Making Me Happy #5

November 27th, 2013

I’m going to make it pretty short and sweet this week, because there are lots of things making me happy that are in the works – either for the near or far future – that have me excited. But, having said that, there are some things that made me immediately happy this week.

1. The Innkeepers

    I watched House Of The Devil by Ti West a few months ago and absolutely hated it. I thought it was a silly, boring movie where the spectacular art direction was used as the whole purpose of the movie. Despite my love of art direction, that alone just doesn’t cut it. So, I’d been keeping away from other Ti West movies. I finally caved and watched The Innkeepers though, and I loved it. The skill West used to create suspense and tension with the camera were phenomenal (I don’t know why he didn’t do that in House Of The Devil), and for a seasoned horror/scary movie person like me, there’s little that really gets my goat (I say this is because there’s a lot of schlock coming out, rather than me being desensitized, but that’s for another conversation). This movie though had me biting me nails, and there was one distinct moment where I gave out a little yelp in surprise (much to the dismay of the dog, who was snoozing soundly). Absolutely wonderful, and with almost no actual gore or blood. This is a horror movie that actually delivers on the scares without resorting to cheap tricks. Ti West, my hat is off to you sir.

2. Big Ideas

    Yes, this week has been full of big ideas and future projects. I haven’t written about either on this blog here yet, but I will say one of them involves setting up an outdoor movie theatre in my back yard, and the other is dedicating myself to watching 365 new to me movies in 2014. I’ll actually talk about these in future posts, but both ideas have me very excited (and only me, I’m sure).

3. Catching Fire closes the gap for male and female watchers

    There’s been a good amount of press on this phenomenon this week, about how 41% of the viewers for Catching Fire were men. That is fucking fantastic. Not only am I quite a fan of the novels, despite my general distaste for young adult fiction (that’s a whole other post), but here’s why this is important: because it’s a well held Hollywood belief that you can’t open a big box office hit with a female lead. Catching Fire completely demolished that “rule” this weekend, and placed the movie as the 6th highest grossing box office weekend of all time. So, just maybe, men aren’t as retarded as Hollywood would have us believe. Just maybe men are more into ass-kicking, emotionally and physically strong ladies than you think Hollywood. Hollywood, you’re so stupid sometimes.
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Making Me Happy #4

November 14th, 2013

Holy christ on a cracker have I been insanely busy lately. Not that I’m complaining, the kind of busy I’ve been is good with lots of good things coming out of it, but it has lead of course to a lack of updates here lately. Something’s got to slip, right?

Not wanting to let my little making me happy thing go by the wayside, and even though I’m late with it this week, I had some things that are making me intensely happy this week and just had to shout about them for a bit.

1. Seeds of Diversity meetings and AGM

    While spending five days in meetings and travel might not sound like a good idea to you (and generally it doesn’t for me), from Nov. 7th – 11th I took part in Seeds of Diversity’s AGM and lots of meetings, as I’m on their board of directors. It’s a charity I care passionately about, so not only was it wonderful to be able to meet my fellow directors face-to-face after a year of teleconferences (we span from coast to coast and only see each other once a year), but it was fantastic to make some really important and exciting strides for the charity in the upcoming year. And here we go with the plug: if you like gardening and seeds, I whole-heartedly encourage you to click the link above and become a member.

2. Wham Bam Pow podcast

    A new discovery on my part, and these three are so funny, so I’ve been going through their entire backlog and listening to every podcast they’ve released thus far. What is it about, you ask? Well, it’s about sci-fi and action movies. But these three are comedians, so it’s not boring like I make it sound. It’s got the perfect amount of snark, fandom, and fun that makes it fantastic to listen to.

3. Listening to old favourites

    Listening to some bands you haven’t heard for a few years is like making the initial discovery of them all over again, and it’s so fucking awesome to be able to hit that moment more than once with bands you love. This past week for me it was two bands (although, kinda the same band) which is Nomeansno and The Hanson Brothers (that’s not Hanson, very different). For anybody not familiar – the two bands are made almost entirely of the same people, although play different forms of punk. NoMeansNo being oddly prog rock punk and The Hanson Brothers being more like The Ramones with hockey (named after the Hanson Brothers from Slapshot). There was a summer where I only listened to Why Do They Call Me Mr. Happy? (NoMeansNo) and My Game (The Hanson Brothers), and recently have gone through a phase of rediscovering just how fucking awesome these guys are and why I’ve loved them for… well, about half of my life at this point.

    Being able to turn on these CDs and remember almost every single lyric, while being hit with that first moment of, “holy fuck, these guys are insane” is something I’ve been absolutely relishing.

    It’s also made kinda better by the fact these guys are my mom’s age. And the last time I saw them live they still had more energy than me even though I’m almost half their age.

    If you want to listen to either – as a starting point I suggest “Slowly Melting” from Nomeansno and “Give Me Anything” from The Hanson Brothers.

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Self-Published Review: Azure by Grant Palmquist

November 2nd, 2013

azure-palmquist Azure by author Grant Palmquist follows the story of Asher Cain, a government employee and pilot of police drone aircraft, until his own government spies on him and finds that his thoughts are no longer 100% in line with theirs, and they instead turn on him, forcing Asher to run from the government to whom he was so loyal. Still reeling from the loss of his wife and child, he comes to understand how tyrannical the government actually is and seeks to find a way to live outside the nation.

This novel was problematic for me, and to tell you the truth I’ve been trying to write an effective review of it for the past week but haven’t gotten very far. While I see several other reviewers really enjoyed it on some sites I frequent, for me it left out a lot, or pushed too hard at my boundary for suspension of disbelief. I also had issue with some philosophies expounded upon in the work, but I will get to that a bit further down. There was nothing particularly wrong with the technical writing aspects itself, I just didn’t find the story overly engaging.

While the idea is a good one, and right up my alley, the execution was what got me. The biggest problem I had was the lack of motivation for almost every character in the book – from our main charachter, Asher Cain’s, 180° philosophical change, to the motivation of the government, to the romance that develops between Asher and Autumn. Asher is shown in the beginning as a naive, and rather weak person, and I felt more connection with him as a character then, than I did when he all of a sudden turned into a brutal warrior, fighting against the system. I felt like Palmquist didn’t do an overly effective job of showing that change to the reader, or why that change takes place, and the reasons he did offer up fell flat. In fact, most of the notes I made about this book while reading it were about various characters and the lack of motivation for any the actions they were taking. There is one time in particular that sticks out in my mind where Asher is grappling with the best way to save as many innocent people as he can, but in the same breath, he has no problem shooting those very same innocent people. It just doesn’t add up, and not purposefully so.

The romance that develops between Asher and Autumn very much didn’t ring true either – Palmquist offered me nothing to show why or how they connected, besides a few long stares between the two. Within the span of weeks the characters are deeply in love, but there’s no simpatico of their personalities or wants or desires that the reader is privy to. In fact, Autumn is basically a non-character, she has absolutely no personality, strength, or personal philosophy, so the fact that Asher falls madly in love with her is either indicative of a deep character flaw in him (which is not what the author was trying to do), or just lazy writing.

I also felt that Palmquist skipped over too many parts in the book – we come in after Asher’s wife and child have left him, when it felt like we should have come into the story right as they were leaving. Likewise, when Asher has to run from his old life because of persecution by the big-bad government, he finds refuge with a band of other people who are living beneath the streets, but we skip over weeks and weeks where we should be making the journey with him while he finds his footing in this new world that is so vastly different than the one he has lived in his whole life.

There are also some laughable good guy/bad guy aim and abilities moments that really shook me out of the story; Asher learns to fly a hovering vehicle for the first time and is able to outrun trained police on those very same craft, as well as his stellar aim with a gun that makes him able to kill at will, despite the fact he’s never held a gun before. Likewise, the police are absolutely incapable of shooting him whenever they try.

I also took issue with the author directly (or almost directly) lifting quotations from Star Wars and Psycho and incorporating them into his dialogue. I’m not sure if Palmquist even realized he had done it – but both quotations are pretty famous ones, and that irked me.

Now for the philosophies that really didn’t jive with me: all the women in the book are extremely passive and meek, except for Asher’s wife, who we never get to meet, so she effectively doesn’t exist for the reader. At several different points, male characters, who are supposed to be the good guys, refer to “their women”, and refuse to let them go up above street level because it’s “too dangerous” for women. In fact, the only woman who was strong – Asher’s wife – ends up dead because of her beliefs and the fact she wants to make a better life for herself. What the hell kind of message is that?

Technically speaking, Palmquist is a great writer – sentence structure, grammar, and the technical aspects of language are used correctly. But there’s almost no flow or beauty to the words, and the story suffers greatly from it. To me, it read like somebody who has spent a long time writing in academia, rather than writing creatively.

So, all in all, 2 stars for the idea which really could have worked, and the technical use of language. It’s an OK book, but the philosophies towards female characters, and the lack of character development and motivations really make this work fall flat.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

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Making Me Happy #3

October 16th, 2013

Okay, so I took this off for a few weeks. I swear I will endeavour to do better in the future. Because there are so many good things damnit, I’ve just been preoccupied.

1. Jamie’s Joke Of The Week

    Jamie Hyneman presents a joke to you once a week via a little video. The only downside is that there’s currently only four up, but the upside is that means you can spend under a minute laughing at Jamie’s awesome jokes. The other upside: there’s more to come!

2. Patton Oswalt Walks Us Through His Crushes From The Whedonverse

    Patton Oswalt is pretty unabashedly a lover of the geek stuff. I am unabashedly a lover of the Whedonverse. Patton Oswalt is also a great writer, comedian, and general person to listen to. This interview also highlights a bit of unexpected self-realization on the part of Oswalt which is fantastic. I also love the idea of the Whedonverse personality test thing. Somebody get on that please?

3. Candlemark & Gleam

    This small, indie publisher is one I discovered via reading City of Devils by Justin Robinson. After spending all together too much time on their website, I came to realize I want to read almost every book they’ve currently released. What they do is so much up my alley that it’s almost kind of spooky. So, finding a small publisher that I can really get down with is definitely making me happy. You can visit their website and buy a whole bunch of their books here.

4. Ridiculously Awesome Saga Cosplay

    This image is from Comic Vine, a photo snapped of some unnamed person dressed up as Prince Robot IV from my current favourite ongoing comic, Saga. See the photo here. So. Freaking. Awesome.
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Parasite by Mira Grant (Parasitology #1)

October 13th, 2013

parasite-miragrant I had been wanting to read a Mira Grant novel for a while, ever since she made a bit of a name for herself with the Newsflesh trilogy (Feed/Deadline/Blackout), so when I got the chance to read an advance copy of Parasite I jumped at it. Parasite is the first book in a new trilogy, aptly named Parasitology, with the second novel tentatively scheduled for November of 2014 (no word yet on the third). I think this novel is being touted as horror, but for me it fell far more firmly into the sci-fi/thriller genres, really because I didn’t find it scary at all, but I’ll get into that a bit further down.

Set in the near future, only about fourteen years away, the parasite for which the novel is named is actually a hybrid intestinal tapeworm (D. symbogenesis) introduced into the human digestive tract in order to prevent, cure, and regulate a whole host of diseases that have been plaguing humans. The tapeworm, genetically engineered by the big bad corporation of our story, SymboGen, can do everything from correct your allergies to dogs, to regulating medication from within your intestine, to help fix major organ damage after an accident. It’s the wonder of medical technology, and very large swaths of the human population have willingly ingested the tapeworm in order to make their lives easier.

That is, until people with the tapeworm start coming down with “sleeping sickness”, the platitudinous name of a set of symptoms that involve complete cessation of motor control, speech, and rational thinking. That is, of course, until they start getting violent and attacking people.

Dun, dun, DUNNN (that was the scary dramatic horror music).

This kind of book sounded right up my alley. I love horror, I love parasites and gross medical-type things, and I’m always desperate to find horror novels I really love (because I find so many of them completely derivative, or just badly written, or both!).

Unfortunately, I can’t say Parasite checked the box for me in the “well-written” or “original” departments. Not to say this novel is really, really bad, I just didn’t find it very good. It reminded me a lot of The Crazies in some respects (that’s the original Romero movie, not that crappy remake which was crappy), and if you’re going to write a book that is really quite close to the present day, please, please get some of your scientific bits right in the story. I’m a big believer in the suspension of disbelief, and when I read sci-fi, everything absolutely does not have to be scientifically accurate. I will happily take a healthy dose of psuedo-science if written right. But when writing something so close to present day, which isn’t being written as alternate history, there’s some basic stuff you have to get right. There’s also stuff that was just wrong that really had absolutely no bearing on the story whatsoever.

While I was reading this book I was constantly reminded that I was reading it. Meaning, the awkward wording, or slow pacing, or scientific inaccuracy that would rip me right out of the narrative. I can always tell how into a book I am, because the more I’m loving it, the less little notes I’m scribbling down. Parasite has a lot of notes.

Example: Grant spends about five pages talking about carnivorous plants, and while I’m sure this was an attempt at very clunky symbolism, as an avid gardener and carnivorous plant junkie, stuff was just wrong (like venus fly traps eating meat). It’s not hard to double check your homework and make sure that stuff you’re writing somewhat extensively about is correct. Hell phone up somebody from the local carnivorous plant society. Send an email to somebody at a university that specializes in them. Call a greenhouse that has a really good selection, at least one person there will know what they’re talking about. That kind of stuff really isn’t hard to get right.

I could even get over the leaps of faith I had to make while she was building D. symbogenesis (like a tapeworm being able to manufacture medications within itself and then excreting it into its host), but there were lots of instances of little things that didn’t make sense, not within the story and world Grant used for this story.

At one point, Grant writes that a dead body has zero-risk of being contaminated by anything. As if decaying flesh doesn’t have lots of microbial action going on. That’s just ridiculous. A decaying corpse has all sorts of squirmy bacteria and invertebrates doing the decomposition dance. Something like that is really easy to check.

I know, I know, I sound like some insufferable a-hole that’s picking apart bits within the book rather than looking at it at a whole. Wait, I have more.

Over the past year or so (maybe because I’ve been reading more review copies of books) I’ve come to realize that a real sticking point for me is a narrator with an inconsistent voice, and Sally Mitchell – the main character in Parasite, whose viewpoint we see through for the whole story, is wildly inconsistent, and I’m not convinced that was purposefully so. Sally was the subject essentially resurrected from brain death after an accident, thanks to her D. symbogenesis implant, and in order to have her extensive medical bills covered, the family agrees to have all costs covered by SymboGen on the caveat that they get to track her progress. Six years after waking up, she’s still undertaking routine medical tests, which she bemoans endlessly. However, when she actually goes in for said medical tests, she finds them so relaxing she actually falls asleep during things like blood tests and ultrasounds. That is inconsistent.

I also find Sally Mitchell to be an extremely weak person, constantly complaining, yet unwilling to do much about her situation. In fact, it’s a good halfway through the book until she finally even speaks her mind out loud, an attribute which I found entirely irritating.

While I get that she is unsure of herself because she feels new in the world – having complete amnesia before the accident – six years on after waking up seems like more than enough time to get a hold of yourself and trust when something feels wrong enough to warrant any kind of action on her part. She’s more insufferable because her inaction, than sympathetic because of her lack of assuredness in herself.

There were also parts of the book that I found repetitive and redundant. Sally Mitchell is plagued by “drumming” in her ears – her heartbeat when her blood pressure starts to rise thanks to stress or anger, or apparently almost anything. It seems like every five or so pages the reader is treated to a description of the pounding in her ears. We’re also treated excessively to her dreams of the “hot warm dark” and a rather silly description of the difference between “hot” and “warm”.

Besides my general distaste for the main character, it’s really a bunch of little things that perturbed me enough through the read that I kept being yanked out of the story in order to roll my eyes in an exaggerated fashion. Redundant over-explanations also abounded of medical procedures that Sally undergoes, and they lacked any sort of interest or furthering of the story, only serving to effectively slow the story down.

Which was my additional big-problem with this book: for a horror/thriller it’s extremely slow moving, with very little either internal or external action. It felt like Grant was commissioned to write another trilogy, and instead of thinking up a longer story that warranted such, she drew out a one-novel story into three. The ending of this book was predictable, and I saw it coming from far off, and while that doesn’t bother me in and of itself, the journey still has to be good. This one lacked any real interest for me as the story was so slow and repetitive throughout. The characters came off as rather stupid for not jumping on the wagon and figuring it all out a little sooner.

Having said all that, there are a few snippets in this book where there is some action taking place, and the descriptions of these are extremely effective and engaging. Grant can write, that’s evident by these sections, so I’m not sure why the rest of the book failed so miserably for me. For that reason alone I’m giving the book 2.5 stars – middle of the road, and I’m sure some people will enjoy it more than I did, there were just too many things wrong with it for me to overlook any one of those things.

I’m still out on whether I’ll read Symbiont, the second book in the series. Perhaps in a year I’ll want to give it all another go, but at this point Parasite didn’t hold enough interest for me in order to warrant continuing on with the series.

Rating: ★★½☆☆

Parasite will be released on October 29, 2013

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