March 31, 2010

Wish List Wednesday #40: Pontypool Changes Everything

Zombie fiction is everywhere and I wonder if it might have put a down payment on a house, because it looks like the walking dead are here to stay. The popularity may wain, but there seems to be a fervent core of fans that will gobble up whatever book or movie that showcases at least one shambling, moaning, brain-craving monster.

I'm not really on the zombie bandwagon, but I'll not begrudge a good story. And it sounds like Pontypool Changes Everything by Tony Burgess is such a story. I think one of the things I appreciate about the premise of this novel is that it doesn't deal strictly with the conventional zombie. Classifying the "infected" in this novel as zombies is probably irresponsible because they're not. The infection is far stranger and they don't behave like your run-of-the-mill zombie. They might be more closely compared to Romero's The Crazies.

At any rate, I caught wind of the film adaptation a couple of years ago and loved the look of it. Imagine a zombie-style outbreak film told within the confines of a rinky-dink radio station, as residents of Pontypool call in with the terrifying news of their neighbors and loved ones turning into rabid, murderous creatures. That's good. That's like if Alfred Hitchcock taking a crack at the undead. Is it any wonder why I'd want to check out the book such a movie is based on?

So, have you heard of this novel (or the film)? If so, what do you think?

March 30, 2010

Rabid Rewind: Jennifer's Body

Title: Jennifer's Body
Starring: Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Adam Brody
Director: Karyn Kusama
Released: Fox Atomic (2009)

Back in September, I had some less than complimentary things to say about Megan Fox's rise to fame--click here to read. Spurred then by the hype of Jennifer's Body, I felt like ranting. Now that I've had a chance to see the movie, I feel like ranting a little more. I've already said my piece about Megan Fox, so I'll try to focus on the other aspects of this movie. It's not easy though, as she did have the title role.

Coming from Diablo Cody, I expected a movie with plenty of witty barbs and a lean towards the satirical. I got that. But I also expected a quality horror film. In that regard, Jennifer's Body didn't measure up. I think Cody was going for less '80s slasher fare and more 90s teen fright fest. It felt like the movie wanted to be Scream, but it kind of ended up in I Know What You Did Last Summer territory.

While Megan Fox has the role of Jennifer, she's really a supporting character and antagonist to Amanda Seyfried who plays Needy, Jennifer's best friend. Needy tags along with Jennifer to a local bar to see a band from "the city" Jennifer discovered on MySpace (are people still using MySpace?). When the place catches fire and mayhem ensues, Jennifer is whisked away by the band and sacrificed to Satan to ensure the band's success. They think she's a virgin, but she's not even close and winds up being resurrected by a demon to become a bloodthirsty, boy-hunting temptress. This is followed by a few vicious murders, Needy's shocking realization her friend is evil, and the inevitable showdown.

I really wanted to love this movies, preconceptions be damned. I liked Cody's first film, Juno, so I felt it unfair to dismiss this one because of Megan Fox snagging the spotlight. But Fox is not a talented actress and whatever sizzle there is with regards to her current it-girl status is drowned out by the fact that she brings nothing remarkable to the role or the movie. Amanda Seyfried is the star by far, as she takes a character nearly equal in vapidity and breathes life into her. Mind you, there is an awful, tacked on clairvoyance with the character that's never really explained or explored, and I thought really dragged down the movie for me.

The highlights are the gratuitous schoolgirl love affair moments, the witty barbs in the dialogue, and J.K. Simmons as a feckless high school teacher. The low points come from the almost by-the-numbers approach to the horror elements. Dimwitted boys get killed off, which is a reasonable juxtaposition--I suppose--from the usual dimwitted girls getting hacked to death by maniacs. It's just a shame that the movie doesn't aim higher, rather it takes a lateral approach by simply reversing gender roles. If that's all that's needed to improve and progress horror as a genre then I shall take this time now to weep.

For all my gripes about Jennifer's Body, it's still better than the majority of teen horror romps I've watched over the years. I'd hardly call that high praise, though. Diablo Cody's second crack at the bat was a swing and a miss, in my opinion, and I shall keep my fingers crossed on her third script. I think there's enough movie here to recommend as a rental for slumber parties and horror movie marathons. I just wish there was more to love.

March 26, 2010

Book Trailer: "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls"

I recently won a copy of the new sequel to Seth Grahame-Smith's breakout mashup novel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. From Quirk Classics, comes Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith.

I must admit that I have yet to read the first novel, but I'm sure that won't hinder my ability to wade through the story in the sequel. This one really came out of nowhere for me, as I hadn't heard about the book until I saw an online contest for it.

It should be arriving in my mailbox soon, but until then, here's the book trailer from YouTube.

March 25, 2010

Writing Like Crazy: Revisionist History

When do you know a story is really finished? At what point do you stop, look at the story you've written and rewritten, and say, "There. It's done."?

If you're anything like me, it's a bit tricky knowing when you've hit that point. I'm one of those writers who is exceedingly efficient in the second-guessing department. I think that's a major reason why I force myself to write the rough draft of a story without stopping to rewrite as I go along. I could revise the story into oblivion if I stopped to fix every sentence and paragraph I deemed insufficient.

I outline--not meticulously, but I have a skeletal form to go by--and then I write. Then I read it and fix it. And fix it. And fix it again. There's a point though, when I go over what I have and decide it's finished. I have to. If I don't, I could easily go back in with the red pen and take another crack at it. And in doing so, I'd likely lose something that makes the story special.

I think there's supposed to be some kind of organic realization that the story is as good as it needs to be. I don't really have that kind of sensory perception yet. I sure hope that it's something that comes over time. Instead, I look at my story and ask myself if that little piece I think could use a bit more spit-and-polish is really necessary. If I edit it anymore, will I defeat my own efforts? That's what's going through my head when I'm done.

Sure, there's that sense of accomplishment, a bit of pride mixed in for flavor, but there's a tinge of doubt. Not a lot. Just a whiff of it. Enough so that I'm able to live with it. Part of my nature, I suppose.

Does that disappear over time? If so, does it rear its head again after so many years? What's your mindset when you've come to the end of the road with a particular story? After all the happy feelings that come with crafting something you're satisfied is ready to be submitted, is there some minute feeling of uncertainty?

Maybe it's some silly writer's equivalent to a parent's trepidations over their child's first day of school. That feeling that there's nothing left for you to do but smile and wave as the kid steps aboard the school bus. You wish you could do more, but it's out of your hands.

God, no wonder writers drink.

Notes: Two submissions this months, two rejections. Ouch. Oh well, rite of passage, eh? One rejection was a bit of a form letter rejection, but a kindly one. The other stated that while the story didn't fit with the theme and tone of the anthology I'd submitted it to, the editors liked it and encouraged me to submit the story elsewhere. Not exactly an ego boost, but I appreciate that kind of sentiment a lot as an aspiring author. So, now I'll just have to find a magazine or anthology where it might find a home.

March 24, 2010

Wish List Wednesday #39: The Extra

God forgive me, but I detest reality television and just about anyone who would associate themselves with it. I'm not sure who I can point my finger at as the culprit behind what has amounted to the ruination of television--not that it was a precipitous decline--but that person should have their knuckles rapped with a ruler.

So, when I discovered Michael Shea has come out with a new novel through Tor Books about a reality television show that kills off its cast, titled The Extra, a sinister and gleeful side of me took interest.

The story takes place in either an alternate or near-future version of Hollywood. Audiences have a blood lust like never before and one studio is more than happy to oblige by hiring movie extras to appear in a new project titled "Alien Hunger", where they are literally torn to shreds by giant mechanical spiders. Holy crap, can you imagine. Survival earns a small fortune for the extras, but I have a suspicion that the studio isn't in the habit of making it easy for them.

From the reviews I've read, there seems to be a dash of satire mixed in with the carnage. That's enough to put it on my wish list.

Has anyone heard of this book or the author? Had a chance to read it? If so, what did you think?

March 23, 2010

Rabid Rewind: Paranormal Activity

Title: Paranormal Activity
Starring: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat
Director/Writer: Oren Peli
Released: Paramount Pictures (2009)

Okay, I've finally seen it. The movie so many have called the best horror movie of 2009. Hell, a few have labeled it the best horror movie of the decade. The praise and publicity this movie received is as insane as any I've seen for a movie. I have to admit though, this was a darned good movie. You know when some people describe a film as "pulse pounding"? Well, that's literally how I could describe Paranormal Activity because there were a couple of moments where my pulse actually quickened--I don't react like that often for a movie.

I think it was on The Vault of Horror a while back that I read an apt line on this movie: This is the movie The Blair Witch Project was meant to be.

I liked Blair Witch when it first came out. It's appeal has lessened greatly in the decade-plus since it came out, though. The thing about that movie was it was all a long setup with a couple scares and a gripping ending. Paranormal Activity took better strides at getting into the suspense faster, building it steadier through the whole story, and hammering the audience at the very end.

Katie and Micah have been living together in a house for a while, but they've been noticing some strange phenomena at night like footsteps and faucets and lights seemingly turning themselves on and off. Micah gets the bright idea to videotape it as a way to collect evidence--and some notoriety online. Katie seeks out a psychic of sorts, who tells her that he deals with ghosts and it looks like she's got a demon. And there's the little twist of this from the beginning, because it's not a ghost or spirit haunting the house, but a demon or some other malevolent entity haunting Katie.

The majority of the film is shown through Micah's eyes in a sense, as he carries the camera around most of the time or sets it up on a tripod. And Micah is a douche. He's dismissive, arrogant, and condescending through a lot of the film, even after he has realized that he's recording a genuine supernatural event. As a matter of fact, it's Micah's treatment of Katie that drives the tension in this movie as much or more than the demon terrorizing his girlfriend. It didn't take very long for me to start rooting for his demise, much in the same way I rooted for the demise of the camera operator in Cloverfield (a far more irritating character).

The great thing about this movie doesn't come from the acting, as the home movie approach felt artificial to me a lot of the time. And the moments of terror become a bit repetitive, at least in the sense that disembodied foot steps wear a little thin. The great thing is that this horror movie brings the experience down to a very personal level that's easy to relate to. I'm not a fan of the "home movie" approach to film making because it's so often poorly executed, but it's used to great effect here. The effects aren't grandiose or designed to gross out the audience, but used in a rather subtle fashion to accentuate the tone of the story. One understated use of sound I particularly liked, involving a change in Katie's voice in a scene--like me, you may need to rewind the movie a few seconds to be sure you heard it.

Go see this movie if you haven't already. It's worth watching, even if you're not a fan of horror. Be warned that there is talk a sequel is already in the works to be released this coming Halloween to go against Saw VII. I'm nervous about that because there is a strong chance of a sequel falling flat on its face. The initial shock and awe of the first film is spent and it won't be possible to catch lightening in a bottle a second time. Remember how Hollywood thought Blair Witch 2 was a good idea?

March 20, 2010

Getting Graphic: "Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer"

Title: Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer
Author: Van Jensen
Illustrator and Creator: Dusty Higgins
Published: SGL Publishing (2009)
ISBN 978-1-55362-176-6

Like so many, I was indoctrinated by Walt Disney's revisionist history towards fairy tales and children's stories. I watched Pinocchio as a child, so I know the score. I thought I did, anyway.

I watched a panel discussion by the nominees of the Charles Taylor Prize for literary nonfiction a few weeks ago (on TVO's The Agenda if you're interested), and one topic was immortality through writing. One of the authors asked the others who wrote Pinocchio. No one knew. I sure didn't. So if Carlo Collodi, the creator of one of the most famous characters in children's literature, can be lost to time and Disney-fied adaptations, anyone can.

Enter Dusty Higgins and Van Jensen. While at face value you might accuse these guys of perverting a classic, they have actually managed to stay truer to the original tale by Carlo Collodi than Walt Disney ever did. All Higgins and Jensen did was create a sequel ... with vampires.

The first few pages of the book take the time to explain where the story is starting from, and they even include a very amusing Coles Notes version of the Colloti original--I had no clue Pinocchio had killed the cricket. From there, the story is told through snappy dialogue and some very stylish black-and-white illustrations. Geppetto has been killed by a new sinister force that has descended upon Nasolungo. Vampires, though not explicitly labeled as such. With the help of the Blue Fairy, Cherry the carpenter, and the ghostly visage of the Cricket, Pinocchio sets out on a quest for revenge in order to save the town, avenge Geppetto, and maybe get a little bit of respect if there's time.

There is that distinct Buffy the Vampire Slayer vibe going on in several scenes, which I wasn't expecting. I actually expected a much darker and less tongue-in-cheek graphic novel. It's part of Pinocchio's character, I guess, as he's very snarky and very angry at the world. His crush on village girl, Carlotta, seemed a bit tacked on and out of place too. I must admit to loving the idea of Pinocchio using his nose, which he breaks off every time he tells a lie, in order to stake the vamps. And for your information, he lies a lot in the course of a battle.

The book missed the mark of where I'd expected it to go, but the onus is me for coming in with such preconceptions. If you decide to check out this crazy tale of wooden boys and vampires, I recommend going in with an open mind and just let the story hit you. It's a rewarding experience, a bit too brief for my tastes, and manages to do justice to the source material despite the macabre subject matter.

You can find other blog reviews of this title at: Bookgasm; Comic Book Resources; Exfanding Your Horizons; Topless Robots

March 19, 2010

My Five: Favorite Movies Based on Books

Since I'm not one to run out to the theater on opening night to see a movie, and nowadays wait for the DVD to come out, I've gotten into the habit of trying to read the book on which the movie is based. I'm sure I'm not the only one.

And if you paid attention to the Oscar buzz this year, quite a few of the films vying for the big prize were adapted from books--Precious, An Education, Up in the Air to name three. It's good practice for Hollywood to keep up, because the sequels and video-game adaptations aren't exactly providing a lot of substance. Who am I kidding? When did Hollywood care about substance?

So, this time around I thought I'd offer a list of my five favorite movies based on books. If you've got a list of your own, feel free to leave a comment or blog your five and send me a link. For mine, I restricted it to movies that I've seen based on books that I've read. And they are:

#5: Psycho - I, of course, refer to the Alfred Hitchcock classic--not the remake. It's a movie I loved even though I knew the twist long before I ever saw it for myself. I can only imagine how it would have impacted me if I'd seen the film with no preconceptions at all. Some movies are ingrained in our psyche without ever seeing them, and this is one of those films. And the book is equal to the task. Robert Bloch really hit upon something here and Hitchcock made it all the more immortal on the silver screen.

#4: Out of Sight - This is one of those instances where I think I love the movie even more than the book. Elmore Leonard tells very good stories through the sheer gravitas of the characters he creates. And out of all the film adaptations of his novels, I think this is the one that takes what's on the page and expounds upon it to make it even more tangible. George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez don't spring to mind as the actors to tackle the lead roles, but it works very well, due in no small part to the director, Steven Soderbergh.

#3: The Wizard of Oz - To this day, I can still channel surf and stop in my tracks if I come across this gem. Regardless of whatever creative license that was taken, I just love this movie. Of the five films I've listed here, this one probably cuts the most from the source material. It's condensed when compared to the story told in L. Frank Baum's words, yet the characters are fleshed out with much more vibrancy. Maybe it's just the technique of showing Kansas in monochrome and Oz in technicolor. Maybe it's the music. Maybe it's Burt Larr as the Cowardly Lion. Whatever it is, I'll be an old fossil of a man and still love this movie.

#2: No Country for Old Men - A grim, relentless novel inspired a grim, relentless movie. When Cormac McCarthy wrote the scenes with the villain, "Sugar," he intentionally avoided using any description. The violence he inflicted was all the description needed. Then the Coen brothers took that book and created what I dare say is one of the most iconic villains in decades. Javier Bardem and that oddball haircut will be forever burned in my mind as what remorseless evil looks like. Then Josh Brolin did a heck of a job as the doomed cowboy, Moss. Plus, Tommy Lee Jones did his gritty seen-it-all-done-it-all hero routine as well as he's ever done it. If you didn't read the book or see the movie, step away from your computer and do it now.

#1: The Shining - I'm not sure if Stephen King ever came around to appreciate Stanley Kubrick's interpretation of his work, but I'm a fan. I think that's because I saw the movie first. Kubrick's style of camera work turned that hotel into a bright, bottomless abyss. While The Wizard of Oz film may have cut away the most from its source material, Kubrick's version of The Shining probably diverges from the author's intent the most from the five films listed. As amazing as Jack Nicholson is as a movie star, as soon as you see him you are left with zero doubt that he is going to go batshit insane. The mallet is traded in for an ax, and the topiary zoo on the front lawn is omitted. And the endings of the book and film are so dissimilar, the two are practically two separate stories. I love both stories, regardless. Some people will laud one and bemoan the other, but I choose to enjoy each for what they are.

Well, that's my list. I imagine you can come up with a list of your own that doesn't even include one of the movies I've mentioned. I could think of a couple movies off the top of my head that deserve honorable mention, but I'll leave that ball in your court.

March 17, 2010

Wish List Wednesday #38: The Unseen

Alexandra Sokoloff has a great blog, which I dare say is required reading for any aspiring writer. As both a novelist and screenwriter, she has a unique and informed take on the craft of storytelling. But this blog post isn't about her blog, but about her most recent novel The Unseen.

I believe this book's been published through St. Martin's Press and deals with parapsychology. It's not something I believe in, but the idea of it has always fascinated me ever since I was a little kid. Though, I tended to steer towards the Amazing Kreskin rather than the more in depth studies.

I had a chance to read one of Sokoloff's novels last year. The Price was a very chilling read about a father trying to save his dying daughter, and Sokoloff told it beautifully. I'm not sure what the main plot is for The Unseen, but if it's anywhere near as good as The Price then there's good reason for me to have this on my wish list.

Have you had a chance to read this or any other novel by Alexandra Sokoloff? If so, what did you think of it?

March 16, 2010

Rabid Rewind (Book vs. Movie): Coraline

I waited very patiently for my turn to come up in the library queue to borrow this DVD. And it was well worth the wait.

I made it a point to read the book first for two reasons: 1) I find that if I see the film adaptation before reading the book, the book offers less impact; 2) It's Neil freaking Gaiman. How could I not want to read a story by that guy?

When I read the book, I had the wonderful illustrations of Dave McKean to compliment the fantastic tale told by Gaiman. Watching the movie, the art direction and style took a less dark, more whimsical approach, but it really worked. And to see this movie in stop-motion animation, I honestly can't imagine it being presented in any other way. Live action with CGI thrown in wouldn't have had the same resonance, and I doubt even a well done, old school "cartoon" style would have done the story justice.

The movie came in two versions--a traditional widescreen format and the much ballyhooed 3-D experience. The DVD even came with a few of those nifty 3-D glasses, which looked like they'd been pilfered from a batch of cereal boxes. I gave the 3-D a shot, but with the red-green eye pieces drowning out so much of the film's amazing color, I gave it up. Whatever eye-popping gimmickry succeeded with the theatrical release, it was lost on me in my living room. And I felt like an idiot wearing those glasses.

The story plays out much like the book, with Coraline and her parents moving into a house in Oregon, divided into apartments shared by an eccentric Russian gymnast/mouse trainer and two aging actresses with their many stuffed dogs. Coraline misses her friends, resents her parents, and finds the new place boring as heck. Then she finds a secret door that leads her into another world where she meets her Other Mother, who tries to win over Coraline into staying with her forever.

Where the movie differs from the book comes with some of the characterization and some of the details in the settings. One of the first things is how the door between worlds isn't a standard door, as in the book, but a short hatchway of a door. It's low enough to give the feeling that it's on only Coraline's level, and not her parents' level. Then there is the colors which appear very bright and vibrant in the Other world, while the real world is portrayed as flat and drab.

In the movie, it felt like the black cat that can also pass between worlds--and talks in the Other world--plays a more prominent role, much like the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. Although, that's hardly a bad thing when the incomparable Keith David is behind the voice of the cat.

Voice acting also provides a sharp contrast between book and film. Dakota Fanning may seem like a safe choice by the studio, but she's also a great choice to bring life to Coraline and her nuances. Jonathan Hodgman, of "I'm a PC" fame, did a great job as both Coraline's father and her Other Father. The Other Father is diminished in one capacity through the film--I won't spoil the specifics--while he is expanded upon as well with a great garden scene where he does his part to entice Coraline into staying.

It's really hard to pick a winner between the book and the movie. Both were very enjoyable experiences and the changes made in the film adaptation, for the most part, helped translate the story from the written word. The only fault I can really hold against the movie is the gimmickry that comes with 3-D. I am not a fan of the format, at least in a home entertainment context. I haven't gone to the theaters to see a 3-D movie yet, but that's in large part to the fact that nearly all 3-D movies look hokey and rely solely on the 3-D experience to get butts in seats.

Winner: The Book. It's real close, but Neil Gaiman's words jump off the page in a way that not even the magic of cinema can fully reproduce. There's nothing wrong at all with the movie and is a great film for everyone in the family. The book, I feel, dives into the solitude and detachment Coraline feels when she arrives and starts to explore unfamiliar territory, and a piece of that got lost in translation while on screen.

March 15, 2010

Writing Like Crazy: Seasonal Effective Disorder?

You've heard the adage: There's no such thing as writer's block. Well, maybe not, but I'm pretty sure there is such a thing as writer's sludge.

That's what it has felt like through the majority of this winter. Sludge. I have had a heck of a time trying to write anything I felt was any good. I blogged a while back about how "first drafts are allowed to be terrible." Well, most of what I've written has felt like a first draft.

Maybe I'm over-thinking things--a first in any context--or I'm psyching myself out, but getting a finished product I've been satisfied with has been like pulling teeth lately. I'm starting to pull out of it, though. And that has me wondering if there's something to that strange thing I've heard about on the news for years. The mythical "seasonal effective disorder."

I don't know if that's a real thing or just something lazy people made up to keep from shoveling out the driveway after a blizzard. Anyway, the air is getting warmer and things are looking greener--albeit still a very brownish green--and I'm not so down on myself towards the stuff that I'm writing.

I've never paid attention to my quality of writing from season to season. It never occurred to me the climate could effect it. As an aspiring author, I just assume the work is all baby steps towards something better. I'm writing, so that in and of itself is still an achievement for me. How would I be able to tell if the stories I write in the summer are better or worse than what I write during winter? In hindsight, I've never noticed a drag in the quality or speed with which I write. This year, winter has definitely been a disappointing time for me.

Here's hoping that spring brings back more than just the apple blossoms and blackflies.


I found out a while ago that the Dead Bells anthology, of which my story "Burdened by the Break of Day" was accepted, has been delayed due to extenuating circumstances. It's not confirmed yet, but given the anthology deals with a New Year's Eve theme, there is a strong possibility the publication date will be pushed back until this fall. No worries, as I'm confident in Jodi Lee's ability given the reputation she's earned among other writers.

But, if you want to hear a horror story dealing with another editor, there's a blog entry by David McAfee you can read here. Woo-wee, I'm so glad to have not experienced something like that.

It's been seventy-some days since I submitted "An Encroaching Madness" to Dark Moon Books' zombie anthology/contest. I believe accepted stories were to be notified after sixty days, so I'm not liking my chances. Ah well, I'm sure I'll find out its status in due time.

I submitted a short story to Blood Bound Books in hopes of making the cut for their Night Terrors anthology/short story contest. I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Plus, I sent a story out to Pound Lit Press for their Terminal Earth anthology/short story contest. This one had an interesting premise I couldn't resist. End of the world scenarios seem to be becoming in vogue over zombies and vampires. The story I wrote isn't so direct with the dystopia though, so I wonder how it will be met by the editor(s).

Some more stories are in the works now for various anthologies, periodicals, and contests. Stoke those fires, baby.

March 13, 2010

Rabid Reads: "Ghost Road Blues" by Jonathan Maberry

Title: Ghost Road Blues
Author: Jonathan Maberry
Published: Pinnacle Books (2006); an imprint of Kensington Publishing
Pages: 472
Genre: Horror
ISBN 0-7860-1815-1

Pine Deep is a small Pennsylvania town that boasts itself as "the spookiest town in America." What it doesn't so readily boast is the horrific killings that occurred in Pine Deep some thirty years ago. Now, weeks away from Halloween the same terror that brought bloodshed and heartbreak to the sleepy little town is ready to rise from the mud and the nightmares of the survivors to begin anew.
It turns out that Ghost Road Blues is merely the first book in a trilogy of malice and terror, but it sure kicks the story off in high gear. And I think the book's prologue may be the best I've read in recent years, as it set the tone for the entire novel perfectly. It quickly gives a glimpse at the precursor thirty years prior that puts things in motion for it all to run full circle at the start of the first chapter. If you've wondered how a prologue can be used effectively, here's a book that does it.
Two tragedies occurred thirty years ago in Pine Deep. First, there was the serial killer terrorizing the town that scarred the survivors for years to come. Secondly, after the killer--Ubel Griswold, a local farmer, but really a devil--was killed by a black guitarist/farmhand known as the Bone Man, a group of bigots marked the Bone Man as the real killer and beat him to death. From there, we get the foreboding message that evil doesn't die, it waits.
Jump to present day where two men, one the mayor (Terry Wolfe) and the other a proprietor of the macabre( Malcolm Crow), find themselves hurled back into a nightmare they lived through as kids and friends of the Bone Man, and one lost his baby sister to the devil, Ubel Griswold. Only they remember the truth of the Bone Man's heroism and Griswold's secret shame, and fittingly only they can find a way to fight the new faces and old that have descended upon Pine Deep for a new wave of madness.
The book finds a very good balance between telling the stories of Crow, Wolfe--both of whom have been experiencing prophetic nightmares leading up to the carnage that unfolds--and a boy named Mike, as well as the stories of the villains, Vic Wingate, Tow-Truck Eddie, and Karl Ruger--each with their own past full of evil who all inevitably cross paths under the influence of a secret force looking to wreak more havoc on Pine Deep and the world.
The story could have fallen off a cliff with all the character subplots going on, each playing into the main story arc, but things play out quite cohesively with just about everything making sense and not disturbing my suspension of disbelief. Some characters could have gotten lost in the shuffle, but very few loose strings are left behind. And even though this is the first of three books, the novel stands up as a stand-alone story, though the hinting at what's to come in the second and third installments are readily apparent. The cliffhanger is good, but not aggravating the way some books are.
I wondered if Maberry would go crazy with the gore in this book, given the detestable nature of the psychopaths running amok in its pages, but he strikes a good balance of suspense, brevity, and action. The scenes that could be depicted in far more gruesome fashion are given a less graphic lens, which should invite readers who may be averse to the blood and guts synonymous with the horror genre. Don't get me wrong, there's blood and guts, but it's done in a manner that provides more context than shock value. Good stuff, there.
I was very pleased with this book and will definitely be reading the other two books in the trilogy. After that, I have a feeling I'll be tracking down more Maberry novels, as the guy has been very busy since this trilogy hit shelves. Patient Zero is out now, and he has another novel due out this year.


March 10, 2010

Wish List Wednesday #37: Infernal Devices

A blog I've had on my radar (aka blogroll) for a little while now is the Mad Hatter's Bookshelf & Book Review. It's one more in a countless array of book blogs that has opened my eyes to authors and novels I should read. One intriguing title is a sci-fi classic, as highlighted by the Mad Hatter, which is due to be re-released by the publisher, Angry Robot.

K.W. Jeter is lauded as the man who created the word "steampunk." And two of his long out-of-print steampunk titles are being re-released--Morlock Night and Infernal Devices. Both sound promising, but it's the latter that grabs my attention.

I read Cassandra Clare's City of Bones a little over a year ago, which is the first in a trilogy called The Infernal Devices. So, when I spied that title as one of the two by Jeter, it jumped out at me. It tells the tale of a Victorian watchmaker who follows in his father's footsteps, taking over the business following his father's demise, only his talents fall well short of the old man. Throw in that family dynamic with the promise of time travel, and you have my attention.

The other novel, Morlock Night, also sounds interesting in its own right, as it's a sequel of sort to H.G. Well's The Time Machine.

I'm not on the steampunk bandwagon--yet--so it could serve me well to sit down and read a book by the guy who invented the term. How about you? Ever heard of K.W. Jeter and his works? If you've read Infernal Devices, would you recommend it to others uninitiated to the sci-fi sub-genre?

March 9, 2010

Getting Graphic: "The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born" by Peter David

Title: The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born
Author: Peter David; with plotting by Robin Furth; based on the novels of Stephen King
Illustrations: Jae Lee and Richard Isanove
Published: Marvel (2007)
Genre: Fantasy/Western
ISBN 978-0-7851-2144-2

If I have a favorite series of books, it's Stephen King's The Dark Tower. I read the first book, The Gunslinger, back in '04 or '05 and was hooked. Of the seven books total, I've read five--I'm purposefully stalling so I can savor this epic as long as possible. Then I discovered there are graphic novels too. I dare not dream of a day when the story of Roland is told on the silver screen, as the adaptation would most likely be lacking severely, but a graphic novel ... there's a medium that could really get knee deep in the subject matter.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I sat down to read the hardcover edition. It turns out it's a part of Roland's story I'm already familiar with--his coming of age story. In the seven chapters of this book (I assume each was a separate issue when originally published), we see a more direct telling of this story. In the fourth book of the series, Wizard & Glass, a much older Roland reminisced about this same story to his friends while journeying towards the Dark Tower.

The story basically deals with Roland being sent on his first mission as a Gunslinger after hastily challenging and defeating his trainer and mentor. He and his two friends, Cuthbert and Allain, ride from their home of Gilead to Hambry to figure out what plans Farson and the Good Man have in store for the coming war. It's there that Roland falls in love with a young woman, and betrothed mistress to the town's mayor, Susan, who will haunt his heart and memories for the rest of his life.

Romeo and Juliet has nothing on this tragedy. Well, I say that to those who like a bit of sorcery, fist fights, and shoot outs mixed in with your romance.

While the artwork doesn't match up much at all with what my own imagination has built over time thanks to the books, it's some beautiful stuff to behold while reading along. Each character is distinct, and while appearances differ from what I've already dressed them up as in my own mind, their personalities and idiosyncrasies are captured with precision on each page.

The only real contention I had with this book was some of the glaring omissions with the narrative. If you've read the books, then you'll probably agree with me that there are a few quick jumps over assorted scenes. Minor stuff, really, when you see how the big picture has been condensed so well, but I still couldn't help noticing some scenes cut abruptly and others left out altogether. However, to include everything in The Gunslinger Born, Peter David and gang would have probably needed another seven chapters.

If you're not in a hurry to read the books, feel free to pick up this one and check it out. I really think you'll appreciate the story being told that much better if you've at least read the first couple of books, where pieces of this story are alluded to though not told like it is in the fourth book.

March 8, 2010

Meme, Myself & I: A Book Questionnaire

I spied on Ryan G's Wordsmithsonia a book questionnaire meme that's been floating around the blogosphere. I figured I'd sit down and whip off some answers too. Ah, procrastination, you tempt me so.

Rule 1: No two answers can be the same.
Rule 2: All books must be fiction.

What book is next to your bed right now? I am just finishing up Cassandra Clare's City of Ashes, a YA urban fantasy novel and sequel to City of Bones.

What is your favorite book? This always changes among a select group of amazing novels. But ever since high school I've loved Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.

What is your favorite book series? Without question, Stephen King's The Dark Tower. Whether a fan of horror, fantasy, or even westerns, this series is for people who love storytelling.

What is the one book you'd have with you if stranded on a desert island? SAS Survival Guide by John Wiseman. If I'm going to go insane on an island with a volleyball a la Tom Hanks, I want a book that will help keep me alive long enough to go all the way crazy.

What book/series would you take on a long flight? The Quran ... just to mess with the other white folks. What? That's not fiction? Hmmm, debatable. Alright, then how about Charles Dickens' David Copperfield.

What is the worst book you had to read in school? Fifth Business by Robertson Davies. I can't even remember it that well, but I still hold a grudge against it.

What book should everyone in school be made to read? The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman. Piss on what Christianity's peanut gallery has to say, this is a damned fine piece of children's literature.

What book should everyone read, period? Roald Dahl's The Witches. Young or old, it's a fun read that scared me when I was just a little fella.

What is your favorite character? I can't say Pip from Great Expectations, so I'll go with Einstein the dog from Dean Koontz's Watchers. I'm a sucker for an adorable dog, especially one that's super-intelligent and likes to read.

What is your favorite villain? Randall Flagg from The Stand by Stephen King. That guy oozed evil.

What is your favorite concept series? Since I can't say The Dark Tower series, or even Pullman's His Dark Materials, I'll go with a comic book--I didn't see anything that disqualified them. Batman.

What is your favorite invented world? Oz.

What is the most beautifully written book? There have been some whoppers I've read, but I'll tip my hat to The Life of Pi by Yann Martel. Great story of a boy lost at sea that is chalk full of beauty and symbolism. The book is much smarter than me and I love it for that.

What is the funniest book? Oh, how I wish I could read more funny fiction. Of the novels I've read and laughed out loud, I'll go with Mort by Terry Pratchett. Being Death's apprentice is ripe for comedy.

March 6, 2010

Rabid Reads: "Duma Key" by Stephen King

Title: Duma Key Author: Stephen King
Published: Pocket Books (2008)
Pages: 773

Genre: Horror

ISBN-13: 978-1-4165-5296-3

ISBN-10: 1-4165-5296-0

Stephen King is sometimes accused of having lost a step, that his books are hit-and-miss nowadays. I'm not convinced of this. The man has been fortunate enough to make a career out of telling stories, many of which have resonated with a vast readership, and a fair amount of his imagination has seeped into the American lexicon. We cling to his classics like gospel, however, and that tends to create an aversion to the new. Add that with the fact that a person evolves over time, both personally and professionally, and it's a damned miracle King hasn't lost a step. He may not be the same writer who gave us Carrie and Salem's Lot, but it is unfair who expect him to be.

With Duma Key, King gives readers a chilling story of rebirth and renewal for a fallen man, a man who is quite literally damaged goods. Edgar Freemantle made his fortune in real estate development, married his true love, and raised two beautiful daughters. Then, one day, his life was torn apart in a horrific construction accident. He suffered severe head trauma and lost his right arm--he's a southpaw, so that's one bullet dodged--and the aftermath of the accident creates too great a strain on his marriage. He's divorced, his kids are off to college, and he's out of the house with no direction or real will to live. But, when he is begrudgingly convinced by his psychologist to move someplace else as a way to jump start his new life, he for some reason choose the Florida Keys--Duma Key to be precise.

At first while reading this novel, I thought it a bit of a contrivance that Edgar would be a millionaire. But as I read, I felt it worked. His life was luxurious yet humble, and when he's thrown the mother of all curve balls--more of a monkey-wrench--he has to face a hard life while still being surrounded by an idyllic setting and more money than he can shake a stick at. Wealth can't mend brain damage or a marriage ... not yet anyway.

While on Duma Key, Edgar meets up with the only two permanent residents on the island, Elizabeth Eastlake and her caretaker, the Wireman. It is through these two that Edgar helps find both a path to redemption and to merciless torment. As I read this book, Wireman became one of my favorite Stephen King creations in recent memory, and I rooted as much for his story as I did for Edgar's. And I think that's what makes this book such a treat to read, and so painless to read considering it's nearly eight hundred pages. King creates very genuine characters even when they seem a bit familiar. There's something about the Wireman that reminds me of other characters in books and film, but I haven't put my finger on it.

If there are gripes about this novel, I suspect it is the pace and the somewhat subdued suspense. Oh, there's suspense in this book, but I think this story leans more towards The Green Mile than it does The Shining. Those are unfair comparisons anyway, as I already mentioned how King isn't the same man today that he was when creating those other works. But, there's enough there to draw a line and see hints of it. The atmosphere of the story is fantastic and reminds me of some of those great haunted house stories. We've got more of a haunted island story here, but that's fine.

I did find it strange how quickly the pace shifted in the last act of the story, though. For much of the story, there is this brooding and foreboding vibe coming off the pages. And in the big climax, it comes perilously close to turning into an Indiana Jones Meets The Mummy kind of tale. It all works, thankfully, and the book is a really fun read as a whole. The sparse moments when it feels like the story is about to stall are fleeting and there always seems to be a twist that gives the reader something new to chew on.

It's probably one of the most mature novels I've read of King's work. That's not necessarily an attribute that classifies it as better than his other work, but it's different and can be appreciated in that regard.

March 5, 2010

The Oscars: Who Will Win? Who Should Win?

Out of the ten movies nominations for Best Motion Picture for this year's Oscars, I've seen only one--District 9. It was great, and I suspect the other nine movies in the category will not top it when I get around to watching them. The Hurt Locker and Inglourious Basterds stand the best chance out of the pack, but District 9 set the bar pretty high.

And that's the thing when it comes to Oscar season. I don't often watch the telecast and when I do I never tune in for the entirety. That's because I haven't seen more than a few of the movies nominated in any of the categories. Sorry, I'm just not a theater buff anymore thanks to the price hikes for tickets. I'm also about an hour's drive from the closest Empire Theaters Complex, so calculate the gas money required too.

I love movies, but watching the Oscars--or any awards show for that matter--feels like a wag of the finger by the establishment, shaming me for not racing to the box office on opening night. I'm the outsider looking in. In-depth analysis and debate over the racial undertones of Precious isn't a conversation I can join, because I haven't seen it yet. I've only heard what a bunch of critics and pundits and movie-goers have said about it.

I can, however, still be one among many in predicting who will win the Oscars. Doesn't take a genius to hazard a guess.

Best Actor: Who will win? Jeff Bridges. It's practically a spoiler by Hollywood. It's his turn, they say. And aside from George Clooney, I've heard absolutely nothing from the media about the other nominees--and the Clooney rhetoric died out months ago. Bridges is just one of those guys who you can't believe hasn't won an Oscar yet. Why not give it to him for this role, where he showed as much passion in his discussions of the film as he put on the screen.

Best Actress: Who will win? Sandra Bullock. She keeps insisting she won't win, and I can't decide if she's exuding genuine humility towards her peers or if it's a calculated campaign. Either way, Meryl Streep squawking her best Julia Child impression isn't going to win. At least it shouldn't. But is a comedic actress playing a pat and dour Texas mother all it takes to win the hearts of the Academy?

Best Original Screenplay: Who will win? Joel and Ethan Coen for A Serious Man. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Oscars are going to recognize a film that got very little love at theaters, made by two very talented filmmakers. I also think it'll be a bit of a middle finger to Quentin Tarantino. Who should win? Quentin Tarantino.

Best Adapted Screenplay: Who will win? Geoffry Fletcher for Precious. I don't see Precious walking away with many awards--maybe Mo'nique--so this will be like their consolation prize. Up in the Air might have a shot at winning with Jason Reitman, but I doubt it.

Best Director: Who will win? Kathryn Bigelow. It's not a lock, but the narrative being pushed is that it's time for a woman to win this award. It's true too, as it's overdue for a woman to be recognized behind the camera. And Bigelow certainly has the chops. And The Hurt Locker looks friggin' amazing, judging by the trailers and the buzz. Who should win? James Cameron. I haven't seen Avatar, and honestly I'm in no hurry too, but I'll give credit to the guy for putting together the movie that has arguably taken special effects to a new level. It takes a helluva captain to steer that ship ... even if he comes off as a smug, vain prick.

Best Motion Picture: Who will win? Avatar. Like I said, I don't plan on seeing this unless someone makes me (that's how I ended up sitting through Titanic). But the sheer spectacle of this movie and the money it has made are likely to push this thing to the Moon. It doesn't really matter if the actual story is derivative and shallow--take a look at some of the other movies that have won Best Picture. If Bigelow wins for Best Director, I think Cameron is a lock to win this one. Who should win? District 9. I say that only because I saw it and loved it. The Hurt Locker sounds like a superior story to Avatar, but in the realm of sci-fi I'll go with the underdog.

That's it. My picks. My batting average in this kind of thing is terrible, so I won't be surprised if I come in dead last in the Oscar pool. Maybe I should have made my predictions for the Razzies too, as I wouldn't mind seeing Sandra Bullock win two nights in a row.

Rabid Rewind: District 9

Title: District 9
Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
Produced by: Peter Jackson
Released: 2009
Genre: Science-Fiction

I haven't seen all of the movies I'd like to from the plethora of '09 releases, but I think District 9 is going to end up as my favorite. It's certainly my favorite among the '09 films I've watched so far. And is wholly deserving of its Oscar nomination.

I don't normally go for the documentary style of storytelling, as Cloverfield and Quarantine were both big disappointments for me, but Neill Blomkamp managed to find a great balance of documentary style with conventional style camera work to create one helluva captivating movie.

The setup goes like this: Aliens come to Earth (Johannesburg, South Africa) and wind up as a refugee race for years as they can't get home. They end up in a shantytown until the day comes they're to be evicted to what amounts to a concentration camp away from the city. Multinational United, a military industrial complex, oversees the evictions and hopes to finally exploit the alien weaponry. Through happenstance, the boss's son-in-law heads the eviction detail and winds up in the center of a huge controversy, as MNU's true intentions and practices come to bear, and the aliens ("Prawns" to humans) become less a pariah than a possible salvation.

While the movie doesn't beat you over the head with the symbolism of xenophobia and allusions to Apartheid, the undertones are definitely there, and everyone and every race is shown through many lenses. I think that's one of the reasons I enjoyed the movie so much, because they walked that line and didn't stray into that maudlin mentality, nor did it become a run of the mill man-versus-alien action flick.

The main character is likable and loathsome, depending upon the situation he's in, and isn't presented as some archetype hero. He's flawed in more ways than one and it's his gradual evolution through the course of the story that he turns into a little bit of a hero, though that's not quite how he ends up.

The aliens were fantastic. They are presented in such a fashion that they can inspire pity and disgust, sometimes at the same time. They're not super-intelligent, or super in any way for that matter. They're just as flawed and vulnerable as humans, able to be exploited as easily as they might exploit the humans. And the alien child that becomes a supporting character in the movie inexplicably steals the show in many of the scenes it appears in--cheers to whoever was doing the motion capture for that one.

I think the only thing about the movie I didn't like is a moment in the movie when the main character turns from weasel to wolverine. I don't want to spoil anything, but I imagine you'll know what I'm talking about if you've seen the movie. The action scenes that followed his sudden turn away from cowardice seemed to be tacked on simply to see some amazing special effects. But I gotta say, those action scenes that take place were so fun to watch, I just forgave the film in an instant and stayed along for the ride.

If you're not one to watch sci-fi films or action films, you'd be doing yourself a favor to put away your aversions for one night, so you could sit back and see what amounts to some damn fine storytelling.