Friday, November 21, 2014

Book Review: Time Shifters

Shanna Lauffey. You may not of heard of her, but her work speaks for itself and may entice you to read more as time goes on.

I picked up Time Shifters, the first chapter of ten conceived chapters that will be coming out later this year. The end of the novel hints at a possible TV series. I’m not sure if it is that strong of a story, but I have hopes.

Story and Plots:

The story is a Young Adult novel, simply written, for the most part clear and concise. The first person narration is by one Akala, who is a member of a special group, the “Harekaiian” people – people who can travel through time or space (one or the other, not both at the same time) and through heredity or luck, have attained these abilities.

They’re a shy people, afraid to be discovered, go in small groups or alone, and wander the time stream, having a good time. This part of the story is interesting – I mean, would you just be a beachcomber, a Gypsy free spirit, just roaming the time stream and goofing around?

Anyway, a man discovers the group and wants the abilities for his own. He hires a few people but does not know a rogue group is formed from his actions, a group that wants to find out quite invasively what makes the Harekaiian people tick – through dissection! Yikes!

It’s interesting watching Akala go through these motions – her friends are caught and somehow lose their ability whenever a man by the name of Marcus, apparently a half-breed who has some but not all these abilities (reminds me of Spock!) and apparently is in league with these kidnappers.
Akala must resist falling in love enough to find out who is behind all this and what she can do to stop the bad guys from slicing & dicing her friends.

I must admit some frustration with this character, how she decides to go back in time a few weeks to rest and then pops back to where she left off – let’s not goof off, Akala!
Their limitations are interesting too – you can only travel during the time of your own lifetime, can use time or space-distance travel, not both. And you can touch someone to take them with you, which she uses to great effect upon her enemies.

Plotholes:

The story has a few but I think that’s intentional to entice the reader to go to the next chapter in this series of ten. Who is Julia? And how is Mason involved? And what of the rich guy who is apparently manipulating everyone in this story? Where did these people come from in the first place? And we never really meet or learn about Akala’s friends, and how exactly they lost their powers of time & space when Marcus is around.

Bottom Line:

Despite my perhaps over-criticizing the story, it flows well and is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. Recommended. The author’s next book is Children of the Morning.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Book Review: Firebird, by Jack McDevitt



Firebird

Another cool Alex Benedict novel by Jack McDevitt.

Plots and Points:

In this one, McDevitt breaks away from formula for a bit.  He has Chase meet a client who has an artifact (yeah, that part of the formula is the same!).  She is the sister-in-law of Christopher Robin (no relation to Winnie the Pooh) who is a physicist who mysteriously disappeared years ago.  She wants to sell his stuff.

Chase never heard of the guy and wants to blow her off.  Alex though has other ideas.

Interesting how the tale leads to other digressions that I thought we did not need for the book to move along: 

 - an abandoned planet with old technology including old Artificial Intelligences with an orbiting talking satellite that warns people off.  Alex and Chase of course have to go down to the planet to investigate it.  It’s possible Chris Robin visited!

- a visit to Chris Robin’s wife and Chase walking around his home town, playing tourist and interviewing people at random.  Do we know if there was a conspiracy?  Did Chris’ wife fool around with the taxi driver who apparently died in an earthquake?  (yeah, goes convoluted sometimes).

- a rescue, a plea to recognize AI’s as sentient beings has some merit, but really filled too many pages before we discover what Firebird is, and the aspect of transwarp dimensions.

- disappearing spaceships that reappear for no apparent reason.  Was Chris Robin investigating these?  What is the connection?

Bottom Line:  Interesting connections, some quite convoluted, to see what happened to Chris, the value of artifacts on the universal market, some smattering of dubious physics and more love lost with Chase and her boyfriends.  Recommended.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Latest Model Shoot- Nian

Danger in the Dark

Danger in the DarkDanger in the Dark by L. Ron Hubbard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

[This review is of the BOOK, not the Audio Book.]

Danger in the Dark is a book that has three short-stories by Hubbard, written during his height as a pulp writer in pre-War USA.

The first is Danger in the Dark, about Billy who just bought an island near the Philippines, complete with natives and a god. At first Billy thinks the god is a myth, but as it turns out, he’s a real being! One who causes earthquakes as he walks, who creates typhoons and plagues.

To appease the god, the natives want to sacrifice Christina, a beautiful girl who is all too willing to sacrifice herself for her people. Billy has other ideas.

Fun David and Goliath story, though I would have liked to know what kind of being the god Tadamona was!

The next story was The Room, about a special room that nephew Jacob inherited after the disappearance of his Uncle Toby, who used to stay in that room for days and days.

Another world lies beyond it, a special dimension of sorts will all kinds of goodies in it. Despite this, Jacob makes himself known in the small town, a place that is so Midtown America that it hurts.

Lots of commentary on the fickleness of the human condition and the impossibility of alternate universes that may not be so impossible.

The last story was He Didn’t Like Cats, which I had read before in another anthology, Supernatural Cats.

Joe was a broken-down, vindictive yet small man, who used to torture cats when he himself was given a hard time by others. The story is humorous and sad at the same time. Joe accidentally kills a cat and what happens next is quite a tale!

In some ways the short reminds me of the Slaves of Sleep, except instead of a wondrous dream world of a hero, Joe suffers from a nightmare world of which the cat rules and rules with revenge.

Bottom Line:

Some great line art by Edd Cartier, famous pulp fiction artist of the time. The stories are quaint and actually have a message behind them in every case. You just have to be aware enough to find it.

Recommended.




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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Classic Film Review: Charlie Chan on Broadway!

Another great detective film by Twentieth Century Fox with Warren Oland as Charlie Chan and Key e Luke (remember "Kung Fu"?) as number one son Lee.

Unlike other Chan films that had some pretty bad racist stereotypes, this film stuck to the story at hand. The story involves Billie Bronson who has a big secret that could "blow the lid off" the secret goings on of the gangsters of Broadway.

The banter between Charlie and his son is what makes these films so fun. They are on a boat going to NYC and Charlie is a bit seasick. Son Lee is bragging about all the food that his father just missed out on. When Charlie says stop, Lee asks if he needs a remedy. "Only cure is to find land", says Chan.

Billie comes into town who has info that is "hot enough to blister" and deals with a few nervous gangsters and a couple of reporters - of course we have the usually snarky female reporter and her sidekick smarty male reporter for the New York Bulletin, whose editor is also a bit involved in the case.

The viewer is lead on quite a merry go round on this film. It's not until we hit the 30 minute mark that Billie actually gets killed.

About 15 minutes into the film, a very brief uncredited cameo by Lon Chaney, Jr.!

And the murderer is quite a surprise. I had zero suspicion until the end of the film where they put all the facts together. These old films usually end with all suspects in a single room where we hash things out.
The film gets into forensics too with the "paraffin test", looking for gunpowder marks on hands. This was quite cool for 1939, but with today's detective & cop shows, this might not seem so hot to today's modern view.

Bottom Line: Love the banter, the hilarious New York cracks and commentaries, on everything from Chinese cigarette girls to camera hounds (worse than newspaper reporters). Must-see for any Chan fan.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Book Review: Guns of the South, by Harry Turtledove (1992)



If you like historical fiction with a dash of science fiction yet mostly a history of what the South would be like without losing to the Union, then this book is for you.

What I appreciated about Turtledove is how he did not make a big issue about 21st century politics from the white racists who stole a time machine and traveled to the waning days of the US Civil War. 

Not only was there a lot of emphasis on life in the trenches, military strategy of Grant and Lee, but also what the parties at Jeff Davis’s house were like, what the slaves thought (not enough on this view) and following the life of Nate Claudell and Molly Bean (a woman who dresses as a man to fight in the war, and parttime “whore”) and what they go through in all this.

The Afrikaans want a white racist state that will ally itself with Nazi Germany in the future.  They settle in to a town called Rivington (fictional) and immediately begin their reign of terror not only on the Union, but their manipulation of the men and women of the South.  Pretty intense story here.

The Afrikaans though are a bit cardboard characters; Turtledove does not build them up to any great degree.  There are funny moments as when he introduces the Confederate soldiers to instant coffee and freeze-dried meals. 

The discovery of 20th century books, the way General Lee uses the information of the future to help not only his own political ends but the ends of his country are fascinating.  The Afrikaans really shoot their own foot – if they were trying to create a slave state, why were they treating the Black man so badly – worse so than the Confederates were!

Final Note:  Some may bristle a bit in making the South the good guys in this story, but frankly they were really coming of age as a nation, realizing what they were doing not only with demanding slave rights but also state rights, and realizing they were part of a global economy (pretty radical in 1868!). 

The fates of Lincoln, Grant, and even Hayes are revealed.  Check it out, not a bad read. 




Rise of the Planet of the Apes -- Better than Burton!

Rise of the Planet of the Apes had some good things going for it, but overall was unsatisfying.  That said, it was much better than Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes!  Still, not as good as the well-acted films by Charlton Heston.

James Franco plays a scientist who discovers a cure for Alzheimer's which his dad is suffering from.  After an accident where an ape escapes and is put down, his boss Jacobs, who cares more about his bottom line than lives, orders all the apes put down.

These apes are intelligent thanks to Franco's experiments.  He's created a virus that strengthens the brain and thus humans.  He tries it on his dad to great results but finds they are not lasting. 

He then creates a stronger virus! 

This is where the story gets weird.  As he is experimenting, there's an accident where the virus escapes.  Klutz nerd assistant was not wearing his mask.

No quarantine?  Klutz then goes home, calls in sick.  Really?  And then he wanders all over the neighborhood looking for Franco's character and sneezes on people.  Yikes!

The virus apparently causes brain hemmorage in humans, yet makes apes smart.  And it's a stronger virus, too.

Another thing:  Franco's character steals some virus and leaves it in his fridge at home.  Really?  A highly toxic virus next to the eggs and milk?  How domestic.  Not only does he NOT get fired from his job, he also keeps the stronger virus from later in the story in the same fridge, which his ape pal Cesar uses to great effect.

The whole story of Cesar, the last survivor of the ape purge earlier in the film, is quite interesting.  But the ape, after taking over an ape facility (where we hear the Heston quote regarding damn dirty apes!) wreaks havoc upon San Francisco, doesn't like taking human life but leaves a bloody black mess on the Golden Gate Bridge, and takes up residence in Muir Woods. 

That's it?  Intelligent apes hanging out in Muir Woods and Franco's character only says "OK?"  No talking Cesar out of it, no real characterization here that could have been done, but the film is rushed at this point. 

The End?

Mid-credit scene where the guy who was sneezed at (Remember McKay from  Stargate: Atlantis?) goes to an airport and promptly spreads the virus to all points. 

Intelligent Apes?  The end of Man-As-We-Know-It?

Who knows? 

Really hope the sequel makes more sense.  :)


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Classic Film Review: West Side Story!

West Side Story, taken from the Broadway play of the same name in the 1950s, draws its parallels to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Rival gangs want to "rumble" and the single members within each, Maria and Tony, are in love, surrounded by the hate and animosity of their respective groups.

I won't draw the parallels to Shakespeare here; just suffice to say that the fights, the characters and the lovers all have their counterparts. But West Side Story is not so much about the plot and the at-times one-dimensional characters. It's about the music. It's about the dance!

Wonderful choreography by Jerome Robbins and the amazing tunes by the team of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, just take you away. You can't help yourself, it's so mesmerizing and at times dark and depressing.

The movie, despite light tunes like "Tonight", and "Maria" has its dark overtones. The murder of two of the gang members and Tony's involvement, the betrayal and lies after the attempted rape of one of the Puerto Rican women by the Jets and Maria's final act makes for some somber storytelling.

But as in Shakespeare, this is a tragedy, and as a tragedy will be dark but will also give the viewer hope for a love gained and lost.

The production values are quite high. The cast can't help themselves but to dance as they walk, dance as they stroll, dance as they match each other stride for stride, movement for movement. A wonderful, electrifying experience!

11 Academy award nominations and winning ten. This was a big film for Natalie Wood (Gypsy, Splendor In The Grass) and her co-star Richard Beymer (The Longest Day, Twin Peaks).

The amazing choreography is just to die for. I'd love to see these performed on stage someday.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Book Review: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King!



Doctor Sleep

This past year I’ve read two King novels:  11/22/63, about an alternate history to the Kennedy assassination and Doctor Sleep, a supposed sequel to the excellent The Shining.

The Shining was a fun, scary book to read.  Dan’s father and mother take over as caretakers to the Overlook Hotel in Colorado where, by the way, a horrible murder by the father of the family of the previous caretaker occurred.  They need Jack (Dan’s father) to take over. 

Unlike the movie which ignores what the Shining is, Dan’s father, a recovered alcoholic, tries to kill his family and give his son over to the evil that lurks there.

OK, Doctor Sleep fast forwards to Dan’s life – he’s just like his father – alcoholic, abusive, criminal.  His mother, never developed in this story, dies, and so does his mentor, a cook from the Overlook who also has the Shining. 

First Impressions:

The story drags on and on about Alcoholics Anonymous, Dan’s adventures along the East Coast seaboard, his near miss car accident and a mysterious thing on the road that is never explained. 

After a couple hundred pages of this the reader is introduced to two characters:  The True Knot, a group of vampire-like people who suck up the Shining of children – they torture and kill them, then suck up the Shining.  Creepy.  And this drags on and on.  Do I really want the detail of every person in the group, what their hang-ups are, and so on?  Really?  A past history would have been better, but oh well.

Another is Abra – who as a baby freaked out at the same time as the 9/11 disaster in NYC.  Turns out she has the Shining too, much more powerfully than Dan did. 

After that intro we again go into Dan’s world.  King drops the alcoholic nightmare stuff and briefly involves the reader in Dan’s hospice work, how he helps the dying go to the “other side” with the help of a psychic cat.  Yikes!

Finally, finally, The True Knot, Abra and her parents and Dan meet and though somewhat anticlimactic, is a satisfying end to the tale. 

Conclusion:  

You need the patience of Job to finally get to the end of this dragging behemoth of a novel.  It does not have the pace of The Shining, nor does it have the interesting many-faceted characters from 11/22/63.  What it does have is some interesting views of how an American teenager deals with her psychic powers – which was the most entertaining part of the book.  Too bad I have to get to page 400 to find that out! 

Three stars, Mr. King.