when you're not looking.  Also, you can hear footsteps, rustling, and banging going on out in the restaurant proper.

So the gameplay (which lasts about eight minutes in the PC version and four minutes in the mobile versions), has you sitting and waiting in a room you can't leave, while giant animatronic creatures move slowly (and in one case very quickly) towards you.

Even though there is no overt violence in the game; as the monsters move to bite you and then the image immediately gets cut off to static, the jump scares are quite effective, and you're really playing against your own rising tension as the clock slowly moves from midnight to 6am.

As a guy who has played through horror video games ranging from the old Nintendo Friday the 13th and the Playstation Saw videogame, I have to say it took me a pretty long time to make my way through each of the nights - you need the sound to effectively play, but it does dramatically raise the tension levels.

After about a week and a half I completed the first game, survived the week, collected my paycheck and immediately downloaded the sequel, Five Nights at Freddy's 2.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Night Three

In Scott Cawthon's Five Nights at Freddy's you play an unnamed night security guard at Freddy Fazzbear's Pizza, a theme restaurant that includes a number of animatronic creatures which seem to get up to no good between the hours of midnight and six am.  Your goal is simple - survive five nights.

The game begins inside an office, with little light, a running fan, and a door on either side of you.  You can scan left and right, and before you begin clicking randomly on buttons a phone rings and the following message plays:

Hello, hello? Uh, I wanted to record a message for you to help you get settled in on your first night. Um, I actually worked in that office before you. I'm finishing up my last week now, as a matter of fact. So, I know it can be a bit overwhelming, but I'm here to tell you there's nothing to worry about. Uh, you'll do fine. So, let's just focus on getting you through your first week. Okay?

And so begins the first of your five nights.  Unlike the majority of horror-themed games out there, you are incredibly limited in what you can do - basically your options are

1) Turn on the light to your left
2) Turn on the light to your right
3) Lock the door to your left
4) Lock the door to your right
3) Look through the security cameras

There are only two problems - first, every time you operate the lights or lock a door, your power goes down and eventually you run out, and second, the animatronics appear to be slowly but surly moving towards you...

Monday, October 2, 2017

Night One

When I was a kid there were a number of places that topped my list of perfect birthday party venue.

3) My backyard - nearby, lots of food, no chance of getting lost.

2) The Movie Theatre - going down with a few friends to see whatever the latest action/horror/comedy popular culture had to offer. A little pricier than home, but tasty snacks and a shared experience nonetheless.

1) Bullwinkles. For those not familiar with the chain, it was pretty similar to Chuck E. Cheese, wherein there was pizza, ball pits, birthday rooms and lots and lots of games. Also giant animatronic animals that would sing songs and perform.

So every summer as I start to gear up for my October Theme-month, I begin looking around the horror genre for either an old favourite to revisit or a new topic to take a deep dive into. This summer, while spending a day hanging out with my youngest daughter at West Edmonton Mall, she suggested I look into doing Five Nights At Freddy's, a horror video game series.

Having never heard of it, I asked her what it was about and she immediately took me into the nearest Hot Topic to show me the section devoted to the game.

Doing a little research on my own, I found the game, which takes place at a Bullwinkles-styled establishment, actually has four sequels, two novels and a potential upcoming movie.

So yeah - let's do it! This year I'll be spend October with Five Night's At Freddy's.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Muse and Reverie

Charles de Lint's 2009 short story collection Muse and Reverie appears to be the last visit he planned to his fictional setting of Newford for some time. The stories, originally published in a number of fantasy fiction collections (including one featuring Hellboy!), are a nice mix of stories, shifting back and forth between urban fantasy and dark fantasy, as well as one adorable Christmas story featuring the crow girls.

The first story in the collection was previous included in his Waifs & Strays collection, but otherwise these were all new to me and were a great delight to read. As I've only got six more stories after this until I'm caught up, and it looks like this is the latest short story collection, I have to admit my enjoyment was a little bitter sweet - soon I'll be joining de Lint's other fans, but like them, I'll have to wait to get more stories until he publishes them.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Book Review: Tales from the Darkside

One of the fun things about growing up in the 80s was the mass popularity of horror films; Freddy, Jason, and Michael Meyers had all become household names and yes, I had a Freddy Krueger poster in my childhood bedroom (Junior High years to be exact). In terms of television however, rather than horror series that followed one simple story, anthology series were king - Tales from the Crypt and Darkside, Friday the 13th, and Freddy's Nightmares all brought horror to our TV screens regularly (with varied levels of success).

For me, Tales form the Crypt and Tales from the Darkside, were both series to have heard about, but never actually seen (I didn't have HBO, and Tales from the Darkside started airing when I was eight). So a few months ago when I noticed a copy of Joe Hill's Tales from the Darkside I was definitely intrigued.

The book contains three scripts for a proposed reboot of the series, and each story is interconnected. They range from Twilight Zone plot twists to some really interesting Frankenstein-themed stories and were well worth the read. If you've never tried Joe Hill before, these stories are short, interesting, and a good gateway into what you can expect from some of his larger works.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Book Review: Railsea

China Mieville's 2012 YA novel Railsea is a bizarre mishmash of any number of things ranging from Giant Monster Movies to Moby Dick and the works of Robert Louis Stevenson. It follows a young doctor's assistant on a train named Sham, who begins the book covered in blood and, no...

Okay, so the book takes place in a world covered in train tracks and populated in those who live in hard rock areas where the giant Moles and other monsters can't...

So there are trains that travel out searching for moles to butcher - sort of like whaling ships...

OK - simply put, this novel is really an immersive experience. Going into it with little expectation (except that I'm a fan of the author), I found myself quickly drawn into Sham's world and into the mystery that he spends most of the novel attempting to solve.

In some ways, the less you know going in the better, but believe me, it's well worth the journey.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The 2016 Bram Stoker Award winner for best novel was John Langan's The Fisherman; a really neat take on traditional cosmic horror.

The novel focuses on two widowers, Dan and Abe, and their shared hobby of fishing, but then quickly moves into their back stories, and the story of a fateful fishing trip. On the way to a spot called Dutchman's Creek, they stop for breakfast and briefly chat with the cook about their plans. When he hears where they plan to go he tells them his own story about the creek, which, like many of the best stories travels backwards and deeper into stories involving some truly dark and horrific goings on at the creek.

I've never read Langan before, but found the book to be a compelling read, initially harmless looking and then moving into something much scarier than I expected, and something that has me feeling a little nervous about those out of the way places I liked to explore as a kid.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Movie Review: IT

So anytime I decide to see the film adaptation of a book I particularly like, here are my fears:

1) The movie will be so faithful to the book that there was no point in seeing it
2) The movie is so different from the book that there was no point in calling it the same title
3) They won't have my favourite parts
4) The won't have cast whoever I think should have got the role
5) The producer/writer/director will have simply missed the point

Having just seen the previous Stephen King adaption - The Dark Tower (and it fulfilled worries 2, 3, and 5) I was really nervous going into IT, a long-time favourite of mine, and one that has already been adapted (and that I saw as a kid when it originally aired), luckily, I didn't need to be worried.

IT was pretty darn great, the story was well-told, the scares were incredible, and I was really impressed by all of the performances. A Horror film focusing on the value of friendship has a difficult road to walk, but this one did it incredibly well.

I could get into spoilers, but instead I'll simply state that I was simply shocked the whole way through with how much I liked the film as a movie, not just a horror movie, but a movie overall. This may end up being the first Horror movie I'll decide to own since It Follows back in 2014.

Well worth the watch!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Book Review: Eyes Like Leaves

Charles de Lint's Eyes Like Leaves was a pretty fascinating read for me, sort of a "what could have been novel". Originally written as his fourth novel, the story falls nicely into the High Fantasy sub-genre (think Lord of the Rings), rather than the Urban Fantasy he's much more connected to these days. The author actually notes in the introduction that the advice he was given by an editor at the time was only to publish if he wanted to focus future works on High, rather than Urban, Fantasy.

The story works quite nicely as a traditional quest-style novel, following a bard, a wizard in training, and a young woman who all seem to be tied together through destiny to the strange creatures who have suddenly begun attacking people throughout the land.

De Lint shines best with characters and setting, and although he does a great job with this novel, I'm a much bigger fan of his urban fantasy stories. A fun read, but really for dedicated fans rather than new readers of the author.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Book Review: Rage of Ares

The act of reading the final volume in any series is always a little bittersweet for me; I know I can go back and reread any of the books at my own pace, but this will be the last time I get to visit with these characters for the first time. As I've been working my way through a list of historic fiction set in Ancient Greece, I've since passed the Persian and the Peloponnesian Wars and am nearly onto books focusing on Alexander the Great. While working my way through the main list however, I've been able to return again and again to the life of Arimnestos in Christian Cameron's Long War series, returning to the Persian War for another look at just how a war lasting so long affects any group of people.

Rage of Ares takes the battlefield right back to Arimnestos' homeland Plataea, for the final battles of the war and does a really great job wrapping everything up. I'm still not a fan of the Glossary appearing at the front of the book, but the author's notes, and in this specific case, a technical look at the battle by a historian, added a number of really interesting details to the series which began back in Killer of Men.

Well worth the read and yes, I'll probably revisit the series again, but next up for me will be Cameron's books focusing on Alexander the Great.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Book Review: If I Understood You Would I Have This Look on My Face?

Between September of 2004 and March of 2011 I worked my way slowly, one class at a time, through an online Bachelor's degree majoring in Communication Studies. The courses I took ranged from courses on Communication Theory and Analysis through the history of Mass Media and even included a couple courses on the Ancient World (which ended up being incredibly useful!).

In the end, a Communication Studies degree showed me over and over again the importance of ensuring that both sides of any message confirm what they have said/heard.  This knowledge has led me to be a better husband/father/friend/librarian (and hopefully blogger), and I think spending any time on understanding how people communicate and relate to each other is time worth spending.

So as you can imagine, when I saw Alan Alda's latest book, If I Understood You Would I Have This Look on My Face? My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating, I immediately added it to my hold queue at my local library and looked forward to checking it out.

First off, the book is really readable, Alda does an amazing job of pulling the reader in and keeping them interested throughout, both with personal stories and

Secondly, much of the focus on the book looks at the benefits of better communication in fields such as the sciences, wherein a large number of incredibly smart people doing smart things sometimes have trouble communicating the most important aspects of their work to us regular folk.  The benefits of having at least one communications course in virtually any field of study should not be overlooked.

Finally, Alda makes a really intriguing connection between communication and Improv; showing how skills learned in the practice of improv can help empathize and relate with others and significantly improve your ability at communicating more efficiently and effectively.

A fascinating read and well worth the look.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Book Review: Tyrant

Valerio Massimo Manfredi's Tyrant (2005) moves away from mainland Greece and into the Greek colonies in Sicily.  Following the life of Dionysius I of Syracuse the novel follows both the rise and fall of the character, as told from the point of view of journals and private papers he left for his son.

The novel follows Dionysis through his early frustrations as poor leadership causes a number of Sicilian cities to be destroyed by Carthage, and then follows his own rise to power, which starts, as is all too often the case, with the best of intentions, but ends in pure corruption.

A really interesting, readable novel, that showcases a part of the ancient world I was less familiar with.

Well worth a look!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Movie Review: Annabelle Creation

Last night my friend Mike and I were able to catch an advanced screening of the horror Prequel prequel Annabelle Creation, and it was pretty great!

So a few years back I saw, and really enjoyed, James Wan's The Conjuring, a neat little ghost story set in the seventies and featuring Ed and Lorraine Warren, a couple who made hunting these things down their business for years (including the Amnityville Horror and the Enfeld Poltergeist).  The movie had some pretty great scares, and I was quick to talk my friend Mike into checking out the sequel with me a few years later.

The Conjuring begins with a story about a demonic doll called Annabelle, as a way to quickly show the audience the types of things the Warren's would deal with, and as the doll had a distinct look and the story was creepy, a spin off was soon to follow.  I never saw Annabelle (2014) as the reviews were terrible and I wasn't sure if the character had enough interesting things to sustain a movie (it didn't).

But, when Annabelle Creation was announced I got pretty excited.  Not so much for the doll, but for the director.  David F. Sandberg has been putting horror shorts on YouTube for a few years now, and one of his first was even adapted into a feature (check out the short here), so when I heard this was the fellow who would be directing the film, my interest was definitely peaked.

In the end the movie is pretty fun, the scares set up nicely and although it has to connect to the first prequel, it has enough other interesting things going on I found it was well worth my time.  Interesting note about The Conjuring and it's spin-offs, this horror series is the most successful franchise since the creation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with six films done, one more coming next year and a further two in development, and all of them have been profitable.

Well worth the look!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Movie Review: The Dark Tower

So let's begin with the fact that I'm a pretty big fan of The Dark Tower series.

1) I referred to the series in one of my very first posts on this blog
2) I've read my way through the series and its connected books twice
3) I've led my wife, my kids, and my sci-fi loving best friend to read their own ways through the series
4) I read my way through Peter David's excellent adaptation for Marvel Comics and get overly excited every time the Dark Tower is referred to in any of Stephen King's other books.
5) Even though the first book was basically a modified Western and I hated westerns as a kid (because my Mom liked them - read more here) I could not stop reading it and HAD to see what happened in the sequel.

So yeah, I think it's fair to say I was looking forward to the movie every time I head it was going to be made and especially this year when it finally got a release date.

I saw the film yesterday with my wife and kids and here are my first impressions:

1) Why did they make this film version a YA adaptation of the source material?
2) Why is one of the secondary characters now the main character?
3) Why did they have to front load a ton of exposition for a story that really needs to build slowly?
4) Why have you taken two talented actors and given them such a muddled script to work with?
5) Why, having given up on the idea of a faithful adaptation, did you have to slip in the first line of the first book both in the middle of the film and with no connection in any way to the narrative?
6) a;ds lkfj;aldf (sorry, I just face-planted into my keyboard)...

Okay - I liked the performances by both leads, the production values was pretty great and the Easter Eggs were a fun diversion, but in the end - why? Why did they take such an interesting story and turn it into a 95 minute shoot-em-up which ignored almost every aspect of the first three books in the series?

In conclusion the film doesn't make me less of a fan of The Dark Tower series, but will likely make it much harder for me to sell others on this great book series in future.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Book Review: The Ten Thousand

So here's an interesting treat; Michael Curtis Ford's The Ten Thousand takes a look at one of my favourite films of the '70s, (Walter Hill's The Warriors (1979)) and tells the story that inspired the novel that the film was adapted from. This is the story of Xenophon's The Ten Thousand.

Taking place in the chaos following the Peloponnesian War and beginning in 401 BC, the novel follows Xenophon and is narrated by his servant and companion Themostigenes (nicknamed Theo), as they join an army of Greek soldiers who decide to fight as mercenaries under Cyrus the Younger in Persia, only to discover the point of their work was a lie and that they have been hired to help Cyrus kill his older brother. Things do not work out well and ten thousand Greek mercenaries quickly find themselves deep behind enemy lines with no support, little food, and most of their leaders betrayed and killed.

The novel follows the story of how (sorry for the 2500+-year-spoiler) this group made their way home. The novel begins as a war story and quickly turns into a story of survival over overwhelming obstacles. The action was fast, the story epic and I was quite happy to have purchased, rather than borrowed my own copy.

In the end, an excellent read, and an even more excellent reason to check out The Warriors again soon.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Book Review: 2001 A Space Odyssey

So here's the thing about perspective. For so many people Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey is pretty much the paragon of what a Science Fiction film should be, for me however, first watching it at about the age of twelve when Science Fiction meant Star Trek, Star Wars and Aliens, 2001 was a really hard film to get through. The story moved incredibly slowly, the character with the most intrigue wasn't even human and the humans are largely forgettable.

At the time, I just didn't see what the big deal was, but as a completionist, I decided to give the companion novel by Arthur C. Clarke a try.

Reading it at the age of twelve, the novel moved along quickly enough, and suddenly a number of the images from the film started to make sense to me. It still wasn't my favourite science fiction novel (at the age of twelve that probably would have been Vonda N. McIntyre's novelization of Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, but I was able to acknowledge it as a big part of the genre.

As part of my recent read through of the various Penguin Galaxy imprint, I reread 2001 last month, and I've got to say from the point of a forty-year-old father and avid genre reader, the story was much more compelling. The narrative moves along through three separate sections (the monkeys, the scientist, and the astronauts), and I thought it all held together rather well.

I guess it's time I take another look at the film, because, with a little perspective, this story got a heck of a lot more interesting.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Book Review: The Mystery of Grace

Charles de Lint's 2009 novel The Mystery of Grace starts with what appears to be a short story; a young man goes to a party, finds an amazing woman, they immediately connect, and then after one night together she simply disappears; not just out of his life, but out of his apartment's washroom, which has no windows and only one door.   Soon after he finds a story of the girl's untimely death, two weeks before the party even happened.

One of the things I like best about de Lint's writing however, is how instead of simply concluding this as a somewhat creepy short story, he works to figure out what might happen next.

One of the things I love about de Lint's writing is that he does it in a way I wasn't expecting, as instead of finding out what happens next to the young man, we follow the recently deceased woman, Altagracia "Grace" Quintero.  

Grace awakens after her death to find herself in a small neighborhood, one with even greater secrets than she imagined, and that is as far as I'll go with a plot summary.

The novel is a lot of fun, self contained (sorry Newford fans), and takes a pretty interesting look at the hereafter.

Well worth the read.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Revisiting Dune

One of the first posts I ever made for this blog focused on Frank Herbert's 1965 science fiction epic Dune, which in many ways is the Science Fiction equivalent to fantasy's The Lord of the Rings or Horror's The Stand - basically it's a big-old book packed with story and intriguing concepts that kept the author coming back and helped to grow a large number of fans for the genre.

Of course, my complaint at the time was that the book was simply too darn big, and that if the author couldn't get his point across in a shorter format he needed to get a new editor.

Last Christmas I received all six of the books included in the recent Penguin Galaxy imprint and as I hadn't read the first two before (The Once and Future King and Stranger in a Strange Land) I felt this year might be a good one to read these titles and revisit some classic SF (also taking a quick side-trip into Isaac Asimov's Foundation series as well).

Reading Dune for the third time, and revisiting it after watching the movie, the SyFy channel miniseries and listening to the original film's soundtrack over and over again, I wasn't sure if there would be much for me this time around, but man was I wrong.

For starters (sorry for the fifty-plus-year spoilers) I had somehow completed ignored the environmentalism focus of the novel (also the fact that Lady Jessica was Baron Harkonnen's daughter - which is stated clearly, multiple times), and furthermore the darker aspects of Paul's rise to glory. For years I had heard from friends and others not to read the rest of the series as each book got worse and worse, but now I have to say I'm pretty interested - maybe not all of the fourteen novels that were written after Herbert's death, but the first five may be added to my science fiction reading list.

A really neat read, and in many ways a great introduction to the genre for newcomers.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Movie Review: Dunkirk

Last night my wife and I saw an advanced screening of Christopher Nolan's WWII epic Dunkirk, and I'm still in awe of what we saw.

The film breaks down the rescue of nearly 400,000 allied soldiers in late May and early June of 1940 from three different points of view; Land, which follows the soldiers attempting to evacuate, Sea, which follows the civilian ships coming to their rescue, and Air, which follows two air force pilots attempting to offer as much cover as possible.

The film is sparse on dialogue, with the lead from the Land section speaking very little until the end, but massive on immersion.  Hans Zimmer's score, often timed out with a stopwatch keeps the tension high and the action moving.

The sheer spectacle of the film was pretty amazing for me, but after a day to think about it, I think I preferred the characterization in Saving Private Ryan to this, which focused much more on the people than the events it covered.

A few caveats: the movie is loud, and in many cases the accents are thick, so unless you've got an ear for English accents, you may have some difficulty understanding some of the dialogue. 

In the end I found the film to be an incredibly immersive experience, and well worth seeing in theatres.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Movie Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming

So I saw Spider-Man: Homecoming on Wednesday with my oldest daughter and I really, really liked it. The film is bright and colourful, fits itself comfortably into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and focuses on a key aspect of any good Spider-Man story, Peter attempting to find the balance between his superhero and school lives. Equal time is given to both, and the film borrows liberally from both previous MCU films and the teen-focused films of John Hughes to place Peter in a really interesting niche in the continually expanding franchise.

I have to admit I was initially hesitant when Marisa Tomei played Aunt May in Captain America: Civil War, but I really liked her in the film, also, I think it works to make Peter appear even younger and the Avengers much older and established.

In the end the movie is a lot of fun, and not getting into any spoilers, was really satisfying - I would definitely see more Spider-Man if it was coming from this creative team.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Movie Review; Baby Driver

Okay, fair warning, I'm a pretty big fan of Edgar Wright's movies in general, I own the movies, a TV show and have made a point to see every one of his films in theatres I can when possible.

So when I saw the first trailer for Baby Driver, I was already fairly certain it would be one of my "theatre flims" in 2017 (as compared to the "I'll wait for it on DVD" or the "I'll wait until I can borrow it from the library") films I see trailers for as well.

Although heist or crime films are not my favourite genre (no monsters, ghosts or things that go bump in the night), I've seen more than my share over the years, I've seen enough to understand the basic beats of the stories: successful heist to begin, introduction of the challenge, gathering of the gang, prep work, the heist, the heist goes wrong, the chase, the resolution.

Baby Driver hits all of its marks as a heist film, but then adds in music in a way I haven't seen outside of musicals before. As his previous film Scott Pilgrim vs. the World used fight scenes in place of musical numbers in a video-game themed boy-meets-girl story, Baby Driver uses music and sound from beginning to end to keep the audience engaged and the story moving.

Simply amazing, and currently my top pick for my favourite movie of the year.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Book Review: No Last Name

I first heard the name Jack Reacher back in 2010 while reading Stephen King's Under the Dome; his character is mentioned as a character reference for the protagonist Dale "Barbie" Barbara. At the time, I probably wouldn't have put it together, but a friend in my club mentioned that this was referring to Lee Child's book series featuring the character.

Two years later one of my book clubs selected the first Jack Reacher novel Killing Floor as a selection and from that point forward I read a book a month and slowly but surely got myself up to date. Now, like any number of other Jack Reacher fans, I'm stuck waiting for the new title to come out.

Luckily for me, I was able to get my hands on the book No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher short stories. The collection includes twelve short stories, most with Reacher as protagonist and a few with him as a supporting character or even as a cameo. Like the main novels, No Middle Name includes stories told from both first and third person perspective, ranging from senty-ish pages down to less than five. Although normally I like reading short stories in order of publication, Reacher's life is sort of made up of random events punctuated by violence, so the more episodic nature of this collection worked quite well for me.

A great read for fans of the character and also a potentially good jumping on point for new readers.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Book Review: The Last of the Wine

As I'm working my way through this list of 36 Historical Novels set in Ancient Greece, there are a few authors I'm always happy to get to, Christian Cameron and Steven Pressfield novels both make for excellent reads, but so far my clear favourites are the novels of Mary Renault.

Renault (1905-1983) wrote a number of both contemporary and historical fiction novels, but is most well-known for her works set in Ancient Greece. At this point I've read The King Must Die, The Bull From the Sea, and The Praise Singer, so I was definitely looking forward to The Last of the Wine. The novel takes place during the Peloponnesian War and follows a young man called Alexias, who is famed for both his beauty and his running.

Unlike most of the novels I've read off of the list (17 others to date), The Last of the Wine is largely focused on the lives of the Athenians in Athens. The novel focuses on Alexias teenaged and adult years and portrays the lives of young Athenian men almost as wealthy socialites. Renault does not shy away from homosexuality in the setting, indeed Alexias' father recommends he takes an older lover, and the love of Alexias's life is a man called Lysis. Both men are disciples of Socrates (who figures large in the story) and much of story involves how Alexias deals with his love for his friend over their lives.

A fascinating read and a picture of Athenian life that is too often shown in historical fiction as entirely focused on warfare.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Book Review: Dingo

Charles de Lint's 2008 novella Dingo focuses on two young men who both fall for the same girl, and what they do to try and win her affections.  Of course, being a de Lint story, there ends up being more than a little magic, danger and even a visit to a world separate, but not that different, from our own.

The novel focuses on Miguel, a seventeen-year-old high school student who falls immediately head over heels for the new girl in town, Lainey, an Australian girl with a strange dog.  Things get more confusing when the usually friendly Lainey starts acting like she's never met Miguel and then Johnny, a local bully, seems to take an interest in her as well.

The novel uses Australian folklore and merges it quite nicely with the world de Lint has created in his city of Newford.  None of his regular characters make an appearance in this novella, but as per usual, much of the story focuses on how normal folk deal with a undeniable confrontation with the world of magic.

A fascinating, if short, read.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Book Review: The Boy on the Bridge

M. R. Carey's 2017 follow-up to The Girl with all the Gifts, The Boy on the Bridge works as a prequel, and once again focuses on a small group of soldiers and scientists attempting to exist after an end of the world event.

The novel takes place on a mobile science station (think tank mixed with RV) that plays an important role in the original book.  Just as with the first novel, we are given one character to view this strange new world from, but this time, there are two protagonists, a scientist and a young man named Steven Greaves, who is a quiet, perhaps autistic young man who may be the human race's last, best chance for survival.

The novel works to create an incredibly tense, paranoid situation and plays with issues of consequences and living in a perpetual state of fear.

Well worth the read.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Book Review: The Isle of Stone

Nicolas Nicastro's 2005 novel The Isle of Stone takes a look at Spartan Society nearly sixty years after the battle of Thermopylae, specifically during the battle of Sphacteria (325 BCE).  The novel focuses on two Spartan warriors, Antalcidas and Epitadas, brothers who were raised in two very different, but traditional Spartan styes.

Much like John Gardiner's The Wreckage of Agathon, The Isle of Stone looks at the Spartan Empire with a jaundiced eye.  The empire is portrayed as brutal, and neither brother is drawn in a particularly heroic way.  What I really liked about the novel was the character of the warrior's mother and her rationalization for why she helps one brother and hurts the other.  The ethics of the Spartans, as described by Nicastro, definitely leave a lot to be desired.

The majority of the action of the story takes place with an army of Spartans under siege on a barren island surrounded by the Athenian navy.  The story moves quickly and although I didn't like it as much as Nicastro's other work on the list (Antigone's Wake - which I LOVED!), it does work to give an unflinching look at a culture often celebrated in our modern day.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Book Review: Stranger in a Strange Land

Reading Robert A. Heinlein's 1961 science fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land was a curious experience for me; on one hand, the concepts - an examination of humanities strong focus on religion and monogamy from the point of view of an outsider were quite interesting - while on the other hand, Heinlein's views on women were dated to the point of extreme distraction.

The book follows Valentine Michael Smith, the human son of Earth colonists on Mars who was in turn raised by Martians and his visit to Earth as ambassador from Mars. Much of the focus of the book begins with ideas of misinterpretation and communication; at first human authorities hide Smith away and attempt to get him to sign away the rights he has to his own vast fortune as well as potentially the entire planet of Mars. From Smith's point of view this is all irrelevant as the Martians have sent him for an entirely different purpose.

Smith quickly makes friends with a nurse named Gillian and her journalist boyfriend Ben Caxton. A daring escape follows and the majority of the novel focuses on Smith's relationship with Jubal Harshaw, a writer/doctor/lawyer who offers the Martian asylum. Harshaw has three secretaries (a blonde, a brunette, and a redhead) who work in tandem to satisfy his professional needs - the blatant sexism here (perhaps seen as charming when the book was published in the early '60s) definitely pulled me out of the narrative repeatedly, reminding me that when reading any fiction it's important to keep in mind the context in which the story was written.

The book itself was a touchstone for American counter-culture in the sixties and introduced the concept of "Grok" meaning a sort of total understanding of another, and even introduced the waterbed in concept.

A compelling read, but historical context is key to making it through.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Movie Review: Alien Covenant

Here's the thing with prequels: I'm actually pretty hard pressed to think of any that I loved more than the original - in fact, it may be fair to say:

You should see any movie that later had a prequel made, as for the prequel, it's kind of up to you.

Now, as my wife quickly pointed out to me, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly are both technically prequels, as they occur before the earlier film that introduced the main character - so maybe take my earlier statement as a guideline rather than a hard and fast rule.

Ridley Scott's Alien: Covenant is both a sequel to the 2012 film Prometheus and a prequel to the Alien Franchise. The film follows the crew of the Covenant, a ship bringing two thousand cryosleeping colonists to a new world who, after a solar flare accident, find a signal coming from a nearby world and decide to investigate it. As with more and more genre films these days, the production company released a number of crew videos and even a short bridging film connecting Alien: Covenant directly to Prometheus ahead of the films release. At this point I haven't seen any of those, preferring to watch and review the film on its own merits.

The action is pretty great, the creatures are terrifying and the crew does a nice job of portraying space truckers. I left the film quite impressed with how it was all put together, but a week later, and I'm feeling a little confused as to my current state. On the one hand, as a fan of the original film, I'm happy to revisit a world I've enjoyed a number of times, on the other hand, much of this film felt either like a retread or giving too much backstory to a creature that should remain mysterious. I will say that I was interested enough to see if there was a novelization (there is) and to add it to my used-bookstore wish list.

After all, an examination of the Alien franchise could be an October theme month some year.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Book Review: Planet of the Apes

For me, the 1968 film Planet of the Apes exists almost as long as my childhood memories of science fiction, along with shows like Mork & Mindy, Star Wars, and Star Trek the story of an astronaut trapped on a planet inhabited by intelligent apes seemed to always exist in my understanding of space-based stories.

Over the years I've seen the original film, the sequels, the remakes and the toys, so when a friend suggested we read the original French novel by Pierre Boulle, I was definitely intrigued. The novel follows a journalist named Ulysse Mérou, who in 2050 joins a spaceships crew to explore planets in the Betelgeuse star system. Here they find a planet inhabited by intelligent great apes, where humans exists, but as a wild animal rather than a dominant species.

There are a couple big changes from the film including the fact that the apes speak their own language, and the protagonist ends up spending much of his time learning it. I can definitely see why the film went with having them speak English, but this made for a much more interesting story. The story ends differently than the film and does have significantly more focus on the loneliness and isolation felt by Ulysse.

A really intriguing read and one I'm glad I got the chance to experience.