Friday, August 30, 2013

Revisiting the Classics -- Ghostbusters

Today we have the 1984 Ivan Reitman classic, Ghostbusters.

The story takes place in New York City. College professors Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) and Ray Stantz (Dan Akroyd) suddenly find themselves out of a job due to their dubious research into ghosts. Venkman convinces Spengler and the gullible Stantz they should open up a ghost-busting business. They buy an old fire station and fill it with equipment such as the nuclear-powered Proton Packs. After successfully catching their first ghost--the green glutton Slimer--they quickly achieve rock star status. When the jobs start rolling in, they decide to hire a fourth ghostbuster, Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson).

One day they get a visit from cellist Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) who has discovered an ominous portal to another world inside her refrigerator. Venkman is immediately smitten with her (he really only started Ghostbusters to get rich and pick up chicks) and goes with her to check out her apartment. He finds nothing and soon leaves--after he asks her on a date. Meanwhile, EPA official Walter Peck (Die Hard's William Atherton) comes to the station and forcibly shuts down their containment unit, releasing all the ghosts they had caught.

If that weren't bad enough, Dana gets possessed by the demonic Zuul the Gatekeeper, and her nerdy Jewish stereotype neighbor Louis (Rick Moranis) gets possessed by the Keymaster. When the two get together, they open up a rift which allows the Sumerian demigod Gozer to enter our world. Can the Ghostbusters send Gozer packing and save New York?

I absolutely loved this movie as a kid when it first came out. It was wildly different from anything I had ever seen, and it had an offbeat sense of humor. Plus, the Proton Packs were so damn cool. I watched the movies and the cartoons; I had the toys; I even drew primitive fan art at daycare. I also couldn't get enough of Ray Parker, Jr.'s theme song; I listened to it constantly.

I recently got the movie on Blu-ray, and I gotta say, it holds up very well to today's standards. It looks and sounds better than ever in high-def. While watching it, I felt as if I had been transported back to my childhood. It was a lot of fun rooting for those zany heroes once again.

If you've never seen it, you've done yourself a great disservice. Go out and watch it!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Hellfire Review

This week I decided to review Jean Johnson's Hellfire (Theirs Not to Reason Why). Ia, the heroine of the series, has the ability to see the future. While there are many other beings in the setting have similar powers, along with telepathy, telekinesis,  and teleportation Ia’s ability to see the future is far stronger then anyone else’s allowing her to see every possible future for thousands of years to come. A few centuries after Ia’s lifetime the Milky Way galaxy is going to be invaded by a race planning to destroy all life in it and strip it of resources before moving on. In almost every possible future this species succeeds in destroying the Milky Way so Ia has dedicated her life to guiding the future onto a path where they are defeated.

When Hellfire begins Ia has been appointed captain of the book’s namesake, a one of a kind battleship equipped with a main gun so powerful its shots are lethal for literally months after being fired, and light months of distance. Also the Salik, a race which views all other carbon based life as lunch meat, are about to break the blockade imposed around their territory after a pre-series war, and launch an all out war on the human powers and their allies. Once the war starts most of the book is focused on life aboard the Hellfire and the battles she and her crew fight. Also Ia is having to deal with the Feyori, a species who can shift between matter and energy and view the Milky Way as a gameboard with them the players and everyone else as pieces. To help Ia’s efforts she has allied with some Feyori but this leads to others trying to sabotage her plans by a variety of means.

So far this has been my favorite book of the series by far but it still has its flaws. The biggest is that there is one event I feel would have been better seen as it happened rather than viewing the aftermath. And the few times the book’s story involves Ia engaged in ground rather than space combat are skimmed over.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Kindle Spotlight -- Greaveburn

Today we have a dystopian steampunk story by Craig Hallam, entitled Greaveburn.

The story is set in the titular city in what appears to be a post-apocalyptic alternate world. The massive walled-off haven is supposedly the only settlement left in the world. That being said, Greaveburn has definitely seen better days. Its corrupt ruler, Legat Choler, is rumored to be suffering from dementia. He repeatedly sends the captain of the guard, Steadfast, to assassinate people who slight him with increasing regularity. Steadfast previously killed his mentor, Darrant, on orders from Choler...or so he thinks. Darrant actually survives and goes to live in the sewer-dwelling Broken Folk, eventually becoming a rebel leader with the hopes of taking down Choler and his venomous family and protecting the princess Abrasia (next in line to the throne). Choler's not taking any chances, though; he orders his other minion--the dastardly Professor Loosestrife--to kill Abrasia and end the only threat to his rule. Steadfast learns of this and decides enough is enough. He teams up with Loosestrife's bestial conscious-stricken assistant Wheldrake to thwart the villains' plot and save Abrasia. Unfortunately, even if they succeed, Steadfast must still deal with Darrant's Broken Folk guerrilla attacks. Can anyone put aside their differences long enough to save Greaveburn from itself?

I enjoyed this book. Hallam has crafted an engaging narrative with likable characters and a climax which makes a statement about human nature. However, one could argue the city itself is the real star of the story. Hallam's expert use of imagery helps us to imagine Greaveburn as a Gothic metropolis full of splendor. Not only that, but he takes us all over the place, from the seedy underbelly to the massive heights of the walls which surround the city.

That's not to say the book doesn't have any problems. I think it could have been edited a little better; typos and missing punctuation pop up here and there. Also, Hallam could have added a little more physical description to the characters. I could picture Abrasia all right, but Darrant and Steadfast were blank faces in my mind. Although, compared to the novelization of Alien (featured here last week), they're pretty detailed.

In addition, the story left me with serious questions. Who built Greaveburn? What happened to the rest of the world? Is the wine bottle Darrant found that pre-dates the city significant in any way? I feel a sequel is definitely in order. [Come to think of it, this might not be a bad thing]

Still, those are petty complaints and do not diminish terribly from the enjoyment I got out of Greaveburn. It is fairly well-written and I hope Hallam continues to write.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Revisiting the Classics -- Alien

Today we have the 1979 sci-fi/horror classic Alien. However, in a twist, I'm actually reviewing the novelization of the movie.

The story begins aboard the deep space freighter Nostromo which is transporting oil across the galaxy on behalf of the Company. Nope, it's not Weyland-Yutani yet; it's the Company. Anyway, one day (night?) the ship drops out of hyperspace and the central computer, Mother, wakes the seven-person crew (plus one cat) from cryo-sleep and announces it's picking up a distress signal from the mysterious planet below them. Legally they have to investigate and render assistance if possible. Although cranky from being woken up for this, they reluctantly take the Nostromo down to the mysterious planet, which they determine is somewhere near Zeta II Reticuli. Fun fact: There's another blog which has a page dedicated to pinning down its exact location ( The captain (Dallas), the first officer (Kane) and the navigator (Lambert) march off across the freaky alien landscape in search of the source of the signal. It isn't long before they find it: An alien ship!

They explore inside it until they come to a long shaft extending down into either the rest of the ship or the planet. Kane opts to repel down it alone, and if you have any familiarity with this franchise you know what happens to him. He finds a fleshy urn. Only it's not an urn; it's an egg. Out pops what looks like a skeletal tarantula with a long tail, and it proceeds to melt through his helmet and give him an extraterrestrial french kiss. This quickly KOs him, and the other two have no choice but to carry him back to the Nostromo. Warrant officer Ripley refuses to let them back aboard for fear of whatever the hell that thing might do to the rest of them, but the enigmatic Ash opens the hatch anyway. Long story short: Kane loses his chest cavity, and it only gets worse from there.

I enjoy both the Alien and Predator franchises because they've given us terrifying and fascinating extraterrestrials, a combination that's missing in more family-friendly sci-fi such as Star Wars and Star Trek. These beasties can butcher you in so many different ways, yet they're so damn cool. Plus, it's fun watching the pitiful humans struggle to survive against the overwhelming odds the aliens bring to bear. The xenomorphs in particular are scary as hell. They're dark, slimy, fiercely intelligent and freakishly agile. Plus, they bleed acid and they have mouths within mouths!

That being said, I do feel as if Alan Dean Foster made some odd choices in the novelization of Alien. For one thing, he gives us almost no physical descriptions of the characters. "Dallas has a beard" is the only detail you get. Also, he frequently switches between characters without warning. For example, Ripley might be running down the hall when suddenly we go to Brett in the computer room. Most authors nowadays at least leave a few spaces between scenes, but with Foster every chapter is one scene. I'm guessing he only had the script to go by when he penned the novelization (which would explain the lack of physical descriptions), but I think he should at least have made an effort to differentiate between scenes.

Nevertheless, I quite enjoy this book, and have already ordered the novelization of Aliens (also by Foster).

Friday, August 9, 2013

Revisiting the Classics -- Logan's Run

Today we have the 1976 cult classic, Logan's run, starring Michael York and Jenny Agutter.

The story takes place in the future following an unspecified apocalypse. The remnants of humanity live inside a domed city where they have everything they could ever want. There's just one rule: Upon turning 30, everyone must die. Once the crystal in your hand starts blinking red, you're done. The only possible way to save yourself is to take part in a bizarre, nonsensical ritual called Carrousel, though even after watching the movie I still have no idea what's supposed to be happening during it. Some choose to flee, and it's up to the local security force to terminate the "runners". One such Sandman (as these executioners are called) is Logan. Together with his best friend Francis, he hunts runners with sadistic glee. In his mind they are not killers; they are simply ending the existence of people too stupid to take part in Carrousel, and having fun doing it.

As you can probably imagine--assuming the title didn't already give it away--this carefree life soon comes to a halt for Logan. The city's central computer suddenly drops a bombshell on him: Over 1,000 runners are unaccounted for, and it's up to him to find them. The computer believes they are hiding in the mythical city of Sanctuary, and decides to set off Logan's crystal so he can pose as a runner and gain their trust. Once he has done that, he is to destroy Sanctuary. But Logan soon comes to see things from the runners' perspective, and he teams up with runner/digitized hooker Jessica to get to Sanctuary and help them. All the while they are being hunted by Francis who believes Jessica has brainwashed Logan. Do they have what it takes to bring down the system?

Logan's run is one of the most bizarre movies I've ever seen. It's also wildly imaginative. It features very diverse and colorful settings, from the city's interior (which looks like a futuristic Las Vegas to me), to freaky night clubs, to sewers, to an arctic freezer, to...well, I won't spoil the rest. The film plays out like a very long episode of the original Star Trek series, but with way more nudity (in one nutty scene Logan and Jessica are accosted by a band of naked people); I honestly don't know how they got away with a PG rating. I don't normally like anything campy, but it definitely works for this movie.

As for the acting...well, Logan's Run doesn't exactly set a new bar here. Several scenes in the movie are unintentionally funny due to the actors' reciting their lines weird. I don't know what went wrong with Farrah Fawcett's character, but she comes across as mentally impaired during a scene that's supposed to be serious. 

In my opinion, though, it's all part of the film's charm. You can't really take Logan's Run seriously, but that's OK. And at the end of the day, you get a memorable sci-fi movie with classic memes such as "Life day! Renew!"

Friday, August 2, 2013

Kindle Spotlight -- Etched in Soul and Skin

It feels like it's been a while since I last reviewed a book I read on Kindle. But I'm back today with Joshua Legg's ambitious novel Eteched in Soul and Skin.

The story takes place on a planet very different from our own. Adanna is a young woman in a nomadic tribal village. The villagers are proficient in magic, but Adanna's family is by far the best at it and thus they are the leaders of the tribe. Unfortunately, even their best magic has proven ineffective at fighting off the Sky Demons, mysterious marauders who periodically attack the tribe and abduct people. Everyone in the tribe lives in constant fear of these supernatural foes.

Well, as it turns out, the Sky Demons are actually commandos from the floating city of Shuran. They need the lowly ground-dwellers' magic to stay afloat. Eric and Allison are experienced Shuran soldiers, and one day they, along with their squad, are sent to attack Adanna's tribe and secure their latest sacrifice. Things don't quite go as planned, however. Upon seeing her friends and family fall prey to these Sky Demons, Adanna erupts into a full-on Carrie-esque magical beserker rage. She vaporizes everyone in the squad except for Erik and Allison. The slaughter is only stopped when Erik manages to sneak up behind her and stick a tranquilizer in her neck. Thus the soldiers acquire their target and bring her back to Shuran where she is plugged into the core so her magic can keep the behemoth engines running.

However, Erik feels bad about what he's done and promptly goes rogue to free Adanna from Shuran's clutches. Allison, as his commander, takes the blame for this "betrayal" and so is tasked with capturing Erik and recapturing Adanna. Can these fugitives evade their pursuers and escape the flying city? Whose side will Allison ultimately end up on? And is that motley crew of pirates friend or foe? You'll have to read the book to find out.

I really like Etched in Soul and Skin. The story is strong and the characters are compelling. Those who have played the videogame Bioshock Infinite might think it's a rip-off because of the similarities, but if they give the book a chance I think they'll be just as hooked as I was. The narrative continues to build steam until the satisfying finale.

However, I do have a few complaints. I feel as though Erik is too quick to abandon the only life he's ever known and his military discipline. I think he should have agonized over his potential decision to rebel against his own people a bit more. After all, these are his comrades (amoral as they are). Instead, he dives right into said rebellion without much thought.

Also, each chapter begins with a big hanging letter on the first sentence. That's not so unusual, except the letter hangs significantly lower than the sentence itself and is spaced kinda far away. It just looks awkward and unprofessional.

Still, these are ultimately minor gripes and don't really diminish the enjoyment I had with Etched in Soul and Skin. It's well-written and well worth your time.