Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Time...Doctor Freeman? Is it really that...time again?

Custom dictates that I spend the first paragraph after a lengthy silence explaining what exactly has caused said silence. Well. It's been more than a little bit of a lengthy silence. In fact, I haven't babbled at anyone about anything since the end of September. Which is really where this all begins. But first of all, I wish to attribute the quotation title - the magnificent G-Man from the Half-Life series of games. This quotation specifically from Half-Life 2. Though I suspect a great number of you already figured that part out by now. So, without much further ado, time to explain where I've been the last few months. Just to warn you, it's not terribly exciting...


I think the most dramatic way to phrase it would be to say that I've been immersed in The Writerverse. Immersed...I like that word. Don't use it often enough. Ahem. Moving swiftly on. Okay, so a long, long time ago, in a blog post far, far away I talked about the notion of The Writerverse. I babbled quite a bit about my journey through The Writerverse, where I was going, how I was getting there. That was June 2012. An awful lot has happened since then.

One of the most important things I talked about in that blog post was the sense of...fundamentally interconnected community there is in The Writerverse. There is a great community of writers I know from my days at university, but I have also met some in the course of my current paid vocation. That being a front of house dancing monkey/jack of several obscure responsibilities at Boston Tea Party Bath. In the course of my work, I met an awful lot of interesting, bizarre, wonderful people. Oft it is said that my job is a brilliant job for a writer, all those characters. I can't help but have horrible flashbacks to Daisy Steiner in Spaced*...

(*Author's Disclaimer: I really, really love Spaced. It's awesome).

Anyway, getting on with it...

Over the many years I've slaved away at Boston Tea Party, there have been a gaggle of steadfast regulars. Some have gone to my lament, leaving me with no one to write nerdy quotations on the side of their cup for. Some have remained throughout the years and it is one of these men I speak. He is a gentleman by the name of David J. Rodger, a fellow science-fiction author, though he beats me on account of being published. I'm still pining for the fjords on that one. Anyway. One fateful day, 24th September I suspect, which is funny to me for various reasons, I'm chatting with Mr Rodger as he sips at his dark side coffee, talking about his rush of writing/re-writing short stories (for further info, check out his website, look up his page David J Rodger on Facebook. Including a link to that but not sure it'll work, but you all get the gist). In the course of discussions over his recent flurry of activity, I mention my months and months of inactivity. I mention potentially going back over short stories I'd written a long time ago, wanting to rip apart the ones I did in my teens and put them back together again with the skills I have now. I say all this in that off-hand, "Yeah, maybe one day" kind of voice. I am promptly informed that I should get frakkin' to it (no one but me says frakkin' though, alas) and near ominously, Mr Rodger informs me that he is now officially on my case.

I cannot tell you how important and motivating that was. The next day, I come to work armed with a short story I wrote at the beginning of 2012 and many told me I should expand into a novel. I showed it to David, he skimmed it, came back to me and told me I could easily cut the 8,000 word story down to 2,000 words. We agreed upon a deadline of next week to regroup with a finished, 2,000 word short story. When I finished work that afternoon, I returned home, sat down and using David's suggestions on how to condense the story, blitzed through 2,000 words. Upon its completion I sat back, let out one of those "Holy crap, I just did that!" sighs (might be embellishing slightly here) and realised to my complete and utter surprise, I had just written the chapter one I had been wanting to write for so long. Not contended to just sit back and write that, I launched into chapter two, completing 1,000 words before I succumbed to the need for sleep. I printed off the triumphant chapter one and reported to David the next day. Suffice it to say, my improvements met with his approval.

Over the next couple of months, whenever David drifted into work for his dark side coffee, I would report my progress and if there was an lack of progress, an explanation of why and what the frak I was planning to do about it. Finally, on the night of Sunday, 29th December 2013, it all came to a head. 109,894 words later, the first draft of the novel was finished.

While it might somewhat go without saying, (a funny turn of phrase, since it is always proceeded by that which allegedly doesn't need to be said) I owe a rather huge debt of gratitude to David J Rodger for giving me the push in the right direction I so sorely needed. Undoubtedly, should my book ever be published, much kudos will go to him in the acknowledgements at least. Fun fact though, I appear in the acknowledgements of his book The Social Club, as do several of my Boston Tea Party colleagues for our coffee fuelling services.

So there you have it. For the last three months, I have forbidden myself from writing anything but the first draft of my novel. I'm taking a brief break, then conning people into proofreading it before moving on to the massive editing process. And while I await feedback, I intend to be working on some short story notions I have brewing, as well as work peripheral to the novel.

Now in my three month silence, many things have happen, TV shows and movies watched, etcetera, but for me the biggest thing, the thing that I must note because it is so frakkin' worthy of it, is the tenth anniversary of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica.

I marked the occasion with a rather nerdy status. I used the words "So Say We All", which I can barely do with a straight face. A fact that became so much worse when I discovered a parody video of Katy Perry's song "Fireworks" on YouTube, entitled "Cylon". It's incredibly catchy, really rather awesome from the perspective of a Galactica-obsessive. Also sung by a beautiful redhead, who evidently loves Galactica and is also British. Knowing my frakkin' luck or lack thereof, she's on the other side of the country with a boyfriend who possesses ten-megaton biceps the size of Belgium with which to crush my puny mortal frame. Still the biggest Galactica nerd in Bath, just not the country it seems.

Oops, think I digressed from the point there.

Back on track now that I have publically sealed my own doom, suffice it all to say, I want to make a big deal of Battlestar Galactica's tenth anniversary. On the tenth anniversary of season one's first broadcast, I may even have my own little Colonial Day. Oh and Quantum Mechanix are so on my wavelength (or I on theirs, depending on existential perspective), because they are releasing a tenth anniversary print in celebration, much as they did for Firefly. Honestly, I squealed like a giddy school child when I saw it. I will be obtaining it, framing it (octagonally) and putting it up right next to my framed Firefly print. Must also get my Map of the Twelve Colonies of Kobol octagonally framed too.

Anyway, with some level of mercy, we have reached the end of today's babble. As it is the 31st December 2013 when I write this, I wish everyone a Happy New Year. A 2013 retrospective will appear soon, as will a review of Iron Council once I've blitzed my way through the last thirty-odd pages. Been resisting that too because I knew I'd want to blog about it straight away.

Right then.

Ladies and menfolk, Cylons and Colonials, Happy New Year. May 2014 bring us all good fortunate, be it in a clever disguise or glaringly obvious.

So say we all.

(Almost had a completely straight face that time...)

Monday, 23 September 2013

Curled Up Next to the Fire: The Painted Man

It's been a little while since I've done my "literary" segment and I've managed to read a couple of books since tackling the epic tome that was Great North Road. Of course, true to personal style, my scatty writing habits mean I skipped over the last two books I read but not for this one. You see, this is one is by a man I regard as an absolute dude, Mr Peter V. Brett.

Fantasy is a genre that I'm still...getting into, in the context of books anyway. I've always enjoyed it, but the collection of fantasy in my library has always been a bit lacking. The acquisition of The Painted Man was mostly due to going to see Peter V. Brett in person and naturally wanting a book that could be signed by the man himself, but  also a further effort in expanding my fantasy collection.

So, to the metaphorical meat of this particular meal, The Painted Man.

We are introduced to a world where demons of various kinds come out at night to terrorise the poor unfortunate humans. The only protection for these humans are magical wards that, if arranged in the proper way, keep the demons from breaching protective barriers. Legend tells of a time where humans also had not only defensive wards, but offensive wards that allowed them to wage war on demons. But three hundred years have passed and the wards have fallen into antiquity. Humans are now clustered in a handful of settlements - a few small hamlets dotted on the roads between the five major cities: Fort Miln, Fort Angiers, Fort Rizon, Fort Lakton and Fort Krasia.

There are three major characters in The Painted Man. The first is Arlen Bales, a young boy from a hamlet called Tibbet's Brook. He has a talent for painting wards (even though not formally trained as a Warder) and a curiosity for how to fight demons - a thing that no one but the fanatical inhabitants of Fort Krasia ever attempt. During his formative years in Tibbet's Brook, Arlen becomes fascinated by the lifestyle of the Messengers, men who travel from city to city (via the hamlets) trading valuable goods and bringing letters to the people. This fascination with the Messenger lifestyle, coupled with an incident that we shan't go into here, leads Arlen to leave Tibbet's Brook and seek out the life of a Messenger in Fort Miln.

Next up in our selection of major characters is Leesha, from the small hamlet of Cutter's Hollow, near Fort Angiers. Her arc sees her finding a talent for being an Herb Gatherer, a profession seemingly only occupied by women and can be described as essentially being a doctor. Previously, Leesha had been "promised" (i.e. engaged) to a boy in Cutter's Hollow, but when he spreads lies about her virtue she shuns the life her overbearing mother wants for her and takes up the life of Herb Gathering, eventually finding her way to the (metaphorical) bright lights of Fort Angiers.

Finally, there's Rojer. Hailing from Riverbridge, this settlement is destroyed in a demon attack when we met Rojer, who at the time is merely a toddler. He his rescued by Arrick Sweetsong, a Jongleur (a profession that appears to be similar to a court jester) working directly for the Duke of Angiers. However, after the destruction of Riverbridge, Arrick loses his commission with the Duke and finds himself with the burden of raising a child. As befits the situation, he trains Rojer in his own profession, though the demon attack did leave Rojer without two of his fingers which means the juggling part of being a Jongleur is a little tricky for him. He does, however, have a significant talent for playing the fiddle.

Through the various arcs of these characters, we are shown the majority of the length and breadth of the world they inhabit, known (very infrequently in the text) as Thesa. We are introduced to the various forms of demon (fire, wind, rock and wood to name the most frequently seen) and the scattered legends and stories of the "Age of Science" that led to the return of the demons from "the Core". Peter Brett uses a narrative style I'm rather fond of and have used myself - multiple major characters, each with their own piece of the puzzle, wandering through the world until a major event brings them together. And what I love about this style is watching these seemingly unrelated people, knowing that they'll be drawn together and watching how far away they get from each other before the inexplicable fates drag them all to the same place.

Okay, so this is the awkward phase of things. The honest opinion moment. I cannot deny that I enjoyed this book. I really did. Just not...overwhelmingly. Which confuses me, because as I mentioned on several occasions in my post about meeting Peter Brett, the man is a frakkin' dude. I guess, if I had to give it a rating out of ten (this will not become a tradition!) I'd mark it as a seven. This book is definitely worth reading. It's a good book. I just feel bad that I wasn't as wowed by it as I was by the man. BUT. And this is in capital letters because it's real important. The Painted Man is but the first in a series. And the finale definitely picked up the pace and opens some very interesting doors. I look forward to going through the doors when I reach The Desert Spear, book two, as I trudge through my ever growing list of books to read. Honestly. Went out and bought seven more books the other day. It's something of an addiction I suspect.

Until then...I hope you do read this book, in spite of my apparent underwhelmed reaction. It is really rather good and the man who writes these books is really rather awesome and I would like for people to keep him in business.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

As they say in the Temporal Mechanics Department, there's no time like the present

The title of this long overdue entry in my sadly neglected blog is a cheeky little reference to my neglect. I have been procrastinating in the last few months, so I feel that the words of Kathryn Janeway are quite appropriate. I'd promise to better in the coming days, but let's face it - Life, that absolute cheeky little frakker, has a habit of finding ways to interfere. In the meantime, I've racked up a few topics I feel worthy of babbling about. Not going to cover all of them today...going to attempt to say a couple for another blog post. In fact, in the course of making a quick scribble on a piece of paper at this very moment I discovered a theme. These topics can be grouped into categories of movies, TV and videogames. Given that I snagged today's title from a television show, today's category of rambling will be TV shows.

I'll start with Joss Whedon's Dollhouse. I had to do a quick trawl through my posts to check that the one and only time I mentioned it was in reference to Topher Brink being one of my top ten favourite tech people, so I now have free license to go for the full ramble.

Let's start with a mild pre-amble. I think it would be pretty difficult not to notice that I'm something of a Whedonite (if this isn't a term it probably should be). I hold Joss Whedon's works in very high regard and have a lot of time for pretty much anything he does, TV or movie. Especially after the awesomenesses that were Avengers and Much Ado About Nothing. Now, by and large Dollhouse is not held in the highest regard by a lot of people, Whedonites included I'm pretty sure. And I have to admit, I'm one of them. Dollhouse is the weakest of Joss Whedon's TV offerings, disappointing after the great offerings of Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel.

I have to follow this paragraph up with a huge, gigantic YES IT FRAKKIN' DOES LOOK BIG IN THIS...


...I did, actually, quite thoroughly enjoy Dollhouse. I won't put it on a pedestal and say that it's the best thing Whedon has ever done. Joss may be Boss, but alas I can't sing too many praises. Dollhouse has great moments, some fantastic episodes, utterly astoundingly brilliant characters and some incredible acting talent...but alas, it's not enough to detract from the fact that, well, you do have to wade through a tiny bit of crap to get through to the really, really good stuff.

Now, thrashing the poor bugger while it's down and out for the count aside, let's talk about the good bits.

As with any Joss Whedon show, I absolutely love the witty banter that is fired off between the characters. In fact, I'd wager half of what I love about Whedon shows are the character dynamics, punctuated by the witty banter. For an example and some context for said example, the "Dolls" (or "Actives") of the eponymous Dollhouse are not supposed to exhibit the usual human reactions in their "Doll" state. In one episode, the B-Story Arc revolves around LA Dollhouse head tech Topher Brink (Fran Kranz) discovering that one of the Actives, "Victor" (Enver Gjokaj) is having a "man reaction" (Topher's exact description) and investigating this occurrence with Doctor Claire Saunders (Amy Acker), the head physician. In the course of their investigation, the phrase "I believe I spotted a tumescence" occurs. Giggles all round.

To go a bit sideways for a second, I want to touch upon my comment of "incredible acting talent" and single out the aforementioned Enver Gjokaj. During the course of the show, as one of the "Actives", he plays many different characters, essentially. And he does them all superbly. Including...well...here is a massive SPOILER ALERT. If you have not watched Dollhouse and intend to, do not continue much further. Well, skip the next paragraph at least.

For at one point, Victor is "imprinted" (the in-universe term for having a personality put into the blank-slate head of an Active) with...Topher 2.0. That's right, the brilliant techie that is Topher Brink has his mind copied and downloaded into Victor in season two in order for them to hack into a secured computer system. Utterly brilliant and genius. Enver Gjokaj, proving how awesome he is.

Anyway, moving on now.

Now, I will briefly discuss how I have been sucked into watching and enjoying Breaking Bad.

So this has been one of those shows that almost everyone I know has been raving on about. I'd heard about it, been intrigued by it. Finally managed to get to sitting down and watching some of it. And I must say, what I have seen has been very enjoyable. A particular highlight is the season two episode "Negro y Azul". Much laughter and enjoyment was had, though there is one part that I still wonder if I shouldn't have found it that funny. But oh well.

I said this would be brief, right? So there it is. Started watching it, think it's pretty good.

Moving on to something I'm going to absolutely rave about, my new addiction - The Almighty Johnsons.

My provider of sage advice and wisdom, Oracle, was the first to discover this. She recommended it on numerous occasions before me and my housemate finally sat down to watch it. And lo, it very quickly became...pretty much like crack for me (funny that I just mentioned Breaking Bad, a show about drug dealing...). Honestly. Couldn't stop watching it. Within in a few days, I had devoured both seasons. Twenty-three episodes total, but still.

Now, for some context. The Almighty Johnsons is a New Zealand TV show about four brothers, the Johnsons, who just so happen to be the mortal reincarnations of Norse gods. Yep. That's right. Norse gods in New Zealand. The eldest brother, Mike (full name Mikkel), is Ull, the god of the hunt and of games. Next up is Anders, played by The Hobbit's Fili, Dean O'Gorman. He is Bragi, god of poetry. And is a womanising jackass, but somehow, because it's Fili, I don't detest him as much as I should. Or maybe it's his godliness...anyway, next on the agenda is Ty, who is Hod, the god of all things dark and cold. He's not so happy about that. And last of all there's the youngest brother, Axl. In the first episode, it's his 21st birthday, the time when his god-hood manifests. And lo and behold, he discovers that he's none other than Odin, the Allfather. And in order to restore all the gods to their true powers, he has to find Odin's beloved, the goddess Frigg to restore the House of Asgard. Seems simple enough? Only there's a quartet of goddesses out to stop him.

The Almighty Johnsons is a comedy drama that I find absolutely, utterly 100% brilliant. Like I said, like crack for me. I've always had passing interest in mythology, knowing little to nothing about it, but by the gods and goddess of Asgard, this show makes me want to learn more.

I would rave so much more, but I feel that A) I've been babbling too long and B) The Almighty Johnsons can more than speak for itself. I now join my dear Oracle in her nail-biting irritation at the lack of season three on DVD. Come on, New Zealand. I can now more or less tell the difference between your accent and the Australian accent...release season three of The Almighty Johnsons on DVD? Pretty please...?

(Song of the Mind: Battlestar Sonatica - Bear McCreary)

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Today we are cancelling the Apocalypse!

Anyone who's seen the trailer for Pacific Rim knows that this is an awesome line delivered by the incredible and amazing Idris Elba, known for playing Heimdall in Thor and the title character in the BBC crime drama Luther. I'll cut straight to the point for once. I'm using it as the title because about five days ago I finally saw it. By the gods old and new, the Lords of Kobol and other appropriately geeky deities, it was frakkin' amazing! I mean, my gods...just...godsdamn. I don't know exactly what I was expecting from that movie when I went in, but I came out in awe.

And right now I'm listening to the soundtrack. I love the music. No surprise really - the composer, Ramin Djawadi, is also the composer for Game of Thrones. He has a knack for addictive, catchy and awesome music.

Now I could go into a review-style summation of the plot of Pacific Rim, but it's easy to describe. It's the near future, giant aliens are attacking humanity and we built giant frakkin' robots to beat the ever-loving crap out of them. Awesomeness ensues, as directed by the awesome Guillermo del Toro.

I feel a bit speechless about Pacific Rim. I'll admit, I'm not often tempted to go see a movie at the cinema twice. I'm usually content to see it once, wait for the DVD to come out. Even with Avengers, I was never this impatient for a movie to come out on DVD. Pacific Rim...just outstanding. Not mind-blowing or groundbreaking...just incredibly good fun to sit back and enjoy. I mean...giant aliens versus giant freakin' robots?! What isn't to like?

Moving on to more coherent discourse, it's time to chat a little about another rather good movie I saw the other day. Yesterday, in fact. It was called...

...The World's End.

That's right, ladies and menfolk. The final film in Edgar Wright's Blood and Cornetto Trilogy. After nearly ten years, it came to a final, glorious, blood and explosion-filled end.

Now I'll kick off by saying that Hot Fuzz remains my favourite of the three. There's no denying that Shaun of the Dead is amazing and The World's End is the worthy finale, but I think it's a bit of a Star Wars thing here. Hot Fuzz, for me, is like the Empire Strikes Back of the Cornetto Trilogy. But enough on that. It's time for The World's End to have a moment in the sunshine. Which we have had an awful abundance of lately. But hey-ho.

The World's End begins like any other movie of the Blood and Cornetto Trilogy. It's framed as a simple tale of ordinary folk - in this case, Gary King (Simon Pegg), a man who never quite got over a particular night (22nd June 1990), where he and his erstwhile school friends attempted Newton Haven's (their hometown) "Golden Mile" of twelve pubs. The final of which being The World's End. Only the Newton Haven of 2013 isn't like 1990 Newton Haven...it's been slightly taken over.

As always, our hapless band of heroes - Blood and Cornetto Trilogy regulars Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, joined by Eddie Marsan and Rosamund Pike - blunder straight into a hornet's nest that's far beyond them and Gary, unwilling to let the failure of 1990 repeat, is determined to see the Golden Mile through to the end (I would say bitter end, but the film makes ample use of this joke).

The World's End sees the triumphant cameos of Spaced stars Mark Heap (Brian) and Michael Smiley (Tyres), the return of many other Spaced/Blood and Cornetto cameo regulars and the inclusion of Pierce Brosnan in a small, but delightfully awesome role.

I'll admit to being slightly underwhelmed by The World's End. Let it not be said that I didn't enjoy it and it wasn't a worthy finale, but I was hoping for...well, for a little more. The movie delivered plenty, but I felt...felt like I was waiting for something more. Perhaps once I obtain it on DVD I will feel differently. Who knows, eh?

I'm afraid, however, that Pacific Rim has kinda stolen the thunder (which might explain where there was no lightning but plenty of rumbles of thunder early, early this morning). But the year is only half over. Many, many more movies await and many, many more awesome things await being rambled about. Until then, I leave you with a snippet of the Pacific Rim soundtrack:

(Song of the Mind: Canceling the Apocalypse - Ramin Djawadi).

Thursday, 4 July 2013

You don't actually think they spend $20,000 on a hammer, $30,000 on a toilet seat do you?

As today is Independence Day in the United States, it seems only fitting that the quotation title of this entry is a quotation from the 1996 film named after this peculiar occasion. It also seems only fitting to choose today to talk about said film, but more importantly...the dubious nature of this rather awesome film getting a FRAKKING SEQUEL twenty years later.

Now for the traditional context portion.

Independence Day is one of my favourite films ever. It's kind of a classic from my teenage years and a film I shared in common with one of my best friends from school. In fact, it was part of our bonding process, along with our shared fascination with UFOs and aliens. In fact, this lady is the reason I received the nickname "Alien Dave". So yeah, Independence Day is an absolute classic for me and my friend. We would quote it and a couple of other choice films that we shared a love for. I even got her hooked on Firefly and Serenity. But I digress, so back on track.

Roland Emmerich...once I thought he was brilliant. He gave us Stargate, he made Independence Day. But in more recent years, his credentials have become ever more dubious. Now, he's making a sequel to Independence Day (without Will Smith but still keeping Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman) and talking about going back to Stargate (which he originally conceived as a trilogy of films). I want to frakkin' scream.

A while back I talked about my scepticism of remakes. I was proven wrong with Total Recall and I still want to scream at them for what they're going to do to RoboCop. And now Hollywood are making angry about sequels. They're not bad as a general concept. Some movies are fantastic as trilogies, some would have been better if you'd left things well enough alone. Perhaps a top ten list with some pretty pictures will illustrate my feelings on this one day, but not now. No, for now I want to make this point. All these sequels that work well as trilogies and the ones that don't...they were made within a couple of years of each other. Admittedly, we've been waiting some six years for the final part of Edgar Wright's Blood and Ice Cream trilogy, but it hasn't taken them twenty years.

If it takes you twenty years...I think there's a subtle message in there.

Don't frakkin' do it.

Now I could be entirely wrong. Come 2015, I could be back on this blog admitting to everyone that I was wrong to nay-say and that Independence Day 2 is amazing or at very least a passably enjoyable movie. And perhaps, somewhere, there's historical precedent for a sequel being made twenty odd years after the original being absolutely fantastic. But I can't help but think of the Die Hard movies and George Lucas' reprehensible treatment of Star Wars and seriously contemplate weeping. The historical precedent does not look good, Roland Emmerich. Oh no.

I'm now going to digress entirely into a new topic, since I don't think there's much more I can say about my hesitance regarding the Independence Day sequel. Intriguingly enough, I've just realised it could be construed as somewhat tying in to the subject. Although I'm not going to chat about sequels, I'm going to be talking about a particular reboot. A reboot known...as Man of Steel.

For all my geekdom, I'm not actually a big reader of comic books. In fact, I don't really have any. I have some graphic novels, but as for comic books...no. None. Alas. So when it comes to the Marvel and DC comic book superhero movies, I have to ask my friends about the source material for more information. Or look it up online. So many glorious hours of procrastination...

So, Man of Steel. Bottom line, I enjoyed it. But it seems to me that it's an incredibly divisive film. Once upon a many Moon ago, I talked about the Marmite Principle. I think it applies here. You either love Man of Steel or hate it. Or you can go completely middle of the road. But still. I've spoken to people who love it, people who hate it. And one of the most interesting things I've come to learn about this movie and what divides people, is the nature of the source material. Superman is the perfect superhero. He's invincible, he has pretty much every superpower crammed into one human being. Oh wait, sorry, crammed into Kryptonian being. Ahem. Anyway, as I've been told, in the comics he's the square-jawed perfect hero. He always saves the day and he's always a jovial, lovely chap.

So for this reboot, they make him all dark and brooding.

Now I didn't necessarily have a problem with this, given that I don't have an attachment to the source material and know very little about it. But apparently, this is not a good thing. Superman is not dark, he does not brood or seethe with repressed issues. He glides through existence with an almost child-like fascination at the actions of humanity and continues to save them all the while. And this leads me to an interesting point that one of my colleagues made...

...if you do not want spoilers, do not read on.

In the finale of the movie, Superman and General Zod are having themselves a fine old brawl. While they are beating the ever-loving crap out of each other, they are simultaneously laying waste to Metropolis. Seriously. The amount of damage they perpetrate is quite astonishing. I didn't think too much about it at first. But then my colleague made the point that, as Superman is the perfect square-jawed superhero, he would have been trying to save everyone. Or, at the very least, the director could have allowed for a couple of brief scenes showing people escaping from the carnage and devastation that Superman and his nemesis were causing. I found this to be...well, quite a compelling point.


An interest counterpoint was presented to me - while it is inevitably true that Superman caused untold carnage that is uncharacteristic for him, it could be part of the backstory for the sequel (there's that word again...) and its potential villain, the one and only Lex Luthor. The devastation wrought upon Metropolis would give Luthor an opportunity to step in, rebuild the city and use the events of Man of Steel to poison the people against Superman. As a premise, it's very intriguing and I can see it working out. So we'll just have to wait and see I guess.

On that note, I wrap up today's babbling with the final thought - Independence Day 2, I really hope you don't suck but I won't hold my breath and Man of Steel, you were a really rather enjoyable movie, even if you do have some plot falls here and there.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Reports of my assimilation have been greatly exaggerated

For the first time in a few months, I'm managing more than one-to-two posts a month. Admittedly I'm cutting things rather a teeny bit close given that we're right at the end of June here, but hey-ho. Today is going to be a little bit of a special one. For this post will be my forty-seventh. The number forty-seven is curious. It's cropped up in quite a few places. I first encountered it in the TV show Alias, then again in the Hitman videogame series...mostly on account of the main character being the assassin called 47. But one of the most notable places it appears (and what I wish to discuss today) is the Star Trek universe.

The references to the number forty-seven can be traced back, according this article on Memory Alpha (the Star Trek wiki) to Joe Menosky, writer on both The Next Generation and Voyager. He was part of a society at college that believes mathematical proof exists that all numbers are equal to forty-seven. Thus, Menosky found ways to sneak the number forty-seven into Star Trek episodes as a neat little in-joke.

Anyway, that's reason that I decided I would talk about Star Trek in post forty-seven. In the exceptionally unlikely event that any Star Trek writers read this, I accept your facepalm gestures, rolled eyes, etcetera 'cause after so many years, you're probably sick to the death of the number.

Now then. On with the relevant babbling.

You see, I hold what I believe to be a slightly controversial opinion in the world of Star Trek geekdom. There is an age-old question that reigns among any fandom - which of said fandom incarnations are the best? Which is your favourite? The latter can be quite a damning question in the wrong company. And of the choices presented, I regard Deep Space Nine as my favourite. For the simple reason that more things go boom and the characters...well, the characters are far, far more complex.

So let's pause and digress for a moment, clarify some things. Jean-Luc Picard is undeniably the superior Starfleet captain of all the captains encountered. Both ships commanded by Captain Picard somewhat out-do Benjamin Sisko's small but mighty USS Defiant. But when it comes to the longevity of things, the complexity of storyline and intrigue of characters, Deep Space Nine takes the prize by more than a few country miles.

To back up my argument, a case study - episode nineteen of season six: "In the Pale Moonlight".

First of all, awesome title. Anyone who's watched and enjoyed Tim Burton's Batman can hear Jack Nicholson uttering the line "Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?" A curious, almost delightfully threatening phrase I find. And exceptionally fitting for the episode at the heart of our case study. For those of you not wishing to know anything about this episode, I'd stop reading right about...


We're deep in the Dominion War at this point. The Federation and the Klingon Empire are fighting hard against the Dominion and their Cardassian allies, but in spite of their efforts, the war continues to go badly for them. Every week, a new casualty list is posted by Captain Sisko and every week more friends have died. All the while, thanks to their non-aggression treaty, Dominion forces are to take shortcuts through Romulan space and catch Federation forces unawares. An idle conversation between the officers leads Sisko to a startling realisation - he needs to bring the Romulan Star Empire into the war.

But this is no easy task. The Romulans don't have any reason to join the fighting. The Federation and Romulus have been playing deadly games with each other since the end of the Earth-Romulan War in the 22nd Century. They have been openly hostile towards the Klingon Empire on more than one occasion. If the Dominion were to win the war, two of Romulus' greatest threats would be removed in one fell swoop. So in order to convince them that the Dominion intends to bring Romulus into the fold once it's done with the Federation and the Klingons, Sisko turns to the shadiest dealer on Deep Space Nine - Cardassian tailor and former Obsidian Order operative, Elim Garak.

We digress from the story a moment to talk a little about Garak. He is by far one of the best characters in the series. His past is beyond merely chequered, it's riddled with intentional black holes of ambiguity and secrecy. His past actions with the Cardassian secret police has given him a jaded worldview that is a stark contrast to the bright optimism embodied by the officers of Starfleet and their glorious Federation. And above all, he seems to reward mistrust and paranoia. Earlier in season six, when stranded on a planet and out on patrol with Nog, he calls the young cadet on the fact that Nog will not allow Garak to stand behind him. When the Ferengi explains his reasoning, Garak remarks "Cadet, there may be hope for you yet".

Anyway, skipping ahead, Sisko conspires with Garak to at first discover evidence of Dominion plans to invade Romulus, then forge evidence of aforementioned Dominion plans. Various shady circumstances ensue, pushing Sisko's integrity closer and closer to the edge of the proverbial abyss. Eventually, with their forged evidence, they arrange a clandestine meeting with a prominent Romulan senator, who notably supports the treaty Romulus has with the Dominion. The senator comes aboard DS9, views the evidence, takes it away to examine it for himself and discovers it to be a fake. Outraged, he returns to Romulus, Sisko prepares for the consequences. Then...

...well, Garak outdoes himself. Just before the senator returns to Romulus, his shuttle explodes. Romulan authorities examine the wreckage, the imperfections in the forged evidence dismissed as damage from the explosion. The Romulan Star Empire enters the war.

As soon as he hears of the senator's demise, Sisko knows Garak is responsible. A confrontation ensues, but eventually...well, Sisko realises the most damning thing of all. He can live with it. The lies, the murder. For the sake of the Alpha Quadrant, he can live with it.

As I see it, this episode does something no other Star Trek incarnation ever did or would ever do. It epitomises Deep Space Nine's ability to shine a light on the darkest, most compelling storylines. And for this reason, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is my favourite.

And now for something completely different, I'm ending this blog entry here so I can watch Battlestar Galactica and eat Chinese food. Nom.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Sitting Under the Shade of the Tree: Great North Road

When I was last sitting under the shade of the tree enjoying a good book, I expressed my fear that I was becoming a China Miéville fanboy. My stated reason was that excepting one book, every time I finished reading one of his I would "review" (I use sarcastic quotation marks on myself because I would hardly regard these as professional reviews) the book. This trend is apparently continuing with Peter F. Hamilton, as with the exception of Mindstar Rising, the first Greg Mandel novel, I've reviewed every book of his I've read. Continuing today with my "review" of his latest offering, the 1086 page tome Great North Road.

Great North Road is the first standalone Peter F. Hamilton book I've read, as he has a habit of writing trilogies it seems. This particular book is set in 2143, kicking off in the not-so-exotic location of Newcastle-upon-Tyne with discovery of the body of a prominent person. Well, sort of. The body belongs to a member of the North family, a family of all-male clones. The body has been stripped of all features that would permit identification, presenting investigating officer Detective Sidney Hurst with the first of many, many mysterious stumbling blocks.

The one identifying trait is the murder weapon/method, which is the same as a murder on the exotic planet of St Libra (linked to Newcastle by a trans-spatial gateway permitting instantaneous travel from one planet to the next) that occurred in 2121. Where the victims were Bartram North, patriarch of one of the three branches of the North family. The second hitch...Angela Tramelo, one of Bartram North's "girlfriends" who survived the massacre on St Libra, was convicted of the crime and has been languishing in Holloway prison all the while.

Things rapidly spiral out of control from there - all through her trial, Tramelo had insisted that she didn't murder Bartram or his household...an alien did. With the implication that this "alien" was involved in a fresh murder in 2143, the Human Defence Alliance descends on the investigation. From there, both Sidney Hurst and Angela Tramelo are dragged into the HDA's hunt for the truth - is there another alien race out to get humanity, or did Tramelo have an accomplice on St Libra?

Now to run away from the plot so I don't post any spoilers and talk about...well, pretty much any damn thing. We'll start with the brief verdict - I thoroughly enjoyed it. There are some damn compelling characters, from the pretty uncomplicated, down-to-earth but incredibly shrewd Detective Sidney Hurst to the incredibly complicated Angela Tramelo. Sprinkled in with the main characters I've mentioned before are some pretty neat supporting characters - HDA officer Colonel Vance Elston, who is convinced Tramelo is hiding the truth behind the events on St Libra, Sidney Hurst's through-and-through Geordie partner Detective Ian Lanagin and the occasional perspective character of surf-shop owner Saul Howard. I could go on, but I might say too much.

So moving over to one of my other favourite topics - setting. I mentioned the gateway concept briefly. In this particular future, Earth is connected to a whole ton of planets by these gateways. We get to "see" a couple of them, but by and large our primary settings are Earth and St Libra. And St Libra is fascinating planet - it has absolutely no indigenous animal life and has what is called "zebra" botany, which are plants that produce both carbon dioxide AND oxygen, making the uninhabited planet a perfectly habitable tropical jungle paradise. St Libra is, if memory serves, slightly bigger than Earth and the star it orbits is younger than our own. All these elements combine to make a strange, unpredictable tropical world...that even has its own rings, akin to those of Saturn's. Though the rocks from these rings have a nasty habit of falling through the atmosphere in an area called "The Fall Zone". But apart from that, the presence of the rings sounds awesome. Especially as St Libra doesn't have any moons. Which is kind of sad. No planet should be without a moon.

I feel should take a moment to talk about the actual writing. You know, style, flow, stuff like that. Now Hamilton is defined, I believe, as Hard Science-Fiction. That means lots of amazing technology (epitomised in Great North Road by the trans-spatial gateways and a funky load of tech called smartcells) and good chunks of description about...well, planets, spaceships, space stations, things like that. And it doesn't detract from a quite gripping narrative. I wouldn't say it's nail-biting, but...it gnaws at you. All those little hints and clues, chewing away at the back of your brain, calling you back to the book so you can find out just what the frak is actually going on. In my eyes, just as good as a book you can't put down. But like I say, fair amounts of description of tech, people and locations. Which is also good, because you get a pretty damn good picture of this twenty-second century world Hamilton has created.

I've reached the point of babbling entropy, so I'm going to wrap things up. Great North Road was pretty damn good, a thoroughly enjoyable yarn. Well worth picking up and devoting a good chunk of time to sitting under that tree and reading it.

Monday, 3 June 2013

The Starks are always right, eventually. Winter is Coming

So it may have, by some curious means of me babbling about it in several posts, come to light that I am something of a fan of the Song of Ice and Fire books by George R.R. Martin. Known in the more common vernacular as Game of Thrones, after the first book in the series. This is largely because the TV series is named such. Thus far, I have only watched two seasons of the series, though I have been told that the impending British broadcast of the third season finale depicts quite a momentous event. I will not speak of such things, of course, but in honour of this series finale, I'm going to be babbling on Song of Ice and Fire lines today.

As a fan of the books, I have, somewhat naturally, developed an affinity for a particular noble house. My allegiance is owed to House Stark and my words are simple. Winter is Coming. And it is for these words that I am writing a whole frak ton of my own today. Many a day I have spent "meditating" of a sort on the deeper meanings of the words of the major noble house of Westeros. For the purposes of this post, I have chosen six of the houses. So, without further ado...

House Stark - "Winter is Coming"

The words of the Starks of Winterfell are quite interesting - it is noted in other sources that their words aren't a threat or a boast...they're an ominous warning. On the surface, it's the ominous warning of the inevitability of winter's arrival. A simple statement of fact, really. But to me, it feels like so much more than that. Winter is Coming is a promise, a declaration of intent. It is the nature of the Starks - no matter what happens, if you mess with the Starks, their friends, their loved ones...they will come for you. Today, tomorrow. Time is of no consequence. Winter is a fact. It is coming and there isn't a damn thing you can do about it.

House Baratheon - "Ours is the Fury"

This one is an obvious threat. Rage. Fury. Vengeance. The Baratheons are a mighty house, historically not ones to be frakked with or take anything lying down. They're warriors, but they're immediate warriors. Their nature is not like the Starks, they're not patient. They don't do sitting around waiting for this to happen. They're energetic, vigorous, they swing their swords and warhammers at anyone or anything that looks at them cross-eyed. The Baratheons do not wait. Cross them and they'll come for you. No grace period, no thinking. Pure, animal fury.

House Lannister - "Hear Me Roar"

On the surface, it's an obvious reference to their sigil, the golden lion. But when you look into the depths of the Lannister soul...well, it's a boast. It's their pride and their vanity. Epitomised, I feel, by the patriarch of their house, Lord Tywin Lannister. Not content to sit on all the gold in Casterly Rock and be the richest man in the Seven Kingdoms, Tywin Lannister needs attention, validation. For a time, he had the power. Hand of the King for twenty years, the balance to Aerys II's considerable madness. The craving for power and recognition is continued with Cersei, highlighted by her relentless scheming and behind-the-scenes backstabbing she perpetrates in King's Landing. Hear Me Roar is not merely a boast. It's a cry for attention.

House Targaryen - "Fire and Blood"

Not a boast, nor a warning or a threat. Fire and Blood are the values of House Targaryen - the blood of the dragon, the blood Old Valyria. Fire is radiant, beautiful. Dangerous if mishandled. Fire burns and yes, it's dangerous. But if you know how to handle it, you meet the other half, Blood. Family is everything to those of House Targaryen. Hurt their Blood, they will spills yours. Fire and Blood is a double-edged sword. They are the dragon blood, Fire runs in their veins and they treasure their kin, their Blood. If you hurt their Blood, they will rain Fire upon you. On the surface it may not sound like a threat...well, Fire does suggest being threatening, but Fire is also a comfort in times of cold, in places of darkness.

House Greyjoy - "We Do Not Sow"

A matter-of-fact statement. House Greyjoy do not ask for things, they do not compromise. They take what they want, what is theirs. There is an edge of warning to their words. Do not expect anything from them, they do not play by your rules. The Greyjoys may be part of the Seven Kingdoms, but they do not play the laws of the rest of Westeros. They continue to be pirates and raiders, only just about keeping the King's Peace. We Do Not Sow. Our ways are our own. We will fight, raid and pillage anyone who means to stamp us under their heel. Like the direwolves of House Stark, the krakens of House Greyjoy are patient. Water connects everything. The kraken moves fast, but it can also move slow. When it strikes...there is no mercy. The kraken takes what it wants, leaves the rest to the sea.

House Martell - "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken"

To wrap my meditations, I present what I consider one of the most intriguing noble houses in Westeros - House Martell, the ruling house of Dorne. In the Seven Kingdoms, Dorne is a curiosity. Ruled not by lords, but princes. Their words, on the surface, may be seen to reflect their history - the only part of the Seven Kingdoms that successfully stood against Aegon the Conqueror's dragons, as well as the retention of the royal style for their rulers. Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken speaks of proud resilience, an unyielding defiance, but the actions of their house speak other words. Some can be shrewd, patient, biding their time. Others, while just as canny thinkers, are hot-tempered, quicker in their need for vengeance. The Martells are unpredictable in terms of when they will strike and how. In a way, it seems that the Martells very easily live up to the surface of their words. But only insofar as they are one of the more...shy? Reserved. They're more reserved. But that does not mean they have yielded. They're just waiting for the right moment to strike.

I suspect my babbling has made...well, not a huge amount of sense. It never really does. Regardless, these have been my meditations on the house words of some of my favourite houses (/those houses that friends of mine hold dear to as well). They make sense to me at least.

And for those of you about to watch Game of Thrones this evening who have not yet read A Storm of Swords...

Enjoy :D

Monday, 27 May 2013

I'm here to save the world, who will save Supergirl?

Today's title is a little bit abstract of sorts. And instead of being a television or movie quotation, it's a line from a song. Music is funny thing with me. I tend to go through phases, listening to one album/particular set of albums at any one time. Currently, I'm in a phase where I'm near constantly listening to one of my (recently discovered) favourite bands, Halestorm. Specifically, their album "The Strange Case Of..." and this particular lyric is from the song "Hate It When You See Me Cry".

So I've established the context of the title. Now I have to explain how it has earned the label of "abstract of sorts". You see, today I have decided that I shall do a top ten list, as I haven't done one in a good long while. And in the spirit of vengeance that I have been possessed by as of a late. Before I go into the list, a tiny bit more context in terms of spirit of vengeance.

It involves one of the people dearest to my heart, as it often does when my spirit of vengeance is invoked. The Rhaegar Targaryen to my Lyanna Stark, the one known as Thief. To briefly surmise, someone is being evil to her. This person is known as The Harpy, The Garbage Scow or The Monumental Bitch (pardon my language). It is this person who has awoken my spirit of vengeance. And for this reason, it's time for my top ten fictional weapons. Useful for personal defence and exacting vengeance upon silly, useless Garbage Scows.

10: The Scythe (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Not only featuring a neat little stake at the bottom, the Scythe as one hell of a blade which is excellent for slicing, dicing and making julienne preacher. As you can see, it has a rather pretty colour scheme and is capable of slicing Nathan Fillion into two halves. Just to repeat one salient piece of information...slices...Nathan...Fillion. Into two halves. For that it deserves a place in the top ten, but for the crime of splitting Captain Tightpants in two, it remains at number 10.

9: Ebony Warhammer (The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim)

So I've mentioned Skyrim a few times now. As of this moment, I'm at level fifty-two and thus far, only really at the point of using Ebony weapons, even though Daedric weapons are cropping up here and there, while Dragonbone weapons still elude my reach for now. As a result, I have discovered what could be considered a slight streak of House Baratheon mixed in with my House Stark-ness. And that is the use of warhammers as my favoured mêlée weapon. It's rather worryingly satisfying to beat down a horde of enemies with this particular weapon.

8: The Tesla (Warehouse 13)

Not a weapon for killing, but very, very satisfying for electrocuting/stunning them into submission. Invented by every self-respecting geek's favourite underdog scientist, Nikola Tesla. Wielded by many agents of the Warehouse and knacked (thank you, China Miéville for this usage of the term) handily by the brilliant Claudia Donovan into the Tesla grenade, it is a simple weapon. A civilised weapon, given that it doesn't kill. And it wipes short-term memory just a little. Handy if you're caught doing something you shouldn't really be doing...

7: RC-P120 (Perfect Dark)

One of only two projectile weapons to make it onto the list, the RC-P120 has the distinction of being the only automatic weapon on the list. With a clip capacity of (funnily enough) one hundred and twenty bullets, it is perfect for tearing into a crowd of enemies. It also has a neat secondary function (as all Perfect Dark weapons do) of having a cloaking device. There are two drawbacks - one, the device feeds off the P120's ammunition at a phenomenal rate and two, as soon as you pull the trigger, the cloak disengages. I favour the approach of jamming down on the trigger and taking down my enemies. It's rather effective I find.

6: Particle Magnum (Stargate: Atlantis)

Modelled here by its main user, the ruggedly handsome Jason Momoa (in character as Satedan native Ronon Dex), the particle magnum is...just...well...neat. A powerful handgun that fires red particle blasts, well...in a slightly disconcerting way, it's an awfully pretty gun. But mainly it packs a neat wallop and hands down defeats the SGC's choice of the FN P90 as their default weapon. Plus, it's Jason Momoa's gun. That gives an instant cool rating.

5: Mjölnir (Thor)

Again modelled by a ruggedly handsome fellow, we delve into that awkward line between mythology and fantasy with the fabled weapon of the God of Thunder. Yes, it's the return of the mêlée weapons with Mjölnir. Now unfortunately, I have not read the comics. Well, except for a brief flirtation with the Secret Invasion story arc of the Marvel Universe. Back to the point, my experience with Mjölnir is mainly confined to Thor and I dare say, Chris Hemsworth does a lot of fun things with Mjölnir. Not only can it bash the ever-loving crap out of things, but it also helps Thor to fly. That's right. He can use the hammer to FLY. That's cool. Undeniably.

4: Honjo Masamune (Warehouse 13)

Warehouse 13 slips into the top ten once again, this time with a mêlée weapon - the ancient Japanese artefact, the Honjo Masamune. According to the wonderful Artie Nielsen, the Honjo Masamune is a katana so perfectly aligned that it can SPLIT LIGHT AROUND IT. And by doing so, it renders the user INVISIBLE. It's a katana that turns you invisible. This is quite possibly one of the most perfect vengeance weapons. Not quite the number one weapon, alas, but it's...well...it turns you frakkin' invisible. How cool is that?

3: Dark Energy-Infused Gravity Gun (Half-Life 2)

This one has, quite possibly, the most interesting definition of "weapon". It doesn't really fire things. It just...picks them up. Like a ball of dark energy, as illustrated above. The ball is then fired, which then disintegrates people. And in the final phases of Half-Life 2, the Gravity Gun becomes infused with dark energy, supercharging it. Not only does it pick up balls of dark energy, it picks up PEOPLE. Well, evil Combine soldiers. And from there, you can fire them into streams of dark energy. Which disintegrates them. It's awesome. Hence, it's in the top three.

2: Purple Flaming Katana of Self-Respect (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World)

We're closing in on the top spot and at number two, we have another katana. No official title as such, so I made one up. As featured in the movie Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, it is a purple flaming katana, pulled out of Scott's chest when he earns the power of self-respect. It's at number two for the simple reason that it's on fire. Purple fire. End of.

1: Moses Brothers Frontier Model B (Firefly/Serenity)

Shock horror, it's Firefly coming in at the top spot. Like all things in this corner of the Whedonverse, it's just a tiny bit pretty. I even have a replica of it in my room. There's something just so...simple about this weapon. It's a pistol. Nothing fancy, no great little secondary functions, just a simple handgun. It fires bullets. It gets Mal either in to, or out of, various hijinks. And let's not forget, "Every well-bred petty crook knows that the small conceable weapons go to the far left of the place setting". I just love that line. It has no real relevance, but oh well.

So there we have it. Potentially showcasing a worrying side of my psyche that finds weapons aesthetically pleasing, but, well...The Harpy shouldn't be making Thief's life difficult for her. It makes me vengeful. She won't like me when I'm vengeful. I'm a Stark of Winterfell. And no matter what she does, Winter is Coming. Plus, she's pissing off a Targaryen. Historically, not a good idea.

Now that's enough babble for one day. I'm hyper on tea and wondering if all of this was a good idea. Oh well. Should find out in the morning. Reminds of a good quotation from The Princess Bride:

"Good night, Westley, good work today. Most likely kill you in the morning."

(Song of the Mind: Hate It When You See Me Cry - Halestorm)