Saturday, February 28, 2009

Review - Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury


Synopsis from B&N:

Guy Montag was a fireman whose job it was to start fires...

The system was simple. Everyone understood it. Books were for burning...along with the houses in which they were hidden.

Guy Montag enjoyed his job. He had been a fireman for ten years, and he had never questioned the pleasure of the midnight runs nor the joy of watching pages consumed by flames...never questioned anything until he met a seventeen-year-old girl who told him of a past when people were not afraid.

Then he met a professor who told him of a future in which people could think...and Guy Montag suddenly realized what he had to do!


My thoughts:

I can't believe I'd never read this novel before. It's odd to think of all the English classes I've taken, and realize that no professor ever thought this would be worthwhile to teach. I'm sure lots of them assumed it had been read before - but that certainly didn't stop them from making me read Huckleberry Finn 5 times! (But that's another story...)

There is so much to consider in this short little novel - Bradbury really packed a lot into a small package. His writing style is full of simile and metaphor, which sometimes seem a little over-the-top, but they give the narrative a feeling almost like a dream. It is very visual, giving the reader detail after minute detail in which to see the drama unfolding. When Montag goes to a house to burn books one night, "Books bombarded his shoulders, his arms, his upturned face. A book lit, almost obediently, like a white pigeon, in his hands, wings fluttering. In the dim, wavering light, a page hung open and it was like a snowy feather, the words delicately painted thereon."

Guy Montag is the focus of the book, and as such the only character who really gets a chance to develop. Mildred, Guy's wife; Clarisse, Guy's neighbor; Faber, the professor - we meet each of these people, but never get the opportunity to find out much about them. They are merely catalysts, propelling Guy forward on his journey. Each has their small part to play, and then they are gone, because the author is mostly only interested in Guy.

It is fascinating to read Bradbury's vision of a world gone mad, written in the 1950s, and realize how similar it is to the world we live in today. In his world, people don't want to read books, or be challenged by new ideas - they would rather sit in front of their gigantic television sets and be entertained. In his world, no one wants to stand out or be different, but would rather conform to the image that the majority has decided is ideal. In his world, people don't connect with each other, but spend their time blocking out the world with the earphones in their ears. Does this sound familiar to anyone else? I have to wonder if Bradbury ever feels chilled by his prophetic vision.

Of course, what resonates most clearly with me is the few people in the novel who are trying to save the books. When Montag decides, for the first time, to sit down and read one of the books he has been secretly stashing away, his life is forever changed, and that is truly the moment of triumph in the novel. When he finds Professor Faber, and later the band of men in the forest (Bradbury has referred to them as the Book People), and decides he wants to do something - anything - to keep the books from being lost, it is the flash of hope that lifts the novel from despair. And Bradbury knows it is not the books themselves that are important. Books are little more than ink and paper, which don't add up to very much. "It's not the books you need, it's some of the things that once were in books...Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us."

Fahrenheit 451 is quite a magnificent novel. I have no doubt it is one I will be reading again and again.

Finished: 2/27/09

Rating: 8/10

Donnie Darko (2001)

The title of the film "Donnie Darko" is based on the name of the main character, an adolescent with a variety of mental problems, which he receives medication and psychiatric treatment for. After an experience in which Donnie is summoned by a figure, Frank, wearing a grotesque rabbit suit, Donnie is told that the world is going to end in twenty-eight days. The encounter with the rabbit saves Donnie from an airplane engine falling on his house and his bedroom, and this experience leads Donnie to trust the rabbit.

The rest of the movie is about Donnie's experiences with Frank, including the commands that Frank gives Donnie, and Donnie gaining an understanding of this world that does not match our own at all.

I enjoyed the movie - how we need to examine what Donnie experiences from what is real, and how Frank's commands to Donnie have quite far-reaching results on the secondary characters in the film, which are not all immediately apparent. I also liked how it emphasised plot and ideas over special effects, and made it, in my opinion, far better than most modern science fiction movie releases. That said, the special effects are decent, too - nothing stellar, but they further the story without detracting from the movie's ideas.

The main problem with this movie, in my opinion, is the ending. I don't want to go into the plot or spoil the ending, but I found that the ending lacked a clear resolution for the secondary characters that are involved in Donnie's life, and found it quite simlar to the endings of several movies with similar themes. Although we see that the secondary characters have a variety of problems, and these are seemingly resolved for good or bad throughout the movie, the end takes away these resolutions and leaves us with our imagination to figure out what the actual resolutions are at the end of all of this.

In spite of a less than stellar ending, I did enjoy the movie, and would recommend it to those whom like their SF movies to have more intelligence than what the current releases do. 4/5.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

"They're Among Us" (2008)

They're Among Us" is about a race of parasitic aliens on Earth inhabiting humans, and they are set on trying to take over Earth. As evil alien parasites are wont to do. I haven't ruined much of the movie, by the way, since this is all revealed in the first five minutes of the movie.

The idea of the movie had some potential, even though this idea has been done quite often before, but it's a complete failure. The twists are extremely predictable, the evidence presented prior to the twist blatantly shown, and then reshown to make it quite clear for any poeple watching of mediocre intelligence. There's no suspense, no "is this person an alien or not" twists, which would have been so easy to include. It's full of inconsistencies for the sake of drama, or to move the plot along, and the coincidences contained within the plot are so large that they are impossible to ignore. The acting ranges from poor to woeful, and there's nothing in regards to the plot worth discussing at all.

I wish that I could say something positive about this movie, but I've come up with a blank. Even the special effects, normally the only place where even the poorest of movies shine these days, was only average. 1/5.

Pavane

My latest read for the 42 Challenge is Pavane by Keith Roberts, an alternative history, and my review can be found here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Great Time Machine Hoax, Keith Laumer (1964)

Chester W. Chester IV owes a million dollars in back taxes, and to recoup the costs, he can use a circus that has seen better days, a run-down mansion, and a mammoth computer. Chester decides to recoup his costs by using the computer to fake a working time machine. All of this sounds like a pretty neat idea for a pulp-SF book, except that the premise is never delivered upon. Instead, Chester, Case (a friend of Chester’s), and Genie (a personality created by the computer) have separate adventures in different eras, all apparently created by this fake time machine, each of the characters learn a few things, and there’s a twist ending that is not really much of a twist at all.

There’s nothing that I can really single out as being worthy of attention in the book, and more than a few things that are quite poor. Science fiction clichés are present in force, the characters are barely sketched, there is nothing noteworthy about the adventures each has, and the writing varies between serviceable and deplorable. There are one or two small ideas there, but nothing that hasn't been done better elsewhere. It's not even much of a fun read, which I should at least be able to expect for one of my first unguided forays into pulp-SF. Avoid. 1.5/5.

Challenge Completed

Well I finished the challenge today by watching Solaris starring George (yummy) Clooney.
Although I intended to read more books than I have, I've enjoyed watching the films.

Here's my final list:
1. .Invasion of the body Snatchers (film 1956) /07/08
2. Star Begotten 25/07/08 (novel)
3. Lost In Space (film 1998) 25/07/08
4. War of the Worlds (film 2005) 27/07/08
5. Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies 7/8/08
6. The Hunt for the Meteor (novel) 14/8/08
7. Code 46 (film) 15/9/08
8. Sunshine (film) 20/9/08
9. The Forgotten (flm) 22/9/08
10. Contact (film) 26/9/08
11. Timecop (film) 25/10/08
12. Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars (film) 26/10/08
13. Doom (film) 31/10/08
14. Doomsday (film) 1/11/08
15. Iron Man (film) 4/11/08
16. Stargate: The Ark of Truth (film) 11/11/08
17: Stargate: continum (film) 11/11/08
18: The Man from Earth (film) 11/11/08
19. Mutant Chronicles [2008] (film) 20/11/08
20. The Cronicles of Riddick (film) 28/11/08
21. Autumn (book) 3/12/08
22. Starship Troopers 2 (film) 8/12/08
23. Galaxy Quest (film) 12/11/08
24. Close Encounters of the third kind (film) 13/12/08
25. Plague Year (novel) 13/12/08
26. Resident Evil: 3 (film) 16/12/08
27. Fire In The Sky (film) 17/12/08
28. Autumn: the city (novel) 18/12/08
29. Autumn: purification (novel) 18/12/08
30. The Island (film) 21/12/08
31. Jumper (film) 27/12/08
32. Day of the Triffids (film) 1/1/09
33. The Fantastic Four (film) 1/1/09
34. Babylon AD (film) 7/1/09
35. Misson to Mars (film) 10/1/09
36. Equalibrium (film) 11/1/09
37. The Day the Earth Stood Still (film2008) 17/1/09
38. Of Time and Stars (book) 18/1/09
39. 2012 (book) 2/2/09
40. Total Recall (film) 9/2/09
41. Red Planet (film) 16/2/09
42. Solaris (film) 17/2/09

Favourite film watched: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
Favourite book: Of Time and a Stars by Arthur C. Clarke

Many thanks for hosting - I had great fun ;0)

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Man Who Folded Himself – David Gerrold (1973)

Danny Eakins has been bequeathed a unique gift – a belt that allows him to travel through time. Danny then proceeds to do everything that a time-traveller would wish to do with the belt, and quite a few more that a time-traveller would not. To list what Danny does to give you an idea of what the book is like would be to spoil the book. However, it is sufficient to say that it seems like Danny manages to cover pretty much everything that one might wish to do with a time-travel machine, quite a few that one might not, and the speed in which Gerrold covers this makes for quite an interesting and fun read. I also enjoyed the way that Gerrold comes up with a plausible explanation that allows him to disregard every single time-travel paradox that has ever been written about, and then proceeds to do so. There are no Paradox Police here, which makes the read quite enjoyable.

The occasional supporting characters never rise above crude stereotypes, and Danny himself is quite a simply-drawn character. Certainly, Danny has a few personal angsts and problems, but for much of the book, Danny is simply a vehicle to show Gerrold’s ideas about time travel. This is not a great problem; “The Man Who Folded Himself” for the most part seemed to be more about what any person might do with a time-travel device, rather than what Danny Eakins in particular would do.

Having said this, there is one particular aspect of the book which I did not enjoy, both for how Gerrold portrayed this, and for how it ruined the “this is pretty much what I would do in this situation” idea floating in my head beforehand.

“The Man Who Folded Himself” has lots of interesting ideas about time-travel, which does make the book quite a bit above average. Recommended. 4/5.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Grace Bridges - The future is what you make it

A sci-fi author must consume sci-fi, both to stimulate the imagination and to avoid unwittingly using an idea that's been done before. That's why I find this a most worthy exercise in recording what goes in. Perhaps later I'll look back and realise how it influenced what came out!

So, without further ado...

1. Star Risk (book) by Chris Bunch, 2002 - cynical noir space opera rip-off complete with gooey aliens, mercenary political villains, and huge space battles. A few good laughs!

2. Preservers (book) by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens (attributed to William Shatner) 2001 - my first look at the rather curious "Shatnerverse" in which Kirk has somehow returned after dying in "that" movie. Except for the breach in canon, not a bad read - and of course a whole universe is at stake. Just not ours. But Picard and Kirk still rescue it on principle.

3. Captain's Glory (book) authors as above, 2006 - this one has a better premise, as it's actually the real universe in danger this time. Enjoyable battle scenes between Kirk and Picard, stopped only by Riker bawling them out so they can team up to rescue the future of all life forms.

4. Star Trek: Insurrection (movie) 1998 - Wonderful, brilliant, harmless, funny. A political commentary with loads of delightful character moments and in-jokes. Data steals the show.
Picard: "Sing, Worf, sing!"
Worf(shaking head): "No!"

5. Star Trek: Nemesis (movie) 2003? - Deep, dark and significant. Lots of layers, but lots of unanswered questions. How did one little hand-phaser shot (notwithstanding Data's passionate delivery of it) manage to blow up a ship? How did Shinzon get ahold of B4 in the first place? Where did Troi's psychic connection with the Viceroy come from? Well, whatever. One of the deleted scenes really should have been included - where the captain's new chair has seatbelts...

6. After the Fall (Trek book) by Peter David, 2004 - Very dark projection of Starfleet under fire. Some good scenes, but honestly, I miss having familiar characters in it. Loads of goop and gore.

7. Missing in Action (Trek book) Peter David, 2006 - sequel to above. Completes the story by having most main characters killed and just a few get to go home. Neatly sandwiches the events of Nemesis by mentioning them in two sentences or so. Guess the advantage of a book is that the aliens can be ultra-gooey at no extra cost...

8. 100 must-read science fiction novels (book) by Stephen E. Andrews and Nick Rennison, 2006 - A nice collection of summaries of the classics, with an introduction explaining the history and development of sci-fi. A good way to get a handle on some of the early greats of the genre, without having to read them all - and a great way to help find what to read next. But they forgot C.S. Lewis!!

9. Tunnel in the Sky (book) by Robert Heinlein, 1955 - Interesting psychological commentary a la "Lord of the Flies", but ends differently. Minimal technology, but what there is is very imaginative. Character reactions most fascinating when they get picked up after three years on an isolated planet.

10. The Picard Song (video) on YouTube - utterly hilarious. My favourite captain can rap!

11. System47 screensaver with LCARS-inspired animated displays and sound effects. Multi-screen capability. Bring Trek to your, uh, absent moments! Free download.

12. Wikipedia Star Trek portal. Probably deserves several entries since I hang around there so much. Origins, episode summaries, ship specs, characters, you name it. Great place to waste time.

13. Star Trek Hidden Frontiers, Season 6 Episode 1 "Countermeasures" - Fan film. Incredible accomplishment, though it's "not quite the same" - still, good going, guys. I might be back for more...

14. Star Wars, Episode IV (new remastered version) - A return to a classic of the genre. Funny, Darth isn't so scary as I remember. But I was just a kid last time I saw it. A great example of the Hero's Journey in literature, as well as the Three-Act Structure and other stuff they say writers ought to know :)

15. Star Trek TOS: The Trouble with Tribbles (TV) - need I say more? Completely, utterly classic.

16. Star Trek TOS: Triskelion's Gamesters (TV) - A return to medieval-themed Trek. Kirk gets to lose his shirt.

17. Star Trek TOS: The Immunity Syndrome (TV) - The impersonal enemy is believed to be killing everyone. Kirk and Spock record touching tributes for posterity, then figure out how to blow up the monster and fly away.

18. Have Spacesuit, Will Travel (book) Robert Heinlein 1958 - A cozy-type space opera set in a future where moon travel is reasonably common - but TV's are still black and white... Quite cutesy.

19. Star Trek Titan: Orion's Hounds (book) - Christopher L. Bennett, 2005 - A look at Riker's own ship, sometime after the events of Nemesis. Very interesting moral dilemmas as the crew attempt to make peace between spacefaring races of gigantic proportions.

20. Web Site Story (book) Robert Rankin 2001 - Very British, very ridiculous tale of a virtual suburb of virtual London.

21. Keeping It Real (book) Justina Robson 2006 - Okay, so the girl is a cyborg. But that's the only SF aspect. She variously fights and seduces elves, faeries and demons. Kinda weird.

22. Star Trek Voyager: Section 31 (book) Smith & Rusch 2001 - Nice little episode containing internal and external conflicts and some nice character moments for Seven and B'Elanna.

23. Doctor Who: Stealers of Dreams (book) Steve Lyons 2006 - Intriguing tale of a society where fiction is illegal. The Doctor and his cronies find the scientific reason and save the world. Of course. Pretty good actually.

24. Star Trek TOS: Metamorphosis (TV) - Kirk, Spock and Bones encounter Zefram Cochrane alone on a planet with a powerful alien being.

25. Chion (book) Darryl Sloan 2006 - An apocalyptic thriller set in Northern Ireland. Highly recommended.

26. Ringworld (book) Larry Niven 1972 - An outdated hippy sets off with a girl and two aliens to discover a mysterious giant artifact two hundred light years from Earth. A bit cheesy in places, but the setting is really amazing.

27. Warp Speed (book) Travis Taylor 2006 - A scientifically oriented story of the development of warp drive. Unusual and often unorthodox writing style, takes some getting used to. Quite a fun read nonetheless.

28. The Cat who Walked through Walls (book) Robert Heinlein 1985 - A good start soon gets bogged down in oversexed dialogue. Interesting settings could have used a bt more development. Lacks the freshness of his earlier work.

29. Fallen Angels (book) Larry Niven/Jerry Pournelle/Michael Flynn 1991 - Space dwellers exiled from Earth fall back to a cooling planet in the grip of a coming ice age. Technology is frowned upon; the only hope for gravity-lamed spacers is a bunch of illegal sci-fi fans. Quite brilliant.

30. Sunstorm (book) Arthur C. Clarke/Stephen Baxter 2005 - Interestingly, the exact opposite of Fallen Angels (see #29). Sunflares threaten the existence of the world by superheating it (way beyond global warming) and only a global effort can save the future of humanity. Book 2 of a trilogy, but it stands up fine on its own as well. The library didn't have the others.

31. Star Trek TOS - The Man Trap: An alien in dire need of salt haunts the ship.

32. Star Trek TOS - The Naked Time: A virus causes everyone to behave drunk, and even Spock has a cry.

33. Star Trek TOS - Errand of Mercy: Kirk wants to battle the Klingons for dominance of a planet. But its inhabitants refuse to allow the war to begin.

34. Star Trek TOS - Court Martial: The computer says Kirk killed a man. He says he didn't. Do computers lie?

35. Star Trek TOS - City at the Edge of Forever: All of human history after 1930 hinges on one woman in that time. Deeply psychological.

36. One More for the Road (book) Ray Bradbury 2002. A collection of short stories, not all SF but often bordering on it. Highly imaginative and in places, disturbing.

37. Uncharted Territory (book) Connie Willis 1994. A rather slow-moving novella which I'd nearly finished by the time I realised the narrator's meant to be a woman. Two short stories are added at the end, these were interesting reading, particularly Firewatch, involving a future history student's time travel study of the London bombardment in WWII.

38. Star Trek TOS - Amok Time

39. Star Trek TOS - Mirror, Mirror

40. Star Trek TOS - The Doomsday Machine

41-42 and so on: Borrowed a set of Star Trek TNG and have watched most of Season 3 in the past week. Also further reading from authors such as Kathy Tyers, Timothy Zahn, Melissa Scott, Tricia Sullivan, Philip K. Dick...

So I guess I'm done now. What have I learned from this exercise?
- It takes no particular effort to consume a lot of sci-fi. It's a big part of my life.
- I'm a Trekkie of rather more serious proportions than I imagined!
- There is a LOT of SF literature out there. A lot of it is dystopian.
- Since beginning this list I've completed two new SF novels of my own, due for publication this year. Reading widely has helped me create something new and different, avoiding similarities with the other stories I've encountered.
- SF is the perfect genre to explore difficult issues by putting them in a different scenario. It's great for getting a message across because often that message is the only parallel we see to our own reality amidst the worlds of fantasy.

So thank you for the opportunity to take part! It's been interesting.

My links in case anyone wants to drop by:
www.faithawakened.com - My first SF novel (2007)
www.splashdownbooks.com - My new publishing venture for SF
www.blog.lostgenreguild.com - News from the Lost Genre
http://twitter.com/gracebridges

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Gaijinmama's 17-20

#17 Dark Angel Season 1, Episode 20, "...and Jesus Brought a Casserole"

Love the title but to be honest, no clue what it means. A surprising, gut-wrenching finale to the first season. Lydecker turns out to have a conscience after all, and in his twisted way, he loves his Manticore Kids. Since Madame X is clearly out to get him, he kidnaps Max, and gets drunk while she's handcuffed to a bed in a cheap hotel. They end up working together to bring down Manticore and the whole lab goes up in flames...though not a happy ending, because they also end up believing that Max is dead (She isn't. Watch and find out.)
Rating 5 of 5

#18 Stargate SG1, Season 8 Episode 3, "Lockdown"
A Russian cosmonaut brings in a scary extraterrestrial virus that makes Daniel Jackson go Postal and start shooting up the Iris Room. General O'Neill, still not entirely comfortable with his promotion, has to shut down the base. Turns out rumors of Anubis' demise were slightly exaggerated; he is back in a big, bad way, and keeps trying to get into another body till he ends up in O'Neill's. Dying Russian guy ends up saving their collective butts by forcing Anubis into...no I won't spoil it but think very large popsicles.
4 of 5...excellent suspense.

#19 Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Season 1 Episode 1, Pilot

I confess I have never seen the movie. I just don't care for Ah-nuld. But this is in fact a great story of a tough talking single Mom who will do anything to save her son and consequently, the world. The dialogue is awesome. (Sarah telling son they need to run again: "Half an hour. One bag plus the guns. I'll make pancakes.") I especially love that Summer Glau from Firefly is along for the ride to help Sarah kick butt.
Rating 4.5 of 5...I am sooooo glad they didn't try to make the Terminator guy sound like Ah-nuld. This is definitely a story in its own right.

#20 Stargate SG1, Season 8 Episode 4, "Zero Hour"
More Steve Bacic in a toga, yum, yum.I always enjoy Sgt. Walter Harriman. Even though his character is pretty much a glorifoed doorman, and doesn't do much more than open and close the Iris, you can just tell that Gary Jones is hilarious, and every now and then they give him a cool moment. When a creepy new Suit from Washington comments that O'Neill "isn't like other generals" Harriman deadpans back, "Ummm....he's not like other PEOPLE."Christoper Judge, BTW, has actual hair now and wears it so well. O'Neill locks two bickering offworld delegates in a room together and simply hides the key till they agree to play nice. And then I spewed my cheap Chianti when this scary alien plant starts taking over the base and he references Little Shop of Horrors (come on, Seymour! snort snort chuckle guffaw)
Rating: 4.5 of 5

Battlestar Galactica - Season 4, Episode 15 - "No Exit"

We had a huge snowstorm yesterday, so my husband came home early from work and we actually got to watch this episode together. It's just so much more fun to have someone with me, mouths gaping, as our minds are collectively blown again.




*******************Spoilers ahead**********************************


This was an Information Overload episode - boy, when this show promises answers, you get answers. They gave me answers to questions I didn't even know I had!

Ellen Tigh as the creator of the 8 humanoid models was brilliant. When she gave her speech to Cavill about how bad he is, and how she loves him anyway, it was a beautiful moment. The literary allusions abounded, with Oedipus and Eve in the Garden making appearances. Ellen is breathtaking as the last of the Final Five, who appear to be the Original Five, in a plot twist I never saw coming.

Cavill raging about his puny human body, and revealing all the atrocities he has committed against his own kind, reveals him to be a real baddy. And the biggest shock of the night - there is another Cylon model!! Daniel, whom Cavill sabotaged. Surely he will be an integral part of the story that is remaining.

It was heartbreaking to see Starbuck as the worried, overprotective wife - we always knew she loved Sam, but watching her last night showed just how much. Even when she pushed him away, he has always been in her heart. As he remembered the story of the Final Five, and revealed just how important their actions were, she was hovering beside him, hoping desperately to find out what, exactly, she is.

The best lines of the night? A tie - between Adama's drunken "Do whatever you have to do to save our girl", giving Chief the go-ahead to use Cylon technology to save the Galactica; and the exchange between Ellen and Boomer - "What are you doing?" "Forgiving you", as Boomer saves Ellen from Cavill's clutches, and just maybe leaves him behind forever.

And Tyrol is Chief again! And Laura really is going to die, as she hands over the reigns to Lee. And who knows what will happen with Sam, but I certainly can't believe he is gone. Wow. What an episode!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Destroy All Humans! 2 (2006) (PS2, XBOX)

At the start of the 42 Challenge, I promised myself that I would review at least one science-fiction game, and here it is.

“Destroy All Humans! 2” puts you into the shoes of Cryptosporidium-138, a Furon which looks exactly like the “greys” beloved in conspiracy theories. He has a large head, large eyes, puny body, a huge violent streak, and an equally huge sex drive. Originally, Crypto landed on Earth in the 1950’s, spent the last decade ruling America (see the first game as to how Crypto manages this, it’s also quite a fun game in the same vein as it’s sequel). This game is set in the 1960’s, at the height of the hippie movement. The KGB have found Crypto and his identity, and are out to kill him. The rest of the game is spent figuring out why the KGB want to kill you, dealing with the problems they pose for you, and doing a bunch of other missions not really associated with the plot, but are so fun that you will not care.

The characters in the game are all stereotypes, and it’s not the most complex or challenging of plots, but you know that within moments of starting the game, if you had not figured out from the game’s case and instruction manual. It’s the equivalent of playing all of those B-grade SF invasion movies you would never admit to watching, and it’s so much fun that any niggles you have with the game are simply disregarded.

Since you will be inflicting quite a lot of devastation on the places you visit, the most important thing in this game are the weapons you get to use, and there are a lot to play with. You start of with one weapon for your flying saucer, and a stungun and disc-firing gun for yourself, but you can expand your arsenal so that you have four weapons for your saucer, and eight weapons for yourself, all of which you upgrade as you choose, and on the main part, quite fun to use. You get weapons like a disintegrator gun, an ion bomb, a weapon that summons asteroids, to a gun that summons a burrowing beast that owes a great deal to the sandworms of Dune. Crypto also has several other things to help him – a jetpack, and several psychokinetic powers, including the ability to steal a person’s body, and all of these are also great fun and you will be using them quite a lot in the game, both for fun and to forward the plot.

The Saucer is quite fun, too – the disintegrator ray is straight out of every B-grade SF movie and is great fun to wield, and the quantum deconstructor is one of the game’s best weapons. The rest of the saucer’s weapons are solid but not noteworthy. As an alien flying a UFO, you also get a cloaking device, and can abduct people for your own nefarious purposes. Just like real life, then.

Another good thing about this game is that it is filled with a great amount of homages to science fiction. A lot of sixties science fiction is referenced either in passing, or in a more direct manner – some of the references include Dune, Doctor Who, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Star Trek, 2001, and A Clockwork Orange are just a few of the examples I encountered in the game, and I suspect there are far more that I missed simply because I am not immersed in the SF of that era. There’s also references outside of science fiction too, and outside of the sixties – the game doesn’t mind straying from the era in which it is in.

There’s a decent variety in the missions you have to do, and what you have to do in them – escort, assassinations, starting and running your own cult, levelling buildings and armies, finding out information covertly, tracking down items, and protecting buildings and the like.
It’s also quite a funny game. From the sly to blatant SF references to constant knocks on the fourth wall to Crypto’s incessant demands to either destroy things or have sex. It’s quite low-brow, but still elicts it’s fair share of laughs.

There are a few problems which I might mention that do detract from the game somewhat. The main one is that this is a short game; you will have completed in less than thirty hours. There are some minor glitches in the surfaces that you fly around on. Much of the game is fairly easy, particularly if you have been diligent in doing side missions to help upgrade your weapons and abilities. And although the characters are one-dimensional for the purposes of satire, they are still one-dimensional characters, and there are inconsistencies in the plots and missions you are required to do – you work for people, and then work against them later, for no over-arching plot purpose except to have fun.

But for my complaints, I don’t really care. Playing as an alien taking over earth is such great fun. There’s been a lot of effort into making a variety of weapons that Crypot can wield, and it shows. I also appreciate the variety in the humour and the constant SF references in the game. My complaints are the equivalent of complaining about the icing on top of a cake. 4.5/5.

My Top Five Stargate SG-1 Eps from Season 1






In no particular order--Children of the Gods, Thor's Hammer, The Torment of Tantalus, There But for the Grace of God, Within the Serpent's Grasp.

Honorable mentions go out to

The Nox
Cor-ai
Solitudes

and an honorable honorable mention goes out to...

The Broca Divide....

I may not *like* the episode itself (anyone else notice how Daniel's sneezing disappears miraculously after this episode or at least after this first season???) but for the Sam/Jack kissing bits...this one has its moments :)
#13 Stargate SG1, Season 8 Episode 2, "New Order part 2"

Carter is still being held hostage and tortured by Fifth, a cute but just a little sociopathic bugman (but he's awfully cute and it is their fault he's so messed-up). He makes Carter see an idyllic farm in Montana, but when she sees through the illusion and tries to offer him some tough love ("If you really, truly love me you'll let me go!") he makes himself a Carter Bug Woman ....Bride of Frankenstein, anyone? Eeeeeew! Meanwhile, they thaw out Frozen O'Neill and he and Daniel Jackson are bantering before he's even wiped the frost off his brow. And then more Steve Bacic in a toga, DAY-ummmm what a fine man, if I ran the government I'd grant him asylum any old time. Torri Higginson is great as Dr. Weir. I have no idea why they had Blondie Whatsername play the part for just the first two episodes, but I'm so glad Torri ended up with it. Once the day has been saved and Carter has fumigated Bug Man, O'Neill is promoted and put in charge. "I've spent my whole life stickin' it to the man....I don't think I can **BE** the Man!"
Rating: 4 of 5


#14 The X Files Season 6, Episode 5, "Dreamland, Part 2"

All I really have to say is, how can anyone be in the same room with Michael McKean without peeing their pants laughing. This episode, in which Scully figures out that her partner is not who he seems and Mulder finally gets through to her and gets back into his own body, is one of the best.
Rating: 5 of 5, if only for the priceless look Scully gives Mulder (McKean) when he slaps her on the bum.

#15 Dark Angel, Season 1 Episode 18, "Hit a Sista Back"

A mother sacrifices herself to save her child. Nana Vistor steals the show as always...she does Evil really beautifully! And, while this is a heartbreaking story for any mother, much-needed comic relief is provided by Original Cindy all covered in a homemade oatmeal masque.
Rating: 4.5 of 5

#16 Dark Angel Season 1 Episode 19, "Meow"

OMG!!! Steve Bacic again, in a Blink-and-you-miss-him moment as Soldier Number 2, with no shirt on!! And I'm probably the only one out here Geeky enough to notice! But wow he is sooooo hot. Speaking of heat, Max is In Heat again, and she's got it so bad she even attacks Normal (who is in fact not a bad-looking guy). She tries to avoid Logan till the Heat is off, but fails, and just as they are getting started Zack barges in and she has to run off and try to rescue their sister Tinga from a secret government laboratory. I won't give away the ending but Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!Rating: 4.5 of 5, and you will need an extra box of tissues, because this one is a tear-jerker.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The first book in a post-apocalyptic trilogy by author Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games is fast moving and well crafted. It reminded me of Orwell or Huxley only written for younger audiences. It is aimed at people who have grown up watching reality TV shows, quick pacing and struggles between certain characters will keep their attention. Other reviewers have compared it to Battle Royale by Koushun Takami but I have not read that book so I can't compare them.

The story follows Katniss, a sixteen year old girl living in District 12, one of the poorest of twelve districts controlled by the Capitol, a dystopian North America. The districts are forced to pay tribute once a year in the form of two twelve-to-eighteen year old children, a boy and a girl. These tributes are taken to the Capitol and trained for the arena. In the arena they take part in the Hunger Games, a fight to the death with only one survivor.

When Katniss's sister is chosen at the "Reaping" Katniss volunteers to take her place and we follow her and her fellow contestant into the arena where their every step is shown on nation-wide TV. At first they a prepped and pampered and coached for their interviews. There is a constant struggle to win favor with sponsors , who will help a contestant with gifts during the games. There is friendship, deception, violence, murder and the beginnings of rebellion amongst the contestants. The book has a swift, almost cliff-hanger ending. I would suggest this book to middle school students and am looking forward to the next book in the series.

Brendan's latest comic foray!

Science fiction and comic books fans interested in the weird history of sci-fi comic books can get a direct sample in this DC Comics collection. Enjoy!

LibraryThing review

My ongoing 42 Challenge list at the top of my blog

Monday, February 9, 2009

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2002)

"Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust" is an animated movie set in the far-future, about a woman, Charlotte, whom has been kidnapped by a vampire. Vampire Hunter D is a dhampir, or a half-vampire, has been paid to go and find the woman, dead or alive, but he has competition in the form of another group out to collect the bounty.

For those that associate animation with ridiculous anime, morning cartoons, or shows with crude humour, disregard these stereotypes when you watch “Vampire Hunter D”. It’s a serious movie, with quite detailed animation, and it’s scenes vary from gaily-coloured rural villages to dark, foreboding futuristic Gothic castles. It all looks quite well-done. There are a few nods to anime-style fight scenes, with aerial fighting and the like, but it works for the characters involved in the story – a half-vampire fighting a variety of creatures does call for a bit of over-the-top action.

I am quite taken with the idea of vampires in the far-future – as they are immortal, it seemed to be a natural question of what might happen to vampires in the future – and it was interesting to see how the methods of killing a vampire have changed in the far-future. Although D rides a robotic horse, he uses a sword and kills his opponents in single combat, in an over-the-top but old-fashioned manner. The other bounty team have a huge armoured vehicle, and they use a mixture of near and far-future technologies, from knives, bows and explosives, to a person who uses drugs to allow his astral projection to attack his opponents.

The movie was also not afraid to use other fantastical creatures, some of which are devised on it’s own. There are creatures who disguise themselves in the shadows, or shape-shift, for example. There are also the creatures of the Barbarois, with a variety of appearances and abilities, whom are paid to protect the vampire. It’s ideas like this that elevate “Vampire Hunter D” from one of many vampire stories to something that is far more memorable and original.

Vampire Hunter D has a great central idea of using the traditional mythology of vampires in the far-future, which does provide for an extremely interesting setting. It also brings in it’s own ideas for fantastical creatures, which I did enjoy. It’s well-animated, with lots of gratuitous fight scenes, but it does fit in with the setting and storyline given in the movie. I recommend the movie for those whom would like to see a different take on the traditional vampire and it’s setting. 4.5/5.

The Matrix Trilogy

The Matrix trilogy comprises of three separate movies – “The Matrix” (1999), “The Matrix Reloaded” (2003) and “The Matrix Revolutions” (2003), all of which I viewed on the weekend, to see how they stacked up together, having only watched them separately beforehand.
The first Matrix movie is about Thomas Anderson, aka Neo, whom suspects that there is a problem with the world he lives in, but he cannot put a finger on what that problem is. He is given mysterious clues and assistance that leads him to a shady character by the name of Morpheus. Morpheus promises to show Neo what he is seeking if Neo chooses to join with Morpheus.

I liked the first Matrix movie quite a lot – it’s an intelligent movie, discussing ideas such as perceptions, reality, and freedom, but it’s not pretentious and boring, either. It’s exciting in an over-the-top manner that actually has a reasonable explanation behind it (which makes it different from most movies that have uncredible action sequences). The special effects are excellent – believable, but also help convey important aspects of the story and the story’s ideas at the same time. And, it’s an extremely cool – the main characters wear black trench coats, black leather, and black sunglasses - it all looks quite stylish. Anyone whom walks in partway through is not going to mistake it for any other movie, except for it’s two predecessors. I can’t really find any faults with the first movie.

The second and third movies were created at the same time, and my main criticism for them is fairly similar to that of other movies made in a similar vein. The second and third parts of the trilogy are really one single movie, but it’s been enlarged and split into two movies, that both have part-conclusions. The fact is not even disguised, as the two movies take place over the space of a single day. The enlargements are what I would describe as padding – it’s exciting padding, certainly, with lots of martial arts sequences, gunfights, explosions, and gratuitous use of CGI, but it’s padding nonetheless. Or perhaps the plot of the movie is an excuse to have this occur; I might be somewhat confused in this regard. I thought the first movie stood up on it’s own, and did not really required a sequel, let alone two – we were shown enough to know how everything should conclude in the first movie, so two new problems are manufactured instead in order to warrant a trilogy.

But I digress. “The Matrix Reloaded” tells two stories – one story is about robots preparing to invade Zion, home of free humans, another is about Agent Smith, whom has gone rogue and is out to take over the Matrix. Fortunately, we have super-power Neo out to stop Smith. Superficially, it’s similar to it’s predecessor – it has the same visual style of the first movie, it has a variety of over-the-top action sequences, including an exciting, over-the-top but somewhat pointless chase scene on a freeway.

And that’s it in a nutshell. It’s exciting but pointless. The first movie had a lot of intelligent ideas (even if it might be the Philip K Dick story that he never got around to writing), but the second movie seemed to be pandering to an audience that only enjoyed the first movie for over-the-top action. Sure, there are one or two ideas in there, but you could nearly hear them sobbing for having to live out their lives in such loneliness. Everyone tries to sound intelligent, but it does not work, because they speak, often for extended periods of time, without saying anything important, except to advance the plot onto the next fight scene. One particular complaint that I have is there are several instances where two groups exchange these sets of lines (after the first group has done something extremely exciting and pointless in the Matrix to earn the right to have this conversation):
Group A: “Do you know why we are here?”
Individual B: “I know why you are here, but do you know why you are here?”
That’s not intelligence, it’s superficial and silly. It’s quite indicative of the rest of the movie, really.

The third movie, “The Matrix Revolutions” continues on with these twin stories. The robots have nearly reached Zion, and everyone needs to ready the defences, and Neo thinks he has figured out a way to stop Smith. I really don’t need to say much about my thoughts on this movie except that the movie was made at the same time, in the same style, and by the same people. So it’s a good-looking movie that makes little demand of your brain.

Instead of the “why are we here” conversation, everyone seems to have come down with speechitis instead. It’s a terrible disease that causes people to suddenly make stirring speeches about love, trust, belief, or sacrifice, often in the midst of an extremely dangerous situation, and always to the accompaniment of stirring music suited for said speech. Speechitis in any form really annoys me, and it’s the main reason why I slightly prefer the second movie over the third (although I didn’t really like either of them). The second and third movies are otherwise equal, except that the third offers a conclusion to the entire storyline, while the second obviously did not.

For those whom have skipped all of this to get to my summary, for those whom have not had the pleasure of watching the first movie, watch it the first chance you get – it’s intelligent, exciting, and looks extremely stylish. After you watch that, I probably can’t say too much to stop you from watching the second and third movies, but they don’t really live up to the original movie. There are lots of action scenes and amazing CGI, but the movies only appeal in a superficial manner – the lack of intelligent ideas ultimately makes these movies a disappointment, considering the aptitude the Wachowski Brothers shown in the creation of first movie.

The Matrix – 5/5
The Matrix Reloaded – 2.5/5
The Matrix Revolutions – 2/5

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Battlestar Galactica - Season 4, Episode 14 - "Blood on the Scales"

Obviously, my resolve to wait until the end didn't last. I was pretty sure I wasn't going to watch this week's episode, until my husband said, "How many times do you think you'll cry before this episode is over? I'm betting at least two." So, of course, then I had to watch. (By the way, he was right.)




*************Spoilers Ahead********************





Oh, Laura Roslin. How they underestimated you. When you told them you were coming for them all, I cheered. Zarek had no idea how strong you are - he truly believed that telling you Adama was dead could make you give up. Proving him wrong was one of the greatest moments I've ever seen, and showed once again that you were destined to lead the fleet - "I will use every weapon down to my own teeth".

As I mentioned last week, any mutiny that doesn't have a plan to eliminate Starbuck and Apollo is destined to fail. And Apollo throwing the grenade but not pulling the pin was hilarious.

Chief Tyrol has always been one of my favorites, and it was great to see him get to be a hero. It's interesting that the Cylons were more loyal to Adama than the humans - once again, blurring the lines between the "good guys" and "bad".

Sam can't die!! And seeing Starbuck once again care for him was heartbreaking. The cracks in the hull of the Galactica were also so sad - the old girl can't last forever.

So, next week, Ellen comes back, and apparently SHE KNOWS THE TRUTH. I certainly hope someone does. It's been an exciting season so far, but I still don't have the answers I was promised, and there aren't enough episodes left to be messing around.
#10 Stargate SG1 Season 8, Ep. 1, "New Order, part 1"


I saw Stargate: Atlantis before ever seeing SG1, so at the end of Season 7 it was odd to see Dr. Elizabeth Weir played by a different, blonde actor. Frankly, I'm glad Torri Higginson took over, she is just plain a better fit.As this Season begins, Captain O'Neill is still frozen in stasis., so the team lacks his sarcasm and always-amusing irreverent Bad Boy Attitude. Ti'Ulk (my favorite character, and not just because Christopher Judge has breathtaking biceps....) gets in a few choice "Indeeds" and he can raise an eyebrow like nobody's business, but it just isn't the same without the whole team. Major Carter gets tortured a bit by a human bug boy who was used and abandoned by the team a couple seasons back. But did I mention that I miss O'Neill! The characters are much more interesting as an ensemble, and, while Dr. Weir is way cool, we all know she doesn't hang around very long...and it just isn't the full ensemble without General Hammond. OH, well. Not many shows last 8 seasons and still remain interesting....cough cough....ER I'm looking at you...cough cough.....rating: 4 of 5., for a fabulous guest appearance by Steve Bacic (from Andromeda and others...I checked at www.imdb.com and he has guested in almost every show I like, including X-Files and Dark Angel.!) Not only does Mr. Bacic have breathtaking biceps but in this role he is wearing a toga!! Yowza.


#11 Dark Angel, Season 1 Ep. 18: "I And I Am a Camera"

Ex-convicts are being systematically blown away. Max investigates with a local vigilante who has built his own exoskeleton that allows him to jump 10-foot walls and kick down reinforced steel doors. When it turns out that Logan's family is responsible (they developed police surveillance equipment that doesn't just spy on people, it shoots them. ) , Logan blows the whistle on his evil uncle and loses the family fortune...but he inherits the exoskeleton, making it possible for him to walk again. Rating: 4 of 5, especially the bit with Sketchy having a few too many and actually breathing fire. Kevin McNulty, who it turns out has been in many of my favorites including Andromeda, SG1, and Supernatural, is great in the role of Phil the Bionic Vigilante. And Nana Visitor is fabulous as the evil Manticore mastermind, smiling her radiant Major Kira beam as she sends a man to be blown away.


#12 The X Files, Season 6 Ep. 4 "Dreamland , Part 1"

I was like, NO WAAAAY!! It's Michael McKean!!! He's a smarmy sleazebag named Morris Fletcher, and he's in Mulder's body. David D and Michael M must have had such a blast filming this one! I giggled all through it. He's photoshopped into smiling pictures next to Saddam Hussein, Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich. He boffs the Assistant Director's secretary on his first day, apparently hasn't been with his wife in months. I particularly loved the bit when Mulder was looking at his reflection in the mirror (McKean) and the two of them were dancing around together in their undershirts . And the look on Scully's face when he slaps her on the butt is priceless. 5 of 5...anything with Michael McKean is by definition hilarious.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A World Out of Time ~Larry Niven

For my latest 42 Challenge read I revisited a classic that has been a part of my reading life for over 3 decades. It had been a few years since I had read this book and having never given it a proper review I decided it was time to go back to this cherished world and share it with the rest of you.

My review is here if you are interested.

Logan's Run (1976)

Logan's Run is set in the 23rd century, in a post-apocalyptic world with inhabitants not allowed to live past their thirtieth birthday. Those who reach thirty are required to submit themselves to the Carrousel, which kills the participants, although the residents of this world believe that the process grants those who participate renewal. Those that try and escape are called Runners, and are killed by Sandmen, or those who hunt runners. Logan, one of the Sandmen, is tasked with seeking a place called Sanctuary, where the escaped runners are rumoured to inhabit.

I liked the story itself – it’s fairly exciting and has a couple of good ideas. I also liked the question of whether Logan was going to reveal the sanctuary or not, which did add an extra layer of complexity to the movie. However, there are some inconsistencies and logic problems that do ruin the plausibility of the story at times.

The special effects in this movie are quite a mixed bag. The scenes of the city as a whole are laughable; it’s painfully obvious that the shots are of poorly-created miniatures. A lot of the explosive effects are done with cheap fireworks, too. On the other hand, the laser holography on the whole looks pretty good, although the laser effects at the end are extremely naff. Apparently, it’s the first movie to incorporate laser holography, or some such feat, and got a Special Academy Award for Visual Effects. On the whole, it’s fairly decent, but nothing remarkable thirty years later. I’ll put in a special mention of the backdrops; the ruins of Washington and it’s monuments and buildings were all done extremely well, and I would nearly recommend this movie for that alone.

I did enjoy the movie, but some silly special effects and logical problems in the plot do spoil the movie. 3.5/5.

Wall-E (2008)

Wall-E is a Disney and Pixar movie released last year about a robot designed to collect and compact trash on a far-future earth choking on it’s own rubbish in the future, with all of his other cohorts long-since broken down. However, it seems that Wall-E does not simply complete his designated task – he has developed his own personality, it seems.

Since a movie solely about a robot that collects trash would have about the same appeal to most viewers as extreme ironing, a complication arises in the form of a ship bringing a robot called Eva. It seems that she is after some item from Earth. (Yes, Disney and Pixar insist that there are male and female robots, however that might actually work.) After Eva finds what she is searching for, Eva is taken by her ship, leaving Wall-E to chase after her.

It’s here we are introduced to humans in the future, whom have spent centuries living abroad a space cruise ship – it seems that every single person is lazy, morbidly obese, attention-deficit morons. Robots do all the work it seems, and do not go to the effort of eating food when they could drink it instead, let alone go to the efforts of walking. It’s here we find out why Eva was sent to Earth, and the reason that Eva was so interested in what she had found, and how it affects the people aboard the ship.

The first part of the movie, up until Eva is kidnapped, is easily the best part of the movie. The viewer is shown the world that Wall-E inhabits, and shown Wall-E’s and Eva’s personality with very little dialog given, apart from one or two ancient clips of footage, and their near-incomprehensible introductions. It’s far better than the standard text blurt we are normally given in such a movie; producers, please take note of this. It’s interesting to see Wall-E puzzle over remnants of our society, with no understanding of what the artefacts might actually be. Yes, the “future people puzzling over our artefacts” has been done so often as to be near-mandantory in this sort of movie, but it’s done quite well here, with a bit of humour, so I will forgive it for that.

The second part of the movie – the moment Wall-E begins his chase of Eva, is where the movie goes downhill. Physics gets snubbed for the main part, and factors such as logic, probability and common-sense are all ignored to progress the story or to give us a chuckle. Probably the biggest failing of the second part, however, is the failure of the movie to take the original premises to their conclusion, instead, resolving it in the typical Disney manner – everyone participating in the story has learnt something, apparently, so everything will work out perfectly. It’s rubbish, obviously, but it’s a Disney movie – what did you expect?

So, it’s a good-looking movie when it needs to be, and ugly when it needs to be, too (this is Pixar, after all, they know their stuff with computer animation). The movie starts out with a lot of potential, but dissapitates in a way that only Disney can manage. If you switch your brain off in the second part of the movie, it does help. 3/5.

These are Strange days, indeed

Adam Strange (see his latest action figure incarnation here) is the archetypal good guy of classic sci-fi pulp. He wears a sleek flight suit with a helmet and collar marked by cool military wings, stars, and a fin. He's got a ray gun and a jet pack.

Adam Strange is a hero we can understand and empathize with, because he's an archaeologist from our world (well, the modern world of the 1950s). In this collection's introduction, we learn legendary editor Julie (Julius, really) Schwartz got to start his science-fiction tale in the present day. His Adam Strange went on for years; the future counterpart, Space Ranger, dribbled away after a few stories.

Adam's tale is a simple one each issue: Swept up in a mysterious teleportation beam, he finds himself 25 trillion miles away on the Earth-like Rann. In every short 10-or-s0-page story in this 217-page collection, he races to catch the next Zeta beam to Rann to continue his growing love affair with dark-haired heroine Alanna and to save Rann and the city of Rannagar from space aliens, destructive devices, jealous planetary inhabitants, and even angry atoms. The sad ending to every tale—despite his planetary salvation—is always him disappearing as the Zeta beam wears off and pining away for his light-years-distant girlfriend from some lonely earth starting point.

These tales from the 1950s never blew me away, but neither did they bore me. I've always been a sucker for the 'B' and 'C' class superheroes and supervillains of comic book history. Rom Spaceknight. Ambush Bug. Xombi. And now, Adam Strange. There's not much to these first stories, but when writers and artists from the 1970s and into the modern day has taken the time to tease out the heart inside this formula, it's quite compelling.

Strange is a regular scientist with no superpowers, only a great intellect and great courage. He's constantly torn away from his love as each Zeta beam wears off, and ends each episode staring into the skies with longing. That's surely the longing that many kids and young adults felt as they pined away for their own Alannas in the real world.

Adam Strange has been brilliantly resurrected in the past few years as an integral player in DC Comics' latest reality reboot, "52." And he and his spacemates earned a place in their own trade paperback chronicling their adventures in space that fell outside that year-long, 52-week multi-arc adventure.

Here's to more great Adam Strange and all the other quirky, kooky heroes and ne'er-do-wells from the depths of decades of DC and Marvel history.

And may fun, heartfelt space opera live forever!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Alien woman ... stay away from MEEEEeeeee!

Few things in DVD watching and book reading are as satisfying as stumbling upon a surprise. The "Gormenghast" trilogy by Mervyn Peake blew my mind a few years ago when I saw it at a Barnes & Noble: "Oh, look. That book the pretentious Salon writer said is worlds better than 'Harry Snotter.'" It was. It is. I still haven't started the third book because I don't want it all to be over.

Well, the fake documentary American Alien (buy it here on Amazon) was surprisingly well-done. I hesitate to call it a mockumentary, because it treats even its most ridiculous interviewees with sympathy. It's a post-disappearance tale of a Mr. Baron Dixon, a man convinced for decades that a UFO would take him away. We meet his good-for-nothing friends, cruel coworkers who mock him, a mom and a dog who love him, and an ex-girlfriend who found something wonderful in this big obsessed fortysomething guy.

The performers are almost uniformly flawless in acting as regular weirdos being interviewed. I mean, really, these people are like high-skilled amateurs out of a Christopher Guest film.

I was left wondering and surprised in the end that I cared about almost every person presented and excited to have discovered another gem in my wanderings here on Earth.

Cross-posted to my blog.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

FSF: The Monopoly Man

I'm finishing up my January reviews with a ghost story by Barry B. Longyear. He's probably best known for the novella "Enemy Mine" which inspired the film of the same name. "The Monopoly Man" is the first story of his I've read, although I have seen the film Enemy Mine.

"The Monopoly Man" follows Cheri, a woman who is hard on her luck. She's just been mugged and expects to die of her injuries. Except, she doesn't. A well to do man, a man she dubs "the Monopoly Man" offers her his warm coat and lets her sleep in safety under his coat as they sit on a bench in Central Park. When she wakes, she finds herself at a detox center. She is offered a chance to turn her life around but under certain expectations. Cheri turns her life around and as she does she learns more about the Monopoly Man.

Who he is and how he is tied to Cheri and the rehab center is the crux of the story. In tone it's the opposite of "Rising Waters" even though both deal with death. The story is full of love, warmth and hope. Despite it's up beat tone, it avoids being as schmaltzy as The Ghost Whisperer and for that I'm grateful.