Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Sparks review

      THE COURT OF BROKEN KNIVES is a grimdark political fantasy novel. Specifically, it is one of those novels which follows in the Game of Thrones tradition of the back and forth between various factions for control over a region. I should say this is actually a good deal darker than George R.R. Martin's work (no small feat) in the fact this is a book where there's no House Stark. Instead, it's the story of what would happen if you had only Tywin Lannister, Viserys Targareyn (if he had his ancestor Aegon the Conqueror's martial skill), a half-mad Sansa Stark after years of working as Melisandre, and the Hound as protagonists. As I can summarize best, "this book is dark as **** man."

    If my metaphor has gone over your head due to the fact you're not a A Song of Ice and Fire or Game of Thrones fan, allow me to rephrase: there's no heroes in this book. There's only protagonists. Every single one of them has innocent blood on their hands, including children, and it's rarely questionable the world would be better without them. Except, of course, that everyone else in the world is just as awful. For some people, that will send them screaming in the other direction but for others, like me, I found it quite fascinating to read.

    The premise is Orhan Emmereth, nobleman of Sorlost, has decided to mount a coup against the Emperor in order to reform its crumbling hollow shell. This requires sending an army of mercenaries he has no intention of allowing to live on a one-way suicide mission into the palace. Meanwhile, said mercenary group discovers they have a bonafide demigod among them with all the horrific mental problems of an Achilles on smack. Marith is a bloodthirsty psychopath but he's beautiful and capable of great deeds so he more or less gets away with whatever he does, no matter how much damage he does (or because of it).

    Marith, of course, complicates the suicide part of the suicide mission even though he's every bit as much a danger to his companions as his enemies. Rounding out the group is the high priestess, Thalia, is a woman who regularly sacrifices children on altars, who decides maybe there's more to life than being the instrument of a revolting cultural practice. She wants a handsome prince to whisk her away and isn't too particular about the fact the only one available is quite literally an insane murderer.

    The characters are all extremely well-developed with more than just the collection of their flaws. They're all broken people but you understand how the society as well as events have made them this way. Some of them are more sympathetic than others but sympathy is not what Anna Smith Spark asks for. Instead, she merely takes us on a wonderful ride to see who will still be standing when the dust settles.

    Ultimately, the story is more about the journey than the ending. It doesn't matter whether Orhan successfully fixes the Empire because the price for even trying has been his soul. Marith is a person with immense potential who squanders it in decadence and violence. If he actually does achieve anything, why should we cheer him on? Even Thalia is someone who has no real "right" to get a new life since she's done nothing for anyone but her self her entire life. They're all fascinating characters and have a Tarantino-esque quality of being completely unpredictable despite their ruthlessness.

    If you think I'm overselling the antihero qualities of them, trust me, I'm not but that's the appeal of the book. Dark, edgy, and violent storytelling from beginning to end. Definitely worthy of the title "grimdark."


Sunday, July 16, 2017

Deadly Premonition: The Director's Cut review

    DEADLY PREMONITION: THE DIRECTOR'S CUT is a game which is impossible to rate. No, seriously, it's a work of genius that's almost unplayable. The storyline is one of my favorites in video games but the combat sections are incredibly difficult while the controls are deeply wonky. This was to the point of me rage-quitting with the original Xbox 360 version and only picking it up after it was re-leased with changes on a new platform. Unfortunately, they never bothered to release the Director's Cut for Xbox 360/Xbox One, which is ridiculous.   

    The Director's Cut is marginally better but that's only available on Playstation or computer while also not fixing the fact the combat is deeply unnecessary. This is a game which does not actually need a single combat scene in it and would have been far better had it just been a Telltale-style mini-game in a wide-open sandbox. It reminds me a lot of L.A. Noire in many respects, except with far-far worse production values. Eh, this is going to be a hard one.

Francis York Morgan is a great character. Weird, dramatic, and fun.
    Anyway, for the purposes of this review, I'm going to describe the gameplay and story of the Director's Cut but mention where it's different from the original so you can consider this an "all-platforms" review of the video game. You can ask which I recommend you pick up, to which I'll definitely say The Director's Cut but I'm sorry to say even there the bugs are close to approaching, "Watch a playthrough of it instead."


    The premise, framed by a narrative of an elderly grandfather telling a story to his daughter in the Director's Cut, is a direct homage to Twin Peaks. A beautiful young woman in the small town of Greenvale been murdered. In this case, crucified and tied to a tree as a forest goddess. Everyone in town is devastated by the loss and each expresses it in a different way. Due to the nature of the case, FBI Special Agent Francis York Morgan (and his disembodied companion Zack that he talks to constantly) heads to Greenvale in order to lend his assistance to the local authorities.

Emily is an incredible character.
    Francis York Morgan is an erstwhile Agent Cooper mixed with a bit of Fox Mulder and Ben Rosenfield. He's horrifically rude, callous, and prone to making bizarre statements in the middle of solemn occasions. Nevertheless, he's also a man of passionate devotion to making the world a better place by bringing its worst criminals. He's always entertaining to watch and listen to as you never know what he's going to do next.

    Accompanying him is Sheriff George Woodman and Deputy Emily Wyatt who are excellent contrasting characters to Agent York. George Woodman is trying desperately to macho posture his way to solving the case and resents York's presence. Emily Wyatt is the more reasonable one of the characters but more loyal to George than York at the start. Gradually, I really liked the relationship the characters built even as it is transformed by the events of the story into something surprising. If you can avoid spoilers for this game, I heartily recommend you do as I didn't expect a number of the twists.

    The majority of the game is investigating by going to various locations and talking to the peculiar inhabitants of Greenvale. This is the best part of the game and what really should have been left alone. However, the publishers of the game insisted on adding a wholly unnecessary shooting segment where you're assaulted by The Ring-esque ghosts and chased by an unstoppable raincoat-wearing killer. These sections were the worst in the original game but at least aren't completely awful in the Director's Cut. Unfortunately, even there, they get repetitive and reuse a lot of assets.

The game has some RE4 gameplay--which sucks.
    Much like Twin Peaks, the game is a mix of the truly horrifying and the hilarious. The characters are quicky and amusing contrasted to the nightmarish. While nothing occurs on-screen, the game deals with the aftermath of rape and murder as well as systematic child abuse. It's also got sidequests about teaching Emily Wyatt not to blow up her kitchen and a lady who travels around town with a pot who turns out NOT to have anything to do with the plot.

    The game is voiced in some places and uses text in others, probably because this was made on a budget of shoe-string and bubblegum. The graphics are incredibly dated, even with the Director's Cut, but some of the scenes are genuinely beautiful. The character of Emily Wyatt is one of the best designed in video games and is up there with Morrigan and Leliana for my favorite female character looks. It also, notably, says something about the way women are visualized in video games that she's beautiful and sensibly dressed with the only modification to her look being a rather snug uniform.

    Deadly Premonition is full of bugs from top to bottom. There's clipping issues, graphical anomalies, failed loading of environments, and lots of enemies dropping in from the sky as you drive into them. The kind of thing which plague Grand Theft Auto: Vice City rather than a game which should have been built better. This is for the Director's Cut, mind you, and it's not any better in the original game as you can imagine. Running away from the Raincoat Killer is a great and ultra-tense scene the first time you do it, less so by the fourth or fifth.

Anna's murder is a haunting image.
    Oh and the driving is terrible, like a really bad Grand Theft 3 Auto simulator, which a lot of the gameplay resembles as if fused with Resident Evil 4 and Resident Evil 1 but lacking the charm of any. The game includes a number of strange rules, too, like the fact it is one of the few driving simulators which include the possibility of running out of gas. You also need to sleep and eat in order to maintain York's health. While this adds to the sense of "realism", I'm not sure anyone really benefited from their presence.

    I also have to state the final act of the game, where you're faced with two consecutive boss bosses battles, seems more at home in God of War than Deadly Premonition. This seems like the sort of game where you should have assembled a Maguffin out of a bunch of seeds, a flower pot, Anna's locket, and true love to defeat the villains. It's not the sort of game where you should just shoot the hell out of the bad guys.

These parts are directly riffed from Silent Hill.
    The music almost makes up for all the aforementioned flaws by itself. It's only a comparatively few number of songs and background keys but they're all excellently done. "The Woods and the Goddess", "Greenvale", "Life is Beautiful", and "Main Theme" are all great. Its one of the few soundtracks I would buy of a video game and it's a shame that it's not available to purchase in mp3 format (or CD or any format at all). 

     This game feels like a hybrid of many different gamestyles but doesn't quite have the budget or design to pull them off. In addition to the GTA and Resident Evil elements, you can tell Silent Hill was also a major influence. I really think this game should have gone for something more consistent as a playstyle. Despite this, there's a lot of cute notes like the fact the enemies will become more resistant to specific styles of fighting them like melee weapons or bullets. So, you have to change it up unless you want to expend infinite ammo.

Our erstwhile Pyramid Head stand-in.
     The characters also deserve credit because I can basically name every single character in the game and talk about their biographies. The game takes time to make every person in Greenvale a character and have quirky personalities. It actually made me feel when characters were killed off in-story and want to complete the always entertaining but often inane sidequests. It's one of the few places I'd actually want to live in a video game, horrific murders aside, it's so vividly realized.

    In conclusion, Deadly Premonition is a game I feel should be experienced by every game player. However, its game elements are the worst part about it. It would work better as a mini-series or movie I think. However, I cannot help but imagine a remake of the game with decent gameplay and graphics. It would be....wondrous.


Friday, July 14, 2017

The Delirium Brief by Charles Stross review

     THE DELIRIUM BRIEF is the latest book in the long-running Laundry Saga by Charles Stross. The Laundry, for those unaware of it, is one of the Neo-Mythos stories which have emerged in the past decade or so that has a postmodern take on the Mythos. Peter Clines, Ruthanna Emrys, Anne Pillsworth, myself, and a few others are similar. In the case of Charles Stross, it's combining the stuffiness of being a British Civil Servant as well as computer programmer with the oncoming end of the world by ooogie-boogies.

    I either love the Laundry or I hate it and it's a testament to Charles Stross' skill I'm usually veering between the two because of the emotions his stories bring. I admit, though, to not being a big fan of the previous two novels. They weren't ones I actively hated, unlike THE JENNIFER MORGUE, but they had issues which bothered me long after I finished the story.

    THE ANNIHILATION SCORE had Doctor (Dominque) "Mo" O'Brien as its heroine while doing a unsucessful parody of superhero novels which seemed at odds with the stories' general spy vs. squid premise. It also made numerous controversial choices in portraying Mo as an adulterous spouse to her deeply devoted protagonist husband, which was never going to go down well. THE NIGHTMARE STACKS also veered away from the series' traditional protagonist with a social anxiety suffering hypochondriac having a "manic pixie dreamgirl romance" with an invading Nazi elf woman.

    We're thankfully back with Bob Howard, programmer/demon hunter/civil servant/host for a minor god of evil, once more in the driver's seat. Bob has changed a lot since when he first signed up for field work and has been uncomfortably promoted to management. Unfortunately, that's come right at the time the Masquerade (to cop a term from White Wolf) has officially been broken and the world is now aware of the supernatural. I'm iffy about this action as Charles Stross has chosen to portray the world as less, "nothing will be the same again" and more like the Tyler family from the 9th/10th Doctor era where humanity seems too damned stupid to care about it being real.

    Charles Stross is on the record that The Delirium Brief was strongly influenced by the U.K's choice to exit from the European Union. While the Brexit is never directly mentioned, much of the book is an apocalyptic (literally since it may lead to the end of the world) look at the dissolution of the Laundry in order to have them privatized by American companies. Companies which, in this world, are controlled by a Christian-themed monster cult that combines the worst of eschatology and quiver full doctrine with the desire to end the world by giant monster pyramid on Mars. Honestly, given some of my (as a fellow Christian) relationships with people like this--that's not that unbelievable.

    The book is a fascinating story with Bob having far more trouble dealing with testimonies before Parliament, budgets, and the sudden loss of privileges he never thought would vanish than the many monsters they fate. While I would have liked Bob and Mo to discuss the events of The Annihilation Score rather than simply reconcile their marriage--that's not what the book is about. It's all about the dangers of bureaucracy in the Laundry's world.

    The characters all play off of each other in an interesting way with Bob's terrible ex, Mhari, having become one of the most interesting characters in the story. I was also glad to see the return of Persephone Hazard, the Laundry's erstwhile Modesty Blaise substitute, and how her "blow them up and let God sort them out' attitude plays off against everyone else's doomed efforts to deal with politics in a legal way. When the government is completely corrupt and/or stupid, though, what is your recourse? Especially when the apocalypse is looming? The answer isn't one which someone like Bob can stomach and that's what makes it interesting.

    The action is good, the villains hateable, and the character development good. After the previous two books, it feels like we've returned to the original Laundry Files that attracted me. Could I have used a bit more Bob and a bit less Brexit parody? Yes, yes I could have. Still, I was about to give up on the series and this made me reconsider it. The Laundry Files and Dresden Files remain my two go-to urban fantasy series and I'd hate to lose either.

    The ending is a huge game-changer for the entire setting and relies a lot on continuity points from the previous books. We see the return of characters I thought were permanently out of the story. It also bodes dark things for the future of the story. I was a bit disappointed the ending was the Laundry resorting to the same tactics which characters from a Michael Bay movie would involve but, otherwise, this was an excellent urban fantasy thriller.


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Where Loyalties Lie by Rob J. Hayes review

     I was privileged enough to get a Advanced Reader's Copy of WHERE LOYALTIES LIE by Rob J. Hayes and feel like it'd be a good time to mention what I think of it well ahead of everyone else. Bwhahahaha! Yes, my book review will determine the fate of its success. You know, if anyone remembers what I said when it's released in may.

    This book is a sequel, of sorts, set in the same world as Rob J. Hayes THE TIES THAT BIND series. Despite this, while reading the last book will enrich your experience, it is not necessary to appreciate what is inside. This works entirely on its own as a standalone story of roguish pirate Drake Morass and his decision to try to build a nation out of the various pirate fleets which exist inside the seas of the Known World.

    This impressive ambition is fueled by the fact he's managed to get to the top of his game as a pirate and con man but has recently lost his most lucrative con (being the lover to the Empress of China's equivalent in the setting) as well as winning the enimity of the world's most dangerous inquisitor. Drake has the seed money and contacts to become a king, sort of, but he has the problem that everyone knows him as a scheming treacherous bastard. To that end, he has to recruit a number of individuals who might actually be able to persuade, with sincerity, pirates to believe in a dream of a nation of their own. The fact Morass doesn't remotely care about the prospect save as a means of entitling himself is one of the books ironies and underscores the author's cynical views about causes.

    Comparisons to Pirates of the Carribean are inevitable with the fact this is a supernatural pirate story with the calculating lead and his more straight-laced associate Keelin Stillwater. In fact, the similarities highlight the differences as Drake only has a heart of gold if he ripped it out from someone else's chest. He's charming, yes, but in the same way a snake is and the book makes no bones about his sociopathy. Keelin, by contrast, is desperate to be a good man but the fact he's a pirate makes all his attempts at righteousness ring hollow. The fact he wants a measure of redemption through leaving his current long-time pirate lover for a more "innocent" girl also shows the fundamental hypocrisy at the heart of his desires.

    Tanner Black, the book's primary antagonist, is an interesting take on the mythological Blackbeard. While Edward Thatch may have had his downer points, he wasn't the embodiment of cruelty and causal horror which Rob J. Hayes has created in his "villain." The irony of the character is he's right about everything, particularly that Drake Morass is going to get them all killed for his own ambition. His mind is an interesting place to be as well since his treatment of his daughter and son approaches Tywin Lannister levels of abuse (then passes everything but Tyrion's "moment") yet believes he loves them. By the end of the book, it was definitely my desire to see him destroyed as I can say about few fantasy villains--even though I hated Drake in a "love to hate" sort of way.

    My favorite character in the book is probably Elaina Black, though, who has much of the appeal of the literary Asha Greyjoy and would very much work as the star of her own novel. Elaina desperately wants to please her father and be with her lover Keelin in a life of blood, sweat, and rum but this just isn't in the cards. Neither man is worth her devotion and it's clear she probably would be the best Pirate Monarch-but there's the issue of both her gender as well as her father's untrusworthinss standing in her way. Also, sadly, the fact she'd rather help those she loves than rule herself.

    Make no mistake, despite the Caribbean-like environment, this book is grimdark. There's a horrifying scene in the book where a major character is "punished" which strips away any pretense the antagonists are decent people while the protagonists have the benefit of merely being slightly less monstrous. If you don't have a stomach for George R.R. Martin levels of violence and angst then this might not be the book for you. Fans of the Ties That Bind, for example, may remember that Drake was a VILLAIN in the previous book and did something most would consider irredeemable.

    Even so, there's a kind of jolly (roger) energy to the book which propels its story forward. Even though we, the audience, know this is all a con, it's very easy to get swept up in the idea of a nation for the underdogs. The historical pirates of Nassau had the belief they could create an equal society for all before their dream collapsed due to, well, piracy being a poor method of creating a nation. It's really more of a supplementary income sort of thing unless you're Francis Drake at least. There's a good sense of humor to the book, too, which contrasts nicely against the somewhat grim protagonists of his previous book.

    In conclusion, I strongly recommend this book and consider the duology (yes, I read the sequel too) to be Hayes' best work and up there with Mark Lawrence as well as Joe Abercrombie.


Monday, July 10, 2017

Darklands (Rhenwars Saga 3#) by M.L. Spencer

    DARKLANDS is the third novel in the Rhenwars series that is sort of an inversion of the Wheel of Time. The story begins with the protagonists doing their absolute best to fight the various forces of darkness as well as prevent the end of the world as their methods become more extreme, only for them to gradually come to sympathize with the so-called evil doers as their understanding of the universe expands.

    In the previous novels, we've had protagonists Branden and Darien break out all the stops in order to prevent underworld god Xerys' forces from overrunning the world. However, Branden's brother Quin and now Darien were both forced to swear unbreakable oaths to serve the hellish deity that have forced them onto the other side. Transformed into, essentially, Ringwraiths, they have been given the task of leading the people of the Darklands from their life in the eternal night.

    Rather than find a bunch of Satan-worshiping evil doers, they find an advanced culture which is always living hand-to-mouth due to the fact they have been forced to live in a desert with no sunlight. They can only survive due to the presence of magic and wish to escape their hellish domiciles. Darien's sympathy soon swells, especially as he discovered he's murdered legions of people who just wanted to secure a better life for their descendants.

    Dairen's former lover, Meiran, is troubled by this development because she has a one-dimensional view of the conflict as one between good versus evil. She's very much Wrong Genre SavvyTM in that she thinks she's in a Tolkien-esque story where the evil doers are one side where the good guys are on the ther but it's actually a grimdark tale by an author much more interested in questions those assumptions.

    In fact, the "good" guys have always been incredibly hypocritical and self-righteous in the Rhenwars books. With the invasion of the world on the horizon, the lesser kingdoms and religious orders are more interested in letting their defenders bleed themselves out rather than offering an ounce of support. The fact the mages have been reduced to almost nothing is a sign the other factions can strip them of their authority as well as power to influence them.

    There's romance in this novel but it's an interesting take on the whole "destined lovers" which we normally see in fantasy. Darien sacrificed everything, including his soul, for Meiran and she's disgusted by what he's become. Naia deeply loves Darien despite what he's become but he honestly just sees her as a friend. Quin's lover has been dead and gone for a thousand years but he still holds a torch for her. It's all nice, dark, and well-written which subverts a lot of common cliche.

    The only problem I have with Darklands is that it ends on a cliffhanger and it is the first book which doesn't give a definitive conclusion to its storyline. I was quite fond of the fact the stories were "one and done" beforehand.


Twin Peaks: Definitive Gold Box Edition review

    I love Twin Peaks. It is a series which was a profound influence on Esoterrorism (and by consequence Agent G) and is still something that inspires my writing. The surrealism and off-beat humor mixed with moments of great drama helped me create The Rules of Supervillainy. Heck, I'm going to do a series called I Was a Teenaged Weredeer based on Twin Peaks' mood. I'm very excited about the revival even though I've heard it'll be trading all of its quirky fun for drama.

    But what makes the show so good? Also, is it for everybody? These answers are complicated in the same way the series' story is. It is a genre busting series that combines a soap opera, murder mystery, horrific violence, comedy, and occult fantasy into one single story. Is it a perfect series? No, Twin Peaks zigs and zags between some of the best television ever made to complete garbage then back again in thirty episodes.

The original beautiful dead girl.
    Indeed, many of the flaws have been improved on by works based on it. I'm particularly fond of Alan Wake, Deadly Premonition, My Life is Strange, the X-Files, and even Riverdale as things that managed to build a slightly more coherent mythology from the material involved. Also, the ending was notoriously frustrating and it's taken twenty-five years to get a coherent ending. Until then, we had to deal with homages like the immensely entertaining "Dual Spires" episode of Psych. This review can't touch on everything but will hopefully convince you on whether to pick up the series or not.

    So what is Twin Peaks all about? Well, it begins with Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) being found wrapped in plastic on the side of the titular town's lake. Laura Palmer was the homecoming queen and beloved daughter of the city of 51,000 souls. Which, notably, is actually 10x the size of the town as envisioned by David Lynch and Mark Frost but ABC executives asked them to make it much much bigger. Anyway, the town collapses into grief as virtually everyone in the town is effected by Laura Palmer's death.

    FBI Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle Mclaughlin) proceeds to travel to Twin Peaks in order to investigate as not only was Laura Palmer killed but another girl the year before. A third victim, Ronette Pulaski, is also found barely alive but she's unable to give any testimony due to the depth of her trauma. Dale Cooper teams up with Sheriff Harry S. Truman (Michael Ontkean) to investigate these savage acts but particularly Laurel's murder. They soon find out she was involved in/the victim of everything from adultery, prostitution, cocaine dealing, and child abuse. If one were to get the know the "theme" of Twin Peaks, it can basically be summarized as, "The evil underbelly of small-town America."

One of my favorite characters in fiction.
    Virtually everyone in the town has a public face of respectability and pleasantness but almost everyone is hiding some level of secret. Adultery, like in many small-towns, is the most common of these but it goes on to things like fraud and murder very quickly. Ben Horne, the town's resident Mister Burns who owns everything, is primarily a man trying to turn the town from a failing lumber community to a successful tourist resort.

    However, Ben's also a crime boss who owns a brothel as well as pornography ring that recruits financially strapped girls then pressures them into being his own not-so-private harem. School quarterback and golden boy of the town, Bobby Briggs, is also a petty drug-dealer involved with a married woman. Laura's best friend, Donna Hayworth, is a good girl who secretly resented this status and envied her friend's dark side.

    Oh, there's also a Native American/UFO/Theosophy eldritch location inside the forest which contains a group of alien spirits that feed off of human misery. One of these spirits has gone rogue and is fostering the worst elements of humanity in Twin Peaks, breaking their laws and making the lives of mankind that much worse. Did I mention this was a weird show? Also, the above might count as spoilers but I'm not sure if it's just my attempting to make a coherent summary out of elements that just reflect David Lynch's surrealist style.

Don't trust the owls, Coop.
    When the show is at its best, it feels like it's moving forward to solving the underbelly of Laura Palmer's death. Everything related to the posthumous character's private life from her friendship with Donna and James to her horrible abuse at Bob's hands is interesting. Agent Cooper is something of a parody of Sherlock Holmes and the precursor to Agent Mulder (David Duchovney, notably, plays a transsexual FBI agent on the show) so he's always entertaining even when it's clear he doesn't have a clue.

    Unfortunately, the show suffers whenever it drifts too far from its central purpose as the rest of the series' stories just aren't that interesting. The love triangle between Big Ed, Norma, Nadine, and Hank just isn't that interesting even if one of them is a murderous scumbag. Likewise, shutting down Ben Horne's brothel is less than a great accomplishment when there's a literal murderous demon running around.

    Infamously, the storyline suffered two major cases of executive meddling that may have killed the show. The first being network executives insisting Laura Palmer's murder be solved in the second season and soon, which throws the entirety of the narrative pacing off. The next being that Audrey Horne and Agent Cooper's budding romance be kibosh-ed for the not-unreasonable claim that he's an FBI agent while she's a high school senior.
Some of the most beautiful women in television.

        Unfortunately, this leaves a huge gap in the second season where nothing actually happened and two really terrible characters get introduced to fill the time as well as romance both protagonists. The fact they're played by Heather Graham and Billy Zane yet STILL are unlikable Replacement Scrappys (see TV tropes) says it was a matter of bad writing more than anything else. The show ends up introducing cackling chess-themed supervillain Windom Earle (Kenneth Welsh) and finally gives some insights into the Black Lodge toward the end but it is too little too late.

    As mentioned, Twin Peaks doesn't really have an ending and the fact that is being solved twenty-five years down the road will serve as a cold comfort at best to viewers of the original series. In fact, to be honest, I don't think there's actually a reason to watch Twin Peaks after the solving of Laura Palmer's murder as that's when the story ends. That's about a 15-episode season of incredibly good, television, though. One which is more than worth watching this on Netflix or buying the Gold Box Edition I'm technically reviewing.

    Is the DVD boxed set or Blu Ray collection a better value than buying or watching the actual seasons? Yes and no. There's some really good commentaries on the show by David Lynch and Kyle Mclaughlin but nothing which is absolutely essential. I actually found the most entertaining part of the extras being the Saturday Night Live sketch where they make fun of how the show is deliberately avoiding solving its central mystery. I'm inclined to say just watch the show first on Netflix and if you become obsessed as I was, pick up the boxed set.

    I could sit here all day typing away at what I liked about the stories and which characters I thought were the prettiest or most interesting (that could take awhile -- Donna vs. Audrey vs. Shelly is my version of the Betty vs. Veronica vs. Cheryl debate). However, I have to say it is something you should check out if you love prestige television. Even after all of its imitators, it holds up amazingly well.


Friday, July 7, 2017

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey review

    Let it never be said that adaptations don't lead you to the source material. I was led to LEVIATHAN WAKES by the Expanse television series on the Syfy channel and, thus, had a bit of difficulty starting on because I knew the story of the first book but was interested in how the story sometimes zigged instead of zagged. It makes me want to read the rest of the series before I watch the second season.

    In fact, in the age old debate of "do I watch the series or read the books first" I actually think you should always do the latter. This is because you can see a work as how the creator intended and then see how it's adapted. For me, though, that's not possible for this book and I am left having to judge in reverse. So is Leviathan Wakes any good? Oh yes, I think it's probably one of the best science fiction novels I've read in the past two decades. It's a complex novel but manages to succeed in imagining a new world with a minimum amount of words that juggles characterization, action, humor, and storytelling without sacrificing world-building.

    The premise is, two hundred years in the future, humanity has colonized most of the star system. There's Earth as an overpopulated hellhole which is on the verge of total collapse but is STILL the most prosperous location in the system, Mars as a militaristic communist society, and the Belt that exists as every oppressed society crammed together as an exploited underclass to keep the other two going.

    It is in this environment James Holden and his crew of ice haulers (Ice Pirates!) get caught up in a cover-up of some sort of disgusting bio-weapon's testing. They do what a bunch of player characters in a tabletop roleplaying game would do and then broadcast everything across the system, completely throwing the balance of power off throughout the system and ruining the conspiracy behind the cover-up's plans as no sane person would do that. Simultaneously, corrupt cop Miller is investigating a missing heiress who joined a leftist political movement in the Belt that leads him right on a collision course with Holden's crew.

    The book is a straightforward adventure in many ways with a lot more optimistic view of just what a small party of four or five individuals can do to mess up the corrupt systems of the world. As much a fan of grimdark as I am, this is all about a group of people who slice through the moral ambiguity and gritty corruption to come out with an ending that's slightly better than the one before. They're flawed three-dimensional heroes and I like how they may not make the right decision each time but they still try to.

    I admit, I am particularly fond of the character Miller and the Belters in general. I like how Miller is coming from the perspective of a film noir hero where there's no good guys and plenty of bad guys. He's a man who is the polar-opposite of the self-styled Don Quixote-esque hero Holden. I also like how his search for something pure and good in the world is something he knows will get him killed or destroyed emotionally but it's all he has left. The Belters are a wonderful stand-in for many exploited peoples and their revision to terrorism is given a surprisingly sympathetic treatment even though it's not condoned either.

    So, do I recommend Leviathan Wakes? Very much so. It works very well as a stand-alone novel but it's also something which I am interested in reading more of as a series. While the Syfy Channel adaptation is extremely faithful, it's interesting to also see where they made things darker and edgier. I loved every bit of this novel and that's not something I say often.