Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Reviews: Comics

These were actually done last week when I wasn't able to post in the blog, but this week I wasn't able to get around to writing a review column, so it all works out!

Adventure Comics
Power of 6: The Twisted Apples #1
Athena Voltaire: Flight of the Falcon #1
G.I. Joe #13
Casanova #3-4
Heroes for Hire #1

Horror Comics
Death Comes to Dillinger #2

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

To Read: Fast Ships, Black Sails

My friend Shara, knowing what a pirate geek I am, often sends me links to anthologies or magazines that are putting together collections of pirate stories. This one, edited by author Jeff VanderMeer, looks like it's already got its eye on the contributors it wants, but I'll definitely be picking it up once it's done.

The Jack Sparrow voodoo doll has nothing to do with the anthology, by the way. I just liked it.

To Read: Armageddon's Children

Finally saw this in the bookstore the other day. I've been wanting to dig back into Terry Brooks' Shannara stuff that I enjoyed in high school and thought that this prequel series would be a good place to start without having to immediately re-visit the books I've already read.

Brooks isn't a brilliant writer and his first book The Sword of Shannara is a blatant Tolkien rip-off, but as he went along he got more imaginative and the world of Shannara is a fun and engrossing place to visit. One of the cool aspects of it is that even though it's a fantasy world, it's actually set in the far future of Earth. Armageddon's Children starts the series that bridges our reality with the Shannara world.

Monday, September 25, 2006


Spoilers below:

I don't think I like this very much, but I'm reserving final judgment. According to TV Guide, big secrets about Lost (namely, the meaning behind the numbers and the purpose of the Dharma Initiative) were revealed in an online game that ultimately led players to this video.

According to the video (which I haven't watched yet because my work doesn't like YouTube and I still live in the Dial-Up Age at home), the numbers are a mathematical formula that reveal the timetable for humanity's extinction. Without seeing the video, I'm dissatisfied with that explanation and still confused about the Dharma Initiative's relationship with the formula. Maybe it'll make more sense once I've seen it.

Even if it does though, I think it's kind of cheesy to reveal such a big secret outside of the show. Surely the show will eventually cover it too, but it still feels like a gyp.

News: CGI Seuss

First of all, I apologize for not posting last week. I started training in a new employee at work and it was very time-consuming. Not quite done yet, but I can see the finish line from here.

I'm not quite caught up on news, but this is an item that I'd wanted to post last week. I'm a big fan of Dr. Seuss and have been disappointed with the recent couple of feature movies they've made out of How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Cat in the Hat. I saw the Grinch and thought it was okay, but the trailers for The Cat in the Hat looked horrible. As much as I usually enjoy Mike Myers, he didn't capture any of the charm of the Cat and came off creepy. I skipped that one.

Didn't follow how well either did in the box office, but something must've warranted a change because the next big-screen Seuss will skip the live-action comedians and be completely computer-animated. Not that the comedians are going away altogether. Their voices will still be there. Jim Carrey will voice the title role in Horton Hears a Who, with Steve Carell playing the mayor of Whoville. The movie's being produced by Fox Animation, the folks who brought us Ice Age.

I can get behind this. The other two movies did a pretty good job of capturing the look of Seuss' drawings, but there were some compromises that had to be made. Seuss' stuff was made to be animated.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Project Update: The Series Formerly Known as FoN

It's official. Jason Copland and I have decided that Forces of Nature is now going to be called Robots vs. Monsters. It's a more memorable title, even if there are a lot of other comics with "vs." in the name. And as Steve Niles (who has an upcoming book called Earth vs. Monsters) says, the crossover possibilities are awesome this way. Earth vs. Robots vs. Monsters? I smell a blockbuster.

Got some great notes from Jason Rodriguez (our editor) on the script for the first issue. "Twenty-two pages is so 2003," he says. I'm going to open up a scene or two and not worry so much about the traditional page count for comics. It's not like this is going to be a Marvel or DC book.

Still looking for an artist on "The Clearing." I'm going to have to find someone quickly or risk not making the submission deadline for the particular anthology I wrote it for. But even if I miss that, I think the story's strong enough that it could find a place somewhere else.

Starting to think about a pirate story for a prose anthology that's taking submissions. The trick is that they want magic to play a major part in it. I don't want to just stick a gratuitious mermaid or sea monster in, so I need to come up with a story that requires a magical element; that wouldn't be the same story without it. I've got an idea, but it needs work.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Writing is Hard: Colons, writers' groups, and scam artists

Science Fiction author Mary Doria Russell (The Sparrow) has a page on her site with advice for writers. Most of it's not terribly profound: the importance of discipline, perseverance, taking criticism well, etc. But she does say a couple of things that I think are worth repeating.

She quotes a very useful poem by Gary C. Wilkens called "When to Use Colons." I won't quote it without permission, but you can find it in Russell's "advice for writers" link above.

She also supports Neil Gaiman's thoughts on writers' groups. When you first decide to Become A Writer, an early temptation is always to join a writer's group in order to help yourself "feel" like a writer. Gaiman says, "On the whole, anything that gets you writing and keeps you writing is a good thing. Anything that stops you writing is a bad thing. If you find your writers group stopping you from writing, then drop it."

I'd add to that by saying that anything that channels your creative energy away from writing is also a bad thing. Talking about writing can do that. If you want to feel like a writer, then write. I resisted the temptation to join a writers' group because I knew that I'd be doing it for the wrong reason. If a writers' group will truly help you to stay disciplined and keep churning out the words; by all means join one. Personally, I'm with Russell when she says, "It's bad enough reading my own crappy drafts... I don't subject myself to anybody else's. Spend the time making your own stuff better."

Another piece of useful advice is regarding scam artists who masquerade as literary agents. Russell (and every other legitimate agent and publisher I've ever heard from about it) says:

"Legitimate agents make their living by getting 15% when they sell your work to publishers who pay YOU. Be very wary of an agent who charges a fee to read your manuscript. Good agents make money selling properties, not reading manuscripts."

She goes on to talk about a twist on this scam:

"The red flag goes up when any 'agent' suggests that your book is 'almost there' but could benefit from being 'professionally edited.' The agent will give you the names of several book doctors, so it looks like the 'agent' is an honest broker. No matter which book doctor you select, you will be charged thousands of dollars, and you may be sure that part of the fee is kicked back to the agent."

There's more in the link.

And just in case you're curious, here's a message board that talks about where you can find some of these jokers.

Thanks to my friend Shara for the Mary Doria Russell link.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Review: Life on Mars Redux

I know I just talked about Life on Mars last week, but I'm revisiting it for two reasons. One: the season finale was just on the other night. Two: my pal West (who has an excellent, thought-provoking blog) commented on my last LoM post and sparked some thoughts I'd like to share.

I'd said something about not caring if the main character, Sam, ever got home and West wondered "if not caring if ol' boy ever gets home ever impedes the audience's emotional connection to the main character."

It's a good question and it clued me in that in talking up what the show's about, I hadn't said enough about its characters. My reply, reposted here for your convenience, was this:

"You know how in those old cop shows they always had the maverick detective bend the rules because it was the only way to catch the bad guy? And it always pissed off the Captain or whoever, right? Well, in Life on Mars it's the Captain (Gene) who's learned that you have to bend or break rules in order to be effective. He's a good man, but he teeters on the edge of being corrupt because it's the only way he can see how to do his job.

"Enter Sam, who's used to doing things by the book (as most modern cop-procedural show characters are). Not only does he have new investigative techniques, but he's he's also got an uncompromising sense of morality about how to do the job (you don't plant evidence, you don't make deals with one bad guy in order to catch a 'worse' bad guy, etc.). It's a reversal on the classic detective/Captain dynamic.

"Sam doesn't come across as sanctimonious though. Gene is enough of a bastard (though a likeable one) that you're right there with Sam whenever his jaw drops and his dander gets up over whatever Gene's doing now.

"Sam genuinely cares about other people and his wanting to do things correctly is born from that. You care about him; you're just glad that he's making the most out of his situation and not just obsessing every week on trying to get home.

"At any rate, it's the relationship between Sam and Gene -- and watching them come to respect each other's points of view -- that makes the show. (And just so you don't think it's all testosterone: there's also a possible love interest for Sam too.)"

The season finale -- which was more focused on Sam's trying to get home than your average episode -- also drove home something that's useful in answering West's question. When Sam is concerned about getting home, the audience becomes concerned with it too. Fortunately, that's not all the time or the show would get tired. When Sam seems to be acclimating to his surroundings and is just focused on solving a case or his relationships with his peers, we're focused on that too instead of wondering how the series will eventually wrap up. In other words, Sam engages us so much that we're happy following him around; doing whatever it is he's doing.

Can't wait for next season.

Reviews: Comics

Because Rod demanded it!

More reviews of genre comics:

Adventure Comics
Model Operandi #1
The Miscellaneous Adventures of Stykman #2
X Isle #2
Force 51 #1
Rush City #2
The Lone Ranger #1
Agents of Atlas #1-2
Codename: Black Death #1

Mystery Comics
CSI: Dying in the Gutters #1
Fell #6
The Cross Bronx #1

Science Fiction Comics
Dusty Star #1

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

To See: Casino Royale

This is probably rare for people of my generation, but it was Ian Fleming's novels that led me to the Bond movies; not the other way around. Because of that, my fondness for the literary Bond has always colored my opinions about the various movie versions. Like everyone else, Connery will always be my favorite, but I'm one of the few who actually prefers Timothy Dalton to either Pierce Brosnan or Roger Moore. Especially to Roger Moore, who dislikes For Your Eyes Only; the only one of his Bond movies to come anywhere close to capturing the tone of Fleming's books.

My favorite Bond novel is the first one, Casino Royale. The reason I love it is its last sentence, so I won't blow that for anyone who hasn't read it, but I'm thrilled that we're finally getting a real adaptation of it (make sure you watch the new trailer in the link) after two crappy ones. And I'm thrilled that the film-makers are giving Bond his edge back with Daniel Craig. It's going to be a long wait until November 17th.

To Buy: Weta Ray Guns

The folks at Weta New Zealand don't just make killer special effects for Lord of the Rings and King Kong, they also make wonderful, wonderful toys.

Thanks to Jess Hickman for the link.

To Read: The Thirteenth Tale

While I don't necessarily like every gothic romance novel, I love the trappings that come with them: beatiful heroines, naïve governesses, old manor houses with abandoned wings and spooky grounds, creepy little girls, family secrets, and of course ghosts. Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale promises to incorporate all of those things in a story about a couple of writers. Sign me up.

Monday, September 11, 2006

News: 30 Days of Night Updates

A lot of 30 Days of Night progress in the last couple of weeks. Producer Robert Tapert has apparently found the perfect spot to shoot Barrow, Alaska. That's a shot of it there accompanying this post. I can already see the vampires making their way towards town across that snowfield.

Stunt coordinators are hard at work choreographing the vampire attack.

Josh Hartnett is starting to talk about the movie and is alienating fans by downplaying the horror elements. He also confirms that he's already in New Zealand working on the film.

And finally, Danny Huston (The Constant Gardener) has signed on to play "the leader" of the vampires. Don't know if that means he's playing Vincent or Marlowe though.

News: Sarah Connah?

So, there's talk about a Terminator TV-show called The Sarah Conner Chronicles. Executive Producer Josh Friedman promises a "pretty f*ing cool" show that balances close-ended stories with a longer, series-long metastory a la The X-Files. So far, so good.

Friedman's concerned that fans won't give the show a try if James Cameron's not involved, but I'm not sure that's what he needs to be worried about. If you've got a show with the name "Sarah Conner" in it, you'd better have Linda Hamilton playing her or a damn good replacement. (Top of my head, I'd buy Kate Beckinsale in the role.)

Friday, September 08, 2006

Project Update: FoN and "The Clearing"

Jason Copland and I are continuing to think about the title for our robots vs. monsters book. Forces of Nature just doesn't have the same kick to it that Robots vs. Monsters does. And after polling a bunch of people, we've learned that Robots vs. Monsters is the runaway favorite of potential readers everywhere. I'm still concerned that it sounds cliché, but we'd be foolish to ignore the feedback we got. I mean, it wasn't even close.

I just finished a short story called "The Clearing" that I'm going to submit to a comics anthology, assuming I can find the right artist to illustrate it. It's about an eight-year-old boy who follows an old, country road deep into the woods. And what he finds at the end of it.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Writing is Hard: Read your peas!

When I was a kid, I hated English peas. Still don't care for them a whole lot. But like many things in life, I was told that I needed to eat them because they were Good For Me. After all, a kid can't live on ice cream alone.

Same goes for reading. My pal Joe sent me a link to Jeanette Winterson's (Lighthousekeeping) website where she talks about what she likes to read.

"I'm an old-fashioned girl. That is, I'm on the side of Harold Bloom. Everybody should read the Canon of Western Literature, even if you don't accept it as canonical. For a reader, it's riches. For a writer, it's roots. A lot of modern work is rootless and shallow because the writer has no literary resources - nothing to draw on, in a way that is often unconscious."

I've got a book on my shelf called The Lifetime Reading Plan. It's as close a thing to an official Canon of Western Literature that you're going to get. It's a useful book and based on its recommendations, I've enriched my library with a lot of great literature by folks like Dostoevsky, Dickens, and the Brontës. I haven't read all of it, but it's there for me to get to one of these days.

My problem is that I grew up reading Edgar Rice Burroughs and Ian Fleming and never really grew out of those guys. Not to say that I don't read and appreciate "literature." I especially liked Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex, Elizabeth Moon's The Speed of Dark, and J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace. But if you look closely, you'll see that those books were all published about three years ago; about the time that I got caught up in S.J. Rozan mysteries and re-discovered Tarzan and Conan and quit reading peas. Turns out, I like ice cream a lot better than peas.

But Jeanette Winterson's advice is well-taken. We need to read stuff that's good for us. Sometimes, it can be a chore. It took me over a year to muddle through Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho and I finally finished it out of sheer stubborness. I started it because it was an influential Gothic Romance; the genre that begat Horror. I wanted to study it and learn what about it influenced someone like Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein. I hope to God that I never write a book like it, but reading it gave me a better understanding of a genre that I enjoy writing in.

"Good for you" doesn't have to equal "yucky" though. Frankenstein is awesome. Dracula is awesome. Everything I've read by Charles Dickens has been awesome. Edgar Allen Poe is awesome. Alexandre Dumas and Victor Hugo and H.G. Wells are awesome. (Jules Verne and Isaac Asimov: not so awesome.) You're going to have a hard time getting me to read Aristotle or John Bunyan, but you're going to have an equally tough time getting me to check out Dan Brown or give Anne Rice another shot. So I guess "bad for you" doesn't necessarily equal "mmm, good" either. I'd rather eat fresh strawberries than rum raisin ice cream.

Where I disagree with Winterson is her encouragement to read the entire Canon of Western Literature. If a book's not doing it for you, I don't care how classic or "good for you" it is, life's too short to be spending time reading stuff you don't enjoy. Ann Radcliffe taught me that.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Review: Life on Mars

Over Labor Day weekend I marathoned my way into catching up with what BBC America's aired so far of Life on Mars. I'd watched the first half of the pilot a while back and wasn't sure if I was going to like it. I generally run out of patience with shows that have closed concepts like this one.

If you don't know what it is, it's about a police detective who's hit by a car in 2006 and wakes up in 1973. There's a lot of evidence that he's actually still in a coma and just imagining being back in time, but he can't understand the level of detail in his new world. The premise of the show is that if he figures out exactly what happened to him, he can get back to his own time.

The problem is that -- like The Prisoner or Gilligan's Island or Star Trek: Voyager -- you know that he's never going to figure it out and go home until the show's over. That gets old unless there's something else to keep you coming back every week. Take Lost, for instance, with its focus on the characters' pasts and relentless sense of mystery. You don't care if the characters never get home, so long as the island stays interesting.

Same with Life on Mars. I've been itching for years for the kind of detective show that I grew up watching as a kid. Something along the lines of Mannix or The Rockford Files or Magnum p.i. These days it's all C.S.I. and Law and Order, with the focus on the procedure rather than action and mystery. Because it takes place in the '70s, Life on Mars is exactly what I've been longing for. No computer models to re-enact crimes, no dusting skin for fingerprints, not even any cell phones to keep the police in constant contact with each other. And the genius of the show is that -- through Sam, our "time-travelling" detective -- it acknowledges that crime prevention in the '70s was archaic at the exact same time that it's embracing the fact. We're allowed to roll our eyes at it even as we thrill to the car chases and fist-fights.

Every episode, there's a little reminder that Sam's got a larger mystery to figure out, and we're gradually collecting pieces of information that will help us do that too. But like with Lost, I'm finding that I don't really care if he ever gets home. I don't want it to end.

Review: Frankenstein Unbound

Finishing up a recent Frankenstein binge, I watched Roger Corman's adaptation of Brian Aldiss' Frankenstein Unbound starring Raul Julia as Doctor Frankenstein, John Hurt as a time-traveling scientist with thematic similarities to the doomed scientist, and Bridget Fonda as Mary Shelley.

The special effects are what you'd expect from Corman, so we'll let those pass. We'll also let Bridget Fonda slide for being far prettier than the real Mary Shelley. My big gripes are with Raul Julia's overly sinister portrayal of Victor Frankenstein, and the presentation of the Monster as a stupid, homicidal brute. I've never read the book, so I'm not sure how much of that is Aldiss and how much is Corman; I just know it's not right.

I know why they did it. Julia's Frankenstein is a guy who's deliberately trying to play God, a theme that's often attributed to Shelley's novel. And the moronic Monster makes Frankenstein's bid for diety-status all the more pathetic. But Shelley did a fine job of communicating the folly of messing in God's territory in her version. She's just more subtle about it than Frankenstein Unbound.

Because I don't have a ton of respect for Corman, and Aldiss is an award-winning science fiction novelist, I'm tempted to give more blame to Corman. But then I remember that I was pretty disappointed by the one Aldiss book I've read, and I also notice that he wrote a sequel to Frankenstein Unbound called Dracula Unbound in which Hurt's character goes back in time again to stop Dracula from assassinating Bram Stoker before Stoker can finish writing his famous novel. I don't know why Aldiss has this fascination with using his hero to turn great authors into gonzo journalists, but I'm not into it.

Reviews: Genre comics

I'm trying to get caught up on comics reviews. To that end, I just posted a bunch of them at Comic World News.

Adventure Comics
The Black Coat: A Call to Arms #2-4
G.I. Joe: Sigma 6 #1
Casanova #1-2

Mystery Comics
Horrorwood #2
Koni Waves #1
X Isle #1
Witchblade #99

Horror Comics
Jack the Lantern: 1942
B.P.R.D.: The Universal Machine #3-4
Death Comes to Dillinger #1

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

To Read: Live Girls

When Bookgasm first reviewed Ray Garton's Live Girls, I dismissed the book. The plot sounds interesting (a reporter recruits a vampire in his effort to bring down the nosferatu-infested porn palace that was responsible for the death of the reporter's loved ones), but the review's description as "more over-the-top than anything approaching scary" lost me.

But when Ed Gorman says that Live Girls is one of two vampire novels (the other being 'Salem's Lot) that you can "put on the same shelf with Dracula and I Am Legend..." well then, Live Girls goes on my reading list.

Monday, September 04, 2006

News: Star Trek gets Lucas-ized

You'd think George Lucas had gotten ahold of Star Trek.

According to E! Online, Paramount announced last week that all 79 episodes of the original Star Trek series are going to be digitally remastered before heading back into syndication next month in time for the show's 40th anniversary. Not only that, but a lot of the special effects are going to be updated via CGI.

The Enterprise and all other spaceships will be computer generated (though the digital version of Kirk's ship will be based on the original model used for the show) and "battle sequences, ship exteriors, galaxy shots and landscapes (which previously came courtesy of matte paintings) will be given more shading, depth and computer-generated authenticity."

Michael Okuda, Star Trek's scenic-art guru for the last eighteen years, says that they're not trying to pull a Lucas on the series. "We're taking great pains to respect the integrity and style of the original," he says. "Our goal is to always ask ourselves: What would Roddenberry have done with today's technology?" Unfortunately, that's the exact same question that Lucas asked about himself as he started farting around with Star Wars.

On the other hand, the fact that Okuda and company are messing around with someone else's baby may make them more conservative about the changes they make. I'm actually pretty excited to see what they come up with. Watching the original series gets a little tiring when the same, vague blob of light is used to represent every alien spaceship the Enterprise encounters.

Now, let's see what we can do about getting a CGI Gorn.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Happy Tarzan Day!

Guess who would've turned 131 today?

No, not Tarzan, but you're close. Edgar Rice Burroughs, that's who.

Couple of things I didn't know about Burroughs: Tarzan of the Apes was inspired by Burrough's having read Darwin's Descent of Man, and for the first half of the last century, Burroughs was the most widely read author in America.


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