Friday, July 30, 2010

Doctor Who: Business Unusual by Gary Russell

Spoiler Level: Medium

Not Gary Russell's best, but still an entertaining read... especially the last third.

Business Unusual is a direct follow-up to Scales of Injustice (which I read and reviewed last October). In this book we learn what's happened to the creepy guys who were running the psuedo-Torchwood Institute since the previous book.

We also get to meet Mel properly. Since Colin Baker was dissed and dismissed as the Doctor after "Trial of a Time Lord," where Mel had been "introduced" by being plucked from his future, we were never given an explanation in the show proper on just how the Doctor could leave with a companion from his own future. And then he goes and regenerates in the very next story!

Well, the only solution is to assume that a lot has to have happened between "Trial of a Time Lord" and "Time and the Rani." And the show does at least give a great opening for it-- at one point in "Trial," the Doctor gives his age as "900 years, more or less." Then in the next story "Time and the Rani," the newly-regenerated Seventh Doctor gives his age as 953. So we have to assume that 53 years ("more or less") have taken place between the two stories, giving the Sixth Doctor room to do a whole lot more.

And the books (and audios) have run with that, much to my delight. The mythos goes that the Doctor dropped off Mel back in her proper place in time, became a hermit for a little while, traveled around with Grant and then Evelyn (and Frobisher in there somewhere) and then finally ran into Mel the way history intended him to. Then his TARDIS gets whacked by the Rani and he regenerates.

None of which is really explained in this book. Business Unusual assumes that you at least know that the Doctor dropped off "Future Mel." I can see how a more casual fan may have been scratching is head and going "But how did the Doctor end up not being with Mel in the first place?" But then again, if you're a casual fan, you're probably not reading this book.

What this book does do is show how the Doctor has been going out of his way to avoid meeting Mel. Because if he changes his timeline enough that he never meets her, then perhaps the Valeyard will never be created as well. And that's really the fun part of this book-- seeing the Doctor trying to avoid his own destiny with Mel from happening.

There's two ways that this book fell a little flat to me. The first is the villains. The Irish Twins and the Managing Director from Scales of Injustice make for good heavies, but not very interesting as lead villains. And did I mention this book has the Brigadier in it? He's fairly prominent, which should be a good thing-- after all, Colin Baker is the only classic Doctor he didn't get a full story with. Only in this one, he still doesn't-- they don't meet up until the last 30 pages. Which is a real disappointment.

There's still some good old Russell "fanwank"...the Managing Director has still been scavenging leftover alien tech, so we get some nice references to the Doctor's adventures on Earth.

As I mentioned above, the last third of the book is when it all gets really good-- all the characters are in place and we start figuring out what the agendas really are and who's really using whom. And the Doctor's getting down to crunch time with Mel.

So all in all, it's still a worthwhile read.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Justice League: The New Frontier

Spoiler Level: Medium-Slightly Highish

I haven't read the comic that this video is based on; at the time it was published, I was already spending too much money on "Prestige Format" comics, and I couldn't see doing it for what seemed to me at the time to be just another JLA origin story.

But it turns out that story was really pretty good. I always enjoy Elseworlds stories, especially ones that tie in to real history like this one does. It sticks with the idea that McCarthy forced the Justice Society to resign in the 50's, but then continues to ask, what if the next generation of super heroes rose to fill that gap immediately, at a time when anti-communism was running rampant? Where the heroes weren't just universally accepted but were considered to all be vigilantes? Where those heroes now had a legitimate distrust of their own government after what just happened to the JSA?

I also loved the 1950's look of it all; Ferris Industries looks like the pop-art 50's vision of how the future was supposed to be. Superman still has his Golden-Age color scheme, and Batman starts out with his long-eared 1940's look.

The final lesson, that it shouldn't matter what views we have, we're all Americans and in this together, is a good one for this day and age.

This is the third DCU OVA I've watched (the other two being Superman: Doomsday and Green Lantern: First Flight, the latter of which I plan to review after I finish watching all the bonus features) and I've definitely noticed a trend. The violence is pumped up, which is of course why it has the PG-13 rating. However, I also have to wonder if it's not a bit forced, to bring home the point that "this is not Superfriends." Same thing with the dialogue; while it's nice that the story doesn't have to come up with substitutes for "ass" and "son of a bitch," it's not like the foul language is essential to the story. I'm kind of left with the attitude that a lot of the early imported anime of the 90's had, where the anime community was working too hard to emphasize that they weren't kiddie cartoons.

But overall I'd say the DCU OVAs I've seen have been 3 for 3, and I look forward to seeing more of them. It's great that we live in age where comic book animation can not only be a thriving industry, but that the material is treated with so much respect.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Doctor Who - The Pandorica Opens, Episode 2: "The Big Bang"

Spoiler Level: Astro- nomically High

...Or, I could be completely, totally and utterly wrong. Amy could just be a more traditional companion who doesn't get to be fleshed out as much as all the other new companions simply because her family's already dead when we meet her, so she just doesn't have anything to come back to except Rory.

Wow, talk about seeing things that weren't there. I really missed the mark on that one!

Once again, the Moff makes time travel an integral part of the story. Heck, not just the story, but this entire season and the next one. So everything with the crack, everything with this whole season, has been him cleaning up the after-effects of something that hadn't happened yet, and no one, the Doctor included, knows who did it or why! That's awesome.

Even more awesome is Amy and Rory staying on for another season as the first married couple in the TARDIS. And wow, did Rory ever prove himself worthy by standing watch over Amy for 2000 years.

Oh, and as to the story title, I'm going with "The Pandorica Opens," because the Pandorica is a crucial part of both episodes, but the Big Bang is specifically referring to the Big Bang II from this episode.

A great wrap-up to a great season. Looking forward to next season, and arguing over what to call it!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Star Wars: Darth Bane - Dynasty of Evil by Drew Karpyshyn

Spoiler Level: High

The idea behind Darth Bane creating the Rule of Two for the Sith is more than just to keep armies of Sith from fighting with each other instead of the Jedi. By having only one master and one apprentice, when the apprentice becomes stronger than the master she can then overthrow him and become the master herself. If the apprentice fails and is killed, she was not worthy to become the master, and a new apprentice is chosen. This way each new Sith master will always be more powerful than the last one.

Dynasty of Evil is the third book in the Darth Bane series, and the time has come for Darth Bane and Darth Zannah to have their final showdown. The question is, is Zannah worthy of becoming the next master? And who will become the next apprentice?

To keep you wondering, this book introduces quite a few potential new apprentices, and alliances and loyalties are constantly shifting. There are very few honorable characters here, and it's a credit to Drew Karpyshyn that he can write a story with no heroic people in it at all and yet still keep me enthralled, wondering how all the pieces will finally fall into place, making me change and revise my theories right up to the very end.

The next book set in the Old Republic era is coming out any day now, and jumps back an additional 2500 years to tie in with the new video game. Now as I've said many times before, I'm not a gamer, but the trailer looks awesome so I'm interested in the story. And since I've gone back to the beginning of the Star Wars timeline, it would make sense to read that one next before I move on to the prequel era books. So even though it's moving backwards... coming next month: Star Wars: The Old Republic - Fatal Alliance!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Prisoner

Spoiler Rating: High. I mean get real, this show has been out since 1968. I'm probably the last fanboy in the world to see it. Well, at least the last in my generation. Not that Nickie didn't try to get me to see it, and we did watch the first three episodes, and I enjoyed it enough, but for some reason we never got back to it. Not enough spaceships, perhaps? Beats me. But I digress.

Well, at least Rich got me back on the right path and showed them to me. Now a great wrong has been righted and I've finally seen it.

So, what'd I think of it?

Well obviously it's given me a lot to think about over the last four months. And that was part of what I always liked about it, that it would stay with me after I watched it. I'd find myself thinking about it during the week, considering different angles of what it said.

Not to mention it has a great theme song and 60's cinematography.

The final meeting between Number 6 and Number 1 is probably one of the worst kept secrets in science fiction history, right up there with the endings to Soylent Green and Planet of the Apes. I tried to put it out of my mind as I watched the series, but I have no doubt that it colored my perceptions somewhat. Which is a bit of a shame, because if I hadn't already known it, I wouldn't have interpreted it that way. What I saw left me with the message that beasts and madmen are the ones in charge. The fact that the madman is also played by Patrick McGoohan adds an extra level to it, that the madmen and the beasts are also in ourselves. I had been taking the lesson that we become our own jailers by turning into the things we fight, which is probably a valid interpretation; but I the interpretation I got on my own is that we can drive those bestial and maniacal sides of ourselves out and take charge.

The lessons in the show about the importance of the individual in society obviously spoke to me. Rebellious individuals like Number Six are the ones who shake up society and bring about change. And then that change becomes the status quo for the next generation to rebel against and shake up.

Which leads to the concept that we are all prisoners to society. Which is true of course, we have to live within the rules, codes and mores of society. I wanted to change the world when I was 21, and if I couldn't change it I'd start up my own commune where we'd all live the way we want. I still think of that a lot, but I'm also happy living in my suburban home in my conventional marriage with my conventional daughter and four cats. Do we redefine freedom as we get older, or do we just sell out? My family has freedom to believe what we want, but we're still prisoners of the economic system. Heck, I find that I censor myself when talking with other co-workers, other parents or even my daughter. But what's the alternative? Utopia or anarchy? "All You Need Is Love" while the machine guns are blazing?

I could probably ramble on and on, but you get the point. There's lots of great questions raised in this show, and just like Evangelion, possible answers are given in clues but ultimately you are left to interpret them for yourself, with no real wrong answers.

Like I always say when I finally get around to watching or reading a classic... "Now I understand what all the fuss is about," and "They call it a classic for a reason."

Monday, July 19, 2010

Doctor Who - "The Pandorica Opens," Episode 1

Spoiler Level: High

Wowwwww. What an ending!!

Observa- tions:

* "Doesn't it bother you that your life doesn't make any sense?" Now you could assume that he was simply referring to the fact that Amy now has gaps in her memory from her fiancé being erased from history, but seeing as how he also brought up her "house with too many rooms" he seems to think it runs deeper. See, I knew there was more to Amy than just her not being fleshed out as much as the previous companions. The Doctor thinks everything has been pulled from Amy's memory to create the trap, but I think Amy herself was the trap. I think she's a creation of the Alliance, the perfect bait to pull the Doctor in and get him where they want him, and probably how they've been tracking him in the first place. The question is, did they create a real person who will still be able to exist and become her own person after the trap is over?

Oh, wait a minute, there is no "after." Okay, Amy's been killed, but then again the entire universe has been wiped out, so assuming there really is a next episode, something's going to have to be reset. Speaking of which...

* Rory's back! Okay, he woke up as a Roman right after being erased... an Auton Roman that was pulled from Amy's memory of her book. Which again leads me to believe that Rory is simply part of The Amy Trap. Amy is the key to the entire trap, Rory was created to give Amy a credible backstory, and once Rory was removed from the game he simply "respawned" at the final level of the game.

The only part that bothers me about this is that the return of "the other companion" for the finale is becoming too formulaic. Remember back when I watched "Cold Blood" and I said "I suppose there's a chance The Crack might bring him back or something like that at the end of the season"? Mickey comes back at the end of Series 2 (28), Jack comes back at the end of Series 3 (29), everyone comes back at the end of Series 4 (30), Donna & Wilf come back at the end of The Year of Specials (31), and now Rory comes back at the end of Series Fnarg /5 (32). I'm sure Rory's being erased and returned is a crucial part of the story ("It's staring me in the face and I'm not seeing it,") but I still would have liked it if Rory had stayed around for the rest of the season and we could have explored the dynamic of a couple in the TARDIS.

* Just what is causing the TARDIS to blow up in the first place? All we know is that someone else was controlling it, making it go to 26 June 2010, planted it in a place where River couldn't leave and then made it blow up. Who? Why?

And last but not least... WHAT AN AWESOME FLEET!! Daleks, Cybermen, Autons, Sontarrans, Judoon, CHELONIANS!!!, Zygons, Silurians... wait a minute, Silurians don't have spaceships, and they should still be asleep at this point, shouldn't they? Never mind, just seeing a crowd of all of the Doctor's enemies closing in on him was awesome.

The thing is, the whole Alliance is obviously being manipulated by whoever stole the TARDIS. So even though the universe has ended, there's still a lot of unanswered questions. Here's hoping the second half is as cool as the first half was.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Star Trek: IKS Gorkon - Honor Bound by Keith R. A. DeCandido

Spoiler Level: Medium

There's not a lot I can say without spoiling the end of the previous book, so I'm going to try my best: Klag, captain of the IKS Gorkon, has been ordered by his superiors to go back on an oath he's made. And what honorable Klingon would do that? No, the only thing left to do is stand by his honor and take on his superiors in combat!

And what a glorious combat it is. Giant space battles, fierce ground combat, cool characters, and one scene of horrific irony that would make Peter David proud.

The book itself hits the ground running and never, ever slows down. In a lot of ways this entire book is the climax to the previous book. I hadn't planned on reading this book until next month, but the next book on my reading list hadn't shown up from the library yet, so I just dove right into this book instead. I'm glad I did, because the two books should really be read back-to-back.

Keith R.A. DeCandido has crafted such a great crew in this series, it's a shame that it's only going to go for two more books. Reading his acknowledgments in the back of the book I'm surprised at how much of the cast was pulled from various Trek episodes. I'm hoping I'll recognize them as I rewatch them this time around thanks to this series.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Green Lantern Movie Costume

Yeah, okay. That'll do.

My first reaction was, oooooooh!

My second reaction was, what's with all the white lines? I'm wondering if they'll pulse, to try and show how he's full of power. Kind of like how he's drawn with the GL symbol glowing off of his costume these days.

My third reaction was the symbol and the ring look good. I'm glad they're using the mask too, that's good. In this age where the actors are more important than the characters I never take that for granted. The mask actually reminds me of a smooth version of Kyle's, which will probably piss some people off but is fine by me.

The fourth thing I noticed was there doesn't seem to be any black in Hal's costume. It's looks all green. Well, all green and white, anyway. Wonder how that's going to go over with people who are new to Green Lantern? (No point in asking how it will go over with the fanboys; they'll bitch and whine and declare this as absolute proof that The Movie's Going To Suck, like they always do.) But to the average person who doesn't know GL, will the all-green outfit look cool to them? Or will they think he looks like a frozen stringbean, or an electrified Hulk?

The final reaction that went through my mind was, "Hey! Is that Ben Stiller playing Hal Jordan?" But I was being a smart-ass with myself, because I already knew it was Ryan Reynolds.

All in all, since there are many different Green Lantern costumes in the Corps, this is a perfectly acceptable one. Sure, I would have preferred it with the black trim, but this will do fine. I could easily see any member of the Green Lantern Corps wearing it, so why not Hal Jordan?

I'm looking forward to seeing more pictures of it to flesh out my opinion on it. How long til we get a trailer?!?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Star Trek: IKS Gorkon - A Good Day to Die by Keith R. A. DeCandido

Spoiler Warning: Medium

Keith R. A. DeCandido is awesome. Didn't I say I expected to love these books? No? Well, I did expect to. KRAD is a fantastic writer. He really knows his Trek inside and out, and no one, but no one writes Klingons as good as he does.

As to the book itself... let's start out with this wonderful blurb from the book's back cover copy:

"These are the voyages of the Klingon Defense Force vessel I.K.S Gorkon, part of the mighty Chancellor class. It's mission: to explore strange new worlds... to seek out new life and new civilizations... ...and to conquer them for the greater glory of the Klingon Empire!"

Now you might think that's just a clever little play on the classic Trek opening, but no, that's actually the plot of the book. After the Dominion War, the Klingon Empire is hurting for resources, so the Gorkon has been sent to explore the Kavrot sector and secure new worlds to help replace what they've lost.

So how do you have a story where the good guys are meant to be conquerors? Simple, you have them encounter another race of ferocious warriors, so there's a lot of honorable combat, and the heroes aren't just wiping out the natives.

There's of course a lot of great characterization, although with so many "K" names (Kargan, Kornan, Kuark, Krevor, etc.) I did get them confused from time to time, but the context always straightened me out pretty quickly.

The only real complaint I have doesn't even originate with this book, but it's used so much it really irks me: I can't stand the Klingon navy being called the Klingon Defense Force. Defense? What is this, Japan? No! These are KLINGONS! It should be the Klingon OFFENSE Force! Okay, I suppose it could be some kind of Orwellian take on "defense," or one of those "the best defense is a good offense" kind of things, but come on... these are the Klingons, f'r cryin' out loud. It should be The Glorious Imperial Fleet That Throughly Stomps Your Jeghpu'wI' Butt or something.

Oh, and a brief correction: Apparently I had a few unpublished draft posts saved, so Moonfall was not my 200th post. This one is. Honest!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Doctor Who - "The Lodger"

Spoiler Warning: Medium

This episode kind of sums up my feelings on the entire season. Not really deep, but some nice sentimental moments and overall a lot of fun.

Watching the Doctor trying to pass himself off as a normal guy and failing miserably makes for some great comedy. As Rich and I have discussed with each other in the comments, Matt Smith's strength in his performance as the Doctor is his ability to be off the wall, and this episode plays very strongly to that.

And another awesome montage of earlier Doctors. Fanboy heaven!!!

Also, notice that in the window of this picture, Craig has a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Star Trek: The Next Generation - "The Arsenal of Freedom"

Geordi gets a taste of command, Picard & Crusher get some alone time, we get another saucer separation, and capitalism saves the day! (Even though capitalism caused the problem in the first place.)

This is actually a very nicely balanced episode, providing both phaser battle action and character development. Tasha finally gets a lot to do. LeVar Burton gives a great performance as Geordi being stuck in the captain's seat when things go wrong. We get a brief glimpse of Picard as the action hero he'd become in the TNG movies, but it's very brief, and soon he and Crusher are just talking to each other in their little underground hideaway. We learn a little about Beverly's past-- she was on a colony world with her grandmother that had a virus outbreak. This is one of things that one of the books expanded on and I hadn't remembered that it was originally mentioned in this episode, so I enjoyed hearing the reference here.

We also get Chief Engineer Logan, who's at least the second Chief Engineer during the first season, and the fourth lead Engineering character. Yeah, they definitely needed a regular character to be the Chief Engineer. I wonder if anyone's written a story on why they couldn't keep one in the first season? When they first gave the job to Geordi it struck me as odd, but in rewatching these first season episodes it's made a lot more sense. I've been noticing that in episodes where they didn't use an Engineering character, Geordi would be fulfilling the engineer's role anyway. (For example, he was the one showing the Klingons around Engineering in "Heart of Glory." And often he's the one suggesting technobabble solutions.)

The idea of a weapon system turning on its owners isn't really new, but the idea that the Enterprise is visiting the Planet of the Terminators gives it a darker edge in my mind than when I first saw it. And of course the fact that it all came from greed gives us a double moral. Greed is bad, War is bad, put the two together and you go extinct. It's kind of amusing that the way they finally shut the killer robots down is by agreeing to buy one!

And lastly, this episode gets bonus points for Most Obvious Stunt Double. Check out Data's 'fro!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Moonfall by Jack McDevitt

Spoiler Level: Medium

Wow, just absolutely wow. I may have loved this book even more than McDevitt's Eternity Road, which is saying a lot.

Earth is officially opening Moonbase, the first permanent international lunar colony, when a new, unusual comet is spotted just days before it's due to impact with the Moon.

So just how serious a threat is this? Scientists disagree. Some argue that while it will definitely spell bad news for Moonbase, the point of impact and distance between the Earth and the Moon mean it will have little to no effect on the Earth itself short of losing lunar tides. Other scientists argue this could be an extinction event. Guess which ones the politicians decide to listen to?

And that's part of what makes this book so amazing-- the indifference of so many people to the thought of losing the moon. I actually went around and started asking people if they'd care if the moon went away. (Most did, but a few didn't.)

The book is set in an election year, and every step the politicians take during the crisis is done with an eye on how it will come across to the public. What's even more amazing to me, however, is how prescient the book was. It was published in 1998, before 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. There's a scene where the President is in a private meeting being advised that yes, parts of the moon could impact on Earth and cause tsunamis, but the President's reaction is if that happens, they'll deal with it then. It plays out almost exactly as the video of President Bush being warned that the levees in New Orleans would not hold. Downright eerie.

The book just builds and builds and builds and never lets up from beginning to end. I never wanted to put it down. McDevitt books are always an awesome read, but this one doubly so.

Oh, and on a completely unrelated note... this is post #200! Not bad for a silly little project that I thought I'd lose interest in within a month.