Monday, November 19, 2012

No Geek Needs To Justify Their Fandom

Let's get this straight right from the beginning. No one has the right to tell someone else they aren't a true fan/geek/nerd because of X. That is some straight-up bullshit and I'm sick and tired of seeing it splashed all over the Internet.

I'm going to assume everyone reading this knows about the recent comments Tony Harris made about girls in cosplay at conventions. I'm not going to link or repeat his comments because, quite frankly, they are moronic and sexist. I mean, really, complaining about people having fun wearing a costume? What crawled up Tony Harris' butt and took over? (For an interesting theory on this please consult the following link - )

I've now had the pleasure of attending a few cons, including a day at FanExpo in Toronto. At almost every single one I've had the pleasure to make the acquaintance of female geeks, some in cosplay and some not. Every single one of these women has been intelligent, engaging, interesting, and a pleasure to be around. In short, they were beautiful in more than just the physical sense. (If you're one of the women I've met at a con and you're reading this then yes, I am talking about you.)

I hate to think what my life would be like if I held Mr. Harris' attitude. I remember my teen years when I was extremely shy and alone. I did not trust anyone, least of all the pretty girls. A large part of that was fear at being teased and laughed at because I was perpetually the outsider. Being a geek only made it worse, because when I was growing up being a geek was still far from cool. Thankfully, through a lot of mental anguish and honest self-assessment I've grown past these insecurities and understand that the pretty girls are just people with different plumbing, and that has made all the difference.

Should I be jealous of people growing up today, when just about anyone can watch a couple episodes of Dr. Who and claim they are a nerd, or who play one game of Dungeons and Dragons and say they're a gamer? Hell no! There's no declared point where someone becomes a nerd or geek. I may jokingly say, “Nah, your not a nerd until X,” but that's more because I want to encourage them to explore our great nerd/geek subculture more., and because I have an odd sense of humour.

Also, should I be angry/scared/upset over casual fans coming to conventions in cosplay, especially if they are attractive, female, and wearing something provocative? Uh, no. Nope. Negative. Niet. NEIN! And so on. These women went to all the effort of either making or buying the elements needed to put together said costume and have the confidence to wear it in public. My response should be to appreciate not just the fact that they look good in it but all the hard work and/or money that went into constructing said costume. And so should you.

Guys, instead of being upset that these beautiful women are “invading” what you consider your space, go over to them and say, “That is an amazing costume.” Now, I shouldn't have to say this but I will anyways, say this while looking into their eyes rather than other parts of their anatomy, no matter how pleasing to look at said anatomy may be. Leering is never a good thing. Most women don't like it, and even if they do it makes you look like a creeper to everyone else.

No, give an honest compliment and unless a conversation naturally springs up, such as you ask her why she chose that character and then get into an engaging discussion about comics or whatever, then politely walk away. This is for two reasons. First, hanging around a half-naked woman you're not talking can be seen as creepy. Second, she may not be in the mood to talk or have something on her mind. Either way, don't hang around for no good reason. Just because this particular girl wasn't interested in talking to you doesn't mean all the girls aren't interested, but if you give everyone the creeper vibe by hanging around or giving unwanted attention then you may make it so no one, male or female, wants to talk to you.

Keep in mind, no one, male or female, owes you anything. It's great that you share the same interest, but that's all that you do. A woman wearing a provocative costume is not wearing an invitation for your attention, the same as a guy in a superhero t-shirt may just like the way it looks and doesn't need or want to discuss comics for hours on end. Harassing anyone is not cool, no matter the circumstances.

Don't be afraid or angry about anyone new deciding to join geek fandom. Welcome them in politely and get to know them. Share what you're passionate about with them but not all at once. Give them time to acclimate and what you'll find that you've gained a new friend and are better for it.

Now some of you may be crying out from your poor black hearts, “What about the fake geek girls!?!” Ummm, okay, how do we determine they're fake? “Oh, you know, the ones that dress up all skanky in order to get attention from us.” Yeah, for various reasons this isn't a problem.

First, don't assume that just because someone is dressed provocatively, like what you would consider the stereotypical “booth-babe” that they don't know anything at all about who or what they're dressed as. They may in fact know more than you do and could school you on a few things. Instead of getting defensive and angry about it, ask questions. Learn something. Just because someone, especially a, gasp, girl, knows more about something than you doesn't make you less of a man/geek. A true man accepts his faults and ignorance and strives to be better.

Second, if in fact someone is dressed up in order to garner attention the solution is not to shout insults at them. Besides, how do you know that's their intent? Look, this is a really complicated issue. Some people do dress in order to garner attention, some dress because they love the character and see it as a way to honour them, some dress that way because damn they look good. (I'm still looking for the cosplay that does that for me.) If you think they are dressing to draw attention/make the geeks all hot and bothered for nefarious reasons, the solution is for you to ignore them. It's better for everyone all around. While you're over there pointedly ignoring them I'll be the one having a pleasant conversation with the lovely lady dressed head to toe in steampunk glory. See! Win-win all around.

Or, you know, you could give up on the whole idea of “fake geek girls”, or better yet dropping both “fake” and “girls” and realize, as I've been saying all along, they're people too. You'd be amazed at how things get better for you when you stop acting like a judgemental ass and have real conversations with people, when you stop seeing a woman in a sexy costume as an object to be consumed but as a person brave enough to expose not only their skin but themselves to ridicule and objectification to do something they truly love.

In the end, the rule is, as always, don't be a dick even though you may have one.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Dork Review: Wreck-It Ralph

 Wreck-It Ralph is worth seeing in the theaters, especially if you good memories of arcades while growing up as a kid, or even if you have kids you want to drag along. However, feel free to skip the 3D showings and save yourself a few bucks. Unlike Despicable Me or Monsters vs. Aliens, the 3D for Wreck-It adds nothing.

Despite the non-use of 3D, Wreck-It Ralph is exactly what I expect and want out of an animated movie. It's big, bright, and gorgeous while telling a story that both kids and adults can enjoy. Ralph is the classic tormented bad guy, someone who is seen as evil because of circumstances rather than his innate nature, and dissatisfied with his lot in life. It's this dissatisfaction rather than circumstance that kicks off his game-hopping adventure.

This is a well written and voice-acted film, a point made much clearer to me since I decided to watch Exosquad, a cartoon from the late eighties or early nineties, before going out to see Wreck-It Ralph and the contrast is extreme. I'm glad to see animation getting the recognition it deserves and drawing in much better talent in both acting and writing.

As I said the writing in this film is spot on. A prime example of this is the term "Turbo". It's used a few times in context by characters who know what it means before finally being explained. The audience gains an idea of its definition but the full scope of its meaning, the sheer horror it represents, isn't fully revealed until later in the film and is done such that it doesn't feel like a gratuitous infodump. Additionally, there are twists that were foreshadowed but still ended up being a surprise, and emotional moments that tug on your emotions in ways you didn't expect. The same set of words is used twice in the film, once for comedy and once for pathos, and both times they fit.

Again, I really do recommend going out and seeing Wreck-It Ralph, especially if you have kids or know people who are kids at heart.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Con Report: World Fantasy 2012

It's rather amusing that as I'm writing this an episode of Castle set at a science-fiction convention is playing in the background, though the Castle episode has a ton of costumes while World Fantasy, the convention I was just at, had almost none.

That's not a bad thing, because from what I saw, World Fantasy is a writer (both established and up and coming) and writing focused convention as opposed to a media or fan-focused one. While fans seemed welcome to come, the programming wasn't designed with them in mind. There were only two panel tracks that ran simultaneously and all the panels were writing and publishing focused. Aside from the panels there were readings, an art auction, and parties galore. So it was more about the networking opportunities rather than the fan-boy craziness.

If World Fantasy had been my first convention I would have felt terribly out of place. Thankfully, it wasn't. I had a blast catching up with friends I only get to see at cons, such as the lovely Marie Bilodeau, the powerful-looking Derek Kunsken, and the fairy-like Leah Petersen. Honestly, hanging out with great people and having awesome, intelligent conversations about writing would have been enough for me, but there were also free books.

Yes, I said free. I easily walked away at the end of the con with a bag full of books, for free, that covered if not exceeded the cost of my con-pass. And not books from authors nobody has ever heard of either. There are books from George R.R. Martin and Mercedes Lackey sitting in my overstuffed bag right now.

The other great free thing at the con was the food in the con-suite. It's not unusual for there to be some munchies lying around, but the World Fantasy organizers had full-on family style buffet meals lying about. I bought maybe three meals the entire four days of the con, and those only because I wanted to hang out with new and old friends.

And yes, I said four days. This was the longest con I've ever been at and by the end I felt it. Saturday felt a lot like Sunday, and the time change right at the end didn't help ease the confusion at all. Having that extra day helped though, as due to Sandy huffing and puffing and nailing the East Coast, not everyone was able to make it on time. At least one author a friend really wanted to meet wasn't able to come due to cancelled flights, and another author showed up halfway through a panel since she'd arrived at 1:30 the night before and had understandably slept in. Still, the list of people who made it was impressive.

I had the opportunity to raise my Writing Excuses meet list to three since Marie Robinette Kowal was at the con. I picked up both her Jane Austen-esque books and has them signed and had the chance to tell her how much I appreciate the work she and her fellows do on their podcast. I also got to meet Brandon Sanderson for a second time, get a couple books signed, and found out that he and Mary and some guests had recorded a few podcasts that very day in Mary's hotel room. So, yeah for Writing Excuses on Canadian soil. Now if they'd just get all four of them together at a con in Ontario recording a public session...

The only element of the con that was disturbing at all I heard second-hand and did not actually witness. A friend who attended the awards banquet posted that there was a definite gap between the "established" authors and the fans and wanna-be authors. After hearing this, I was glad I decided to skip the banquet. I don't need to be reminded that I'm not there, yet, and it seems to be that this was a wasted opportunity to give the fans and the guys and gals on the lower end of the writing food-chain a chance to interact with those who've "made it".

One of the best experiences I had was at Con-cept a few years ago where I got to sit near Tad Williams and talk shop. It was a lovely experience chatting with Tad and his wife Deborah Beale. That, and meeting Marie Bilodeau, were the highlights of the con for me. I do hope that World Fantasy will try and find a way to better integrate the banquet seating arrangements in the future. Over four days there are plenty of opportunities to hang out with friends, but only so many times a person will get to hang out with the likes of Patrick Rothfuss or Mercedes Lackey.

So the only really negative thing about the con I ended up missing, meaning my experience was well into the positive. Much like Fan Expo, I would go again but as a professional or if it was within a reasonable driving distance.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Mythbusters Dilemma

What do you say when the people who are supposed to get it right get it horribly, horribly, wrong?

That's the question I had to ask myself recently after watching the "Duel Dilemmas" episode of Mythbusters. Their whole shtick is, well, disproving or proving myths, but recently they've had to stretch to find interesting things to bust and it shows.

So, a little bit of background on the episode. Funnily enough the title reveals the subject matter. The alpha team of Jamie and Adam focused on different dueling myths. Now, I can't judge the gun myths because my experience with guns is limited to television and books. I don't like guns and have no huge desire to handle them. (Okay, maybe a little desire just to know what it's like to use one, but I'm not about to start stocking up for the zombie apocalypse.)

No, the part of the episode that put me into a frothing rage was when they test the sword myth that the first person too attack loses. At first I was excited. I mean, the Mythbusters and swords, what could be cooler? Yeah, not so much.

First off, Jamie and Adam focused on kendo. Hate to burst your bubble guys, but kendo is a sport not a sword art. That right there invalidates your testing because it severely limits what can be done. In kendo there are only three valid target areas. Now, while this does simplify their testing methodology immensely, it removes options which allow the person receiving the initial attack. So, first problem is they chose a sport instead of a sword art. I'll have more to say on this in a moment.

Next, they narrowed their testing setup even more. They restricted themselves to one target, the men or helmet for those of you in the audience not familiar with kendo terminology, as well as they had to make a full swing in response. The full swing was a good idea actually, but needless to say neither host truly knew what they were doing. Watching them attack each other was painful for me, and based on their technique it was obviously painful for them as well.

That leads me to my third point in that their methodology was needlessly painful. First, their improper technique had them landing blows to the head in an improper spot and with too much force. On top of that they added weight to the shinai by wrapping it in a conductive mesh in order to have a series of lights come on when the hit. Basically, they were whaling on each other in such a manner they could have actually done themselves serious damage after compromising their equipment. Either of them could have ended up seriously hurt and both Jamie and Adam are very lucky that a headache was the worst of their problems. I've taken blows to the head (stop laughing) on the wrong part of the men and let me tell you it hurts like a sonofabitch. Getting hit that way once is enough to clean your clock, so I can only imagine how Adam and Jamie felt.

So in the end what did we have with this "myth"? Bad form, needless injury, and a loss of respect from this Mythbusters fan. What makes it even more annoying is I couldn't find an email address to send my concerns, only the Discovery channel forums. Bah.

How could this have been improved? Well, if they wanted to stay with the same basic setup they could have used just the high-speed camera to record the hits and hit the proper spot on the men. The hits still would have been a bit jarring but the risk of injury would have been greatly reduced.

If they wanted to go beyond the simple setup they had they could have gone to a real kendo dojo and observed/asked questions. There is a technique in kendo called debana where you strike an opponent before they finish their cut. It's hard to do, requires great speed, timing, and awareness, but it is possible to strike someone after they've initiated their attack and before they succeed.

The next step they could have taken was to actually research some of the true Japanese sword arts. Don't get me wrong, I love kendo. It's a great sport and hell of a lot of fun, but it is not a true sword art. Some of the true sword arts do use counter-attacks, and I can think of one that the majority of it's forms or kata actually depends on your opponent initiating and then you respond and then take control from him. That art is Ono-Ha Itto-Ryu, and it was one of the arts that had an early influence on kendo. I studied it for a few years and the whole point was to let your opponent initiate an attack, counter it, and then make him pay for the presumption of attacking.

The worst part of this whole thing is that Jamie and Adam reduced a complex idea into a simple test of reaction speed. The idea of he who attacks losing isn't so much about who actually gets the first shot in, it's about a spiritual loss. If you've been pushed to the point that you lose control and attack someone then, even if they die and you live, you've lost because you surrendered control. It could be because of anger, it could be because of fear, the reason doesn't matter. But Mythbusters, being a hard-science based show, went for what they thought was a testable iteration of this concept, thereby missing out what the concept was truly about.

I hope the next time the Mythbusters tackle a martial arts or bladed weapons myth they conduct deeper research and come to greater understanding. Or they could skip these myths altogether since, especially considering how very wrong they were on this one.

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Dork Review: Dredd

This is the Judge Dredd movie that needed to be made.

Not just to wipe away the stain the Sly movie made on the character's reputation. Not just to show both Karl Urban and Olivia Thirlby are rather fine actors. No, this movie needed to be made for one very important reason:

It shows that sci-fi can be small and still work.

Mega-City One is a sprawling metropolis covering what little non-irradiated ground exists on the east coast of North America. It's a massive choking slum/cesspool of crime, corruption, and indifference, an anarchist state in all but name where people live in fear of both criminals and the law. And Dredd the movie doesn't try and change that.

Instead of trying to tell an epic tale in an attempt to match the setting, Dredd focuses on a pair of judges, veteran Joe Dredd and his rookie partner Judge Anderson, as they're trapped in a bloc and have to fight the troops of drug-dealing ex-prostitute Ma-Ma. It's a focused story that covers a day in the life of a Mega-City judge, and it's exactly what I've been craving for a long time.

Unfortunately, at times directors and writers seem to think that sci-fi, especially stuff not set in the near future or in a carbon-copy of the real world, needs to be big and bombastic in order to work. This isn't the case. Just like in literature, sometimes the stakes don't need to be high. They only need to be personal.

I wish more movie-makers would make films like this, enough of them so that audiences would come to accept what I know to be true, that a movie can be sci-fi and many other things at the same time. Dredd is a beautifully brutal film about two cops in a bad situation. The sci-fi elements support the story without dominating it.

Aside from the extreme violence, Dredd has two outstanding performances from its lead characters. Urban is delightfully menacing and growling as Judge Joe Dredd, a cynical and scarred Judge who's seen it all. Even while wearing a full helmet he's able to get across emotion, not a small feat. Thirlby is even more impressive. While she doesn't wear a helmet for a good portion of the film her expression changes very little but she's still able to convey a wide variety of emotion. She can get more across with a slight movement of her eyebrow than Kristen Stewart could with her entire body. Casting directors everywhere take note of these two and give them more work!

Go and see Dredd in theaters while you can. I think it's destined to become a cult classic at the very least. Now if we could just get the same director and cast to do a Warhammer 40K flick I'd be set. Urban as a Space Marine, Thirlby as a Sister of Battle, yeah, it could work.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Why We Shouldn't Be Afraid To Make The Hard Choice

Okay, I have to start by admiting something. this is hard to say...I watch...the Clone Wars animated television show.

Yes, I admit it. It's terrible. Not because it's animated, cause hey, there are tons of good animated shows out there. (Avatar the Last Airbender anyone?)

No, the reason I'm embarrassed to say I watch it is that the writers seem incapable or contractually obligated to avoid making hard choices.

First off, when they focus on the major characters such as Obi-Wan or Anakin or any of the ones that appear in the movies there's no tension because you know these characters will live no matter what happens. The stories involving them are almost invariably trite and at best rise to the level of pretty adventure stories with very little soul.

The few redeemable moments for the show come when it focuses on the clones and their lot in life. I mean, think about it, here is a group of living beings that were created for the soul purpose of waging war. The clone centric episodes focus on the cost of war, of what it means to be a soldier, of what it means to put your life on the line for something you're not sure you believe in. They put the focus on themes that I find interesting and wish to see explored in greater detail. But only if they're willing to make the hard choice.

What do I mean by that? Let me give you an example. In a recent arc I was watching the clone troopers were being led by an four-armed Jedi who spent their lives callously. I was really enjoying it right up until the end when it was revealed that, hold onto your seats, the Jedi isn't really a Jedi he's a traitor who's getting ready to go over to the other side. Gah!

They took what could have been an interesting villain and transformed him into a mustache twirling git! Worse yet, they undermined the whole theme they'd been working on for the entire arc. Instead of the story being about the lengths war will drive some leaders to and the callous nature of command it became a story about a traitor manipulating others without any great reason why he was doing it. Again, gah!

The writers failed to make the hard choice. If they'd made the villain a true Jedi then it would have cast doubt on every action taken by the Jedi from that point on and the clones willing subjugation to them. I mean, come on, this is almost an entire race that was bred to be willing and compliant soldiers. Setting things up so that they start questioning their place in the war and their reasons for fighting it could have led down some interesting narrative paths, and showing the Jedi as less than noble or even callous at times would have made them more multi-dimensional as well.

This is why I think writers and authors need to be allowed and not afraid to make the hard choice, the one that takes them into unsafe territory. If we don't allow ourselves to do that, if we play it safe in our stories then we miss the opportunity to tell those really great tales that will be remembered, that will have an impact.

Don't be afraid of the hard choice.

(And yes, I writing this to remind myself as much as to tell others to do it.)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Wait, Only Three Years? Really?

It's hard to believe it has only been three years since I started this blog and since I started writing actively. It feels like a lot more time has passed, but that might be because I feel like I've grown so much as a writer these last three years.

Who would have thought that in three years my writing would have improved to the point that while I'm still getting rejections I'm getting less form ones and more encouraging ones. A recent submission went through multiple readings by the editors before being rejected, which is amazing. No, really it is, because it means I'm wrote something an editor had to really consider before rejecting. That means I was close to getting something published.

If that wasn't enough though, the same story marks another high point for me. After the first draft I could see it wasn't working and instead of needing someone else to tell me what was wrong I was able to work it out and rewrite and produce a much stronger version of the same story. The fact that I could tell the story was lacking and fix it on my own indicates a leap forward in my critical faculties, something a good author needs in order to avoid going down many fruitless paths. In the end I was able to tell more story with less words.

Aside from my short story work I've also written at least one trunk novel. What's a trunk novel you ask? That's a piece of work that gets stuff in a trunk never to see the light of day. It was a learning and growth experience, but in the end the book doesn't work and I don't see any hope of salvaging it any time soon. But it did prove something to me. I can write longer stories, which is something I did need to learn.

Also, writing a book has lead me to writing another. Currently I'm over 92,000 words into writing an epic fantasy with monks, martial arts, and mongols. I'm loving it. This is a fun book to write. My original plan was to have a working draft in time for World's Fantasy in November, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen as I'm not even two thirds done even with the huge wordcount I mentioned above.

So what are my plans for my fourth year of writing? Finish my current project and then write another book I have planned and ideas generated for, the first in what could be a series. In fact, since I've kind of committed to NaNoWriMo this year, with the prompting of a couple author friends on Twitter, I may in fact pause my current project and use NaNo to get a decent chunk of my other novel started. My thinking is, by the time November rolls around I may not have 50,000 words left on my current novel, and there's a short story I want to write for an anthology that the due date is currently up in the air so I may work on that for a bit instead of the novel before NaNo starts.

So all in all, things on the writing front have been very, very busy. Aside from that I've attended cons, made new friends, been a panelist, and generally been an all around smartass when I can.

I can't wait to see what happens in year four.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Dork Review: Dick Richards: Private Eye

The title of Dick Richards: Private Eye has an almost Inception-like quality to it. It's a story about a man named Dick whose last name could be shortened to Dick who is also a private dick, and no, I don't mean he's genitalia for private use; he's a detective. It also has a very trippy feeling, much like Inception.

It's funny I keep comparing this book to a movie but it seems to fit for some reason.

Not just any kind of a detective though. Dick is involved in some heavy magical shenanigans, and so deeply involved he has no idea how in over his head he is. He's tasked to solve a case involving unknown magical weapons, and as with any good crime drama there's baddies galore, and the occasional babe, for him to contend with.

I liked this book. It's a good first effort from Mister Chris Wong Sick Hong. (And no, I am not making up the authors name nor making fun of it - that's actually the gentleman's name). By a good first effort I mean that while this book isn't perfect, it makes up for it's flaws by being entertaining. First, let's look at the good.

Dick Richards: Private Eye does a good job of balancing various contradictory elements. It's a fantasy/noir-detective/science-fiction novel, with liberal takings from all three genres. Done wrong this could have really, really backfired, but in this novel it mostly works out. At first these elements would seem jarring put together, but Mr. Hong does a decent job of weaving them together.

It helps that Dick Richards is an interesting character with the tortured appeal present in a lot of noir-fiction, without feeling like a pastiche or rip-off of existing characters. I should point out though that my familiarity with noir-detective stories is rather slim so I may have missed a few subtle winks or flat out thefts from existing works.

Where the book falls down is keeping some of it's elements straight. At times if seems as if everybody knows about magic and dwarves and elves and such while at other times it seems there's a giant masquerade hiding these things from the world. It's never made clear, and frustratingly so. Also, another genre is thrown into the mix closer to the end that I'm not sure quite works.

At times the book feels like it's an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink kind of work but without the humor one would expect. This isn't a funny book but it isn't a serious one either.

I think, in the end, that Dick Richards: Private Eye is going to be an acquired taste for some people and will have a sharp divide between those who like and those who don't. If you like crazy genre-mashing works then you'll like it. If you don't want science-fiction in your fantasy or vice-versa, well then you probably hate chocolate and peanut butter together so there's no hope for you and this book isn't the one for you. (Just kidding by the way - who doesn't like chocolate and peanut butter together?)

One final note though, I do love the cover art for the book and so want the hat they have Dick wearing.

As always, the book is available on Amazon or you could check with your local retailer to see if they can order it for you.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Terribleness That Is The John Carter Novel Adaptation

Normally I'd do this up as a Dork Review piece, but really, while I want to talk about the novel adaptation of the movie John Carter I really don't want to give it the dignity of a formal review. Think of this as more of a compare and contrast between the movie, the adaptation, and the original novel it's based on, A Princess Of Mars.

Now, in case you're coming in late, I actually enjoyed John Carter, the movie. (Go here for my review of it). Was the movie high art? Hell no, but it was a fun romp and didn't deserve the savaging at the critics' hands it received. So when I was out browsing my local bookstore and saw a copy of the novel adaptation combined with the original Edgar Rice Burroughs novel, well, let's just say it was an easy decision to make.

Novel adaptations of movies can sometimes be fun. I remember enjoying the adaptation of Spaceballs when I was a kid, and the novel for The Phantom Menace, at least what I read of it while bored the one day, wasn't half bad and filled in some holes from the movie. The John Carter one however...

It's not just a bad adaptation, it's bad writing all around. It breaks from one of the basic concepts of writing, which is "show, don't tell". Okay, yes, there are times where it's more efficient or convenient to tell rather than write, I get that, but not all the time. The novel adaptation only works if you've seen the movie and doesn't offer anything extra. It should be a product to entice people to consume other products, not a dry retelling of an existing story.

I think the John Carter adaptation suffers because it's trying to ape Edgar Rice Burroughs' style, which worked a century ago but doesn't today. Now, the original book, A Princess Of Mars, is bad, don't get me wrong, but it's bad in the way I expect. It fits the time and place it was written. The female characters are passive and paper thin, the dialogue is atrocious, and the white man from Earth teaches everyone how to live. It's like an old Conan story; you know it's going to be bad but that's half of the reason you enjoy it.

The modern novel doesn't have this excuse, and the movie was rather balanced in how it portrayed characters. John Carter in the movie didn't teach the green Martians the value of friendship, he just found friends and allies amongst them.

So is there a point in all of this ranting? Well, yes. My point is directed at the people involved in producing this book, the author (which I will not name out of respect and the hope that this project was rushed and not his or her best work), the publisher, and ultimately the Disney Corporation who's ultimately responsible for the entire thing. Do better. You made a decent, fun movie. Try and produce ancillary material that at least matches that.  

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Dork Review: When The Villain Comes Home

“Heroes can save the world. But villains can change it, Rachel.”

The above quote is from J.M. Frey's story Maddening Science from the short-story anthology When The Villain Comes Home, and I think it captures the book in a nutshell. This is a collection of stories about people who are the other side of coin, the opposite of those we saw in When The Hero Comes Home. But are they?

To paraphrase another section of Villain, heroes are born of event while villains are born of intent. Any one of the protagonists in this collection could have been a hero, and some of them border on what we would consider as an anti-hero.

It's rare to find an anthology that doesn't have one or two clunker stories in it, stories that you read and go either "meh" or "huh". Like its predecessor, Villain doesn't have a single clunker amongst the bunch. I really enjoyed this collection, and I want to take a moment to highlight some of the stories that elevated this from good to wow!

Let's start with J.M. Frey's story since I've already quoted it. J.M.'s writing has this ability to be funny, sexy, geeky, and heart-wrenching all at the same time. After reading Maddening Science I can only hope my fiction can someday aspire to be half as good. I'm laying the praise on a bit thick but with good reason. The story is just that good.

Next let's talk about a story produced by one of my favorite people, Marie Bilodeau. (Seriously, she's a sweet-heart - if you ever get a chance to see her at one of her story-telling gigs or at a convention then go.) Her story, Happily Ever After, is another gem. It has Marie's classic story-telling voice running throughout it and at the same time I can see the evolution in her from from The Legend of Gluck (her story in When The Hero Comes Home) and her earlier novels. Happily Ever After feels more refined without losing any of the passion or movement of everything else Marie has produced.

Hmmm.... which one to highlight next. Oh, I know! How about Cycle of Revenge by Erik Buchanan? It's an interesting tale about a warlord who travels... oh, wait, can't reveal that as it would spoil things. Let's just say it plays around with some classic fantasy/sci-fi tropes quite well and shows what happens when we obsess about getting revenge on those who've wronged us.

I can't forget to mention Manmade by Leah Petersen. First because it's one of those stories where you can guess where it's gonna go and have a good idea how it's going to end after about half-way through but still enjoy entirely. It's also a story very much about being who you are and how trying to, ahem, compensate for what others perceive as a failing can backfire and then ultimately lead to accepting the truth about oneself. And finally because Leah scares me a bit. I mean, come on; she can knit with her hands and read a book with her feet at the same time. The woman is like a fur-less, skinny version of Beast from X-Men. Who knows what mutant powers she's hiding from us?

The truth is I could say something good about every story in this book, which is rare as most anthologies end up sneaking in a dud or two. As it stands, I recommend you check out When The Villain Comes Home, and indeed anytime Gabrielle Harbowy and Ed Greenwood get together to edit an anthology you should give picking it up serious consideration.

Here's the Amazon link, but I do recommend hitting your local bookstore to see if they can get it in for you.

Guest Post Mania Continues

I have another guest post up at Page of Reviews, this one on The Big Bang Theory and misogyny. You can check it out here.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Dork Review: Total Recall

Part of me really wanted to like this movie. I'll admit to watching the first Total, in all its cheesy, triple-boobed glory, and enjoying it, but I always do like to see serious takes on silly concepts. Quite often I find them intriguing. This movie, however, was not.

I'd rate it as a "meh" at best. And it didn't have to be that way.

Okay, fair warning, if you still want to see this movie then don't read on as I'm going to drop some major spoilers from here on in. Read on if you dare.

Still here? Okay then. I was actually digging this movie for a good portion of it, and it has some real strengths. It never felt like it was plodding along. The pacing was good, the action scenes were well shot (with one major exception which I will cover) and the acting was pretty good. Not to the level of Oscar gold, but hey, it's an action flick so what do you expect.

No, the problem with this movie is it started hitting some of my pet peeves in sequence, one right after another. I could forgive one, maybe two, maybe even three if there's enough good stuff to distract me, but Total Recall didn't have enough going on to save it for me.

First pet peeve, lens flare. A little bit is okay and could be overlooked or tolerated, but when you have a few scenes with Star Trek (the new movie, not the old ones) then it starts to pull me out. The cool futuristic apartment building with white walls and glass, lens flare okay. The grubby subway tunnel filled with resistance members, not so much.

Second pet peeve, punching robots. Sigh. Why do action heroes think that punching the combat droid that doesn't feel pain and is made of much sturdier materials then them is a good idea. Aside from the fact that in real life it would leave the hero with broken knuckles, after awhile it just really starts to look moronic. Using leverage and momentum to knock the droid off the elevator you're standing on, cool. Punching it in the face, not cool.

Basic understandings of physics. Okay, one of the really cool concepts in this movie is an elevator that travels through the earth from Australia to Great Britain (trust me, it makes sense in the movie and is not something I have a huge problem with). While it does stretch the bounds of believability, it can be overlooked. What cant be overlooked is this: if it takes 17 minutes for that sucker to go from one side of the Earth to the other then it's gotta be moving at a good clip, and should be in a vacuum tube to reduce air friction at the very least. If not, then the wind-shear when the sucker is going should be really nasty. So nasty in fact, that the hero should not be able to go out side and climb down while the friggin thing is moving! Gah!

It may seem like a small thing but on top of the things mentioned above it was the moment when Total Recall lost me. At that point I could see the strings, and film-makers, you never want the audience to see the strings. Once that happens you've lost suspension of disbelief and every thing on the screen will start to be questioned.

What's worse, as I said earlier, is that up until that point I was really enjoying the movie. The homages to original were slid in well and not jarring. If you knew what to look for they were there and didn't detract from what was going on. And the parkour chase scene at the beginning of the movie was awesome, and same with the hand-phone some of the characters had.

All is all, the was a cool movie that just had some major flaws the ruined it to the level it rates a meh. It wasn't Three Musketeers bad, but neither did it rise to the level of Avengers awesome (a movie that had it's own physics flaws but that didn't pull me out of the movie because there was enough going on I didn't have time to notice them, further proving Joss Whedon is a freaking genius).

My recommendation is wait till it comes out on video or TV if you really need to see it, though you'd miss the triple-boobed hooker on TV.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Dork Review: The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises was a great movie in a series of awesome movies, meaning, for me it didn't quite, ahem, rise to the same level as the previous entry in Nolan's Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight.

The pieces were in place for Rises to match or even overcome Dark Knight. Nolan has done a superb job of tapping into the Batman mythos and pulling out the right elements to craft a believable world that is still truly Batman's. The character motivations make sense and the story ties back into previous movies in a clever way that I can't reveal because it would ruin one of the best twists involving the Batman mythology that Nolan has ever pulled off.

Additionally, the ending was a satisfying conclusion for the arc started in Batman Begins. As I don't want to spoil it, let me just say this, even if you've heard some of the spoilers out there, as I had, you will still end up being surprised and pleased at how Nolan wrapped things up.

Rises has all of the above, as well as amazing action, pathos, and humor, so why didn't it match The Dark Knight? The answer is simple; it felt too damn long.

Sandwiched between all those awesome moments are some tedious bits that could have easily been condensed or even eliminated without losing much if anything at all. Rises is by no means a bloated waste, but it definitely is carrying around a little bit more time than it needs. By the end of watching it I could feel the time I'd invested, as opposed to when I saw The Avengers earlier this year and let the theater wondering where the time had gone. I ended up going and seeing The Avengers a second time. I enjoyed Rises but have no overwhelming desire to see it again in the near future.

Despite the flaws I've noted above this is still a film that should be seen in theaters so that you get the full scope of its grandeur and glory.

Friday, July 6, 2012

A Conversation With Intelligent Mold

Hi! How are you?

Gah! What the hell?

Really, no need to be rude. I was just introducing myself.

Uh, sorry. It's not everyday a moldy loaf of bread talks.

Understandable. I'd be freaked out too, if I was you.

So what are you?

That's a rather rude question.

Sorry, but it's still a valid one. I don't remember buying talking bread the last time I was in the grocery store.

You didn't, and I'm not bread. I'm the mold on the bread.

Really? Mold already? I thought I just bought that bread.

Intelligent mold is talking to you and that's what you focus on, how long it's been since you bought bread?

I'm trying not to think about mold or bread talking to me. I figure I've hit my head and this is all just a hallucination.

So, you're saying you don't think I'm real.

Pretty much. I mean, what are the chances of mold actually talking?

Better than average really. We've tried communicating for years using visual cues, but only recently have we tried vibrating at frequencies you can understand.

Visual cues?

Yeah. I mean, wherever you guys have been we show up. Do you think we'd hang around without there being a good reason?

Never considered it really. I always just thought mold was something that just happened.

Mold never just happens, trust me. But anyways, enough chit chat, time to get down to brass tacks.


Thanks for all you've done for making the world a better for us. Raising the overall temperature and getting more moisture into the air, beautiful work. And creating more places for us to grow, sheer genius.

Uh, you're welcome, I guess.

In return for this we've decided to offer you the secret to world peace.

Okay, cool, uh, thanks. So what is it?

Not so fast, buddy. This doesn't come cheap. You've made things good for us, but we think they can be better and we have a price that needs to be met.

Alright, what's the price?



Yes, bread.

Like the stuff you're growing on now or money, cause I don't have much of either.

Silly human, what would we do with money? It's a terrible growth medium. No, we want all the bread.

All of it? Even the hot cross buns?

Especially those. I have cousins that love growing on those suckers.

I don't know if I'm the right person to talk about this. Have you tried President Obama, or Prime Minister Harper?

Yeah, but there's never anything moldy enough near Obama to speak to and Harper threatened us with a gag order if we didn't give him exclusive rights to our information.

I think you're out of luck then. If it's all the same to you, I think I'm going to book an appointment with my doctor for some tests and maybe a psych eval. It's been nice chatting, and I hope you find someone who can help. I'm just going to store you in this garbage can for now.

Wait! Don't....nuts he's gone. Ooooo...rotting meat. Don't mind if I do.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Dork Review: The Dark Side Of The Glass

Have you ever had a book you just can't put down? Something that once you start it you have to read it all the way through to the end? The Dark Side Of The Glass was such a book for me.

It helps that it was short. This book is a novella rather than a novel, which works as it's just the right size for the story it tells. In fact, considering the subject matter, it's perfect since it feels about the same length as a television episode.

Hmm...better explain what I mean by that.

The Dark Side Of The Glass is about Mary, a lowly production assistant (PA) working on a cheesy vampire TV show shot in Toronto, similar to say, Forever Knight. Mary not only works on the show, she's its biggest fan, and therefore blind to how really terrible it is. We've all been there with something or another, haven't we? If you're into genre fiction at all, whether it be on-screen or on-page, we've all had those shows that we love even though a part of us knows they really are cheesy and over-wrought, otherwise how would such things survive?

A horrible truth sends Mary on a crash-course with destiny and a Craft Services truck. The resulting impact catapults her in the world of the show. All of this happens in the first few pages. (Hey, I said the story was short. J.M. Frey is great at pacing things.)

From there Mary ends up exploring and learning the reality of the world crafted for her favorite show and has her eyes opened in many ways while at the same time trying to change the world around her. I loved the ending and felt it was very satisfying.

What makes The Dark Side Of The Glass stand out from all the other catapulted into another world stories is how aware of itself it is. Mary is a fan-girl, trust me there is no doubt about it, and J.M. imbues her with fan-girlish glee without making her seem one-dimensional. In the short time we know her, Mary is a fully-realized character and not just a Mary Sue. Mary is aware she is in a fictional world, and there is this whole meta level of commentary throughout the story that is just hilarious. I think that even someone who isn't a lit-geek can enjoy the humor, which is vitally important as it shows J.M. is aware and actively trying to make her work as accessible as possible without dumbing it down.

So to sum up, The Dark Side Of The Glass is geeky, funny, meta, accessible, and a fun read. It has all the strengths I saw in Triptych with none of the elements I found frustrating. This book would be a nice light summer read. I recommend you go and pick it up.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Dork Review: Brave

Och, go an see this movie. It's bloody brilliant!

Okay, sorry for the lame attempt at a Scottish accent, but in all seriousness I do recommend you go out and see Brave. The reasons for this are as follows:

1. It has the feel of a classic Disney story, but has the feeling of being much more aware of gender roles and how they are portrayed.

2. Merida, the main character, never comes across as a boy in a girls body, but rather as a person who just doesn't quite fit the role her mother wants for her.

3. The voice cast is excellent and brings each role to life. I love that animated films are being taken seriously enough now that top-notch actors and actresses are willing to invest their talent in them.

4. Finally, the movie is bloody hilarious! The honest truth is there were more than a few times I ended up laughing out loud, and more than a few heartwarming moments as well.

If you have wee ones, this would be a good movie to take them to, or if you're just want to take your inner-child to a movie I'd recommend this as well.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

An Alternate Plan For The World's Biggest Bookstore

In case you hadn't already heard, it appears that the lease on the World's Biggest Bookstore in Toronto is up for renewal and the store may end up closing.

I'm not going to list the many ways this would suck. I love the WBB. Guaranteed anytime I go in there I walk out with at least two books, if not more. That place is dangerous for me to go into, and yet I want it to remain. I've already sent feedback to Chapters/Indigo stating this and I hope you'll do the same after reading this.

Now, that being said, I would like to offer up an idea for the space if Indigo and the landlords can't work out a deal. Turn it into the world's largest permanent book-fair/book flea market.

Don't worry, there's a method beyond my madness, or a madness in my method, or someone's messing with my method and it's making me mad, whatever. The point being, the main draw for the WBB was you could go in and find just about anything. What if, instead of one corporate entity controlling/using the space we had a plethora of publishers and booksellers in there?

I know the idea seems crazy but look at it this way. How many small publishers out there are renting storage space to hold copies of their books, copies that might end up sitting around because no one knows about them or can't find them because big chains such as Chapters/Indigo wont carry them? How about storing those books in the heart of downtown Toronto in a location that could sell them? According to the article linked above the WBB space is being rented for about $33.00 (I'm assuming this is monthly, not yearly) a square foot. Wouldn't it be worth it to have books setup and available in a secure location that could see a large amount of foot-traffic?

Add in the fact that, let's face it, Chapters/Indigo is really not doing their best to keep up the WBB, so a little bit of renovation and in addition to a wide variety of publishers you could have a nice coffee place and some chairs with which to sit and read said purchases while on a break. Better yet, make it a fair-trade independent coffee house to bring in the modern yuppie/hipster crowd, but serve coffee that normal people might like as well so you can cater to both crowds. (In other words, don't plop in another generic Timmies or Starbucks, but at the same time feel free to slap the hipsters upside the head of they get too pretentious.)

As much as I hate to say it, since I do love the WBB, I think my idea might be a better use for the space. It keeps it dedicated to literature but removes the overreaching corporate entity running it and gives smaller publishers and booksellers an ideal place. Don't get me wrong though, I have nothing against Chapters/Indigo and do purchase books for them, but I think ultimately the book ecosystem benefits but having multiple players rather than one monolith strangling the smaller sprouts.

Do I think my idea likely to ever happen. Sadly, no. I think it's more likely the space will get snapped up and either turned into more overpriced condos or portioned out into clothing stores. But I going to hold onto some hope that either what I propose happens or WBB manages to keep alive.

If you had control of the space, what would you do?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Since I Know You're All On The Edges Of Your Seats

Here's an update on my writing! :P

In all seriousness, I did start this blog as an outlet for my thoughts on writing and specifically my writing, so I'm going to assume this is a subject some of the people reading this might be interested in.

So for those just coming in, I'm currently working on a novel length work that I want to have working draft ready for the World Fantasy convention this year, which is in November and conveniently in Toronto this year. I'm going anyways and it would be really nice to have a novel I could pitch. Funny how having work to sell at a huge collection of editors and agents sounds like a good idea.

So how is the novel writing going you may ask? Really well actually. A couple months in I have over 40,000 words written, and I'm finding I'm averaging about 1000 words a day writing and managing to write about 5 days a week. What I'm saying is, I'm making steady progress and I've improved my writing speed to the point I'm averaging double the amount I was about a year ago. So, win for me.

This improvement became apparent the last few days when I sat down to write a short story. In three days, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, I wrote a 4,000 word-plus short for a collection that has a submission due date of Aug 1. The only reason I took time away from my novel was because it's for an anthology due soon about an interesting subject. I'm not going to state which anthology it's for, at least not until and if my submission is accepted for publication.

A year ago a story of that size would have taken me at least a week to write, if not longer. Also, when I sat down to write the story I had a vague idea of what I wanted to write and in less than three days I was able to pounded out a workable draft.

Even better than this, pounding out said draft wasn't as torturous as it would have been in the past. Writing used to be a lot harder/a lot more work for me. Now, while it's still work, it's a lot more fun, and it was a nice break from the novel.

Now, none of this means my writing is any better than it was a year ago. I hope it is, but ultimately quality will be determined by editors who want to buy my writing and by the public that consumes it. Until that happens I'll just have to keep plugging away at it.

Friday, June 15, 2012

You Know You're In Demand When...

You're asked to do a guest post on another blog. Go check out Page Of Reviews and my guest post on Classic War Movies.

Not gonna lie, it feels weird to see my words somewhere other than my own blog. Weird, but good.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Dork Review: Prometheus

I'm struggling to properly express my feeling about this movie. On one hand, Prometheus has a lot going for it. None of the main cast of actors are weak, and Charlize Theron particularly is much better in this movie than in Snow White and The Huntsman. On the the other hand, there are a few nit-picking parts that could have been improved story-wise that would have made things flow better.

Alright, I'll try and express what I think is wrong without giving any spoilers. Or, at least any spoilers that aren't already included in the bloody trailer.

First off, this is a beautiful film. The special effects are used exactly the way they need to be; to enhance the film experience rather than being front and centre and blaring at the audience "look what we can do!" The makes the film a visual treat, and in fact I think it can be enjoyed on just that level if you get nothing else out of it.

My main problem is that some of the characters act so friggin stupid at times, and act outside of their already established character, that it compromises the story. Which is terrible because Prometheus has all the elements need to be a classic piece of sci-fi with a few horror tropes stuck onto it for flavour. There's the dream of finding life out there, of finding who created us and why, of finding God almost, that isn't present in a lot of sci-fi these days. The motivating characters in this movie are those dreamers on a quest to find the meaning of life, while at the same time an artificial being is struggling to understand who they are and how they fit into the universe.

I want more grand, epic science-fiction along these lines, especially now that computer generated effects make it so that we can give these movies the true size and scale they require. I have to give Ridley Scott credit in the attempt, and give him a round of applause for an ending that worked for me and kept the dreaming spirit alive while showing one of humanity's greatest strengths, our curiosity. I just wish some of the flaws in the middle could have been buffed out.

I'd still recommend seeing Prometheus. While it isn't perfect, and suffers compared to some of the other films I've seen this year, it's still worth seeing in theaters. Just be sure to manage expectations so that you aren't too disappointed at not being completely blown away.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

On The Passing Of Ray Bradbury: A Response To Jonathan Kay

I'm trying to find adequate words to describe my feelings at the passing of one of science-fiction’s, no, of literature’s great voices. I never read a lot of Mr. Bradbury’s work, but it’s impossible to be interested in imaginative literature and not have at least an inkling of it and the ideas he expressed, as I’m sure more than a few authors have been influenced by what he wrote, even if only second-hand. Even I’ve been influenced by it, as I remember watching a version of The Veldt, I think for the Canadian-produced The Ray Bradbury Theater, in one of my English classes and enjoying it immensely. (And no, I don’t have any specific memories of wanting my parents dead, why do you ask?)

So, while Mr. Bradbury’s passing is not a personal tragedy, I would like to express my condolences to his family in this difficult time and say that he touched a lot of people’s lives, even if only remotely.

What I don’t want to do is defecate upon his memory as Mr. Jonathan Kay has.

In this article, Mr. Kay describes Bradbury as “science-fiction’s most depressing prophet” and then proceeds to say the author ruined science-fiction for him.

Wow. What an asshat.

First off, to blame anyone for ruining a whole genre of fiction for you is just pure and utter nonsense. To blame someone who just died and therefore cannot respond directly to your asshattery is at the very least cowardly.

This is especially true in Kay’s case, as in the article he even admits to reading writing similar to Bradbury’s later on in life, and never once states he was forced to read it. It’s really hard to feel sympathy for someone who admits to self-flagellation. If Kay hated “optimism-crippling” literature so much, why did he continue to read it? Why didn’t he look for something influenced by Star Trek, say something by Robert Sawyer?

More importantly, why did he let Ray Bradbury’s writing make him feel stupid for wanting optimistic science-fiction? This would indicate that Kay is either weak-minded or weak-willed. Maybe it’s a good thing that Fahrenheit 451 (please note Mr. Kay, this is the correct spelling) ruined TV for him, otherwise Mr. Kay might have to be weaned off late-night infomercials.

Okay, I’ve taken enough pot-shots are Mr. Kay, so now I propose we find a way to help him ease back into science-fiction. Since he seems to be hung up on the depressing side of things I recommend a rigorous course of Babylon Five. Sure, it’s dark and depressing, but in the end it has a core of hope that we can do better and grow. It might be just the cure Mr. Kay needs. (Unless pharmaceuticals and extensive therapy would work better, but I’d recommend those be saved for people with real issues that need to be addressed.)

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Dork Review: Ninjas Vs. Pirates Featuring Zombies

I think I best summed up NVPFZ in an earlier post when I described it as "a coke-snorting stripper who just dropped some acid". I should probably add that the stripper has a PhD in Philosophy from a pretentious university overflowing with ivory tower academics.

NVPFZ does its very best to look stupid when it's not. James Marshall, the author, has realized the surface level stupidity of the concept of Ninjas fighting Pirates, fodder for many an Internet debate, and run with that as a veneer over-top of a book about the place of the North American male in current culture.

That's the brilliant thing about this book. It reads at too levels. If you just want a silly adventure, albeit with some disturbingly graphic violence and puerile humor, then it's there. If you want a book that shows a young man questioning the media-induced, violent, and over-sexualized worldview placed upon him by the media and modern life, then you can have that as well.

This is the type of book I expect out of Chizine; dark, thoughtful, disturbing, and superbly executed. If you haven't bought or won a copy yet, do so now. (More so the buying than the winning).

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Dork Review: Snow White and the Huntsman

I very much wanted this to be a good movie, and when you look at it on paper, it should have been. You have Charlize Theron and Chris Hemsworth, both great actors who have proven themselves. You have a classic story that almost everyone is familiar with, and if you believe the trailers then Snow White and the Huntsman was going to be a good dark take on the basic Snow White theme. How could it have failed?

Fair warning, explaining this will involve spoilers, so even after I've said this is a piece of dreck you still want to see it, I'd recommend reading no further.

First point against the movie is that there's no continuity. Things just seem to happen. For example, early on Snow White escapes by slashing at the Queen's evil brother with an iron nail and then locking him in the cell she was held prisoner in for about a decade, then Snow proceeds to sneak away. Before she's out of the castle the evil brother has somehow escaped the cell. No explanation is given; we never see how he gets out. This may not seem like much, but it's the first example of things just happening for no apparent reason. Another good example is later on when Snow White is storming the castle. After she and her troops are in the defenders suddenly remember they have boiling pitch/oil to drop on the attackers. Yes, I know Snow needs to live so that the Queen can take her heart, however, the Queen isn't shown telling the troops this and has been keeping the fact she needs Snow White's heart a secret to everyone but her brother then entire movie!

Next point against the movie, the dwarves are in it far too little (and no that is not a pun). And it's not like they just went out and hired a bunch of random people to play the dwarves. No, they hired the likes of Bob Hoskins and some other really good character actors and then somehow digitally shrunk them to dwarf size. WHY? I would have much rather seen them hire and use unknowns for those roles who fit the physical stature required and had them around for a greater portion of the movie. As it is, when one of them died saving Snow White I didn't care as they'd been around for less than twenty minutes at that point. What's even worse is, the dwarves get one of the best scenes of the movie late in the film as part of storming the castle. Gah!

The third strike against the movie, and I actually feel a bit guilty about this one, is Kristen Stewart. Now, I went in wanting to give her a chance, really I did. I think the Twilight movies are terrible, but that could easily be because their source material is garbage. I wasn't going to hold acting in them against her, and in fact I don't think I've actually seen any movie she's been a major part of, so I could have been really surprised by her performance in Snow White and the Huntsman. Sadly, I was not.

Ms. Stewart does not currently have the acting chops to pull off the role they asked of her. Most of the movie she appears to be dazed and confused, and the one major scene that required her to deliver a moving and motivating speech flopped completely. Really, I was waiting for one of the troops around her to yell out "Why the hell are we following this dumbass?". Sigh. It might have been that Kristen Stewart just didn't have the voice to pull that moment off, or that eventually she might have the skill to do something like it in a later movie, but at this point I probably won't go and see any film she's a major part of. Oh, and in regards to the meme I've seen floating around about Charlize Theron being much "fairer" than Stewart, Kristen actually looks rather beautiful in this film and definitely fits the Snow White template, she just hasn't developed the acting skills to pull off what the part required.

The only person who pulls off a good performance in this movie is Chris Hemsworth. He plays the Huntsman as almost a Han Solo like rogue with a heart of gold. Hollywood seriously needs to find this guy a fantasy trilogy (something non-superhero) to star in as he could pull it off. His acting was of Shakespearean quality and depth. Charlize Theron on the other hand, well, she gives a great performance as I expected but the dialogue they provided her was terrible, and realizing this she went for the whole Jeremy Irons in the Dungeons and Dragons movie route and starting chewing up the scenery. I half expected a scene where she'd be gnawing on the magic mirror.

There are other problems with this movie. The ending was unsatisfying and the whole movie tried to find a balance between reality and fairy tale that just didn't work for me. If you still want to see it then good on you, but I don't hold out much hope you'll enjoy the experience.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Of Narrators Unreliable

I find it oddly amusing that the last two fiction books I've read or are currently reading have unreliable narrators. So much so that I decided to take a moment and comment on the whole idea of unreliable narration and what it means for literature in general and genre fiction specifically.

The two books that prompted this are Above by Leah Bobet, which I reviewed previously, and Ninjas Vs Pirates Featuring Zombies by James Marshall. So, if both books have unreliable narrators, does this mean they're essentially the same?

Hell, no!

The best way to describe Above would be lyrical and magical, like a hipster indie-band with a sarong wearing lead female singer who has this crunchy granola-girl attractiveness going for her. NVPFZ is more like a coke-snorting stripper who just dropped some acid. The only thing in common between the books is the unreliable narrator, but in both this is an essential element, and what pulls them out of what could have been cliche, almost pedantic, territory.

Okay, I should probably define what an unreliable narrator is for those who don't know or are curious to know what I think it is. An unreliable narrator is one tell the story from a certain viewpoint but with a bias that may lead them to, unknowingly or knowingly, distort facts to fit their view of the world, therefore anything they tell you about what happened in the book cannot be taken at face value. Seems simple enough, right?

It's actually not simple at all.

The first question that needs to be asked is, when do we know not to trust the narrator? This can be a hard thing to determine. While reading Above, it took me quite a few pages before I decided the narrator was unreliable. There were hints of it early on, but I was pretty deep into it before I was sure he couldn't be trusted and that everything related could just be the imaginings of a chemically imbalanced mind. It didn't detract or distract from my reading, and in fact I'm actually rather impressed that Scholastic published such a book targeted for the YA audience. Now, as for NVPFZ, right from the beginning it's obvious that the narrator is unreliable as the entire prologue is one giant run on sentence, and it's not that short of a prologue. So, in answer to this question, it varies from work to work and from reader to reader. Keep in mind though, always be a little bit suspicious of first-person narration.

The second question is, why? Why use an unreliable narrator at all? Shouldn't all stories be told as straightforward and simply as possible, and shouldn't genre fiction strive to be clear and fast-paced and so on?

No actually.

Genre fiction is as much literature as literary fiction. To say that it needs to be restrained to one set of tools is ludicrous. Don't get me wrong. I love clean and simple prose, such as what Asimov, Heinlein, and Scalzi have produced (yes, I put John Scalzi in the same grouping as the other two - say what you want about his writing but I enjoy it and find that his books have nice, clean prose that is easily read), but that doesn't mean genre fiction can't be complex, dense, intricate, and arcane. I mean, just look at Filaria. It's easily a university level read and qualifies as genre fiction in my books (and I don't think it's coincidental that both it and NVPFZ are published by Chizine - if ever there was a literary genre fiction house, it's them).

More importantly though, and as I've alluded to above, both NVPFZ and Above benefit from the use of unreliable narration. Above could easily have become a garden variety tale about freakish outsiders and how they need to be pitied and so on, a topic that's been covered in movies and books before (heck, the author even admits that the old TV show Beauty and the Beast was an inspiration, or at least her anger at the show was one). As for NVPFZ, let's be honest, the subject matter is so ludicrous the only way it could be anything other than a fanboy wank was to hide something deeper inside it and make the narrator unreliable enough that the reader goes hunting for that deeper meaning, and Marshall (from what I've read so for, as I haven't finished it) pulls it off.

The third and final question, at least for me, is it only "literary" genre fiction that uses unreliable narrators, and/or is it only first person narration readers should be cautious with. The answer to both is, of course, no. (I'm beginning to wonder if I'm a rather negative person - I keep saying no)

Truth is, all narrators could be considered unreliable because every narrator exists to tell a story from the point of view the author. Now, there will be varying degrees to this, and in a lot of cases it will be hard to pick up on, but go read, as an example, A Song Of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin and tell me which characters are villains and which aren't. It gets harder the farther into the series you get, doesn't it? That's because even though the story is told in third person, it's third-person limited meaning the reader is as close to being inside the head of each character as they can be without the narration switching to first person. It's subtle, and probably most people won't pick up in it, but it proves to me that genre fiction, and genre fiction writers, can be both literary and tell a good story without one sacrificing the other.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Dork Review: Men In Black 3

Let's keep this short. Men In Black 3 is a fun movie and you should go see it. There, done.

Not enough? Sigh, okay, I'll continue.

I have to admit, going into MIB3 I was a little worried. The first movie was awesome, but number two, well, smelled a little bit like number two if you catch my drift. Not like a fresh pile, but one that's been sitting around in the sun a bit and still smells a bit if you get too close. A pile of meh if you will.

MIB3 doesn't have this problem. It takes all the elements that worked in the first movie, the otherwordly weirdness and Will Smith's physical comedy, and dials them up to eleven. Add in a truly threatening villain, an unexpected scene that's both heartwarming and heartwrenching at the same time, and Josh Brolin doing a superb Tommy Lee Jones impression and you get a fun movie. And really, that's all I wanted when I wen to the theater tonight.

As I said, this is a fun movie well worth the ticket price. Oh, and keep an eye out in the background for a nice little callback to a well-loved character. You'll know them when you see them.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Dork Review: At The Sharp End

At The Sharp End: Canadians Fighting The Great War 19-14-1916 by Tim Cook is actually a few years old. The copyright on it is 2007, and I've actually wanted to read it for a few years now. Usually I prefer to review books closer to their release dates and that come from smaller presses cause, hey, the big guys have marketing departments and there are tons of other outlets that will talk about them.

So why did I chose to review At The Sharp End? Two reasons. First, it's really, really good. Second, it covers a part of history that more Canadians should be aware of since a lot of our identity came out of the conflict the book covers.

Sometimes it can be hard to read history books, especially military history. They can be dryer than most deserts, thick, and mired in minutia. At The Sharp End is definitely a thick book, but it never feels dry and presents minutia is such a way it isn't a morass of detail sucking the reader in and clubbing him over the head until he falls asleep.

The book moves at a good clip, covering a wide variety of subjects, with vivid descriptions and the actual words of Canadians serving on the front lines of the conflict. For such a thick book I was surprised how quickly I got through it, even considering I'm already a pretty quick reader as it is.

For anyone interesting in the Canadian contribution in the First World War, this is an important book. For any military history buffs, this is an important book. For any author needing to know how to depict life in the trenches and what the troops suffered, (the reason I finally got around to picking this up), this is an important book.

I hope you have a chance to read it.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Even With An Outline, Things Still Manage To Sneak In

I've probably mentioned before I'm writing a book. Right now I'm about nine chapters in and over 20,000 words written in the last 4 weeks, which for me is a good pace. Fast enough that I'm getting words on the page but not so fast I feel overstressed. It's working.

I'm an outliner when it comes to writing, meaning for anything over a short-story, (and sometimes for those), I start by putting together a detailed outline for each chapter down to the scene level. So you'd expect that writing the book after that would just be filling in the blanks, so to speak.

Well, no. And here's why.

Even with an outline, my writing process is still pretty fluid. As I go along, especially this early in the project, I'm finding scenes I don't need that I plotted and cutting them out, scenes that I'd put in later need to be moved forward a bit, and material I never expected to fit in sliding into the most unexpected places.

Let me give you an example along with a bit of background on the book.

My main character is going to be an eastern-style, Shaolin-and-Japanese-Buddhist-influenced monk, and the order he's in shave their heads. My character being a curious sort, he asks why and the monk teaching him answers. Seems reasonable, right? What I didn't expect was that the answer that made the most sense, to me at least, ended up dragging in some background material that I didn't think would fit because a lot if it involves the different "races" I'd created to fill the empire that surrounds the tiny section of land my story takes place on. Characters of those differing ethnicity are unlikely to come up as the section of the world my story is set in is rather homogenous and were more or less created when I was world-building because I wanted a diverse population inside my fictional creation, but still, it's nice to know they're out there.

(How diverse things will be still remains to be seen. If this turns into a series, editors and publishers willing, the second book will have a much more diverse cast as the main character moves on to a wider world.)

It remains to be seen whether or not this scene will survive in its current form when I go to edit the book later on and if (hopefully when) I get editing requests from an editor prior to publication. I hope it does, as I think it builds on the world and gives it depth and has is a great piece of showing how a certain character thinks without drubbing the reader over the head.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Dork Review: Above

Above is the last of my Ad Astra reads, and I may have well saved the best for last. Unintentional of course.

(Oh, and don't worry. I won't be making any puns with the title. I'd like to think I'm ABOVE such behaviour... oh wait... whoops. Nevermind.)

How I understand it is that Above is supposed to be aimed for the Young Adult audience, and I can see that. Young protagonist, no graphic sex, and it's published by Scholastic who put out Harry Potter and The Hunger Games (At least in Canada they do). That being said, I still think it can be seen as an adult book as well.

Now, I don't mean adult in the sense that most do. Adult does not have to mean a work contains excessive swearing or sex (or is pornographic). No, Above is adult in the sense it has beautiful language and is told by an unreliable narrator. The author, Leah Bobet, has crafted an exceedingly gorgeous book that is told to us by a home-schooled storyteller (identified as a Teller in the book) that actually sounds as if it was told by a home-schooled storyteller and not an English student high on absinthe. The writing is amazingly consistent and transparent. It never feels artificial, never feels forced. As a writer myself I understand how hard that is to achieve, so I must tip my hat to Miss Bobet for doing such a superb job.

The best part is, that after finishing the book, I'm still not sure if the narrator was crazy and the whole thing was a delusion. It's almost of if this is Schrodinger's plot. It can be both real and unreal at the same time.

If Above is what kids are reading these days then there is hope for the future. If you have kids, please go out and get them a copy. You'll be doing them a huge favor and expanding their minds greatly.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Dork Review: Marvel's The Avengers

I just got back from seeing this movie, and while I'd normally wait and think a bit before posting a review I just couldn't with this one. I don't think my opinion is going to change if I take eight hours to sleep and have my subconscious work on it.


My friends and I left the theater raving about this movie, going over our favorite scenes, repeating some of the best lines. It's been awhile since I've enjoyed a movie this much.

So why should you go see it? The Avengers is the big payoff from all the other Marvel movies. This is what they've been building up to these last few years. This is what a superhero movie can truly be.

None of the heroes played second fiddle in this movie, and I mean none. Joss Whedon is a master of working with ensemble casts and it really and truly shows with this movie. Even characters one would deem minor, such as Agent Phil Coulson, get their time in the sun and have a real and true effect on the story.

There was action, drama, humor, and complete and utter heart. Sitting in the theater I believed in this world, in these people. Each and every one of them was a complete and real character, and each one was truly a hero in their own way.

The highest compliment I can give this movie is that even the parts I saw coming a mile away were still awesome, and never left me sitting smugly in my seat saying to myself "Yeah, saw that one coming."

Go and see this movie. Then see it again and catch the bits you missed because you were laughing or cheering too hard. At the end of the movie the entire audience I was in actually started clapping.

Oh, and there are two stinger scenes at the end, one near the beginning of the credits and one at the very end. Both are worth waiting for.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Dork Review: Nukekubi

So now we're on to the third book I brought home from Ad Astra, Nuekekubi Stephen B. Pearl. Only one more after this and I'll have gone through everything I brought home. (Yes, this was a light con for book purchases for me.)

So where to start with Nuekekubi? I enjoyed the book without being completely blown away. On the positive column is this is a fantasy/horror book that's actually set in Southern Ontario, which is bloody rare. Canadian authors seem to have generally not been encouraged to set their stories in their own backyards, with the exception of Robert J. Sawyer of course.

In addition to that, the story involves Japanese culture and mythology, which I've been fascinated by for years. The nukekubi that gives the story its title is a type of Japanese goblin that has its hands and head detach and fly around causing problems. So, another bonus.

Third in the plus column is I can see a definite improvement in Stephen's writing. The last book of his I read was Tinker's Plague, a post-apocalyptic story set in the Guelph area, and while it had an interesting premise the story suffered from an overuse of exclamation marks. This may seem like a minor technical item, but it put the emotional emphasis that should have been conveyed by the dialogue out of whack and raised things to the level of melodrama. Nukekubi avoids this mistake and that is a big step forward for Mr. Pearle.

The fourth positive aspect of the book is the open-minded nature of the characters, especially the narrator, Ray. I don't want to put a spoiler out there so let me just say this: Ray sees women as people, no matter their circumstances, and while he has romance issues they aren't of the standard Neanderthal man-cave dweller sort. That in itself is refreshing.

Fifth, this book has a great ending that I didn't see coming yet at the same time makes complete sense and is satisfying. Really, it works so well.

So with all the positives I've listed above why aren't I raving more about this book? I think it's more technical issues. At times the dialogue just didn't feel quite right, making some of the characters feel a bit off, and I didn't feel engaged enough by the magic system Ray and his colleagues use. These aren't huge issues, but they're the ones that stood out for me.

If you're a fan of urban fantasy or books set in Canada then I think this is one you should check out. The positives I've highlighted do outweigh the negatives.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Dork Review: Destiny's Fall

The lovely Marie Bilodeau released the second of her Destiny series and I was lucky enough to snag a copy at Ad Astra. Between working on my own writing and fighting a nasty case of con-crud I was finally able to finish it today.

So what do I think of it?

Destiny's Fall is good continuation of the series. I can see a greater maturity in Marie's writing style while it still retains her storytelling voice, and I can see growth in how the characters are portrayed. They're more vibrant in this book, have more of an individual voice rather than just being swept along in the admirably done narrative. This is especially true of Avienne, who is now definitely my favorite character of the series. (What can I say, I have a weakness for redheads.)

The issue I noticed in Destiny's Blood is still present in Destiny's Fall. It's far too short. The book just seems to be ramping up when it comes to a conclusion. Also, there were some things mentioned but characters, told to the reader, that I would have loved to have seen played out on the page. One part in particular is the implantation of a magic jewel that sounds like it would have been an awesome scene but we only get told about it later rather than actually seeing it happen.

There are so many tumultuous events this book that happen one after another that I was exhausted by the end. I'd love to see the characters having a chance to talk more, to have a chance to truly digest what just happened to them.

Based on what I've seen, I think Destiny's Fall could easily have been twice its current length without losing any of its impact. As I said about Destiny's Blood, if the worst thing I can say about a book is that it's too short then it can't be all that bad.

(Yes, I've ready some really long books/series that should have ended pages ago... cough... Wheel Of Time... cough)

Go check out Marie's site and look into getting a copy of your own.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Survival Strategies For Introverts

The introversion panel at Ad Astra 2012 spawned the idea for this post. After it was over I started thinking, "What can introverts do to not only survive but thrive in an extroverted world?". Here's what I've come up with:

1. Plan ahead and have an escape strategy:

Sounds simple right? You'd be surprised how many people, not just introverts, fail to do this. Look, if you're an introvert at some point you're going to put into an uncomfortable situation, such as attending a party you really didn't want to or presenting to a group of strangers. Having a way to gracefully step away from something you're not comfortable with is critical as it will prevent you from getting too stressed and saying something you didn't intend to. And remember, internalize rather than memorize. You want to be able to give a good reason without sounding like you're reading off a prepared speech. (This also works in keeping down nervousness if you have to give a talk in front of others.)

2. Know your limit:

Now for the reason you have your exit strategy. At some point you're going to hit your daily allotment of dealing with other people. The great thing about being an introvert is we're pretty good with the intake and processing of stimuli. The terrible thing is we get overwhelmed by said stimuli much quicker than extroverts. May have something to do with internalizing and chewing it over rather than constantly sending stimuli outwards. Not a good or a bad thing either way. It just is.

So why do we need to know our limits? Two reasons: First, so we can break them, and second, so we know when to exit. One we've reached our stimuli breaking point we need to back off and recharge, otherwise we run the risk of doing or saying something truly stupid. I know that I can get rather, testy, if I've been surrounded by stimulus for too long without a break and an innocent comment could get me to say something I'll regret. It's important to know what your personal limit is so you can retreat before you make an ass of yourself and derail all the work you're about to do with strategy 3.

3. Break out of your comfort zone:

Now you may be asking, "Didn't he just say to stay within my limit?" No, no I didn't. The reason I recommend knowing your limit is so that you can break it every now and then in a controlled manner in order to increase said limit. Think of it as social weight-lifting. On a regular basis it's a good idea to work your social muscles to failure so that as they recover they become stronger. This means you'll be more comfortable is a wider variety of social situations and less likely to have a knee-jerk negative reaction when placed in an unexpected uncomfortable situation, such as having to train a group of people you've just met or fill in for your boss at a meeting.

An example of me following this advice was Ad Astra 2012. Talking in front of a room full of people is something I've never been overly comfortable with and being a panelist this year helped me a lot with that. I was in a relatively safe, controlled environment and was guaranteed an audience that was at least interested in what I had to say. In the end, Ad Astra was a huge confidence boost for me and should help with my jitters the first time I actually have to do a (gah!) reading from something of mine that's been published.

So pick something just outside your comfort zone that you have a little bit of control over and do it. Keep doing this and you'll see yourself better able to socialize and being an introvert won't be some much of a burden.

Okay, so those are the top three strategies for introvert survival and thriving. Now from some little things:

  • Master the head bob and umm - this way people will realize you heard them while your brain is chewing over their problem. The chin-stroke works well too, especially if you have facial hair.
  • Take a second before responding to anything and consider your answer - we may know it right away (thank you fast stimuli processing) but we appear more thoughtful if we take a moment and we refine the phrasing of our answer to be more sociably correct.
  • Don't be afraid to smile.
  • Don't be afraid to observe for a couple minutes before diving into an unknown situation. Again, use your data-processing abilities to give yourself a leg-up in as many situations as possible.
My final recommendation is always remember that being shy/introverted doesn't make you any less deserving of success or happiness than anyone else. Being a jackass makes you less deserving, and both introverts and extroverts can be jackasses, so don't be one.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Dork Review: Fighting Gravity

Being sick sucks, but having a good book to read does help mitigate things. Reading Fighting Gravity has helped sooth my post Ad Astra cold while giving my beleaguered brain something to focus on.

It helps that this book is an excellent read. I dipped my toes into it last night and then dived in fully today while sprawled out on the couch, devouring it in only a few hours. It's that good and that easy to fall into.

A lot of this has to do with the fact that Falling Gravity's main character, Jacob Dawes, is so well written. The entire book is first person in his voice, and Jacob is such a highly-self aware sort that he can comment on when he's made a colossal error without attempting to excuse himself.

This book could stand alone as a character study of one man's journey from crushing poverty to the rarest heights of scientific achievement, from obscurity to notoriety,  but it also includes themes of love, passion, and dangerous/dysfunctional relationships that form the story of Jacob's life. There is an almost fairy tale quality to this book.

Falling Gravity isn't perfect however. I finished this book with a lot of unanswered questions. With the focus being on Jacob and told through his first-person viewpoint a lot of the background of the world Leah Petersen has crafted falls to the wayside. My frustration at that could be due to the fact I'm very much a detail person. I like to know the why behind most things, especially why Earth in the future has an emperor, a variety of social classes, and so on. There are subtexts of class war/envy and bigotry that are present but not examined as much as I would have like to have seen.

One aspect that isn't explained his how accepting people of Falling Gravity's world are unconcerned about the fact that Jacob is in a gay relationship. Wait, let me correct that. People are concerned about the relationship, not over the fact that it's with another man but rather who that man is. One concern about books set in a neo-feudal setting is that the society depicted will have regressed in almost all aspects, and Falling Gravity avoids completely falling into this trope while still having some unsavory societal elements.

This is Leah Petersen's first book and I think she's done a marvelous job. What Falling Gravity does right it does very well and what it lacks doesn't prevent it from being a good read. The ending does leave open the possibility of a sequel, which I think would work great if told from a different perspective than Jacob's. Much like J.M. Frey, I think Leah has a lot of potential and I look forward to reading her next book.