Friday, May 31, 2013

Kindle Spotlight -- Daymare

Today I have a novella by Gordon Bentley-Mix entitled Daymare.

The story takes place on a mining vessel in our asteroid belt. There are four crew members total: Marcus, his "partner" Bex, mentally unstable Janet and disgusting pig Jonno. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say there are only three crew members since Janet recently lost her mind in a very mysterious incident, leaving the other three to mine asteroids for The Company (yes, "The" is capitalized). Unfortunately, whatever broke Janet seems to be affecting the others as well, since they keep experiencing waking nightmares. Perhaps the mysterious crystal they find embedded in the asteroid they're mining can give them the answers they seek, but can they get to the bottom of this before the daymares drive them insane?

I found Daymare to be an engaging mystery. Since it's a novella and there are only four characters, there isn't a lot of character development. They spend more time trying to solve the conundrum of the daymares and don't talk about themselves that much. Sadly, the most developed character is the purposely unlikable Jonno. Also, as with Mortimus Walker and the Secret of the White City last week, there isn't a whole lot of conflict in this story. The characters are generally on the same page since they make it a point to keep Jonno out of the loop as they know how unhelpful he would be. Plus, their problem turns out to be easily solved in the end. Nevertheless, the compelling mystery kept me invested in the story until the finale.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Kindle Spotlight -- Mortimus Walker and the Secret of the White City

Today we have a novella by Zach Turner: Mortimus Walker and the Secret of the White City.

The protagonist is, of course, the aging Mortimus Walker who has toiled all his life in anticipation of his sixtieth birthday. In this world people are divided into Ones and Twos. Ones work while Twos live the good life up in the White City. However, upon reaching the age of sixty, Ones have their brains transferred into young clones of themselves--thus becoming One-Twos--and then they can enjoy retirement. On the flipside, Twos start off on easy street and later go to work as Two-Ones.

The bulk of the story shows Morty as he and another group of Ones spend two weeks preparing for their brain transplant. They meditate, they exercise, they play videogames, and Morty even finds romance with fellow One Patti (the guy can still get it on even in his twilight years).

I enjoyed Mortimus Walker. It's well-written and well-formatted for Kindle. Some readers may be turned off by the lack of conflict in the story. For the most part, the characters enjoy their journey to the White City and there is almost no action at all. However, the surprising twist at the end makes it all worthwhile. I won't give it away, but I will say that it's worthy of an M. Night Shyamalan movie.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Revisiting the Classics -- Galaxy Express 999

Today I have dug up another anime gem for you: Galaxy Express 999. It was a TV series followed by several movies based on said TV series in the late 1970's. Since the TV series was recently released in America for the first time, I thought I'd do my part to help bring in new fans.

The protagonist is an adolescent boy named Tetsuro Hoshino who lives on future Earth. He spends his times in the slums living below the more well-off citizens, but dreams of boarding the famous Galaxy Express, an intergalactic train which travels the galaxy. One day he attempts to steal a ticket to board one of the space-faring locomotives but gets caught and subsequently chased by station security. He is saved by a mysterious woman with long blonde hair and a Russian-style fur outfit. She identifies herself as Maetel, and asks Tetsuro why he is so intent on boarding the Galaxy Express. He tells her he wants to travel to the Andromeda galaxy and acquire a machine body so he can kill the robotic Count Mecha who murdered Tetsuro's mother. Maetel offers to get him on board one of the trains, the 999, if he will allow her to accompany him on his journey. Tetsuro readily agrees and together they set out across the Sea of Stars.

I've always loved Galaxy Express 999. It, more than any other science fiction I've experienced, so completely captured the wonder of space travel. This is due in part to the whimsical, exaggerated character designs of creator Leiji Matsumoto. Characters run the gamut from beautiful, sorrowful women (such as Shadow and Claire) to comically deformed men (like Tochiro). The most compelling of 999's cast (namely Maetel, along with space pirates Harlock and Emeraldas) were so popular they got their own prequels and spin-offs. Furthermore, the haunting musical score and somber narrator give emotional and nostalgic weight to one boy's journey to become a man. And along the way, we must ask ourselves if it's truly worth becoming an android to live forever, or if, perhaps, human life has more meaning than we think.

Ultimately, though, words fail to do it justice. You really should check it out for yourself.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Kindle Spotlight -- Proph-et: Journey from Stardust

Today we have a powerful novel by Graeme Woodley: Proph-et: Journey from Stardust (Propheture), a book that will change the way you view...well, everything.

The story begins as protagonist and narrator Jack arrives at his family's cabin in the wilderness. Things are not going well for him; his marriage is falling apart and he is dying from cancer. He desperately seeks answers regarding the meaning of life--in other words, what is the point of it all? Suddenly, he spots a light shining through the window of the cabin, and an angelic figure appears. This entity takes the form of a young man and explains that he is a visitor from another world and he calls himself Turen. According to Turen, mankind is approaching an apocalypse from which we may not survive. He offers to help prevent this, but first he must ascertain whether or not humanity is worthy of salvation. He has decided to use Jack to find out, and together they journey through the history of Earth, religion and philosophy. Through it all, Jack must face some harsh truths concerning his belief in God. Can he accept what Turen has to show him?

This is one of the most powerful narratives I have ever read. Woodley utilizes symbolism and deep insights to bring the reader to profound revelations. Be warned, though: This story asks you tough questions. What do you believe? What should you believe? Is God really what we have always thought Him to be? If, however, you can face these questions, you owe it to yourself to give this book a read. I, too, had the same questions as the narrator, and am now more comfortable with them. As Turen puts it, I have internalized my beliefs. The book does not seek to disprove the existence of God, but rather to question our understanding of any possible Creator.

Proph-et is not for everyone, though. Jack and Turen's lengthy philosophical and metaphysical discussions may be too much for some people. Also, the book occasionally suffers from not enough editing. Nevertheless, students of philosophy--and anyone struggling with their faith--absolutely must read Proph-et: Journey from Stardust

Monday, May 13, 2013

Revisiting the Classics -- Haibane-Renmei

Last week I dug up an anime gem called Serial Experiments Lain. Yoshitoshi ABe, who did the character designs for that series, went on to create the anime I'm telling you about today: Haibane-Renmei. It is a tale of love, loss, mystery and redemption.

The story takes place in a mysterious town that is surrounded by a huge wall. Within the town is Old Home, a residence for people with wings and halos. One day, a cocoon is discovered in an unused room of Old Home, and a young girl emerges from it. She awakes in a bedroom to discover she has no memories of her life before popping out of the cocoon. The residents of Old Home, mostly other young women, explain to her that this is commonplace and she, like them, is a mysterious angelic creature called a Haibane. One of the Haibane, the chain-smoking Reki, names her Raka. Soon, wings burst from Raka's back and she is given a halo (which, in a particularly humorous scene, has to be taped to her head because it has trouble attaching itself to her). From there, she becomes a member of the mysterious Haibane-Renmei [Charcoal Feather Federation]. As you can imagine, she has many questions. Just what are the Haibane and what is their purpose? Why do none of the Haibane have any memories of their pre-cocoon life? What lies beyond the walls? Where is this strange town actually located? What's the deal with the masked Haibane-Renmei overseers? And what happens during the Day of Flight? As Raka becomes closer to the various Haibane, she discovers the answers she seeks are few and do not always bring happiness.

There is so much to like about Haibane-Renmei. The story is heartfelt and thought-provoking (though as with Serial Experiments Lain it doesn't explain everything). The characters are compelling. The soundtrack, composed by Kou Ootani, is a beautiful orchestral score which evokes feelings akin to standing in the breeze of a warm summer day. Those looking for plenty of action should keep looking, however; for all the fantasy trappings, this series remains for the most part a drama. Nonetheless, if you have an open mind and are looking for something different--and high-quality--you'd be hard-pressed to find a better anime than this. It's really the cream of the crop.

                                                                 Available on Amazon

Monday, May 6, 2013

Revisiting the Classics -- Serial Experiments Lain

Looking for something that will change the way you view the world around you? Try the epic anime Serial Experiments Lain.

Lain Iwakura was just a normal, albeit somewhat disconnected teenager until the day her classmate committed suicide. That should be the end of it, but Lain starts receiving messages from her. "I have simply abandoned my body," the email says. How can a dead person be sending computer messages? How are Lain and the computer network called the Wired involved in all this? Why are complete strangers seeing religious visions of Lain? Who are the creepy men in black standing watch outside Lain's house? And why, oh why, does Lain's family act like zombies most of the time?

Serial Experiments Lain is one of the greatest and weirdest animes of all time. It piles on layers (pun intended; it calls each episode a "layer") of hard science and surreal imagery to create a compelling story you'll be thinking about for the rest of your life. It's been close to a decade since I first watched this series and I'm still trying to figure it out. Hell, I've seen entire web pages dedicated to unraveling the mysteries of Lain. Suffice to say, Philip K. Dick would appreciate the warnings this series gives us about technological advancement.

At the center of it all, ultimately, is a sympathetic character who seeks both her identity and love from those around her, though her goals cannot be achieved without great sacrifice. If you're looking for something besides the typical moรจ anime or giant robot series and don't mind working through bizarre and possibly metaphorical imagery, check out Serial Experiments Lain.