The Strain – “Runaways” and “Occultation”

Standard

We’re finally at the stage where the main character desperately tries to convince people of the danger surrounding them. It’s one of my favorite sequences during every horror film. The naysayers always get what’s coming to them, and our protagonists can only give them the “I told you so” look.

Eph is aware of how real this threat is. Unfortunately for him, the government believes he’s killed a person. While Eph did murder in cold, ergh, white blood, the victim was certainly not a human being. Now he has his own government against him, on top of trying to control the spread of this virus. As boring as his story line with his son has been, it paid off in this episode. You could tell how frantic Eph was trying to convince his ex-wife to get out of New York City. After hearing Setrakian tell him about how the “Strigoi” go after their loved ones first, I have a feeling someone in Eph’s family isn’t going to make it. And seeing how the show is setting up Nora as the love interest, it looks like Kelly Goodweather might be in for some dark days.

It’s flashback time as we’re given a glimpse into Setrakian’s past. We now know Eichorst and the old man go way, way back. Setrakian is confirmed as a survivor. One who was kept up all night during Eichorst’s feedings. I’m really excited to get deeper into the back story of these two. We’re already aware of the death of his wife. I can only imagine how much pain this monster has put the “Jew” through. I know this is Eph’s story and he’s our good guy, but man am I connected to Setrakian. Already I emphasize with him and yearn for revenge. He’s had a life long battle with these creatures and he’s ready to settle the score. It appears he’s also a victim of his old age. Strigoi killing isn’t as easy as it was thirty years ago, eh?

Gus and Fet both encounter the diseased for the first time. Fet being visibly shaken by what he sees. He just HAD to go check out what was freaking out his rats in the sewers. What he found were a pack of vampires gunning for his throat. It’s funny how great the vampires aim is when attacking non main characters. But once Fett or Eph confront one, they’re ducking and dipping like Floyd Mayweather. Not a big deal, just an observation. No different than Daryl one timing every zombie or stormtroopers never being able to hit anything at all. Fet comes across a weakness to the creatures, though. They are prone to turning to dust whenever sunlight hits them. Unfortunately for his co-workers, he had to open the shades and light the infested up . Very powerful when he did it to the chick in his office. The way they filmed it and the fact he genuinely cared for her.

Poor Gus had to find out how much of a boss Eichorst really is. While he is quite the skilled boxer, he’s just no match for a long dead, blood sucking monster.On top of that, it looks like his portly friend is not long for this world. I couldn’t tell if he got the worm all the way out of his hand, but I think the police got to them both before the deed could be done. Typical cops, am I right?!

We get some good scenes from our early turned vamps in these two episodes. The poor wife of the shed guy was found hung by her own hands by Eph and the old man. I know this isn’t real life, but you have to feel for the kids of that family. Well, I guess you have to feel for all of the kids. Their world is about to be turned into a vampire’s playground. Bolivar is wreaking havoc as usual. Taking out that hot chick first, and then the guy who came to clean up his mess. For some reason I can never take Bolivar seriously. I don’t know what it is but I always just end up laughing when I see him. The best scene involved the lawyer who was one of the four survivors. The scene where her black housekeeper tried to get the kids out of the house was fantastic. Very tense. I’m hoping she doesn’t bring those kids back, ever. If I saw someones eyes blink like an alligator, I too would get the hell out of dodge.

New York City is getting closer to infestation with each new episode. It’ll only be a matter of time before the Strigoi outnumber humans. That’s fine with me. More chances to see Setrakian behead these bastards.

Advertisements

“Timeline” – I Should Have Watched Back to the Future

Standard

Timeline seemingly offered everything I could ever want in a novel. It was written by Michael Crichton, who isn’t the most prized author out there, but The Lost World is in my top ten. The plot revolved around time travel. I’ll watch almost any movie, no matter how awful, if they have to go back in time to save someone or something, without changing the course of history. And on top of that, the characters would be time traveling to the middle ages. I’ll forever have a love for knights in armor and fair ladies. Unfortunately my expectations were just too high. The book was a let down, and while enjoyable, it was definitely forgettable. It’s been two days and I’ve already forgotten what happened.

As always, Crichton does incredible work when describing the technical aspects of complicated ideas. In this book it was the concept of time travel. It’s actually going to a different universe, not exactly traveling in time. It has something to do with quantum physics. Most other authors would make that subject completely boring, and while I retained barely any of it, I did enjoy myself when reading.

The ones who have this technology are your typical shady big business. They allow a professor to go and test it out. Unfortunately he gets lost in during The Hundred Years War, and they recruit his assistants to go in a get him. They’re mostly all historians. You have the one character Andrè, who has been in love with the time period his whole life. He knows all the different languages, can shoot a bow, proficient in broad sword fighting and jousting. Right from the start you know he’s going to be of use when they all go back in time. Kate is your typical hard nosed tom-boy character. And Chris is the good looking, but oft heart broken regular guy. If I had to choose, he would be the main character but it fluctuates between those three nicely.

In the end it was like eating junk food. You get that instant satisfaction, but you regret it after and wish you’d have eaten a banana. The characters were decent. I particularly liked André, but the dialogue was sub par and minimal character development. Chris had the most growth as a character. The ending was definitely rushed. Everything just happened to work out in their favor the last twenty minutes. I understand it’s hard to end a book, but after reading The Way of Kings my expectations were sky high.

Expectations were my problem. I had this book on my “to-read” list for so long, putting it on a pedestal it never belonged on. You go in with the proper excitment level and Timeline will be a good read. I’m sure there’s much better Crichton work out there. Two of which I can vouch for—Jurassic Park and The Lost World. Hell, I’d even put Pirate Latitudes up there. Okay maybe not.

If you need a quick fix then check this book out, but don’t let it be your first introduction into the time travel genre. There’s so much better content out there.

The Strain – “Gone Smooth” and “It’s Not for Everyone”

Standard

The entirety of August so far has consisted of french women, Belgian chocolates, the sins of Amsterdam, and endless playings of Molly Malone. I did the Europe backpacking thing, which left me unable to hate view any more episodes of The Strain. Finally I’ve been able to get a little caught up after a few days of feeling like a walker. Damn, wrong show. Yesterday I watched episodes three and four without feeling like a waste of life. These were two pretty solid episodes, and definitely a step in the right direction.

The biggest development is that Eph, Nora, and Jim now know that there’s something wrong. Terribly wrong. This infection causes people to turn into, well, something that is not a person. It’s beginning to dawn on them that the way they used to combat outbreaks are now extinct. In this case, they’ll have to do things in a much bloodier fashion. And Nora it seems is just not okay with that. Fortunately for us Eph and Setrakian are all but too willing to lay down the law, especially the old man. Look, this show doesn’t have to be Mad Men, okay. Everyone watches The Walking Dead to see zombies get wrecked. The Strain should have those same expectations. Take it easy with the Eph and his son bits, and let old man Setrakian go wild with that sword of his. It’s an easy formula.

Eichorst continues to show off his cold demeanor by forcing the airplane CEO to shoot himself in the head. Not to mention the way he easily handles Jim. And we get to see how he prepares himself each day. Still not as much make up as my ex girlfriend used on a given day. Fet apparently has an in with the police while also being an exterminator. Seeing rats scurrying out of their homes in an untimely manner definitely gets his attention, and I for one cannot wait until he first crosses paths with a vamp. Gus shows us how much he loves his mom, introduces his fat homeboy, and starts a rivalry with the blacks. I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of those guys. Oh, and Bolivar’s penis falls off.

These episodes were all about realization. It looks like everyone is starting to see that something really fucked up is going on. Either to themselves or the world around them.

HIGHLIGHT – The wife feeding the grumpy neighbor to her husband in the shed was just incredible. I’d wish we had one more episode with that guy so we could really start to hate him, but I think we get the gist. It was hilarious, frightening, and kept with the theme that even though these characters see their loved ones turning into monsters, they cant’ seem to let go. In a sick, twisted way, these people are still family. I can name a few of our main characters who will have the same problems if their loved ones fall prey to these beasts.

I’ll watch the next two episodes tomorrow and post something quicker than Setrakian can kill a vampire.

LONCON 3 – Thursday

Standard

This year was my first time attending the World Science Fiction Convention. Hell, it was the only time I’ve been to a convention. From August 14th to August 18th I was at the Excel Convention Centre in London, England. After all, this was my opportunity to meet all of my favorite authors. Joe Abercrombie? Check. George R.R. Martin? Check. Rothfuss? Hobb? Haldeman? Lynch? Check, check, check, check. I just so happened to be backpacking around Europe at that time anyways. Having already wandered aimlessly through Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam, the United Kingdom was my next stop.

The day before I was due to fly from Amsterdam to London I happened to come across Brandon Sanderson tweeting about books he was signing in Schiphol Airport. Joe Abercrombie also saw his tweet and asked him to sign his new book, Half a King. You can find Brandon talking about it on his blog. The next day I was sweating bullets, hoping those books would still be there. I NEEDED something for my authors to sign at the convention, plus how cool would it be to already have them signed by Brandon Sanderson?! The stars happened to align. I was by Gate F and there were two Words of Radiance books left. And one Half a King! I tweeted them a picture of the signed books, which lead to a well deserved retweet from the god that is Joe Abercrombie. As you can tell, I’m a bit obsessed.

I get to the hotel on Wednesday night. It’s a quaint place that is literally right next to Excel. Rise early the next morning, chug a cup of tea, throw on my Resident Evil Umbrella Corporation shirt and make my way over. All of the events and panels start at ten in the morning. I get in line to grab my registration around quarter past nine. It took no longer than twenty minutes, but man, later in the day that thing was HUGE. Also, found out that in Europe they call “lines”, “ques”. I’m a fan of their way. Because I signed up so late—literally the night before—they had to write in marker on my VIP Pass. All the other attendees had such professional looking ones, and here I am with “Mattyo” hand written on mine. Great start.

It was still early so I moseyed on over to the information desk. This is where you sign up for all the events for the next few days. You get in line and do a circle around the table, signing up for the event you want. You can only put your name on paper for one thing and then you have to circle (or square) around again. In all honestly, the line was never too crazy, which made it pretty tempting to just go around and around. I didn’t want to be too greedy so I signed up for “Tea with Joe Abercrombie” (Rothfuss and Lynch ones were already fully signed…). That was for the next day and consisted of you plus eight other people sitting around a table with the author talking “bollocks” for an hour. That’s the word Abercrombie used to describe it.

While in line I met a friendly fellow named Robert from Cardiff, which he was proud to inform me was the capital of Wales. Robert himself is an aspiring writer who shares a mutual love for Abercrombie, Lynch, and most of all Patrick Rothfuss. Together we decided to check out the panel, “Does the Future Need to Be Plausible?”. The panelists were no authors I’ve ever read, but the topic did interest me.

Robert and I settled for standing room only as all the chairs were taken. The moderator did a wonderful job of keeping the flow and getting all the authors involved. There was a point where they all started bashing one of my all time favorite “So Bad It’s Good” movies, The CoreAlso under fire were Die Hard 2 and Falling Skies. As they should be. I thought the best point was brought up by Mr. McDonald. He stressed that it depended on how you wrote your characters. It doesn’t matter how strange your devices of the future are, or if they hold up twenty years from now. If your characters are as comfortable with “insert strange new technology” as we are, say when using a toaster, then it won’t matter. The readers will be more accepting of it and it won’t even be an issue.

The last fifteen minutes were devoted to questions, but these things hardly ever do much good. Most of the time one person rambles on for what seems like an eternity and doesn’t even ask a question at the end. It’s more of a comment, or their perspective on something. I was starving so off to the food court I went. As I sat eating my bacon and cheese croissant (and their bacon is not the bacon us Americans are used to), I decided to attend the opening ceremony at noon. It’s in the auditorium so I wouldn’t have to bum rush a room to get a seat. Side note, it was at this point I was able to take out money from an ATM! Let’s just say prior to this I was having some trouble getting money out. A topic for another day.

The opening ceremony was cute. They did a skit that involved the crowd being students at Hogwarts. I wasn’t expecting the amount of props that were used on stage. It was reminiscent of a “Whose Line Is It Anyways” game. They introduced all of the Guests of Honor, none of which I cared much for other than Robin Hobb. One of my favorite segments involved them showing the design of the Hugo award for this year, and how it has changed throughout the years. Really cool stuff. Still I decided to leave early. Didn’t want to get a bad spot in line for the Pat Rothfuss book signing.

Leaving early paid off, as I reserved a spot in the front of the line. Had the chance of meeting a very nice girl by the name of Eleanor. She is from the glorious lands of northern England (I have no idea what that looks like) and had the most beat up copy of The Name of the Wind that I have ever seen. She told a cool story of when she went to a Phillip Pullman book signing. Apparently Neiil Gaiman was there as a moderator or something of the sort. Unfortunately Pullman had to cancel, turning the event into a Neil Gaiman signing. Most of the books though were by Pullman. So it was a bunch of people getting those books signed by Neil Gaiman. This is relevant because I was getting Rothfuss to sign my copy of Half a King—that was already signed by Brandon Sanderson.

Right as I’m next in line, none other than Joe Abercrombie walks up next to Rothfuss at his signing table. As they are chatting I scoot up and slowly slide them my copy of Half a King. They both look at me with looks I’ll never forget and Rothfuss suddenly bursts into uncontrollable laughter. Even more so when he finds out that Sanderson has already signed it. Abercrombie admits he’s happy that I at least bought the book, no matter who I get it signed by. Really cool moment. Afterwards, Eleanor gets Patrick and Joe to sign her notepad that she looks at when she’s going through tough times. Patrick writes “love what you do”, while Joe puts down “The price of success is enemies”. I think that’s a good summary of both their writings. Definitely a highlight of the trip.

Off to grub again. I know, I know. Standing in the que really does make you hungry though. Two sausage rolls and a bacon cheese bite later, I head down to the George R.R. Martin and Connie Willis panel, “A Conversation with George R.R. Martin, Connie Willis, and Paul Cornell”. You could tell that the both of them were really good friends. Connie is a vibrant speaker and had so many good barbs at Martin. There really is nothing like two great writers talking shop, and reminiscing in general. Actually scratch that. There’s nothing better than two old friends shooting the shit. That’s what it came down to. Willis started talking about how she hates when you know the main characters won’t die. She talked about a popular television show from back in the day that I’m totally blanking on. The shows two protagonists were always untouchable, although anyone who was associated with them were as good as dead. She remarked how in one episode, the new bride of one of the characters was killed, right when they walked out of the church! To which Martin dryly replied, “I usually kill my characters in the church”. Safe to say that got laughter and a round of applause. Martin was asked what questions he hates. While he said he doesn’t hate any question, he is tired of the same questions over and over again. Especially from interviewers that think their question is one he’s never heard before (cough Who is your favorite character cough). He gave a shout out to Stephen Donaldson, whom he is good friends with. If you didn’t know, I’m a pretty big fan of the guy. Back when Donaldson put out The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant they were a huge success. Probably the best selling fantasy books up to date. And Donaldson thought, “Okay, I have a lot of Donaldson fans out there”. Then later he wrote the Mordants Need duology and it didn’t sell nearly as well. It was then he found out that there weren’t as many Donaldson fans as he thought as there were Thomas Covenant fans. Martin wonders if this will happen to him once he’s finished with ASOIAF. It was a great conversation between the two and it’ll stick with me forever.

The last panel I attended was “Ideology versus Politics in Science Fiction”. It included authors:

Probably one of the worst panels I attended. Only because the moderator didn’t show. It really does make a difference having a competent moderator, or one at all. The conversation lagged a ton and there were too many awkward silences for my taste. Probably should have checked out another panel. I’d never seen Kim Stanley Robinson so I wanted to at least hear him. Fortunately they kicked out all of us that didn’t get a seat as to us being a fire hazard. I was more than happy to leave, but at this point I was exhausted. Felt like it was a good first day and that I’d go home and read some The Way of Kings. That was Day One of Loncon 3. Next I’ll write about my eventful Friday, including tea with Joe Abercrombie!

 

“THE WAY OF KINGS” – The WAY to write epic fantasy

Standard

You need to be a certain kind of crazy to read a thousand page novel. You’d have to be even crazier to write one. And to write one worth reading? Crazy, but as I found out, not impossible. As of yesterday, I am finished The Way of Kings, Brandon Sanderson’s introductory book to his Stormlight Archive series. A week from now will be the four year anniversary of its original release date. What all fantasy fans are asking, and what I asked myself post reading, is what took so long? It wasn’t the sheer size of it. I’ve read The Stand. Twice. The uncut version, too. The fact that it’s the beginning of an unfinished series didn’t bother me. A quite long one at that. I’m in deep already with ASOIAF, The Kingkiller Chronicles, and The Lightbringer Series. What it boiled down to was one, lingering thought. I’m not totally sold on Brandon Sanderson.

To be fair, I had only read The Mistborn Trilogy (plus Alloy of Law). And while I enjoyed reading them, there was just something about his books that didn’t stick with me. I’m always in favor of darker toned fantasy books. Nobody will likely top George R.R. Martin and Joe Abercrombie. Their work will stick with me forever. But Sanderson had two things distinctly going in his favor.

1. The man is a magic system savant. Allomancy was a joy to read about. Sanderson introduces his magic from the get go, but subtle enough throughout his book that you don’t even realize how familiar you’re becoming with it. It’s so in-depth and thrilling that I couldn’t help but yearn to experience it in real life, or at least in video games (wish granted?).

2. I want to know what happens next. His characters may be light, the prose not on the same level as Rothfuss, and in general not as violently graphic as the grim dark group, but damn he writes a fine story. Never once have I contemplated not finishing one of his books. Not even you, The Well of Ascension.

After four years of pondering, and a trip to Loncon 3 just last week, I decided to take the plunge. I really needed an epic fantasy to read. I wanted something gargantuan. Immerse me in a world, any world. Sometimes real life bears down on you hard, and in those times, it’s nice to be able to take a journey. I decided that journey would include Kaladin Stormblessed, Dalinar Kholin, Shallan Davar, and most importantly, Brandon Sanderson.

We are introduced to Roshar, the land full stone and plains, with a beautiful assassination. Really. Read the first chapter before you die. It’s one of the best action sequences I’ve ever read, up there with the first time we meet The Bloody Nine. The Assassin in White kills the king. This has a lasting effect throughout the world. Obviously. I mean, he kills a king. It severely changes the lives of a few characters we meet. One way or another, these people are put in positions of leadership. To the core, that’s what TWOK is about. Being a leader, or what it is to be a good leader. A decent person.

Kaladin questions the leaders surrounding him. LIghteyes. The Almighty. Himself. What constitutes being able to lead people? Can everyone be saved? Can you protect while killing? Our these leaders noble? What is nobility? Why does one keep failing? Failure. I can’t remember a character failing so many times as I have Kaladin Stormblessed. Sanderson does a wonderful job at building his story. We see him at multiple times in his life, witnessing him retreat into apathy, succumbing to so many personal blows. Kaladin must overcome so much, and not a page is wasted. It’s a long road for the young darkeye, but it’s the reason I’ll be meeting him step for step.

Ah, the honorable high prince Dalinar Kholin. The brother of the murdered king from the first chapter. All his life he’s been a military leader. He’s the Blackthorn, it’s what he does. But now that his inexperienced nephew is king, everything seemed to have changed. He’s been having wild visions during high storms, leading to rumors about his mental stability. He’s been reading, a hobby mostly used by women. The one who used to wreak havoc on the battlefield now talks of peace and an end to the war on the Parshendi, those responsible for his brothers death. The question comes up, is this man fit to lead us? Has old age crippled him? Will his weakness, in mind and spirit, lead to our city’s demise? The other high princes can sniff blood and they certainly go for the kill. Can Dalinar keep his honor while fending off these predators, domestic and foreign? It’s a joy to read and I suspect none were disappointed when the time for that answer came.

Shallan Davar is a princess who traveled to become an understudy to Jasnah, the dead kings daugther. Jasnah happens to be considered the brightest academic in all of Roshar. It would truly be an honor for Shallan to study with her as an apprentice of sorts. But is that all there is to Shallan’s story? She is torn between doing a duty for her family or actually learning from the smartest woman in the land. I’d have to admit her story arc was the least interesting to me. Although Sanderson does a wonderful job at writing women. Not that it should matter, women are people just like anyone else. You should just write PEOPLE. But far too often do I come across male writers who have trouble writing from the female point of view. Sanderson is just one of the best I’ve read at doing it.

Sanderson’s world building is in top form in TWOK. The Shattered Plains is so desolate, and so, well, epic. The creatures are described with such flourish that when pictures actually came up courtesy of drawings from the characters, they were spot on from what I had envisioned. Roshar is clearly a world hardly explored in this first book, but from what he did paint he did expertly. The cities have distinct feels, as well as the different races. It’s a dark, but beautiful world he’s created.

The only complaints I’ve read amidst the thousands of positive reviews are that it starts off incredibly slow. And well, yeah. The book is a thousand pages long. I went in knowing you need time to build up the world, acclimate to the magic, meet the characters. Just know that when you’re three quarters through the book you better have a clear schedule, because you’re not putting that book down for anything. When it kicks into high gear I couldn’t contain the goosebumps from coming. Especially a scene near the end, that had me cheering, crying, laughing, almost throwing up, all at the same time. Those who have read it know what I’m talking about.

Those moments are why I read. Especially fantasy. I love grim dark and all it has to offer. But there is a time and place for epic fantasy. Sometimes I need to throw on the end of The Fellowship of the Ring. Who doesn’t get gooesbumps when Aragorn gives that speech to Legolas and Gimli? That’s why I read (and watch) fantasy. Those moments. And The Way of Kings delivers one of the all time “Goosebump Moments”.

I have a signed copy of Words of Radiance sitting in my room. It will be read. But I’m going to give it time. When I’ve read a great book I like to let it settle in for a while. This was the beginning of the journey that is The Stormlight Archives. And as they say, Journey Before Destination.