Friday, October 26, 2007

Bionic Woman Worth Watching...Sorta.

I have DVR'd every episode of this new series (I work every Wednesday night) and loved the darker tenor of the remake. The pwers that be at NBC seem to be moving away from the internecine, internal struggles of the characters and into more "mainstream" drama. I liked it better when the bad guy might not be the bad guy and the good guys were definitely not so very nice sometimes. The last two episodes, there has been no such confusion presented to the audience.

But its a great action series, none the less. How do I know? Simple. My wife hates it. She says I just watch it to watch Michelle Ryan (Jaime Sommers) and Katee Sackhoff fight. While that does make good TV (ahem), I am afraid that I need at least a linear plot in order to stay interested. This one has some depth, with the potential for much more, if the producers will just use it. But, if its action-adventure and the wife hates it, then either its a T&A teaser (which I dislike almost as much as my wife) or else its got some real action to it that makes my wife uncomfartable (she really hates violence). This one is strictly PG, so it must be the latter.

I like it. Its not my favorite show this fall, but its good and I'm gonna keep DVR'ing it...for now.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Reaper Has Me Hooked

I started off watching the premier and have watched it every since. Its hysterical! I hope you have a DVR, because I have learned to stop the action and read the signs in the background - a trick my wife taught me when we were watching "Chuck". We actually read the Buy More motto off the front door when Adam Baldwin walked by it. The hero in "Reaper" hasn't walked by the motto of the Work Bench yet, but some of the thing tacked up on the bulletin board are hysterically funny.

Now, to be truthful, it may be that I can relate to the hilarity at the job so well because I work in a box - the Orange Box - on which the Work Bench is probably conceptualized. It hits dead on excpt that these guys get away with WAY more than anybody where I work. But be that as it may, the real kickers are the tete-a tetes with Satan.

When our hero, whose parents sold his soul to the devil, gets his first vessel to recapture an escaped soul, the Devil offers him the casket with the words, "This was wrought in the bowels of Perdition by the vile and the iniquitous.", Follwed closely after a glance at our hero with, " Oh, that's right. You scored a 600 on your SAT, didn't ya?" And that just sets the mood. Each week, we learn more and more about our heros, his friends that are in on his secret (one of whom asks him "How come nothing cool like that ever happens to me?"), his girlfriend, his parents, and most importantly, The Devil. They give him all the funniest lines.

Kevin Smith is the director/producer (Silent Bob of Jay and Silent Bob fame)and his eye for the funny hasn't dimmed a bit. Ray Wise, who plays Satan, carries it off with impeccable timing and flippant jabs at virtually everybody.

Watch this one and see if its not the sitcom that you wish you could have seen when you were watching "All in The Family".

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Wow! Another win of a book!

Many, many thanks go to Tia at The Fantasy Debut for allowing me a chance to win The Book of Joby. Even better, thanks for letting me win! Anyone interested in what looms large on the horizon in terms of Fantasy books should add The Fantasy Debut to their favorites. October Rocks! And so does The Fantasy Debut!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

October Brings Books and Beer!

Gosh but I love October! I have managed to get my hands on a plethora of new books (well, new to me) and all of my favorite breweries are releasing their Oktoberfest beers. I can hardily recommend Keeping It Real by Justina Robson and Octoberfest Ale by Samuel Adams. They actually make a great combination when mixed with a some apple slices and some nice smoked Edam.

So here's what I'm going to be reading in the nearish future:

This one got good reviews at Fantasy Book Critic and I found it on Ebay for a good price. It looks really good and Ill be reading it as soon as I finish about 6 other books.

I ordered this one from Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore because Mr. Donanldson was there to sign his new book, So, I got a signed first edition. They were also kind enough to allow me to send my first edition copies of The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and Mr. Donaldson most graciously signed them as well. This is the second book in The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and I am really looking forward to reading it. Mr. Donaldson is one of my favorite authors and I have read virtually everything he's written...except this.

Another one I am ashamed to admit I haven't read before. I have read Ms. Willis' short fiction rather extensively and found it to be excellent. But this one won the Hugo and the Nebula and I haven't cracked its cover. I found an Easton Press edition on Ebay for cheap, so its sitting on my bookshelf waiting its turn.

I read the Golden Witchbreed books by Mary Gentle several years ago. They were very, very good science fiction. I found these as a matched set of ARCs on Ebay and snatched them up as the only bidder. I'll let you know how these read.

I fell in love with "Jasper Fforde" when I read Lost in A Good Book and started following the hijinks of Thursday Next. Now our favorite nom de plume has a new detective and new over done puns. The subtitle on this one is "Jack Spratt Investigates". I guess its up to me to get the skinny (UGH!) in this book. Piers Anthony fans should really appreciate Jasper Fforde. I picked up a signed first on Ebay.

I met Mrs. Kenyon at ArmadilloCon 2001 in Austin, Texas and attended a reading of what was, then, her upcoming book. She was nice enough to sign and give me the piece of her copied manuscript that she read from. I immediately went to the sales room and bought two of her books and since have acquired the one she read from. All feature remarkably different worlds that are full blown and believable. Her stories incorporate mystery and action against a backdrop of science fiction. I thoroughly enjoy it. This, if I am not mistaken, is her first hard cover release. I am looking forward to seeing what she's imagined now.

I just reviewed the first book in Ms. Robson's Quantum Gravity series and this is Book Two. I will mention again that this on was released on a new label: PYR, an imprint of Prometheus Books. I can't help but support smaller publishing houses that publish really good books - like Keeping It Real. You can find this one directly from the publisher, if you can't get it elsewhere.

Thanks to the fine man over at The Fantasy Review, I won a copy of this book which is the second book in this series. Now, I'll have to go out and find the first one. It looks really good. I'll let you know.

Once again, my lucky stars shine in October. Thank to Chris over at The Book Swede, I won copies of my first Forgotten Realms books. Thanks, Chris!

I've been watching out for a reasonable copy of this book since before it was released, I finally found a first edition on Ebay that was both signed and(relatively) inexpensive. This is the second book in the latest Tad William epic. The first one promises another great story from this author that proves that multi-book stories can be excellent!

So, I think I have enough to read to get me through Christmas. The challenge now is matching the proper beer and snacks with the proper book. With the holidyas coming up, I guess I'll be stocking up on amber ales, dark lagers and stouts. Partner a great book, a flavorful beer and some lovely smoked sausage and cheeses....I'm a happy boy! Good reading all. I'll see ya just as soon as I finish my current book, Acacia by David Anthony Durham.

Keeping It Real

With apologies in advance, there is a special gift that English fantasy writers have to combine the mundane with the fantastic seamlessly. Jasper Fforde did it in his Thursday Next series with literary works and terminology which put everyone to sleep in Composition 101. Now, Ms. Robson combines fairly hard science fiction, traditional fantasy and feminine insecurity into a very good story in the first book of her Quantam Gravity series. This is not I, Robot meets Lord of the Rings in a London flat of a single secretary looking for love. But that's not too far off...

Lila was a minor attaché in a diplomatic mission to Alfheim, the world of the elves and elementals. This world was opened when the Quantum Bomb went off in Texas, along with the world of demons, the Dead, etc. She is also a spy sent to get magical secrets from the elves. She is discovered and punished as only Elves can punish a mortal. Nearly dead and her body damaged beyond recognition, she is rebuilt a la Bionic Woman with a nuclear power source, an on-board AI computer, a pharmacopia at her instant disposal, and more armament than a B1 bomber. Of course, somebody has to pay the bill and she gets her first assignment protecting an elf that has come to Earth and formed a rock band. The elves of his home world want him dead and will stop at nothing to make that happen. Lila finds herself in the middle of an internal political struggle amongst the elves that nearly got her killed the first time she encountered it. Now, she not only has to stay alive, she has to keep her client alive and get him to his concert on time. What's a girl to do?

Seamlessly meshing martial drama, political intrigue, magic, science and corporate politics with light fun-poking and flirting, this is an extremely entertaining book. This is not Ms. Robson's first foray into writing, but its the first one to fall squarely into my genre. And its well worth the read. I have acquired the second book and can only pray (and suggest) that this NOT become another interminable series. The characters deserve better and so does the reader.

This is a lighter, funny, exciting and engaging book. It is also the first big hit of a new publisher, PYR. Find it, buy it, read it. Support this author and the new label. And, enjoy a really good book in the process. Talk about win-win!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Will The Wonders Never Cease?

Ok, my cup runneth over, already! When I started this bloggong thing, it was a lark. My forums on my website had quit drawing anything but porn links, and my wife suggested I blog. So, what the heck? In order to see how it was done, I googled blogs of my particular genre to see if anybody out there was interested. Boy! Were they! And some of them had such followings that they were able to give away books that they got from publishers. And, being the complete bibliophile that I am, I entered the drawings. And dang if I didn't win one!

But wait! There's more... I entered some more and won a second one thanks to The Book Swede and his blog. That's two! Please note that the previous blog title is, indeed, a hyperlink. Please use it soon and often! Chris at The Book Swede will appreciate it and so will I!

This blogging thing is the berries! I have won two books (three actually, since one is a pair in a series), met an author of great repute and discussed lofty (NOT) ideals with him, and I get to spout off whatever floats my boat! I just hope that someday, I can work my way up to having publishers send me books to review and pass on. I'll keep trying!

Monday, October 8, 2007

I am ashamed to say that I had never read this book before. Me - the consummate Heinlein fan and I hadn't read one of his major classics. I will freely admit that the purported subject matter bothered me. You see, this is about racism. After having read that I can expand that statement and say that it is an unapologetic, unabashed look at racism and its social, moral, and personal effects on all parties involved in a racist relationship. Its deeply disturbing, as it should be, and deeply thought provoking. On top of that, its grade A science fiction and Heinlein at his best.

This book was published in 1964, and that was at the very height of a very paranoid Cold War. It was also the year the Civil Rights Act was passed by Congress and signed by President Johnson. "Integration" and "desegregation" were entering mainstream American vocabularies as words that carried scary and dark overtones. I'll go so far as to give away my age and admit that I remember 1964 fairly clearly and that race, Viet Nam and nuclear missiles were the center of existence in America that was substantially changing - at least socially. We were loosing the naivety of the 50's. Martin Luther King, The Chicago Seven, and "separate is inherently unequal" Supreme Court decisions were forcing the American middle class to re-think some things that they had taken for granted as social reality for generations. My grandfather was absolutely incapable of thinking of anyone black as anything other than a nigger and used that word freely when speaking of persons of Negro descent, even in their presence. His grandparents probably remembered the civil war. (My grandfather was born in 1898). There was one black student in my elementary school. One. In a town that was at least 30% African-American by census. During my elementary school years, there were 4 high schools in my town, one of which was "the black high school". That changed when I hit junior high (what is now referred to as "middle school"). The 5th Circuit Court dictated that each school would racially reflect the overall population and integration began. 40 years later, a well-known author and I can discuss racism in our respective blogs and not break a sweat. But back then, it was radical change in a society that had been brought up to protect the status quo on both sides of the racial lines. It was sometimes violent, always scary and it was as necessary as breathing to the survival of the American society. And yes, I watched violence occur. I knew people involved in race-related fights. It was and is sad that people allow race to affect their judgment of a person's worth, but back then, it was integral to the society that existed in America. Racism was as institutional as slavery had been 100 years earlier. The younger people reading this may have a hard time believing it (I hope so), but racism was part of the make-up of American society in the 50's and 60's. Into that culture, Heinlein put forth Farnham's Freehold.

Hugh Farnham and his family are enjoying dinner when WWIII happens, just as every American was afraid it would in the 60's. The Russians dropped atomic weapons on us. Farnham, being a properly Heinleinesque paranoid hero, had taken precautions and built a bomb shelter. With just a few minutes notice, he hustles his family and friends (and the family cat) into the shelter where they ride out two nuclear strikes in their immediate (relatively) vicinity. A third strike changes everything and they awake in a pristine world of two thousand years in the future. The war had destroyed pretty much the whole of the northern hemisphere. leaving Africa and India completely untouched. Whites are now slaves, referred to as servants, in huge households ruled by the Chosen. The Chosen are all of African and Hindi descent, usually mixed. Whites are considered lazy, stupid and congenitally incapable of higher thought. They are bred, like cattle, to be small and taught, painfully, how to obey and properly respect their "Charities" (read: Masters). All threatening whites are killed. To serve in the household, men are neutered. Women serve the purpose women have always served in repressive societies. In a word, this is the ultimate role reversal story.

Heinlein pulls no punches in his grisly tale. Whites have no access to education in a technologically advanced society. They are slaves with no hope of rebellion except from within the ruling caste itself. But the society is presented as stable, economically viable, and stagnant. Rebellion is a long way off if it is ever to happen. It almost exactly mirrors "The Peculiar Institution" in America, except that this is a technologically advanced and very old culture. Heinlein puts the heroes of the story totally at the mercy of a "benevolent" master. It cannot help but make any reader, no matter what race, think about the high cost of racism. When looking at the costs of racism, please keep in mind the economic thought of opportunity costs. Heinlein proposes that maybe the costs are too high to the masters. He states undeniably that they are too high for the slaves. I agree with him on both counts and I have my whole adult life. Some people share that belief with me and some people don't. Read the book and decide for yourself.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

I have just finished reading all three books of His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. And, for the first time in recent memory, I am at a loss for what to say if only for entirely personal reasons. Don't get me wrong, this is a great set of books. Its an epoch fantasy of incredible proportions. Its well told, its characters warm and believable, it runs the gamut of emotional responses it provokes in the reader. It speaks to the reader on many, many levels.

Lyra is a little girl, illegitimately conceived of extremely powerful parents in a society that is ruled by, what turns out to be, a tyrannical Authority. That rule is carried to myriad worlds by The Church which Pullman paints as the enemy of joy in life. Lyra, her friends, her parents and ultimately her soul mate all find themselves in a battle to the death with this Authority and, if they lose, then conscienceness and intelligence will fade from all the worlds, leaving nothing that can be recognized as life. On the other side is Dust, dark matter - a semi-conscience booster of imagination and curiosity - the earmarks of intelligence. Dust is powerless, but is drawn inexorably to conscienceness, resulting in intelligence and self-will. The Authority wishes to destroy Dust, The Rebels want to save it. Lyra just wants to save her friends from pain and she and Will, a boy from another world, end up as the center around which the battle rages. And rage it does, across endless worlds and peoples. As I said, this is an epoch.

On a deeper level, Pullman is condemning the Church and by extension God. God, in the story and as modern-day humans of this world understand Him, never existed. The first intelligence engendered by Dust is The Authority and is jealous of his position. He would deny it to any others and would use his knowledge and powers to insure his dominion of all the worlds. On a personal level, I find this disturbing. Intentionally or not, Pullman replaces his non-existent God with Dust, which is intelligent and can, under very special and difficult circumstances, communicate with other intelligences. Dust is the fount from which self-knowledge flows and therefore the ability to affect the world around one. Dust becomes the life giver, the creator. This would seem to be either a paradox, or else a very indirect slam at organized religion (the opiate of the masses - type slam).

At the end, Lyra and Will are elevated to sainthood, although its not called that, by their sacrifice. The logical inconsistencies I found disturbing and hard to understand. Maybe its just a personal philosophy being threatened, or maybe I found the inconsistencies damaging to the story. In either case, I found it made it harder, for me to buy in to the story. So after all is said and done, I liked the books, but love them, I did not. I have no logical problems with secular humanism or with a belief in a higher intelligence. The problem comes in when it can't be decided which one is a basic premise to the belief system of the story. No good story can change its basic values back and forth and expect to be embraced. Its part of what readers identify with, whether they agree or not. They understand a consistent set of beliefs, but inconsistencies are confusing even when the plot is linear and easy to follow. which, by the way, this one is not.

As I said, this may be a personal thing, so don't take my word for it. Read it yourself and make up your own mind, At the end of it all, this book did do that most magical of things. It made me think.