Sunday, 24 November 2013

The Doctor's 50th: How Was It For You?

Something has been very wrong with the universe of late. I've not been that into New Who. It would be unfair to say that it was Steven Moffat's fault. However, I've found the disjointed, long-form, timey-wimey nonsense has gotten a little much when it came to the "Impossible Girl" stuff. That isn't to say I didn't love Clara. I just didn't love the Clara story. I felt it was an attempt to do something different, which should never be discouraged, and that it failed.

By the end of series 7 I was contemplating whether my 20 year love affair with the Doctor was coming to an end. "I'll always have Big Finish", I comforted myself. But then...

Night of the Doctor came along. What a beautifully tight 7 minutes of perfection. Paul McGann! As the Doctor. Maybe Steven Moffat had a plan... I was intrigued, excited and I couldn't wait for the 50th anniversary special. Did it live up to that prequel?


There was plenty of "fanwank", as they say. The opening titles, the shadow of the police man, Foreman's yard, Coal Hill school (with one "I. Chesterton" as head Governor), UNIT (and a reference to the 70s/80s controversy), all 13 Doctors (yeah, 13!) and... well there's more. So much more.

But it wasn't too fanwanky. That was the beautiful part, everything was so subtle and completely devoid of heavy-handedness that I thought maybe we were watching a different show.

And the story. For a show about time-travel and science fiction, the story was solid, straightforward and lacking any unnecessary baggage. Zygons, Daleks, Gallifrey, UNIT, Doctors, moral decisions. It was all in there and it was all good.

And the jokes. Oh the jokes! John Hurt did a wonderful turn of being "that fan" using his position as a "classic" Doctor to mock all the foibles of New Who in a way that wasn't cruel. Tennant and Smith made a wonderful double-act too.

And Billie Piper. I dislike Rose Tyler and when I saw Billie Piper was in it, I sighed my "It's all going to be about her. Again" sigh. But it wasn't Rose and Piper was amazing! The Moment was her best part yet.

AND TOM BAKER! Tom isn't one of "my" Doctors. I'm a wannabe 80s fan. And because of his perceived reluctance to be part of Doctor Who (see his Five Doctors snub et al.) I've always had a little niggling downer on him. But oh wasn't he good? A future Doctor with an old face. SQUEE

It was just so right. Not perfect, nothing ever is, but right. So many more things I could write about but there just would never be an end to this post.

Goodness it was good.

Then came the After Party on BBC 3. It would seem the BBC realised fanboys wouldn't be able to cope with near-perfection. They'd need a scapegoat for their fanboy rage. And so they presented us with one of the worst live shows of recent memory, car crash telly in which the highlight was Bernard Cribbins stealing cake from Sylvester McCoy. It was truly awful. Thank you BBC, you know just what we need. You always do.

But there's MORE! Peter Davison, being the ever awesome man he is, wrote and directed a small little tribute to Who. The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot was the best thing on TV last night. That takes nothing away from the 50th special. Nothing. But this, this was sublime. Hilarious. I want a series! The three 80s Doctors were amazing, the cameos superb (Janet Fielding ending Peter Davison's dream stands out). And the ending... oh that ending. I don't care, whatever the truth may be, the "statues" in The Day of the Doctor will always be the three Doctors. Oh so excellent.

We were spoilt. Spoilt like we never have been before and may never be again. What a treat!


Saturday, 23 November 2013

My Top 5 Favourite Doctor Who (TV) Stories

Today is the day we've all been waiting for. Doctor Who is 50 years old!! And the internet is awash with lists. Especially those ranking episodes. Hats off to those who've ranked EVERY episode of Doctor Who, and even to those who just ranked every New Who episode. Of course these lists come with one great big disclaimer: every episode of Doctor Who means something to someone. I read those lists with a sense of wonder that there are so many to choose from and annoyance at slights against episodes I quite enjoy (and the fact Time and the Rani 4 places from bottom, it deserves to fall off the list completely...)

I've not seen every episode, despite being a fan for 20 years!, and admit I'm totally top heavy interms of 1980s Doctor Who (those were what was being repeated on UK Gold when I first got into Doctor Who at the age of 10 years old). But I thought I just pay tribute to my favourite TV episodes of my favourite show! 

1. Survival 

When I became a fan of Doctor Who this was the end of it all. But in reality, I feel like it was the beginning of Doctor Who as we know it today. The Seventh Doctor and Ace (my absolute favourite TARDIS team) arrive in Perivale, Ace's former home, and find all is not as it seems. So far, so Doctor Who. Except its suburban setting, its focus on Ace's friendships and its general overall feel seem like a soft run for the sort of Doctor Who Russell T. Davies would sell us in 2005. It even had cat people, one of RTD's reoccuring themes! It felt so different to what had come before (though well in keeping with the general Ace character arc) that it is quite unforgettable. Sure some of the acting is truly appalling but I just loved it. Even the Ainley Master seemed to be more than just a pantomime villain for once. 

2. Earthshock 

Nobody splits fans quite the way Adric does. I started watching Doctor Who properly with The Keeper of Traken, so Adric may not be my favourite companion but I do still have a soft spot for him. Meanwhile... I LOVE THE CYBERMEN! So an episode that makes Adric into somebody truly likeable whilst making the Cybermen seem properly menacing for the first time in a long time (and so far this has been unrepeated since) was always going to make my list. Of course the heartbreaking conclusion was, that the dinosaurs were killed by the Cybermen, was almost too much to bear. I jest, I jest. Poor Adric. (P.S. I love Tegan...) 

3. The Dalek Invasion of Earth 

An epic tale with some fantastic shots of Daleks in London. The First Doctor at his finest with a heartbreaking speech to Susan as he leaves her behind. This is a solid story with a grand scale that I couldn't possibly leave off of my list. 

4. The Doctor's Wife

How could you not love this episode? The TARDIS has been the constant companion/owner of the Doctor, never failing to get the Doctor and friends into (and then out of) trouble. Here she is made flesh and given a voice. And didn't it work well? Heartbreaking and joyous all at once, and House is actually quite a menacing villain as he torments Rory and Amy.

Idris: There's something I didn't get to say to you.
The Doctor: Goodbye.
Idris: No. I just wanted to say, Hello. Hello Doctor. It's so very very nice to meet you.
The Doctor: Please. I don't want you to.
Idris: I love you.

*cue sobbing off screen in the living rooms of the nation*

5. Remembrance of the Daleks

Ace. With a "magic" baseball bat. Versus the Daleks. They didn't stand a chance really. I love this episode, the hat-tips to An Unearthly Child, the supporting cast and the great cliffhangers of episodes one and two. Hovering Daleks, the Special Weapons Dalek, Davros in moderation, companion in need of rescue but only because she was about to use an anti-tank weapon to destroy a Dalek. If you like Doctor Who but are "Meh" about this episode then I'm sorry but you are wrong!! ;) Plus it, rather heavy-handedly, deals with racism and hatred. EPIC.

I want a rematch of Ace versus a Special Weapons Dalek. I've always wanted to see a Dalek look scared...

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Given What Disney Is Doing For Live-Action Marvel, Imagine The Possibilities With Star Wars...

When Disney purchased LucasFilm, I spoke of my lack of concern and expressed my long repressed love for Disney. My confidence in Disney's stewardship of much beloved fictional universes 

                                                  Reason For Loving Disney #2

This week Marvel, another recent Disney acquisition, announced that on top of several upcoming movies and the brand new Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D TV show they would be releasing, via Netflix, 4 more TV shows which would ultimately lead in to a mini-series named The Defenders. 

With some rather strong storylines playing out in the comic book world too (as Marvel reinvents its universe in the latest round of "Marvel NOW!" releases), Marvel is going from strength to strength.  

A lot of Star Wars fans are fearful of what may be coming and how carefully Disney will look after the franchise that means so much to them, I just need to point out the care and planning Marvel has been putting in to the creation of its "cinematic universe". Unlike Fox's handling of the X-Men franchise, Disney/Marvel has forged a consistent and high quality product that appeals to mass audiences whilst not causing the sort of fanboy tantrums (and I say that as someone who almost became homicidal when there was a brief consideration of rebooting Buffy) caused by things like... the Phantom Menace! 

Disney didn't buy Marvel or LucasFilm out of a love of Iron Man or Han Solo. They didn't do it because they felt some deep artistic need to tell stories in those various fictional universes owned by those companies. They did it to make money. But they have shown that in making very large sums of money they haven't forgotten to make a story that appeals to all the right people. 

Yes there are plenty of Disney flops and there are plenty of political reasons not to like Disney. But Marvel fans are now getting the sort of output that couldn't have been dreamed of before and I have a feeling that Star Wars fans are only a few years away from a similar tsunami (in a good way) of quality live-action stories that they have been praying for for years. 

Until they buy out the rights to Star Trek and replace Captain Picard with Mickey Mouse, Make Mine Disney!

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Make Mine Marvel (Again)

DC got me back into comics. I was always a Marvel boy and had probably spent less than £50 on DC comics in 16 years of comic book buying up until 2011. And I'd drifted away from buying any comics in the few years before that. Then the New 52 happened. With the advent of Comixology and some great new continuity free jumping on points, I started buying DC comics at an unhealthy rate, which upsets me as it means I'd given the DC management exactly what they were after... a new reader who was free with his cash. I'm a sucker for every comic ploy there is (events, new #1s, reboots etc.)

Now I did also start to buy X-Men comics again but I kept my spending limited. After Marvel Now though (and with the soon to begin All-New Marvel Now, yes I'm a total sucker) Marvel is on its way back again.

DC's stuff grabbed me initially just because of the novelty factor. I'd never really read a Batman comic or a Superman comic. I mean, I had to give it a go. But gradually I've lost interest in a lot of titles I was enjoying. Whereas if an X-Men comic went through a bad stage, I'd stick with it because I simply love the characters and always want to give the writer another chance, I had no such loyalty to any of the DC lot. With the exception of Scott Snyder's Batman run (undoubtedly one of the best comics out there at the moment) many DC comics have suffered from poor writing and, recently, too many crossovers. The current Forever Evil stuff has completely passed me by, I'm just not that into it.

Meanwhile after Marvel Now, Marvel's stuff has just gone from strength to strength. I thought the X-Men were doing pretty excellently after the Schism storyline with both Wolverine and the X-Men and Uncanny X-Men Vol. 2 being great but after the start of All-New X-Men and Uncanny X-Men Vol. 3, they've just gotten even better! Sure I think the X-Men books could do with a cull (I'm pretty glad X-Men Legacy is coming to an end), but the quality of writing is just going getting better and better. And I've expanded outwards.... not just Uncanny X-Force (Vol. 1 was a tour-de-force that was very difficult to follow, but Vol. 2 is proving to be worthy of a place on anyone's pull list) and Cable and X-Force but also Young Avengers (up there with Batman in my opinion), Avengers Arena and Uncanny Avengers (I really dislike the Avengers, but all three of these titles are keeping me interested).

I'm still buying a couple more DC titles than I am Marvel but as I become ever more unforgiving with culling my pull list, I fear DC may slip back to the also ran category.

Marvel doesn't just feel like home to me, given the characters there have been ones I've grown up with, but it also feels fresh and powerful. So until DC cancel all their titles and relaunch their range in some transparent attempt to get fools like me to buy more comics, Make Mine Marvel!

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Will X-Men: Days of Future Past Manage To Confuse The X-Men Movie Canon Even More?


When X-Men: First Class came out, it seemed to be a complete reboot of the franchise. Surely it couldn't be anything else given the many conflicts it had with the original X-Men movie trilogy. At the time IGN made a fantastic Youtube video pointing out the problems...

Well now we've got the first footage from Days of Future Past, and I'm starting to wonder just how much more confusing things are going to get.

Of course this movie includes (well at least I hope it does!) time travelling mayhem which almost certainly means that on top of any "canon" confusion we have, we'll have a whole bunch of new confusion too.

But where does Storm fit in to all this? An adult in the first trilogy and a child in First Class, we have Halle Berry returning as grown up Storm. Is she from the future? Does it matter? It is obvious the writers are just going to write what ever works best, canon be damned. But for fanboys like me, and I'm not suggesting writers write for us fanboys alone!, if can be a little annoying.

Wolverine appears too... which furthers the already existing continuity problems.

We'll know more on Tuesday when the first full trailer will appear! Am I excited? HELL YES!!

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Jurassic World: What We "Know" So Far

I've been excited about Jurassic Park IV since forever. It has spent so long in development hell that, after it was delayed from 2014 to 2015, I simply shrugged my shoulders and ignored it all as, to be perfectly honest, my Jurassic Park loving heart couldn't bear the prospect of another failed attempt.

But now my Google Alerts are coming thick and fast, choke full of casting news and excitement.

So what do we know?

Jurassic Park IV has been re-titled as Jurassic World. Whilst my ever dinosaur hungry brain hopes this means it'll be a (better executed) take on World War Z with dinosaur outbreaks around the world, I suspect we'll be looking at a "Jurassic World" park akin to Disney World (with awesome dinosaurs so about 10 times better). This also fits in with Sam Neill's comments that it'll be a "total re-jig". Some have taken those comments to mean it'll be a reboot or remake. I'd say we are looking at a soft reboot, keeping what happened before but starting off somewhere completely new (and probably in the USA rather than Costa Rica). I.e. Jurassic Park for a new generation but not destroying the "canon" (little though there is of it!).

It is currently due for release June 12, 2015 (just before my birthday so please keep to this people!!), and will be directed by Colin Trevorrow (who is also co-writing the remake of Flight of the Navigator, so if he messes either up he'll be the subject of some serious Fanboy Jae Rage!). He's made comments suggesting there will be a super fantastic new dinosaur. Though I think the Spinosaurus killing a T-Rex scene in JPIII was a step too far, I'm totally up for seeing what wonderful prehistoric creature they bring to the screen.

There are plenty of rumours over whether Sam Neill or Jeff Goldblum will return (personally I'd love to see Laura Dern's Sattler come back, she was a damn cool character in the first novel and Laura Dern gave her some strength in JP but she didn't get enough of a chance to shine). But we are starting to get some relatively firm news over which new actors will be joining the fun.

Ty Simpkins, of Iron Man 3 fame, appears to have cast which keeps in with the tradition of children among the main characters. Rumours have appeared suggesting Josh Brolin, Idris Elba and Jake Johnson have also been approached. With the male leads in hot contention, there's little news on any actresses as yet. I'm hoping this means LAURA DERN.

A boy can dream...

Monday, 26 August 2013

For The Love Of Stephen King

It isn't cool to like Stephen King. Even he has a bit of sense of humour about his reputation, saying in the foreword to Bag of Bones:

"I am the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and Fries"
But I have always loved his work. When I say always, I'm talking about from my very early teens. I started reading "grown-up" books when I was about 9 or 10. I remember devouring Jurassic Park in the weeks before its release. I must have been no older than 12 when I read my first Stephen King.

I always want to say that the first Stephen King book I read was "It" but I know that is just my traitorous mind desperate to create a narrative with "It" (my favourite book) at the centre. If truth be told it was probably Salem's Lot or Pet Sematary that I read first (the thought of either always brings to mind the smell of a musty old book, mainly because I mainly read second-hand, quite unloved books when I was a kid).

As neither of those books are in my very own "Best of Stephen King" countdown I'm not sure what made me continue to read his stuff. Perhaps it was just a childish glee at reading "forbidden" books that kept me going.

When I was about 14 I had a few days off school with the flu. With Alanis on in the background I devoured "The Tommyknockers" and I think that was when I fell in love with King. My other half has said in the past that he can't read King because King can spend 12 pages just describing a chair in a room, with a detailed history of everyone who has ever sat on it. This is, of course, somewhat of an exaggeration but the truth is that King does give life to characters, buildings and objects that might not seem all that important. He makes them real. He gives them a history.

In "It", for example, Dorsey and Eddie Corcoran's lives (character's who really only needed to die) are fleshed out to point where you feel like you understand Eddie and feel genuine sadness when he is murdered.

Of all the authors I've read (and I did get over my obsession eventually and read authors other than King, starting slowly with Dean R. Koontz and then heading out in ever increasing circles until I found myself miles away from the safety of the horror section in Waterstone's) King seems to "get" the "inner voice" of his characters. Their motives, their obsessions, their quirks and their inner darkness (and inner light) are spot on for how I see people act out here in the real world. His exploration of the things people do but never talk about (sexual exploration, spiteful little acts of revenge or hate etc) ring so true. His grasp of human nature is second to none.

His heroes are always flawed. And sometimes things get complicated. The way the people of Haven react to Ruth Merrill's inability to fully convert into a Tommyknocker and her reaction in turn to them is heartbreaking. She sacrifices herself to warn the world of the horror that awaits, but it is so much more complex than that.

His writing is better when it is constrained, I'll admit. His short stories (for instance the recent excellent e-book Mile 81) are sometimes so good that I actually start to ache as I near the end.

But what I really love, and identify with, in his books is the yearning for things that are gone. He truly captures both the pain of having a loved one die and the longing for a past that can never be relived. This sense of yearning that prevades many of his books is what really dovetails with my own feelings (given I live half in the past).

Stephen King's work might be considered populist guff worthy only of the proles. But Hell, I'm happy to be a prole if I get to spend some time with the sort of people who populate the works of King. Good but flawed people, with histories and prejudices. Dolores Claiborne, Jake Epping and Ben Hanscom are the sort of people I wouldn't have minded having a drink with.

Friday, 2 August 2013

THE 50th Anniversary Of The Year Draws Near

Doctor Who? Hell no. That is in November! I'm referring to an equally momentous Golden Jubilee marking 50 years since Stan Lee and Jack Kirby published the first issue of The X-Men.

I got into the X-Men around the time I got into Doctor Who. All my friends at school were collecting the Fleet X-Men card sets and, being easily lead, I soon joined them. I'd seen the X-Men cartoons, of course, but it was really those card sets that started the real love affair. The sheer diversity of characters appealed to me and it wasn't long before I'd discovered Whatever Comics in Canterbury.

And thus an on again, off again relationship began. I went through periods of devouring X-Men comics, old and new.

There is no point in pretending that the "mutant coming out" stories and the "oppressed minority" subtexts didn't appeal to me greatly. And the characters were interesting and easy to fall in love with. The Beast and his sarcasm but underlying deep and powerful love of science and mankind. Storm and her thoughtful nature and powerful anger. How could you not love them?

Right now, in its 50th year, X-Men is having one of its best runs yet. Wolverine and the X-Men, though slightly knocked off course by the AvX summer event last year, has refound its feet and is back to being hilarious and quirky. All-New X-Men and Uncanny X-Men have taken off brilliantly and I can't wait for the next issue of each. Bring the original 5 X-Men forward in time to see what they've become was an excellent way of exploring the original characters in a new and interesting way. Plus next year we have Days of Future Past coming out in the cinema which will be something to behold.

As we prepare for the 50th Anniversary spectacular story "Battle of the Atom" (though I'm slightly disappointed the future X-Men featured arent't the X-Men 2099, missed opportunity [especially as Spider-man 2099 is back in continuity]) I'd just like to say THANK YOU to everyone who has made the X-Men such a fantastic franchise, full of rich characters, interesting stories and excellent analogies for modern day issues.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Losing My Faith (In Doctor Who)

I've been a Doctor Who fan since the early 1990s, which was an odd time to become one given it was on a hiatus that seemed like it'd never end. I've loved it in all its form since; the New Adventures, the TV movie, BBC Books, Big Finish and New Who. I've enjoyed it even when I've not liked the Doctor (number 9) AND the companion (Rose Tyler). The writing has always kept me interested.

I liked Amy and Rory enough that last series I overlooked how convoluted and forced the series 6 arc felt. And now I like Clara as a character. She's bubbly and just mad enough to fit Matt Smith's Doctor. But I'm absolutely not interested in her backstory which appears to be serving as this series' arc. And to make matters worse, the individual episodes are suffering from what, in my opinion, seems to be some of the worst writing/plotting since the series returned.

Last week we saw singing and a leaf defeat a "God". Yes. Singing. This week we had some fantastic moments with an Ice Warrior stalking a Soviet sub but the ending again fizzled out. I didn't even enjoy the Christmas special. The series feels childish, in a way it hasn't since... well since forever. Even when the series was made for children it seemed more mature than it does at the moment.

And thus I've made a horrific discovery... I no longer look forward to episodes. Oh I still watch them, 20 years of fandom doesn't just disappear over night. But I'm pretty depressed that something I've loved for a very long time is just no longer doing it for me. Maybe I've just moved on.

Game of Thrones on the other hand...

Saturday, 6 April 2013

So... Last Weekend's Telly Was Pretty Good Wasn't It?

First up was the return of series 7 (is this season 33?) of Doctor Who. For some reason I've been gradually losing heart with the direction of Doctor Who. It's becoming too clever for it's own good, in my opinion. Sometimes I just want a story with character development but not too much timey-wimeyness. Don't get me wrong, there's obviously place for timey-wimeyness in Doctor Who. But not all the time. So I started watching The Bells of Saint John more out of duty than pleasure and was not expecting to like it quite as much as I did.

Best episode ever? Hell no. But solid, enjoyable and rewatchable? Absolutely. Celia Imrie was an excellent villain, the episode sort of had thematic similarities to "Partners In Crime" and I'm liking the emergence of a proper "Big Bad" for the series in the form of the Great Intelligence. It hasn't made me fall completely back in love with the Doctor's adventures but it gave me a big slap in the face and told me to stop moaning and just bloody enjoy them!

Second came the season 3 finale of The Walking Dead. Here's another show I've fallen out of love with. It's not that it isn't following the comic storyline close enough; I quite enjoy the "surprise" of things going differently. But it just seems to be too decompressed. They could develop the characters just as much and tell the same story but in far fewer episodes (and I'm never usually one to call for less episodes). And whereas I was hoping for a final climatic battle, or at least some solid conclusion to this chapter of the story, all we got was a bit of a damp squib. Plus this series they first ruined and then in this episode killed my favourite character. There wasn't even a cliffhanger, just a set up for the next series. *sigh*

And then finally came the series 3 opening episode of Game of Thrones. There was no trepidation on my part in watching this, I've been waiting for this way too eagerly to be totally healthy. And it delivered, excellent story as ever and I'm (not having read the books) putting my flag firmly in Daenerys corner. Awesome, awesome, awesome. I just want more and more!

And this week, on a Twitter recommendation, I decided to watch the 3-parter "In The Flesh". My geeky love of zombies meant I'd heard about it but every blog post I saw on it as about how it was some lovey-dovey zombie story and I wasn't into that. How wrong those previews were. It was fantastic take on a less explored area of zombie lore... what happens if the zombies (or "rotters") are "cured"? Emotional and dark, the final minutes of the last episode had me quite teary. I cannot recommend this enough.

Genre TV is good these days :)

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Asylum's Age Of Dinosaurs Actually Looking Quite Good?

So with the news that Jurassic Park IV has got a director lined up (Colin Trevorrow, famous for Safety Not Guaranteed [which I tried to watch just a few days before the announcement but couldn't get into it]), things are firming up on that front. But that movie is still over a year away, whereas The Asylum's latest pic Age of Dinosaurs is due in a little over a month.

The Asylum movies are, generally, rubbish. Don't get me wrong... I've watch most of them. And enjoyed a few (Hello Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus!). But they are not usually something to get excited about. Their mockbusters are the worst part of their output. However Age of Dinosaurs (released as a mockbuster to Jurassic Park 3D) is looking interesting. The special effects look like some of the best from The Asylum so far (not hard I hear you cry!). Take a look at the trailer and judge for yourself.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Review: A Meeting At Corvallis By S.M. Stirling

The final book in the first Emberverse trilogy, A Meeting At Corvallis is all about the long-awaited War of the Eye between the Bear Killers, Mackenzies and their allies and the Portland Protective Association.

This book is full of fights and battles which can sometimes be a bit hard going when faced with Stirling's habit of describing every minor detail of every minor character's battle dress and weaponry. But it also has plenty of political intrigue, character development and world-building which keeps it interesting.

It is a good read, but I found the ending a little predictable and a bit of a let down. After all these "minor" battles we are denied a final reckoning and instead have an ending that bears no small resemblance to the ending of Kevin Costner's "The Postman". *sigh*

And I wasn't a fan of the death of one of my favourite characters.

However I'm too far in to stop now. The Emberverse has me in its grip. Onwards to The Sunrise Lands.

Friday, 22 February 2013

The Leftovers

Ever wondered what might actually happened to the world is the Rapture occurred? The Leftovers is a far more interesting take on a post-Rapture world than Left Behind could ever be.

Set three years after the Great Disappearance, The Leftovers focuses on what happens to one family who survived it. Now I was expecting this to be at the very least "minor league" fantasy but really this isn't science fiction, fantasy or any other exotic genre... it's a book about emotions, relationships and family breakdown. Yet I still liked it.

Do not go into this book thinking it will explain the Great Disappearance/Rapture. That event is just all Alien Space Bats. The drama comes simply from the relationships between people and the never quite knowing where things are heading for the main characters.

Weird enough to be interesting, but well-written enough to be readable, The Leftovers will be fighting for top spot on my favourite books of 2013 list.

Great stuff.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Orson Scott Card, Superman And The Well-Meaning Mob

Orson Scott Card. Where does one start? A talented writer. A dedicated Latter-day Saint. And not a very nice man. And not just because of his rather severe stance on LGBT issues. He often comes across as the sort of person one just wouldn't want as an acquaintance let alone as a friend. Of course that is a matter of personal taste I suppose, and there is no accounting for that!

He has been hired by DC Comics to write a new Superman series, Adventures of Superman. And it hasn't gone down well.

Some people are saying they will boycott the comic. That is quite fair, even forgetting about some "high-minded principle" I often find it hard to enjoy fiction when I don't really like the personal beliefs of the writer. Dean R Koontz is an example of that. I loved his stuff but once I discovered he was a little bit fundamentalist (if there is such a thing as a "little bit fundamentalist) I've read his stuff with a little less enjoyment. I still read his stuff, as it is usually very good, but it now lacks a certain something.

But others have gone further demanding that DC "fire" him. This I feel is going a bit too far. Firstly, if enough people boycott the series then that would send a far clearer message to DC than a petition. Secondly, it all stinks of the beginnings of a "blacklist".

It wasn't that many decades ago when LGBT were banned from certain jobs. Remember the blacklist of Communists (and anyone claimed to be a Communist by pretty much anyone else) in the entertainment industry in America? If we start banning people from working within the comic industry just because they aren't very nice then where would that end? Would we be any better than McCarthy? I don't think so. It is a very worrying development and it is time we rose above this sort of mob mentality. Absolutely do not buy his comics if you don't wish to. Tell your friends, family and anyone who will listen that he is a really unkind man who deserves no monetary support. But trying to get him "blacklisted" will make him a martyr. And he's arrogant enough as it is.

Will I buy the new book? Possibly. I'll wait for the reviews and, if they are good, I'll probably give it a go. I'm a sucker for a good Superman story!

Monday, 28 January 2013

Review: A Big Hand For The Doctor By Eoin Colfer

A Big Hand For The Doctor was a good opener for the 50th Anniversary series of Doctor Who e-books written by children's authors.

But it was marred by one annoying little thing... it had three or four pop culture references (all from the 21st century) that just seem so forced (Oooo... Hogwarts) that it was actually pretty jarring. Here's this nice little tale set in Victorian London featuring the First Doctor and Susan and suddenly BAM you are taken out of the story by an unnecessary reference.

Anyway, enough grumbling, it was a lovely little tale with some disturbing villains and a fantastic ending that I did not see coming (but once you know what it is, it is pretty obvious!).

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Do Doctor Who Fans Really Have Anything To Worry About In This 50th Anniversary Year?

Much has been made on fan forums of this picture of a BBC Worldwide promotional poster taken at a toy convention.

After Steven Moffat suggested Doctor Who would take over TV for the anniversary I would say fans could be justifiably miffed at the paltry offerings on display. But I'd caution that 1) Doctor Who producers are infamous liars and should never be trusted and 2) we don't know that that is everything on offer. 

Unfortunately a lot of fans seem to be losing their heads over this. I suppose, because I became a Doctor Who fan in the wildnerness years of the early 90s, I'm a little more willing to accept whatever I'm given. But even if we get nothing more than what has already been announced I really don't think Doctor Who fans have anything to be complaining about. 

So we've got 8 standard episodes of Doctor Who series 7 to come. A 50th anniversary special and An Adventure in Space and Time which dramatises the production of the first series of Doctor Who. Plus we get  11 Doctor Who audio stories in the form of the Destiny of the Doctor (starting this month with Hunters of Earth). And we get a Big Finish multi-Doctor story The Light At The End featuring all 5 surviving "Classic" Doctors and multiple other Doctor Who stars. 

Big Finish are also giving us, in their main Doctor Who range, a trilogy of stories set in 1963 with the final story featuring a return of the stars of the 25th anniversary! Meanwhile their Companion Chronicles series will feature another trilogy starting in November with the first story telling the tale of the Doctor and Susan on Gallifrey before they began their adventures. 

Meanwhile in the world of books... Each month between now and November Puffin are releasing a short story by e-book written by well known children's authors. I read the first one last night, A Big Hand For The Doctor, and was suitably impressed. 

Plus IDW are printing a special 11 part series of comics featuring every Doctor and the Doctor Who Magazine has just started its own Doctor Who anniversary special comic story. 

And on top of all this we are getting other Doctor Who books, the usual Big Finish output (which is considerable) and the new IDW Doctor Who volume 3. 

So no, I think content wise this year is going to be mammoth!!

Friday, 25 January 2013

Review: Micro by Michael Crichton and Richard Preston

I bought this in my post-Christmas Amazon spree based solely on Michael Crichton's name. Then I read the reviews and was a little taken aback. Harsh is not the word!

When I was 10 years old I read my first "adult" book; Jurassic Park. I have vivid memories of reading it whenever I could, barely able to put it down (even to the point of reading it in the dark on a long car journey trying desperately to read as we went past lampposts!). Ever since, even after I found our politics didn't quite match up, I've had very fond feelings about Michael Crichton's books. When he passed away I was deeply saddened. Micro was an unfinished work and Richard Preston took over the task of finishing after Crichton's death. With the nasty reviews on Amazon fresh in my mind I started reading with a little bit of trepidation.

I needn't have worried. It does have a little bit of "unpolished" feel and it does feature Crichton's rather typically OTT villain (Denis Nedry for example) but I like it. Not loved it, but very much enjoyed the journey.

It is very much Honey I Shrunk The Kids meets Jurassic Park, featuring people shrunken to a tiny size fighting their way through a forest and encountering ants, wasps, centipedes and murderous robots. I suppose that makes it a little Innerspace too really.

As his last work (that we know of currently) it fittingly had a very Jurassic Park feel. I look forward to the movie!

Monday, 14 January 2013

Review: The Protector's War By S. M. Stirling

I'm an Audible subscriber and, on top of the books I'm reading, usually fill my commuting time by listening to audiobooks. Having read S. M. Stirling's superb Nantucket trilogy (check out Island In The Sea Of Time as a starting point) it was only natural that last year I listened to the first in his connected "Emberverse" saga; "Dies The Fire".

Unfortunately I approached as if it was just another alternative history or post-apocalyptic story and thus didn't enjoy it as much as I could have. It took me a few months to try and get into the very popular saga once more but this time I approached it with more of an open mind.

The Protector's War is the follow-up and I enjoyed it far more than Dies The Fire (but that again is more to do with how I approached it rather than a reflection on Dies The Fire). Let us set the scene... 9 years ago something messed up the physics around our planet and gunpowder, electrics and a whole host of useful things simply stopped working. Chaos ensued and most of the world died as food ran out. By the end of Dies The Fire things had begun to reorganise but the world was a very different place. The Protector's War picks up where it left off 9 years ago revisiting our characters in the Willamette Valley in Oregon as they attempt to prepare themselves for a possible war with a warlord to their north. Battling bandits, setting up future dynastic clashes and introducing some unexpected visitors from afar it is a very entertaining read.

I won't pretend that S. M. Stirling's style of writing takes a bit of getting used to. He will go into intricate detail about EVERYTHING. Some people paint with words, S. M. Stirling takes a 10 megapixel digital picture. And the way his characters think can be somewhat jarring. The protagonists are all far too clever, far too brave and far too well-prepared to be truly believable. But that is where I went wrong before. This isn't a post-apocalyptic fiction book... it is fantasy. And if you approach it as you would Lord of the Rings, you'll enjoy it a great deal.

S. M. Stirling is a worldbuilder and I want to know more about this world he is building. This is definitely a 5 star book.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Jurassic Park IV: Rebooted Dinosaurs Needed?

When I was young (we are talking "in the 1980s" here) I inherited the dinosaur books that my aunties and uncles had used in the 60s and 70s. Big, boldly coloured books full of beautiful pictures they began my love affair with dinosaurs (helped by frequent visits to Maidstone museum to buy the Invicta line of dinosaur models). However even as a child I could tell there was something a little wrong with those pictures. Snorkelling brachiosaurs seemed to conflict with the then current models of tall, strong brachiosaurs I was playing with.

Paleontology is still a young science, new discoveries that change the fundamental understanding of how dinosaurs and other related species looked and acted are made all the time. In writing Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton did his best to stay true to the late 80s understanding of dinosaurs, and the subsequent movie had several expert advisors (such as Jack Horner) to help guide it. Even so, 20 years later Jurassic Park's dinosaurs are starting to look very out of date.

For example, at the time of Crichton's research, Deinonychus was named by some as Velociraptor antirrhopus. Given the similarities in size, it is pretty clear that Deinonychus is the basis for the infamous Raptors seen in the movie. Now this has been revised and what is known as a Velociraptor today (an animal roughly around 0.5m tall with feathers) is totally unlike the Raptors of Jurassic Park.

The Original JP Version

          The JPIII Redesign 
Current Impression Of What Deinonychus Might Have Looked Like

Will Jurassic Park IV acknowledge the new discoveries? Will it keep to the, very well-recognised, designs from the earlier movies or be bold and completely reinvent them? Will we get properly feathered dinosaurs or even newly discovered ones?

I've seen some say that they could keep the original designs, perhaps slightly modified, but explain the differences due to the amphibian DNA used during the cloning process. This sounds decent, or they could take the explanation from the original book that Wu got his way and redesigned the dinosaurs to look more like people expected (in the book Wu and Hammond argue about this sort of genetic engineering). Not only is this fiction but it is fiction based on still up for debate science meaning they can take some liberties (as they did with both the dilophosaurs poison and "mane").

The dinosaur fanboy in me would love for them to be very bold indeed and make some of the newly discovered dinosaurs as infamous and terrifying as the original Jurassic Park made velociraptors. Or they could just do an "upgrade" to utahraptors who dwarfed deinonychus. 

Here's looking forward to whatever new designs and dinosaurs they come up with! 

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Jurassic Park IV: This Time They Really Are Doing It (Probably)

I have been looking forward to Jurassic Park IV for quite some time. We have had a hundred false starts, ever year it has been postponed by another year or two.

Well this time it looks like they mean business! They have set a release date of June 13 2014 which is the firmest evidence we've been given yet that this project is moving forward.

I truly hope they do the franchise justice and take it off in a direction that will allow it to flourish and create ever more media... Jurassic Park is my favourite franchise.

In other related news.... In anticipation of the release of Jurassic Park 3D this year, The Asylum has announced the production of a new mockbuster "Age of Dinosaurs". Here is the synopsis.

Using breakthrough flesh-regeneration technology, a biotech firm creates a set of living dinosaurs. But when the creatures escape their museum exhibit and terrorize Los Angeles, a former firefighter must rescue his teenage daughter from the chaos brought on by the Age of Dinosaurs.

I am a "fan" of The Asylum stuff simply because it amuses me but I really hope they try to make this one good. It could be epic if only they get some people who can act.

Anyway... excited for JPIV!!!

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Review: Animal Kingdom: An Apocalyptic Horror Novel by Iain Rob Wright

Book 2 of 2013's reading list! Woo.... And today it is the turn of "Animal Kingdom: An Apocalyptic Horror Novel"

This review is going be a total downer and I wish it wasn't. It's competently written which is pretty good for a book in its price range and shows the hard work the author has put into this novel. But it doesn't work for me.

Set in a zoo on the day that every animal in the world turns against humans, it has a very interesting premise. I've seen this premise work out a little in Brian Keene's "The Rising", although in that book they were undead animals adding to an already pretty serious zombie apocalypse. However the first flaw in the book is the way that premise works out. These now, at the very least semi-intelligent, animals with a bloodlust don't really try very hard to get at the humans. It isn't just mammals affected but reptiles and even anthropods. I just couldn't see how the timing worked. This premise might have worked played out over a day, maybe two. But over a few days? By then the spiders could've slipped into ears, noses and mouths of the people and down untold amounts of damage. Monkeys could've destroyed the window and torn apart doors.

I know, I'm an animal obsessive, but just the presentation of a group of chimps being fairly easily avoided (and luckily killing one of the antagonists) seemed totally unreal. The way the premise played out seemed to defy belief and given with these type of books one has already suspended ones belief that takes some doing.

And I can't decide if the characters were just paper thin or if I just didn't like any of them. They acted in unbelievable ways. Take Bill, whose boyfriend is killed during the opening events of the novel, he doesn't spend a moment (not a single moment) grieving. Now of them seem all that fazed by events. The only person who has anything approaching a breakdown is already on tablets for OCD. And the lead character, Joe, is just unlikeable. The villains are 1) selfish, power hungry businessman, 2) aggressive yobbish former soldier and 3) God-botherer.

I couldn't bring myself to read the short stories that come with this book. I read it to the end simply because I felt I owed it to myself not to give up on my plan to read all the books on my reading list so early on.

I was looking forward to this book (hence it being 2nd on the list!) but I'm greatly disappointed.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Review: Island Life By William Meikle

After a particularly big Amazon binge following some unexpectedly large gifts of Amazon vouchers, my Kindle is overflowing with books. I'm a terrible hoarder and already had a backlog of books anyway. Now something must be done so I'm dedicated to reading as many of the unread books I own as possible this year.

First up was Island Life by William Meikle. The Kindle edition was under £2 and I wasn't expecting much but bought it as it had quite a good rating. I was more than pleasantly surprised.

Set on a Scottish island, it details a scary couple of days as supernatural horrors burst forth from a recently begun archaeological dig. It is a very simple story, and Meikle does not waste time on unnecessary intricate details, so the pacing of the book makes for an easy read.

Meikle writes characters well enough that you do worry about what might happen to them. There are a few chilling scenes (especially the main character Duncan's flashback to a time he ended up trapped in caves in his youth), and enough realistic interactions to keep the supernatural aspects grounded.

This is no masterpiece, but it is well-written, genuinely creepy and was a great antidote to Stephen King's (also awesome) 11/22/63 that I had just managed to get through. Stephen King writes masterpieces but they aren't easy reading! Island Life was a pleasure compared to that.

I'd rate it 4/5 and, once I'm through my backlog, I'll be looking up more of Meikle's work.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

11.22.63 - Stephen King Still Has It!

I've just finished reading Stephen King's 11.22.63. It is the story of a man who is shown a way to travel into the past and, on the way to stopping the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, begins to discover time  doesn't want to be changed.

I'm a huge Stephen King fan. This does mean I'm more able to put up with the "extra padding" he tends to put in his books. It exists here, I won't deny it, and there is a great deal that could've been left out. But then again that is a bit like being unhappy that someone would do a painting when they could just do a line drawing. 

The story is good, the pacing is up there with the better Stephen King novels, and you do start to care about the mission. Will he stop the assassination? What will happen if he does? Those questions are answered and the ending of the book is far more satisfying that you'd think given we know JFK really was assassinated.

The usual King touches are there. He has brief snippets of what I'd call "Kingese" (Jimla!). We have references to his other works, with an extended stay for Jake Epping (the main character) in Derry where he interacts with characters from IT not long after the 50s segment of that book. I'm a huge IT fan and I was so pleased to read Bev and Richie once again! And yes, the protagonist is an English teacher...  

This is certainly one of his better books, coming somewhere just below IT and The Stand on my personal favourites list. Check it out!

Stephen King's 11.22.63 -,