An Origin Story Mashed With a First-Contact Story: A Review of The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu

Friday, February 28th, 2014 | Posted by Kelly Swails

The Lives Of Tao-smallThe Lives of Tao is the rare science fiction book set in modern times. No space exploration here, unless you mean the Quasing, the alien race that’s been quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) orchestrating human events since… well, since there were humans to orchestrate.

Quasing are beings so ethereal that they must live within a corporeal host to survive. Once inside a host, the Quasing can only leave if the host organism dies. In essence, Quasings are immortal as long as there is a living host nearby.

The Quasing’s main goal used to be to get humans to create interstellar travel so they could get to their home planet. Now, however, the Quasing are split into two factions (the good-guy Prophus and the bad-guy Genjix), whose main goal seems to be defeating the other. Tao is a member of the Prophus faction.

When Tao’s host dies during a mission against the Genjix, Tao needs to find a new host, pronto. Enter Roan Tan: an overweight programmer with low self-esteem who’s never run a mile, let alone held a gun, in real life. The next few months finds Tao whipping Roan into some semblance of a covert operative so they can thwart the Genjix’s secret project.

There’s plenty here to enjoy. Chu choreographs vivid action scenes, he injects humor seamlessly into dialogue, and he makes the world-building fun. Chu had all of history at his disposal, after all, and he took full advantage.

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Unearthing Solomon’s Vineyard

Friday, February 28th, 2014 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

latimersolomonslatimer_solomons_vineyardJonathan Latimer is sadly forgotten today. There was a time when his screwball private eye series featuring the rarely sober Bill Crane were bestsellers and even made the transition to the silver screen in the late 1930s, courtesy of Universal Pictures, in a fun trio of B-movies. Latimer was a respected Hollywood screenwriter of the 1940s who crossed over to television from the 1950s through the early 1970s, writing for such series as Perry Mason and Columbo. He also achieved instant notoriety as the author of the hardboiled detective novel, Solomon’s Vineyard, which was banned almost upon publication in 1941 and remained unavailable in its original form in the U.S. for decades.

The general consensus is with Solomon’s Vineyard, Latimer turned up the heat on hardboiled detective fiction and blurred the line between pulp and pornography. Most critics will claim that even today, readers would be hard-pressed to find a tougher or more shocking private eye novel. While public domain copies riddled with typos are easy to come by, I finally tracked down an affordable copy of an earlier edition and read the book for myself. I was shocked as well, not by the content, but to learn the book is clearly intended as yet another of Latimer’s laugh-out-loud farces, despite its reputation.

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En Garde!

Friday, February 28th, 2014 | Posted by Violette Malan

Robin Hood towerA few weeks ago, my colleague Jon Sprunk gave us a marvelous post on the weapons of fantasy. Like Jon, the weapons were very much what attracted me to fantasy in the first place. But I loved swords and sword fighting before I ever picked up my first fantasy novel (The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, in which, by the way, the tradition of named weapons is followed with Peter’s sword Rhindon).

I’m not sure what got Jon started off, but what attracted me to sword fighting, and prepared me for the fight scenes in my favourite genre, were movie sword fights, beginning particularly with those in Errol Flynn’s Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood.

It was from this last movie that I also gained my life-long love of archery, and the great archer Howard Hill, who did all the trick shots for Flynn, including the iconic splitting of the arrow.

Flynn did do all his own fencing in the films, but unlike his frequent opponent and co-star, Basil Rathbone, he didn’t take it up as a sport.

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Future Treasures: Nebula Awards Showcase 2014, edited by Kij Johnson

Friday, February 28th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Nebula Awards Showcase 2014-smallI love the Nebula Awards Showcase volumes. For one thing, they have a glorious history — stretching all the way back to the very first volume in 1966, edited by the founder of SFWA himself, Damon Knight.

And for another thing… they include some damn good stories. The Nebula Award winning short fiction from the previous year (and as many nominees as will fit), as chosen by the members of Science Fiction Writers of America. Alongside those stories are excerpts from the award-winning novel; appreciations of this year’s Grand Master Winner, Gene Wolfe, by Neil Gaiman and Michael Dirda, a Wolfe story, and more. If you’re looking for a survey of the best in SF and fantasy from last year, you’d be hard pressed to do better than this.

The Nebula Awards Showcase volumes have been published annually since 1966, reprinting the winning and nominated stories in the Nebula Awards, voted on by the members of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America . The editor selected by SFWA’s anthology committee (chaired by Mike Resnick) is American fantasy writer Kij Johnson, author of three novels and associate director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas.

This year’s Nebula winners, and expected contributors, are Kim Stanley Robinson, Nancy Kress, Andy Duncan, and Aliette de Bodard, with E.C. Myers winning the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Book.

Nebula Awards Showcase 2014 is edited by Kij Johnson and will be published on May 13, 2014 by Pyr. It is 291 pages, priced at $18 in trade paperback and $11.99 for the digital edition. New publisher Pyr has put together a handsome package for the book, with a colorful cover by Raoul Vitale. Keep an eye out for it — and don’t forget to have a look at the 2013 Nebula Award Nominations, announced earlier this week.


Goth Chick News: M. Night Shyamalan Gets Small

Thursday, February 27th, 2014 | Posted by Sue Granquist

M. Night on the set of Sundowning with his production designer

M. Night on the set of Sundowning with his production designer

Okay, don’t immediately blow past this post because your eye caught the name M. Night Shyamalan – this is actually encouraging news.

The last time I wrote something about M. Night (as they call him in the biz that once thought he was the next Spielberg, but then mercilessly crucified him), he had left his tomato-covered director’s chair and returned to writing. M. Night completed the script for Devil back in 2009 and relative newcomer John Dowdle brought it to the big screen with a modest $10M budget. It grossed nearly $340M worldwide, definitively proving that M. Night is a masterful storyteller, but an inconsistent front man.

Case in point: in a rush of optimism following Devil, the Hollywood moneymen turned around and gave M. Night $130M and Will Smith (plus child) to write, direct and executive produce After Earth, which was an apocalyptic film in more ways than one.

So it is either by choice or necessity that M. Night’s latest project is very small and hasn’t been getting a ton of press beyond what M. Night himself has been dolling out; oh, and it’s being called a micro-budgeted horror film.

“Micro budget” is the latest, sexy term for independent films, or films not financially supported or promoted by a large studio or big-budget investors. If you want some examples of micro-budget films that went platinum, IMDB has compiled a handy list (ironically a good percentage of them are horror movies), and in the number 1 slot is The Blair Witch Project.

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New Treasures: Shadow Ops: Breach Zone by Myke Cole

Thursday, February 27th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Shadow Ops Breach Zone-smallApparently, Myke Cole never gets tired of being awesome. He wrote the awesome short story “Naktong Flow” for Black Gate 13 and all that awesome spilled over into his first novel Shadow Ops: Control Point, which Peter V. Brett called “Black Hawk Down meets the X-Men.” He was awesome when our roving reporter Patty Templeton interviewed him (totally awesome!), and in his essay “Selling Shadow Point,” which busted open a lot of myths about publishing your first fantasy novel. His second book Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier was, guess what, awesome, and he was even awesome last month at ConFusion (according to Howard Andrew Jones, who knows all about being awesome.)

Now here he is with his third novel, Shadow Ops: Breach Zone. And it’s awesome. Next time you run into Myke, do yourself a favor and ask how you, too, can become awesome.  On top of everything else, Myke’s a very gracious guy and I’m sure he’ll give you some pointers. And I bet they’ll be awesome.

The Great Reawakening did not come quietly. Across the country and in every nation, people began “coming up Latent,” developing terrifying powers — summoning storms, raising the dead, and setting everything they touch ablaze. Those who Manifest must choose: become a sheepdog who protects the flock or a wolf who devours it…

In the wake of a bloody battle at Forward Operating Base Frontier and a scandalous presidential impeachment, Lieutenant Colonel Jan Thorsson, call sign “Harlequin,” becomes a national hero and a pariah to the military that is the only family he’s ever known.

In the fight for Latent equality, Oscar Britton is positioned to lead a rebellion in exile, but a powerful rival beats him to the punch: Scylla, a walking weapon who will stop at nothing to end the human-sanctioned apartheid against her kind.

When Scylla’s inhuman forces invade New York City, the Supernatural Operations Corps are the only soldiers equipped to prevent a massacre. In order to redeem himself with the military, Harlequin will be forced to face off with this havoc-wreaking woman from his past, warped by her power into something evil…

Shadow Ops: Breach Zone is the third novel in the Shadow Ops series. It was published on January 28, 2014 by Ace Books. It is 370 pages, priced at $7.99 for both the paperback and digital versions.


One Arthurian Film to Rule Them All: John Boorman’s Excalibur

Thursday, February 27th, 2014 | Posted by William I. Lengeman III

John Boorman's Excalibur-small

“I’m trying to suggest a kind of Middle Earth, in Tolkien terms. It’s a contiguous world; it’s like ours but different.”
— John Boorman, on Excalibur

As I began poking around into the history of Arthurian film adaptations, I was surprised to find a lot less of this sort of thing than I was expecting.

Good old Wikipedia lists 36 “relatively straightforward adaptations” made between 1904 and 2009. Many of these are rather obscure, to say the least, and quite a few deal with tangential aspects of the core legend, such as the stories of Arthurian knights, Parsifal, Launcelot, Gawain, and Galahad.

The earliest so-called adaptation is one of those tangential ones, Parsifal (1904), in which Thomas Edison’s thriving production company essentially just filmed a few scenes from Richard Wagner’s 1882 opera of the same name. Over at IMDB, they list a total of 46 features which star King Arthur. He seems to have first appeared on film in Launcelot and Elaine (1909), which explores a thwarted romance involving Launcelot, as detailed in Lord Alfred Tennyson’s epic poem, Idylls of the King.

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Firefly, A Retrospective — Part 3

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014 | Posted by Jon Sprunk

Firefly banner 3-smallI’m back with my third installment of this series about the Firefly show. I covered the pilot in Part 1, and episodes two and three (“Train Job” and “Bushwhacked “) in Part 2.

This week we’re up to the fourth and fifth episodes. Sit back, put your starship on autopilot, and enjoy.

Shindig (Episode 4)

This one begins with a familiar sight: Mal, Zoe, and Jayne are in a cantina, this time playing pool with some traders while Inara watches. It turns out these friendly traders deal in transporting slaves, so Mal lifts their money clip and, naturally, starts a bar brawl.

Next, Serenity stops at the planet of Persephone, which we last saw in the pilot episode. They’re here to find work. Inara is in her shuttle looking for clients. She chats with Atherton Wing, a blueblood who invites her to a fancy party.

Mal comes in and they banter about her work, and his brawling. This scene sets up the rest of the episode, which mainly focuses on their budding relationship.

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The Clothes Make the Mage: Alan Moore’s Fashion Beast

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Fashion BeastIt seems like one of those creative pairings that could only happen in comics. Odd, then, that it was originally planned to be a film.

In the mid-1980s, fashion and music impresario Malcolm McLaren called acclaimed comics writer Alan Moore. It seemed McLaren had some ideas for a film he wanted to make. The two men met and Moore was fascinated by one of McLaren’s notions: a movie that would be a modern retelling of the fairy-tale of “Beauty and the Beast,” to be set in the fashion industry — or a strange fantastical version thereof. You can see the connection: a fable about the conflict between exterior appearances and internal natures, set in a milieu that was all about appearances. Moore wrote a script titled Fashion Beast, apparently as heavily detailed as any of his comics work; in an interview with The Comics Journal a few years later, he mentioned that McLaren had observed that he’d left very little for a director to do with the film. In any event, the production never happened and the project was abandoned.

Until 2012, when Avatar press resurrected the script. With Moore’s blessing, Antony Johnston signed on to adapt the film script to comics. With art by Facundo Percio (and colours by Hernan Cabrera and lettering by Jaymes Reed), the movie script became a ten-issue limited series, now collected in a trade paperback. It’s an odd project, but the final result’s quite strong. It may not be of the same calibre as Watchmen, but it’s a very good story that seems to me to compare well with much of Moore’s other work of the period — in the range of his Swamp Thing run, say, perhaps even of V For Vendetta.

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Leiji Matsumoto, Bushido, Manhood, and Womanhood, Part 2

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014 | Posted by Elwin Cotman

Queen Millennia DVD-small

Floating down from the sky, lovely angel queen it’s you,
Shaken from the long sleep, lovely angel queen it’s you,
Touching others like a child, loving others for a while
Come and take my hand, my heart,
In time we will be together

[Read Part 1 of Leiji Matsumoto, Bushido, Manhood, and Womanhood here.]

SPOILERS!

Recently, I watched the 1982 film adaptation of Queen Millennia. It was alright, not on the level of Galaxy Express 999 or Arcadia of my Youth. For those of you who don’t know, it is about a race of aliens on the planet La Metal, who, every thousand years, send a queen to secretly rule the Earth. In the far future year of 1999, the aliens are finally going to take our planet, but the current queen, Yayoi, has gone native. Conflict ensues. The movie’s plot is rushed and there are way too many scenes of apocalyptic destruction, to the point it gets boring. On the other hand, it has great sci fi visuals, and the scene where the boy Hajime climbs a skyscraper to rescue Yayoi during an asteroid bombardment is one of the most harrowing things I’ve seen in an anime. The film also has a wonderful soundtrack by Kitaro. There aren’t many things I miss about the 1980s. I distinctly remember being a little kid and wondering why everything was so awful. But I miss the days when bands used to do soundtracks. Tangerine Dream would routinely knock out sixty-minute synth-rock jam sessions that were better than the movies they scored (I’m looking at you, Legend). Toto brought their own brand of spice to Dune. And who can forget Flash Gordon and Highlander, fueled by the power of QUEEN.

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