Aug 31, 2011

True Blood, Season 3

Not really in the mood, so this one will be short...

After the events in Season 2, Bon Temps is in a state of cautious denial. Nothing terrible really happened, it was all just some mass hysteria thing. But Tara can't forget Eggs' tragic death, and Sookie has a very real issue to deal with - someone has kidnapped Bill. Soon werewolves enter the picture, and it would seem a vampire king has outgrown his state, and is looking with hunger towards Louisiana. With intrigue everywhere, political scheming and personal agendas, Sookie seems to be in the center of it all in more than one way, but can she trust anybody? Even the love of her life?

Sounds unfocused? That's because it is. After the absolutely stunning previous season, the third year of True Blood suddenly drops the quality to a level of self-conscious audience-excluding posturing. Literally EVERY character has their own story-line, so the plot barely progresses from an episode to episode. Nobody acts smart anymore (and I don't mean smart in general, but in the campy context of the show), and by this point it seems everybody has some romantic interest in everybody else, which to me is a very powerful sign of screenwriting exhaustion.

Just in case things weren't complicated enough between Sookie, Eric and Bill, now we have hunky werewolf Alcide Herveaux (fitness model Joe Manganiello) to set the stage for a love square - with all the vampires scheming against each other while trying to use Sookie's powers, Alcide is of course a pillar of normality and stability even being what he is.

And then there is the revelation of what Sookie herself actually is, and where her telepathic powers come from. I cannot bring myself to say it, even if I wanted to spoil. It hurts too much...

The writing in Season 3 is simply poor. Even the "main" plot, as much as such could be discerned, is a disastrously uneven affair that ends in the most fantastic anticlimax imaginable, leaving the viewers with a feeling of "wait, is that it?" frustration. Honestly, it feels like all the writers of the previous two seasons have been fired, and the script has been entrusted to the janitor's aunt.

I can't say I actually hated the season, really. Watching it in the span of two days prevented me from hitting the wall in anger which would have been the case if I had to wait a week between the doses of story impotence. There is stuff to like in it, as this is still True Blood. But there is no real joy as the previous two seasons delivered. The show feels tired, and slightly annoyed with you for expecting too much from it when it's not in the mood to play.

I can only hope the next season is better. I don't want Season 2 quality. Just a sign that the show hasn't abandoned all ambition of a coherent storyline.


Aug 29, 2011

Hero - Perry Moore

Hero is my annual Random Young Adult Book for 2011. My previous one - Ryan Brown's Play Dead (Review) was based on the awesome cover and my latent zombie love, and ended up a spectacular - if entertaining - failure. What drew me to Hero was the unique premise. And this time I don't feel stupid for spending the short time it took to read it.

Set in an alternate present-day Earth reminiscent of the Marvel/DC comic book universes, the novel tells the story of Thom Creed - a teenager with a lot of problems weighing heavily on him. He is a basketball star in his high school team, but still he has no friends because he is also the son of the world's once-premier superhero Major Might. Failing to prevent a horrible tragedy due to his lack of super-powers, Hal Creed was disgraced and blamed for the thousands of victims, and has been met with hostility and ostracized ever since. Thom also possesses healing abilities that he is just barely beginning to understand, which in a house where heroes are taboo is anything but a good thing. And if that is not enough, the boy hides an even bigger secret from his dad - he is gay.

A chance encounter with the A-listers of the League of Heroes ends with Thom being recruited as a probationary member, and put in a team of misfit wannabe heroes, each with their quirky power and personal issues. But even as he struggles with the secret he is hiding from everyone, a much bigger problem arises - someone is killing the world's most powerful superheroes, and Thom quickly finds himself in a place where his choices might determine the fate of many.

Hero is young adult all the way through, but at the same time it deals with the adolescent issues in a serious and honest manner. The superhero world is intentionally made cliche. Many of the A-listers are clearly recognizable DC characters like Superman, Flash or Wonder Woman, with only the name and clothing changed. Moore doesn't try to be original, and it seems to me his purpose was to create a comic-book universe that felt familiar and comfortable to the teenage readers. Even if I am more of a Marvel guy myself, I have to say he has succeeded. The world is a wonderful background for the allegory of growing up different and fighting to find your own value among hatred and bigotry.

The theme of Thom's sexuality is obviously the most important one, permeating practically everything else in the story, but Hero is surprisingly pure in that it doesn't focus on the sexual attraction so much as on the internal conflict and the need for support. At the same time, this is a book about growing up, surviving adversity, and finding your own wings, so it can be an equally pleasant read for any non-bigoted reader no matter their sexuality. It definitely doesn't feel like a "gay read". Also, despite the writing and story being on the YA side, the novel contains some pretty harsh language and a lot of description of grizzly violence, especially towards the end. Yet somehow those don't really clash with the concept, but instead serve to enhance it, to add more depth to it.

Perry Moore's writing style, on the other hand, leaves something to be desired. Hero is his debut novel, and it shows. Of course, YA books tend to be judged by lower standards stylistically, but even so the prose often feels rushed, uneven and chunky. Surprisingly, this didn't prevent me from enjoying the story, which - in contrast to the sometimes clumsy writing - is perfectly paced, the built-up to the epic showdown executed with confidence, and with enough plot twists to keep the interest until the very last page (even if most of them are pretty obvious for an older audience). Moore also has a very good instincts where describing superhero battles and large-scale cool-looking events are concerned, and the description of those is usually top notch.

The characterization is also uneven, but this is easily forgivable. Hero is, after all, the story of one boy's journey of self-discovery, and as such, it focuses heavily on him. Thom is well developed and feels real and interesting enough to forgive him his sometimes unrealistic lack of confidence, considering he is after all, an athletic jock with a superpower. That said, many other characters - like Thom's father, the old and sarcastic compulsive smoker precog Ruth or the haughty and constantly angry Scarlett who hides her own painful secrets behind her fiery powers - receive a really decent amount of fleshing out, almost surprisingly deep considering the target age group. Ironically, the least well developed is Thom's love interest who isn't even identified as such until very late in the novel, even though we are constantly in the kid's head and should've gotten the memo earlier.

In the end, Hero is a really good book. The unrealistic setting serves to enhance the very real problems Moore deals with, while at the same time also presenting the palette for a cool superhero story that examines the usual coming out drama in a new and exciting light, without undervaluing it. It is an entertaining and quick read, and at best it might even make you think about the struggles of many kids all over the world, dealing with what Thom faces without having superpowers.


Aug 26, 2011

Game of Thrones Season 2 casting: part 9

Ian Hanmore is the warlock Pyat Pree from the House of the Undying, whom Daenerys meets in the city of Qarth. A minor role, but important in terms of her character development.

Daniel Portman is everybody's favorite Podrick Payne - Tyrion's squire in King's Landing. It is more or less a comic relief role, and the kid looks awkward enough to pull it off. I can't wait to see how it turns out.

Ralph Ineson is Dagmer Cleftjaw - an ironborn raider with a fearsome reputation. He plays a role in the events in the north, but to me the actor seems rather... well, refined. Still, that's what make-up is for, I guess.

Lucian Msamati is the pirate Salladhor Saan, "the Prince of the Narrow Sea". A colorful character that I have always liked, and Msamati seems a good choice.

Aug 25, 2011

The Quantum Thief - Hannu Rajaniemi

Needing a break from the A Song of Ice and Fire marathon that I have been doing, I decided to go for something completely different. Hannu Rajaniemi's first long form work The Quantum Thief was hailed by many as the debut of 2010, and I am a sucker for good space opera, so - mistakenly thinking the book would fall in that genre - I gave it a go.

The story is set in the far future, in a posthuman solar system where most human minds have been uploaded as "gogols" in virtual environment, indistinguishable from the artificial intelligences that also roam the multiple realities of the ruling entity - the upload collective of the Sobornost. Governed by the copyclans - the trillions of copies of the Founders - the Sobornost turns every other uploaded mind into a slave gogol to serve its mysterious purpose, known as the Great Common Task.

Meanwhile, in the outer reaches of the system other societies fight to remain independent of the copyclans. The Oortians from the Oort Cloud are transhuman warriors whose society - based on Finnish culture - has adapted their manufactured bodies to zero gravity and the freedom of open space. The Zoku are another posthuman group, similar to the Sobornost, who once lost the great Protocol War with it and as a result had to hide on Mars. They are descendants of MMORPG gamers and their entire culture is shaped around the pursuing of games, achievements and leveling up. For them everyone else is a "meme zombie", one who doesn't "play".

And on Mars is the Oubliette - the last baseline human society. A walking city constantly on the run from the whirlwind of trillions of self-replicating killing machines called phoboi, the Oubliette is a place of privacy and old technology, untouched - except for the Zoku colony - by the nanotech quantum singularity that transformed the rest of the system. Its citizens follow an endless cycle of death and rebirth. Everyone carries a Watch that measures their Time as a Noble - a conscious baseline human body. Time is both a measure, and a currency, allowing one to shorten or lengthen their human life in exchange for services, goods and the right to create children. When one's Time is up, their body shuts down and is stored while their mind is temporarily uploaded into a Quiet - machines tasked with maintaining the walking city and fighting off the phoboi threat.

The Quantum Thief's main character is Jean le Flambeur - a notorious thief, alluded to have known many of the Sobornost Founders and possibly hailing from an age close to our own time. Jean has lived many lives in the many societies of the system, stolen both artifacts, ideas and minds, and committed acts that are now a legend. However, he failed in his last project, and as a result was imprisoned in the Dilemma Prison - a structure governed by the Sobornost created Archons tasked with "reprogramming" malevolent minds so they can be uploaded into the collective. But as the novel begins, Jean is saved by the Oortian warrior Mieli and her mysterious godlike benefactor. In return, he has to help them with a theft that only he is capable of, but first, he needs to find the missing pieces of his mind - pieces he hid in the Oubliette a generation ago.

I spend so much time describing the setting and story because The Quantum Thief has not a single speck of mercy for the reader. It bombards you with terminology only half of which is ever explained properly, and the rest is left to your powers of deduction. Even so (or maybe because of that?), the book is immensely rewarding. The first part of a planned trilogy, it is almost entirely set in the Oubliette, thus focusing on a single aspect of the solar system and giving the reader an in-depth view of this posthuman future where the human mind is only another piece of digital information and bodies are easy to create, replace and upgrade.

Apart from Jean and Mieli, there is a third main character - the young Oubliette freelance detective Isidore Beautrelet who solves mysteries on behalf of the Tzadikkim (Hebrew for "righteous ones"), a group of mysterious vigilantes that protect the peace of the walking city with their Zoku-based technology far more advanced than anything the Oubliette uses. Isidore has the ability to see patterns in events and make connections that nobody else could make, which makes him an invaluable part of everybody's plans, and thus - the book's fascinating plot.

And it is fascinating. The Quantum Thief moves with lightning speed, giving you just enough time to kind of orient yourself in the current situation before changing it. Yet the story doesn't feel rushed at all, just charged. Although there are only two plot lines, and the connection between them becomes apparent early on, the finale is still really neat in combining multiple elements of the story so far, and giving a very satisfying conclusion considering that this is only part one of a trilogy.

Rajaniemi's style of writing is great, without drawing attention to itself. Straight to the point, but with enough flourish not to betray the author's hardcore mathematics background (PhD in Physical Mathematics among other degrees). The Quantum Thief sports zero scientific outbursts of the variety that has completely and forever put me off hard SF writers like Stephen Baxter for example, and yet you can clearly see Rajaniemi knows what he is talking about. He is just far more interested in worldbuilding and storytelling, and he has my utmost gratitude for it.

That said, his writing style is not without its flaws. Characters aren't especially complex and their development leaves a lot to be desired in terms of change. They aren't one-dimensional, and they do change with the book's progress, but there is definitely a room for improvement in that aspect, even if it doesn't deter from the enjoyment. My more serious problem is the way information is given to the reader. Like I said, The Quantum Thief throws you in the deep water with very little interest in your ability to swim. Personally, I really love that approach, as I choose to trust the author will eventually make it all clear to me. And Rajaniemi definitely does that, but he seems to not be able to strike the balance for it. Half the time information is just too sparse for the reader to be certain of anything (I must admit to going online too look up some of what I wrote in the previous paragraphs), and the other half is given in rather clumsy infodumps. Not long ones - characters don't burst into sudden talking head mode, thank Cthulhu - but still pretty obvious, and considering that they usually describe the things we are already more or less clear on, I would say the effect is quite unnecessary.

Still, I absolutely loved that book. It is action-packed, and chock-full of ideas. I haven't even touched on the amazing concept of gevulot - the privacy protocol used in the Oubliette - or the walking city's "exomemory", the Sobornost gubernyas, the Zoku Spimescapes, or the cool weapons and other technology used in the action scenes. And the main plot - of which this novel is only the very beginning, even if it is a complete story on its own - seems to be really promising. So, in case it wasn't obvious, The Quantum Thief is a total must read. I am not sure if I would put it above the other great 2010 debut - Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl - but it's definitely among the best SF debuts I've read in a long time, and utterly worth the very little time it will take you to devour it. With a slightly easier access to the world, and a little more character development, it could have been a masterpiece. Still, I can't wait for The Fractal Prince to come out next year!


Aug 24, 2011

Game of Thrones Season 2 casting: part 8

Patrick Malahide is playing Balon Greyjoy. A minor role, but a solid actor, and he looks scary and mean, so I guess he'll do fine. I actually hope his role is expanded, compared to the book.

Oona Chaplin - the legendary Charlie Chaplin's granddaughter - is playing Jeyne Westerling of the Crag - a role that I can't say anything about without spoiling an important moment from the second book for people who are only watching the show. Suffice to say, she looks perfect for the role.

Laura Pradelska plays the mysterious woman Quaithe whom Daenerys meets during her travels. Quaithe wears a mask the entire time, which is sad, cause Pradelska is a really beautiful woman. Oh well...

Forbes KB (like, seriously?!) plays the ironborn raider Black Lorren. Another minor role, but the guy looks mean and scary, plus we've already seen that characters get different amount of time on the show than they do in the book.

Aug 21, 2011

Hugo award winners 2011

Here is the list of Hugo winners for this year. Nothing fascinating to me, and yet another Connie Willis win seems somehow underwhelming, especially considering the criticism this one generated. Still, I guess 2011 was a slow year, novel-wise... I am however a little pleased that The Dervish House did not win. I realize it is childish of me, but considering how deeply I disliked the novel and how raging the adoration from everyone else, I feel like some measure of balance has been achieved here.


Blackout/All Clear, Connie Willis (Spectra)

Cryoburn, Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen)
Feed, Mira Grant (Orbit)
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)
The Dervish House, Ian McDonald (Pyr; Gollancz)


The Lifecycle of Software Objects, Ted Chiang (Subterranean)
‘‘The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon’’, Elizabeth Hand (Stories)
‘‘The Sultan of the Clouds’’, Geoffrey A. Landis (Asimov’s 9/10)
‘‘Troika’’, Alastair Reynolds (Godlike Machines)
‘‘The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen’s Window’’, Rachel Swirsky (Subterranean Summer 2010)


‘‘The Emperor of Mars’’, Allen M. Steele (Asimov’s 6/10)
‘‘The Jaguar House, in Shadow’’, Aliette de Bodard (Asimov’s 7/10)
‘‘Plus or Minus’’, James Patrick Kelly (Asimov’s 12/10)
‘‘Eight Miles’’, Sean McMullen (Analog 9/10)
‘‘That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made’’, Eric James Stone (Analog 9/10)


‘‘For Want of a Nail’’, Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov’s 12/10)
‘‘Ponies’’, Kij Johnson ( 11/17/10)
‘‘Amaryllis’’, Carrie Vaughn (Lightspeed 6/10)
‘‘The Things’’, Peter Watts (Clarkesworld 1/10)


Chicks Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the Women Who Love It, Lynne M. Thomas & Tara O’Shea, eds. (Mad Norwegian)
Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century: Volume 1 (1907-1948): Learning Curve, William H. Patterson, Jr. (Tor)
The Business of Science Fiction: Two Insiders Discuss Writing and Publishing, Mike Resnick & Barry N. Malzberg (McFarland)
Writing Excuses, Season 4, Brandon Sanderson, Jordan Sanderson, Howard Tayler, Dan Wells
Bearings: Reviews 1997-2001, Gary K. Wolfe (Beccon)


Girl Genius, Volume 10: Agatha Heterodyne and the Guardian Muse, Phil & Kaja Foglio; art by Phil Foglio (Airship Entertainment)

The Unwritten, Vol. 2: Inside Man, Mike Carey; art by Peter Gross (Vertigo)
Grandville Mon Amour, Bryan Talbot (Dark Horse)
Schlock Mercenary: Massively Parallel, Howard Tayler (Hypernode)
Fables: Witches, Bill Willingham; art by Mark Buckingham (Vertigo)


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
How to Train Your Dragon
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Toy Story 3


Doctor Who: ‘‘The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang’’
Doctor Who: ‘‘A Christmas Carol’’
Doctor Who: ‘‘Vincent and the Doctor’’
F**k Me, Ray Bradbury
The Lost Thing


Lou Anders
Ginjer Buchanan
Moshe Feder
Liz Gorinsky
Nick Mamatas
Beth Meacham
Juliet Ulman


Sheila Williams
John Joseph Adams
Stanley Schmidt
Jonathan Strahan
Gordon Van Gelder


Shaun Tan
Daniel Dos Santos
Bob Eggleton
Stephan Martiniere
John Picacio


Weird Tales


The Drink Tank
Banana Wings
File 770


Claire Brialey
James Bacon
Christopher J Garcia
James Nicoll
Steven H Silver


Brad W. Foster
Randall Munroe
Maurine Starkey
Steve Stiles
Taral Wayne


Lev Grossman
Saladin Ahmed
Lauren Beukes
Larry Correia
Dan Wells

A Storm of Swords - George R. R. Martin

War rages across Westeros. After Stannis Baratheon's defeat the Lannisters control the South, with Tywin Lannister ruling King's Landing in the name of his cruel grandson Joffrey. But the fragile peace in the capital is threatened by the tension brewing between the lions and their uncertain allies - the haughty Tyrells from Highgarden, family to the young king's future wife, and the proud Martells from Dorne who seek vengeance for the brutal murder of princess Elia, the wife of Raegar Targaryen - a murder commanded by none other than Tywin Lannister.

Meanwhile the Ironmen are rampaging throughout the North. Winterfell is a burnt ruin and the two Stark children Bran and Rickon are separated and hidden, with Bran heading on a journey to find the three-eyed crow - a journey that will eventually lead him beyond the borders of the realm. In the Riverlands, Robb Stark, the King of the North, has won every battle he's engaged in, yet it seems he is still losing the war. After his alliance with the Freys is shattered by a terrible mistake, he is trying to find a way to repair the damage his own honor has done.

At Dragonstone, Stannis Baratheon is licking his wounds while still listening to the advice of the deadly priestess Melisandre. But his one true servant Davos Seaworth has survived the battle that destroyed his army and comes back to his king, trying to save him from the path he has taken.

Beyond the Wall, Mance Rayder is marching his vast wildling horde towards Westeros, bent on conquest. Jon Snow plays the turncloak, conflicted by the dishonor he brings his oath with the pretense, as well as by the feelings he is beginning to develop for the wildling woman Ygritte. Yet he needs to find a way to get back to his brothers and warn them of the host, and quickly, because the Wall is not impossible to get across for a small raiding party, and the castles of the Night's Watch have no defense of their own. But there is an even greater danger coming from the north - the Others are roaming the wilderness, and the world has forgotten how to stop them.

In the east, Daenerys Targaryen has traveled to Slaver's Bay to buy herself an army. But events there turn her in a different direction, and she begins a conquest of liberation, creating a following and slowly beginning to realize her destiny. Yet she is surrounded by uncertain loyalties and desires, and even her closest advisers keep secrets from her. And she is constantly haunted by the prophecy that she is yet to be betrayed again. Twice.

A Storm of Swords paints by far the broadest picture so far of the wars that began in the first book of the series. The cast of characters is immense, the events unfolding are epic, and the plot moves to an entirely new level on all fronts. The realm is in ruin, yet nobody sees the danger coming from beyond the Wall, preoccupied as they are with their greed for power. The Stark children are scattered to the winds, each one suffering in a different way. Arya's journey to find her mother in particular seems to be cursed, as she is constantly deterred and diverted from her path. Sansa is the greatest victim of course, as the Lannisters keep using her for their games of politics with her only allies the drunken fool Dontos, the violent Sandor Clegane and the Imp Tyrion who has lost all of his power in the capital with the arrival of his cold father.

There are a couple of new PoVs, the most interesting of course being that of Jaime Lannister. We slowly come to realize there is more hiding behind his devil-may-care attitude, than meets the eye, and his journey from Riverrun to King's Landing changes him in more ways than even he realizes. The other new addition is Sam Tarly - another "helpless" character who suffers terribly in the north. It is always enjoyable for me to read the PoV's of the likes of him or Sansa, as they give an almost outside perspective on the strife that most of the others are a part of.

Yet, even as the story unfolds in its epic scale, and dramatic events follow one after another, A Storm of Swords is not without its flaws. Martin's prose is as always absolutely superb, yet the narrative keeps slowing down. While A Game of Thrones was almost bare-bones straight to the point, the third book in the series sometimes takes way too much time on way too insignificant details. Meals are described in painstaking fashion, as well as the surrounding environment - hills, forests, castles and general geography. Unlike the previous books, now a good part of every PoV's chapters is dedicated to just traveling and thinking about stuff, which brings us dangerously close to Robert Jordan Land. Of course, there is no real comparison, and the third part of A Song of Ice and Fire feels in no way like a filler. Yet the slowing down is palpable, and makes for a much slower reading.

Then there is the Stark issue of course. It is becoming funny how horribly that family suffers all the time. Each and every one of them gets screwed again and again, in more and more violent and horrible ways. And as much as I appreciate tragedy, it is becoming funny in its purposefulness, and funny is definitely not what Martin is going for here, or should be. The Starks need a break, especially after this book, and they better get one soon...

That said, practically everything else in the book is love-worthy. The many plot-lines are filled with shocking revelations and unexpected turns, and meanwhile magic becomes more and more important. I mean, don't misunderstand - I love a magicless fantasy as much as the next very weird person, but it a beautiful contrast to the very human power struggle that rages at the center of the series' story. Speaking of contrast, the way in which the three major lines - Westeros, the Wall and the East - are written is amazing. Even though Martin's style does not change noticeably, the atmosphere of each is distinctly its own, as if an entirely different palette is used to paint each one. ASoIF could easily have been three separate fantasy series and they would still work (in fact, a couple of storylines - Daenerys' for example - have been published in an isolated novella form, thus proving my point).

Yet it is exactly this diversity that makes A Song of Ice and Fire the masterpiece that it is. Even with the tempo slowing down, there is still so much happening, that it is impossible to put A Storm of Swords down. And as this was the last book in the series that I have previously read, what's left now is entirely new territory, which makes it all the more exciting. On to A Feast for Crows!


Aug 19, 2011

True Blood, Season 2

The psychopath Rene is dead, his stream of "fangbanger" murders stopped just before he managed to kill Sookie. But instead of peace returning to Bon Temps, it appearsthat a new killer is on the loose. Season 1 ended with Lafayette being attacked by something unseen, and Tara and Sookie finding a dead body in Andy's (Chris Bauer) car. But as Season 2 starts, it would seem there are bigger fishes to fry. Eric demands Sookie's help with finding the vampire Godric (Allan Hyde), a powerful sheriff in Texas. At the same time Sookie's brother Jason gets more and more mixed up with the vampire-hating Church of the Sun which operates suspiciously close to where Godric disappeared from. Meanwhile back at Bon Temps, Tara falls deeper under the influence of the charming Maryann (Michelle Forbes), even though the life she offers her seems much too good to be true and strange occurrences keep happening around the town. And if that's not enough, Sam is no longer the only shifter in Bon Temps!

Season 2 of True Blood is by far my favorite so far. There is so much to love about it! Having established the whole campy premise of the world, the show can now go boldly into Actual Plot Land, and it does so with great enthusiasm. There are multiple storylines with the Texas mystery and Maryann's rise to power being the central ones. The former is heavy on world-building, introducing us to vampire politics outside of Bon Temps and Fangtasia, while the latter builds on the mythology of the show, revealing that there are powers older and stranger than vampires roaming the land.

There are a bunch of new characters in Season 2. Chief among them is Maryann Forrester who was introduced in the last episodes of the previous season. She is a woman of mystery, obviously rich and powerful, who enjoys throwing parties that get progressively wilder as time goes by. To say anything more about her would spoil basically everything. The Texas line introduces us to Lorena (Mariana Klaveno) - Bill's vicious maker who is still obsessed with him even after he left her almost a century ago. There is also Godric - one of the oldest vampires in America, yet he is more angelic than demonic, and his authority is tempered by an aura of introvert vulnerability. Definitely the first time I see an ancient teenage vampire who actually acts like his age and not his looks. Bite on that, Edward!

My favorite new addition to the cast however is new-born vampire Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) who got turned at the end of Season 1. She is still trying to cope with all the new abilities and urges her body now has, as well as being an actual teenager who is about to fall in love for the first time in her life. Her little plot line is absolutely adorable as well as really funny, and it intertwines with another so-far-minor character - Hoyt Fortenberry (Jim Parrack) who has the most unbearable mother in the world. There are other new faces as well, around the disappearance line as well as the Church of the Sun, but none important enough to waste review space on.

The production is still as superb as it was in Season 1. I am not much into the technical aspect of tv and cinema, so whatever I say sounds unprofessional to say the least, but the cinematography of the show looks absolutely amazing to me. The style of shooting corresponds so well with the campyness, the scenes and especially episode endings shot in such an in-your-face shock-value way, that if you don't hate it the moment you witness it for the first time, you are bound to fall in love with the style. Then of course there is the soundtrack. The music of True Blood is generally to die for, and perfectly implemented, while the ending songs - with their small town, often country or retro style - are so much in contrast with the usually shocking cliffhangers that they seem to create a weird resonance together.

A point of interest - True Blood doesn't really do character building that much. Even though some experiences change certain people, it is mostly on the surface - they are pretty much set in who they are, as otherwise they would stop representing the aspects of the world that the show has introduced them to represent. It can be viewed as a drawback, and at certain times I would agree, but in the end, the story that True Blood is trying to tell doesn't really require character growth. What's more, its entire plot is built around the predictability of responses on their part. And in the case of vampires, this also adds to the atmosphere of timelessness around them. Plus, the acting is still absolutely superb from everyone.

If a definite drawback is to be found in Season 2, that would be the spreading of storylines. There are too many of them. They are still manageable (nowhere near the absurdity that Season 3 is), but the end result is that the overall plot does not progress too much in any single episode apart from a few of the last ones. I watched the show on blu-ray and within two days, so for me that was ok, but I can easily imagine the frustration if one has to wait a week for the next episode to come out. My sympathies to all of you who are following the show as it airs - it only gets worse as the seasons progress.

My experience was not like that though. Having seen Season 2 within such a short period of time, I fell utterly in love with it. Both major plots were amazing, their respective culminations - totally epic with the Godric one being perhaps the most memorable moment in the entire show. The characters are still as compelling as they were when True Blood started, even if some of them act in unbearably stupid ways some times. I love it when a second season surpasses the first one in such a spectacular way. Especially when the first one was so good to begin with.


Aug 18, 2011

Game of Thrones Season 2 casting: More casting news

First of all, sorry for not posting. I took a trip to Chicago, and somehow I never had enough time to blog. But now I'm back, very much not dead, and it's time for the next dose of GoT casting news via The Wertzone.

Kerr Logan will play Davos Seaworth's third son Matthos who accompanies him on his ship. Probably a minor role, but at least the boy looks good...

Roy Dotrice - famous for his audio book reads (including ASoIF books 1-3 and 5) - was supposed to play Grand Maester Pycelle in the first season of the show, but health issues prevented him from doing it. Now he is cast as Hallyne, the head of the Guild of Alchemists in King's Landing. Another minor role, although the character might get more screen time than he originally had in the book.

I am a huge fan of the first two seasons of the UK tv show Skins, and so I'm happy that a second actor from its cast joins this project (the first one being Joe Dempsie as Gendry). Hannah Murray's character Cassy was one of the most compelling in that show so it's sad that she has been given the very minor role of Gilly - Craster's pregnant wife-daughter. Still, the role isn't completely meaningless, so I can't wait to see what Murray's gonna do with it.

Craster himself will be played by Robert Pugh. Yet another British actor who has played in everything ever, including everybody's favorite Doctor Who. I love Craster in the books and can't wait to see how he'll look in the show.

Another pretty boy (and I just couldn't resist putting that pic - I mean, look at the kid's jeans!), Karl Davies will be playing the new character "Alton Lannister". Rumour has the guy replacing Cleos Frey - Jaime's cousing who keeps delivering messages between Robb Stark and King's Landing - but it is as yet unconfirmed, and considering Davies' looks and Cleos' role in the books, it seems kind of unlikely to me. Anyway, we'll see.

Ben Crompton is set to play everybody's favorite Dolorous Edd. The Night's Watch brother who keeps bemoaning his sad fate is one of the few comic relief characters in the series, so Crompton better deliver!

Last but not least, Michael McElhatton will be playing Roose Bolton. The Lord of the Dreadfort is an important character, and leaves a very strong impression in the books. McElhatton has the looks, but this role will be dependent on his acting, so I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Aug 7, 2011

True Blood, Season 1

I keep getting back to vampires. I don't know why, really, I haven't liked the concept since Twilight. Yet, for some reason the things I watch keep having vampires in them. I actually saw the first season of True Blood a while back, when it started airing, but I never followed up with Season 2, so I decided now is a good time to catch up on how the show has been going.

The setting is really cool - in a world where the Japanese have created a working synthetic replacement for human blood, two years ago vampires have "come out of the coffin" and are now public knowledge. They fight for equal rights, while new forms of entertainment, crime and pop-culture arise around them, but at the same time they are not the typical persecuted minority. Cause, see, they are vampires. Powerful, ancient, seductive, they are all we know from literature, and more. So sometimes the persecuted become persecutors, and then things turn bloody.

In the little Louisiana town of Bon Temps, Sookie Stackhouse (Ana Paquin) lives an ordinary redneck life as a waitress in a local bar. Sure, she is telepathic and open-minded (which, in the place she lives at, makes her a total freak), but other than that, she is just like any other southern gal. Until Bon Temps sees its first vampire. Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer), son of one of the original founding families of the town, arrives to claim the family estate and settle there. The very first thing Sookie realizes about Bill is that she can't hear his thoughts. The second is that she is irrepairably attracted to him. And then the murders start.

It is easy to realize what True Blood is going for, but hard - for me - to describe it. The show is what you might call "messed up southern gothic". Vampires, swamps, awesome southern accents!!!, lots of sex, and all the white trash campiness that one could wish for. The show is very self-aware, and while the plot - a whudunit murder mystery - is serious, the attitude towards it is not. The entire vampire concept is an in-your-face allegory for gay rights and homophobia ("God hates fangs" and the opposing derogatory "breathers"), while the setting itself is so absolutely unrealistic - I mean, most vampires are so obviously vicious and evil - that you just know this is a show that wants to laugh at itself while still entertaining you. And if it turns out that it becomes too pleased with itself, and cuts the viewer completely out of the picture, well, apparently it's a risk Alan Ball (of Six Feet Under fame) is willing to take.

There is much to like about Season 1. The trashy campy style in which everything is presented (perfectly captured in the amazing opening theme) is a delight to experience, while the story itself is actually smart. You have barely any idea who the killer is until the next to last episode, and when the revelation comes, it is - again - painted in the same ridiculous smug-dumb way that everything else in True Blood works.

The characters are awesome. Sure, you want half of them to be quartered or defenestrated, but at the same time the acting is all-around great. The spot-light shines on Sookie herself, and Anna Paquin's impeccable (although completely fake) southern accent. She is sassy, self-dependent, and doesn't hesitate to tell everyone what's on her mind. Bill is her complete opposite - reserved, ever the dark brooding gentleman, and with a vocabulary from the 19th century, he is as vampire as one can be, and actually dangerous, unlike most vampire romance love interests.

The rest of the cast are all colorful, with everyone having some unique trait to remember them by. Jason Stackhouse (Ryan Kwanten) is Sookie's dumb brother who basically tries to have sex with every female he could find, yet somehow still manages to always be in the center of whatever drama is going down around Bon Temps. Tara Thornton (Rutina Wesley) is Sookie's best (and only) friend - aggressive, sensitive to a fault (especially where racism is concerned), but also smart and caring in her own broken way. Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell) is the owner of the bar where half the characters in the show work. A decent and reliable guy caring a bit of a torch for Sookie, with a few secrets of his own. Lafayette Reynolds (Nelson Ellis) is Tara's cousin. Flamingly gay, a great chef, as well as drug dealer, go-go dancer, male prostitute and occasionally the Wise Black Dude when necessity calls for it.

Then of course there is Eric (Alexander Scarsgard) - the vampire Sheriff of "Area 5" - who, although not nearly as cool as he will be in later seasons, sets the standard for badass sex appeal. Thousand years old, cold and cynical, with the bearing of a king and the attitude of a drug lord, he commands total obedience and respect in the vampires under his control. He is also, occasionally, absolutely hilarious.

But in the end, it is the attitude that makes True Blood so appealing. It is sexy, trashy, doesn't take itself seriously and you could see how everyone involved with it just has too much fun. And in an age where vampires are all but completely domesticated, the violent and vicious approach of the show, combined with the nose-thumbing it gives the genre, is just too much to resist. Hard not to fall in love with it, and no reason you shouldn't give it a chance.


Aug 5, 2011

New cover for Subterranean's special edition of Deadhouse Gates

After the less-than-inspiring cover that was released about a month ago, Subterranean released a new one, and I dare say it looks way better. Also, the scene depicted on it makes a lot more sense as cover art.

Aug 4, 2011

Game of Thrones Season 2 casting: Jaqen H'ghar

Via Winter is Coming

The role of the mysterious murderer Jaqen H'ghar has been given to German actor Tom Wlaschiha. Obviously they would need to do quite a makeover for him to look the part, so any speculation on whether the guy is up to the challenge so far is pointless, but there is certain intensity in his eyes that I kinda like.

Aug 2, 2011

Game of Thrones Season 2 casting: Yara Greyjoy and Xaro Xhoan Daxos

Gemma Whelan has been cast for Theon's sister who, in the TV adaptation, will be called Yara instead of Asha, to avoid confusion with the name of the wildling woman Osha.

Meanwhile, Nonso Anozie will play the Quartheen merchant-prince Xaro Xhoan Daxos who tries to woo Daenerys. Anozie doesn't match the description from the book, but as usual, as long as he plays the part well, it won't matter.