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Review: Every Heart a Doorway

We all know what a portal fantasy is, even if we’ve never heard the term. The Chronicles of NarniaAlice’s Adventures in WonderlandThe Wonderful Wizard of OzThe Magicians, etc. We all know the beginning of the adventure. We all know the adventure. But what about after?  What happens to the boys and girls who go on impossible quests and return, irrevocably changed?  That is story Seanan McGuire’s short novel Every Heart a Doorway seeks to answer.

Nancy Whitman is the newest student at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, a school/ sanitarium for children who have disappeared and returned claiming to have been whisked away to another world. In Nancy’s case, she has returned from the Halls of the Dead where all but five strands of her hair have turned white. She is desperate to return, though return is a very rare thing. But the desperate often turn to extreme measures to get what they want. Even murder.

I want to like Every Heart a Doorway. I really do. But while the short novel has a good central idea, there are too many flaws that suck out any real enjoyment I have.

The writing is flowery and literary in a young adult style. It works for readers who like that style, but for readers who are not terribly fond of the young adult style, the writing can be off putting.

The biggest problem with Every Heart a Doorway is that McGuire tries to condense a significant amount of ideas into too small a narrative space. Part of the story is orienting Nancy to her new school. The majority of the story, however, deals with surviving a serial killer running loose in the school. Neither story thread gets the space it needs. The orientation provides only sketches of characters save for the eventual (spoiler alert) antagonists. The horror story is very predictable. Ultimately, everything falls flat.

(A part of the problem, I think, is that Every Heart a Doorway is trying to be a literary fantasy, which focuses primarily on explorations of character and character growth, but cannot escape the fact that it is a fantasy and must have a more exciting plot than portal fantasies being nothing more that living metaphors of the individual’s psyche).

Another major problem with the story lies with representation. The main character is asexual, although said asexuality had to told to the audience rather than shown in a very clumsy scene that also revealed one of the four boys in the school as being transgender (transforming the scene into the young adult equivalent of Jerry Springer after the fact).

Furthermore, the explanation as to why there are only four boys out of a school population of forty is deeply problematic. And I will leave it at that. (Though if any one wants to comment with their interpretation, please do so. Just remember to be respectful and not abusive or bullying).

In conclusion. I found the story to be deeply unsatisfying and poorly constructed despite the good ideas. Perhaps if the story had been split into two stories of nearly two hundred pages each, I might be writing a far different review.

Stormdancer: Review

Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff starts with the hunt for an arashitora and ends with an assassination. The novel is a mashup of Japanese myth, steampunk, and Dune. The originality of Stormdancer is marred by a well trod plot. I cannot say I liked this book.

I like the world building. Shima is a well realized world that incorporates its influences very well.

My problem, though, is that it is so obviously a Japan with the name filed off.

The characters are okay if a little typical. Yukiko is a well realized character, but her story arc is one told so many times in the genre that she becomes one of the crowd of similar protagonists.

The plot is well trod. I feel like  I have read this story several times already.

I really wanted to like Stormdancer. I really did. But I cannot deny that the book failed to resonate with me. Or even entertain me. Which is frustrating. I hate not liking a book.

Review: Three Parts Dead

Tara Abernathy is a probationary associate at Kelethras, Albrecht, and Ao. Her first job? Aid her mentor, Elayne Kevarian, in resurrecting a dead god. Not an easy feat. Not when there are forces seeking to impede the process. Such is a blurb for Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone. This first book in The Craft Sequence is a very good, if slightly uneven, read.

The biggest selling point for Three Parts Dead is the world building. Think China Mieville unburdened by politics. The world is weird and fun. There are gods, there is lots of magic (here called Craft), there are gargoyles, fantasy cyborgs, etc. Alt Coulumb, the city where the action is mainly set, is an amazing creation that lures the reader into to an experience.

A setting can only do so much, though. Characters, too, must sell the work. The characters are well done.Tara Abernathy is a wonderful protagonist. Elayne Kevarian is even more compelling. Abelard, a supporting protagonist, is serviceable.

However, I came away feeling that the characters could have been more original. I felt that I had read these characters before. Several times.

The plot is really good. I especially love the villain’s scheme. It is a thing of beauty (if evil plots can be described as beautiful). The unraveling of the villain’s scheme, too, is a thing of beauty. The action, both magical and mundane, are very well done.

My biggest problem with Three Parts Dead, however, is how obvious the main antagonist is. The moment he first appears on the page, the reader knows he is the bad guy. You don’t know how, but you know. I wish it weren’t so obvious.

A secondary problem I have is that I am not fond of the epilogue at all.

All the negatives aside, though, I really enjoyed Three Parts Dead. I checked it out from the library, and I want to own it. And I want to check out the other books in the series.

Coming Out on Top: The Second Demo Review

This post might not be safe for work. You have been warned.

I want to be reviewing the finished version of Coming Out on Top, the gay dating sim from Obscurasoft. I really want the game now. I’m super psyched for it. And the demo has only whetted my yearning for it.

So, what is Coming Out on Top? It is a gay dating sim that follows Mark Matthews, a newly out gay man beginning his final semester at Oberlin College. From coming out to his two roommates, Mark must navigate a dizzying and nerves inducing dating scene with five romantic possibilities. It is a dating sim, after all.

The game is played through scroll text and decision making. At various times during play, the player is given several options to chose from. Some of those choices lead to increased chances of dating the romantic possibilities and others lessen those chances.

Gameplay isn’t without its flaws. The narrative text is at times repetitive and slows down the action. And at times, the narration seems to have a decided preference for Mark to act in a certain way. This is best illustrated when players compare the narrative takes on interactions with Alex and Jed. The narrative indicates there is a strong infatuation towards Alex, the first possible romantic interest. (So he may have the benefit of time). But, Jed is the first (I suspect) romantic interest that Mark can have sex with. However, the narrative text doesn’t seem as touched or affected by that event as one should expect.

I don’t know if this is a narrative bias or the demo still being (slightly) geared towards Alex (as he is the sole romantic interest introduced in the first demo). Hopefully, the narrative text will show a greater range of adaptiveness as Mark’s character changes based on his romantic choices.

Another issue is the interrupted jacking off sessions. I know these scenes are intended for humor, but they are more troublesome unless they serve the plot (like the introduction of Jed).

A final concern, as pointed out by Gaymer, is the fact that Obscurasoft is a woman creating a game featuring a gay man as the protagonist. The concerns raised are valid. The five romantic possibilities do tend to conform to some stereotypes of gay men. And I’ve expressed some concerns about Mark’s characterization. Whether or not these stereotypes will evolve into fully functioning characters will have to wait until the game is finished and released. (Gaymer also raises the point that Obscurasoft, as a woman, might have added more women to the cast when a gay man creating the same game might not have. I’m not entirely sure I agree with that. But until we see a similar game created by a gay man, the question will remain unresolved.)

So, who are Mark’s romantic interests?

Alex is an attractive older man Mark meets at the only gay bar in town. They hit it off, but Alex is the professor of Mark’s anatomy class.

Jed is the hot upstairs neighbor. He’s a “bad boy” that forces Mark outside his comfort zone. (He’s also the easiest to have sex with, I think).

Phil is Penny’s (one of Mark’s rommates) cousin. He is in the military. Penny tries to set them up.

Brad is a football player who Mark is hired to tutor.

And finally Ian, Mark’s other roommate, who may not be so straight himself.

When I played the demo, I found Alex, Jed, and Ian the most likeable of the five. Phil and Brad don’t come off as exactly likeable in their first meetings with Mark, but it is entirely possible that they will grow on the player as the game progresses.

Outside of the five romantic possibilities and Penny, several other characters are introduced. What role they play in the game remains to be seen, but I have some guesses. Mr. Bluetooth, I suspect< is either investigating Alex or the football team. Zoe will be a roadblock to a possible Mark/ Ian relationship (she is Ian’s ex-girlfriend). And the football team will likely cause trouble for Mark and Brad (if his doucheness doesn’t scare Mark off first).

Despite my criticisms of the game, I’m passionate about it. I want the game now. And that is all that matters.

(These criticisms aren’t the negative kind. They’re the positive kind. They’re the kind of criticism that wants to see a project be the best it can be. And it is also the fuel that can light the fire for one’s own projects. Tempting. . . )

 

Cobra Command

Cobra Command. I’ve been meaning to interlibrary loan this crossover from IDW’s G.I. Joe family of comics. I finally took the plunge and am extremely thrilled with the results. Cobra Command is freaking awesome. This is what G.I. Joe needs to be. 

So, what is Cobra Command? With the death of Cobra Commander, a competition was held among the High Command of Cobra to determine who would become the new Commander. The competition, to kill and damage the Joes, is won by Krake. Cobra Command is Krake’s first move as Commander. He’s taking Cobra out of the shadows and into the light. He accomplishes this goal by targeting the nation of Nanzhao (an expy of Myanmar) for conquest. But that is not the only operation he’s running. He also plans to ensure his authority and remove dissident voices from Cobra.

And, in the end, Cobra wins. Nanzhao is, for all intents and purposes, destroyed. Krake is in full command of Cobra. And all of his opposition within the organization has been removed. 

I freaking love this. The problem with G.I. Joe has always been the fact that Cobra has been depicted as a joke. While this is not really true of the comics, it is hard to escape the far more famous cartoon series. But with this version of Cobra? The Joes are on the defensive. 

Despite my enthusiasm for the crossover, I do have some quibbles. 

The biggest problem is Snake Eyes. He kills a tank company. By himself. Seriously. He is that over powered. And it kills the story. I get that Snake Eyes (and Storm Shadow) is the Wolverine of the Joes, but the problem is that he kills the dramatic tension of the story. The Joes should be on the defensive. They should be losing. Not have Snake Eyes go all lone ranger on the mooks. And Storm Shadow is just as bad. 

Another issue I have is that while several Joes are killed during the operation, their actual deaths are never shown. Their deaths are only revealed in an epilogue. Those deaths should have been shown. 

Besides that, I really enjoyed this story. greatly. Now I want to discover what happens next. And maybe tackle World War III, the last G.I. Joe story from Devil’s Due.

Review: More Than This by Patrick Ness

I love More Than This by Patrick Ness. I will buy this book, and make a point of hunting for Ness’s other work, at the first chance I get. 

Seth Wearing wakes up after drowning in the ocean. Instead of the home he has spent his teenage years in, he wakes up near his childhood home. How? What is going on? These questions, and more, plague Seth as he struggles to survive the ruined world he has awaken to. 

And trust me, the answers are surprising. 

First of all, Seth is an amazing character. His presence is so well realized, it is amazing. He just comes off the page, alive. 

Don’t get me wrong, some of his story is, honestly, eye roll inducing. But it is a testament to Ness’s mastery of characterization that I didn’t just put the book down and never come back to it.

The supporting characters, unfortunately, don’t come nearly so close to the realization that Seth achieves, but their characters are still very well done. Especially Regine and Tomasz.

Furthermore, kudos are to be given to Ness for creating, perhaps, one of the best representations of a gay teenager I’ve ever read. Ness gets it so right. While Seth’s homosexuality is an important plot point, it does not define him. He’s gay, so what? The handling is just matter of fact. 

Amazing. 

I did mention that I had an eye roll. And this novel does induce quite a few of them. Again, a testament to the great writing and characterization that I didn’t put the book down.

My biggest issue with the book, and one that is seemingly endemic to young adult literature, is that some of the story is needlessly grimdark. Does Seth’s life have to be that screwed up? And, even though this is a stupid question, why did the family move to Washington and give up NHS? (Unless, spoilers, the NHS doesn’t exist anymore when the story takes place).

Needless to say, the circumstances of Seth’s death are not shocking. 

The shock, I think, comes from the genre mashup revelations. The novel is a mix of the hero’s journey, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and The Matrix. While the influences to the two previous works are obvious, More Than This is not derivative. In fact, the direction Ness takes the narrative is very interesting. 

Overall, I really love this novel. I want to buy it now.

 

A Four Movie Review: Iron Man, The Sorcerer and the White Snake, District 9, and Star Trek (Reprise)

At my local library, there is a limit of five movies. This past week, I checked out five movies. Of the five, the one I will not be reviewing is Howl’s Moving Castle. I love that movie and I’ve already written about it. Or at least the book by Diana Wynne Jones. 

Anyway, on to the four movies I will be reviewing.

Iron Man (2008 dir. Jon Favreau)

I can’t believe it has taken me this long to finally watch this movie. The short of it is that I love this movie. Seriously, this movie is great. 

The evolution of Tony Stark from playboy merchant of death to hero is powerful. Especially when contrasted to Obadiah Stane, who is likely what Tony would have become eventually, though maybe not so maniacal. 

Robert Downey, Jr. is, honestly, an inspired choice to play Tony Stark. Is there any questions as to why he headlines the Marvel Cinematic Universe? 

Jeff Bridges and Gwyneth Paltrow are equally well casted. Especially Paltrow’s awesome Pepper Potts. 

The one problem I have with this movie is with Stane’s villainy. He goes from being a very well developed corrupt corporate executive to a standard maniacal super villain. I like Stane when he acts like the cool mentor who is selling Stark weapons to both sides. But Stane as the Iron Monger is just your average supervillain. 

But that problem aside, I love this movie.

The Sorcerer and the White Snake (2011 dir. Ching Siu-tung)

My opinion about this film is torn. On the one hand, I love the scenery porn. On the other hand, I’m not entirely sure what the hell the movie is trying to tell us.

The visuals are gorgeous. Even if the CGI is poorly done at times. 

The film tells the story of Susu, a white snake demon, who falls in love with Xu Xian, a doctor and herb picker. Standing in their way is the sorcerer/ abbot Fahai, who views all demons as not belonging in the human world. 

Throughout the film, Fahai’s sentiment is supported as he and his disciples battle and trap various malignant demons (an ice harpy, a bat demon, and a pack of fox demons). But, those sentiments are challenged by Susu and Qingqing, the green snake, who are largely benevolent. And, perhaps most tellingly, by Neng Ren, a monk who is transformed into a bat demon.

Things begin to fall apart when Fahai learns that Susu and Xu Xian are married. He demands that she either leave him or face what ever punishment he decides to mete out. The conflict comes to a head when Xu Xian stabs his wife and subsequently steals a magical herb from the temple to save her.

Once saved, Susu attempts to return the favor. At this point, Fahai is clearly the movie’s antagonist. For much of the final fight, he is no match for Susu.

But then, a deus ex machina occurs and the whole point of the movie seems to be lost. In my opinion, this event ruins the movie. Of course, given the deus ex machina, not that surprising.

District 9 (2009 dir. Niel Blomkamp)

This movie is not as bad as I thought it would be. But I’m still not overly fond of it, either. 

The biggest problem I have with the movie is that it tries to be The Office married to a science fiction thriller. I don’t think this works. 

Another problem I have is that the politics of the movie are a little too much like a hammer. Allegory should always be more subtle.

Do I think the apartheid South African government would do what they did to the aliens? Yes. But I seriously doubt that the rest of the world would have let them get away with it, even if speciesism is as omnipresent as the film makes out. I just don’t buy it.

And that, I think, is where science fiction runs into one of its major weaknesses. Does the reader/ viewer actually buy the world created? 

Star Trek (2009 dir. J.J. Abrams)

Speaking of not buying the world created, I still don’t like this movie. I just don’t buy it at all. The plot is still stupid with a poor antagonist. 

I may be the only Star Trek fan who prefers Into Darkness.

Too bad Star Trek won’t be returning to television in the near future. That is where the franchise belongs. 

Revising My Opinions

I’m proud of the reviews I’ve written. But I agree with some readers that, perhaps, I should revise some of my reviews. Especially as regards Joseph Campbell’s work. So guess what? 

That’s exactly what I’m going to do. I currently have The Hero with a Thousand Faces and The Power of Myth from the library. So, in the coming week, I plan on reading and watching the two works. And post up my thoughts on each. I am critical of Campbell, but maybe a fresh look will change my opinions.

I’m also wanting to take fresh looks at TrigunKaze no StigmaXNabari no Ou, and several other anime series I’ve reviewed over the past few years.

I’m also wanting to give a second look to Tanith Lee’s Tales from the Flat Earth. I definitely do not think I gave the first three novels a fair shake in my first review. I’m eager to give it a second look.

Furthermore, I want to give a new look to Perdido Street StationThe Scar, and Iron Council

I have other revised reviews planned, but that would be telling.

 

 

 

A Mass Review Post

Thanksgiving is done and gone, and I’m back with some reviews. First up will be the anime Requiem from the Darkness. Next will be the cult film Barbarella. Thirdly will be a review of Prophets of Science. Finally, I’ll have a double review of The Sci Fi Boys and Ray Harryhausen.

Requiem from the Darkness

Requiem from the Darkness is a 2003 anime based upon the novel of the same name by Natsuhiko Kyogoku. It is about a young writer, Momosuke, who encounters a traveling group of spiritual con artists who use their powers to punish criminals (in a usually horrific way). Momosuke finds himself repeatedly drawn to and repelled by the trio.

I first encountered the series during the waning days of Sci Fi’s AniMonday bloc. But I haven’t been able to watch the entire series until just recently on Netflix.

To put it simply, I love this series.

Momosuke is an engaging and interesting protagonist. His humanity is never lost even as he plums the depths of human darkness. The supporting cast is equally interesting. Mataichi is an engaging, if sometimes annoying, trickster who leads the trio of spiritual avengers. Ogin is amazing and the most fleshed out character of the trio (it helps that she is Momosuke’s love interest). Nagamimi is perhaps the least well fleshed out of the trio, but he is interesting non the less.

Until the concluding two part episodes, the series is comprised much like a monster of the week series (or a traditional detective/ crime drama). Each mystery is related in some way to a ghost story, which attracts Momosuke to the area. While there are some supernatural elements, those are almost always supplied by the Ongyu (the spiritual avenging trio) to flush out the true culprit (who is often pulling a far more deadly Scooby Doo style scam).

The only problem with the series is twofold. For one thing, the series is too short. And secondly, the concluding two episodes do not have enough buildup for the concluding showdown (although the preceding two episodes do interweave with the conclusion). It just seems too sudden.

But over all, I really like this series.

Barbarella

I finally watched Barbarella (1968 dir. Roger Vadim) last night on Netflix. To be honest, I’m quite torn about the film.

I liked it. It is an exuberant and fun product of the 1960s. But it also annoys the shit out of me.

Barbarella (Jane Fonda) is completely useless as a heroine. She’s supposed to be one of the best astronauts, but she reveals herself to be supremely naïve and, honestly, stupid. Her innocence is both endearing and frustrating. If only the protagonist was written as being more competent. . .

On a mission to rescue a missing scientist, Barbarella finds herself repeatedly in situations where she must be rescued by a man. Who then has sex with her. This happens three times. Ugh.

The only bright spots in the film are:

John Phillip Law’s Pygar, a walking shirtless scene if ever there was one. And a very nice looking walking shirtless scene at that.

Anita Pallenberg’s Black Queen/ Great Tyrant. Why the fuck could she not have been the main protagonist? She is far more interesting than Barbarella. And does far more interesting things.

The visuals. Damn, the Labyrinth is awesome. And so is the city of Sogo. Amazing work on the settings.

I was expecting more. But it was fun. Even if the writing sucked. And the main protagonist really frustrates me.

The Prophets of Science Fiction

This short series from the Science Channel is interesting, informative, and engrossing. It takes the work of the great science fiction writers (all but George Lucas being dead) and looks at how their work has predicted or inspired subsequent science.

I like the series even though I think that a little too much time is spent on looking at the science predictions and not enough time on the wider themes of the works. This is most telling during the George Lucas episode where David Brin, who had been featured in most of the previous episodes, is notably absent. I would love to have seen him give a more critical take on Star Wars rather than what we get.

Regardless of my criticism, I still think this is an interesting documentary that any fan of science fiction should take the time to watch. And hopefully there will, eventually, be a sophomore series.

The Sci Fi Boys and Ray Harryhausen

Let me say from the beginning that I fucking love both of these documentaries. I mean it. I love them.

The Sci Fi Boys explores the influences that got many of the great visual effects artists into science fiction film making.

From Movie Monsters to Ray Harryhausen, the influences on many of the interviewees is explored with a depth and compassion that is truly fun.

It almost makes me wish I had gotten into film making. It appeals to the artist in me. And it bears a second viewing.

Ray Harryhausen is much like The Sci Fi Boys except that it focuses exclusively on the work of Ray Harryhausen. This documentary looks at the entirety of his career. Each film is explored in a fair amount of depth.

The film reveals Harryhausen to be a true genius in his field. What he was able to accomplish, alone, is now the work of dozens. That is just amazing.

If one is a fan of his films, it is highly recommended that you check this documentary out.

 

I know these are very short reviews, but I wanted to get them out as soon as possible. I’ve given my Netflix account quite the work out over the past few days. And I expect it to get more of one in the coming days.

 

31 Days of Post Day 27: Three Reviews; John Carter, Mockingbird Lane, and The Rhetorics of Fantasy

Instead of wasting my time, and yours, on doing three negative reviews over the course of three posts, I’ve decided for a three in one today. Besides that, I really don’t want to review any single one of them for that long. Let’s begin, shall we?

John Carter

Think Conan the Barbarian (2011) when it comes to this film. Only somewhat worse. I honestly struggled to sit through this movie. Indeed, I had to take frequent walk breaks to endure it.

Now, the visuals are beautiful. The world of Barsoom is just wonderfully done. From the landscapes to the urban settings, excellent usage of computer graphics and set design.

But visuals alone do not make a great movie. Or even an enjoyable one.

The plot is just really bad. Now remember, I had intended on actually reading A Princess of Mars before I got tired of it. So the fact that John Carter’s plot is less than engaging is no surprise for me.

The acting is also an issue. Why is it that so often science fiction and fantasy movies have to have fairly atrocious acting? Of course, it could be the writing. .

Mind you, the leads are nice to look at. But a good movies does not equate to solely drooling over the lead of your choice (though I do love Taylor Kitsch’s costume).

Mockingbird Lane

I really wanted to like this Halloween special. I really did. While I like The Addams Family considerably more than The Munsters, I hoped that Mockingbird Lane would be more successful than the most recent attempt to bring back The Addams Family to television.

Boy am I wrong. Mockingbird Lane, though at times funny and entertaining, is seriously hampered by really bad acting. I mean seriously bad acting.

Where do I begin? Cheyenne Jackson thankfully only had a oneshot guest star spot. And as his character is dead, never to return. But my word, his acting was pitiful.

Not that the others did a much better job. No wonder this show did not get picked up.

There went an hour of my life I’m never getting back.

The Rhetorics of Fantasy by Farah Mendlsohn

Moving on from film and television to academic literature, I am seriously disappointed in this book.

Now, I decided to ILL this book after my post on crossover fantasy (from now on, I’ll call them portal quest fantasy) when it was recommended to me.

Where do I begin? Well let us start with some easy to spot factual errors. What is the first Harry Potter novel? Is it Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (or Sorcerer’s Stone)? That’s correct. It is not Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. That’s the second book.

That is the most obvious factual error in the book. But I think I caught a few more that I’ve since forgotten. Seriously, where was the editor (or a fact checker)?

Another issue with the book is that it tends to repeat itself. Each chapter is roughly sixty pages in length (save the final chapter). Now, I’m sure the same arguments could have been made in less pages.

Now, do I agree with her arguments? I don’t know. Since she is pretty much the only scholar to have written this extensively on fantasy so far, her word goes until another challenges her conclusions.

Perhaps my issue with The Rhetorics of Fantasy lie in a similar issue I have with The Implied Spider. Neither work is as rigorous as I like my academic work to be. And I’m not loving how Mendlsohn approached her selection. No LeGuin, no Martin, etc. Though I am happy she did do a fair amount of analysis on Mieville’s work.

Still, I’m disappointed in this first stab at theorizing fantasy.

And I wonder, as a writer, do I really need to have the criticism/ theory of the genre haunting me?

And This is the End

For today. I don’t know quite what I have for tomorrow. We’ll see.