Musings on writing, lessons learned by an aspiring professional, book reviews, movie reviews, an occasional t.v. show review, and unashamed opinion.

Friday, June 22, 2012

False Covenant

The second Widdershins adventure by Ari Marmell is in a lot of ways an improvement on the first.  If you have yet to pick up False Covenant and Thief's Covenant, what are you waiting for?  These little books are stuffed full of action, horror, romance, wit, and charm.  The characters are complex, the setting vibrant and interesting.  And, I am happy to say, the series will continue.  Marmell announced on his website a few weeks back that Pyr bought two more Widdershins novels.  This is one series you don't want to leave unread.

FC picks up six months after Thief's.  Our heroine (am I being politically incorrect by using that term?) is still recovering from the events that culminated in the first book's climax.  (Of course I won't give anything away.)  She is a bit wiser, a bit more cautious.  And she wasn't wanting to be a thief anymore.  Well, turns out life is hard when you can't steal for your sustenance, and so Widdershins finds herself in another caper that doesn't exactly turn out the way she had been planning.

Meanwhile, the city of Davillon is in disfavor with the Church.  A new Bishop has been sent to the city to whip its inhabitants into shape.  He certainly means well, but his schemes go sour and put the citizens of Davillon in real, terrifying danger.

I still have some issues with Marmell's point of view.  It's mostly third-limited, but he seems unable to resist pointing things out as the narrator.  Most of the time it doesn't detract from the story--it usually serves as pleasant bits of humor.  I would still prefer a tighter view point, however, but that's only because I'm biased toward a tight third.  Can't help what I prefer.

The horror in FC is brilliant.  The baddie in this book (had to be inspired by Jack, from Nightmare Before Christmas) is one of the creepiest villains I've ever read in fantasy.  I cringe to think what would have happened if this book were written for the adult market.  Things get dark enough with it being written for teenagers.

There was some language (F bombs) that I wasn't expecting.  Not that there is a hard rule in YA that an author must censor words, but it did come as a surprise.  Didn't really put me off... I snarf George R.R. Martin and Joe Abercrombie books like fat kids snarf cake.  Made my wife wince, though.  She loves YA but doesn't enjoy R-rated content.

I missed the out-of-sequence story telling from Thief's Covenant--it was a different approach and I enjoyed it.  I suppose it wouldn't have really worked, since only six months have passed since the end of book one.  Maybe Marmell will do it again in a later addition?

False Covenant gets 4.5 stars out of 5.      

Monday, June 18, 2012


Oh boy, oh boy.  What the hell has happened to Ridley Scott?  Prometheus was supposed to be his triumphant return to science fiction film (he directed Alien and Bladerunner for those of you who don't know).  Instead, we get this utter mess of a film, full of plot holes, lackluster writing, and predictable sequences we've seen dozens of times.  I'm so frustrated right now!

Let me get the good out of the way, because there isn't that much to gush about with this film.  What was done extremely well was the visuals.  You can't deny that the screenshots from Prometheus are beautiful.  Scott at least has not lost his esthetic touch.  Perhaps he ought to do sci fi art, and leave sci fi films to other people from now on.  The other great thing about the movie are the actors.  Some amazing people were cast in this film.  Too bad they all go to waste.

Okay, that's it for the positive.  Now to all the crap that was wrong.  I won't go too in depth with spoilers, because I don't want to ruin the movie for anyone.  (Other than ruining it by telling you it's an absolute piece of crap.)  First off, the Prometheus is on its way to an unknown planet.  It left Earth with a crew of seventeen people, half of which have no freak'n clue as to what their mission is.  The other half, who know why they're going where they're going, don't know a single thing about the alien planet they are about to land on.  And these people are scientists.  Shouldn't they at least observe the planet in orbit before descending into its atmosphere.  I mean, this is an alien world, after all.  It might be... I don't know?  Dangerous?  This was the first dumb thing about the movie.  No studying of the planet before they land on it.  Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Next, (I'm not listing these in any particular order) the team of geniuses happens to come across the perfect spot to land.  No joke, they fly straight to it without knowing anything about the surface of the world.  Big fat plot coincidence.  Sound like lazy writing to anyone?  Then they head into this alien-constructed pyramid.  Again, no probing or researching.  Just straight in to the belly of the beast.  While in said pyramid two dudes happen to get separated from the rest of the group (cannon fodder).  Problem is, they mapped out the damn place with cool flying drones as soon as they stepped foot inside.  How is it that one can get lost when you have access to a freak'n map???

At one point a character comments how they're half a billion miles from Earth--oh so far away.  Um... half a billion miles from Earth should put them roughly next to Jupiter.  They wouldn't have even left our solar system.  Nice one, idiot Hollywood writers.  Why are you so dumb?

Let's see... people are infected by alien crap.  Magically, different things happen to all of them.  Is any of this explained?  Nope.  There's a prologue to the movie.  Is it explained?  Nope.  Is anything explained in this movie?  NOPE!  There are several other gaping holes that I could list, but then I'd be giving away major plot points.  I said I wouldn't so I won't.  Just know that I'm saving the worst offenders for your viewing pleasure.

The biggest problem about Prometheus is that it doesn't fulfill a single promise that it makes.  Not one.  Does Hollywood even care anymore about crafting a coherent story?  I've been reading a few blog sites since seeing the movie, trying to understand all of the questions left unanswered.  The people who loved the movie came up with the dumbest answers ever.  Some included, "You aren't supposed to understand," or "You're not thinking hard enough.  This movie is for smart people so you have to be smart to get what is going on, moron."  or "If you watch it ten times you'll know what's going on.  Just  pay for a lot more tickets to see this terrible movie and you'll be blown away by how brilliant it is."  (Sarcasm added to offer comic relief for the numb-minded).

Well, that was a bit of a ramble.  Bottom line: don't see Prometheus.  It isn't worth your time and money.  Trust me, it's a mess.  And as for me, I don't know that I'll be going to the theater for a Ridley Scott movie ever again.  I mentioned in my post about Gladiator a few weeks back that he was on the decline.  With Prometheus he has hit bedrock.  

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Furies of Calderon

Jim Butcher is best known for his urban fantasy series about wizard-for-hire Harry Dresden.  I tried a Dresden book a few years ago and just couldn't get in to it.  I'm not an urban fantasy kind of guy.  Don't know why exactly.  Too many vampires and tattooed chicks with wrenches maybe?  Luckily, Butcher has also written an epic fantasy--the Codex Alera series.

Codex Alera came about in an interesting way.  If you're an aspiring writer, chances are you've heard the story.  It seems to be told a lot at cons.  Anyway, thanks to copy and paste you can get it from old grandpa Wiki:  The inspiration for the series came from a bet Jim was challenged to while a member of the Delray Online Writer’s Workshop. The challenger bet that Jim could not write a good story based on a lame idea, and Jim countered that he could do it using two lame ideas of the challenger’s choosing. The “lame” ideas given were “Lost Roman Legion", and “Pokemon”.

So, Romans and dumb Japanese fighting animals.  Sound fun?  I've never been all that interested in Rome and I was too old for the Pokemon craze (thank heaven), but Butcher does a great job mashing the two ideas together to create an interesting and original world.

Alera is a nation surrounded by barbarians, monsters, and a deadly world.  Every person in Alera can bond to furies of earth, air, fire, water, or metal.  Everyone besides Tavi, anyway.  Tavi is a fifteen-year-old boy who has lived his entire life in the rural Calderon valley, far from anything important.  As you would expect, however, all this changes as Tavi's home becomes the focus of the kingdom.

I really liked several things about this book.  The furies were cool, the politics and setting right up my alley.  Some of the characters were intriguing.  The problem--what is keeping me from really loving this book--is that the story is way too traditional.  For some readers, this won't be a problem.  And I don't think it would have been for me either, had I started this series ten years ago.  I think that fans of Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson will really like the Codex Alera series.  I'm a fan of those authors too, but they aren't my favorite.  Far from it.  I'd much rather read Martin, Abercrombie, or Lynch, and so FoC didn't quite do it for me.  I've had enough of the farm boy destined for greatness, the hard-nosed country folk he grew up with.  And I cannot buy into a Roman-based (and yes, they are actual descendants from the lost Legion, so they are as Romanesque as you get in fantasy) civilization being so up-tight about showing skin.  The Romans were some of the most immodest people to walk the Earth.  I'm not asking for Martin levels of sex and nudity--we don't need anymore books out there like that.  But if I want to read about men blushing left and right from seeing a woman's legs, I'll go read The Wheel of Time.  Also, there was too much action.  The pacing got in the way of character development.  I would have enjoyed a few slower chapters.

Okay.  You might be thinking I didn't like the book all that much after the bit of ranting.  That isn't the case.  I liked it, and intend to continue with the series.  I've heard it only gets better.  I just can't like it as much as I want to.  Make sense?

If you haven't checked the Codex Alera series out, you should.  Especially if you've heard good things about Jim Butcher but can't enjoy urban fantasy like me.  It isn't going to be the greatest series you've ever read, but Alera is a fun world to visit, and Butcher's writing is precise and expertly crafted.  He's definitely a great writer worth reading.  Furies of Calderon gets 3 out of 5 stars.  

That's all.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Gladiator, A Retrospective

My wife and I watched Gladiator recently.  I have no idea how many times I've seen the movie, but probably at least twenty.  It's been a few years, though, and so I was excited to see it again.  It's twelve years old--for some films this spells death.  Gladiator, however, still stands tall as an excellent piece of cinematic storytelling.

Ridley Scott is a director with class.  I can't tell you how much I appreciate this as a movie viewer.  Since Gladiator, HBO has done Rome, and STARZ the awful Spartacus.  Both television series show the Romans in all their terrifying depravity.  Gladiator, however, chooses to focus on a Rome where the hideous underbelly is evident but unseen.  Scott builds his Rome around the story he is telling, rather than the story around Rome.  So yes, there are plenty of historical inaccuracies (like the Roman horsemen riding with stirrups... stirrups didn't exist until many centuries later), but none so glaring that they take away from the experience.  The themes are still relevant, the acting still superb.  And damn.  That Russell Crowe is one sexy dude!

I think this film saw Ridley Scott at the pinnacle of his directorial abilities.  Since then, there is a noticeable decline in his productions.  (I did like Kingdom of Heaven... as long as it was the director's cut version; Robin Hood was okay; Body of Lies and American Gangster lackluster at best.)  I find it interesting that artists tend to hit a high mark and then never quite achieve it again.  Some hit it really early in their careers (Orson Scott Card), while others come into their brilliance rather late (George R.R. Martin).  Gladiator is on hell of a movie to top Scott's decades-long contribution to cinema.  

Not much else to say really.  (I just wanted an excuse to put this sweet picture on my blog.)  If you're like me and it's been a while since you've seen Gladiator, go enjoy it again.  If you've never seen it... shame on you.

That's all.

-Oh, and ever since watching I've been trying to convince Rhonda to let me name a son Proximo.  How freak'n cool would that be?    

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Avengers

My wife and I were probably the last two people on Earth to see The Avengers, so my review of it will do little to convince you whether you should see it or not.  You already have.  That being said, I need something to blog about, so I'm going to review it anyway.  And I've got a bit of tarnish to apply to its golden edges, so at least I'll be saying something different than the gazillion fanboys and fangirls out there. (To my detriment, most likely.)

First of all, I liked the film.  It was fun, and there were explosions, and Black Widow is really hot.  Oh, and the superhero stuff is watchable.  Worth two tickets on a Saturday evening.  However, I knew when I saw the promos that Avengers wasn't the type of movie I was going to go crazy over.  I wasn't going to line up and see it opening night, or pee my pants with geeky glee.  Why?  Because there is just too much going on for a good story to work.  This was action, action, joke, action, and that gets real boring, real fast.

I've seen all the films leading up to The Avengers, so it isn't as if I didn't get what was going on.  I really like Iron Man 1, and Thor.  The rest... meh.  Anyway, rather than writing all the things I didn't like about the film, I'll just direct you to How It Should Have Ended, because their clip sums up everything I found wrong with The Avengers.  Click here.  Enjoy.

Will I watch the movie again?  Sure.  Stupid fun is still fun, after all.