Friday, 27 March 2015

Movie Review: Predestination

Diercted by Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig

Pros: great acting, thought provoking, self-contained plot

Cons: plot depends on an impossible paradox

A man walks into a bar and, on a bet, tells the bartender the unusual story of his life, beginning with when he was a little girl.  But the bartender’s story is even more unusual, because he is a temporal agent, travelling through time to catch a terrorist bomber.

Based on the short story “All You Zombies” by Robert Heinlein, this is a difficult movie to review because the entire plot revolves around a series of revelations that would spoil the film to mention.  Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook give amazing performances in their roles.  Sarah has to play both a woman and a man, which she does very well, though it’s obvious when he appears in the bar that it’s a woman transitioning.

This is a movie that will make you think.  The premise revolves around the belief that it’s possible to change events in time, even as the characters find themselves acting out their lives as if following a script.  The question becomes whether they actually have agency or if their lives really are predestined, as the title suggests.  The storytelling isn’t entirely linear so don’t be surprised if there are aspects of the plot that don’t seem to make sense right away.  When you get to the end you’ll find yourself thinking and rethinking about the plot of the film, putting the pieces into place and realizing the genius of the movie.

The downside is that the film depends on a paradox that doesn’t actually work, even if it’s an interesting, if creepy, idea.

I did wonder how Sarah’s character didn’t get an idea of what was coming, based on her changed appearance, but that’s a minor quibble.

Ultimately, this is an unsettling but interesting film that will stay with you after the credits end. 

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Shout-Out: The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris

Book 1: Phoenix Rising
Evil is most assuredly afoot-and Britain's fate rests in the hands of an alluring renegade . . . and a librarian.
These are dark days indeed in Victoria's England. Londoners are vanishing, then reappearing, washing up as corpses on the banks of the Thames, drained of blood and bone. Yet the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences-the Crown's clandestine organization whose bailiwick is the strange and unsettling-will not allow its agents to investigate. Fearless and exceedingly lovely Eliza D. Braun, however, with her bulletproof corset and a disturbing fondness for dynamite, refuses to let the matter rest . . . and she's prepared to drag her timorous new partner, Wellington Books, along with her into the perilous fray.

For a malevolent brotherhood is operating in the deepening London shadows, intent upon the enslavement of all Britons. And Books and Braun-he with his encyclopedic brain and she with her remarkable devices-must get to the twisted roots of a most nefarious plot . . . or see England fall to the Phoenix!
Book 2: The Janus Affair

Evildoers beware! Retribution is at hand, thanks to Britain''s best-kept secret agents!!

Certainly no strangers to peculiar occurrences, agents Wellington Books and Eliza Braun are nonetheless stunned to observe a fellow passenger aboard Britain''s latest hypersteam train suddenly vanish in a dazzling bolt of lightning. They soon discover this is not the only such disappearance . . . with each case going inexplicably unexamined by the Crown.

The fate of England is once again in the hands of an ingenious archivist paired with a beautiful, fearless lady of adventure. And though their foe be fiendishly clever, so then is Mr. Books . . . and Miss Braun still has a number of useful and unusual devices hidden beneath her petticoats.

Book 3: Dawn's Early Light

Working for the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, one sees innumerable technological wonders. But even veteran agents Braun and Books are unprepared for what the electrifying future holds…
After being ignominiously shipped out of England following their participation in the Janus affair, Braun and Books are ready to prove their worth as agents. But what starts as a simple mission in the States—intended to keep them out of trouble—suddenly turns into a scandalous and convoluted case that has connections reaching as far as Her Majesty the Queen.
Even with the help of two American agents from the Office of the Supernatural and the Metaphysical, Braun and Books have their work cut out for them as their chief suspect in a rash of nautical and aerial disasters is none other than Thomas Edison. Between the fantastic electric machines of Edison, the eccentricities of MoPO consultant Nikola Tesla, and the mysterious machinations of a new threat known only as the Maestro, they may find themselves in far worse danger than they ever have been in before…

Book 4: The Diamond Conspiracy
For years, the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences has enjoyed the favor of Her Majesty the Queen. But even the oldest loyalties can turn in a moment…
Having narrowly escaped the electrifying machinations of Thomas Edison, Books and Braun are looking forward to a relaxing and possibly romantic voyage home. But when Braun’s emergency signal goes off, all thoughts of recreation vanish. Braun’s street-wise team of child informants, the Ministry Seven, is in grave peril, and Books and Braun must return to England immediately.
But when the intrepid agents finally arrive in London, the situation is even more dire than they imagined. The Ministry has been disavowed, and the Department of Imperial Inconveniences has been called in to decommission its agents in a most deadly fashion. The plan reeks of the Maestro’s dastardly scheming. Only, this time, he has a dangerous new ally—a duplicitous doctor whose pernicious poisons have infected the highest levels of society, reaching even the Queen herself...

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Video: Princess Rap Battle

Whitney Avalon's been making some awesome Princess Rap Battle videos, similar to the Epic Rap Battles of History videos, only there's a clear winner at the end.  There's swearing, so they're not kid friendly.  So far she's got Snow White vs Elsa, Galadriel vs Leia, Mrs. Claus vs Mary Poppins, and Cinderella vs Belle.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Book Review: Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan

Pros: excellent world-building, fun protagonist, quick read

Cons: ending felt rushed

This is the third volume of Isabella, Lady Trent’s memoirs and deals with the 2 year research voyage she took on the RSS Basilik.  With her she brings Tom, who accompanied her on previous journeys, her nine year old son, Jake, and his governess, Abby.

As with the other books in this series, this is a character driven fantasy novel, following the extraordinary adventures of a female dragon researcher from Scirland.  While the previous books focused on one area for her excursions, this one covers several locations where she researches various types of dragons in an effort to create a proper taxonomy for the species.

I love the degree of detail Brennan adds to these book, particularly the background tidbits that don’t strictly need to be there but show the amount of behind the scenes thought that goes into the stories.  For example, it doesn’t really matter to the story that this trip took 2 years or more to plan (besides aging the characters), but it acknowledges that such travel in the past was not only expensive but also difficult to arrange.  I also appreciated the occasional bureaucratic, medical, and cultural problems they encountered.

The world expands greatly as the ship stops at numerous ports, sometimes leaving Isabella’s group behind for a month or more to do research, sometimes carrying on immediately to the next location.  Once again the world-building is excellent.  It’s possible at times to see what real world cultures she’s adapting for her book, but each society is very different from the others and there’s a wide variety of characters and customs that show up.

I’m not generally a fan of character driven fantasy but Isabella is such an interesting person that I race through these volumes.  Part way through this book they encounter another researcher, who helps them out.  Suhail was just as fun and interesting as Isabella, and I have my suspicions about his hidden last name.

While it’s possible to read this volume on its own, there are several allusions to the events of the previous books, and a few spoilerish conversations.

The ending feels a little rushed.  There’s a climactic event, after which events are narrated rather quickly through the denouement.  It works for the structure of a novel but would be somewhat unusual for the memoir this purports to be.

These are lighthearted books that don’t take long to read and are accompanied by gorgeous illustrations by Todd Lockwood.  It’s a series I highly recommend.

Out March 31st.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Shout-Out: The Feminine Future: Early Science Fiction by Women Writers - Mike Ashley, Ed.

Featuring hard-to-find short stories published between 1873 and 1930, this original anthology spotlights a variety of important sci-fi pioneers, including Ethel Watts Mumford, Edith Nesbit, and Clare Winger Harris. Imaginative scenarios include a feminist society in another dimension, the east/west division of the United States with men and women on opposite sides, a man who converts himself into a cyborg, a drug that confers superhuman qualities, and many other curious situations.

Editor Mike Ashley provides an informative introduction to the stories. Highlights include "When Time Turned" (1901), which centers on a grieving widower who contrives to relive his life backwards; "The Painter of Dead Women" (1910), the tale of a woman in thrall to a Svengali-like character who promises to preserve her beauty forever; "The Automaton Ear" (1876), in which an inventor struggles to create a machine to detect sounds from the distant past; "Ely's Automatic Housemaid" (1899), a lighthearted fable concerning a robot housemaid; and ten other captivating tales.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Liebster Award

I've been nominated for a Liebster Award by Steven Rose Jr. of A Far Out Fantastic Site.  So, first off, thank you Steven, that's pretty cool.
Image Credit:
Here are the questions he's asked me and my responses:

1) What is your dream car?  I'm not really in to cars, but I've always thought Ferrari's look amazing.  I wouldn't want to own one though, because I can't drive manual. (My husband insists that I pick a specific one, therefore he told me my answer is a Ferrari 488 GTB.)

2) What is your favourite/favourite kind of food?  I have lots of favourites, as I like food from a variety of cultures.  Roladin, a german dish where you take thin strips of beef and roll them up with onions and mustard before frying them and simmering them in gravy is one of my childhood favourites.  As is pizza.  For Japanese food (since I lived in Japan for 2 years) I love tempura (deep fried veggies and shrimp) and okonomiyaki (a savoury pancake).

3) What is your favourite genre/subgenre of reading?  I love science fiction and fantasy with an emphasis on epic fantasy, dystopian, and post-apocalyptic novels.

4) Do you prefer Star Trek, Star Wars or neither?  I'm a fan of both.  I love the original Star Wars trilogy and read a few of the extended universe novels and I loved watching the original Star Trek series on TV.  I also watched most of Next Generation when it first aired.  I don't think the rebooted films follow the spirit of Star Trek.

5) Of these classic/old school horror films, do you prefer Halloween, Friday the 13th, Universal’s original Frankenstein, Psycho or none of the above?  I love the first Halloween film and liked the next 2 well enough (yes, that includes The Season of the Witch).  I also love Psycho.  I only saw Friday the 13th for the first time a few years ago and wasn't impressed by it.  As for Frankenstein, the movie's pretty good but it led to people believing they know the book when the monster in the book is highly intelligent, and very different from how it's portrayed in the film.

6) If you won the lottery, you would . . . (do what?)  I would invest all of the money and then use the interest I made on it every year to take a trip.

7) How would you respond to a film agent who offered you a part in a big budget film?  I'd do it as long as the script was decent.  Sounds like a lot of fun (though it's probably really a lot of work).

8) Do you have anything (interest, toy, habit, etc.) from childhood that you will not let go of as an adult? If so, what is it?  I collected a lot of things as a child and still have them now.  I've got a jar of nifty feathers, including several peacock tail feathers.  I've also got a semi-precious gem collection with some nice tiger's eye stones and an amethyst geode.  And I used to collect soapstone sculptures and still have the panther ones I loved as a kid.

9) What do you do when a person you’ve met for the first time bores you with their talk?  I'm not good with small talk but I'm worse at extricating myself from conversations so I'd probably suffer quietly and hope someone interrupts us soon.

10) Do you believe the world’s ready for commercial space flight? If so, why? If not, why not?  I think commercial space flight is still WAY too expensive to be a realistic option for all but a very tiny portion of humanity.  As science keeps improving the price will fall and having a commercial option keeps the idea of space travel alive.  

11) What is more important to you, money or love (of humanity, including significant others/family and friends)?  I would like to say 'love' because it sounds nicer, but the reality is that money - by which I mean a lack thereof - causes stress and hardship and can make relationships break down, so I have to say money.  Without enough money you can't stay home to raise your kids if you'd like to, you can't eat healthily, you can't get the medical care that will keep you alive longer, you can't really help others.  If your basic needs are met you can start looking outside yourself and making the world a better place.

I'm supposed to nominate 11 other sites and ask them questions but I won't be doing that.  It's too much like the chain letters I got as a kid and couldn't stand.  I will however recommend you check out these blogs.  Some of them are author's blogs, but I don't follow that many people (as I don't want other book reviewers' impressions to affect my own reviews).

Friday, 20 March 2015

Blast From the Past: Mort by Terry Pratchett

Before I started reviewing books online I loved rereading my favourite SF/Fantasy books.  Since I don’t have time to do that anymore, this column is a trip down memory lane, where I’ll rave about books I love to read.  And then read again.  These aren’t reviews, as I won’t necessarily mention criticisms, they’re my chance to fan girl about books I love and hopefully garner some interest in some older titles.

Given the recent news of his passing, it seems appropriate to dedicate a column to Sir Terry Pratchett’s books.  

I was first introduced to the Discworld in high school when a friend gave me a copy of Interesting Times for my birthday.  While parts of the book were confusing (as it’s a direct sequel to the story told in The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, which I hadn’t read) I really enjoyed the story and characters.  I loved that the book had a dry sense of humour that matched my own.  But more than anything, I loved that the book had pithy sayings and bits of wisdom hidden in the pages.  At the time I collected sayings in a book and Interesting Times gave me several, as did many other Pratchett titles.  Sayings like: “Adventure! People talked about the idea as if it was something worthwhile, rather than a mess of bad food, no sleep and strange people inexplicably trying to stick pointed objects into bits of you.”

Pratchett’s novels always make me think, and I like thinking.  They’ve made me look at the world in different ways.  

I have to admit, I haven’t read them all (though I’d like to), and I haven’t liked them all (you can’t like everything).  But so many of his books have stuck with me because he wrote so insightfully.

If you’re new to the Discworld there are a few main groups of people the books focus on: members of the Unseen University, predominately Rincewind, a failed wizzard; the witches, a traditional coven with some untraditional beliefs; the guards of Ankh-Morpork, the main city the books take place in; and the personification of death.  While some of these can be picked up and read irrespective of the other books in the world, some storylines continue and are better off read in order (I made the mistake of reading several of the witches books in reverse order and boy, was that ever confusing). 

When I worked at the bookstore I’d recommend that people start with Mort.  The books that focus around Death are, on the whole, my favourites. And Mort is short, punchy, hilarious, and gives a good idea of what you’re getting when you pick up these books.  It's about a boy named Mort who's uncoordinated and rather bad at farming.  With no idea what to do with the boy, his father brings him to a fair and tries to apprentice him to someone.  Death offers him a job, which has interesting consequences for everyone.

My other favourites include: Hogfather, Truth, Thief of Time, Going Postal, Monstrous Regiment, Guards! Guards!, Men at Arms, Lords & Ladies, Small Gods, Carpe Jugulum, and The Last Hero.  I also love his pseudo kids book, Where’s My Cow, that Sam Vimes reads to his son in the books (and was made into a real picture book). 

If you haven’t read any books by Terry Pratchett, he’s one of those authors you shouldn’t miss.  If a story about Death doesn’t interest you, Guards! Guards! and Going Postal are other great introductory books and Monstrous Regiment is independent of the other storylines.  If you want something a little more… apocalyptic, then Good Omens, the novel he wrote with Neil Gaiman, is quite fun too.

And if you're not a reader, then the TV adaptations of Hogfather (a kind of Christmas story) and Going Postal are wonderful.