Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Dork Review: Kung Fu Panda 2

I'm glad to say that Kung Fu Panda 2 lives up to the same standard as the original, or even exceeds it. Of course, I'm saying this while my inner child is running around kicking and punching kung fu style while screaming "Cool!"

Kung Fu Panda 2 has all the elements needed for an animated movie to succeed. It's accessible to both kids and adults, without being condescending to one or juvenile to the other. It uses the fact that in animation, anything is possible, constructing a world of gravity defying acrobatic martial arts that feels natural, something is very hard to pull off. I mean, I love Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon but at times the wire work in that movie feels like, well, wire work, as in you know it isn't real. With the Kung Fu Panda movies that intense action can be portrayed naturally. Well, as natural as is possible with animation.

The movie succeeds in both its visual and story elements. First, the visual. This is a gorgeous movie, with cinematic backgrounds and flowing, graceful characters. The story is heartfelt, with Po and the villain Shen mirroring each other. Both are dealing with issues they have with who they are and what happened with their parents. The story and visual elements collide and support each other during flashbacks Po experiences, the flashbacks being more stylized until an essential truth is revealed. I don't want to say much more, but the moment when the style switches is one of the most heart-wrenching in the film.

That's not to say that the entire film is a constant downer, tugging on your heartstrings until they snap. There is plenty of humor worked in, with moments that both kids and adults will find hilarious.

I enjoyed this film immensely. In fact, I would even be willing to go and see Kung Fu Panda 3 when it comes out. Let's just say the ending of 2 definitely sets up for a third installment, and I'm excited to see  this story continue.

Go and see it. Right now. You wont' be disappointed, well, at long as you have a measurable sense of humor.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Encouraging Rejection

No, I'm not encouraging you to go out and reject someone or something. I'm merely mentioning that I received an encouraging rejection for my story Riding Europa that included some feedback. The editors said that after a "close" reading they decided not to take it, and that the story started well but there were some parts that didn't work.

So what now? I have two other stories currently out for critique, one I'm working on right now, and another on the back burner as it's long enough that it should wait to make the rounds until I'm actually published. So, things are progressing.

For now Riding Europa is going to get put in the "work on it later" pile. I think I've exhausted the available markets, so I'll put the story away and take another look at it in a year or so and see if I want to rewrite it or just let it continue to lie fallow.

Monday, May 23, 2011

New Story Monday: Not So Much

Well it turns out today won't be New Story Monday. Turns out this idea has grown a bit since I started writing, and combined with some other things I needed to get done today I'm just not going to get it all done in a day.

Still, I went from a basic idea to developing characters, a basic plot, and over two thousand words of actual text in under a day. That's something to be proud of. Previously I've spent my entire writing period on a given day just figuring out the characters and writing down a few notes. Today I did that and a lot more.

The plan is to get more done on Thursday and then finish the first draft this weekend if not sooner. Hey, not every day can go as planned. The best bet is to get done what I can and then just keep on moving.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

New Story Monday

Since tomorrow is a day off, thank you Queen Victoria, I'm going to perform an experiment. Normally it takes me awhile to write the first draft of a new short story, as in a couple weeks at least. Tomorrow I'm going to try writing a full short story, from idea to finished first draft, in one day. I'll get up relatively early, work on it the whole day, with breaks for lunch and such, and see what happens.

We'll see what happens. I don't think I'll have much time the rest of the week, as I've got kendo related events on Tuesday and Wednesday and who knows what else might pop up.

If you've got tomorrow off I hope you enjoy it!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Why Fans Are The Best Salespeople For Your Book

Alright, so this is a bit of a story, so please bear with me.

Last night a couple friends and I went out for sushi at a new place in town. Sushi Ai in St. Catharines, if you're in town check it out. Anyways, since it's a long weekend we all had things to do, so after dinner we went our separate ways. I headed to Future Shop to pick up a new set of headphones for my iPod, as the ones I have right now are dying.

Well wouldn't you know it, there's a Chapters nearby. (For those of you outside of Canada, Chapters/Indigo is a major chain of bookstores, really the only chain of bookstores operating inside the country.) So of course, being a bibliophile, I had to go in and browse. You'd almost think I planned it that way.

The store was under renovations. Turns out they're expanding the children's section, which I'm all for. I don't have kids, but get a child hooked on reading at a young age and they're more likely to remain a reader as an adult. Luckily they still had the science fiction and fantasy sections in place, so that's where I started browsing.

Guess what I found? Napier's Bones, a book I recently wrote a review for was on the shelves. Now, it was way down at the bottom, which is unfortunate, but hey, it's always nice to see stuff from Chizine in stores. So I snapped a pic with my phone and prepared to move on.

I rounded the corner and ran in to a lovely young woman and her mother browsing the other side of the fantasy section and looking at the Song of Ice and Fire books by George R. R. Martin. I make a comment about it being a great series and we get to talking. While we're talking it hits me, maybe she'd like to read Napier's Bones? It's fantasy, it's different, and I know it's a great read, so I walk over, grab a copy and bring it back and sing the book's praises. We chat for about another minute and then I leave them to their deliberations.

Now, you're thinking, so what, big deal. I recommended a book and that's it. Well, there's another part to the story. A few minutes later I was browsing in the Military History section and this lovely young woman and her mother approach me and thank me for the recommendation and say they're going to purchase Napier's Bones instead of the George R. R. Martin, all because of what I said. Cool!

Why did I recommend the book? Well, aside from it being a great read, I met the author at Ad Astra this year and saw him on a couple panels. He came across as personable, intelligent, basically a nice guy who knows what he's talking about. I know that this is his first published book, and that if it succeeds he'll get the opportunity to publish more, and I want to read those. Also, he signed my book as I was purchasing it, with a personalized salutation. So, I want to help him.

Now, so far I've only recommended this book to one person, but I'm sure I'll recommend it to others in the future. So, say based upon my recommendation, five people pick up the book, and they get five to pick it up, and so on and so forth. So one convention appearance could ripple outwards and end up selling hundreds of books. Who knows?

It's something for me to keep in mind if I ever do get published. As much as I like to stand at the back of the crowd and observe things going on, when I'm an author I'm going to have to be willing to stand in front of a crowd and project that presence and personality that will interest people enough to pick up my book, so that they can recommend it to others and start that ripple effect for what I've produced.

My only regret is that I didn't think to get the woman's number. I was so geeked out about the book and the author it didn't occur to me that, hey, this woman tracked me down through the entire store to tell me she's going to buy something on my recommendation. Doh! There's a reason I'm still single.

Oh well.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Dork Review: The Door To Lost Pages

Yeah, I know, two reviews in one day. I meant to put this one up earlier this week but couldn't as the back-end for Blogger was down. So, better late then never.

First off, let me just say that The Door To Lost Pages will always have a special place in my heart for one small reason: There's a quote from my blog in the very first page after you open the cover! It's from my review of Claude Lalumiere's Objects of Worship, and after I saw it I giggled for a good ten minutes. Really, giggled, it was terribly amusing and you should have been there.

Anyways, on the the actual review of this work. I greatly enjoyed The Door To Lost Pages. It takes some of the ideas that sprang forth in Objects and runs with them. Similar to that book, it's a collection of shorter works. It differs in that all of the works are set in the same world/realm/idea and tied together by a supernatural bookstore called, funnily enough, Lost Pages.

I think the best way to describe this book is Lovecraftian. Throughout the entire work there is an unspeakable eldritch horror hanging above, ready to invade our dreams. Every night a war takes place, a war that can only be seen by a few mortals, those who have the ability to walk through the door into Lost Pages.

I enjoy Claude Lalumiere's work. It's dark, it's sexy, unconventional, while at the same time remaining accessible. This is the kind of book you read when you want something different, something that will challenge your mind but doesn't leave you lost and wandering through a sea of overblown language and imagery. It's literary without being pretentious. It's what genre fiction can be when it takes itself seriously and doesn't hold to the idea that just because it's genre that it is somehow lesser than "literature".

I hope we see a new book from Claude within the next few years. In fact, I'm hoping we see a full blown novel. I'd love to see what he could do with a single idea and over 70,000 words to explore it in.

The Door To Lost Pages can be ordered through Amazon, here.

The Dork Review: Thor

Yeah, verily. I doth have a review of Thor, a moving picture of stupendous quality.

Thankfully the movie doesn't contain a lot of Shakespearean dialogue, which is surprising considering it was done by Kenneth Branagh. In fact, if I didn't know from the credits that Branagh worked on the film I wouldn't even realize it. That isn't a slight against him or the movie, but is in fact a compliment as it's a sign of a good director in my books when they don't try and stamp a certain style on every movie they do but rather let the story and the subject matter dictate how things fall together.

I saw Thor with two friends, and all three of us agreed that it was a good superhero movie. The pacing was just right so that at no point in this film did it feel like it was dragging. It was an origin story, but it didn't feel like it was an endless progression of exposition telling us who Thor is and why he's in the situation he finds himself in. In fact, the movie is much like the character it's named after, direct and action oriented.

And the visuals were amazing! Asgard actually looks like it could exist, with a techno-magic feel infused in the buildings, the costumes, everything. You can actually believe Thor when he says that he comes from a world where magic and science are one and the same.

And the movie actually had a sense of humor! In fact, all of the Marvel movies leading up to the Avengers have had a definite humorous undertone, being both aware that they are comic book movies and therefore deal with subject matter that can be by its very nature ridiculous, but at the same time saying that the world they exist in is both valid and real, and underlying that reality by injecting humor. In other words, more real because of the funny bits.

We saw the movie in 2D, and based upon other reviews I've read I recommend you go and see it thus. I don't think 3D would really add much to the viewing experience, and you'll save a couple bucks. Still, go and see it in theaters so you get the full effect of Asgard and you won't be disappointed. 

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Influential Economic Effect of Bad Movies

This topic comes out of a recent discussion at work about what movies are coming out this year and what ones my co-workers and I were planning to go see.

Sometime in the near future I expect to go and see Thor in theaters, spending money on a movie ticket and maybe some popcorn and a drink. So far I've enjoyed all of Marvel movies that are all aimed at the Avengers movie slated to come out next year. In fact, I can honestly say that my enjoyment of those movies has positively influenced my decision to see them in theaters and therefore has had an economic effect. I'm paying to go see them or buying them when they come out on Blu-ray.

Then there's the opposite effect. The last two X-Men related movies, X3 and Wolverine were such utter piles of crap that even though the trailers that were just released actually look interesting, I have almost no desire to see this movie. Same with the planned Spiderman reboot after Spiderman Three stunk up the screens. I will not be investing any money in experiencing these films.

What I'm wondering is, is my behavior atypical or is it shared by others? While these movies are tangentially related to the others, does the fact that a portion of fandom experienced a negative reaction to them influence the amount of money they will take it? And what about what the genres they represent overall? Will we see a slackening of superhero movies if people avoid these movies based on previous experiences with the same characters but dealt with by a different director/writer/actor?

I wish I could collect data on this, but it would be such a daunting task. I mean, even a well funded research team would have a hard time. You'd need to run surveys on patrons entering and exiting theaters to find out what film there are going to see and if previous films in the genre or "series" (stretching the term a bit) influenced their decisions. How many bad films does it take to kill a genre, or is it just shifting tastes in society over time that cause it?

Yes, I spend way too much time thinking about these things. Sometimes it does lead to interesting story ideas.

Second Draft: The Finishing

Whoo Hoo! Just finished the second draft of my very first novel. Though I don't know if it really counts as a novel, since the final word count is 66, 182.

Now we just need to see if Angry Robot books wants the full thing sent to them. If not, well I can always start shopping it around. Since this is my first long form work it's not likely to sell. Still, I've learned a few things. I can sustain the effort of writing long fiction, and then I can sustain the effort of revising it. I really do need to work in making my first drafts more dynamic, and I need to reduce the amount of repetition.

All in all, I'm happy. The book is what I set out to make, a small, personal story with a few characters in a dangerous situation. Even if it doesn't sell, writing it was a learning experience.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

What The Hell Happened Last Night?

Sorry, I'm still in a bit of shock from seeing the Canadian federal election results. That, and I'm worried.

I'm worried what's going to happen now that the Conservative Party has a majority. The last time this happened was before I was an adult, with good old Brian Mulroney of the Progressive Conservatives, who introduced the GST, one of the most hated taxes in Canadian political history. Then, it being his third term in office, he graciously stepped down as leader for Kim Campbell and let the ensuing uproar hit her in the face. Yes, we briefly had a female Prime Minister. Too bad her party set her up to fail.

Now we have the Conservatives in power. I guess they became less progressive after they absorbed the Reform party. Not surprising, considering some of the Reform party's negative views on gay and lesbian rights. I'd call them the maple-flavored Tea Party, but even the Reformers weren't that idiotic. Still, with those ideas floating around inside the Conservative party, on top of their perceived preference to extend tax cuts to the rich, it should be an interesting four years.

Guess those attack ads were really effective.

On top of the Conservatives gaining power we saw the utter meltdown of the federal Liberals. Even the leader of the party couldn't get elected, and he should have been running in a seat that was a lock for them. Of course, he did commit the ultimate sin and say two very stupid things on camera. First, he mentioned that he wouldn't take a GST hike off the table. Again, most hated tax in Canada, not a good idea to say you might raise it. Yes, I know the quote was from a few years back, but it was stupid to say then and it dogged Ignatieff through this election, with the Conservative's cherished attack ads making sure to repeat it over and over. The second dumb thing he said, and I can't really fault him for this one as at the time he said it he didn't know he'd be coming back to Canada, was to call America his country while working down there. This really got played up by the Conservatives, to tap into that anti-American vein that runs through a good portion of Canadians.

There were some glimmers of hope in the election though. Seeing the Bloc Quebecois get pummeled by the NDP and reduced to only a few seats was amusing. It's nice to see Quebec voters reject a party that would only stand up in Parliament and ask, "What have you done for Quebec lately?" To me that shows a chance at a greater unity, a greater understanding, and a chance for things to be more inclusive. If only it was the NDP in power rather than the Conservatives.

Finally, and personally, I was overjoyed to see the Green party get a seat. I think they've come a long way in the last few years, from a whisper on the fringe to a voice that rings out clearer and clearer each time it's heard. Heck, a lot of the "traditional" parties are putting forth green ideas, so at the very least the Green party has highlighted the need for more environmental thinking from our elected officials. Let's hope the Conservatives listen.

As I said, I'm worried about the next few years. Parliament is very divided right now, with a right-wing party in the majority and a left-wing party in the official opposition while the center-left Liberals are but a shadow. Part of me hopes the Conservatives won't screw things up too badly, but another part of me knows they will and hopes they screw up bad enough that they'll never get back into power in my lifetime.

Oh well, we'll see.