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.