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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Chris Pavesic's The Caelimane Operation Cover Reveal



My buddy Chris Pavesic (who I did a Five Minutes With... at her blog) got her cover for "The Caelimane Operation, another chapter in Musa's Darkside Codex shared universe, which is all steampunk and robes.  

When the Temples to the Goddess north of Southwatch are burned and followers of Dione are murdered, Hierocrat Catherine, a bard of the Caelimane Temple, sets out to find those responsible and to bring them to justice.  With only the help of a traveling group of minstrels and a retired fae investigator, Catherine must solve the mystery before more people are killed, but will she succeed when she finds herself pitted against members of her own Temple, rogue members of the Seelie Court, and a seemingly unstoppable army of undead?
The Caelimane Operation is scheduled for release on January 16, 2015 by Musa Publishing.
You can learn more at www.chrispavesic.com


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Analyzing the Disney Villains: Alameda Slim (Home on the Range)



Origin: Home on the Range (2004)

You've got... to be... kidding me. Do I have to do this one?


Motivation: In the mine, Slim reveals his plan to take revenge on all the ranch owners who fired him because of his singing. He steals the cattle from his former employers and when they can't pay the rent, he buys the land at auction, using the money from the rustled cattle. Sigh.


Character Strengths: I... don't think he has any. I think this might be the first Disney villain with no redeemable qualities. He can't hold down a job. He has no secondary interests. I guess I could give him credit for thinking of such a xanatos gambit, but I'm not even sure he's smart enough to thought of it. Between the two of them, I'd put money on his horse, Rico. For chrissakes, his secret identity is Mr. Y. O'Dell.


Evilness: It's the wild west, so there's no reason not to get wild. The law is few and far between, so you can pretty much get away with anything. That means while the good guys fritter away, the bad guys are free to grab their fair share and more. Even if you're doing a crime, you can get away with it if the crimestoppers are few and far between. Makes me wonder why Slim had to make up such an elaborate ruse to exact his "vengeance". This is like DS9: The House of Quark where the Klingon is trying seize power through financial scheming like a Ferengi. (Give yourself ten points if you understood that.)


Tools: Alameda Slim's uses his secret power of yodeling that causes the cows to dance and fall under hypnotic control. Please read that sentence again, so that you can appreciate the full essence of it.


Complement to the Hero: I really hate stories where the conflict is that the good guy can't pay his/her bill because she's "doing it for the love", not the profit. But here comes the evil bad guy to evict her, all part of his evil plot, bwa ha ha. People, this is business. This is capitalism. You've Got Mail, Drag Me to Hell, they can all rot in my ass. If you're not making money, you don't get a free pass in life. The world is not a charity. This is capitalism. Or maybe that should be...


This... is... capitalism!


Fatal Flaw: I guess I could say that Alameda's ego got the better of him when he saw Jennifer Tilly-Cow immune to his charms. He fails to catch her, but scraps up enough of his pride to seize Happy Day Farm under his guise of Yancy O'Dell (seriously, I still want to throw up when I hear that. Did they design this for toddlers?)


Method of Defeat: Alameda Slim gets stuck in the train's smokestack. He starts to yodel just as Roseanne-Cow whips the bell around her neck to throw at him. Just as she falls under his spell, the cowbell launches, but off-target. Jennifer Tilly-Cow jumps and ninja-kicks the cowbell at Slim to plug his mouth. The old inept sheriff lassos him (he's stuck in a chimney, where is he going?), muzzles him with a handkerchief, and sends him to jail. The old farm lady takes the reward money for his capture and uses it to buy back her farm.

Seriously?


Final Rating: One star



PREVIOUS ANALYSES:
Rourke (Atlantis: The Lost Empire)
The Evil Queen (Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs)
Ursula (The Little Mermaid)
Dr. Facilier (The Princess and the Frog)
Gaston (Beauty and the Beast)
Willie the Giant (Mickey and the Beanstalk)
Hades (Hercules)
The Queen of Hearts (Alice in Wonderland)
Jafar (Aladdin)
Shan Yu (Mulan)
Man (Bambi)
Clayton (Tarzan)
The Horned King (The Black Cauldron)
Mother Gothel (Tangled)
Cobra Bubbles (Lilo and Stitch)
Cruella De Vil (101 Dalmatians)
Madame Medusa (The Rescuers)
Captain Hook (Peter Pan)
Amos Slade (The Fox and the Hound)
Madam Mim (The Sword in the Stone)
Claude Frollo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)
Scar (The Lion King)
Prince John (Robin Hood)
Edgar (The Aristocats)
Ratigan (The Great Mouse Detective)
Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty)

Monday, December 08, 2014

Let's Laugh at the Guy Who Doesn't Know Marvel Comics (Part 1)

I'm not that really that old, but I am out of touch. I only just recently read Batman: Hush and Transmetropolitan. I'm trying to catch up on my comic stuff, but there's a long way to go.

I saw Lego Marvel Super Heroes played on Co-Optitude and thought, goddamn I'd love to play that game. I'd finished Lego Lord of the Rings with 100% completion and it was a blast. So when I found it on the Summer Steam Sale, I bought it right away. Like in LOTR, there are a ton of unlockable characters. Unlike LOTR, they are a lot more varied. More than just orcs and "weary Frodo". The Marvel Universe has a huge cast of characters. Here's as much as I know about them.

A.I.M. Agent

This is when Marty McFly dresses up as "Darth Vader, the extra-terrestrial from Planet Vulcan". I think he's some sort of bad guy, given that he keeps shooting at me. But I'm not sure what department he works for or who's his arch-nemesis. I cannot remember what A.I.M. stands for. He's yellow... oh, I know. Duh.


He's the old AIM logo guy.

Abomination

Hulk's arch-nemesis. Made of more sewage-y green stuff, but seems to have better control of his senses. I have no idea what his ultimate goal is or where he came from, but I bet it involves world domination. I think he used to be a mercenary, but he drank some brown gunk and became this. I really hope is wasn't Hulk's poop.

It's a bit nutty.
And I have no idea what's up with that teddy bear. Maybe he borrowed it from Shadowman.

Absorbing Man

I don't know what he's supposed to absorb, because I pushed all the buttons around everything, including all the superheroes, and he didn't change. He's a half naked man who swings a ball and chain around. Maybe he's a metaphor for something. If I had to guess, I'd say he's either an X-Men enemy or Deadpool enemy. Seems goofy looking enough for the early era.

Agent Coulson

This is Nick Fury's number one guy. He's the baseball scout for new superheroes and keeping things under control. Works with the B-siders, but loves Captain America, even though he must have been born twenty years after his heyday. Has his own TV show, but I don't watch it, although it involves a named car. Possibly like Knight Rider. Likes smoothies, big guns, and giving you hints you already know. Yes, Phil, I know I need Hulk for those giant green glowing handles. I've only done it a hundred times already.

Aldrich Killian

Val Kilmer with AIDS (as far as I can tell with Iron Man 3). I think he had some disease, but was then cured by his own drug, which will either give you super-regenerating lava/fire powers or turn you into extra crispy ribs. And I think he's angry at Iron Man because he wouldn't go into business with him. Should know better -- Tony works in tech, not prescription drugs.

Ant-Man

Uh, a very, very tiny man. He can grow and shrink at will, and this helps him get into lab rat mazes that someone has left throughout New York City. When he concentrates, he can summon really really gross bugs to attack his enemies and explode them. Avoid at all costs.

Archangel

He's the flying guy from X-Men 3, but, somehow turned into a cyborg. Or at least with metal feathers. He can shoot those metal feathers at people, and can fly, ignoring basic principles of physics. I mean, we're supposed to believe that his flight is entirely powered by his wings, ignoring the fact of birds' hollow bones or wing shape. Ostriches and penguins can't fly because they're just too heavy, how is a person going to do it? Superman is more plausible. I do like that move where he flies the guy up and slams them down.

Arnim Zola

I have no idea. In the Captain America movies, he's the guy who looks like Major Toht's little brother. But in the game, he looks like bootleg Krang. Or a robot with a TV in his stomach. Or Ring Man.


Whatever he is, he needs a color scheme change, because he couldn't look more like a fifties robot if he tried.

Aunt May

Whoo! Go, old lady! Aunt May is Spider-Man's mother figure who's played by either a Jessica Tandy stand-in or my mom Sally Field. This appears to be the Jessica Tandy version. She can hit people with her bag, and if you team her up with Stan Lee, you can make it look like Bonnie and Clyde going on a rampage in NYC.

Beast

The X-men's super-smart scientist who was used to be a talk-show psychologist living in Seattle. He was originally mostly human except for big feet and long limbs. But then he wanted to get with Katniss/Mystique so he tried drinking an experimental serum and his mutation got worse. As far as playability, he's decent enough. I wish he played a bigger role in the game. But you'll never use him, because Wolverine is closer/more noticeable. Even though he's got everything Wolverine has plus Smarts.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Some Sites

Mm, I do like seeing my name on web pages that weren't written by me.



Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Monday, November 24, 2014

Is It Wrong to Review an Unfinished Book?



Peter David mentioned awhile ago on his blog that some of the reviews for his latest novel were confunding him. The one-star reviews had a lot of "didn't finish it" or "stopped after chapter one". He says he doesn't understand how you can make an informed review without reading the whole thing.

In light of my recent unfinished readings I thought I might offer an opinion. As much as I feel guilty about leaving classics or critical successes on my nightstand, I never leave reviews unless I've read 10-20% of the book. Like I mentioned in that blog post, I feel that's enough to gain insight to the novel's essence. I've never read anything where the last quarter of a story differed greatly in quality or interest than the first quarter (maybe Stranger in a Strange Land, but that's its own beast). You don't need to study ALL polar bears to learn polar bear behavior.

Can't you tell what kind of movie Guardians of the Galaxy is going to be just from the trailer?  I'm not saying you'll be satisfied with the full movie, or know the ending. But you've got the tone and style and themes. Those aren't going to change.

I've never seen evidence that if those aren't working, aren't gelling with the plot, exhibit poor decisions by the writer, or just don't hold interest, that things will change by the end of the book. That means any time spent reading the rest is, I think, wasted time. Life is too short for books you don't want to read.

Is this a consequence of "first impressions" coloring the whole object? Yes. But this is a piece of art, not a person.  It's not dynamic.  How long do you have to stare at a painting or listen to a song to decide if you like it? Also, it's important to remember that these people aren't getting paid for their reviews. They're opinions of the masses, meant to indicate trends. If the trend indicates people aren't finishing the book, then that's the review. LibraryThing and GoodReads don't let me review books that aren't in my library, but Amazon does. And if I've read enough to know I want to stop, I think that's enough to make a shareable judgment.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Books I Read: September - October 2014



I Shall Wear Midnight (Tiffany Aching #4) by Terry Pratchett

The last of the Tiffany Aching books and an excellent ending to the series. Besides the first, I think this might be my favorite book of the four. Tiffany has finished her "apprenticeship" and is now the resident witch of her hometown. This means she's taking care of the community the way true witches do -- helping the sick who have no one to take care of them, easing the elderly to the next stage of life, fixing domestic disputes so no one knows she's really doing it. She's confronting anti-witches and land-grabbers and old fundamentalist ladies who simply don't agree with what she does.

We see a grown up Tiffany here, making and dealing with being an adult. She no longer has the wisdom and guidance of her fellow witches, so her mistakes are a result of a lack of experience (and a sharp tongue). But she does have the wee free men in her corner. You see her finally deal with some of the relationships that other books have let linger.

This book also borrows more from Pratchett's existing universe, as Tiffany travels to Ankh-Morpork.  This chunk in the middle seems to be catering to Discworld die-hards. It harms a little of the overall narrative, but the rest of the story makes up for it.

Unlike the last two, this one doesn't have a big bad or a problematic witch teacher. You get to see Tiffany being Tiffany, rough and gruff, practical but still scared. All in all, it's a very satisfying conclusion, closer to the magic of the first book.


Lock-In by John Scalzi

Lock-In is Scalzi's most serious science fiction novel yet, and one you've got to pay attention to. It's got a lot of heady issues. Not to say his other books, like Old Man's War, don't bring up existential puzzles. But they usually make up for it with whiz bang sci-fi gizmos or cynical humor. This one, no. It's essentially a police procedural that involves semi-artificial beings.

At its core, this is a robot story, but without artificial intelligence. A disease has rendered a significant portion of the populace catatonic, but new technology allows their brains to venture out in walking automatons. The Hadens (Haden's Syndrome is the name of the disease, and becomes the identifier of people with it) have created their own culture, like the deaf and handicapped community.  But the government funding that kept them provided for is about to be rescinded. That means a lot of opportunities for private companies, civil rights leaders, and millions of people who had been getting a free lunch wondering what's going to happen to them. This is all narrated to the reader through Chris, a Haden who's new on the FBI force.

It does what a good novel should do, not make answers but bring up questions, much like Gaiman's novels. But unlike Gaiman's novels, this one reaches a satisfying, concrete solution. I think the murder mystery was definitely the way to go. It makes a lot of the head-wrapping around the Haden culture (like people who hitch a ride in other people's bodies) easier to understand and a plot that keeps moving forward.

It's not my favorite Scalzi of all time, but it's pretty good. The world-building is at an intermediate level, and the characters suffer from his famous "blank slates, no development, no sympathy" that his other books have. But the fast and intriguing plot will keep you wondering what happens next.


The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

This book is not for me. I was on board for the first few pages, but I have a hard time getting into story where the main conflict is "do I choose this boy or that boy". I just can't sympathize with any character caught up in a dilemma of riches. Maybe this a thing girls go through, maybe it's a problem they like to read about. But it makes me want to smack them all in the face. Especially in this case, when the drama isn't even that good.

It has been three months since Lennie's sister died. Lennie always lived her life gladly in the shadow of her more exuberant sister, including vicarious romance with Toby, her sister's boyfriend. Now she's insecure about her feelings for Toby and the new hippie kid who just moved in and has "hella good hair" so he wants him to come on over and shake, shake, shake.

The sister thing reminded me a little bit of Frozen, but that's the only part that appealed to me. Like others of its genre, the plot is driven forward by misunderstandings, refusals to listen, misinterpretations, and other petty obstacles that could be solved with thirty seconds of talking.

The style is full of trite teenspeak and quotations way beyond their years (Lennie constantly reads Wuthering Heights -- isn't that about a mentally abusive man who marries his beau's daughter? -- but oh precious she is that she reads something so adult). At one point, it's revealed that the sister was pregnant at the time of her death, but no one raises a hand about how they, as teenagers, expected to raise it, earn money, get a house. Everyone was too entranced by the tragic baby romance.

This is for people who un-ironically enjoy the romances you see in Hannah Montana and The Bachelor. There are essentially no stakes, and the characters are too hippie-dippie to be realistic.


Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Steelheart is a book about what happens when superheroes stop being polite and start getting real. Essentially they all become supervillains, taking over cities and ruling with an iron a steel fist. In fact, the entire city's been turned into steel and plunged into darkness.

This is the story of David, a boy with a mission against the super who killed his father. He joins with La Resistance, eager to show his skills and the encyclopedia of knowledge he's been gathering all his life in preparation for revenge.

This book has a lot of action, and I've never been a fan of action scenes in novels. The mediums just don't translate. You don't see novelizations of The Fast and the Furious (and if there are, don't tell me, I don't want to know). But the strengths of the book are the straightforward style and the concrete characters. Each member of La Resistance has a personality and a look (for some reason they remind me of Team Fortress 2 characters). The POV from David's perspective helps keep the story grounded. For instance, instead of epic battles you lose track of, you see David's role in it all.

My two disappointments were that it seems overly oriented to a male audience (trope of female character that exists to be girl who doesn't like him at first but once he proves himself changes her tune). Lots of cars and guns and superheroes and action scenes. The other is that the reason people with powers become evil is intrinsically linked to their powers, not simply a result of absolute power corrupting absolutely.

But the energy and overall fun factor of the concept are going to keep me reading the rest of the series.


Fly on the Wall: How One Girl Saw Everything by E. Lockhart

Doesn't the title sound like a Lifetime movie?

It's short, but doesn't have very much plot. It's supposed to be about a girl who Franz Kafka's into a fly, so she can know what boys are really like, what they talk about, what goes on when girls aren't there turning them into monkey-idiots. The thing is, it doesn't seem like her big problem is understanding boys, but getting people to understand her. She goes to an arts high school where her teacher frowns on her refusal to branch from a comic book style. Her parents spring a divorce on her, then her mom leaves her daughter behind while she goes on a week-long cruise (this makes it convenient to be a fly for a week). She's not boy-crazy, like I'd expect out of a plot like this.

It's better than Cycler insofar as learning about the gendered Other. But like Cycler, it doesn't go as far with the idea as it could, and uses too much melodrama. The titular fly on the wall literally doesn't leave the locker room, and there is a lot more to teen males than what happens there. It's like studying polar bear behavior only in the zoo. There's a significant portion of the text dedicated to discovering boys' penises, which she constantly calls gherkins. Is this a northeastern thing?  I've NEVER heard anyone use the word gherkin, least of all as much as she does.

But it's easy and short. I think you'll get something out of it, as long as you're not looking for much.


Saturn's Children by Charles Stross (unfinished)

I talked some about this book already. It's just not a story for me. It's for complex people who like complex stories. Critical acclaim? Award winner? Maybe, but I just couldn't stand it. It's for people who like Dune, Ringworld, and other "essential science fiction". If you can appreciate that, fine. But every Charles Stross I've tried to read has left me bored. I guess this isn't my place.


Boy Proof by Cecil Castellucci

Nothing special at all. And in fact, kinda boring. It's just a series of things that happened, and the title makes it sound more interesting than it is. She's not boy proof, she's just an anti-social asshole. She's Miss Independent until some cute guy transfers schools. Of course. But this takes place in Hollywood, so Miss Independent has the added weirdness of mimicking a girl from a Matrix pastiche, so much so that she dresses like her and wants to be called by that character's name (which is "Egg"). And this character is described as looking kinda like Ilia from Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Appealing

She's a bitch for no reason, and combine this with the weirdness of living with a mother who's an old sci-fi starlet and a dad who works in special f/x makeup. I learned more about growing up in Tinseltown than anything else. That includes the character and her motivations.

And her change comes unprovoked. It feels like "The Girl Who Became a Beatle" -- a forced idea that has nothing to do with the title concept. At least "The Sky is Everywhere" had style. This just has an unlikeable character being unlikeable. I would have rather heard the story of a likable girl with those kind of parents doing a Hollywood movie thing (kinda like my opinion of Landline needing more TV writing).


The Night Sessions by Ken McLeod (unfinished)

Also mentioned in my article with Saturn's Children. I heard it had an interesting take on robots, but it never got to the robots. It was about a very thick built world around politics and religion, two topics I cannot stand to read about. I'm just not interested in material like archaic religion or the U.K. or the murder of a bishop when Christianity has become a niche religion (I assume.  I really didn't understand much of this book).

It just wasn't entertaining for me. It was more work than it was fun. It had no characters. The big ideas were the characters (which I find to be a trapping of science fiction that keeps it from being regarded as seriously as literary fiction). There are just other books I'd rather read.