Saturday, October 29, 2011

Book Review: Heaven's Shadow by David Goyer and Michael Cassutt

Heaven's Shadow By David S. Goyer & Michael Cassutt
398 pages
Ace Hardcover

The Big Dumb Object sub-genre of Science fiction was the cornerstone of Arthur C. Clarke's fiction(although his best novel Songs of Distant Earth was not in it). He was the master because he was a great storyteller who was not afraid to tell a story with a mystical mystery component but he also knew science. I think it takes some serious nads to get in this ring and try to tell this kind of story in a novel form. The science and details are far more forgiving in a film so I was surprised when two writers known more for film and TV set out to do it.

Goyer is known as a Screenwriter (Blade, batman begins) and director (The Unborn,Blade 3) and his Partner Cassutt (Twilight Zone) had developed the story as a film treatment. I don't work for NASA or know a lot about that world so I can only say that the details seem well researched, and with that element in place I was ready for a wild Sci-fi ride.

The story takes place three years after a Near Earth Object (thought to be a comet or space) is seen heading towards earth. Two space programs are competing to land on the object first. Once they get there the mystery slowly unravels and we discover that of course it's some kind of starship. Don't worry these are not bumpy headed Trek aliens, the authors do a good job of not anthropomorphizing the alien life forms or their technology which is thousands of years beyond ours.

The characters are well defined and introduced with a economy of story time, I would myself caring for them and generally being concerned. I am trying to be general about the plot because I think you are better served going in as blank as possible. I had one small nitpick with the novel that I will address in at the end of this review.

I am a fan of Goyer's writing, enjoyed a talk he gave at a screenwriting conference (in 2003) and was excited to see what he did with the novel form. In much the same fan his one time collaborator Guillermo Del Toro did when he wrote his strain trilogy. You can sense the film just under the surface, mostly in the way the stories cut and weave. The no non-sense approach to the story telling. Heaven's shadow doesn't waste a lot of time with internal monologues and the cuts in the action are pure screenwriting.

That's not a negative. Perhaps the only book I read recently that flowed the same way was Hogan and Del Toro's second book the Fall. The chapter breaks are perfect, and the the various plot threads are paced apart to keep tension high. I saw a review where a reader complained that after a cliffhanger end to a chapter they had to read through four chapters to find out what happened next. Of course the other four threads will building at the same time. That is on purpose ding-a-ling. That's why you read sixty pages of this book without realizing that time flew by.

This is an excellent addition to the the Big Dumb Object genre and my favorite Sci-fi novel I have read so far this year. The authors have built groundwork for a trilogy that cannot stay in the same sub-genre. That's great I am excited to see these characters again and the different direction the story will have to go into. The only real flaw with the novel is something I can see them fixing in the second or the third book. I was thinking it was spoiler, but frankly it's on the dust jacket of the book so...

Like many others who read the book I have a hard time excepting the fact that the aliens feel they need to contact humans for any reason. I am hoping the second book will explain why in the second book because to me it's still mystery. Is that a nitpick or not? I can't tell until I read book two, and that is already on my list.

Week 8 picks!

David 66-35
Larry 68-33

Larry and I tied again at 7-6. We picked different games. It was a rough week for picks.

Cards @ Ravens: Ravens
Vikings @ Panthers: Panthers
Jags @ Texans: Texans
Dolphins @ Giants: Giants
saints @ Rams: Saints
Titans @ Colts: Titans (Closer than people think)
Bills @ Redskins: Bills
Lions @Broncos: Lions
Pats @ steelers: Pats
Bengals @ Seahawks: Seahawks (don't feel good about it)
Browns @ 49ers: niners!
Cowboys@ Eagles: Eagles (in a close one.)
Chargers @ chiefs: Chargers

Chargers are banged up with a key defensive player, and O line out. They need this game and the pressure of the loss to the jets will help. It will be tough on the road, but the chiefs 3-3 record is smoke and mirrors. They only beat the Ray-turds 28-0 because the Raiders threw six interceptions including two pick six scores. Cassel didn't play great, neither did anyone else on the offense. Another week of practice for Gates, and Jackson getting healthier will help rivers get comfortable. Big game for Mathews and Hestor in the backfield with Tollbooth out.

26-14 Chargers over chiefs.

Larry's picks:
NO (W) @ STL
NE @ PIT (W)
CLE @ SF (W)
SD (W) @ KC (27-21)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Donnie Yen! Bodyguards and Assassins!

Finally saw this...Wow. Great concept for a kungfu movie. Check it out. Donnie Yen gets to do a little more acting in this. I have heard people complain that it is slow to start, but in my mind they did a great job of building tension. the first hour is like a fuse burning down.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

NFL Week 7 picks!

Last week I went 10-3 and Larry went 9-4.

So far I'm 59-29

Redskins @Panthers (Panthers)
Seahawks @ Browns (Seahawks)
Falcons @ Lions (Lions)
Broncos @ Phins (Broncos - win a horrible game - phins fire coach)
Chargers @ Jets (Chargers)
Bears - TB - London game (Bucs)
Texans @ Titans (Titans)
Steelers @ Cards (Steelers)
Chiefs @ raiders (chiefs)
Rams @ Cowboys (Cowboys)
GB @ Vikings ( GB)
Colts @ saints (Saints)
Ravens @ jags ( Ravens)

Chargers 35 Jets 17 (Jets will get a defensive TD, and go at least 4 - 3 and outs. We will win turn over battle and fix redzones problems

The Eleventh Son by Gu Long (Translated
365 pages
$19.95 Trade paperback

I have wanted to read this novel for years, but for one reason or another I just never got around to it. Wuxia films are some of my favorite movies of all time and I have always wanted to read more of fiction which many of my favorite kungfu movies were based on. Gu Long considered one along with Jin Yong (The Book and the Sword) and Liang Yushen (Bride with White Hair) as the "three legs of the tripod of wuxia". I have also published my own Wuxia horror crossover (Hunting The Moon Tribe) that was more influenced by film as until now I have only read Yong's The Book and the Sword and the Chinese literary classic Three Kingdoms.

So yeah, I was super overdue in reading this novel. It was written in the late 60's, and I am assuming it was published as a serial in newspapers like most Wuxia novels in the era. The chapters take on a serial feel, and it is hard to comment on the writing style because you always wonder how much is a product of translation.

The Eleventh Son is tangled story indeed as characters weave into and out of the story. Some even drop out of the story altogether. The main character Xiao is not even introduced until a few chapters in. It would seem at first that the novel is about Xiao battling for a famous sword called “The Deer Carver.” this maguffin is quickly forgotten as Xiao and a sinister female villian known as Little Mister battle over the Chinese countryside. The main story here is a messy love story between Xiao and a noble woman named Shen. Little Mister who is truly awesome villian frames Xiao for the murder of Shen's entire family. She knows better as Xiao is the one who saved her.

It is said that Long was more influenced by western writers than his competition and I only have Jin Young to compare him too. I can see a little more western influence in the structure of the novel, and the way he tells the story.

Some really cool and weird stuff happens along the way and you would expect in a Wuxia novel, there is a cool chapter where they encounter and battle gods of lightning and thunder. Perhaps my favorite part was a chapter called Doll manor, this super weird chapter finds Xiao and Shen tapped in a doll house worried that they have been shrunk and chaptered a kungfu magician. I was totally surprised by their escape and it was a super neat surprise. The coolest and most inventive part of the novel.

My biggest problem with the novel is that it ended with a set-up for sequel. That is not translated into English. Here is hoping the translator and publisher do this again. We need more Wuxia novels in print!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Book Review: Host of Shadows by Harry Shannon

A Host of Shadows by Harry Shannon
Dark Regions press
280 pages

I have read a few of these stories before, some in cemetary dance, various anthologies and I have always been impressed by Shannon. It's one thing to read a story here, or story there. To read the stories back to back in one collection something totally different. You pick up themes, you learn stuff about what is crawling around in the gray matter of the writer in question. If you are a fan of horror in short fiction then please take my advice and move this book up to the top of your list.

In a blurb on the back cover author Brian Keene said "Shannon is a writer not afraid to walk into the shadows and drag things there kicking and screaming into the light." I know it's cheap to quote a blurb but I tried hard to think of a way to say the same thing, too bad I'm quoting him because it is the best description possible.

Shannon is a master at details, tiny details that paint a dark and vivid picture. The atmosphere he builds leaves the reader with a feeling like they are turning away from a horrible sight, just keeping it in the corner of their vision so they wont lose it. The style ranges from traditional horror, dark noir and a few with experimental prose. All done with skill.

My favorite stories included the WW II story "and the worm shall feed" that takes place in the pacific. The iraq war story "Thus was His Death," and the darkly comical mortality tale "Violent Delights."

This is above average horror fiction that should be included in any serious horror fans personal library. Shannon is a very talented writer who deserves to be on library shelves everywhere. I was not super impressed by the novella Pain that he wrote(reviewed last month), but based on the strength of this collection I will be seeking out his novels.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Donnie Yen plays a character that is in Hunting The Moon Tribe

The story of legendary Guan Yu crossing five passes & slaying six generals. He played a major role in the civil war that led to the collapse of Han Dynasty & the establishment of Shu Han of the 3 Kingdoms, making Liu Bei its first emperor.

Guan Yu is known in Chinese mythology as the god of Martial Power. In the final battle of my novel Hunting The Moon Tribe, the heroes go to the underworld to end the vampire bloodline and are aided by several Chinese mythological characters(He battles the god of thunder Lei Gong). One of them Guan Yu. It's cool to see Donnie Yen playing him in a origin story.

Hunting the Moon Tribe is of course available on Amazon.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Week 6 NFL picks!

Chargers bye week picks!

David's score so far: 49-26
Larry Hall: 52-23

Panthers @ Falcons: Falcons.
Colts @Bengals: Bengals
SF @ Detroit: Lions (in a good game)
Rams @ Packers: (Packers in a slaughter)
Bills @ NYG: (giants) Note: The Bills have been INT machines and Eli has been throwing them, I just think Giants have to win)
Jags @ Steelers( Pitt)
Eagles@ Redskins (Redskins)
Texans @ Ravens (Ravens)
Browns @ Oakland (raiders)
Cowboys@NE (pats)
Saints@ Bucs (Saints)
Vikings @ Bears (Bears)
Phins @ Jets ( Jets)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

New Jet Li Wuxia Pan movies

As the author of a Wuxia Pan novel (kungfu fantasy called Hunting the Moon Tribe)I am super excited about two new films starring Jet Li. One of my favorite movie stars I have not enjoyed his american movies as much so how rad is it that he has returned to making films in china with style. He is also working with the masters of Chinese cinema.

First up is a new film by Ching Siu Tung director of two of my favorite movies and the most profound influence on Hunting the Moon Tribe - those films were the Chinese Ghost story and his 1982 masterpiece Duel to Death. but now he returns with...

and next Jet Li worked with the Steven Spielberg of Hong Kong Tusi Hark. He is coming off a bad decade, with lots of films that were supposed to be his comeback movie. Well I enjoyed a few of those like Seven Swords, it wasn't until last year when he released Detective Dee and the phantom of the Holy Flame, that critics and fans agreed. Hark was back. To follow up he drafted Jet Li for a 3D remake of the 1967 King Hu classic Dragon gate Inn. (Hark produced a remake in the 90's with Bridgette Lin and Donnie Yen that was OK)

Time to order some import DVD's or hope the Hollywood theater here in Portland makes them happen.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Book Review: Bible Repairman by Tim Powers

Bible Repariman by Tim Powers
192 pages
$14.95 Trade paperback

I have long been a casual fan of Tim Powers and his work. I've always found his science fiction to balance grand idea with excellent writing and strong characters. I have read only novels in the past. I was a huge fan of his novels Three Days to Never' and "The Abunbis gates". The Bible Repairman is a collection odd surrealist borderline bizarro speculative fiction. No space opera or generic sci-fi themes this book is really one for highly literate and patient fans of high quality weird literature.

I really enjoyed the stories "Soul in the Bottle," a tale centered around a book collector and his fascination with Jean Harlow's star on the walk of fame, and "Hour of Babel" a neat time travel story inspired by the pizza joint that Powers worked at in the 70's. The writing in all the stories are high quality, Powers has master's level talent. The only story I could do with out is "Time to cast away stones" the final story in the collection, that bored me to tears. The subject matter about Bryon and Shelly did nothing for me personally, I understand this is a postscript to a novel Powers wrote called "The stress of her regard." Perhaps if I read that book I might have been more interested but to me that was a weak point in a otherwise perfect collection.

I think this is a good book for librarians to stock in their collection and to display, as I am hoping it more attention. It's neat collection. I am not so sure I would tell readers they need to rush out and buy it but that is why it's perfect for the library.

Book Review: Embassytown By China Mieville

Embassytown by China Mieville
Del Rey
352 pages

I was very much looking forward to this book. China Mieville has got to be one of the smartest genre authors out there. I saw him speak at a book signing at Powells promoting his book City and the City a few years back. Just as I had when I listened to interviews I found myself thinking, wow this is one smart dude. He is in fact one smart dude, and like many of his other novels Embassytown is themed somewhat around the multi-dimensional life-form that is a city. (Another great sci-fi novel about a city is John Shirley's Classic 'City Come a Walkin')

I was excited because the idea of Mieville who has written mostly steampunk-ish fantasy or otherwise surrealist new weird fiction doing hard Sci-fi sounded great. From page one Mieville creates a strange landscape of the far future in way that reminds me of 'Left Hand of Darkness' by Ursala Leguin or 'Crucible of Time' by John Brunner. Were talking seriously speculative fiction, all three novels are in such alien worlds it is sometimes easy to forgot a human wrote the book at all.

It is the tale of a city know as Embassytown on a planet colonized by humans. The planet is home to a species called the Ariekei who speak a unique language that only a few genetically altered humans are able to speak. To speak it they have to be cloned and two doppel humans have to speak it together, these ambassadors eventually because a important part of the Ariekei culture. The hosts become addicted to the sound of their voices, and some ambassadors die, others come into power and the novel explores the social fabric of this alien society.

Some of the things I respect about this book are the very things that frustrated me about it. I am a quick reader and I slogged through this 352 pages over weeks. I often had to re-read paragraphs over and over, especially during the first quarter of the book that felt more like a anthropologist's memoir that a narrative. Of course in the universe of this novel, thousands of years into the future with humanity spread out across the universe Language and terminology itself would be alien to us. Mieville throws us in to the deep end without swimming lesson here. I learned those terms quickly enough, as a brief example deep space is referred to as “The Out,” and space Travelers are “Immersers.” The novel is written as if you already know that, I am not complaining I liked that choice and to a serious genre reading this is not that new of a concept.

Unlike Leguin's Left Hand of Darkness I felt the “gee-whiz” factor of the ideas constantly got in the way of the story. I felt like I was so busy trying to figure out what the author was trying to say about language and decipher the ideas that I had trouble following the narrative.

It would be easy to read this novel and think that it was simply a exploration of the power of language. It is that, but the novel also explores the concept of the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized. I think there are amazing elements to this novel, but I can't give it more than three stars out of five because of what a struggle I had keeping my interest. I respect China Mieville enough that I think there is a strong possibility that I am just not smart enough to follow some of the concepts, but I feel he could have kept the story closer to the surface and it would have been a better novel.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Week 5 NFL picks

Eagles at Bills (Bills)
Saints at Panthers (Saints)
Raiders at Texans (Texans)
Chiefs At Colts (Colts)
Bengals At Jags (Bengals)
Cards At Vikings (Vikings)
Seahawks at Giants (Giants in a slaughter)
Titans at Steelers (Titans)
TB at 49ers ( 49ers)
Chargers at Denver (Chargers) 42-17!!!
Jets at Pats (Pats)
GB at Atlanta (Falcons)
Bears at Lions (Lions)

Larry's picks...
Kansas City Chiefs W
Indianapolis Colts

Arizona Cardinals W
Minnesota Vikings

Philadelphia Eagles
Buffalo Bills W

Oakland Raiders
Houston Texans W

New Orleans Saints W
Carolina Panthers

Cincinnati Bengals W
Jacksonville Jaguars

Tennessee Titans W
Pittsburgh Steelers

Seattle Seahawks
New York Giants W

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
San Francisco 49ers W

New York Jets
New England Patriots W

San Diego Chargers W
Denver Broncos

Green Bay Packers
Atlanta Falcons W

Chicago Bears
Detroit Lions W

Sunday, October 2, 2011

NFL week 4 picks

Score through week 3:

Larry - 31-15
David - 29-17

DET @ DAL (Larry -Lions, David- Lions)
SF @ PHI(Larry - Eagles, David- Eagles)
MIN @ KC(Larry - Chiefs, David - Vikings)
WAS @ STL (Larry- Redskins, David - RedSkins)
NO @ JAC (Larry - Saints, David - Saints)
TEN @ CLE (Larry - Titans,David - Browns)
PIT @ HOU(W)(Larry - Texans, David - Texans)
BUF @ CIN (Larry - Bills, David - Bills)
CAR @ CHI(Larry - Bears, David- Bears)
ATL(W) @ SEA (Larry - Falcons, David - Falcons)
NYG @ ARI(Larry- Cards, David -Giants)
DEN @ GB(Larry- pack,David - Pack)
MIA @ SD(Larry - Bolts, David - Chargers!!!!!)
NE(W) @ OAK (Larry- NE, David- Pats)
NYJ @ BAL(Larry - Ravens, David Ravens)
IND @ TB(Larry - TB, David - TB)