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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Field of Blood

Great concept. So-so delivery. That pretty much sums up Field of Blood by Eric Wilson.

Ever read a Christian vampire novel? That's what this is. It turns out that when Judas Iscariot killed himself in the Akeldama, the Field of Blood, he tainted the ground with his blood. Two thousand years later, the tombs within are opened and those buried there come back to life, possessed by demonic Collectors. These Collectors, led by Lord Ariston, want one thing: to destroy a group called the Nistarim. If they can take down even one of them, they will usher in the Final Vengeance.

Somehow their plot centers around a girl named Gina. She is somehow tied into the Nistarim, although Nikki, her mother, is trying to protect her. But as Gina grows older, she learns more and more about herself and discovers that she is deep into this conflict whether she wants to be or not.

It's a great concept. Wilson weaves together some vampire lore with Talmudic legends about the Nistarim, the thirty-six righteous men who must bear the sorrows of the world on their shoulders. And while there's a lot of exciting scenes and a lot of gritty reality, the whole experience left me a bit unsatisfied.

It's hard to say why exactly. Part of it, I think, is that Wilson didn't do a good enough job explaining exactly who or what the Nistarim are. I was only able to piece it together because my wife read a book about the Nistarim a few months back and told me about them.

Part of it was also craft-related. Wilson's prose, while fun and energetic, got to be a bit too over the top from time to time.

Now all of this is probably subjective. Someone else reading this book may love it. It wasn't for me.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Elevator

So how's this for an intriguing premise? A book set in an elevator. Three women trapped inside while a hurricane comes barreling into town. And all three of them have secrets that intersect with each other.

That's the premise of The Elevator by Angela Hunt. A hurricane has Tampa, Florida, square in its crosshairs, but in spite of that, three women converge on an office building. There's Gina, the wealthy housewife who just learned that her husband is having an affair. There's Michelle, a corporate headhunter who wants to tell her paramour that she wants marriage and a family. And there's Isabel, a Mexican maid with a dark and tortured past. All three happen to be in the same express elevator when the power goes out and they wind up trapped together, unaware that all three of them harbor secrets about the same man.

I have to admit, I was wondering what Hunt would do with this premise. It turned out that what she did was fairly realistic. While the women interacted with each other, there were also a lot of introspective moments, which makes sense to me. I mean, when you're trapped in a small space with two strangers, you're probably going to spend a lot of time thinking.

The style of the book worked well for this as well. Hunt wrote most of the story in an active tense. That helped lend immediacy to the on-going story but also helped make the numerous transitions into flashback easier to spot.

But overall, I think the book was about average. The story didn't grab me until about halfway through. And unfortunately, I was able to predict most of the story's major twists. So while it was a satisfying read, it wasn't a spectacular one. A good escapist tale, but little more than that.

Dollhouse Redux

Joss Whedon saved a viewer last night.

I wrote a review back when Dollhouse debuted. At the time, I said I was skeptical about the series's premise. I also said I was concerned about Eliza Dushku's ability to drop in and out of different roles week to week. Sadly, with each successive episode, my doubts grew. Why do people go to the Dollhouse and rent actives? And Dushku's acting, while okay, wasn't spectacular. For example, in the episode where Echo infiltrated the cult, she broke character toward the end in what I thought was an unrealistic way. So I was a bit skeptical about this week's episode, Man on the Street. The previews promised that it would be a game changer. So I figured I'd tune in to see what changed exactly.

Well, the episode certainly delivered some good twists. FBI Agent Ballard encountering Echo twice was a nice surprise. So was Ballard finally realizing that his neighbor, Mellie, is into him. Patton Oswalt's rich billionaire Dollhouse client helped me understand why people would go to the Dollhouse.

But it was the twists that piled up in the final fifteen minutes that really hooked me. A mole inside Dollhouse? The revelation that there are more throughout the world? The whole "fantasy is our business, but the purpose is different" revelation? And who Mellie really is? Wow. I'll keep watching just to see how this all develops.

I want to add one more thing. I have a theory about who Alpha, the rogue former active, is. Maybe it's been suggested elsewhere, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and predict that Alpha is really Agent Ballard. I think that Alpha has developed a multiple personality disorder, both of which wish to see the Dollhouse taken down. It's just that Ballard isn't aware of Alpha, but the opposite isn't true.

Am I right? Who knows at this point. But I'll keep watching to see if I am.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Kings

Thanks to a crazy schedule and a weird snafu with my VCR, I only now got to watch the premiere episode of Kings. I've actually been chomping at the bit to see it all week, especially after I read this review in TIME magazine. I had seen bits and pieces about it over the past months but somehow, I had missed that this was all a retelling of the Saul and David story out of Samuel. At least until I read the review.

Now that I've seen the premiere, though, it would have been hard to miss. The King of Gilboa's kids' names, Jack and Michelle? Rev. Samuels, the King's spiritual advisor? Heck, even our plucky young hero's name, David Shepherd, is almost a bit too over the top for me. The fact that every tank from Gath had "Goliath" painted on its front made me laugh, and not in a good way.

But in spite of the over-the-top naming conventions, it was a good show. There's plenty of conflict brewing in just about every corner of Shiloh. Some of them are along obvious vectors, such as between King Silas and young David Shepherd, or between Samuels and Silas. Some took me by surprise, such as between crown prince Jack Benjamin and David.

That's perhaps what I'm looking forward to most. I mean, I know the source material pretty well. Occupational necessity. And while the writers obviously stuck pretty close to the Biblical stories, they veered away and introduced some new twists. Good for them. That will make the show fun to watch. Surprises, big and little.

I'm also curious about the reach of the show. How far will they go? Are we going to see David Shepherd fall for a woman named Abby at some point? Will he have an illicit affair with a woman named ... well, I'm at a loss for how to update "Bathsheba." Will we see future generations of Gilboan kings? Probably not the latter, but still. I'll be watching to see how it all works out in the end.

One final bit about this before I wrap this up. This past Sunday, when the show actually aired, I accidentally recorded "Extreme Home Makeover" instead. Thankfully, I was able to watch the whole thing on NBC's website. A neat trick. And a great way to catch up on an interesting new show.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

CSFF Blog Tour: Hunter Brown Day Three

So how to wrap up this tour? Maybe with the interesting lesson I relearned in reading this book, namely, "Don't judge a book by its cover."

Let's take another look at the cover for Hunter Brown and the Secret of the Shadow...



I love it. I really do. The smirk on Hope's face, the fear on Hunter's. Given that the Miller brothers are animators, it didn't surprise me to see this cover, nor the many illustrations within the book itself. In some ways, those illustrations reminded me a bit of the Harry Potter books. I don't know if the Millers would take that as a compliment or not, but there you go.

So why did this reteach me the whole book/cover thing? Because the book and illustrations made me completely unready for the extremely dark ending to this book. It completely blindsided me and part of the reason why is because of how "cartoonish" the cover was.

I wish I could go into more depth. If you've read the book, you probably know what I'm talking about. If not, well ... be forewarned.

Go and see what else the tourists are saying as this tour wraps up:


Brandon Barr
Keanan Brand
Valerie Comer
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Shane Deal
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Marcus Goodyear
Todd Michael Greene
Katie Hart
Ryan Heart
Timothy Hicks
Jason Isbell
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Mike Lynch
Magma
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Nissa
Wade Ogletree
John W. Otte
Steve Rice
Crista Richey
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler
Jill Williamson

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

CSFF Blog Tour: Hunter Brown Day Two

So yesterday, I may have been a bit harsh on Hunter Brown and the Secret of the Shadow. That's a judgment call. Like I said yesterday, part of that may be because it's a young adult fantasy and I'm ... well, only half of that now.

At the same time, though, this book gives me a great deal of hope. That may sound odd, given my negative reaction to it yesterday, but it does and here's why: I'm hoping that books like this will help create a greater demand for others like it in the future.

I'm talking long-term here. Let's be honest, while there have been signs that the market has been opening to speculative fiction, it's not as open as it could be (or should be, in my not-so-humble opinion). But that could change, especially if books similar to this one does well. The next generation of readers might be more open to speculative fiction. And that's a good thing.

Now I realize that I might be a bit optimistic. Obviously not every young adult speculative fiction fan is going to turn into an adult speculative fiction fan. But more books like Hunter Brown may help make our beloved market a bit more fertile.

Please go and visit the other tourists and see what they think about this month's book:
Brandon Barr
Keanan Brand
Melissa Carswell
Valerie Comer
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Shane Deal
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Marcus Goodyear
Todd Michael Greene
Katie Hart
Ryan Heart
Timothy Hicks
Jason Isbell
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Mike Lynch
Magma
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Nissa
Wade Ogletree
John W. Otte
Steve Rice
Crista Richey
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler
Jill Williamson

Monday, March 16, 2009

Star Wars on Trial

So in the interest of full disclosure, let me say this: I'm a Star Wars fan. No, fan is not strong enough. "Geek," perhaps. I own all six movies. No, that's not strong enough either. I"m one of the suckers who kept buying the progressive edits on the original trilogy that George Lucas kept ramming down our throats. I've played at least a dozen Star Wars themed computer games and still think one of them, Knights of the Old Republic, contains a fantastic story. I owned dozens of the novels.

And yet, in spite of my fandom, I have to admit a great deal of frustration with Mr. Lucas. While the original trilogy inspired me, while the books built on the foundation of his creation, he really wrecked things up with the prequel trilogies. Far too many plotholes. Far too many missed opportunities. Far too many clunky scenes, horrible dialogue exchanges, and wooden acting. Unfortunately, my love affair with the series has waned a bit in recent years.

Some of you may know this already. About six months ago, I had some fun by creating a series of campaign commercials around the plotholes. If you haven't watched them, click the link. It'll waste maybe only ten minutes of your life. Twelve tops.

Anyway, even though I may not be as rabid of a fan as I once was, I still swing through the sci-fi section of Barnes and Noble every time I'm there to see what's new. And one time, I spotted this book: Star Wars on Trial. Needless to say, I was interested. I flipped through it for a few moments before putting it back. Maybe I'd get to read it someday.

Thanks to my mother-in-law and Christmas, someday finally came.

Basically, two men (David Brin for the prosecution and Matthew Woodring Stover for the defense) put Star Wars on trial (hence the title). Eight charges were brought against the movie franchise:

  1. The politics of Star Wars are anti-democratic and elitist.
  2. While claiming mythic significance, Star Wars portrays no admirable religious or ethical beliefs.
  3. Star Wars novels are poor substitutes for real science fiction and are driving real SF off the shelves.
  4. Science fiction filmmaking has been reduced by Star Wars to poorly written special effects extravaganzas.
  5. Star Wars has dumbed down the perception of science fiction in the popular imagination.
  6. Star Wars pretends to be science fiction but is reall fantasy.
  7. Women in Star Wars are portrayed as fundamentally weak.
  8. The plot holes and logical gaps in Star Wars make it ill-suited for an intelligent viewer.
For each charge, the prosecution submitted an essay, followed by a bit of cross-examination by the defense. Then reverse the pattern with an essay from the defense and cross-examination by the prosecutor.

I don't get into essays all that much, but this was a pleasure to read. The people who wrote them took them seriously. Or as seriously as the subject matter warranted. Many excellent points were raised by both sides and I did some serious thinking about the series from which I've derived so much pleasure. There were some interesting alternate takes on what the series is all about. Perhaps the most interesting thing that came up is that one of the biggest villains in the series is not Darth Sidious or Darth Vader. It's Yoda. The prosecution labels him a "nasty green oven mitt" and the kicker is, nobody leaps to his defense.

After looking over what everyone had to say, my opinion is that the prosecution pasted the defense. Brin's side put together some very persuasive arguments, many of which the defense conceded with a "Yeah, but so what?" counterargument. The screwy thing is is that even though he was definitely behind on points, Stover managed to squeak in a victory with his closing arguments. It's not a clean win, but it's still a win.

If nothing else, this book has helped me make something of a resolution. I know, mid-March isn't exactly the time to do that normally, but just go with it. I've noticed that my reading patterns for the past few years have been stuck in the same two "ghettos," namely Star Wars books and Christian fiction.

Not that I'm knocking either. I'm not planning on giving up the latter. The fact that I'm posting this in the middle of a blog tour should tell you that. But I am going to try to stretch my legs a little. Time for me to read some classic sci-fi. Research Nebula-award winning books and see what they're about. Expand my pallette.

It may take a while. I've always got a stack of books to read. Shuffling in some new stuff might not happen immediately. But there you go. If you're a Star Wars fan or want to read some interesting takes on both Star Wars trilogy, then this is a great book for you.

CSFF Blog Tour: Hunter Brown and the Secret of the Shadow Day One


This one's going to be a little rough. I wanted to like this one, I really, really did.

Hunter Brown and the Secret of the Shadow is a young adult Christian fantasy book that centers around a young man named ... well, you guessed it, Hunter Brown. Hunter seems like your typical "geek" outcast at school, only he's drawn into an adventure when he's given a mysterious book. The book transports him to a place called Solandria, where he joins up with a group called the Codebearers. The Codebearers are fighting the evil forces of a being named Sceleris, personified by an evil wizard named Venator. Can the Codebearers defeat the evil Shadow and will Hunter ever make it home?


Okay, now that the plot is out of the way, let's discuss why this book really didn't do it for me.


For starters, there's the fact that it's young adult fiction. Let's face reality. I'm twice the target age as the intended readers, so while I could enjoy the tale, it didn't really grab me. Maybe this would be good in the "right hands," so to speak, but those hands don't belong to me.


Second, there were craft issues that drove me up the wall. For example, the Miller brothers kept using improper speech tags all the time. We had people "smiling" their words, or so on and so forth. I've heard it many, many times before: when writing dialogue, only use "said" or "asked" and not much else. Every time I hit an improper speech tag, it jarred me a bit. There were point of view problems as well, where Hunter suddenly knew what was happening in another person's head.


Now by saying that, you may think I'm judging the Miller brothers harshly. Maybe I am. But I say these things as someone who has committed these writing craft sins in the past. Maybe the rules are a little more lax when it comes to YA fiction, I don't know.


And thirdly, the book was too preachy. The allegory was paper thin and easy to see through and that made it less enjoyable for me. Again, maybe this is something that works for YA fiction, but it didn't really do much for me.


Again, this might all be because I'm an adult reading a book intended for readers half my age. I've had this problem before (see my review from a six months ago about Twilight). Maybe if I pass it on to a young adult, said young adult will get more out of it. I have no idea.


And maybe it's just me. Tell you what. Go check out what the other tourists have to say:


Brandon Barr
Keanan Brand
Melissa Carswell
Valerie Comer
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Shane Deal
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Marcus Goodyear
Todd Michael Greene
Katie Hart
Ryan Heart
Timothy Hicks
Jason Isbell
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Mike Lynch
Magma
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Nissa
Wade Ogletree
John W. Otte
Steve Rice
Crista Richey
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler
Jill Williamson

Friday, March 06, 2009

Watchmen


After watching Watchmen earlier this afternoon, I'm pretty sure that Alan Moore is right.

For those of you who don't understand, Alan Moore is the writer who created Watchmen, an absolutely phenomenal graphic novel that turns just about every superhero convention on its ear. Gritty, wild, and extremely well written, Watchmen is densely packed with plot, time-bending scenes, and such a rich story and characters that it's a true work of art. And Moore firmly believes that no one should have tried to adapt his story for the big screen.

Given how incredible the source material is, the movie version came in with a considerable handicap. They tried to cover as much as they could in the opening credits, but really, that's not good enough. I seriously wonder if someone who hasn't read the graphic novel could really follow the plot the way the movie told it.

But it's not just the source material that handicapped the movie. Zack Snyder, while called a "visionary director" in the commericals, was in over his head, I think. He often tried to simply dump parts of the graphic novel into the movie, stuff that should have been adapted instead. For example, some of the lengthy narration that went on. I was okay with the inclusion of Rorschach's journal as a voice over, but when Doctor Manhatten started doing voice overs as well, it just detracted.

But the times that Snyder tried to adapt the material, he did it in a ham-fisted way. For example, Laurie's conversation with Doctor Manhatten on Mars. In the original, this is a great scene, with the conversation slowly teasing out a major revelation from Laurie. In the movie, it's just dumped in with a magical zap.

And while artistic license is a thing that can and should be exercised, the few times the writers of the screenplay used it, I think they weakened the story. For example, the ending and the lack of the squid (if you don't understand, go read the graphic novel. It's worth it). What the writers came up with instead would have caused more problems than it would have solved. It's hard to go into here without revealing spoilers. Another example: how Walter Kovacs truly became Rorschach. It was a lot more clever and powerful in the graphic novel. In the movie, it was just needlessly gross.

Which brings me to another gripe. It seems that Snyder decided to just amp up the sex and violence to the nth degree. Now there is a lot of violence and some sex in the source material, but in the graphic novel, it's more the hint of the true violence, and the sex happens, by and large, off screen, so to speak. Not in Snyder's version. Bursting entrails, graphic sex scenes, it was way over the top and, I thought, unnecessary.

There were definitely some bright spots to the movie. Jackie Earle Haley's portrayal of the pscyhopathic Rorschach was spot on and great. He was awesome. And a lot of the fight scenes were well choreographed. But someone really needs to take away Zack Snyder's slow-motion button. He can have it back after he makes a full movie without it.

So should you see it? Hard to say. I wasn't impressed. Maybe you will be.

What if Starbucks Marketed Like a Church?

A friend of mine found this and posted it to his Facebook account. Interesting food for thought.


Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Validation

Just a fun little movie for your Tuesday. I found this one through the "Best of YouTube" podcast. Doesn't matter. I liked it.


Sunday, March 01, 2009

The Infinite Day



This one took me a while to read. Not surprising since Chris Walley's The Infinte Day weighs in at a whopping 576 pages. It was a hefty book to work through.

The story picks up where The Dark Foundations left off. Commander Merral D'Avanos is heading off to the Dominion to rescue the thirty hostages kidnaped by the Margrave Lezaroth. That's a troubling prospect since that means they'll need to travel through Below Space, a realm of grayness where evil lurks around every corner.

But that's not the only problem they're facing. Another group has left the planet Farholme and is headed toward Ancient Earth. And none of them are friendly toward Merral and what he's trying to accomplish. What kind of impact will they have at the heart of the Assembly?

And then there's the Dominion itself. Lord-emperor Nezhuala is preparing his forces to invade the Assembly. What plans does he have for God's people and what, exactly, is the Blade of Night supposed to do?

If you're a regular reader of my blog (one of the two or three), you know that I was a bit ambivalent toward the first book in this series but I absolutely loved the second. So I was quite anxious to get my hands on this book and see how the series wrapped up. On the whole, I was satisfied with the book but it wasn't the best of the three.

Part of the problem were a few story choices that Walley made throughout. Call it "Monday morning quarterbacking," if you will (I'd love to find out what Vero would make of that phrase), but as I read, I kept trying to guess what Walley was going to do. There were a few times when what I guessed seemed a lot more fun and interesting. It's not that I think what Walley came up with is "wrong," but they weren't choices I would have made. It's a personal thing.

There were a few points when Walley also made some craft choices that bugged me. Toward the end, he popped into "narrator mode" and spoke directly to the reader. He did this toward the end of the book and, seeing as he hadn't done it before then or in either of the other two books, it was a bit jarring. It might have been better to fold the information into the story somehow.

I also had a theological problem with the way the conflict with the Dominion ultimately ended. I wish I could go into detail, but if I do, I'll basically drop a massive spoiler right here. Not gonna do it. Let's just say that it seems like Walley was saying that humanity pulled a trigger that only God should have had access to. I hope that's ambiguous enough.

All of this is not to say that I didn't enjoy this book. I really, really did. It was great to see how Walley created this futuristic world. What was really cool for me was the fact that he did so using post-millennial theology as a basis for his story. Seeing as so much eschatological fiction is based on dispensational premillennialism, this was a breath of fresh air. And, I have to say, his depiction of the rapture was so, so right. So right.

The last thing I have to say is this: I still do not understand why this series is classed as "fantasy." It's so not. It's science fiction, through and through. Sure, there are fantastical elements to it (such as the Below Space manifestations and Nezhuala's powers), but those simply added color to the story.

Whatever. Not important, I suppose. What does matter is that this is a great series. If you're a fan of Christian speculative fiction, you'll want to read the whole thing.