Fantasia 2019, Day 19, Part 4: Son of the White Mare

Friday, September 20th, 2019 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Son of the White MareThe last of the four movies I had on my schedule for July 29 promised to be interesting on any number of levels. Son of the White Mare (Fehérlófia) is an animated film made in 1981 by Hungarian Marcell Jankovics, directed by him from a script he wrote with László György. It’s based on the work of poet László Arany and folktales of the Magyars and Avars; Jankovics, who has published 15 books on comparative mythology, picked and chose from among the various versions of the tale to create what he wanted — a weird, protean, eye-popping, archetypal light show.

The version presented at Fantasia was a new 4K restoration of the movie. Hundreds of hours went into cleaning and colour-grading the film, with the participation of Jankovics. When the movie originally came out it was not a box-office success, but it has since gained a high (and thoroughly deserved) reputation among animation fans; the restoration’s an important project, and the results are beautiful, doing the colours justice.

The story itself is a fairy-tale: a king and queen are deposed, and the queen in the shape of a white horse gives birth to a boy who grows into a hero by drinking her milk. He sets out to find his brothers and destroy the dragons who overthrew his father’s rule. This entails a long journey into a mysterious underworld, where he must rescue captive princesses, slay the dragons, and return.

Beyond the subject matter, the structure’s a fairy-tale as well. It’s generally cyclical, beginning with a child in a deep dark forest and ending with the restoration of the idyllic state of things before the saga began. The rule of threes is everywhere: three brothers, three princesses, three dragons. It begins with “Once upon a time” and ends with “they lived happily ever after.”

But then the way it’s made is something else again. The animation’s expressionistic, mostly in primary colours without black contour lines, shapes frequently neon-bright and often against dark backgrounds, sometimes strobing from one hue to another. The designs are almost Blakean, mixed with elements of art-nouveau.

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New Treasures: Gamechanger by L.X. Beckett

Friday, September 20th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Gamechanger-smallCanadian writer A. M. Dellamonica has published a pair of fantasy series with Tor, Indigo Springs and the The Hidden Sea Tales trilogy. Her sixth novel Gamechanger is a significant departure, a near-future SF thriller that Publishers Weekly says “recalls the whiz-bang joy and gleeful innovation of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash,” and it’s being released under the pseudonym L.X. Beckett. Early notices have been terrific; here’s the enthusiastic coverage from Kirkus Reviews.

A cerebral fusion of science fiction, mystery, and apocalyptic thriller — masterfully seasoned throughout with provocative social commentary…

Set in the year 2101, in a world devastated by economic and ecological collapse (thanks in part to an American president known as He Who Could Not Be Named), the story largely revolves around Cherub “Rubi” Whiting, an internationally famous virtual reality gamer and fledgling lawyer. Her current client is Luciano Pox, an accused online terrorist who could be a mastermind hacker, a malware-infested AI, an elderly human who has somehow uploaded their consciousness, or an alien scout trying to destabilize humankind before the coming of a massive invasion fleet. Meeting with the elusive Pox proves dangerous… but the story’s real fuel comes from the author’s placement of backstory breadcrumbs throughout the novel. There is a lot to digest here, from humankind’s obsession with social media and their almost full immersion in cyber-reality to the brutal consequences of global warming to life extension advances to the mass consumption of printed protein as one of the only viable food sources left. A thought-provoking cautionary tale that will, hopefully, compel readers to see the condition of our civilization and our planet with more clarity and understanding.

A visionary glimpse into the future — the narrative equivalent of a baseball bat to the skull.

Read the complete review here. Our previous coverage of A. M. Dellamonica includes:

Birthday Reviews: A.M. Dellamonica’s “A Key to the Illuminated Heretic”
Read A.M. Dellamonica’s “The Glass Galago” at Tor.com
A Daughter of No Nation

Gamechanger was published by Tor Books on September 17, 2019. It is 572 pages, priced at $26.99 in hardcover and $14.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Stephan Martiniere.

Read the complete (8-page) first chapter here, and see all our recent New Treasures here.


Goth Chick News: Universal and Amblin Drop a JW3 Sneak Peek

Thursday, September 19th, 2019 | Posted by Sue Granquist

Jurassic-World-3-Battle-At-Big-Rock-Connection

There have been five movies in the Jurassic Park franchise since the original first blew our minds on the big screen in 1993. With a sixth installment due in the summer of 2021, it’s fair to ask what more can be done with this storyline?  I mean, five movies in, we’re very clear that when dinos and human intermingle, things are never, ever going to end well. Also, even the most money-hungry corporate entity (INGEN in this case) couldn’t possibly survive the continual carnage wrought by playing God. As Dr. Ian Malcolm said, “Ooo, ahhh, that’s how it always starts, but then later there’s running, and screaming.”

Which pretty much sums up the last four Jurassic movies.

So where do we go from here plot-wise, without causing audiences to pull a muscle doing a collective eye roll? As it turns out, there still might be one last trick in the JP bag.

This week, Universal Studios and Amblin Entertainment released an official short film giving us a view into what we can look forward to in Jurassic World 3. The 8-minute short, entitled Battle at Big Rock, occurs a year after dinosaurs escaped into the wilds of California at the end of JW2: Fallen Kingdom. We see a campground in Big Rock National Park where a family is enjoying grilling chicken wings with other campers. The dad tells the daughter to take the food inside the camper before it attracts bears and…

Well check it out for yourself.

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Fantasia 2019, Day 19, Part 3: “A Japanese Boy Who Draws” and Yutaka Yamamoto’s Twilight

Thursday, September 19th, 2019 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

TwilightMy third screening on July 29 was a double-feature at the De Sève Cinema of two animated movies, a long short and a short feature. “A Japanese Boy Who Draws” (ある日本の絵描き少年) is 20 minutes long. Twilight, which I immediately came to think of as (Not That) Twilight (and in fact some places online translate the title 薄暮, Hakubo, as Project Twilight), is 53 minutes long. They’re both slice-of-life films about young people in Japan making art, but are otherwise very different narratively and visually. Which is to say they have enough in common and enough contrast to make a fine double bill.

Written and directed by Masanao Kawajiri, “A Japanese Boy Who Draws” can actually be said to deal with two Japanese boys who draw: Shinji, an aspiring manga artist, and his friend Masaru, a mentally challenged boy who wears a luchador mask everywhere. They meet at the age of 10, and we follow Shinji as he narrates his career trying to break into manga. He breaks from Masaru, who does not grow up as Shinji does. But Shinji’s life doesn’t go as smoothly as he hoped. He gets into manga, he gets better at his craft, but nevertheless his career stalls out. He returns to his home town, and, as one might expect, reconnects with Masaru in a surprising way.

Put like that, the film sounds standard; it isn’t. It looks distinctive, to start with. Different art styles reflect Shinji’s different ages, different levels of drawing ability, and perhaps different relationships to art at different times. Childlike drawings give way to manga pages give way to greyscale live-action photography. The film’s particularly strong technically in the way it uses comics pages to tell its story; panels are a tricky thing to make work in motion pictures, but it comes off brilliantly here.

At the same time, this isn’t just a technical exercise. There’s some powerful emotional material in the movie. Shinji’s lack of progress in his career is powerful because it feels almost subversive: he works hard, he lives for his art, and he gets nowhere not just in business but as an artist. If there is a problem with the film, incidentally, it is that it may be difficult for an audience to assess how good an artist Shinji is or is not. I found myself surprised at the way other characters uniformly dismissed his work when the art on screen seemed perfectly fine. In any event, Shinji doesn’t have the creativity needed to make a great manga, it seems, which is fair enough.

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The Cost of Becoming Royalty: Crown of Coral and Pearl by Mara Rutherford

Thursday, September 19th, 2019 | Posted by Caitlin McAllister

Crown of Coral and Pearl-smallTwins Nor (coral) and Zadie (pearl) live in Varenia, a world built on stilts above the ocean. The floating village makes a living diving for and collecting rare pearls that have healing capabilities and trading them to Ilara, a distant kingdom.

In addition to pearls, Ilara also barters for queens. Once every generation, the most beautiful woman in Varenia is sent to land to become Ilara’s next lady sovereign.

Nor and Zadie have been preparing their entire lives to become royalty: protecting their skin and hair with ointments and treatments; not playing too hard to avoid accidents that might mar their complexions; and learning the etiquette expected of queens. Unfortunately, accidents aren’t entirely avoidable, and Nor’s cheek is ultimately scarred for life in a struggle with a fishing net while diving. After the accident any hope of being chosen as queen is smashed. Ironically, Nor is the more adventurous of the twins, and she has always yearned for more than what her tiny village can offer. Zadie is content in her small, floating world, in love with a local boy Sami and happy to live a life of the familiar.

However, a grave and tragic encounter with a sea jelly leaves Zadie unable to make the journey even after she’s chosen as the royal successor. In a dangerous plot, Nor disguises her scar and takes her twin’s place. The king doesn’t take kindly to imposters, and Nor is aware that Varenia’s entire fresh water supply was once cut off when a different woman was sent in place of the chosen one due to illness. Knowing the risk, Nor sets off on an adventure full of intrigue, politics and romance.

I could not put this book down and finished it in about a day. Rutherford has created a really interesting setting, and the world building is polished and sure. The floating world of Varenia is described incredibly well, and you’re immediately immersed in the salty sea breezes and vibrant colors of Nor and Zadie’s world — and, in contrast, the cold and dark of New Castle, where Nor settles into her new life on land. Nor is a fantastic protagonist with a very well-developed character – she’s everything you want a fierce female to be, yet with a soft and complex relationship with her sister. I enjoyed Nor’s story arc immensely.

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The Golden Age of Science Fiction: Stephen King

Thursday, September 19th, 2019 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Alex Gotfryd

Cover by Alex Gotfryd

Stephen King

Stephen King

Cover by Dave Christensen

Cover by Dave Christensen

The World Fantasy Awards are presented during the World Fantasy Convention and are selected by a mix of nominations from members of the convention and a panel of judges. The awards were established in 1975 and presented at the 1st World Fantasy Convention in Providence, Rhode Island. Traditionally, the awards took the form of a bust of H.P. Lovecraft sculpted by Gahan Wilson, however in recent years the trophy became controversial in light of Lovecraft’s more problematic beliefs. The first Special Convention Award was presented in 1978 to Glenn Lord. Two years later, Stephen King received the award when the convention was held in Baltimore, Maryland.

Stephen King’s first professional sale was the story “The Glass Floor,” which appeared in the Fall 1967 issue of Startling Mystery Stories, edited by Robert A.W. Lowndes. He continued publishing short fiction and his first novel sale was Carrie, which originally was meant to be a short story, but which he lengthened. It was published in 1974 and turned into a movie in 1976, establishing a long-running collaboration between King and Hollywood. To date more than 200 films and television shows have been based on King’s work.

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Fantasia 2019, Day 19, Part 2: Depraved

Wednesday, September 18th, 2019 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

DepravedOne of the things that most fascinates me about film is the way Frankenstein is at least as important in that medium as it is in prose. Obviously this importance is most visible in genre film, but it’s there one way or another in the mainstream too — consider Gods and Monsters. From at least 1910, when the story was adapted into a then-epic ten-minute movie, through the tremendously important 1931 Boris Karloff version, it’s a story that’s haunted cinema. One way or another the tale or the monster comes up regularly at Fantasia, whether in Guillermo del Toro talking about the monster as a religious figure, or a film using a 1977 version of the story as a metafictional conceit. So this year, in addition to a screening of the notorious 1971 Dracula vs. Frankenstein, there was Depraved: a straight-faced modern-day retelling of the Frankenstein story.

It opens with a man (Owen Campbell) and his girlfriend Lucy (Chloë Levine). They have a minor domestic disagreement; he leaves; is murdered; and then wakes up. He’s lost his memory, and is horribly scarred (and is now played by Alex Breaux). He was re-animated by a scientist named Henry (David Call), who names the reborn entity Adam. Henry has a friend named Polidori (Joshua Leonard, who began his film acting career way back with The Blair Witch Project), who’s responsible for acquiring funding for Henry’s one-man revivification project. That’s turning out to be tricky, though, and Polidori wants to take Adam public. As he argues with Henry about this, they along with Henry’s girlfriend Liz (Ana Kayne) educate Adam about human life and history. But will Adam be able to control his instincts? How will it all end?

In tragedy, of course, as it began. The film was written and directed by Larry Fessenden, and it’s an interesting straightforward science-fictional take on Shelley’s Frankenstein. Fessenden’s a veteran filmmaker (and actor, who appeared among other places in In A Valley of Violence) who has spoken about being influenced by the Universal horror films. His second movie, 1982’s Habit, was a vampire film; his first major feature with a full crew, 1991’s No Telling, was subtitled The Frankenstein Complex. This movie’s a more direct take on the story.

In some ways, though, it’s still very subversive. The fevered gothic atmosphere of the original, with its point-of-view anchored by Victor Frankenstein’s subjectivity, is gone. This is Frankenstein from the creature’s perspective, a rendering in which Adam’s humanity is key. Thus we do not have the frenzied moment of creation, no cry of “It’s alive!” There is a level, in fact, in which this movie undermines Frankenstein’s claim to create anything. Fessenden underlines the fact that Adam, or the raw material of his brain, had a life before Frankenstein ever got his hands on him.

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Space Empires, Ruined Civilizations, and Lovable Aliens: The Best of Eric Frank Russell

Wednesday, September 18th, 2019 | Posted by James McGlothlin

The Best of Eric Frank Russell-small The Best of Eric Frank Russell-back-small

Cover by H. R. Van Dongen

The Best of Eric Frank Russell (1978) was the eighteenth installment in Lester Del Rey’s Classic Science Fiction Series. Alan Dean Foster (1946–) provides the introduction, his first and only introduction for the series. H. R. Van Dongen (1920–2010) does his seventh cover (far surpassing Dean Ellis’s five). Since Eric Frank Russell (1905–1978) was unavailable at the time this volume was compiled, no Afterword is included.

Alan Dean Foster relates in the introduction that during a lunch with John Campbell they realized they both had the same favorite sci-fi writer: Eric Frank Russell. But both lamented (this was 1968) that Russell no longer wrote that much. This seems like very high praise, since it comes from two very influential figures in the sci-fi field. But who was Eric Frank Russell, and why did he quit writing?

Eric Frank Russell was a British writer (which I found surprising since his dialogue sounds American to my reading). He grew up in a military family, but didn’t serve in the military until World War II. Most of his early life was spent writing for American and British pulp magazines. He also produced a few novels, some fairly successful, including Sinister Barrier (1943) and Wasp (1957), which was optioned by Ringo Starr of The Beatles, but never filmed.

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Fantasia 2019, Day 19, Part 1: Full Contact

Tuesday, September 17th, 2019 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Full ContactThere’s still so much I don’t know about film, so many great movies I haven’t seen. Thankfully, every year Fantasia screens restorations and special presentations of a number of established classics (and semi-classics). I usually don’t have free time in my schedule to watch films I’ve already seen — I had to pass on First Blood to watch Why Don’t You Just Die!, while a presentation of The Crow later in the festival was up against something else — but early on July 29 I had an open spot to take in a film I’d never seen before: a 35mm screening of the 1992 classic by Ringo Lam (Lam Ling-tung) Full Contact. Lam passed away late last year at only 63, and so Fantasia honoured him with a presentation of one of his greatest works.

Written by Yin Nam, the movie’s about Jeff (Gou Fei in some translations, Ko Fei in others, played in any case by Chow Yun-Fat), a tough bouncer in Bangkok whose friend Sam Sei (Anthony Wong) went into debt to a loan shark to pay for Jeff’s mother’s burial. To pay off the debt, they decide to embark on a heist alongside Sam’s cousin Judge (Simon Yam). Judge has other plans. He betrays Jeff, and leaves him for dead. But Jeff survives, and as Sam rises in the underworld, Jeff returns seeking revenge.

And revenge he shall have. Full Contact is one of the late apotheoses of the 80s action movie, filled with snarling attitude and brutal gunfights. There’s a heft to the violence, a weight that comes only in part from the lack of CGI. Mostly it comes from acting and directing and writing. You feel anything can happen to any character at any time. Or at least anything imaginable in 1992; the film’s solidly of its time, to the point of opening with a dance sequence set to Extreme’s “Get the Funk Out.” Which, somehow, impossibly, works.

The movie moves well, building to set-pieces that send the plot off in unpredictable directions. The heist, for example, is the kind of action sequence other movies might make their grand climax. Here it’s more like the end of a long first act, twisting the story to set up the rest of the film. But the point is that it has its own logic and its own structure, with a car chase and a running gun fight and then a siege of a man pinned down inside a house. All of it’s clear, all of it fun to watch, and yet also oddly realistic; the gang’s small, and the violence is on a matching scale.

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Vintage Treasures: The Quiet Invasion by Sarah Zettel

Tuesday, September 17th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

The Quiet Invasion Sarah Zettel-small The Quiet Invasion Sarah Zettel-back-small

Cover by Steve Youll

Sarah Zettel launched her career in pretty spectacular fashion in 1996 with the novel Reclamation, which was nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award and won the Locus Award for Best First Novel. Her second, Fool’s War (1997), came in 8th in the Locus poll for Best SF Novel, and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

The Quiet Invasion (2000) was her fourth novel, a tense and original tale of First Contact. Publishers Weekly said Zettel’s “aliens soar forward in unexpected and wonderful ways, making this a first-contact novel worth reading and relishing.” Here’s a snippet from their review.

Zettel (Fool’s War, etc.) has a gift for creating fascinating aliens with rich cultures and radically different, though still comprehensible, mindsets… a nearly omnipotent United Nations on Earth controls what happens to the colonies on Mars, the Moon and, especially, Venus. The Venus colony is the life’s work of Dr. Helen Failia, who has done everything possible to make the base a self-sufficient outpost rather than a temporary research station. Just as Helen is about to lose funding for her beloved city, the surface of Venus sprouts what appears to be an alien artifact. Closely monitoring the humans’ discovery of the artifact are aliens from another planet, who are looking to claim Venus as their new home… Their complicated belief system dictates that they cannot colonize Venus if humans have a legitimate claim to the planet, but if they judge the humans insane, they can destroy them like weeds.

When I was editor of SF Site back in the 90s, we previewed the complete first chapter of The Quiet Invasion. Twenty years later it’s still posted for your reading enjoyment here — who says nothing lasts on the internet?

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