Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Review: The Third Lynx by Timothy Zahn

When last we left Frank Compton, he had successfully destroyed the Modhri and saved the universe... or so he thought. Races, chases, intrigue, murders, and a few good old switcheroos will leave the reader looking for more, and our friend Mr. Zahn delivers in a fantastically fun way.

Timothy Zahn's second entry into what I refer to as 'the Galactic Railway' series picks up almost exactly where the first book, Night Train to Rigel, left off. The first book, a charming story of an interstellar railway system run by beings known simply as 'The Spiders', used many Hitchcockian tropes to take our hero and his companions into a dangerous conflict with an alien called the Modhri. The second book is no less a life or death struggle, and contains no fewer surprises and references to Hitchcock than the first, but here the story ends in its similarity. Where in the first book, much of the story was spent on discovering who and what the villains of the piece were, now Frank is secure in his job working for the Spiders and their masters, and the Modhri is much diminished in power with its major colonies having been destroyed.

This is, by no means, the only difference to the two books. While Night Train to Rigel was heavily invested in Hitchcock references, The Third Lynx is more of an homage to Dashell Hammet's Maltese Falcon and Poe's Purloined Letter. Although the referents may be different, this in no way detracts from the story, and in fact it makes the book even stronger. The Third Lynx has a distinctly more noir feel to it, and it carries through with all of its ideas with a panache that beggars the imagination.

THAC0: 6

*Note: I am grading things based on the old system of 'To Hit Armor Class 0' or THAC0 from the old Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. The idea is that the lower the number, the lower you need to roll to score a hit. In terms of my grade, the THAC0 is the number I 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, December 15, 2008

In & Out on 12/15

Another exciting week is over and a new one is just beginning. Last week saw action, adventure, excitement, and a distinct lack of Dewey decimal system usage by the Librarian as well as a whole lot more.

To start, last week had the distinct honor to have three fun SFSNNJ events in it. Suspense Central started the week with a visit from author E.J. Rand as we discussed his award winning first book Say Goodbye. Next was a holiday edition of our comics discussion group at New Moon Comics, Drawing a Crowd. Last (and most important) was our annual Face the Fiction Holiday Party featuring the NJ Devil Hunters Society and folklorist Sandy Schlosser (I won't go into how wonderful both groups are here since there is a much better review already written on our forums).

I managed to miss most of the cool TV entries last week, but I plan on catching up when I have a chance. For those that saw them, the new Heroes, Sarah Conner Chronicles, and 11th Hour were supposed to be good. I managed to catch up on an episode of Fringe that I missed, but was disappointed as they seem to be copying scripts from Strangeworld wholesale. TNT released its (alleged) final chapter in the Librarian series, but it seems likely that as interest has not abated in this franchise, there will be further films, though I have the feeling that they will be without Noah Wylie (I haven't seen it yet, so I cannot comment further).

In the theatres, The Day the Earth Stood Still yawned its way to the top. With a depressing $30M in boxoffice for the weekend, it is a massive let down from the $70M+ entries of both Quantum of Solace and Twilight from just a few weeks ago. Strangely both Twilight and Bolt seem to be holding their own in the 3rd and 4th slotseven after two weeks, though their box offices are distinctly unimpressive.

Coming up this week? New episodes of Sarah Conner and Chuck, and not much else on the tube. In theatres, expect to be excited by the Tale of Despereaux and we can look forward to Valkyrie and The Spirit coming next week. In the SFSNNJ< we will be at Panera on Route 17N in Ramsey on Wednesday for Films to come, where we can talk about the best and the worst of 2008 and beyond!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Review: Nightlife by Rob Thurman

While browsing around the Borders in Ramsey the other day I stumbled across just such a book, and so I read through the beginning of the book. Ms Thurman, you had me rooted to the spot. I immediately bought all three of the current series (Nightlife, Moonlight, and Madhouse), and I did not even make it to my car when a friend of mine pilfered book one from my Borders bag. Considering that I am the literary version of a crack dealer in our group, I graciously allowed my friend Ann Marie to steal book one and read it ahead of me. First taste is free and all that.

So, you are asking, why all the excitement? Well, it is no mystery that there is a lot of modern fantasy going around night now. It started with characters like Anita Blake and expanded with the success of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files and Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood series which had both great books and TV shows. Now, the publishers cannot put out enough of these kinds of books. Authors like Simon Green are at the top of their game with this style, and newcomers like Mark delFranco are wow-ing readers across the board, but how do you separate the gold from the dross in this ever-expanding genre? Reviews, help, but it is more trial and error than anything else.

Now, on to why this book and series is so spectacular. Nightlife is the story of two half-brothers, Caliban and Niko, who are on the run and hiding out in New York. Sons of a gypsy fortune-teller, none know who Niko's father is, but Caliban's father is a monster. Not a John Wayne Gacy or Ted Bundy type monster, but a fangs, claws, and glowing red eyes kind of monster. A monster who wants his son for some reason known only to him. Enough about the set-up, though, let's get to the meat of the matter.

Nightlife is a great character study, and a wonderful introduction to the world that Rob Thurman is working in. Strangely, for a first book, Nightlife seems more like a second book, concentrating on character and story development more than the formulaic origin story that most first books tend to fall back on. Sure, the origin story is in there, but it is carefully woven into the narrative in flashbacks, and does not take up any significant part of the book. The main thrust of the story strikes directly into the relationship of the two brothers, and highlights all of their worst fears and horrors. The ensemble cast of Cal, Niko, and their new friend Robin Goodfellow (who remains my personal favorite) try desperately to do their parts in a story that is lager than any one of them. The fact that they all undergo massive changes and character development in the course of this book is a testament to the amazing work that Thurman is putting out.

If you are looking for style, substance, relatable characters, and horrifying scenes, then this is your one stop smorgasbord.

THAC0: 3

*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 I 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, December 8, 2008

In & Out on 12/8

Well, I apologize for the week off, so this will be an expanded, extended, exciting edition of In & Out for this week (actually I am lying through my teeth).

As December rolls into full blast, many shows go on hiatus, many groups go into hibernation, and many activities get put off in favor of Holiday celebrations and other fun stuff. Due to last week's hectic work schedule, the only thing I got to see was Heroes, and right now, I am even blanking on that. I do remember seeing the beginning of 11th Hour and was suitably unimpressed by that one (had something to do with the Bends). No noteworthy film releases last week, though the release of The Transporter 3 brought back memories of deja vu as we all watched Jason Statham perform the exact same film for the 3rd time.

What is coming up? Well, tonight at 8pm Deadly Ink Press's celebrated and award winning author EJ Rand will be joining us for burgers and murders at Fuddruckers in Paramus. We will be discussing his fantastic book Say Goodbye and maybe getting some glimpses into the sequels. Should be great. We also have continuing game campaigns, and, of course, the absolutely fantastic SFSNNJ Annual Holiday Party, which will feature folklorist Sandy Schlosser as well as members of the Jersey Devil Hunters Society. Details can be found at in the Face the Fiction section.

On the big screen, Keanu Reeves will be commanding the robot Gort to wipe humanity from the face of the Earth in the remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still. I plan on re-watching the original so I can see how far the new one falls short, since it seems to be a significant change in tone and concept from the original film (at least in the trailers).

Who knows what else the future holds? Not me, I'm way too busy!