Friday, June 16, 2006

Another Look Again, or Re-Re-View

Wow, this place is dead. Deader than dead...I'm beginning to feel like an EMT, holding defibrilation paddles over the corpse of the SFB. OK, I know, web sites don't have corpses, and running electric shocks through servers is a very bad idea, but you get the image.

But this post isn't about the SFB, as much as I may feel like a fledgling necromancer of the Internet. I'm here with another book review. And, no surprise, it's a sequel...someone must have liked my review of the first Kitty Norville book, because I got an ARC of the next one.

So, here you go.

Kitty Goes To Washington
Written by Carrie Vaughn
Published by Warner Books

Well, this is a definite improvement. I said of Kitty And The Midnight Hour that it felt very much like a first novel: rough around the edges, inexperienced...you know what I mean. This time around, Carrie Vaughn isn't making those amateurish mistakes. For one, she's distanced the plot of the novel from the nomal Gothic-Punk tropes, by setting it in a place rarely seen: the halls of Congress.

Quick plot synopsis: Kitty Norville, host of the late-night radio show The Midnight Hour and the most well-known "outed" werewolf in the country if not the world, has been subpoenaed by the U.S. Senate to testify as an expert witness on vampires, werewolves, and everything else that they've only recently become officially aware of. Meanwhile, she encounters the Washington D.C. underground, including the local vampire Mistress, an entire community of lycanthropes (including a very attractive were-jaguar); and also the Washington D.C. aboveground: faith healers, Bible-quoting senators, and government branches with hidden agendas. Frankly, the aboveground is scarier.

As this is a sequel, I have to talk about it in those terms. I'd definitely recommend reading Kitty And The Midnight Hour first, because this book takes place roughly a month or so after that one, and the events from the first one still play in big-time. But this one's a much better novel. One of the largest complaints I had about Midnight Hour was the way Vaughn integrated several of the Kitty Norville short stories she wrote, which is to say, rather poorly. The stories, which took place in the radio booth and were about what Kitty did during certain shows, stood out. I get why it was necessary, or at least one of them (Kitty's outing) was, but it still didn't quite fit. Here, Vaughn dodges the bullet: where it's relevant, she puts in the radio show. Where it isn't, she writes around it, and in the back--at least, in the back of my ARC, but I hope it's in the final published copy too--she puts the story itself. That works rather well, and I liked this short story. It has to do with music, its effect on people, and demon-possessed punk rockers.

Vaughn seems to also have taken steps--positive ones--to weaken the comparisons with Laurell K. Hamilton and other writers of her ilk. For one, there's less sex in the book, and what is present isn't about animal sensation--this time, it feels like a relationship, not pure copulation. Similarly, there are fewer, and shorter, scenes from the wolf's perspective. Where the last book was about the human coming to terms with being a werewolf, and with other werewolves, this one is about the human trying to get "normal" humans to accept her, a werewolf's place in human society, and the importance of still being human, even when you're a werewolf, or a vampire, or the like.

From my own perspective, the book was interesting for another reason. You see, I just moved to the DC area to start a new job, so it was funny to read about Kitty sightseeing (of course she sightsees) at places such as NASA and the Washington Monument. Granted, I haven't had much time to do my own sightseeing yet, what with moving in, unpacking, buying lamps and food and bookshelves...you get the idea. But the irony hit home.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying the book is perfect--there are flaws. A few places where I'm left wondering about the flow of events, some of the characters are a bit too flat, the plot and resolution is a little convenient, and several of the characters who made the jump from the previous book are changed around a bit more than I'd expect. But it's a very solid book generally, a worthy return to the universe. Apparently, Vaughn is planning a third novel. I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Whither SF A/V, or The King Is Dead, Long Live...?

Lately, flipping through TV channels in search of SF, I have come to realize that SF on TV and movies is at a crossroads. For the first time in my lifetime, at least, the two great names of SF film are silent. The last Star Wars movie has come and passed, and while I keep hearing rumors about the television series, I haven't seen anything yet...and I think the oddsmakers are predicting three episodes[1], tops.

Meanwhile, Star Trek is taking a well-deserved[2] break from television entirely. After the disappointment of Enterprise--which, by all accounts, certainly improved in its fourth season, but there's definitely a taste of "a day late and a dollar short" in the air.

Firefly and Serenity are out and done, and it's clear that Joss Whedon is moving on; he's also done with Buffy and Angel; though he does have a few films in the works, including Wonder Woman, he's moving on, not back.

Check out Meanwhile, The Comics Podcast by Dave Belmore and SFB founder T Campbell for the latest on comics movies; suffice it to say, there's a lot in the pipeline, but there's not much actually out now.

So what's left? Well, Battlestar Galactica, which I'm told by reliable sources is an excellent show: apparently it is good for all the same reasons Babylon 5 was, with higher production values. Then there's Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis. Now, don't get me wrong, I've given both of those shows a fair watch, and while I agree that they have potential, they never hooked me. Plus, SG-1 has been on...what, ten years now? And
how many times have they changed foes? Enough's enough.

Then there's the networks. Lost seems to have some subliminal message in its broadcasts, but I wouldn't be surprised if Surface, Threshold and Invasion don't get
renewed. It's obvious they were picked up on the heels of Lost, and we all know that rarely works.

(However, if you're looking for a show that isn't quite SF but is still excellent and worth watching, allow me to plug Veronica Mars. If you like the Whedon oeuvre, you'll like VM.)

But that's about it: three Sci-Fi Channel shows[3], one network sort-of show, a few cheap imitators. The field is actually pretty wide open, with no huge behemoth to scare off potential investors or networks. There's no sense that Star Trek is a non-repeating phenomenon, and there's little chance of confusing anything with Star Wars anymore.

So, what's next?

Scanning the IMDb for Upcoming Movies gives a few smaller SF flicks such as Night Watch[4], so maybe one of those will have a chance to break out and become big. I don't know what's coming up for the 2006-2007 television season, but with the first wave of Lost imitators out of the way, maybe we can get some real, original SF on TV. Just don't put it on FOX. Their track record is beyond awful. I don't know what's coming up. But I'm looking forward to it.

Time for the Succession Wars.

[1] Especially if George Lucas writes the romantic dialogue...
[2] Read: "desperately needed."
[3] Not to say that's bad, but it's a self-selecting audience that way.
[4] Not based on a Pratchett book.

Friday, January 06, 2006

XXXterminate

The New Year is a good time for making plans for the future. It is also a good time for introspection and examination of things past.

Bold new directions; thoughtful essays — these are the stuff of which "End-of-Year" and "Start-of-Year" posts are made.

Unfortunately for you, what you're getting, instead, is something so utterly brain-devouring that I find myself compelled to get it out of my head and into yours at once, lest it burst forth from my skull like some tiny alien Athena:

Lesbian Dalek Bondage Porn.


On DVD.





(Now that the lawyers have descended, it can be found in the nooks and crannies of the internet; but that's only to be expected, of course)

Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Year is 2005, The Place Is http://www.babylon5scripts.com, or The Babylon Project Was Our Last, Best Hope For Good TV

Allow me the comfortable cushion of believing that just about everybody here has seen Babylon 5. If I'm wrong, you might as well stop reading now, hie thee to your TV, and start watching. Everything's on DVD now[1], so you really have no excuse. Watch the show.

Anyway. Now that we've disposed of those poor uneducated souls, I'm spreading the word about what may be the coolest post-B5 project ever: J. Michael Straczynski is releasing his scripts. All ninety-two JMS-written Babylon 5 episodes, plus the scripts for The Gathering and In The Beginning. Plus bonus material. Fourteen books in all, two released per month, not counting the special fifteenth book...

Go to http://www.babylon5scripts.com/ for details. But as a confirmed Babyloniac, you can bet I'll be buying.

[1] Well, except for "To Live And Die In Starlight," but that's not that much of a loss...

Monday, October 17, 2005

Look Again: A Re-View, or I Couldn't Wait Until The Midnight Hour

Well, it looks like the SFB has been a little quiet of late. Maybe this will jolt it back to life: the first SFB Book Review.

Kitty And The Midnight Hour
Written by Carrie Vaughn
Published by Warner Aspect

Carrie Vaughn is going to get compared to Laurell K. Hamilton. This is inevitable. Hell, even the promo quotation on the cover calls Kitty And The Midnight Hour "vintage Anita Blake meets The Howling." Talk about a blessing and a curse: on the one hand this will probably get a number of the Anita Blake readers to pick up the book, but on the other I know any number of people who have gotten sick and tired of the Anita Blake series. Besides, Vaughn is funnier.

I've identified the exact moment when I knew we needed some new vampire/werewolf cliches: when White Wolf sued Universal for making Underworld. But Vaughn, in this novel, shows that there is still some life in the Gothic-Punk[1] universe.

The basic plot is as follows, lifted from the back cover: "Kitty Norville is a midnight-shift DJ for a Denver radio station--and a werewolf in the closet. Her new late-night advice show for the supernaturally disadvantaged is a raging success, but it's Kitty who can use some help. With one sexy werewolf-hunter and a few homicidal undead on her tail, Kitty may have bitten off more than she can chew..."

Now, this punches up some of the Anita Blake-comparison bits (especially "sexy werewolf-hunter"), and doesn't talk about some of the more interesting and creative parts, such as the werewolf sense of community and the reactions of the rest of the world. Unlike Blake's world, you see, here vampirism and lycanthropy and the like aren't so public yet; the discussion of who knows what and how much and the governmental response is a little more interesting than Hamilton's "Vampirism is legal, and that's that" opener.

Vaughn's style is new and clean, easy to read, and it kept me interested. Scenes written from the perspective of the werewolf as opposed to the human were done creatively, shifting from first person to a close third, which gives the right feel of Kitty being outside herself. The take on the pack dynamic makes sense and, more importantly, works in context, so I can't complain.

She's also funny. I liked her humor, her jokes and backhand lines, and especially the occasional swipe at those good old cliches. The advantage of setting Kitty as a talk-show host is that the callers can ask the dumb questions. The vampire who wonders where the "vampire orgies" are and the "werewolf trapped in a human's body" were probably my favorites. Then there are the normal humans in the story, like Kitty's mother and father and the staff at the radio station, who provide the right sense of outsiders looking in.

I'm not saying the book is perfect. This is a first novel, and it has some of the hallmarks. Vaughn feels to be still developing both her style and her world. For example, she'd already written a couple of stories about Kitty, and then found she had to put them into the novel as scenes. As a result, those scenes--even though they're rewritten to not reintroduce concepts--stick out. The plot is predictable in spots; not a huge deal, but typical for a first novel. In addition, the narrative has a few places where it hiccups; new characters get introduced less-than-smoothly, the prose stutters a few places, and then there's the question of sex.

Ah, yes, sex. Now's where the Blake comparisons are hitting their stride. Don't worry, the book isn't like what I'm told later Blake books become, but when you're talking about the pack/wolf mentality of werewolves--alpha males, alpha females, et cetera--you're guaranteed to get some sex scenes. I didn't find that the sex or near-sex in this book were too much, and I even thought her take on the werewolf's sexual reactions were interesting, but it's worth mentioning as a possible source of negative commentary.

In all, I'd say this book is a good first novel; if I'd bought it, I would have felt my enjoyment was worth the money for a mass market paperback. It's not an incredible, change-the-paradigm novel--we're not looking at the next J. K. Rowling--but it's solid and entertaining, and I want to keep an eye on Vaughn.

If you want to, check out Vaughn's web site, http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/CLVaughn/. It also happens to have a Kitty Norville short story on it, so you can gauge her style for yourself.

[1] Yes, I'm calling it by the White Wolf name. I just like the term, that's all; I'm not passing judgement on whose universe it is.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Best Week Ever

While we're on the subject of Neil Gaiman, his glad tidings and large headlines are not limited to the Joss Whedon co-interview and the opening of MirrorMask; there's much more.

For one, The Onion's "AV Club" has two very detailed parallel interviews with Gaiman and his longtime friend and MirrorMask collaborator, Dave McKean; if that weren't enough, the interviewer's LiveJournal has outtakes and deleted scenes from the interview, for even more Gaimany goodness. In addition, the Los Angeles Times has a pretty good piece on the making of MirrorMask.

But that's not all! Gaimania continues with the news that, after many long delays, the version of Beowulf that he and Roger Avary wrote finally began filming last week, with a cast that includes Anthony Hopkins, Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Ray Winstone as Beowulf, and Crispin Glover as The BeaverGrendel. Neil has relayed reports that Glover is already speaking exclusively in Old English (which would be, actually, one of the least unusual things he's ever done).

Oh, and what better way for Neil to wrap up the week than with the discovery that his brand new novel, Anansi Boys, will debut at #1 on the New York Times' Bestseller List next week?

One movie opening; one movie filming; and the #1 book in the country.


Best. Week. Ever.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Smoke and Mirrors and Masks, or The Other Geeky Movie This Weekend

Unless you've been living under a rock, which is hard to do with an Internet connection, you probably know that this is a big weekend for geeky movies...for one, Serenity opens tomorrow, satisfying the dreams of millions of Browncoats. I don't think I have to tell you about this any more.

But that's not the only one. Tomorrow, Mirrormask opens. For those of you who don't know, Mirrormask is a movie, cowritten by Dave McKean and Neil Gaiman, produced[1] by the Jim Henson Company, and directed by McKean. Even better, according to this brilliant interview by TIME of Gaiman and Joss Whedon, the Henson Company went to Gaiman and McKean, and said, "Here's $4 million; make a movie, and we won't interfere at all."

There are many, many ways in which this is sweet, not least that Gaiman and McKean are masters of their crafts. But all of those are offset by one minor problem: Sony Pictures is bringing it out in limited release. According to the film's web site, the closest it's opening to me is New York, which while close enough to be feasible, is far less than optimal.

Besides, the history of Gaiman's work with movies, especially limited releases, is not what I'd call a smashing success. He did, after all, write the English script for Princess Mononoke, which (and stop me if you've heard this story...) opened in three places: New York, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis/St. Paul. It did well on the coasts, but since it bombed in the Twin Cities, the Powers That Be decided it wouldn't play in Peoria, and it didn't get a really wide release. Thankfully it seemed to recoup a lot of that from DVD...and, though this is just my speculation, I think that softened up the ground for Spirited Away to do as well as it did.

Anyway. Mirrormask is opening tomorrow, and the best way I get a chance to see it is to get as many people I know who live in the active areas to see it, so Sony Pictures brings it out nearer to me. And hey, I just happen to have this rather large mouthpiece of the Science Fiction Blog. So...

Here's a list of places the film will show, and dates it'll open; here's a link to the trailer, which certainly sold me on the film; go forth and watch!

[1] Or at least funded. I'm not sure what the distinction is.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Power Of Positive Mass-Emailing, or But They Still Can't Get It Right, Now Can They?

Some of you may have heard that in late July the call went out to Firefly fans the world over: Email Fox Music and ask them for a Firefly soundtrack.

Well, the call was answered, but apparently Fox didn't really listen. According to a friend of mine (the proprietress of Cult Of Lincoln[1]):

[T]hey just grudgingly eke out a selection of tracks Greg Edmonson recorded years ago, and what they do release is choked with DRM so thick that Mac users can't even play the songs with the current version! And anyone that can download it will have to burn it to CD and rip it back to their computer if they want to play it on an iPod or any other WMA-unfriendly device. And apparently the Fox store only takes credit cards with American addresses, effectively eliminating the international market.


Speaking as a Linux user, looks like I'm using methods best left unspecified in public. Dear Fox, you really just don't know a good think when you see one. Not that this is news.

[1] I wonder if this'll boost her name recognition?

Edited 22 September, 22:26 EDT: According to an email I just received from Fox Music, now they offer .mp3 versions of the soundtrack. Still needs IE, though. *shakes head*

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Put the Message in the Box

A couple of days ago, I gave you fair warning that I was going to be putting up a "Suggestions Box" for Science Fiction Blog (I also gave you the uncomfortable mental image of Larry Niven naked, but let's move past that, shall we?). To that end, I have set up a GMail address for feedback, figured out how to get it to cooperate with my e-mail software, and sent myself lots of cutesy test messages to make sure that it all worked. Yay, me.

As a result, let me introduce to you our brand new site feedback address:



So: What do you want Science Fiction Blog to be?

What sorts of things would you like to see more of here, or even less of? Should we concentrate more on News, or Reviews, or Commentary and Essays? Should we focus more on TV and Movies? On Literature? On Fandom itself?

And what about subjects which don't necessarily involve Science Fiction, per se, yet still fall within the generally recognized ambit of Science Fiction Fandom: Comics, Anime, Gaming, Science, History, and generalized Gothery, Geekery, and Slashdottery?

What features are you interested in? Would you like Comments to be enabled? Categories? Picture Galleries? Fancy Whirling Animated Musical Flash Games?


And finally, in the almost certain event that you know more about doing this sort of thing than I do, could you give me hints on how it's done? Especially if you are suggesting something which will be difficult to do in Blogger, now would be a good time to clue us all in to that fact, and to any other options which exist out there on the internets.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Keep Watching the Skies!

It has been a week, now, since I got back from Dragon*Con, the world's largest Thing That Calls Itself a Science Fiction Convention1. I am still working my way through more than 20 Gigabytes of pictures from the convention, even as the more than 20 different flu bugs I was exposed to at the con work their way through me. I'll try to slap together some sort of gaudy and ill-conceived photo essay (i.e., "a bunch of pictures with captions or something") on the subject in the coming days, but, in the meantime, I wanted to say a few words about the massive and earth-shattering changes afoot here at Science Fiction Blog2.

I know that it's hard to imagine any changes which could possibly be more radical than those which have already overtaken SFBlog since my sudden coup d’├ętat, but we want you to try.

To that end, I'll be putting up a "Suggestion Box," so to speak, in a day or two.

What do you want out of Science Fiction Blog? What things, aside from naked pictures of Larry Niven, would make this a more interesting place to visit? Put on your thinking cats (after you've fed them and changed their litter boxes, of course) and get ready to give us an icky grey piece of your mind.



1 I say this because, given the amount of media SF programming it hosts, Comic-Con could have the title any time it wanted.
2 Two words: "Pantsless Thursdays"
3 Made you look!

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Drugged golden robots of the lost trilennia

Today's featured article at Wikipedia: Space opera in Scientology doctrine. It is truuuuuuly fascinating reading. Boy, was RLH fond of trillions.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Webcomic Hurricane Relief Telethon

Another Katrina charity effort worth a look-in: the Blank Label Comics co-operative is hosting a Webcomic Telethon in the week of September 12th.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Heavy Weather

It's very easy to feel like an ass, blogging about festivities and ephemera at a time when bureaucratic incompetence and mismanagement have turned one of the world's most congenial cities into a horrific real life Snake Plissken movie. Still, there are some things worth mentioning which are both topical and relevant.

Closest to home right now, here at Dragon*Con, there are numerous charitable efforts underway; from media stars who are donating their proceeds to the relief effort, to blood drives and dozens of other, smaller, efforts. Further afield, from Patrick Nielsen Hayden at Making Light comes word of SCA deployments to help with relief efforts around the South, as well as a touching memorial to New Orleans' most beloved SF writer.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Dragon*Con 2005

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usSo the big plan was to blog live from Dragon*Con, using the miracle of wireless internet access to upload timely reports and exciting photos of the goings-on.

However, given that Dragon*Con is perilously close to being a full 24 hour per day convention, I'm not entirely sure, in retrospect, just when, exactly, I thought I was going to be able to do this.

Still, I will try to catch up with the current of events before it has passed us completely by.