Style Icons: Male »Jack Vance

vanceRIP

Jack Vance is simply my favorite science fiction author. His stories are clever, rich, unforgettable and funny. I became an immediate and immense fan after casually picking up Tales of the Dying Earth and have been delighted every time I’ve opened one of his books since.

If anyone’s ever asked for book recommendations, I’ve undoubtedly pushed Demon Princes Volume 1 and 2 on them, I’ve even made life long sci-fi haters fall in love with books like Showboat World.

I am sad! I will always regret I never sent a note to thank him for creating such fantastic worlds (he’s one of the only people I’ve felt compelled to write in such a way).

As a man, he was modest and gave much credit to his wife for helping edit his stories and had no pretenses of being a “great” writer (even though he was great).. But he enjoyed it and continued to write even after becoming legally blind with the aid of his wife and computers.

As I always say, if you haven’t read his work, do, it’s made my imagination sing and my life a richer place.

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Posted on May 29, 2013

Movies »Dredd

Dredd-1directed by Pete Travis (2012)

Well, what do you know!? Those shockingly good reviews for the blood splatter B-movie Dredd were right. It’s pretty darn good, in a gritty early 80′s way. There’s a fine line that the ultra violent film toes nicely: it takes itself seriously enough to be straightforward – not winking to the audience but has enough fun with the genre so as to not be mired down in pompous seriousness that plagues superhero movies these days. It’s not easy to manage the balance, if it were more popcorn movies would satisfy more often.

I’ve heard this one is very loyal to the original comics, and maybe that’s where the genius lies – someone adapted something the liked and was smart enough not to change it completely once they got their hands on it.

Dredd is played by hunky Karl Urban (not that you would know with his gruff one liners and never removing his helmet) and his lady sidekick, Olivia Thirlby is surprisingly good, empathetic even, as she blasts her way through the movie.. but it’s Lena Headley who has the most fun as a psychopath king pin named Mama.

Get the kids out of the room, settle in for some blood soaked action and enjoy.

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Posted on February 27, 2013

TV Shows »The Twilight Zone

the-twilight-zoneClassic

It’s extremely comforting to revisit a classic show like The Twilight Zone. Whether its an iconic classic like Time Enough At Last and To Serve Man or ones I’ve never seen like Elegy or The Invaders, the sci fi anthology still impresses and entertains.

It must have stunned audiences back in 1959 when it debuted. It’s proof that interesting ideas and good writing are timeless.

You can watch all the original series on Netflix instant. A perfect background for cold days stuck inside.

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Posted on February 27, 2013

TV Shows »Misfits

misfitsOn Hulu

Imagine if Heroes was raunchy and had a fabulous sense of humor. If that sounds intriguing do yourself a favor and watch the British import, Misfits.

The first three seasons are more fun, entertaining, smart and creative than I expected from a show with the premise of dirty mouthed, horny juvenile delinquents gaining super powers. With the compelling cast and innovative story arcs you might even end up emotionally invested.

Which is why I point out that it’s the first three seasons that are most notable. I’m in the middle of the fourth season now, which begins with just one remaining original cast member and at a point in the story where big mysteries have been solved. While season three suffered the loss of the charming Robert Sheehan, it carried on pretty well without him. Now, though, as much as they are trying, it feels forced, but I’m still watching since its more fun than most things out there.

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Posted on January 9, 2013

TV Shows »Dr Who (the Matt Smith years)


Season 5…

What a difference a cast makes. I tried to like the Doctor Who reboot but despite a reasonable liking of Chris Eccleston, Billie Piper is not a favorite and the cornball tone was a turn off.

Recently, on a friend’s insistence that the show was worth watching, I took a peek at Season five. Ah! That’s the stuff! The redhead is charming and Matt Smith as the doctor? I’m not afraid to admit I’m smitten, head over heels for and totally crushing on him (a great jaw line and a bow tie are hard to resist). Thrilled to hear he’s signed on through 2014 at least.

It’s not just Matt Smith that deserves mention though. The imaginative writing is excellent and new creative direction from Stephen Moffat (who took over from Russell T Davies who is also behind the unbearable Torchwood) has completely reinvigorated the franchise.

I used to watch Dr. Who as a pre schooler while my disgusted sister played outside til it was over (she’s never gone for the dorky stuff). After decades, I can finally call myself a fan again.

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Posted on January 1, 2013

Books »City of Saints and Madmen

by Jeff Vandermeer (2001)

I truly don’t know how City of Saints and Madmen ended up in on my radar. I saw it was the only fiction book on Jim’s wish list and got it for Christmas for him only to learn he’d never heard of it. Maybe I added it by accident after some mention, maybe it was just fate – but however it happened, I’m glad because this is one of the most intriguing novels I’ve come across recently.. Even if it doesn’t always seem that way as your reading it. 

Based on the fictional city Ambergris, the novel is a patchwork of styles and faux historical texts: from meta short diction to city guides for tourists, from “classic” fables to standard sci-fi fiction. The book covers a range of the unusual city’s history giving the reader a immersive portrait of an amazing place. 

Deadly festivals, giant squids, mushroom people who live underground, hostile takeovers, plagues.. There’s so much interesting stuff here, my only complaint is that some segments worked better than others. I’d sometimes be taken out of the carefully constructed world Vandermeer has created. But the novel is sum is greater than its parts and the novel is best a few days after you finish it and thoughts of Ambergris come bubbling into your dreams. 

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Posted on August 26, 2012

Books,Style Icons: Male »Ray Bradbury, The Vintage Bradbury

RIP

I’ve been wanting to write a little tribute to Ray Bradbury after his passing, but realized that it’s been some time since I read his books and thought revisiting his work was long overdue.

Jim and I have amassed quite a collection of his books from our teen years and I settled on The Vintage Bradbury, which I enjoyed immensely and only made his death sadder.

The stories I always most vividly remembered were of far away places like Mars or distant futures with wild (but not completely unrealistic) technologies (as in the memorable story The Veldt) but this time around, I responded more to his universal and terrestrial imaginings.

Many of his stories tackle relatable human fears and paranoia, whether giving birth or simply becoming aware of ones body, whether losing one’s status and sense of safety or finding out who you really are in your last moments – the horrors that face us daily.

A Vintage Bradbury is a “best of” collection, but one curated by the author himself and is a varied and thoroughly compelling read.

He was a prolific writer who helped bring speculative fiction to the main steam. A true original and an inspiration.

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Posted on June 15, 2012

Books »The Hunger Games Trilogy

by Suzanne Collins (2008, 2009, 2010)

I couldn’t resist seeing what all the fuss was about and besides a young adult romance set in a dystopian future where kids are forced to kill one another sounds exactly up my alley. There’s a prevailing and annoying habit of people, mostly men, around my age to flat out despise anything too popular (usually without ever having read or seen the offending pop hit) but I like to read before judgement (I even gave Twilight a chance) and found The Hunger Games spectacular.. Mostly.

The first book is riveting with well written action (usually hard to write and the part in most books that loses my interest) and the romance is nothing short of brilliant. I can totally understand how this captured the hearts of teen girls everywhere and frankly, it left me feeling a bit like a teen girl myself.

The plotting is smart, the heroine is complex and pishaw! to those complaints about similarities to the Korean gore fest Battle Royale. I’m a big fan of that too but feel they’re very different. Besides I ask you to name one sci fi theme that hasn’t been explored by more than one author.

The first book is intimate, exciting and heart breaking and left me very curious about book two, Catching Fire which surprised me by being equally great if not better. Collins moves the story forward in unexpected and inventive ways. After a whirl wind it ends in a cliff hanger which leads us to book three: Mockingjay and the downfall of the series.

I can’t help but wonder if Collibs was severely depressed while writing the final installment. With my love for dark material I’ll rarely say something like this but: couldn’t she have kept things a bit lighter? Given our beloved characters more satisfying justice and more romance? I mean really, this book is bleak.

Still, it’s worth reading the trilogy which takes about three days – you just may want to fabricate your own happy ending.

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Posted on April 10, 2012

Movies »Alien and Aliens

directed by Ridley Scott (1979) and James Cameron (1986)

When three adult, seemingly intelligent Jeopardy! contestants couldn’t name Alien as the film starring Ian Holm as an android I was appalled!

So, even though Alien and Aliens were set to make an appearance on my “Top Best Movies You’ve Probably Seen But If You Haven’t You Better Get On It Marathon”, now it seems urgent to tell you to watch them straight away.

The first is cerebral, terrifying and ground breaking. The second defied the odds and became the best of block buster action science fiction (featuring the amazing line “Game over, Man!”) despite a new, different minded director. Together, they are simply the best films ever made in their genre, in fact – they define the genre.

I am cautiously excited about the prequel Prometheus because it’s also by Alien director Ridley Scott. Maybe it will succeed is capturing the brilliance of the series in a way that parts 3 and 4 have not.

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Posted on April 10, 2012

Movies »Timecrimes

directed by Nacho Vigalondo (2007)

Like anything dealing with the phenomena of time travel, Timecrimes is a bit of a conundrum. Rather than being frustrating though, the questions you’re left asking are part of the film’s appeal. Of course I can’t get into those questions here too specifically without giving away plot, so I’ll just have to find others who’ve seen it to debate.

A small film on a seemingly low budget (but not in a bad way) the movie focuses on one afternoon in the life of a normal, middle aged man named Hector. Through a series of unfortunate and unusual events, his calm life is suddenly disrupted by violence, shock and time travel.

Interesting and mind bending, the movie, which is directed by the charming guy playing the scientist is nearly completely satisfying though sadly there’s one point where I couldnt help asking in frustration “Why did he do that?”

Still it’s great to find a gem like this that raises all sorts of fun questions about the always fascinating theory of time travel.

Available on Netflix instant, this is a quick intriguing afternoon watch that will keep you thinking. Oh, and don’t let the poster scare you off, it’s not a Saw-like gore fest as it might suggest.

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Posted on March 23, 2012

Books »Mothers and Other Monsters

by Maureen McHugh (2005)

I’m on a bit of a Maureen McHugh kick, finding her one of the most compelling and innovative writers today. With Mothers and Other Monsters I continued to be awed.

The collection includes genre defying stories that are often truly brilliant: the off world saga The Cost to be Wise left me stunned and Interview: On Any Given Day which takes place in a future where the aging are reversing the process and partying with actual young people – which leads to unexpected complications.

She is a fresh, amazing voice in science fiction but, defying categorization, most of the other stories barely dabble in the genre, like Eight-Legged Story and Presence which take on the very real dramas of being a step parent and watching a loved one struggling with alzheimer’s.

The latter is particularly depressing, though no less brilliantly written. (I just needed a breather and a dose of something happy after finishing it.)

I look forward to reading her novel Nekropolis soon (and refrained from reading the short story that lead to it in this collection).

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Posted on March 9, 2012

Style Icons: Male »Ralph McQuarrie

Conceptual Designer

Ralph McQuarrie was largely responsible for the awesome phenomena of the Star Wars world.

A gifted artist and visionary designer, his conceptual drawings gave life to the beloved universe.

A few of my favorite designs by him were the sand raiders, snow walkers, and Darth Vader.

He was also part of the design for Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., Back to the Future, and Total Recall.

He passed away at age 82.

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Posted on March 4, 2012

Books »After the Apocalypse

by Maureen McHugh (2011)

After the Apocalypse has solidified Maureen McHugh as one of my favorite current authors. I recommended her novel China Mountain Zhang a while back and have only grown fonder of it over time.

Her latest, well reviewed collection of short stories is bookended by more well worn apocalyptic scenarios: zombies and refugees walking through abandoned, dangerous suburbs towards (hopefully) a safe place.

With McHugh’s unique prose (she’s got an amazing ability to speak believably from a wide range of points of view) and creative mind, even zombies can be new again.

The other stories, which take on the apocalypse in different ways, are unique, humorous, and very human. There’s a debilitating disease transmitted through chicken nuggets, a woman struggling to get by in a shattered economy by making custom baby dolls and dildoes, a boy who develops amnesia after a dirty bomb explodes in Baltimore, and a group of people that get the unnerving sudden ability to fly.

While the stories are paranoid and frightening, they’re also almost optimistic. Each one is about survival, not in a Rambo sort of way, but how normal people under horrible circumstances just manage to carry on.

I really love this book and want to run out and get more of her work. It’s been truly inspiring to me (especially as I am writing short stories myself) and I’ve even contemplated writing a fan letter (which I never do).

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Posted on February 1, 2012

Albums,Laughs »2001: A Space Odyssey Soundtrack

Various Artists (but Kubrick’s vision) (1968)

An epic soundtrack to an awe inspiring film.

Listening to the 2001: A Space Odyssey Soundtrack will make your day seem significant and very weird.

And while we’re at it, how awesome is this monolith action figure?

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Posted on November 23, 2011

TV Shows »5 Second Review: Terra Nova

Thumbs Feel Sense of Deja Vu

Terra Nova could be one of those shows I get caught up on a couple seasons from now once enough people I trust say it’s great. But there just wasn’t enough in the pilot for me to stay tuned until then.

Compared to almost everything we’ve seen, it’s good even though it’s terribly derivative of Avatar, Jurassic Park and others. But you know, I’m fine with that lots of sci-fi is.

My problem is that nothing new was added and the dialogue was flat out lazy:

“grab the wheel!”, “what??!”

or “can’t blame a girl for trying”…

almost every line could have been plucked from another boring action movie.

Cast should have been scruffier too.

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Posted on October 4, 2011

Books »The Forever War

by Joe Halderman (1974)

Soon The Forever War is going to be the book you see everyone reading on the subway. Why? Because Ridley Scott is working on a big screen adaptation that has the potential to be the next masterpiece science fiction cinema. That is, if he manages to capture the brilliance of the novel.

After reading Song of Fire and Ice, John Haldeman’s economy of language is a refreshing surprise. The wry tone, smirking through heart break, violence and depression calls to mind Catch-22 and the inventive vision of the future makes one think of Starship Troopers and A Clockwork Orange. All good things, but Halderman’s work is truly unique and it’s influence incalculable.

Forever War is a seminal piece in Science fiction literature but sadly not one that has crossed over to mainstream readers. I had heard the name but didn’t pick it up until a Facebook mention reminded me of it and I was on a quest for a new book to read. Most everyone I’ve talked to has never heard of it, but like I said, that’s sure to change soon.

I don’t want to give too much plot away but it concerns a war that carries on with a species humans know nothing about for thousands of years. Much of the plot revolves around understanding theoretical technical aspects, a sci-fi trope that can turn me off, but here he somehow makes it very understandable ( just don’t read it when super tired).

It’s not a flaw exactly but could be a hurdle for some ( including filmmakers, so curious to see how its all handled) Even so, the action, the imagination, and the humanity of the broken soldier Mandella we witness the war through will entrance any reader.

Truly a masterpiece. Lovers of sci-fi, got on this! Or make fun of me for not knowing about it til now, your pick.

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Posted on September 26, 2011

TV Shows »5 Second Review: The Secret Circle

Thumbs Say Not Bad For What It Is

Mr. Dawson’s Creek spent a long, empty headed weekend with the repeat viewings of the Twilight movies and The Craft and came to the logical conclusion…

Teenage witches! But they will live in the Pacific Northwest and drive trucks!

There will be one crazy bitch that’s mad with witchy power and magical glittery stuff will happen in the woods!

(OK, to be fair, the storyline comes from a series of books, so the derivative elements might not be his fault)

Greenlight!

Maybe it’s because I find Britt Robertson charming or that I have a soft spot for young adult entertainment, but I have to say The Secret Circle bests both the inspirations. Which is kind of faint praise (especially in the case of Twilight) but still.

If the shows finds its sense of humor and goes wild it could be fun though it’s doubtful I’ll personally watch and wait (such hopefulness didn’t totally pay off with Supernatural.)

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Posted on September 20, 2011