Friday, November 21, 2014

An Unearthly Podcast: Death in Heaven

And at last the season is at a close. Time to talk about the last episode Death in Heaven, and our final ratting for this Moffat two-parter.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

An Unearthly Podcast: Dark Water

The end of the season is closing in. So are the Cybermen, and an old enemy returns! P.S. Sorry to our YouTube viewers. Forces beyond our control have made us mute the opening.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

An Unearthly Podcast: Flatline

Let’s get caught up with An Unearthly Podcast, shall we?

Our next episode in line is “Flatline”, an episode we found to be a good example of “Doctor-lite” done well.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

7 Days of Novels: Robogenesis by Daniel H Wilson

RobogenesisDaniel Wilson is to the robot apocalypse what Mira Grant is to the zombie. At least, that's what I gather from my very, very short history with his work. I'm fairly certain I had heard of his 2011 novel Robopocalypse before I was given the sequel, Robogenesis, as a gift, but I had never read it. Indeed, the title is generic enough to blend in with the background noise even for a blogger who doesn't have the time to keep his ear as close to the ground of Sci-Fi literature as I'd like to. Still, I received the novel as a gift and it had a flashy cover and an interesting premise, so I dug into it.

The first thing I noticed about the novel was that it was probably a sequel. This wasn't just because it had “Bestselling author of Robopocalypse” plastered on the cover. A surprising (based on their starting points in this book, anyway) number of characters had a history with one another with only minimal reasoning within the book. As with any other clear sequel, I filed this fact away to be factored in after reading the book.

I don't know how much of the plot of Robopocalypse is explained in Robogenesis, but enough of it is. The important thing to know is that there was a war between Skynet Artificial Intelligence Archos R-14 and mankind. Civilization was all but destroyed during the war, which lasted several years, and the recurring characters seem to be the heroes of it. I held out hope for a short time that these were minor players that had little to do with the resolution of the first novel and therefore had more of a character arc ahead of them, but unfortunately this doesn't seem to be the case. Anything else this story tells about the first book is window dressing, and when I eventually get to reading Robopocalypse it will be interesting to compare the two.

The premise of Robogenesis is that Archos R-14 was secretly preparing humanity for what would be called the “True War”, a war in which one of its predecessors was going to take up its own hand at challenging humanity, this time in order to wipe out all sentient life. In the midst of all this, new life – life that is not carbon-based, but is otherwise organic – is arising across the world and nobody seems to know why. The novel is split into three parts: one in which the threat is established, one in which its depth is explored, and one in which the “True War” occurs. Each of these parts introduces another character from the previous war, as well as a look at a different part of the world than where the majority of the action is taking place: part one looking at another AI in Russia as it discovers the threat, part two looking at the “freeborn” society of robots, and part three looking at the apparent “birth”-place of the freeborn mentality (program?) in Japan. These segments provide greater scope to the story, but I have mixed feelings about them in general. They come across clearly as the “B” story, and only occasionally intersect the “A” plot. A few more drafts working on combining these “okay” stories with the larger plot would have made them all the more interesting.

As for the main plot, I found myself heavily drawn into it. The world-building here is incredible, taking into account both how people would feel during the war and after, as well as how that influenced society as a whole. Unfortunately, it does seem to have some issues with looking at Points A, B and C on a map, and treating the area in between as a great white void that characters hop through between chapters. The parts that do receive attention in the narrative though are engrossing, and I could easily see a movie being made of it, despite covering ground that Terminator, The Matrix, and other films have covered.

Despite covering this ground, there are some original concepts here. The first is that Archos R-14 and Robogenesis's antagonist Arate (R-8) Shah are far from being the only high-level artificial intelligences in this world. Chapter 3 establishes that there are other, equivalent-level AI units all over the world, created by different governments. The names of the antagonists and some of the information they reveal indicates that they aren't even the only American units of their type to go rogue. R-14 stands for “Revision 14”, which is short for saying “Americans have produced Skynet 14 times, and lost control of it every time”. This is mind-blowing information. If you thought it was intense having one group of robots take over the world and either enslave or try to destroy humanity, imagine there being 20 or more such intelligences, each with their own agenda. With that many, I wouldn't be shocked if The Matrix's Architect isn't one of them.

Another new concept is the idea that R-14 was fashioning cyborgs. There are several versions of this throughout the novel, from humans that are enslaved and used as weapons, only to be given control of themselves at the end of the Robopocalypse's “New War”. There were also quite a few human children who simply had mechanical parts grafted to them, that had the added effect in the social climate of Robogenesis of making their thoughts part machine and turning them into a unique force that were immensely useful in the “True War”.

Robogenesis is a delight to read, introducing a unique version of an old conflict and filled with unique characters. My biggest gripe is that not all of the characters were given enough page-time to live up to their true potential, and this is from someone who hasn't read the book that half of them (if not more) were introduced in. I look forward to reading more in this series and I think that most people who enjoy Sci-Fi action novels will feel the same way.

Friday, October 31, 2014

7 Days of Novels: lost boy lost girl by Peter Straub


Prior to lost boy lost girl, the only experience I had with the writing of Peter Straub was the two books that he co-wrote with Stephen King, The Talisman and Black House. Those were two rather good books, so I was a bit surprised when the person who handed it to me told me it was the worst book she had ever read. I was skeptical of this – the person wasn't known to be a fan of any horror, and there were quotes from Stephen King and Neil Gaiman on the cover proclaiming how good it was. Who to trust?

My feelings about this book progressed in three stages. The first was that of experiencing a good setup. The characters are introduced, as was a goal, and some strange occurrences. As we grow to know the characters, we were eased into plot elements such as the visions Nancy had before her suicide and the phone calls years before that. All of this was done well, if a bit slowly. I can handle that. The Shining and Pet Sematary had a slow buildup. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone had a slow build-up. It's a decision, not a flaw in and of itself.

The second stage was when I hit the halfway mark of the book and felt like I was still in the setup. The story was taking a leisurely stroll through the character's lives. It was clear that terrible things had occurred before and after what I was reading, but it was just as clear that those things weren't happening “now”. Thi sis where parallel stories can sometimes do more harm than good. While lost boy lost girl largely avoids the trap of interrupting at the wrong moments and breaking the tension, it does fall into the trap of divulging the wrong information too early. It's hard to feel suspense about a character running from room to room in an otherwise occupied house when you know that he was fine when he met his friend for drinks afterward.

Even the person investigating the disappearance – the narrator – didn't seem particularly inclined to hurry. This was no Sherlock Holmes mystery; this was an author walking behind an interesting story and taking notes. As that the audience was receiving information from several sources that were well out of the “present day” narrator's reach, the story never reached that moment of discovery where it felt like the story was finally catching up to the hints. By the time the narrator discovers that the late murderer-serial rapist had once kept and tortured a hidden daughter in his house, this plot point is already irrelevant because he has discovered that the missing boy was already in a sexual relationship with her ghost.

This is where the third stage comes in. You won't catch me pleading necrophilia or anything like that – I can tell the difference between a ghost and a corpse – and in context I'm fairly apathetic to the age difference between the nineteen year old spirit and the fifteen year old boy. No, my problem is that we are led to believe that a child who was kept hidden and tortured while chained to a bed by a man who was known to have raped and murdered many women of varying ages until he finally killer her became a ghost, kept aging and used bondage sex on the bed she died on as an icebreaker the very first time she was alone with a male who didn't happen to be a serial killer. Perhaps most disgusting of all is the fact that this is considered to be a good – possibly the best – outcome of everything going on. The narrator even goes so far as to say the bondage sex on the torture bed makes sense because you make do with what you have.

If you have even the slightest hint of empathy beyond “sex good”, you might see my problem with this. There are generally three types of people who have been through sexually traumatic experiences: ones who have a system of support and have worked through the scars of their abuse and are able to move on, ones who are terrified to even attempt intimacy (physical, emotional or both), and ones who have reached the point that they believe the natural order of things is for the person in a position of power in their lives to use and abuse their body any way they see fit. Lily Calendar, an undead recluse, is certainly not in the first category, and obviously not in the second, which places her in the third. The fact that this is considered to be a good thing, simply because the “lost boy” (who is even given top billing even within the story, despite the fact that she was “lost” well before he was) gets the answers to his questions (and some sexual gratification) is sickening.

Is there a deeper meaning to this that I'm missing. Yes and no. Yes, there is something deeper than this. Yes because, if you read into the context of the story, it is clearly intended to be written by narrator Tim Underhill who is following on his nephew's case. The novel consists of the bits that happened while he was absent, his speculations in novel format. No, because this clearly does not make it any better. This author character (who those familiar with Straub's friend Stephen King will recognize is more often than not a stand-in for the author himself) is perfectly okay – arguably overjoyed with this relationship. He is perfectly fine with the idea that his nephew went and – what, killed himself? Allowed the local serial killer to kill him? - in order to spend eternity with his ghost girlfriend, the most notable aspect of whose relationship seems to be the sex that they have in the bed that she was tortured, raped and killed on.

This bothers me, and it will keep bothering me, in the way that I may never be able to look at a Peter Straub novel the same way. The boring, bland novel doesn't bother me so much. Everybody puts one out eventually. Stephen King has put out stories that I've shaken my head, wondered what he was on when he wrote it, and I went on to read the next thing. But a novel like this that downplays the results of abuse to the extent that the abused girl becomes a prize is one degree away from glorifying the abuse itself, and no novel that somebody was paid to write, then read by an editor, and then charged money for should come that close to being that ignorant. Avoid this book at all costs.

7 Days of Novels: Feed by Mira Grant


When I read Feed, it was completely out of the blue. A reviewing colleague of mine, Jim Haley, came across a contest held by Orbit Books, and in his effort to draw my attention to it, ended up winning it on my behalf. The book sat in my reading list with nary a glance until I was able to pick it up and read it, at which point I realized it was the best book I had read in years. And that, my friends, was my introduction to Feed, Newsflesh, Mira Grant, Seanan McGuire, and zombie stories that were actually interesting to me.

Seanan McGuire is the author who crafted the book in question, Mira Grant is the name she attributes her Sci-Fi horror classics to, Feed is the book, and Newsflesh is the trilogy. Zombie stories that were actually interesting to me are what I found inside the book. Considering the oversaturated market for zombie stories we’ve been getting lately, that’s saying something.

I’ve long maintained that a classic book contains a story that can exist completely independent of its setting. Once you have an excellent story, you supply it with an equally excellent setting. I’ve often held that Stephen King writes sufficient stories that his repetitive settings can be overlooked. This is because, in such a story, character depth is taken to its extremes, as well as the plot, motivations and other narrative elements. If you take out the futuristic setting, Feed is still a great story. Same goes for if you take out the zombies. Those last two things just make it iconic.

The one thing that drew me in for years is how deeply Stephen King got into the mind of even the most insignificant character. Mira Grant doesn’t do that, but when it comes to the characters we see through the eyes of, we get all that and more. Feed is an example of that exact type of book. The story is told through the eyes of Georgia Mason, named for George Romero. Yes, the setting does inform the characters, but that’s only natural, and not any sort of indication of relying on the setting. Rather, there’s back and forth between the two, which makes the characters more believable as part of the setting. George is a journalist who, along with her brother Shaun, runs a blog by the name of “After the End Times”. To return to the Stephen King comparison, Grant uses King’s trademark maneuver of including excerpts at the beginning of chapters in order to give insight into the story and the characters without interrupting the narrative. Rather than songs or quotes, Feed accomplishes this with full blog entries, either from the Rising to establish the setting or from “After the End Times” to establish George, Shaun and Buffy. While George is the more traditional journalist of the group, Shaun is the thrillseeker (a group named after a certain celebrity from the 1990s) and Buffy is the “Fictional” of the group - the person who writes things other than strictly factual accounts.

These three individuals are shown to us in the detail of a journalist explaining herself, the most important person in her life, and her best friend. Her eye for details combines with the tragedy of the story in order to bear the truth about all of the supporting characters she meets along the way. Nobody has a point of view except for George (and. through blog posts, Shaun and Buffy), but within that limited narrator we get a clear look at every character.

This is largely because when you strip away the frills of Science Fiction and horror, Feed is a mystery thriller. The “After the End Times” crew is the first group of independent internet journalists - of bloggers - invited along the campaign trail. This makes them witnesses to a stream of attacks against the Presidential candidate whom they’re following. From day one people are dying, and these skilled and licensed journalists who are used to risking death in controlled circumstances find that their lives (and many others, besides) lie on the hands of their ability to do what they do best: expose the truth. But as with any political maneuverings, things aren’t always what they seem, and when people’s opinions and ideologies are called into question, even the most trusted individual of all could become a traitor in their midst.

I say “thriller” for a reason. Like when I read The Hardy Boys as a child, I didn’t want to solve the mystery before Georgia. The story didn’t hinge on who was responsible for the death and mayhem that plagued our heroes - it hinged on when they could expose it and use the truth as a weapon. The villainous monologue at the end implied that this mystery couldn’t have been solved only by seeing what the heroes saw, but that’s okay because the thriller is the point of the story more than the mystery, and it damn well did its job. What’s important is that the audience knows everything that Georgia does. Her helplessness is our helplessness. And there’s nothing more thrilling that being George - being someone with a defined sense of right and wrong, the confidence that she can use it to change the world, and the skills to actually do so - and being helpless.

I suppose helplessness requires us to discuss the setting, finally. While the things I’ve mentioned so far are a large part of what makes Feed so good, the setting is what gives Newsflesh its appeal and memorability. The story is simple enough. The Zombie apocalypse occurred in 2014, as a result of trying to cure cancer and the common cold. I’d consider elaborating, but as I’m writing this I’m also in the process of ordering a limited edition book which includes how this happens (which , as you read this, I have probably already published a review of. I’m a fan of publishing reviews linearly, even if I don’t think or read that way). Suffice it to say that the result of Kellis and Amberlee’s miracles was Kellis-Amberlee, the zombie plague virus. It’s in every human’s body in trace amounts, has resulted in spontaneous amplification, and can be weaponized.

In order to survive the zombie apocalypse, humanity turned to people like me: bloggers and fans of horror movies. Bloggers, because they’re the ones who can get the news out quickly and without the pesky FCC getting in the way, and horror movie fans, because they’re the ones who know where to hit the walking dead with maximum stopping power. Once that was over, rules and restrictions were put into place to prevent further zombie deaths, resulting in a world where you’re constantly looking over your shoulder expecting to see something coming to eat you and just as frequently submitting yourself to tests that will allow someone to legally shoot you in the head.

The interplay between all of these elements is astounding, and the world-building here is some of the best that I’ve ever seen. The prose doesn’t rely on specific items such as Twitter (or indeed, social media), preventing any of the setting elements from becoming dated as technology changes. This doesn’t prevent the story from losing some of its strength if 2015 arrives and we still have cancer, the common cold and a distinct lack of the walking dead, however.

To see just how the various elements of a world combine, you have to look little further than the political situation of that world. Luckily, we find ourselves starting out in a political thriller, which means that we can plainly see the candidate who gets by using fear of death as a motivator for his votes (something that readers weren’t entirely unfamiliar with - Feed was released at the height of the second Bush administration) . It also means that we can get a not entirely unbiased account of the third candidate - the one that uses the instant gratification politics of the internet to almost let lingerie put her in the White House.

Feed is the centerpoint of the Newsflesh setting, one that has been expanding by popular demand ever since its publication. It is the start of a trilogy, continuing with Deadline and Blackout to detail “After the End Times”’ further conflicts, following the traditional trilogy structure of standalone, cliffhanger, finale. It does so in another way as well. Equalist writers - LGBT ones specifically - have created an art of introducing non-conventional sexual practices into work at a gradual pace. For a popular example of what I’m talking about, look at the gradual introduction of homosexuality in Buffy the Vampire Slayer as it progressed from not being mentioned, to being almost-taboo, to being as accepted and visual as heterosexuality was throughout the series. In that manner, Newsflesh slowly allows the sexual identities of its character to creep in, with the most traditional relationships appearing in Feed and the less traditional ones being introduced over time in Deadline and Blackout. This also helps to make Feed less of a sexual novel; simply by not talking about what exists, we’re able to focus on the intrigue and the politics. It’s no accident that the biggest source of sex in the book is a political figure showing us how her world works.

In addition to the contracted sequels, Grant has published several novellas in the universe, helping to build the world and explain what happened prior. While she has no intention of returning to the universe, I still would find myself much more pleased than I would be surprised were she to introduce another full novel into the series.

Feed is a book that knows how to tell a story, knows how to portray characters, and knows how to start a sequel. At the time of publication, I felt that the book was so good it would be impossible to follow up on. Plot elements that I won’t go into here seemed to make the idea of any sequel seem inferior to what came before. The fact that this turned out not to be true does nothing to diminish Feed’s own quality - except, perhaps, to indicate that it was even better prepared for than initially seemed. If a thriller with well-crafted characters and excellent world-building and just a hint of some of the best zombies I’ve ever seen appeals to you, then pick up Feed. I’ve yet to meet anyone, horror fan or no, who regretted it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

7 Days of Novels: The Child Thief by Brom

Child ThiefPeter was a boy born to a normal mother and an unusual father, at a time when abnormality in an infant could get one killed.  Somehow, he survived long enough to fight for his own survival, but the damage was done - Peter would forever be alone, unique, despite the family he would desperately try to build around him.  But he was never lacking in mortal enemies…

Nick is a young man living in the slums of Brooklyn, the victim of a drug lord that’s taken  over his home and from there much of his life.  He takes some drastic action, has more bad luck, and needs to get away - fast.  He’s saved by a faerie boy who takes him to another place.  But this place isn’t the safe haven Nick was told it would be.  Not anymore…

What hooks me most about Child Thief is the style of writing.  I’m a big fan of the in-depth character studies, the ones that will give you every emotion, thought, and tidbit of history trivia of every character they touch.  My favorite authors with this style are Stephen King, Karen Traviss, Clive Barker and, after Child Thief, Brom.  I love the way this book is written, and if the rest of his work is like this, I will definitely be seeking more of his work out.  It’s the story told by an artist who can tell an epic just by splashing a bit of paint in a character’s eyes.  I haven’t seen much of his art, but again, if Child Thief is any indication, this is how he pans out.

The narrative is told mostly in two parts, that of Nick, and that of Peter.  There are other voices, but they’re telling different parts of Peter’s and Nick’s stories.  As with many stories told in two different parts, Child Thief falls victim to (or takes advantage of) convenient parallel stories.  Each relevant part of Peter’s story just happened to occur in the correct sequence that it’s revealed to us, in sequential order, in the same order that it’s needed to avoid boring exposition in Nick’s story.  Of course, there is some exposition, but not only is it told in an inspiring and subjective way, it’s also countered by the opposite side’s point of view describing the exact same point.  It definitely did a good job, and this gives me an in to explain one of the great strengths of this novel.

One of the most basic literary techniques, probably older than literature itself, is to dehumanize the antagonist.  This allows wanton destruction of the enemy to be cheered by those who would normally mourn the loss of life.  Child Thief does this, to a point.  The Flesh Eaters are no longer human, they’ve become monsters, they kill wantonly and eat the flesh of the dead, their skin is blackened and they have claws, etc.  But then, it throws you for a loop.  It shows you the human side.  The Flesh Eaters, UIfger, Peter, the Witch…they all have their human side, and they all have their side of the story.  Just like no character is perfect - everybody has their flaws, to the point that it’s up to the reader who is truly the protagonist and who isn’t.  This isn’t a perfect grey novel, however, as there are definite villains.  Ulfger, for example, despite his occasionally noble goals, does not commit a single act that is anything less than tyrannical.  Certain Flesh-Eaters are villainous enough to potentially place Brom in the company of such authors as either Stan Nicholls or Clive Barker, depending on how deep the rabbit hole goes.  Suffice it say that the villainous Captain is more Peter’s grey area counterpart than either of them believe, contrary to popular Disney lore.

The plot works nicely around these characters, allowing the characters to control it but moving drastically.  The structure of the story is akin to Highlander.  Rather than experiencing the story from beginning to end, Peter’s story details what might be Act Two of a five act play, introducing the first great changes to Avalon, while Nick in at the start of Act Five, centuries after the war with the Flesh Eaters has dragged on.  The entire story is building to a climax the whole time, and Nick shows up just in time to watch the climax unfolding.  As in the Fifth Act of any great work, the fantasy world of Avalon will never be the same again, and as the novel closes we’re left to imagine what will happen next.

That’s not to say there’s not a whole story.  Nick’s story, for example, includes his meeting Sekeu, who would fill the role of a mentor, as well as Cricket, the closest thing this book has to love interest, not to mention the rival in Leroy, and of course his ongoing conflict with Peter.  Unfortunately, there’s no real climax relating to any of these personal relationships - the climax focuses more on the overarching plots and casts Nick aside much the way Chewbacca was cast aside by the Yuuzhan Vong.

Mixed in with the characters and the plot is the setting.  As fantasy settings go (excluding science fantasy), there are a few well known ones.  There is the fantasy of J.R.R. Tolkien, which not only redefined the meaning of “elf“, but also set the precedent that would go on to create the fantasy settings of Dungeons and Dragons, Magic: The Gathering, and countless others.  Then comes the fantasy setting of Harry Potter, which is a more recent blend of the mythology of dozens of cultures taken relatively more directly from the source material.  There’s a little bit of Tolkien in Rowling’s setting (the example that comes easiest to mind is the trolls in the first book), but most of it is admirably precise to the original myths.  After this, you usually get a wide variety of spin-offs of either of the above, either for familiarity or research reasons, or smaller, more exclusive settings that don’t really buy into a more general mythology (such as novels about vampires or the like).  Second and third least common, you get completely original fantasy worlds based on absolutely nothing at all, and more exotic, often non-Euclidean fantasy worlds that have branched off from the works of H.P. Lovecraft.

Finally, you get the fantasy settings that would stand up with Tolkien and Rowling if only enough people were aware of them.  Child Thief is one of these (Stan Nicholls’s Orcs trilogy is another).  These are the ones that separate the humans from the fantasy, and build upward from there, using the same source material that both of the aforementioned well-known authors had.  In the case of Child Thief, the only thing I recognized as “borrowed” from a more modern setting is the Tolkienesque elves which are introduced farther into the novel.  The trolls, the pixies, the witch and her daughters, all of this seems unique… and yet familiar.  It just touches on enough cultures to tell us this is nowhere near the medieval culture of the fantasy we’re familiar with.  It brings out a different feeling, one that works perfectly with the story of Peter Pan and the Devils.

Child Thief mixes these elements of character, plot and setting the way an expert illustrator mixes his paints.  Almost all of the characters are relatable, and all of them are memorable.  The plot is high energy, but difficult to get lost in, flowing like a waterfall until the big plunge.  I heartily recommend this book to any fantasy enthusiast, and even the odd social scientist.  This new look at Peter Pan is worth it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

7 Days of Novels: A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

AGoTA Game of Thrones is a party that I am late to, albeit it one that I was inevitably going to get to. Actually, it's not that surprising that I'm late to this; I think the only pop culture phenomena I was ever on time for were Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2012 and Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Still, that probably means that I'll be expected to have a lot to say about it.

I really don't. It's an okay book. That's not to say that it's mediocre, that's to say that I enjoyed it enough to want to read the sequels...and that's about it. I'm not dying to watch the show, although I will for completionism's sake. I'm not dying to write fan fiction about the show and I'm not on Amazon looking for a copy of A Clash of Kings. To me, that's really all there is to say about the book. It's a good read, but I could have lived my entire life without it and never have felt like I was missing something.

Of course, it's only fair to say more. That description fits a lot of other fantasy novels I've reviewed, after all. It's only because this story has been overly hyped that I feel like “it's overhyped” is enough to say about it. Had I experienced this story in its natural order, before the television show was created, I'd probably feel a lot more enthusiastic singing its praises. Still, there is somebody reading this review who hasn't read the book or watched the show yet, so let's be a little more specific.

A Game of Thrones, the first novel in the Song of Ice and Fire series, is a light fantasy novel. Unlike most fantasy novels, there is no quest, or group of adventurers. It's a group of semi-related characters having their own independent adventures, tied only by the kingdom they take place in. for that reason, I consider the book to be the equivalent of King Arthur, except with modern day writing conventions. Of course, modern writing conventions make a hell of a lot of difference in a story like that, so that comparison in truth might not go any farther than me. Still, the story of lords, knights and their equivalents partaking in training, dangerous adventures, conquering and incest with a touch of light fantasy puts it squarely...on the edge of my interests, in the realm of what I'm sometimes in the mood for.

So perhaps what I should look at is, why do so many other people like it? I'm going to start with the wide range of characters. There is not one character that got appreciable page time (normally I would say screen time, but in the case of this particular story I'd rather not risk being taken literally) that I disliked reading about. The closest thing to a main character is Ned Stark. All of the point of view characters except for one pass through his sphere of influence at least once, with a solid half of them being his children, one being his wife, and one being a short-time guest at his home that we get to know through his interactions with one of Ned's sons. From there we have Ned himself, leaving only one point of view character that's outside his sphere of influence.

So let's talk about the one that only barely has anything to do with Ned at all. Tyrion Lannister is an interesting character. He is directly related to the vast majority of the antagonists of the novel, and is even beloved by some of them. Still, compared to any of the other characters, he is his own man. His ties of family are strong, nearly as strong as they are for every other character in the book, but they are tempered by the fact that nobody wants anything to do with him and he is just as happy to let them stay away. Physically handicapped, Tyrion Lannister is every snarky nerd in the audience, although one with just enough Slytherin in him to be an interesting character. He's a character who is used to having nobody on his side but his own wit, and the end result is that there is never a dull scene with him in it.

While Tyrion has his snark, the other point of view characters either embody the moral traits of the audience or the ones the audience members wish they had. One character interrupts a culture of unjudged raping and pillaging to demand that no more rapes will be perpetrated by members of the group she is part of. Ned's entire arc is about the fact that he is too noble for his own good, which is likely to draw in readers on both sides of the spectrum.

Another item that seems to draw a lot of people in are the stakes, and I will be the first to agree that they are real. The fact that I tend to read a lot of materials with real stakes might imply me to care a little less about this, but that does seem to be a huge draw for much of the audience that Game of Thrones has. The show does not shy away from child-murder, though it might be giving too much away to say exactly how young of an age that extends to. It's not just death either. The culture in this book extends completely to actions and their consequences.

Perhaps the biggest flaw in the book is that it is impossible to see where this leads. A Game of Thrones has no ending. To be fair, it's not completely abrupt in the sense that most of the plotlines are moved to drastically new places toward the end of the novel. Still, while this sets up a new book very well, it doesn't end the first one. The end feeling is a bit of an anticlimax after a strong novel, and a bit of disorientation if you don't have the second book to pick up afterward.

It goes without saying that I would recommend A Game of Thrones to most adult audiences. I would probably recommend the reader be a bit older than I would for Lord of the Rings, as you might imagine, but that falls on personal taste and is related to things I've already described. If the subject material isn't too dark or mature for you, though, there's a lot to enjoy, though you probably need to be in it for the long haul to truly enjoy it. If a light fantasy novel series with high stakes is your cup of tea, though, there is no reason not to give A Game of Thrones a try.

Monday, October 20, 2014

7 Days of Novels: The Shape Stealer by Lee Carroll

Shape Stealer
The Shape Stealer is something of a conundrum for me. I can describe it in ways that make it sound like my dream come true: A story featuring a Master Vampire at odds with one of his creations, multiple time travelers including a sort of Earth-based Time Lords (though more like the Round Table) as the heroes try to fix damage that has been done to the timestream and thwart the time-traveling Master Vampire and his human colleague in their plans. I can also describe it in ways that would turn me entirely off of it and make me never consider picking it up: A story that treats explanations and time travel mechanics as such unnecessary window dressing that streams and dimensions are considered mutually exclusive concepts and the very idea of attempting to understand is considered a harmful exercise, causality plays a backseat to participating in a love triangle with oneself, and new powers and plot points are seemingly added at random and with only a slight possibility of being caused by the previous entry in this series.

In other words, The Shape Stealer features an aesthetic that appeals to one idea of storytelling while operating almost entirely in another. One difference that some cite as what separates Science Fiction and Fantasy is the fact that Science Fiction focuses largely on ideas, technology, causes and effects and tools, while Fantasy focuses largely on emotions, results, reactions and spectacle. On that spectrum, The Shape Stealer falls entirely in the realm of Fantasy. The entire story is built around the way things relate to Garet. Okay, there are some other pieces focusing on Marduk, but at this point I don't really consider dedicating a fraction to the book to the villains for the sake of world-building and raising tension as anything but good writing sense.

It's worth noting that none of the Marduk/Dee sequences really go toward explaining anything. They do give the first look at the new group of villains, who are essentially temporal anarchic terrorists that – like any other eco-terrorist – see themselves as holding the moral high ground, and are therefore just as motivated to destroy an ancient demon/vampire as anybody else. This adds dimension to Garet's story, but tellingly doesn't really explain the temporal landscape we're dealing with. It gives some understanding to why it's shifting, but trying to use that as an explanation of the universe would be like taking the statement that tectonic plates are shifting to teach a geography class. No, these sequences go primarily toward making the world stranger and more inexplicable, all the more to advance the idea that trying to understand the nitty-gritty details is futile and you're just along for the ride.

The other purpose the Marduk sequences serves is to build up Will, the love interests of this story. The 400 year old vampire Will Hughes has undergone a transformation to an 800 year old vampire who has lived the same history twice, which means he is better than everybody at everything, and more moral too. He is kept offscreen through much of the story, focusing instead on building up the mystery of what he does day to day – the mystery that is pretty much explored by Marduk.
Speaking of Will, he embodies a lot of the things that this story does that are generally considered the realm of bad fan fiction. By preventing his younger self from becoming a vampire, he essentially breaks causality for the sole purpose of having two versions of himself to form a love triangle with Garret. Some attention is paid to this, but it is mostly for the purpose of demonstrating that Garet must pick one version of Will to be with...eventually. Other than that, he is the perfect Mary Sue character. Not the self-insert one that the audience can relate with – that belongs to the Chosen One who randomly picked up the ability to read minds at some point – but the Tuxedo Mask figure who can always rescue the heroine at the appropriate moment to make him as attractive as possible. Despite losing an unquantifiable amount of his vampire powers for reasons that cannot be adequately explained if you apply logic, he retains his signature ability to never be harmed by anything ever due to the ability to control every atom in his body.

I described aspects of this story as “the realm of bad fan fiction”, and I mean it. More specifically, it is proof of why bad fan fiction will always be popular, no matter how the more detail-oriented writers of the world try to stamp it out. I'm not trying to say that this story is bad, although for me (and presumably a lot of people like me) it is incredibly frustrating. Still, there's something appealing about not focusing on the hows and the whats and focusing entirely on the way things affect the main character. After all, having a character with too many powers who faces no harm no matter what happens is no stranger to the genres of Sci-Fi and Fantasy; making it explicit is just cutting out the middle man. The same with the audience-identifying female character with impossible insight into the other characters. The specifics of how time travel works are seen by some as only a distraction from the “real” story – the way it impacts the characters. More than anything, The Shape Stealer emphasizes this approach. That's not to say that it wouldn't have benefited from a good editor focusing specifically on those aspects, but for what the goal of the novel appeared to be, that was the lesser priority.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

7 Days of Novels: Maul: Lockdown by Joe Schreiber


For a long time, I’ve wanted novels that are less about the fact that they are in the Star Wars Legends universe and more drawing from the universe’s mythology and settings to tell interesting stories of another nature. I’ve long suggested that a story about a detective from CorSec investigating a murder or a daikaiju battle that was instigated by a Sith Lords would be things I would lay my money down for in a heartbeat. That’s why my interest was immediately grabbed when Maul: Lockdown was released.

Lockdown is two different types of stories: it is a prison drama and it is a martial arts story. Regarding the latter, if a fighting game hasn’t been made out of this novel, Lucasfilm Ltd was missing the point. Whether you read the prison drama as the story mode of a Tekken-style game, or the fight scenes as plot-light breaks within Maul’s investigation, the novel works.

This is accomplished by a variety of factors. Darth Maul is a very adaptable character as the Star Wars universe goes, in that there is not a whole lot to him and everything that he is draws from other genres. Maul was casted as a martial arts character, performs the plot role of an action movie villain, is made-up to be the killer from a horror movie, and in his comics and novels takes on the role of an action/spy movie anti-hero. There’s nothing innately Star Wars about any of this, and yet one cannot deny that the Sith Marauder (I have more than enough reasons not to consider him a Sith Lord, but then I’m not familiar with any of his canonical post-death stories) is clearly a part of the Star Wars universe.

For these reasons, Maul was the perfect character for this novel, and he demonstrates it in every scene. The Jason-esque stalker from Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter, the spy from Darth Maul: Saboteur, and the martial artist from The Phantom Menace are all given their time to shine in this novel. The book is told through the Zabrak’s point of view, allowing events to unfold themselves as a mystery as Maul continues to piece together the puzzle in order to accomplish his mission. The supporting cast pales in comparison, but they all complement the story nicely and I would not mind seeing any of them again in “Rise of the Empire” era media.

Lockdown is different from anything I’ve seen from Joe Schreiber to date, and that’s not a bad thing. Prior to Lockdown, Schreiber was known to Star Wars fans as “the zombie guy”. He wrote Death Troopers and Red Harvest, two novels that I enjoyed but found things to be disappointed by that essentially added up to “Schreiber is running out of ideas to use these zombies for”. In a brand new environment completely without zombies, Schreiber truly lives up to his potential, writing a story with horror elements but not as solidly in what appears to be his comfort zone as his previous Star Wars novels were. This gives the author room to explore, and explore he does, with plenty of elements for the long-time Star Wars fan to enjoy the extra work.

While I wouldn’t recommend you buy Lockdown for any children that aren’t already fans of Mortal Kombat, I heartily recommend it to any adult looking for a Star Wars-related novel that veers into other genres. Fans of the Darth Maul books to date are likely to love this book (I personally found it to be his best yet), as will most fans of exploration- and mystery-based novels. You don’t even need to be a Star Wars fan to enjoy the book, as long as you don’t mind the fact that it’s populated by aliens.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

An Unearthly Podcast #65: The Impossible Astronaut


Continuing where we left off on Friday, an Unearthly Podcast’s Mind of Moffat continues with “The Impossible Astronaut” and “Day of the Moon”!

An Unearthly Podcast: Mummy on the Orient Express

Rather than just continuing on with early Season 3, from here on I thought you might be interested in seeing the most recent episodes of the Unearthly Podcast as well. Here is our look at the latest episode of Doctor Who: Mummy on the Orient Express!

Friday, October 17, 2014

7 Days of Moffat: A Christmas Carol

"The Mind of Moffat" continues with Moffat's first Christmas special.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

7 Days of Moffat: The Time of Angels

"The Mind of Moffat" continues with all all of Moffat's returning characters in one maze.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

7 Days of Moffat: The Beast Below

"The Mind of Moffat" continues with Amy Pond's first outing in the TARDIS.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

7 Days of Moffat: Silence in the Library

"The Mind of Moffat" continues with River Song's first appearance and Moffat's last episode as a staff writer.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

7 Days of Moffat: Blink

An Unearthly Podcast Season 3 and “The Mind of Moffat” starts with a look at the two-parter “The Empty Child” and “The Doctor Dances”.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Kickstarter: Temporally Out of Order

I try not to post too many of these, because they get pretty annoying, but I also think that an important part of reviewing is to promote good work. Temporally Out of Order is an anthology featuring, well, time, plus it features Seanan McGuire, one of my new favorite authors and someone I never pass up the opportunity to read the work of.

It’s got two weeks and, as of typing this, just over $2,000 to go with opportunities to be Tuckerized, as well to get copies of Zombie Needs Brains’ previous anthology, Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs Aliens. If you want to pledge or just to share it, go here.

Monday, September 29, 2014

7 Days of Moffat: The Girl in the Fireplace



The new crew of 5 return. This time for the second official Moffat episode, The Girl in the Fireplace.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Seven Days of Moffat: The Empty Child


Fantasy & SciFi Lovin’ reviews is back with a week of An Unearthly Podcast’s Mind of Moffat!


Steven Moffat’s first official episode of Doctor Who.  And it has a reputation bigger than he (or its season) can live up to.

Friday, January 03, 2014

New Posts: Time of the Doctor and 47 Ronin

Hello everyone.

Believe me, I have no intention of making a habit of this; however, this week saw the opening of my new blog.  At Insomniatic, I will be posting reviews, analyses, blogs and original and fan fiction in the realms of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror.

For just a sampling of what I will be posting here, here are three sample posts:

An Unearthly Podcast: The Time of the Doctor

Current Film Review: 47 Ronin

Doctor Who Review: The Time of the Doctor

You can always see more at!

(Regular podcast and review posts will resume with the next regular updates)