Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Review: Paul of Dune

Very rarely will I review an item I did not like. I much prefer to recommend things that I think are good and ignore things that I think are dreadful. In the case of Paul of Dune I am torn. While this was not a great book, neither too was it so awful that I would refuse to mention it. Perhaps, my review should simply be that I was disappointed by its mediocrity.

Paul of Dune is essentially a bi-polar book. There are two stories being told here, and while one is contemporary to the time period between Dune and Dune: Messiah, the other story is a flashback from the period prior to the original Dune series. The real meat (i.e. the enjoyable part of the story) is the tale of the initial transition of the House Atreides into the role of Imperial leaders and the beginnings of the Jihad. Sadly, the rest of the story is a tedious, unnecessary, and blatantly stupid subplot about Duke Leto getting married to the daughter of Armand of Ecaz.

Wait, you are saying, didn't we already do this? Yup. Remember the tedious prequels in the Houses of Dune series? Yeah, there was that really ridiculous War of Assassins between House Moritani and House Ecaz, and Leto's betrothed was murdered. Apparently she had a sister and Duke Leto was going to go through the marriage plans with the new girl, relegating Jessica to the role of 'the bit on the side'. All I can say is, "Why?" There is no apprent motivation or reason. Most of the rest of this subplot is equally ludicrous.

Meanwhile, we have a pretty good story about the Court of Paul Muad'dib and his Jihad. We watch as Gurney and Stilgar try to ride the tiger of the fanatical Jihadis, showing us exotic battlefields and amazing scenes. The Court scenes are equally impressive as we watch Alia earn her props as a political insider and leader in waiting. One thing that I really liked is the portrayal of loyal and noble Irulan, and her relationships with her estranged family who are exiled to Salusa Secundus. The scenes with Shaddam and Wensicia are well done, as are many of the scenes between Hasimir Fenring and Paul. Sadly, the whole education of Marie Fenring among the Bene Tleilax is handled poorly and resembles the flashback in structure and style (i.e. poorly thought out and badly plotted).

So, what do I really think about this one? It is good, but it is basically two different books badly welded together with only the thinnest of plot devices. It seems fairly certain that the flashback sequences were likely supposed to be a last novel in the Houses series, while most of the Jihad-era material was obviously inspired by Frank Herbert's original notes and story outlines. Fans of the Dune books will enjoy this latest entry (for the most part), but will likely skim through the flashback sections since they are the literary version of The Phantom Menace.

THAC0: 14

*Note: I am grading things based on the old system of 'To Hit Armor Class 0' or THAC0. The idea is that the lower the number, the better this is at being an actual hit in terms of game mechanics. In terms of my grade, the THAC0 is the number is believe on a scale of 1-20 that I think this will be a hit with you, the reader. 1 means that I think that pretty much everyone will love this book/movie/show and 20 means that almost nobody will like it.

Monday, November 24, 2008

In & Out 11/24

Well, ithas been another crazy week with a ton of really cool things going in and on and around. In the SFSNNJ we celebrated the works of Ian Fleming during Tripping the Write Fantastic at Borders Garden State Plaza with an in-depth discussion of Fleming's books and the Eon movies, and at Films to Come we talked moview, movies, movies late into the night.

In film, Twilight hit the box office like a ton of bricks, and though the Blonde Bond managed to hold onto the number 2 slot it's box office draw dropped more than $50M dollars coming in barely ahead of Disney's Bolt. Fans of animated pictures were evenly divided between the aforementioned Bolt and Dreamworks' Madagascar 2: Escape to Africa.

On the television, fans of True Blood watched the season finale and reveled in the conclusion of the story. Though several aspects were changed for better TV storytelling, the first season was remarkably close to the first book, and the end of the season pretty much mirrors the start of the second book. Kudos to the cast and crew for a brilliant series, and for following Ms Harris' story so well!

This week we have a holiday that is throwing the works off, but we do have a topic discussion on Tuesday, Themes of the Fantastic at 8pm at New Moon Comics in Little Falls. Tonight on NBC is another new Heroes episode, however there is a lot of dead air on TV, and no new or notable SF-related films coming to the theatres. It looks like this might be a good week to sit back and study up on Star Trek for the May movie.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Chapter 1 - Stars End

They called it the frontier. It wasn't. A frontier is more than just the edge of the map, it was the jumping off point for exploration, it was vital, alive, and dynamic. Sure, most frontiers were hardscrabble, desolate, and not terribly impressive, but it couldn't be argued that people still wanted to go there. This place was none of those things. Sure it was the edge, but it was more periphery than frontier. There was no further expansion from here because there was no place to expand to. Nobody wanted to come here, in fact most people wanted to leave, and the word dynamic could hardly be applied. All in all, it was less a frontier than backwater, and although it lay on the outermost edge of our galaxy it could hardly even be considered a border area.

The place was the Lupus Cluster, better known as the Wolf Worlds, a nomme de guerre that seemed more than aptly appropriate. Located far in the Galactic north, anti-spinward of the great human capitol at Terra, this meager cluster of stars huddled together on the underbelly of the Milky Way, clinging to the local galaxy like piglets to a sow. Now that I think about it, that is probably the most apt description of this backwater pesthole I am likely to find. Not that the small star cluster was all bad, it did have its high points.

I stared again into the empty shotglass on the table. The liquor that it had formerly held was the obvious fuel for my ruminations, and now that the last drop was drained, I felt that I should probably stop philosophizing about what a crummy place the Wolf Worlds were and get on with my business. Having taken my liquid courage to dhore me up, it was on to work.

Looking up from my empty glass I scanned the bar once again. I already knew what was there, but it didn't hurt to reconfirm it. Three slender humans sat at one table, a happy looking sat at another, the third was taken up by an arguing pair of bhur'tashk, and the bar held tulosh and another three humans in addition to myself. The short, blond haired lass behind the bar caught me looking one of the humans at the end of the bar, quirked an eyebrow and asked in the local dialect if I wanted to send him a drink. I smiled and replied, "Not my type."

The blond bartender pulled a serving wand out from under the bar, and moved to refill my glass. Before she had even half completed the action I had my hand held over the glass in the universal sign of 'no more please', and it was then that I realized my blunder. My hand, my dominant gun hand, was now way out of position, sloppily held to prevent the refill of my drink by a woman who was obviously doing this for just such a reason.

I cursed, trying to pull myself back into position as my target, gun in hand began to draw on me. I recognized what was going to come next, and instead of straightening up to at least try and draw, I dove away from the bar, deeper into the restaurant. Well, at least I tried to.

I must have telegraphed the move a bit too much, and the bartender, who I was beginning to suspect did not work here at all, reached out and grabbed my wrist in a vice-like grip. The bones grinded together painfully, and I fell back against the bar.

Desperate to get out of my quarry's line of fire, I grabbed at the nearest patron with my free hand. Luckily, it was the young tulosh, whose canine features were already snarling into an ugly rictus as he grabbed at his pistol. Without paying any heed to the action around him, the seven foot tall, black caninoid swiped backwards at me, and I pulled my captured wrist up and into the line of attack, hoping the bartender would release it to avoid being clawed. She did, and I got lucky again as the swipe hit me on the armorweave instead of the flesh.

The big alien completed his swing, turning to face me, and I, finally free, dove for the floor as my target opened fire with a Teiger Mark IV flechette pistol. Nasty weapon, that, and probably illegal as all hell for a civilian to be lugging around. Luckily I had a Yanov 51 long pistol, and it was even now clearing its holster as my mark started to spray monofiliment needles across the area of the bar that I had recently occupied. A few shot whistled into the angered tulosh, and a few hit the bartender. I was just thankful that none hit me.

I hit the floor with a thud, the Yanov finally up and out, and I returned fire. I knew where the dumb bastard was standing, and while I couldn't see him, I could bet on where he was moving to to get a better position to end my life. Not likely, pal. I pulled the long pistol's trigger twice, and two bursts of fire belched from the gun. The first blew a hole clear through the bar, the second cut my target off at the knees, literally.

There was screaming all around me as I rolled onto my back to plant one into the face of the snarling bartender. As I continued to shift my aim, the tulosh decided that though his honor my be wounded, taking on a crazy human with a Yanov long pistol was a bit more than was necessary to restore it. The tulosh were many things, but suicidal was not among their racial traits.

The room was a whirling mass of chaos as I rose from the floor and yelled, "Everyone get down on the floor. I am an Imperial Arbiter, on official duties, and I will judge disobedience harshly."

Things quieted down pretty fast right about then. Nobody really wanted to mess with an official Arbitration, and the scary though of being held accountable by a man who was judge, jury, and executioner was more than these civilians wanted to face.

My target was wimpering and scrabbling in vain for the Teiger that he must have dropped when he fell. I stared hard into his eyes as I rounded the bar, raised my pistol, and solemnly intoned, "Arbiter Ramilles Jones hereby passes sentence of death on Charles Onassis for the crimes of treason, assaulting an officer, and other various and sundry vicious acts in keeping with his obviously low character," I paused a moment, pulled the trigger, and continued, "Gods, I need a drink."

Sadly, the bartender was already dead. Figures. Another day in the life of the long arm of the law...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Review: Event by David Lynn Goleman

First, I apologize for the late posting of this, normal work excuse to follow.

When I see a tale set in modern times with a strong conspiracy-theory backdrop, I generally roll my eyes and await the trite and overdone Black Helicopter/Evil Government Cover-up/Waco/Ruby Ridge ranting that is endemic to the genre of speculative fiction. Luckily for me, this particular book is not done in that vein. At all. In fact, Event, attempts to humanize and explain why some of these things need to be taken care of with discretion. Don't think that David Lynn Goleman is going to handle you with kid gloves, though, because this is an author who likes to sucker-punch the reader with great surprises and really amazing ideas.

The first question that you are likely to ask is, "What is Todd talking about?" Well, I am talking about the first book in the Event Group series by David Lynn Goleman. This first story is a traditional series opener that sets the scene and the stage for the upcoming drama by throwing the new guy in the group into the deep end of the pool. Anyone who has seen a TV series on the SciFi channel (Sanctuary, Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis, Farscape, Strangeworld, etc) is familiar with this formula and knows how it goes. Luckily, Mr. Goleman has seen those shows too, and knows that we knows how this is supposed to play out, so he tries to have fun with it and make it entertaining. Thankfully, he succeeds. The SciFi channel wishes it could put together a show so thoroughly engrossing as this book was.

At any rate, what about the story? The novel Event takes place in contemporary times and features characters who work for a secret department in the US Government, Department 5656, which is (on paper) an adjunct to the national archives. The real task of Department 5656 is the acquisition of artifacts and the learning of history on a grand scale so we can avoid that fate warned of by Santa Ana. From Noah's Ark to the corpse of King Arthur, the Event Group, as Dept 5656 is known, collects it all; sending super-scientists and US Armed Forces Special Ops teams on globe-trotting adventures. According to the leaders of the Group, no other nation has the same kind of set-up, and one of the tasks of the Group is not only to preserve these ancient relics, but to learn from them and study them, keeping them secret if they may cause too great an uproar in modern society.

Of course, all this leads us to one of their finds that 'got away': the debris and alien artifats from Roswell, NM! Sorry, no real spoiler here, the book starts of with the stealing of the Roswell artifacts from the Event Group team in 1947. The question is: what does that have to do with the plot of the book? Well, history has a way of repeating itself, and apparently the crash at Roswell was no mere accident, but the opening shot in a planned invasion. The original crash is replicated by the aliens in exact detail, with the sole deviation that a wing of US Navy F-14's open fire on one of the two flying saucers, causing both to crash. What happens next is a fast-paced, high impact thrill ride that will leave you gasping for breath at the end of each chapter.

If you are looking for a book with good solid science, action, adventure, monsters, depraved aliens, friendly aliens, more monsters, gun battles, car chases, espionage, big monsters, assassinations, strip clubs, archeology, spelunking, fighter planes, high tech gadgets, more nifty science, and more monsters, then this is the book for you. If you don't like those things, then perhaps I could recommend something a bit tamer.

THAC0: 5

*Note: I am grading things based on the old system of 'To Hit Armor Class 0' or THAC0. The idea is that the lower the number, the better this is at being an actual hit in terms of game mechanics. In terms of my grade, the THAC0 is the number is believe on a scale of 1-20 that I think this will be a hit with you, the reader. 1 means that I think that pretty much everyone will love this book/movie/show and 20 means that almost nobody will like it.

Monday, November 17, 2008

In & Out on 11/17

Well, this past week saw two great events for the Science Fiction Society of Northern New Jersey as Suspense Central discussed Breakaway by Joel Shepherd and Drawing a Crowd discussed a plethora of super-hero secret agents. Both events showed a lot of interest, and cool writeups can be found on the SFSNNJ Yahoo Group.

In the box office, James Bond shot his way to the top with over 0070 Million Dollars as Quantum of Solace made its debut. While there was a lot of nay-saying about Daniel Craig as the Blonde Bond, the proof is in the pudding. The only concern we are seeing now is 'Is Bond becoming too much like Bourne?' Since the new series has lost the emphasis on gadgets and nifty gizmos, its appearance has become somewhat similar. Having not seen Quantum of Solace yet, I can only say that Casino Royale seemed a faithful retelling of the original story (where things made sense, they kept them, and where they didn't make sense they were changed and updated), so I can only hope to say the same about this one.

On TV, new episodes of Heroes returned with a vengeance, and we saw a bit more back story on the main cast, and True Blood keeps up the awesome pace. Though many have complained about the sort of bland storylines we are getting in Heroes, I am still enjoying the show, and watching how the back story shaped up was an interesting idea in the last episode. On another front, Fringe continues to entertain, though I still maintain that Strange World was a better series. True Blood is yet another unstoppable Alan Ball/HBO juggernaut and I hope that we get 10 seasons of this, following the books as closely as they can, and inspiring the redoubtable Charlaine Harris to even greater heights!

In Gaming news, last week saw the announcement by Topps that it would be discontinuing its popular WizKids brand. This means that popular games such as HeoClix, HorrorClix, and others will no longer be put out by Topps. If no other companies evince any interest in these products, then they will sadly pass into memory. At present, only Wizards of the Coast really has the capability to take over the WizKids brands seamlessly, but the question is: would they? Wizards recently decided to cancel its D&D Skirmish game in favor of producing miniatures solely for support of its Role-Playing Game product, Dungeons & Dragons 4.0, so the question must be asked.

As we enter the third week of Secret Agent Month, the SFSNNJ is gearing up for some more fun and excitement. This week we have a great line-up for all you spy-lovers. Monday there are new episodes of Heroes and The Sarah Conner Chronicles. Tuesday we present Tripping the Write Fantastic at 8pm in Borders at the Garden State Plaza discussing Ian Fleming, master of the espionage novel and creator of Bond, James Bond. Wednesday, Barry Weinberger leads a discussion of film at the Borders in Ramsey at 8pm, and will undoubtedly discuss the Blonde Bond's new movie. Thursday, join our Heroes and Rogues gaming group for a round of D&D Miniatures Skirmish at New Moon Comics in Little Falls, NJ. Friday has new episodes of a plethora of Science Fiction shows like Ghost Whisperer, Sanctuary, and Crusoe (which isn't really SF or Fantasy, but is a lot of fun) as well as gaming at Reality's Edge in North Arligton and New Moon Comics in Little Falls, which both regularly present Friday Night Magic. See you around!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

New Frontiers at the SFSNNJ

Greetings Friends,

As you can see it has been a really long time since I have had a chance to update this Blog, and I apologize for that. Sadly, work has been pushing me a lot harder than I would like, and I have needed to take a break from writing here. Luckily, my time is now my own again, and I am hoping to begin updating regularly starting on Friday, starting with some new ideas. Starting 11/17 the schedule will be:

Mondays: Week to Come, Week in Review - where I discuss SFSNNJ events and other topics that affect the SF community including movies, TV shows, books, DVD releases, and more. I will also feature an abbreviated Todd's Top Ten like I used to.

Wednesdays: Reviews - where I review a book, movie, TV show, or SF-related topic. I will try to keep this in-line with what is going on in the SFSNNJ, but I don't guarantee anything,

Fridays: Story - A new serial story series (sorry to those who were enjoying the old one, but I have been away from it for too long and have lost momentum there).

Here's to hoping that I can keep up with this. To the FUTURE!