What’s On My Bookshelf: The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson (Signed Copy)

  • Project Paradise Word Count: 113
  • Project Skye Word Count: 1084 
  • Project Independence Word Count: 1723 
  • Project Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel Page Count: 12 (+1)

Summer Reading

So, I bought Brandon Sanderson’s novel Oathbringer (Stormlight Archives Book 3) for my birthday to read as a reward for finishing the Spring Semester.  This semester was so challenging that I was actually tempted (and actually tried) to read Oathbringer before the semester was over.  However, there is a prequel novella called Edgedancer that BS suggested reading before diving in Book 3 proper.  Luckily, MTSU’s Library had a copy and I’ve started reading it in preparation for book 3 in the series.  Today, I wanted to have a quick look at another book on my bookshelf, The Way of Kings (Stormlight Archives Book 1), which I was fortunate enough to have signed by Brandon Sanderson when he came to LibertyCon here is Chattanooga several years back.

The Way of Kings

Brandon Sanderson’s work is one of the few of the “New Generation” of fantasy writers that I like.  Even though George R. R. Martin has been around since the 80’s, his Game of Thrones series kicked off a resurgence of the GrimDark genre.  To be clear, GrimDark has always been around–Stephen R. Donaldson, a few of Piers Anthony’s early Sci-Fi works–not his YA or Fantasy, per se, and Dave Duncan–are just a few writers that immediately spring to mind whose works that I’ve read (and disliked) because of the GrimDark elements  Most writers of Sanderson’s generation are (of course) seeing the popularity (and dollar signs) of GoT and are  trying to emulate his success with their own versions.  Sanderson, however, tells a very different tale–one that, while having its own grim elements, eschews GrimDark for a more hopeful and elegant premise.  The hero is flawed, but not in a “antihero” sort of way, but more in that he keeps trying to protect, but it all seems to come to naught and he is so very tired of not succeeding.  In an era of “Me Too” GoT clones, this was very refreshing.  The world was very well built and I like the way Sanderson plots (he thinks up big, “set-piece” moments and then writes to those moments).  The ending has a bit of twist and ultimately it was the hero and the ending that sold me on the story.

Life Before Death

So, the above heading is the “creed” of one of the forgotten orders of (this world’s) “knights” in the book and is what Brandon Sanderson inscribed on my copy of the book when he came for LibertyCon..  He was very nice and must say that I enjoyed meeting him.  I was, surprisingly, tongue-tied but mentioned that that I was a librarian when I asked him to sign my A.R.C. (Advanced Reader’s Copy) version of the book that I had been given by another librarian a year (or two) earlier.  He was very respectful and said that he enjoyed meeting librarians and the the A.R.C. was fairly rare in that there weren’t many printed and signed my copy.  It is still a treasured addition to my collection even all these years later.  I can only hope that, if ever I reach my goal of being a published speculative fiction novelist, that I am as gracious and nice as Brandon Sanderson was during that event.

Anyway, that’s all for today.  If you’re in to Fantasy in any way, I would highly recommend checking out this series, starting with The Way of Kings.  It is an awesome start to an awesome series by an awesome author!

Here’s hoping you have a good week! 🙂

Sidney




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The Expanse: Season 1 (Mini-Review)

A “Spaceship Show” for the Grimdark set

So, The Expanse is a “Syfy” TV show that has been billed as “Game of Thrones in Space” (it isn’t really, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have similarities.  The story is supposed to be a more mature, “realistic” look at Science Fiction.  The show is based on a series novels by James S. A. Corey, which according to a quick check on GoodReads, is up to Book 8 in the “mainline” series, although based on GR, it looks like the author has several “gap” novels that fill in various parts of the story and that exist “between” the time-period of the main story.

I’ve not read the novels, but the show is fairly standard.  It weaves three main stories together: a sci-fi noir detective story about a cop trying to find a missing young woman, a political thriller between a potential war between Earth, Mars and “Belters” (those who live & work in the Asteroid Belt), and a “spaceship show” about the survivors of The Canterbury (aka The Cant) who later become the crew of a new ship: The Rocinante (The Roci).  Each of these tales gets woven with the others, although it doesn’t happen until the later episodes (season 1 is 10 episodes long).

Too Dark, Literally & Figuratively.

Is the show any good.  Not really, not unless you like poorly explained character motivations, trite dialogue that is supposed to be edgy, and character deaths just for the sake of “shock” value (the whole “no one is safe–anyone can die at any time” motif).  The problem is that is a fairly conventional TV show masquerading as edgy.  While a few characters do die, it is nothing like what I’ve heard happens on shows like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, and the few deaths that occur, like most in the genre of “Grimdark,” seem mean-spirited and in poor taste.

Also, in order to go for that grimy, noir vibe, they made the filter really dark.  No, I mean really dark–the color pallet is so desaturated that, after 2-3 episodes, you’ll be reaching for your brightness controls to turn them up just to see the action.  It’s a stylistic choice, sure, but a poor one–they do it to emphasize the deficit that Belters and Mars citizens feel that they have to Earth with its open skies and open water, but it just makes the show seem really bland to me–Bladerunner (the original) did the whole “dystopian” vibe better and with more vibrancy and that was 30-40 years ago.

Oh, and as was suggested by an online review on Amazon Prime where I watched it, be sure to turn on Captions.  Not only is some of the dialogue hard to hear/understand, but the “Belters” speak (sometimes) in their own made-up dialect.  Sometimes this dialect sounds like creole and can be understood and sometimes it is completely alien words that are more like a foreign language.  Good idea in theory, but again, in practice, a poor choice.

Good actors, Poor Story

About the only things that I liked in this first season was the “spaceship scenes” and the female characters.  Anytime anyone was in a spaceship, the show was at least watchable.  Somehow, the producers, directors, and writers seem to “get” the whole spaceship, crew interactions, and space drama of the show (except for the intro “sex” scene not 5 mins into the first episode which turned me off initially–again their attempt to be “edgy,” but it just made it feel sophomoric–especially since this follows the noir section which itself seems like a pastiche of other, better dystopias).  All the other times, the show seems forced, pretentious, and decidedly not fun to watch.

really liked the female characters, however, on the show.  For some reason, these seemed like the only real characters on the show.  All of them, from the political diplomat on Earth, to the “Captain” of The Rocinante, to the “former” girlfriend/lover/partner to the noir detective, even down to the “mother” of one of the main characters (who is only in one episode for a few minutes) feel fully realized where the men seem like caricatures is many instances (for the most part–of course, there are exceptions).

Overall Score: C (73-77)

The only reason I didn’t score it lower was because I really like the female characters in the story and the acting overall by the cast.  Had I been grading just the actual material (writing, dialogue, style, plot, etc.), then it would have earned a D (63-67).

Look, I don’t like “Grimdark.”  So any story that features grimdark elements has an uphill battle for me to enjoy it, no matter its success in the mainstream.  It just isn’t what I like–not to read, not to watch, not to consume in any medium.  Will I watch Season 2 which is available on Prime right now?  Yes, probably.  Will I watch it immediately?  No, I’m good for now.  I might pick it back up later this summer, but I think I’ll move on to another “spaceship show” if I can find one.   Will I read the books?  Most assuredly not.  Like Game of Thrones, this one is for a different audience than me–and that’s okay.

As a writer myself, however, I just wished it worked the other way around.  Fair’s fair, after all.

 

Sidney




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Mini-Review: Netflix’s Lost in Space

lost-in-space-stream-netflix-1_filmdaily

Image of Netflix’s Lost in Space, Robot and Will Robinson, Penny and Judy Robinson.  Image Source: Film Daily

A Great Start

So, last week I finished watching Season 1 of Netflix’s Lost in Space, a 10 Episode Science Fiction show reboot of the original 1960s show and the 1990s movie version and I have to say that I really enjoyed it!  I watched it a 2nd time over this weekend in lieu of Avengers Infinity War in order to help take my mind off the car trouble that I had over the weekend and it held up over a 2nd viewing.  It is classic science fiction, but unlike most modern shows (this includes pretty all genres), the science is fairly crucial to the story.  While not overblown or overbearing, the fact that the new show portrays the Robinsons as mostly a family of scientists and doctors (the father is now a marine vet. who is better at combat than at pure science–but even he has his moments), they actually use the skills and knowledge that they are supposed to have in much the same way the detectives and lawyers on Law and Order use their skills find the perpetrator of the crime and use the law to get a conviction.  This makes the show feel grounded and more realistic than other recent sci-fi shows that I like and watch.

Danger, Will Robinson

I won’t go into spoilers, but a certain robot with a certain “catch-phrase” is back and the origin is pretty unique.  The robot is central to the plot, however, so if you’re not a robot person, then you’re not going to like the show because the robot is as much the main character in the show as is Will Robinson.  Sometimes the robot is CGI and sometimes the robot is some sort of “suit.”  While the robot didn’t bother me particularly, I know from at least one YouTube review of the show that one reviewer said that when it was the “suit,” it brought her out of the experience.  I didn’t really notice it myself, so I’ll just say Your Mileage May Vary depending on your tolerance for special effects.  I know it makes a difference as, while I wasn’t born yet when the original show came on, I could never go back and watch reruns of the original show because of the dated nature of the special effects after having seen the special effects in the Star Wars and Star Trek movies.  I really liked all of the characters in the Robinson family–each was made wildly different from one another and it was easy to differentiate between them, but their skill set and knowledge-base complemented each other.  Well done to the writers on clear and effective characterization.

Dr. Smith, I Presume

So, the chief antagonist is Dr. Smith, played by Parker Posey.  Now her character is polarizing: one reviewer loves the character while another reviewer called her character a major problem for the show.  I personally liked the way she played the character.  The way the character was written and the way the story unfolded, I felt like I understood her every motivation.  Again, no spoilers, but they update Dr. Smith’s character into a “modern day” conception of a bad guy.  If there’s a problem with the character, this is where I think it lies.  I’ve said time and again that being the anti-hero doesn’t really work because at some point, the anti-hero/villain is only out for number one and will work against you when their purposes no longer align with yours, and Dr. Smith is the epitome of this philosophy.  What I think is happening is that the dislike/distaste that people feel toward the Dr. Smith character is actually their distaste for the notion that someone would be selfish enough to work against the group for their own ends so ruthlessly (which is what a villain actually does) and their transposing that distaste onto the character/actor.  Again, Your Mileage May Vary, but the “flashbacks” that show Dr. Smith’s earlier actions before crashing with the Robinson’s sufficiently explained why she acted the way she did and I always felt that I understood her motivations even if I didn’t agree with them.

Overall Score: A- (91-92)

Look, I’m not going to lie, I really liked this story.  I like that there’s a lot of science and science-based concepts in it while also retaining quite a few “science fiction” tropes that really make it interesting.  I really like that it isn’t “grim dark” and is more of a family show that kids and adults can enjoy.  I like the characters and felt that all of them (even Dr. Smith) had interesting and sufficient characterization for me to understand why they were doing what they were doing.  The only reason that I didn’t give it a solid was the fact that it did slow down in a couple of places where they were establishing the robot as a “friend” to Will and Will’s decision not to tell his father (originally) about the robot.  Not telling his father was something that seemed like the writers needing it for the plot and not organically from Will’s character because it sets up a situation later on that could have been avoided had Will told his father about it sooner.  Other than that, however, I found the story to be a fun, and interesting ride.  I’m looking forward to Season 2 (fingers crossed as I haven’t heard if it will get another season yet).

Sidney




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Mini-Review: Alien Legion #6

Mind Blown

Although I’ve featured other Alien Legion (AL) issues before, this is the very first AL comic that I ever owned and read.  The others I just happened to have found around town, but this one was so great, that as soon as my eyes spotted anything with the AL logo on it, I immediately went to it and picked it up–and if I had the money, purchased it.  With an Aug. 1988 cover date, I probably would have bought it May/June of 1988 at (the now defunct) Waldenbooks in downtown Chattanooga and it would have been something that I read over the summer of 1988 before school started.  I probably would have been beginning my sophomore year in high-school at that time as well.

Large and in Charge

While the other two AL stories that I’ve review have featured Sarigar, the commander of Nomad Squad, this issue is pretty much a character study on one of Nomad’s toughest characters–Jugger Grimrod.  Jugger is given his own command and while I won’t spoil it–it proves to be pretty memorable.  We get to see Grimrod command soldiers on what appears to be a routine mission, but is anything but and we get to see his reactions–sometimes hilarious–in the face of extreme danger.

Characterization

Jugger Grimrod is very much a character cut from the Logan/Wolverine mythos.  Very much a loner and a hard-talking, fast-living, remorseless killing machine willing to do anything to get the job done.  I’ve always likened Grimrod as a Wolverine in space.  While you don’t learn his back story until later in the comics’ run (my next mini-review will actually focus on a pivotal part of his back story), you don’t really need it.  One thing that the writers actually do for this story is that they give him an advantage and a flaw.  While he is one of the best soldiers out there, he is an enlisted man who hates officers.  In this story, he is promoted to an officer–in essence, he becomes the very thing he hates.  And now he must deal with it.  How he deals with it and the ultimate resolution, I’ll leave you to read, but this small detail causes conflict–both external as he has people whom he’s now responsible for and internal–he has to overcome/deal with being the very thing that he despises (or not overcome/deal with it).

Overall Score: A+

The writing (Carl Potts–Creator/Chuck Dixon–Writer) and the art team (Larry Stroman and Mark Farmer) created a story that really set my imagination on fire as a child.  It was inventive, clever, and fun.  The hero was larger than life and while I couldn’t agree with the character’s ultimate decision at the end of the story, I did understand it.  If you happen across this at a “Flea Market” or “Yard Sale” or “Book Sale” of some kind, and if it is inexpensive, you might consider picking it up for an afternoon of fun reading.

Have a great day!

Sidney



Mini-Review: Saban’s Power Rangers (2017)

Over the weekend, I was in the mood for some lighter fare, so I streamed Saban’s The Power Rangers (2017)–which is currently available for streaming on Amazon Prime.  It had a four star rating and didn’t look terrible so I thought I’d give it a try.  While not a great movie, it still wasn’t the absolute abomination that the last Turtles movie, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows turned out to be last year when I watched it.

A Typical “Teen” Movie

One of its faults (& strengths, I suppose if you’re a part of that demographic) is that it is like any other “teen” movie you’ve seen a thousand times before.  A group of misfit teens must overcome their differences and band together to become much more than they could be on their own.  While the characters aren’t really new and interesting, the actors portraying them do a fairly good job of showing the characters’ emotions.  The script, however, leaves a lot of things to be desired: chiefly, more time spent on fleshing out the characters, less on silly jokes that are more than a little cringe-worthy.

A Typical “Team” Movie

Also, like any other “team” movie, you’ll find that they don’t fully “gel” as a team until the end of the movie because they’ve got “issues.”  What those issues are, I won’t spoil, but while they are “major” to the characters, I got to say, it didn’t really feel like they were major to the audience.  Similarly, much of the destruction by and against our heroes is largely ignored until the plot calls for it.  Remember the scene in the trailers where Rita attacks one of the Rangers alone in her bedroom?  Well, that was part of a longer five minute scene which the bedroom and surrounding walls were pretty much trashed, yet no parent or sibling ever came to check to see what the heck was going on, let alone cops being called at the sight of a crazy witch-lady assaulting one of your kids in your own home.

Krispy Kreme Much?

Lastly, product placement.  Look, I like Krispy Kreme donuts as much as the next person (we have one in Chattanooga that I frequent at least twice a year), but the “product/brand” placement was over the top in this movie.  So much so, that it took me out of the movie when we found out that’s where the movie’s macguffin is hidden.  It is like the only major product that we see in the movie and it really calls attention to itself in an obnoxiously obvious way.  No donuts for you!

Overall Grade: C (+/- depending on whether you like or dislike these types of movies)

It is a competently made movie that you’ve likely seen a dozen or more times in other genres or places.  It isn’t stellar but it isn’t completely horrible either.  You might like it (or hate it) more than I did depending on your taste for these types of movies (which is why I added the +/-), but for me it is solidly average.  At least, it wasn’t as bad as TMNT: OotS (for me, at least) and I was able to have a fairly good time with Power Rangers once I shut off the analytical part of my brain and enjoyed it for the teen super hero/nostalgia movie that it was trying so hard to be for fans of the original show.

Sidney



Mini-Review: Alien Legion, Vol 1, Issue 14

So, as I try to come to grips with the Ship of Shadows graphic novel that I am writing, I am trying to relearn many of the lessons about graphic storytelling by rereading my comic book collection that I amassed as a teen.  Unfortunately, I weeded the collection down back in the late 90s/early 2000s and lost quite a few issues that would have been good to have.  I kept what I considered were the essentials, however.  So, I decided what better way to wrap my head around writing a graphic novel than by revisiting the comics that I so loved (yes, I know there are books like Scott McCloud’s seminal work on graphic novels–and I even own a couple–but what better way than to actually read the works that I’m trying to write and breakdown what those successful creators have done to really learn the form).

I’ve always liked the concept of Alien Legion ever since I first discovered it in a comic book spinner at Waldenbooks.  The idea of a galactic Foreign Legion spoke to my inner child just coming off the high that was Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.  The characters are extremely captivating.  I guess the parallel that I could make would be to have intergalactic Fast and Furious.  Wait, I take that back–that’s not interesting at all, forget I said anything like that–that’s actually a very bad comparison (I say, as I hurriedly scribble down the idea to get it written before someone else does).

In all seriousness, it really is sort of like a “Dirty Dozen” in space.  You have a group of alien soldiers, mostly humanoid, who go on missions.  Being that this is an “Epic” imprint from Marvel (a “darker” imprint than normal Marvel comics published at the time), this allowed them to go into more adult territory.  This particular issue is really unique as it deals with domestic violence and   the effects that it has.  Yes, this is told in such a way that it can be digested in a YA comic, but for 1986 and for a medium that was often marketed to children, this one deals with some pretty revolutionary issues for the time.

While the artwork is a little rough, it is still easy to read and follow the action.  The actual dialogue and story is also well done–I like how it establishes each on of the main characters through action and dialogue.  Captain Sarigar, a snake-like alien, is obviously the protagonist of the story, but I like how he involves two of the more hard-bitten Legionnaires in what is obviously a personal mission based on their reputations for being hard cases.  The story is very well done (for all of the “heavy” themes) and illustrates the dangers of domestic violence, both physically and emotionally to the victim.  For a comic book, it handles the subject matter surprisingly well and still manages to tell a strong story about a brother who, despite his obligations as a Captain in the Legion and a fierce warrior, only wants to protect his sister from an abusive boyfriend.

Overall Grade: B+

Sidney




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The Black Panther (Marvel)–Non-Spoiler Movie Review

Black Panther Movie Poster_IMDB

Wow.  Just wow!  I saw Black Panther over the weekend and I was absolutely floored by how good of a movie it turned out be!  Based on the traffic on the site over the weekend, it looks a fair number of people came to check and see what I though of it.  Apologies for not posting this review sooner, but I always like to take a day or two to think about my responses–positive or negative to reflect before coming online to talk about them.  I also watched several reviews (spoiler and non-spoiler) to get a feel for how other critics were talking about the movie (I only watch reviews after I’ve already seen something–too many “non-spoiler” reviews give away too much of the plot by focusing on the story.  And this is one story that you don’t want spoiled!  Sure, thanks to foreshadowing, you can see somethings coming in this movie, but still, it really, really works!

A Great Marvel Movie

One of the things that I want to stress is that this is an excellent Marvel movie.  Don’t think this is some cheerless dirge -like epic.  The filmmakers expertly crafted humor, drama, pathos, action, and suspense into the movie.  If you liked other Marvel movies, then you’ll like this one.  However, it also has a sprawling, epic feel to it.  The setting–Wakanda specifically and Africa, in general–is almost a character in itself and is very much a visual spectacle.  The colors really pop (esp. later in the movie) and I really like the way the filmmakers integrated the music into the narrative.  Really impressive stuff.

A Great Story–Plot

This is also where the movie shines.  Don’t worry, as this is a non-spoiler, I won’t talk about the specifics.  However, I will say, from a plotting standpoint, this is “aspirational” for me.  I would love for my stories to show this level of drama, suspense and action sequences.  The filmmakers–for me, at least–got the mix pretty much perfect.  I’ve seen a few reviewers ding it for not having enough action, but I think that, much like any other “origin story,” the filmmakers chose to focus on the introducing us to and developing the characters rather than on slam-bang action.  There are definitely action sequences, but they aren’t there at the exclusion of everything else and they make sense in the context of the story, unlike other movies that I could name.

Great Characters

This is where the movie truly shines.  The characters in this movie are awesome!  There isn’t a character who did not land in terms of characterization, motivation, or development.  I have to say that all the characters really exhibited a pathos that was interesting to watch on screen and really helped to engage me as an audience member.  As a writer, I saw the true power of characters to literally “pull” the audience into the story and then propel them to want to finish the story (again, aspirational for my own writing).  There are standouts of course, but I don’t want to highlight too many, for fear of spoiling things, but I will say that T’Challa has a sister and her banter with her brother is not to be missed.  Her lines are some of the best in the movie (humor-wise) and reminded me of the banter that my uncle and I shared before his untimely passing.

Afrofuturism

I’ve talked a few times about Afrofuturism on this blog in relation to school, but I’ve never really defined it.  Black Panther is probably the best representation of it that I’ve seen on-screen yet.  Afrofuturism is about the African/African-American experience, but rather than focusing on the past, it instead looks to the future.  Sure, there are references to the past, but rather than dehumanizing, the subject of Afrofuturism acknowledges that the past happened, but it looks to a brighter future with technology and with heart to note that a brighter path is open to all, if we only have the courage to embrace it.  While I may be reading the movie with an Afrofuturistic lens, it does have elements sci-fi that help to make it a movie that isn’t just stuck in the past retreading the same old ground.

Overall Grade: A+ (Excellent)

Really, this movie is an Excellent movie and does all that it sets out to do exceptionally well.  Is it perfect?  Of course not.  Again, some say it doesn’t have enough action.  I noticed that the very first mission (few scenes) are very dark (although my suspicion is that this is on purpose to make the colors pop when you first enter Wakanda, but it does make it hard to see the very first action scene).  However, I try to grade movies (or other media that I review) with the same grading scale colleges use and Excellent is used when there are either no blemishes or the blemishes are so minor that they don’t detract significantly from the overall experience.  I can’t decide if this is my favorite Marvel movie yet (although I think it might be), but I can safely say that it is in my Top 3.  I’m glad that the filmmakers and actors got a chance to make this movie and that I got a chance to see it!  I don’t usually make recommendations–but in this case, I’ll just say, if you’re at all interested in Marvel movies, or are just curious as to what all the fuss is about, to me, this one didn’t disappoint.

Sidney