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 Sure, they are all new and unpublished ones - and yes, one of them is by Hal Duncan!!!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.