Dec 29, 2010

Speculative Horizons

I've had my fair share of disagreement with Pat and the stuff he writes on his Hotlist. I doubt I even register on his radar, but he has royally pissed me off on a number of occasions. However, being asked to edit a short story collection is - well let's face it - effin awesome! I can only imagine the guy's enthusiasm for the job, and in a way I'm happy for him. I know it would be a dream come true for me, and I'm pretty sure it was for him.

That said, Speculative Horizons doesn't make it easy for you to pick it up. At $20 it is only 130 pages long, with just five stories inside. Sure, they are all new and unpublished ones - and yes, one of them is by Hal Duncan!!! - but it's still pretty steep. And then there is the truly hideous cover (a lot less hideous live than it is on the screen though) - another turn-off. What made the decision for me was the fact that a portion of the proceeds goes to cancer research - I'm always up for supporting this kind of stuff, and I even bought my copy through Subterranean's site, paying the full price and all.

So, is the book worth it? I would have to say yes. Let's see:

Soul Mate by C.S. Friedman is an eerie vampiric story of a woman who finds true love, or what appears to be such. In the end it is more urban fantasy horror than anything else, and manages to be extremely disturbing in the way the tale progresses. Just like with everyone else except for Hal Duncan, this is my first time reading anything by Friedman, so I didn't know what to expect, but I find her decision to go into such a sensitive subject as the way we come to resemble the ones we love brave to say the least.

Tobias S. Buckell's The Eve of the Fall of Habesh is my favorite story in the collection. It manages to build an intricate tapestry of a corrupt and dying city where the elite rule using the life-force of children in a world where magic takes away chunks of your life every time you use it, and everyone is limited to only one type of spell. It is dark story that reeks of despair and self-destruction, and of things ending forever, and I absolutely loved it, even though the ending was probably a bit underwhelming and the main character Jazim is less than relateable.

In The Stranger, by L.E. Modesitt, Jr., I was reminded yet again of why I will probably never try a book from that author. It was the Eddings experience all over again - cardboard characters, pretentious drama, tired world-building and an adequatly depicted action scene. I admit to a mild curiosity about the science-fiction elements in his Recluse world, but having read other books of that type, I just know it's not going to be worth the effort. Still The Stranger earns points for being the only actual sword and sorcery classical fantasy in the collection.

Brian Ruckley's Flint is a great story of a very young prehistoric shaman who tries to save his tribe from a mystical disease, only to find that it is a legacy of the previous shaman's dark secrets. Fighting his people's prejudice against his youth, as well as the knowledge of his own inexperience, Flint must grow up and become the man his tribe needs him to be. The tale is a beautifully structured ghost story and the prehistoric setting brings that primeval feeling of people with not even the notion of history behind them, of a life that is an endless discovery every single day.

The Death of a Love, by Hal Duncan, is the least "fantastic" story in Speculative Horizons. It is more of a magical realism kinda deal, almost a parable, as it doesn't even have an actual plot. In the world he depicts, love takes corporeal form as little cupids that flutter about the "'birds", and as such, the little bastards can be killed for any number of reasons and in many different ways, thus killing the 'birds relationship. The story is told in first-person from the perspective of a cop working for "erocide" - the police department charged with solving those murders. It is a gritty examination of how gruesome "true love" can be, and of the messed up ways in which people are capable of destroying their own relationships. There is a lot of cursing in this one, but it kind of adds to the surreal realism of the murder of cupids.

In the end, Speculative Horizons offers a broad variety in its five stories, and although that could lead to some disconnection from the collection, I am sure everyone could find something of worth there. Personally, I fell in love with Duncan's story (see what I did there), as well as with Buckel's, which made me look for other works of the guy. Also, the book is made for a good cause and that adds to its worth. I would definitely recommend it if you can afford the steep price.


Dec 27, 2010

Deadhouse Gates Limited Edition

Subterranean Press announced that the limited edition of Stephen Erikson's Deadhouse Gates is finally nearing publication. J.K. Drummond has taken the reins from the amazing Michael Komarck, as scheduling conflicts didn't allow the artist of Gardens of the Moon to continue with the project. However, Drummond is more than up to the challenge if the covers for Daniel Abraham's Leviathan Wept and Other Stories, Paolo Bacigalupi's The Alchemist and Tobias S. Buckel's The Executioness are any indication.

So far only the owners of Gardens of the Moon can pre-order the forthcoming Deadhouse Gates, but for anyone else interested, here's the page.

Dec 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Happy holidays to all, and happy 10 000 hits to the blog! I know the Codex could use some more diligent updating, but things have been wild these past few months. Still, reviews are coming!

Dec 18, 2010

MOVIES: Tron: Legacy

I guess I should start this by admitting that I have either never watched the original Tron, or I have completely forgotten if I have. Of course, I am aware of the story, but I have absolutely no memory of the actual movie. That said, Tron: Legacy's trailers were surprisingly stylish for a Disney movie, and my interest was piqued. Still, I had my guard up, considering the studio behind the project and the abominably low quality of movies throughout 2010, but hope never dies.

So I am happy to say that Tron: Legacy is the SF action-adventure of the year. That's easy with no competition, of course, but even so, the movie just delivers. It is fast-paced, exceptionally well shot, and surprisingly manages to be actually more stylish than the trailers suggested.

The story is supposed to be a "next generation" type of sequel to the original movie. After helping Tron defeat Sark in the virtual world, programmer Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) created an avatar of himself - Clu - to help him and Tron turn the new reality into a perfect utopia. However, one night he just vanished off the face of the Earth, leaving his boy Sam (Garrett Hedlund) alone. Twenty years later Sam is playing the angry millionaire by pulling pranks on the board of directors of his father's company Encom which has - in his absence - turned into a soulless money-factory.

Then something changes. Flynn's oldest friend Alan (Bruce Boxleitner) receives a beep on his pager from the old arcade - a number that has been disconnected since Kevin's disappearance. Sam goes there to check what's going on, only to be transported into the virtual world that claimed his father. A world that has changed a lot since the time Flynn elder and his two program friends set off to build their utopia.

Tron: Legacy does not use its premise to try and create philosophical layers to the story. The hot topic of what's real and what's not is nowhere to be seen, and frankly - I am happy for that. It gives the movie a chance to deliver what it really wants - adventure. From the very beginning the pace is fast, the atmosphere tense. Yet Tron doesn't choke you with speed and instead opts for balance, by alternating action scenes with short moments of peaceful character building. And yes, there is character building - surprisingly well made for a Disney adventure movie, at least where the tho main characters are concerned.

However, it is the game world that really matters in this one, and it looks positively fantastic. The movie uses very few colors - mostly blue-black, neon blue and dark orange - and the visual style, as seen on the trailers, works wonderfully with the story's concept. The environmental and vehicle designs are gorgeous, and the action scenes allow for clear view of every aspect. Tron doesn't try to hide behind chaotic action, mostly - I suspect - because its budget was big enough to afford to show every detail all the time. The Grid battles - both with the discs and the bikes - look amazing, and the final aerial sequence is just beautiful! There is no action scene in this movie that isn't truly top-notch.

Acting is not terribly important in a story of this sort, but thankfully, Tron: Legacy has found the balance of looks and talent. Jeff Bridges provides the talent, and Garrett Hedlund and Olivia Wilde (in the role of Support Warrior Female And Potential Love Interest or Quora) account for the looks without being horrible enough to bother you. Situation with Jeff Bridges' evil alter ego Clu is a bit more embarrassing, first of all because the CG "young Jeff" face looks really fake (kind of like those lazy-eyed scarecrows from the early Robert Zemeckis CG movies), but also because the character is so thinly written that most of the stuff he says sounds vaguely ridiculous. Of course, being a program with a set of parameters, that is sort of understandable, but it still bugged me. The brilliant Michael Sheen also makes a great cameo, but outside of the two male leads, characterization is generally shallow.

One thing that the movie really walks on thin ice about is the atmosphere. It is visually stunning, and the Daft Punk-empowered soundtrack completes the picture, BUT that leads to Tron taking itself a tad too seriously. It is not something that would bother everyone, and for some reason it didn't bother me, but I am sure the movie will look just a little bit too pretentious to a lot of people.

The other part where Tron: Legacy stumbles, is the pacing. Although well executed most of the time, there is a scene toward the end where everything just grinds to a halt. It is not enough to ruin the movie, but it definitely derails the train (pun intended - you'll know when you watch it) for a while. The final action sequence also lacks epicness, especially in comparison to what happens in the earlier parts of the movie. Another little beef I have with the story is that humor isn't really a big part of it. Like I said, Tron takes itself very seriously, and even though jokes do happen, they aren't really a big part of it, and I suspect the movie would have been better if they were more present.

However, none of those problems is enough to prevent you from enjoying the experience. Tron: Legacy is great entertainment and almost perfectly executed for what it is trying to be - a fun action-adventure set in a fantastic world. Personally, I can't wait to see it again!


Dec 12, 2010

Comics: The Walking Dead, Volume Thirteen: Too Far Gone

Rick's group settles in their new home. The strange island of fragile civilization that has embraced them as its members seems to be everything they've been hoping for, and their experience in the zombie wilderness quickly makes them leaders in the community. But Rick's personal demons are beginning to take the better of him, and outside threats are looming on the horizon.

Too Far Gone is a good addition to the series and continues the trend of improved quality in the last few volumes. Nothing particularly important happens in this one, but the characters' places in the Alexandria community are established in no uncertain terms. Rick's growing paranoia and his losing the connection to his son is central to the volume, but so are the number of threats the community needs to deal with, both from inside and outside.

The best thing about Volume 13 though is the promise of an actual ZOMBIE problem in the near future. Not that the "humans are the real evil" concept is exhausted, but in a zombie apocalypse one would expect the zombies to play some part from time to time, and the herd threat is way too interesting to pass by.

All in all, the last few volumes of The Walking Dead have been strong. I just hope Kirkman doesn't stop moving the story forward, and that he gives at least a passing thought to some ending to it. I think it would be all the stronger for it.


Nov 29, 2010

Movies: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1

So, where did the degradation of the Harry Potter movie franchise start? The most common answer would be "after The Prisoner of Azkaban", and it would be mostly accurate. After all, Cuaron's dark vision of Hogwarts is a very high bar to compete against, especially considering how anal Rowling is about altering her books. However, truth be told, The Goblet of Fire was still a pretty decent movie, if more mundane than its predecessor. No, my friends, the mortal wound was dealt by the hiring of one David Yates. A TV director of middling talents and no vision whatsoever, he was not the bold artist that a franchise of this caliber needed, but the timid servant that Rowling wanted in her paranoia that her words of wisdom might somehow be lost in alteration.

Thus were we left with the profoundly mediocre Order of the Phoenix and Half-blood Prince. Movies with no thrill, no spirit, and even worse - ones that followed the books so precisely that they were just bad cinema. At the same time Yates seems to lack any sense of priority, and important scenes/events were consistently glossed over in favor of slow and dull minutiae which - with main cast comprised of actors with actual talent - might have presented some nice character development, but which were instead utterly pointless. I've had numerous people who hadn't read the books prior to watching the movie, tell me that The Half-blood Prince's plot just didn't make sense to them.

So, where am I going with this long introduction? Sadly, not towards a playful plot-twist. The Deathly Hallows, Part 1 is every bit as bad as its predecessor. It is slow, unimaginative, uneventful, and - nauseatingly for a fantasy movie - ultimately very, very boring. The narrative flows with the speed and elegance of a freshly castrated fetus, while characterization is practically non-existent. The latter is utterly ridiculous since - even though nothing actually happens and people just stare with empty eyes into the aether most of the time - no character actually gets enough time for any development. Even previous movies' strongest point - the support cast, comprised of Britain's finest actors - fails in The Deathly Hallows. It's just that nobody has anything interesting to perform.

The single good moment in the mind-numbing two and a half hours of this dullfest is the tale of the three brothers and Death, which is designed like a Guillermo del Toro or Dave McKean puppet vision and looks positively beautiful.

That lasts about three minutes.

No, seriously, I am not going to bother making this look like a real review. The effects were ok as usual (although rather bland, considering we're out of Hogwarts for this one), music was completely forgettable even though it was done by the amazing Alexandre Desplat, the main trio are disgusting both in terms of acting, and appearance (with the cherry going to Ron/Rupert Grint who has kept hitting the gym hard and the gym seems to have hit back...), and yada yada yada.

If you are bummed by the lack of detail in this review, just know this - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 was so catastrophically bland, boring and uninspired, that it took me a whole week to actually force myself to write even as much as I have managed. How's that for a review?


Nov 21, 2010

Nausicaa of the Valey of the Wind Blu-ray release on Mar 8

Disney announced that Nausicaa of the Valey of the Wind - one of Hayao Miazaki's greatest classics - will be released on Blu-ray on March 8, 2011. After Japan got the BD edition last year, and the UK - a few months ago, I was beginning to wonder when the US distributor will get the hint. This is one of my all-time favorite animes, and I just can't wait for this release!

Nov 18, 2010

New promos from the upcoming TV show A Game of Thrones

Entertainment Weekly has released on their site a "first look" gallery with ten new promos from the upcoming A Game of Thrones, based on George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. Nothing mind-boggling, but enough to whet the appetite.

Nov 16, 2010

Movies: Skyline

I have a soft spot for Alien Invasion movies. Seriously, I do. It doesn't matter that I can think of only one I've actually liked (that one being War of the Worlds), or that if they had only one more plot they'd be an amazing half-way. I just like them. There are shiny lights, gorgeous-looking HUGE motherships, pewpewlaserbeam and all the joy someone who grew up with SF and always wanted to see an actual space opera on the big screen could wish for.

That said, I went to see Skyline with the clearly defined expectation to watch garbage. I mean, come on. First of all, it's amazingly penile to sign your movies as the "random name brothers", and second - the Strauses are the losers who gave us the gloriously bad Aliens vs Predator - Requiem. How much lower can you get? Still, the motherships had an adorable resemblance to a Protoss Carrier, plus the trailer looked flashy. Ticket sold.

Skyline is not gloriously bad like AvP-R was. It's not a "let's pin the whiny cheerleader to the wall with a three-foot diameter shuriken" kind of bad. It's "oh my God, I'd rather chew off my own rectum!" kind of bad. The plot is that of every Alien Invasion movie ever - aliens come to harvest this or that valuable resource we seem to be the only ones in the universe in possession of (in this particular case the rather ironic choice is the human brain...). The military fire a lot of useless weapons, and since this isn't anime, nobody is smart enough to put an angsty teenage boy with ambiguous sexuality in a giant robot, so the aliens either die by themselves, or get killed through some gaping all-night-gangbang-style hole in their plan, or just wipe out everyone.

I'm not gonna tell you which ending the movie has, because I just can't deprive you of the utter hilarity that ensues around the last few minutes. Unfortunately, Skyline doesn't stop at the evil aliens, and makes us suffer together with some very harvest-worthy humans. After the initial ten minutes of character set-up that we know will not matter at all throughout the movie, we have the main cast - Smoking Hot Douchebag (Eric Balfour), Stunningly Blue-Eyed Female (Scottie Thompson), Token Buff Black Guy (Donald Faison), Annoying Blond Chick (Brittany Daniel), A Girl Who Just Happens To Be There (Crystal Reed) and Middle-Class Menial Who Gets Shit Done (David Zayas). That really doesn't matter too much, as we basically know exactly who is going to die, and also at what point of the plot.

What we don't know is that the budget of Skyline is probably comparable to my semester tuition, because a good half of the movie is set IN AN EFFIN' APARTMENT! I kid you not. Basically, the aliens are so bad-ass that the characters can't even make a run for it. Therefore, the entire 100 minutes of this abomination are set in one building, alternating between the apartment, the garage and the roof.

That is not to say that Skyline doesn't have a few mildly redeeming qualities. The special effects - when present - are pretty cool. The aliens are, disappointingly, not Protoss, and not even humanoid, but the concept of the mesmerising light is cool and well executed. Plus - it makes Smoking Hot Douchebag and Stunningly Blue-Eyed Female look really cool when it disfigures their faces. Smoking Hot Douchebag and Stunningly Blue-Eyed Female themselves are kind of a plus too, being respectively smoking hot and stunningly blue-eyed, but it is sad when you have to justify your ticket price with the attractiveness of random B-list actors...

No, seriously. There is absolutely no reason to watch Skyline. Most of the really cool moments are in the trailers anyway, and the rest are few and far between, separated by gory vortices of vomit-inducing boredom and lines/behavior right out of the cliche factory. And not the one in China or Pakistan, but a very low-budget cliche-factory operating illegally out of the Ukrainian countryside... AVOID!


Nov 15, 2010

Synopsis for China Mieville's Embassytown

Embassytown: a city of contradictions on the outskirts of the universe.

Avice is an immerser, a traveller on the immer, the sea of space and time below the everyday, now returned to her birth planet. Here on Arieka, humans are not the only intelligent life, and Avice has a rare bond with the natives, the enigmatic Hosts – who cannot lie.

Only a tiny cadre of unique human Ambassadors can speak Language, and connect the two communities. But an unimaginable new arrival has come to Embassytown. And when this Ambassador speaks, everything changes.

Catastrophe looms. Avice knows the only hope is for her to speak directly to the alien Hosts.

And that is impossible.

Sounds awesome to me. I am ashamed to say that I am yet to read anything by China Mieville, but I'm getting really hyped about this particular book.

Nov 9, 2010

New Mistborn novel!

Branden Sanderson has confirmed via Facebook that a short Mistborn story he was writing "went out of hand" and Tor has bought the new novel, scheduling it for publication some time next year. It will be set halfway between the original trilogy and the planned second one, where technology is advanced to a level reminiscent of 20th century Earth. We are promised "gunpowder and allomancy". I am so excited about this one!

And just like that - a mirracle! The Wise Man's Fear is done!

Golancz has announced that they have received the manuscript for The Wise Man's Fear - the long, long, LONG! anticipated sequel to Patrick Rothfuss' wildly successful debut The Name of the Wind. Personally, I'm really excited about this book. Without being able to articulate why exactly, I was thoroughly enamored with TNotW, and even though Rothfuss took his sweet time with the second part of his trilogy, I expect he will deliver. So here's to quick editing!

Nov 8, 2010

A Profound Personal Tragedy!

I just got an e-mail from Subterranean that the deluxe edition of China Mieville's Kraken is out and shipping. And that made me realize with painful clarity that none of those gorgeous hardcovers is shipping in my direction. Thought the world should know of my pain. I mean, what else are blogs for?!

Nov 5, 2010

Comics: The Walking Dead, Volumes 10-12

The tenth Volume of The Walking Dead marks a sudden change in pacing. Now that the story is more of a quest and therefore has actual direction, there is a sense of urgency that I really like. The concept of Herds, introduced in the previous tpb, is developed further and it's just as cool as it is chilling. There is little in the way of story, except for a potentially very disturbing scene involving attempted rape, but What We Become develops further not only Rick and Abraham, but also little Carl, who is slowly turning into a more serious, more one-track and colder version of his dad, which I find rather awesome.


Fear The Hunters
is an aberration in the usual pacing, as it is a complete six-issue story-arc. And a very cool one at that. While the survivors are making their way towards D.C., somebody is following their movements. Shadows in the trees and noises in the night keep them on edge, while the arrival of a suspiciously clean-looking priest who claims to live in a nearby church does nothing to relieve the tension.

Volume 11 is a dark and gruesome piece that reminded me of a single-issue Spawn story I once read. Just like in What We Become and many of the latest volumes, it focuses on the true monsters of this new postapocalyptic world - the humans, unshackled from the norms of society. Ultimately, it is nothing amazingly original, but I'd still put it among the best volumes in the series.


Looking at the title, and not knowing what it's about, one would get exactly the opposite idea to what this
volume actually introduces. Things turn rather abstract for Rick, Abraham and the rest of the survivors, when a young man appears out of nowhere and offers them life in a peaceful community that only asks of its members to pull their own weight. Too good to be true? A year among the zombies has taught Rick to think of nothing else. And yet, it all seems genuine. Rick becomes Alexandria's constable, but secretly he works on securing the town. Could it be that this time he will be the one, trying to take something good from others?

The new development is interesting and promising. Sadly, this is the last volume so far, and I am not into single issues, so I'll have to wait for Volume 13 to see how the story progresses. I only hope Kirkman doesn't loose the speed generated in these three tpbs, because they are way above everything else in the series so far. The Walking Deadb finally started to show its true potential, and I'd hate for it to go back to directionless soap opera. So here's hoping...


Nov 3, 2010

More Daniel Abraham goodness

Orbit has revealed the cover art of Leviathan Wakes - space opera, co-written by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck under the pen-name S. A. Corey due to be published in May 2011. The cover is all kinds of awesome, as you can see. There is a post on Orbit's blog about it, as well as a wallpaper page, if you're into that kind of thing.

Nov 2, 2010

RIP Realms of Fantasy

I just found out that Realms of Fantasy has folded. As much as the death of any hard-copy magazine pains me, I can't say that I was an avid follower of that one in particular. Still, it is sad. I am a firm believer in paper publications, and I don't think online ones could or should replace them completely. At the same time, reading reviews about books published half a year ago rarely makes me supportive either.

So anyway, here's a "Note From the Publisher" Warren Lapine. There are also some interesting ruminations on the subject on Pat's blog - check it out if you're interested.

Oct 24, 2010

Anime: Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust is one of the first anime movies I watched when I was a teenager. Now, centuries later, I am old and wise, and yet I still have a (very) soft spot for it. There is something in it that resonates with me on a level that doesn't care about cheesy plot or lack of depth, a sign that the impressionable geeky kid has gotten something right.

Bloodlust is a sequel to the very old and moderately lame Vampire Hunter D, and they are both based on Hideyuki Kikuchi's series of post-apocalyptic novels. However, you don't need to have seen the first one to appreciate the beauty of the sequel, as it is a completely new tale that shares nothing but the main character and setting with the original.

The story is set 12 000 years in the future. Human civilization has been destroyed, scattered by the demonic nuclear winds of a long forgotten war, yet humanity itself persists. Small secluded societies manage to survive in a hostile world filled with mutants, monsters and demons, and during the day life is hard but manageable. Night however is ruled by the vampires. This immortal nobility is the last vestige of high civilization, wielding both forgotten technologies and supernatural powers, holding humans in the thrall of constant fear.

But the vampires' reign is weakening. A new caste is emerging among the mortal cattle - bounty hunters who roam the land and kill the nobles. Isolated and secluded, the children of the night fall one by one. And nobody among the hunters is more feared or hated as D - a lone Dunpeal, half-human and half-vampire, whose implacable determination is legendary across the world.

A young merchant's daughter has been kidnapped by the vampire Meier Link. D is hired by her father to kill the vampire and save her, or end her misery if she has been turned. But the Dunpeal is not alone on the quest - the Marcus brothers are also after the bounty, and they don't take kindly to competition. What's more troubling - the girl might not be with the vampire aristocrat against her will...

Bloodlust is a classic tale of forbidden love and betrayal, of epic struggle and doomed hopes. In fact, it is that very archetypical nature that prevents the movie from suffering under its action-heavy and ultimately simplistic plot. There is beauty in every single aspect of the story. D's silent determination is chilling. He cannot be stopped, cannot be dissuaded. His eyes betray no mercy or compassion. It is easy to guess that the tragedy of his origin is at the root of what he is, but that doesn't make the character any less compelling.

Being the sucker for decadence that I am though, my heart goes to Meier and his desperate nobility. A creature of elegance, intelligence and unspeakable might, he is still helpless against the tide of times that seem to deny his very existence. The world that his race has ruled is ending, their technology forgotten, their allies turn enemies, their slaves turn executioners. He has only his impossible love and a hope held within a legend that may not even be true. You have to love such a tragic character, even if he didn't look like an elvish warlord.

is filled with examples of those two characters' strengths and weaknesses. The type of examples that creates a lump in your throat if you have the sensitivity to appreciate them. A vampire walking into the sunlight, helpless and burning, reaching for the one thing he cares about as it is being taken from him. An emotionless death-bringer who - for reasons even he couldn't fathom - stops the chase to bandage the wounds of his own competition. The movie is filled with heroism in the strictest, most pure and noble sense of the word, and instead of being cheesier or cheaper, it is greater for it.

The world of Bloodlust is also very evocative. You can literally feel the ages that have gone by since our own time. In that aspect it resembles Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun, even to the extent of the vampires role, so much reminiscent of his Exultants - the oldest families, most aristocratic and powerful, and yet actually the newest masters this world has known. Remnants of olden times are scattered here and there, skeletons of gargantuan machines, memories of an age of technology that destroyed its own children.

What really gives this anime its strength though, is the artwork. In a single word - Bloodlust is gorgeous. Lavish colors, amazing detail, rich character and background designs, empowered by incredibly fluent animation and some of the most staggering action scenes I have ever seen in Japanese animation. Studio Madhouse knows its job when it comes to art and action, but this movie is undoubtedly the jewel in their crown. There are so many details one could obsess about - like the fact that you only see D's sword as a flash of light in front of his emotionless face; or the dynamic of his fights with Meier - but I don't think any sort of description can do the movie the justice it deserves. You can see the two shots in this review, but you can never imagine the fluency of movement, the inevitability and energy of it.

So (wait for it) just watch it. If you like anime, you probably already have, but even if you don't, there's a strong chance that you will like this one. It was targeted at Americans, the original dubbing is in English (and surprisingly good, considering), the awesomely epic soundtrack is also very non-Japanese sounding. But above it all, there is just so much to love about Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust. It is an emotionally-charged tale of classic archetypes, grippingly told and beautifully animated. Give it a try.


Oct 23, 2010

Martin Freeman officially cast as Bilbo Baggins

Finally, some actual news from The Hobbit. Martin Freeman (of Love Actualy and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy fame) has been cast as young Bilbo Baggins. Some of the dwarves have also been announced:

Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield
Aidan Turner as Kili
Rob Kazinsky as Fili
Graham McTavish as Dwalin
Stephen Hunter as Bombur
Mark Hadlow as Dori
Peter Hambleton as Gloin
John Callen as Oin

Shooting is slated to begin in February 2011. There's still time, and a lot of names are waiting to be cast. The main question is whether sir Ian McKellan will return in his role of Gandalf, but with Peter Jackson directing, I'd say chances are good.

Oct 22, 2010

Manga: GYO - Junji Ito

I am not easily horrified. In fact, unless it's some deeply disturbing psychological stuff, it is almost impossible to work on me. Gore, violence and all that joy just don't connect with me, even if they could - on occasion - gross me out. There is, however, one thing that really unsettles me, and it is the reason why Gyo led to a totally sleepless night even though I was 24 and quite rational at the time I read it. That thing is a simple story concept - taking the human condition and perverting it into something inhuman. It lies at the core of the zombie story of course, but we are used to zombies. However, it was also the reason why Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later was so horrifying. And it is the reason why Gyo is one of the most amazing horrors I've ever read.

I am not generally a manga person. The tropes of the medium don't do it for me, and even though the stories are supposedly better developed than in anime, I'd always prefer to watch an adaptation instead. However, a sudden rain forced me into Borders one day, and I had to kill the time somehow. I wasn't in the mood for a book, so I just picked a manga at random. It was only two volumes, had awesomely stylish covers and they contained a spider-fish hybrid and some sort of bloated zombie thing with tubes in its mouth. Awesome, right?


Thus began my affair with Junji Ito and his sick imagination.

It all begins with a stench - a horrible rotten smell that comes from the ocean. Then the fish start walking, an unstoppable tide of squirming dead mass born on metallic spidery legs that springs forth from the water. And then the gas comes, and with it the world is remade.

It is impossible to summarize Gyo's plot without spoiling it, although it is not the rather simple story that really grips the reader. It is the atmosphere. The art is simple when depicting humans, but very graphic and detailed when dealing with the supernatural threat that consumes them. The way the story flows is very Lovecraftian in a way, weaving a tale of poetic inevitability and doomed efforts, of senseless struggles and monstrous purpose. It is told through the eyes of the young man who first encounters the walking fish, but in a way, there are no main characters here. Nobody is important enough against the tide.

This feeling of inevitability, of something that is so much bigger than you, so malicious and at the same time so vastly, inhumanly uncaring, is what makes Gyo the horrific gem that it is. As the story progresses, both the artwork and the atmosphere become more and more surreal, and toward the end there is even a Lynchian circus scene, giving the manga an absurdist spin that only makes its impact stronger.

In the end, I have no way of telling whether my profuse usage of adjectives has done its job, but I can't recommend Gyo highly enough. It is a deeply disturbing tale, masterfully told and beautifully drawn, and if there is even a tiny part of you that's fascinated by being horrified and unsettled, then it is exactly what that part needs.Plus, at the end of the second volume there are a couple of short stories that somehow manage to be equally good. So go for it! Who cares about a few sleepless nights?


Oct 20, 2010

Cover art for Steven Erikson's The Crippled God

Few of the Malazan covers have been truly impressive, but I have to admit that the artwork for The Crippled God looks staggeringly good! I wonder who the character is. Also... is that a Balrog?!

Oct 17, 2010

Comics: The Walking Dead, Volume Nine: Here We Remain

After the catastrophe in the prison, Rick and his little boy Carl are alone in the wilderness. Rick is badly hurt, and when they crash into an abandoned house, he lapses into a coma, leaving Carl to fend for himself. And that is only the beginning of his worries, because then the phone starts ringing...

Here We Remain is a slow story (what a surprise, eh?) that sets the pieces for the next story-arc. Unlike previous entries though, this one is full of character development, or if not development, then study. All the strain finally catches up to Rick, while Carl has some wonderful moments of his own. A few old characters reappear (not too many of those were left after the last volume), and some new ones arrive.

And just when I said that there is no point to this story, Kirkman might have proven me wrong. Finally a character appears that claims to know what caused the zombie apocalypse, and what's more - to be able to reverse it or at least stop the dead from rising. I have the traitorous feeling it's all going to be a sham, but at least now The Walking Dead went from Fortress Defense to a quest story. There might yet be a hope for the series.


Oct 15, 2010

Comics: The Walking Dead, Volume Eight: Made To Suffer

The inevitable moment has come - the Governor attacks the prison in force. While his first attack is repelled, it takes its toll, and Rick's group has to make tough decisions. Because next time they might be forced to run...

Volume 8 is sort of a finale for a very long story-arc that started with the discovery of the prison. The good part - there are almost no musings on how people feel, since most of the time is dedicated to actual things happening. Also, the status quo is irrevocably shattered, and after the end of this tpb nothing can ever be the same again. For this, Kirkman gains points in my book.

I finally figured out what the actual problem of the series is, however. And it is very simple, but also not something you can get before reaching a certain point of the story. The fact of the matter is that The Walking Dead is not a story. It is a soap opera with zombies. There is no narrative structure to the series, no actual point to be made. It doesn't have a beginning, middle and ending planned, just a beginning and an endless middle. It can literally go on forever, and ten years from now we can be reading the exact same story about completely different people, the torch having been passed from Rick on to others.

And yes, I don't like that. I've never been a soap opera person, and zombies aren't enough to make me into one, especially considering the fact that the series actually pretends to explore the human condition. So, while I've obviously reached a point where I won't be quitting (and honestly, it reads fast enough not to take too much time anyway), I have also stopped trying to find any relevance and depth in The Walking Dead. It is just a grossly overhyped pretentious soap with a few gems hidden under tons of boring crap. Too bad, because the potential is there and keeps trying to rear its head. If only Kirkman would let it...


Oct 14, 2010

Brandon Sanderson's Long And Rambling Post On Future Books

Brandon posted a huge post on his site, concerning where he is now in his writing, how long his most anticipated projects - Memory of Light and Stormlight Archives Book 2 - will take to finish, as well as some further ideas he's working on. I was especially thrilled with Scribbler's concept, and can't wait for him to start working on his second Mistborn trilogy (supposed to be taking place in a 20th century-like setting). And he actually apologizes for deciding to take a three-month break, after what he's done these last two years! Gotta love such people.

Oct 13, 2010

Cover art for Blake Charlton's Spellbound

Tor released the cover for Blake Charlton's Spellbound. His debut novel Spellwright received very positive response, and is in my to-read list. The cover for Spellbound looks really good, considering the fact that it has a dragon on it...

Oct 12, 2010

Dollhouse Season 2 is out on Blu-Ray and DVD today

To all Whedon fans who didn't already know this - Season 2 of his latest show Dollhouse is finally out on BD and DVD. It had a short run, and didn't create the cult that Whedon's other shows have, but it is still very, very good, and definitely worth your money.

Oct 10, 2010

Leviathan Wept and Other Stories - Daniel Abraham

I first heard Abraham's name when Hunter's Run - his collaboration with George Martin and Gardner Dozois - came out. Since then he has been a constant presence in the blogosphere, and always mentioned with great admiration. So I decided to try his short fiction first, before jumping to The Long Price Quartet.

Leviathan Wept and Other Stories is a very diverse collection. There is fantasy there, as well as post-cyberpunk, ghost stories, horror and just plain old comedy. The Speculative element is all but missing at times, but that steals nothing from the quality of the writing. And the quality of writing is very, very high. Abraham delves into disturbing topics with energy and determination, and doesn't shy away from uncomfortable truths. His style of writing is rich enough to allow the diversity of genres and themes, and the ideas around which the stories evolve, are - more often than not - rather original.

The Cambist and Lord Iron is a Victorian tale of a noble playing a bad joke on a money-changer, only to find himself in need of his services again and again, when he has to determine the value of more and more abstract concepts. There is no obvious supernatural element to the story, apart from some hints of the world being an alternative reality, but the focus of the tale itself is somehow outlandish enough to make it feel like fantasy.

Flat Diane is a story of subtle horror and implied brutality, in which a father cuts his daughter's image from paper and sends it across the world to reconnect with distant relatives. Too late he realizes that he has sent away a part of his little girl's soul. And as she grows up, she is forever changed by the experiences "Flat Diane" has. This is perhaps the most horrific story in Leviathan Wept, and the fact that nothing actually happens for the reader to "see", that it is all "off-screen" and implied, makes it even more so.

The Best Monkey is the other story in the collection bordering on horror, or at least that's how it felt to me, since altered humanity always chills me. In this particular case, the plot revolves around the perception of beauty, and what happens when that perception is changed.

The Support Technician Tango is perhaps my favorite in Leviathan Wept - a comedy about a malicious self-help book that wrecks havoc in the lives of all the employees of a law firm. It is witty, elegant and smart, and flows with such ease, that it's pure delight to read.

Then comes A Hunter In Arin-Qin, a fantasy story that shares absolutely nothing with the previous four. Its protagonist is a mother tracking the demon who kidnapped her daughter. There is something of Gene Wolfe in this tale of unlikely revenge, both in structure, and in the atmosphere of mystery, of things left unsaid.

The titular story, Leiathan Wept, was a bit of a disappointment to me. It deals with analogies in a world where connections between people have maybe turned humanity into bigger organisms in which individual humans are only cells. And those organisms might be at war with each other. But what if there is only one, and it is just sick? Even though the idea is very interesting, and the story is well written, I found the development unsatisfying. The concept was intriguing, but remained vague, undeveloped, as if Abraham wasn't entirely sure what he wanted to do with it.

Exclusion is the story with the most interesting idea in the collection. It deals with a future society where technology has advanced to the stage where humans have their own AI systems integrated into their bodies, and those systems allow them to "exclude" other people from their existence. The Ignore function in a very extreme and literal sense, because contact with the excluded is impossible. You don't see them, they don't see you. You can't perceive them in any way, and neither can they perceive you. But what happens to a person's will and courage, when they can simply erase any problem with a thought? Unfortunately, the obvious happens - people prefer to run away from, and "ignore" the problematic relationships, instead of dealing with them. The story had great premise, and I sort of expected more than this simple moral from it.

As Sweet is another Wolfean tale - a poetic piece musing on the nature of love and passion, mixing different centuries but always getting back to Romeo and Juliet's (and more importantly - Rosaline's) Verona and the contemporary life of a literature teacher entering her middle years.

The Curandero and the Swede is a story about the importance of stories, and the way their meaning can change, and by changing - change us. It is the third tale reminiscent of Gene Wolfe's writing, and it deals with dusty roads, and Indian spirits, and Mexican witch-doctors, and all the right stuff that stories should be made of.

All in all, Leviathan Wept and Other Stories is a great collection. There are overarching themes in all stories, like that of sexuality. It is always there, sometimes obvious, others - just implied, but ever present. Many of the stories deal with IT and its evolution, and there is always some dry wit, no matter the seriousness of the plot.

Two things disappointed me a little. The first was the repetition of structure. Too many of the stories are structured in short passages that switch between some present and the slowly developing past that led to it. True, it is a tried and proven frame for a short story, but when you read it so many times in a collection by the same author, it becomes tiring. The second thing is that many of the stories revolve around a single idea, and when that is exhausted, they don't seem to have much to say. Examples of this are Leviathan Wept, Exclusion, and to a lesser extent The Cambist and Lord Iron, although the trend is recognizable in other places as well.

Still, it couldn't have escaped your notice that in three instances I actually compared Daniel Abraham to Gene Wolfe. People who know me should be aware that there is no higher praise I could give an author, and Abraham more than deserves this praise. He has a rich and diverse style of writing, great ideas, and that indefinable energy that compels the reader to continue reading, no matter what. Leviathan Wept is a brilliant book, and I hope we see more collections of his short works soon. Meanwhile, I will soon be jumping into his longer ones.


Cover art for Daniel Abraham's The Dragon's Path

This is not the finalized cover, supposedly. It is rather K.J. Parkerish, but I kinda like it. I have a lot of Abraham catching up to do before I get to this book though.

Oct 9, 2010

The Books Charles Stross will not write, parts 5 and 6

Charlie Stross continues his exploration of the never-to-happen universes in his head. Here are his last two posts:

Part 5, where he describes his time-shifting military unit sub-genre idea


Part 6, dealing with Halting State variations

As usual, both are worth reading, although probably less interesting than some of the previous posts on the subject.

Movies: Let Me In

I never managed to properly like Let the Right One In, possibly because - even though the movie was brilliantly executed - there was no connection to the viewer. It was just too cold, too distanced, too emotionless. Too many things were just implied, and not in the way that made you feel good for figuring them out.

Therefore, I had mixed expectations for Let Me In - its American remake. My first surprise came from the fact that it followed the original almost exactly. The plot is the same, with just a few minor adjustments in the dynamics of the supporting cast, the forlorn and oppressing atmosphere is also very close to the Swedish bleakness of the other movie. The difference, then, is one of connection.

Owen (Kodi Smith-McPhee) is a lonely young boy, living with his overbearing and yet distant mother (whose face we never actually see), with a father who is only a disinterested voice on the phone. He is shy and introverted, which makes him a focus for the school bullies attention, and he spends his time alone in the playground near his apartment. But then Abby (Chloe Moretz) arrives - a girl his age, moving next door with her father. And even though there seems to be something wrong with the new family, Owen quickly becomes friends with Abby. But then the murders start...

Let Me In is not the modern kind of vampire story. There is no glitter there, no quaffed hairdos, and no ripped abs (actually, one of the bullies had those but never mind). It is - just like the original, and like - I assume - the book that inspired it - a tale of loneliness, of repressed anger and violence. Vampirism is not erotic here, not alluring and sexy. It is parasitic, ugly and demanding, monstrous and cruel. And it is to the movie's credit that it manages to walk the thin line between Abby the lonely girl in need of human contact, and Abby the ancient manipulator who measures her every word and action. You are never specifically told which one's real, but there is enough in Let Me In to suggest both. Also, unlike Let The Right One In, this time around you are given the chance to sympathize with her "dad" (Richard Jenkins) who was once, maybe, just a boy like Owen. And who might just be in the process of being replaced. It is themes like that, which were present in the original, but never expanded upon, that raise the remake above it, since it features them in a more pronounced way, while still managing not to actually state or commit to any one.

The casting is really good. Kodi Smith-McPhee is a perfect choice for the wimpy and weak Owen with his issues of abandonment and repressed aggression, and for a time his character is actually a lot creepier than Abby. But as the movie progresses, we can easily see just how vulnerable and helpless he is, how terribly alone and hopeless he feels. And it is to the boy's credit that Smirh-McPhee portrays that without going sappy. Kick-Ass and (500) Days of Summer's Chloe Moretz is also perfect for her role, with her slightly androginous features used to maximum effect in pointing out the fact that she is not a girl, not really. She is in turns innocent and manipulative, weak and hideously powerful, and this duality is just perfect for the role.

Let Me In is sickeningly grayish-green almost the entire time. Owen and Abby's apartments are depressingly poor and claustrophobic, and the 80's setting only increases the oppressive atmosphere. Music is fittingly gloomy as well, but the special effects and gore factor are a little jarring. Abby's vampiric exploits are a bit too artificial and computerized, while blood, guts, hideous burns etc. tend to be too much in the viewers' faces for comfort.

But, admittedly, comfort is the last thing Let Me In is going for. It is a depressing and disquieting movie, one where what should be a simple love story between lonely children is turned into a twisted parasitic relationship with no clear future or even hope of real honesty. Thankfully though, the most disturbing scene from Let The Right One In - the one where the boy sees the girl naked for an instant - has been edited out of the remake. Even without it though, the movie is not an easy one to watch, and still it's also impossible not to appreciate. It really pains me to know that it tanked so horribly in the box-office. Obviously shirtless werewolves is what sells your vampires nowadays, but even without those, Let Me In somehow manages to be the best vampire movie to come out in a very long time. So do yourself and the movie's box-office a favor, and go see it on the big screen.


Oct 8, 2010

Movies: The Social Network

I am not exactly the biggest Fincher fan out there. My relationship with his movies has been off and on throughout the years, and when I saw the trailer for The Social Network, my first reaction was "f*ck that!" But then the raving reviews started piling, and being the trend-following creature that I am, in the end I just went to see it.

And man, I am so glad that I did! This is, hands down, one of the best movies of the year. The production is impeccable on almost every level, and it would be nitpicking to try and list negatives.

The story follows the creation of Facebook, and the drama surrounding its creators, leading to two law-suits. The script is close to perfection. It jumps between the "present" - the two suits - and the "past" - the events that led to them. The movie's rhythm is exceptional, the cuts situated on exactly the right places, but the best part of the script is undeniably the dialogue. The lines fly at sonic speed, sarcastic remarks, snappy retorts and neurotic arguments that would leave the viewer physically exhausted were they not so engaging.

Which leads me to the second component that makes The Social Network so good - the casting. Jesse Eisenberg is amazing as the site's creator Mark Zuckenberg. He is a fidgeting douchebag, whose mind moves too fast for trivialities like sensitivity and manners, but who at the same time isn't above pettiness and the feeling of betrayal. A controversial character to say the least, Zuckenberg makes it hard to sympathize with him, and it seems to me that it is a desired effect. But Eisenberg has amazing timing in delivering his lines, and manages to bear most of the movie on his wimpy shoulders, which is saying a lot for an actor that young.

The rest of the main cast are also very good. Kudos to Armie Hammer, playing one of and the face/voice of both Winklevoss twins. The guy has an overbearing presence, creepily deep voice, and projects intense murder with just his eyes, which is kinda cool, considering the role he gets to play. Plus, he gets the best line in the entire movie: "I'm 6.5, 220 pounds, and there's two of me". Awesome!

Direction and cinematography are on the usual Fincher level of amazingness, although The Social Network isn't the type of story that suggests too much originality in those aspects. My only complaint is a small one, and has to do with the colors in the movie. Every part of the story uses its own particular color scheme - greenish-brown for the Harvard scenes, golden-brown for one of the law-suits, gray for the other, etc. Fincher is very big on utilizing different colors (or at least different shades of brown, that is...) as a storytelling tool, but in this particular case, the jarring transitions between them, while possibly intentional, tend to, well, jar. I don't particularly like it when effects like that are thrusting their cleavage in my face.

It's a minor problem though, and not particularly annoying. Overall, The Social Network is a great movie that deserves every praise it's been getting. Do yourselves a favor and go see it.


Oct 7, 2010

Avatar: Special Edition announced

Amazon has the collector's extended edition of James Cameron's Avatar up for pre-order. After the mockery that the previous edition was, fans are finally getting what this particular movie deserved all along. In a grossly overpriced format of course, but for those of us who were firm in our beliefs and said NO to double dipping and Fox's infinite greed, it is the only edition. I completely ignored the previous "VHS"-ed., and I am hoping many of you did the same.

The Collector's Edition of Avatar comes to DVD and BD on November 16

Oct 6, 2010

No Ordinary Family - first impressions

The Powell family is the typical American stereotype - Jim and Stephanie (The Shield's Michael Chiklis and Buffy and Angel's Julie Benz) love each other, but can't seem to connect. He is a failed painter turned police sketch artist, and she is a scientist, and "Executive Vice President of Research at Global Tech", whatever that means. They are both rather estranged from their two teenage kids - rebellious Daphne (Kay Panabaker) and slow-learner JJ (Jimmy Bennett) - and although Jim finds the time to be a housewife and bear as much load as his kids choose to dump on him, Stephanie is almost never at home long enough to take the part of the mother. All in all, family life is on the decline.

But then something extraordinary happens. After a plane crash, all four Powells suddenly find themselves with superpowers. Jim is impossibly strong and capable of sustaining staggering amounts of damage. Stephanie has gained super-speed. Daphne is suddenly telepathic. And as for ever-failing-tests JJ, he seems to have become a genius who understands ridiculously complex scientific concepts by just looking at them. But while they are struggling to figure out what those powers are, and how they are going to affect their lives, Jim finds out that there are others like them out there. And some of those people might be really dangerous.

The first two episodes of No Ordinary Family seem pretty decent. I am a bit twisted when it comes to Supernatural/SF/Fantasy shows, because, honestly speaking, most of them aren't made by Joss Whedon and therefore tend to, well, suck. That said, I kinda enjoyed Heroes' first season (although I stopped after that to spare myself from the disappointment that it seemed to induce in everybody else in further seasons), and this one looks a lot like a cross between it and Fantastic Four. I can't say yet whether or not it's going to deliver, but the premise is promising, the intrigue that's slowly developing seems interesting, and the special effects are kinda the shit. The fight at the end of episode 1 in particular was all kinds of awesome, and Stephanie's super-speed deal is visualized in an amazing way.

Another thing No Ordinary Family has going for it are the two leads. Although I've never watched The Shield, I know enough to know it's good, and so is Chiklis, who manages in just a few short scenes to portray a really warming picture of a caring father who feels alone among his own family. The place I heap all my adoration though, is at the feet of Julie Benz. Ever since Angel I've held nothing but deepest respect for her acting abilities. She projects an amazing mixture of devilish charm, intelligence and tender sensitivity, and I think the role is more than perfect for her.

So, I'll be having my fingers crossed that this would be one of those rare exceptions where - like Whedon - screenwriters have an actual plan for the show, the way it develops and what it wants to say. Cause the setup is good enough to deliver a lot.

Comics: The Walking Dead, Volume Seven: The Calm Before

After a necessary break from the series, I decided to jump back into the world of The Walking Dead. It seems to have done me some good, because even though not much happens in Volume 7, it wasn't irritating either. The Calm Before is sort of an interlude, as the title suggests, dealing with the weeks of relative peace the people in the prison are enjoying, after Rick's return from Woodsburry.

Outside of the token death of an established character (and one that was long time in the coming, to be honest), the only important thing to happen in this volume is the birth (finally!) of Lori and Rick's (or Lori and Shane's, but who cares anymore?) baby. Plus, of course, the cliffhanger at the end - one which we were also expecting for a while now.

And yet, The Calm Before feels just right for its title, giving the characters some (not too much) rest from all the drama they've been forced to endure, and in a way that doesn't feel like the story is dragging the way previous volumes did. Sure, Kirkman is obviously never gonna grow out of his pretentious declarative exhibitionist conversations about who feels how, why they feel that way, and how messed up life is, but I've kinda grown to accept that The Walking Dead just isn't the masterpiece I was led to expect. Now all that's left is to see where (if anywhere) the ride will be taking us.


Oct 5, 2010

Buffy The Vampire Slayer - Season 7

As another summer draws to its end, the rebuilt Sunnydale High is finally opening its doors to a new generation of students. Dawn heads for classes in the new place, while Buffy herself is hired by the charming principal Robin Wood (DB Woodside) to be the new student counselor. But from beneath the school, the Hellmouth is beginning to open, and this time a force unlike any other is prepared to use it for its dark ends. A force capable of touching every part of the world simultaneously, striking at the very heart of its protectors - the Watchers' Council and the Slayer line. And while Potential Slayers are getting killed all over the globe, Sunnydale is becoming both the safest place for the girls to go, and the most dangerous. The First Evil has made its move. And this time the Slayer won't be enough.

Season 7 is not simply the final season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. It is one huge, 22-episode Finale for the entire show. Throughout every episode there is a feeling of impending disaster, of a convergence of powers the likes of which Buffy has never faced before. She has slain vampires, demons, monsters born of magic and science, hellgods and even herself, but every second of this season shows you that this, here, now, is - one way or the other - the end of all that she, her friends, or any of us have ever known.

Buffy Season 7 is vibrant with the energy of closure, and it is not surprising that closure, as well as redemption, are the two predominant themes in it. Gone are many of the insecurities, uncertainties and undefined fears of the Scoobies. They have faced terror, darkness and hell itself - both without and within - and have emerged triumphant, even through loss and suffering. Now they are all - Buffy, Xander, Willow, Giles, Dawn, Anya and in the end even Spike - the thing that so few characters in fiction are - true and real heroes. They are champions, not simply of abstract concepts like "good", and "justice", but of morality and integrity. They have all made mistakes, both small and profound, and the truths they have learned, the justice they represent, are now not something they like or respect, but something they are.

Should you take a step back and look at it in the context of the entire show, Season 7 is a thing of beauty. It is the culmination of a phenomenon that was never afraid to go into places of darkness and shine the light of love and humor on them. It often delivered not what the viewers wanted, but what they needed. And, unlike almost every other TV show ever made, Buffy The Vampire Slayer realized its potential. It was a glorious ride that lasted for seven amazing years of constant reinvention, evolution and growth, and it ended exactly when its time came, with the bang that it deserved.

Every actor in the show gives their best performances here - Nicholas Brandon and Allison Hannigan in particular, reminding us how terribly important Willow and Xander have always been to this show - and there are many fine moments from each of its main writers as well, particularly the ridiculously talented Jane Espenson. Truth be told, it is hard to pick any one moment to praise, as it all fits together so well.

Due to the dynamic of the season arc, there is not much to say about individual episodes, and it would be beside the point anyway. There are gems among them, no doubt - like the hauntingly enjoyable and originally structured Conversations With Dead People, where - due to scheduling conflicts - every one of the characters is in a separate storyline the entire time; or the humorous yet heartbreaking Storyteller, focusing on Andrew's (Tom Lenk) own redemption, facing the truth of what he has done. Perhaps the greatest "year one" episode is Anya's own Selfless, which, in a series of gorgeous flashbacks, shows her journey from a pre-medieval village housewife to one of the most powerful demons on the planet, to an awkwardly honest yet ultimately kind-hearted human. It even features another musical number from her, going back to the night before the events of Season 6's Once More With Feeling.

Season 7 is not, however, about the individual episodes. It is about Buffy's last battle as a guardian of the Hellmouth. The final episode, Chosen, is the culmination of all the tension that has been gathering throughout the whole season. A battle of epic proportions, and one that - were it shot in today's high budget television - would have rivaled anything Lord of the Rings showed us about fantasy. Amazing soundtrack, fantastic battle scenes and effects that are more spectacular than anything Buffy has ever done before, and yet Chosen's true power is not in its action, but in the beauty that comes of reaching the end of a long road. It is in the scene where the four original Scoobies - Buffy, Willow, Xander and Giles - discuss what they are going to do tomorrow, and it is in Giles' full-circle comment that yes, the world is definitely doomed. It is in The three inseparable friends going their separate ways to do their part in the final battle, without saying anything, parting with but a slight touch of hands and a knowing smile.

But it is, above all else, in the episode's message. Which is, ultimately, Buffy The Vampire Slayer's message. That you are strong. That there are those around you, on which you can rely. That love redeems, and that forgiveness cures. That sacrifice is only worth when you do it for others, and that we all have inside of us the potential to save the world.

The show ends with a future. A whole new world to explore. "We saved the world", Dawn says. "We changed the world", replies a disbelieving Willow. And so they have, if maybe just a little bit, for those of us that looked at what Joss Whedon gave us without cultural and intellectual prejudices, and opened our eyes to see beyond a cheesy premise and a corny title. Buffy The Vampire Slayer changed us, and for the better. In the end, it was more than just another TV show, more than just entertainment and thrills. It went beyond art, beyond storytelling, and style, and characterization. It went beyond them to come to us. And I will end this long series of reviews by saying that if my posts have inspired even a single soul to watch the show with the eyes to see it for the glorious experience that it is, then I will be content.