Feb 28, 2011

Extended version of the Iron Throne trailer

A new trailer for HBO's A Game of Thrones. Watch it. Now. It is fantastic and I need to watch the entire show NOW...

Feb 27, 2011

Nebula Award nominations 2010

SFWA has announced the Nebula nominations for 2010. Here is the list:

Short Story




The Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation

  • Despicable Me, Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud (directors), Ken Daurio & Cinco Paul (screenplay), Sergio Pablos (story) (Illumination Entertainment)
  • Doctor Who: ‘‘Vincent and the Doctor’’, Richard Curtis (writer), Jonny Campbell (director)
  • How to Train Your Dragon, Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders (directors), William Davies, Dean DeBlois, & Chris Sanders (screenplay) (DreamWorks Animation)
  • Inception, Christopher Nolan (director), Christopher Nolan (screenplay) (Warner)
  • Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Edgar Wright (director), Michael Bacall & Edgar Wright (screenplay) (Universal)
  • Toy Story 3, Lee Unkrich (director), Michael Arndt (screenplay), John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, & Lee Unkrich (story) (Pixar/Disney)

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy

I am ashamed to admit that - apart from a few movies - I have no personal experience with any of the nominees, although a few are on my read list. Well, I just hope I manage to read them before the award ceremony, so I can whine and grumble when they don't win...

Feb 26, 2011

Movies: I Am Number Four

So here is why this is complicated. First, there was the trailer, and it looked cool. But then there was the other information - the cast, the story, the actual target of the movie - and there was no way in hell I Am Number Four wouldn't suck. But then there was my gut feeling. I have those, occasionally, and they are hardly ever wrong. So my gut feeling told me that the movie would be bad, but still a lot better than people with actual decent tastes and some semblance of critical thinking would expect. It also told me I would enjoy it. And as is usually the case I was right.

The story is basically Twilight with aliens. John (Alex Pettyfer) is a hot young alien who - in the best Superman traditions - is completely indistinguishable from humans, except for his awesome powers. He is among the last survivors of his homeworld which was invaded by the evil Mogadorians (and trust me - they are very evil. I mean, they kill people for fun!!!). However, even among his kind, John is special. He is one of the Nine - children with amazing abilities, destined to be protectors of their race (and by extension - of goodness, rainbows and unicorns). The Mogadorians are hunting down the Numbers which - for reasons that remain completely unexplained in the movie - can only be killed in a particular order. I Am Number Four begins with the murder of Three. Our boy John is next, so his protector Henri (Timothy Olyphant) moves them from Florida to Paradise, Ohio (which is in no way to be mistaken for Bella's move from Phoenix, Arizona to Forks, even though yes - John does have an internal monologue during the move...) where our boy goes to a new school only to meet the beautiful yet quirky outcast Sarah (Dianna Agron). But of course, the Mogadorians are on to him now, and there is also a deadly hot chick in black leather (Teresa Palmer) on his trail.

You see how easy it is for this movie to suck. And suck it surely does, only - not enough to prevent you from enjoying it. First of all, Dianna Agron is gorgeous (as anyone watching Glee would already know). Talented, beautiful and charming, she gives Sarah way more life than the flat character actually deserves. Alex Pettyfer's performance, although hampered by clunky writing, is actually rather decent too, so the two leads are already head and shoulders above poor Bella and Edward.

The love story is severely less prominent than the action is, which is also rather awesome, and the action itself is really spectacular. Soon after he arrives in Paradise, John realizes that he has become stronger and faster, and that strange stuff is coming out of his body (I know, I know, every puberty joke ever...). At first it is just weird light (that he hilariously uses mostly to illuminate dark places), but then telekinesis kicks in, followed by forcefields, energy beams - the full X-men package. He doesn't get Edward-fast though, for which I feel weird gratitude. Also, the Numbers' "legacies" are different, so when we get to see another one of them (oops! Spoiler alert!), their abilities are refreshingly new.

Now for the bad stuff. First of all, the story is all over the place. The bad guys are bad because they kill kittens, and their agenda is never explained. Why did they invade John's planet in the first place? Why are they after Earth now? Why can't they kill the Numbers in any order? WHAT'S WITH THE RETARDED TRENCH COATS?! Whole lot of questions, no answer whatsoever. Even the leader of the group hunting John - who even speaks English if you can imagine - never even gets a name of his own, the poor dear.

Then there is Tymothy Olyphant. The fact that the guy can't act to save his life is not really the issue here. The problem comes from the complete inadequacy of his Henri, who is supposed to be John's protector, but ends up being completely overpowered by two random hicks off-screen. Also, what's with the flashlight dagger, dude? The Mogadorians come at you with microwave-sized blasters and you're fighting them with a dagger?! Seriously? And it's not like the good guys don't have blasters (as seen towards the end - and they shoot Goodly Blue rays, as opposed to the evil guys' Wicked Red rays!!!), so if that rebellious teenager is that important to you, maybe up your game a little bit, play with the big toys maybe? Sheesh...

But in the end, I Am Number Four is good entertainment. It sure beats the crap out of the Twilight movies, opting for fast pace (except for the middle which drags a little) and cool superpowers shown in well executed and unchaotic action scenes. Which is, of course, why it will fail miserably and never get even remotely close to the sparkly vampires in terms of popularity. Still, I hope it does well enough in the box office, because as shallow and whatevery as it is, I would love to see the sequel.


Feb 24, 2011

Cover art for the Subterranean edition of Perdido Street Station

No idea how new this one is, but I find it utterly gorgeous, and as such - worthy of posting. This dust jacket, just like the inner illustrations, has been done by Edward Miller. Here is the page on Subterranean's site, although - sadly - the book is already sold out.

Feb 22, 2011

A new Charlie Stross from Subterranean

Subterranean have announced a previously unpublished Charless Stross novel, entitled Scratch Monkey. Here is the blurb:

Scratch Monkey is the 2011 Boskone Book by Boskone's Guest of Honor Charles Stross. It contains his previously unpublished novel, Scratch Monkey, an essay about writing the novel, and a second essay about a writer's view of publishing. The novel is set in the distant future, when humans have spread through the galaxy, physically and virtually. We are not alone; we have created a race of AIs, the Superbrights, to administer and expand the virtual side of our presence in the Milky Way. Oshi Adjani works for a Superbright, traveling to worlds where her Boss cannot go, and solving the problems he has set her. One success reveals a secret of the Superbrights, so the Boss forces her into one last, deadly mission, with her freedom as her reward for doing the impossible.

Sounds interesting, but then again, all Stross' books sound interesting to me. I will keep an eye for that one. Here's the Subterranean page for the novel, and the release date is set for this week. Also - awesome cover art!

Feb 20, 2011

An Invitation to Westeros

There is a new behind the scenes video from the upcoming A Game of Thrones HBO show. Make sure to check it out:

Feb 19, 2011

Two responses to Leo Grin's essay

I found those two responses to the ludicrous Leo Grin essay I posted a couple of days ago.

The first one is R. Scott Bakker's awesome The Fourth Tribe (Or, Going for Baroque). Here's an excerpt:


Even as a kid, I read [Tolkien and Howard] as celebrations of things lost, as longwinded eulogies. Given this, you might say that Grin thinks this is fantasy’s vocation, to endlessly eulogize, and that writing that strays into the baroque or revisionary are not only morally and imaginatively bankrupt, they are symptomatic of some great disease of the soul that is presently claiming the world and humanity.

Sound familiar? It should if you read fantasy. This particular salad of attitudes and concepts – moral certainty writ on a cosmic scale – is precisely what you find in almost all premodern works of fantastic fiction, everything from Upanishads to the Holy Bible. Consider the hyperbole. Consider the way he structures his oppositions in the above quote: on the one side you have the sacred, the treasured and the cruciform, while on the other side you have, well, shit and piss.

Pure purity and abject pollution.


The other one is Bankrupt Nihilism by Joe Abercrombie:


I’m a little suspicious, I must say, of any argument that lumps Tolkien and Howard together as one thing, although Leo has made the photos of them in his piece point towards each other in a very complimentary fashion. I think of them as polar opposites in many ways, and the originators (or at least key practitioners) of, to some extent, opposed traditions within sword-based fantasy. Tolkien, the father of high fantasy, Howard the father of low. Howard’s work, written by a man who died at thirty, tends to the short and pulpy (as you’d expect from stories written for pulp magazines). Tolkien’s work, published on the whole when he was advanced in years, is very long and literary (as you’d expect from a professor of English). Tolkien is more focused on setting, I’d say, Howard on character. Leo’s point is that they both celebrate a moral simplicity, a triumph of heroism, but I see that too as a massive over-simplification. Howard celebrates the individual, is deeply cynical (could one even say nihilistic) about civilisation. Tolkien seems broadly to celebrate order, structure, duty and tradition. And I celebrate, well …


Both are pretty interesting, so make sure to check them out!

Feb 15, 2011

On the sacrilige of going off-Tolkien...

While browsing Pat's blog, I found this article, titled The Bankrupt Nihilism of Our Fallen Fantasists by Leo Grin from Big Hollywood. I found it extremely amusing in its fanboyish indignation and intellectual constipation, and would urge you to proceed with all due haste and read it. Hilarity and merriment are to be had! Here's an excerpt:

In the case of the fantasy genre, the result is a mockery and defilement of the mythopoeic splendor that true artists like Tolkien and Howard willed into being with their life’s blood. Honor is replaced with debasement, romance with filth, glory with defeat, and hope with despair. Edgy? Nah, just punk kids farting in class and getting some giggles from the other mouth-breathers.

Ah, the innocent joy of people being wrong on the internet...

Feb 12, 2011

Supernatural - Season 5


Manipulated by Ruby, Sam killed Lilith and thus broke the final seal to Lucifer's prison. The devil is freed from his cage, and Armageddon has come. And Castiel has died protecting Dean from the archangel tied to the prophet Chuck. But another force intervenes, and at the last second before Lucifer is unleashed upon the world, Sam and Dean find themselves on a plane, away from immediate danger. What's more, that same force has brought Castiel back from the dead.

But the Winchesters' roles in the Apocalypse have just started. Because it turns out that for the final battle between Lucifer and his big brother Michael to happen, two very special vessels are required - an obedient older brother and a younger one that ever rebelled against an unfathomable father. Sam and Dean are the true vessels of Armageddon. But for an angel to occupy a vessel, it has to first give consent. And so the quest for preventing the final battle begins.

Season 5 of Supernatural is the heaviest in terms of plot yet. Initially planned as an ending to the Winchesters' story, it goes on to resolve most of the issues the brothers have between them, and even takes some time to flesh out Bobby and Castiel, making them full-fledged support cast. There are almost no stand-alone episodes, and when there are, they are also either tied somehow to the main arc, or used to further develop the brothers.

Two other characters receive more attention, one of them old, the other - a newcomer. The first is everyboty's favorite Trickster (Richard Speight Jr.) who turns out to be so much more than we originally thought (and the screenwriters originally planned, I bet). He also leads by far the funniest episode in the show yet - the hilarious TV show hopping Changing Channels where the Winchesters are trapped in TV-land and have to play roles to survive. The Trickster has a bigger role to play too, and although it's obvious he wasn't conceived as such from the beginning, it ties perfectly with the show's concepts.

The new addition is the insanely charming and obnoxious demon Crowley (Mark A. Sheppard) - Lord of the Crossroads and a craven opportunist whose instinct of self-preservation makes him want to help the brothers ice the devil. You know he's awesome when he complains about how other demons are after his ass with the immortal words "They burned down my house! THEY ATE MY TAILOR!" Sheppard was pretty great in Battlestar Galactica as the smartass lawyer Romo Lampkin, but his Crowley here is such a disarmingly horrible person, that you just have to love him.

And then of course, there is Lucifer (Mark Pellegrino), riding an imperfect vessel until he can persuade Sam to say yes. The fallen angel is just as cool as could be expected, going more Milton than Bible in being honest, calm, and at the same time utterly maddened by the desire to take revenge on his father for casting him down just for loving him too much. He doesn't need rage, because he knows that he will win, and is almost serene in the knowledge. A very strong character that doesn't have nearly enough screen time.

There are no weak elements that I haven't addressed in previous reviews. Of course, it's a little annoying that a season that has obviously been thought of as final, turns out to not be so, but it doesn't really suffer from that business decision. Some bad acting happens here and there, some weird plot holes, some easy saves where no easy saves should occur, and of course the usual "we can't really do issues well"... wait for it... ISSUE. But nothing that would spoil the fun.

All in all Season 5 is probably the best season of the show so far. True, the plot drags on occasion, but the main arc is so rich and interesting, that it compensates fully. Almost all the episodes are strong, with appearances from damn near every character this show has ever had, plus some new ones. The angels are still trying to outdick the demons (Zachariah wins the cherry with his awesome "Lucifer might be powerful, but I am petty!") while humans can't make heads or tails of what's happening around them. The four horsemen ride on unorthodox steeds, and in the utterly awesome Hammer of the Gods even some pagan deities make appearances. The Apocalypse is no longer nigh, it is here, and it is happening. And Supernatural pulls it off beautifully, managing to finish the season in the most perfect way imaginable. I'm really curious to see how Season 6 will pick up the story.


Feb 11, 2011

X-men: First Class' first trailer

First trailer of the upcoming X-men: First Class. Looks less horrible than I expected, but it still smells suspiciously of another Wolverine failure. Let's just hope that the magnificent cast can save the day...

Feb 10, 2011

Subterranean offers a limited edition of Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys

Subterranean is offering three different types of limited edition of Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys. Even though the page for the book lists it as "sold out", I received the e-mail today, which suggests that this should change. So if you're interested in some spicy Gaiman action, keep an eye on Subterranean's site.

Feb 9, 2011

The author of The Vampire Diaries has been "fired"?

I stumbled upon this piece of news over at The Wertzone. Apparently L.J. Smith - the writer of the hugely successful The Vampire Diaries series - has been fired by her publisher HarperCollins from her own series. It seems HC thinks that the recent books have deviated from the "core of the series". Honestly, I can't believe such a thing could happen in this day and age, but as the series started coming out a good twenty years ago, I guess it's not that impossible. Also, it turns out that Smith was only hired by the publisher to work on an idea they had. I imagine I'd be pretty pissed if it were a series I cared about. In this case I only find the whole thing mildly absurd and a little funny. Especially considering how huge the series has become recently around the whole vampire romance mania and the tv show. Honestly, I'm sorry for Smith, but I'm also chuckling a little.

Feb 8, 2011

Cover art for the US paperback edition of Guy Gavriel Kay's Under Heaven

Kay is one of the writers I know I should be reading, but never seem to get around to doing it. I have read his Lions of Al-Rasan as well as the Fionavar Tapestry, but for whatever reason it's been years since I've picked up another book of his. Anyway, for all intents and purposes the comparison between the gorgeous hardcover and the new paperback edition should be in favor of the former, but for some reason I really like the color scheme for this one. It's very vivid and I think it will look great on the actual book.

Feb 6, 2011

Cover art for the US edition of Adrian Tchaikovsky's The Scarab Path

I still think that the US editions of Adrian Tchaikovsky's Shadows of the Apt (published by Pyr) are way better looking than the UK version, not to mention the format is easier to read. So, on that note, here's the cover for The Scarab Path - book 5 in the series, and first in the second story-arc. Release date is April 2011.

Feb 4, 2011

Home Fires - Gene Wolfe

Gene Wolfe has the amazingly potent power to make me feel stupid. He doesn't do it on purpose, I'm sure, as nobody's really that mean, but he does it regardless. His newest novel, Home Fires, did that job admirably, but not in the most fulfilling way that he's capable of.

The story is - as is always the case with Wolfe - deceptively simple. In a future mildly dystopian America, Skip Grison "contracted" Chelle Sea Blue when they were both fresh out of college. She was bound for the stars with the army, to fight the mysterious Os over the few habitable planets that both races want, and he would stay on Earth and become a successful lawyer. Relativistic time meant that a few years for her would mean decades for him. Thus, when Chelle came back, she would have a rich contracto, and he - a young contracta. It is now 20 years later and Skip is pushing fifty. And the love of his life is due home. But now that they are separated by such a big age gap, will they be able to have the life they once both dreamed of?

Home Fires is a whodunit mystery, channeling a little of Wolfe's own Seven American Nights in terms of atmosphere. From the very beginning inconsistencies start piling up. To get a present for his contracta, Skip uses a company called Reanimation, which "raises" her dead mother by imprinting one of its employees with her brain scan - in short "uploading" her in a new body. Chelle, however, instantly recognizes her mother even though the body is different and much younger. Then they take a cruise on a big ship out at sea, and misadventures and strange meetings keep following them.

The book is exceptionally engrossing, the promise of a resolution to a shapeless mystery dangling in front of the reader like a golden carrot from hell. Every conversation is heavy with the energy of hidden meaning, and even seemingly casual and pointless remarks are made in a tone and using words that suggest more. Most of that is Wolfe's way of confusing you, as there can be no hidden meaning everywhere, obviously. Some of it isn't, however, and it is there that I start feeling stupid.

Because the actual mystery of Home Fires is resolved two thirds of the way, and the reader keeps expecting there to be more. And I am pretty sure there is more, only - unlike with Wolfe's masterpieces like Book of the New Sun or Fifth Head of Cerberus - this time I am not entirely certain whether this is based on the actual book, or my knowledge of the way the writer operates. There are threads left hanging, and there are characters whose presence in the novel remains unexplained. Meetings that could not have been coincidence or chance. Connections that should not be there. And yet it does not seem to amount to anything solid.

Wolfe uses his favorite positioning of the narrative - in the character's head, but outside of their mind; it is completely closed to the reader, and even though you look through Skip's eyes for almost the entire book, you are never witness to his thinking process. Home Fires is separated into chapters, each one followed by a smaller "Reflections" section. The chapters are in third person, while the Reflections are in first, and are exactly that - ruminations on what has just happened, suggestions, guesses and dreams, most of them - suggesting that Skip has figured out more than he lets on... and more than the reader is left with by the end of the novel.

So yes, I am a little frustrated. I enjoyed reading Home Fires, but I finished it with a feeling of being slightly cheated. I am not sure there were enough clues to what actually happens in the story, and for the first time in my experience with Gene Wolfe I have doubts that there might not be anything more than what's on plain sight. Still, the book is beautifully written, with dialogue that is - in an almost Philip Dick way - completely artificial and unrealistic, but at the same time weirdly appropriate to the atmosphere and the story, and flows like black water - opaque and hiding anything that might be lurking beneath its surface, but ensnaring none the less - or maybe for that very reason. Would I recommend that you give it a chance? Absolutely. It is Gene Wolfe, and that means it is always worth reading. I am just not sure I want to give it the reread it might need to be understood.


Supernatural - Season 4


Season 3
ended with Dean being dragged into hell after his one year was up. Sam, however, survived Lilith's attack, turning out to be immune to her powers. It is now four months later, and Dean is inexplicably back from the dead, sporting a handprint on his shoulder. He claims to have no idea what has happened to him in hell, and even less so concerning his savior's identity. Until the one responsible for his miraculous rebirth reveals himself - Castiel (Misha Collins), an angel of the Lord.

Lilith has started breaking the 66 seals - the locks to Lucifer's prison. For that reason, in the first time in 2000 years, the Heavenly Host is down on Earth, the immensely powerful angels battling the demons who are trying to set their creator free. And Dean has a role to play in the upcoming battle - a key role, important enough so that the Lord has commanded he be saved from hell. But what of Sam? How has he spent the four months since the death of his brother?

Season 4 of Supernatural begins the Apocalypse story-arc. The war between Heaven and hell, in which the Winchester brothers are pivotal. Sam's newfound powers of demon exorcising and Dean's struggling to understand why he is so important that he deserves a second chance are of course the focus of the story, and as can be easily guessed, that means a lot of angst. Which means dragging and ISSUES! But on the plus side, the scriptwriters have learned a little, and this time the drama is a little bit more relateable, the conflicts more focused. The brothers still mostly exchange pointless and inexact half-accusations instead of actually dealing with the problems, but progress has been made.

The true awesomeness in Season 4 however is Castiel. Misha Collins portrays the uptight angel beautifully, and Castiel is in turns strong and commanding, and vulnerable and uncertain. His strict moral code and absolute obedience to the will of the Lord are put to a test more than once, and he quickly becomes the best support character this show has ever had.

And yet, among all that Apocalyptic drama, there is still time for stand-alone fun. Possibly one of the best episodes in the entire show, the black-and-white Monster Movie, with its ridiculous cheesy music and old-school drama, puts the Winchesters in a small town during Octoberfest. There seems to be a vampire there, only it wears a cape and speaks with a Transilvanian accent. Oh, and also a werewolf. With fur, and a muzzle. And that's not counting the mummy! Wishful Thinking takes us to a town where a wishing well actually works, to hilariously demented effects like a bipolar suicidal six-foot living teddy bear for example. It's a Terrible Life on the other hand, introduces us to a weird alternate reality where Sam and Dean are both Joe Normals who have never met each other in their lives, but happen to work in the same office building. Which is haunted...

There are a few gems among the main story-arc episodes as well. In the Beginning sees Dean transported by Castiel back in time to witness the start of the Winchester curse when a young John Winchester and his girlfriend Mary meet Azazel for the first time, while The Monster at the End of the Book introduces Chuck (Rob Benedict) - a mediocre writer of a badly written book series called Supernatural, which just happens to describe the brothers' lives to the smallest detail.

There is a truckload of new characters in this season - both angels, demons and humans. The scriptwriters have finally figured out that no matter how good the dynamic between the two protagonists, a tv show needs an ensemble to function properly. And with the demons switching bodies with such ease, we get to see different acting for the same character, which is also an interesting thing. Particularly the last incarnation of the demon Alastair (Christopher Heyerdahl) is a joy to listen to, as he whines and wheezes his way into sentence after painful sentence with nasal hickness that's just delightful.

In the end though, Season 4 is all about Sam and Dean, as usual, and the story ends in a huge cliffhanger that has you reaching for the next season's box in panic. I can't honestly tell whether it's better or worse than the previous year, but it is a very good season, and worth watching. It is Apocalypse now! Of the Lord!


Feb 2, 2011

A Song of Ice and Fire comic book adaptation

George R. R. Martin announced on his not-a-blog that Bantam has acquired the rights and together with Dynamite Entertainment is going to publish a series of monthly issues. The comics will be scripted by Daniel Abraham and drawn by Tommy Patterson. The first issue is scheduled to be released in late Spring 2011. Until then, here are two concept arts from the artist - of Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister:

Feb 1, 2011

A few more Game of Thrones videos

There has been an on-going series of "Artisan" videos released in recent weeks, all dedicated to different aspects of the production of the upcoming HBO show A Game of Thrones. I thought I'd compensate for my recent lack of activity by posting all the videos that have come out by now. Watch them, they're pretty interesting!