Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Aftershocks

A month ago, I was mentioning a new book from Marko Kloos Aftershocks, the first book in his new series Palladium Wars. Kloos is fast becoming one of my favorite sci-fi authors, I had devoured his Frontlines series last year in some excited quick reads, so a new series by him seemed like a great thing to jump into. And so, when this book premiered, I was sure to buy it on Kindle the first chance I got.


Jumping in, I found myself in a rich new star system with a fascinating backstory. We come to a colonized star system which has, after years of  brutal war, finally found itself at peace. Enter Aden, a former language specialist in the elite and infamous Blackguard of the Gretian armed forces. The Gretians had just launched an offensive war against practically everyone else in the solar system, and then found themselves ground down to dust by attrition. Having spent the last five years as a prisoner of war, he finds himself about to be released and adrift in the world.

Indina, is a soldier from Palladium, a high gravity world where people eek out existences by carving land from the very mountains. She is with the Palladium Brigade as part of the Gretian occupation forces. She suddenly finds herself under attack from a deadly and unknown adversary, which culminates in the near destruction of her entire platoon. Her only thought now, is revenge.

Dunstan, of the Rhodian Navy and the frigate Minotaur is on what seems to be routine patrol duty protecting the former Gretian fleet which will be partitioned among the former allies and kept to ensure Gretia never industrializes to prevent a threat to the rest of the system again. However, as the time to partition the fleet up, it ends up destroyed in a spectacular, and what should be impossible fashion.

Finally we have Solveig, the heir apparent to a great Gretian business dynasty whose random luck at being born before an arbitrary time limit means that her families powerful corporation will remain in family hands. This unlike many powerful formerly family owned industries which were forcefully nationalized by the occupiers in order to strip power away from the native Gretians. However, she lives in the shadow of her powerful and dangerous father. His plans for the future may be radically different from her own.

With these character sketches here you get something of a brief sketch of the overall plot, and see some of what to expect.

All of the characters do get very well fleshed out, and pretty evenly developed, but one character who goes for ages without much development until the final part of the story is Solveig. She almost just exists in this story without a lot of purpose, and is actually entirely absent from the plot until very near the end. It's a little confusing really, but it does add up, in something of a limited way at the end.

The book is very much Aden's story, and perhaps that is the authors intention to focus on these core characters and each book will then focus on them and their development until things come together at the very end. That is at least, what I am hoping for, since things seem very confusing at the moment. But most of the action, character development, and story was dedicated to Aden finding his way home, and finding a home in general.

Don't get me wrong, this is still a good read, but unlike the tightly plotted narrative of Kloos Frontlines series, this plot is very much all over the place. We don't really have much of an arc for our characters, and I actually came away feeling that there wasn't really any resolution in the novel. Things just happen and they don't really tie together. We don't even get a proper introduction to what we're supposing are the shadowy forces gathering in the background to bring things into chaos. It's a little...odd.

For instance, much of the action in the book takes place in those character bios, is the majority of the action in  the books. Compared to Frontlines, there is a lot of sitting around talking and little shooting. It seems a little slow. Then you have action events that don't seem to tie together, from space pirates to bombs, but it never really adds up in a meaningful way. The book really just, well ends. I was left with many questions, but practically zero answers. It does make me feel like this book was accidentally cut in half and that the next book will give me more to work with.

Secondary characters pop in with very little development, and people who I thought would be important seem to blip in and out like fireflies. I can honestly say I remember maybe three of the supporting characters. There isn't really a strong secondary character presence.

Despite that, there are some good action sequences, some fun background events, and a few really intriguing ideas. You can tell the series is drawing on the Expanse (which may set the gold standard for sci-fi now) which is a good thing in my opinion, but in places you do feel that influence. Though, the characters are not yet quite as good as those from the Expanse, but they show promise for things to come.

I can't detail too much of the plot for spoilers, but also since the book just kind of ends, its hard to say much about it other than it left me a little unfulfilled. I would still encourage people to read it, but don't be expecting to be blown out of the water. Knowing that Kloos is a good writer, I would say that even if you are leery of this book, give the whole series a chance. It will hopefully surprise us.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Fatherland

I've been catching up on well deserved classics that I haven't gotten around to reading yet, so in the dual interests of the mystery genre and my love of alternate history, I delved into the 1992 novel Fatherland. Written by Robert Harris, it explores an alternate world where Hitler's Germany did not lose WWII. Now, the Nazi colossus sits from the Atlantic to the Urals, holding all Europe, save Switzerland, under its sway. Having corralled the formerly independent nations of the Continent into a sham 'European Community' as well as engaging in a forever war along the long eastern frontier at the A-A line. Victory in hand, Hitler then turned his attention to creating his ultimate victory city in a garish redesign of Berlin.

The year is 1964.



Our story begins in the new Berlin, a body has been found washed up along the Havel River, near the heart of where the Nazi Party elite live. Detective Xavier March of the Kriminalpolizei (Kripo), and former U-boat sailor, is called to the scene of what at first seems to be the accidental death of an old Party member. Something of a recluse, the victim seems to have little connection to anyone other than being an original member of the Party. However, in an age of increasing terrorism at the heart of the German Reich, who can be sure?

The plot unfolds though as March, on a hunch, continues his investigations after the Gestapo claims jurisdiction over the case. He begins to unravel a disturbing conspiracy at the heart of the Nazi regime, one dating all the way back to the war and deals with the mysterious disappearances of all the Jews in Germany.

Along the way he meets American reporter Charlotte "Charlie" Maguire, while also dealing with numerous Nazi bigwigs and little men who are eager to dissuade his curiosity. But, he still has help in the form of his friend and partner Max Jaeger, who still aims to help him despite being a man not inclined to question the state.

Obviously, as this is a mystery thriller I won't be spoiling many details for you, but I think more than a few readers will be aware of the twist in this novel early on. I certainly was, but that did not mean I did not enjoy the book because of it.

While many fans of alternate history probably now find the idea of a Nazi victory story overdone, I still consider this to be a top rate novel. Rather than tell an exhaustive story of how the world got to where it was, the story is merely the setting for an intriguing thriller plot which uses that world as the background. It does of course, detail some of the alternate history leading to the Nazi control of Europe and the post-war Cold War with the United States.

Personally, what I found evocative of the novel was the setting. The premise is explained and partially justified but we are just told the story through these characters eyes as they live in this world. It is one where the Nazi Party reigns supreme over every aspect of German life, they remain constantly vigilant in attempting to police/purge the occupied territories of the East, while also struggling to catch up to a world where technology is moving quicker than men like Hitler and his cronies could anticipate. Terrorists are constantly targeting Germans, while the Germans themselves grow fat off the spoils of Occupied Europe, with Slavic laborers building their cities and English maids serving their tea.

March is a man who has grown up listening only to Party propaganda, and he still resents the Party despite the high standard of living he enjoys. Even with all that, his inquisitive nature makes him someone the Nazis would naturally be suspicious of. His interactions with Charlie, who has an outsiders perspective of Nazi Germany, are quite interesting. He uses this to ask questions he could never ask of another German person. He finds out about the horrible casualties incurred in the forever war on the frontier in the East against the Soviets and their partisans, and knows that much of the propaganda spouted against America is probably untrue, and even being toned down in light of the attempted detente with the United States.

These alternate 1960s are now defined by the interactions between the Reich and America. While we don't have as much of a global look as other stories might tell, the background to the story is fascinating and really establishes the characters and the world they exist in.

As for the plot, while many may see the twist coming, you are kept guessing as to whether anything will come of March's efforts to uncover the truth. He is constantly dodging a series of legal and lethal hurdles as the Gestapo seek to overcome any attempt to uncover the conspiracy at the heart of the Reich. It has all the good times of a spy thriller and a serial detective novel.

March himself is an engaging character. He has a policeman's sense of duty, constantly questioning and looking to solve crimes. He is also a former patriot. He loves Germany, and pursued a career in the navy because his father served in the Great War, but he has become disillusioned with what the Reich has grown in to. A man against his people as it were.

Charlie is a great sidekick, and as a kickass woman she deserves to be praised. An investigative journalist who is always looking for the next big scoop, she has German heritage and rebels against her family by carrying on in such a semi-dangerous career.

The somewhat forced attraction between the two leads felt, to me at least, as detrimental to the story. A love story (or lust story as the case may be) was not really necessary. Charlie would have been a stronger character without it, as there was not much chemistry between the two.

Fatherland though, is a deserved alternate history classic. Unlike the other stories I've reviewed, the spy thriller that was A Kill in the Morning and the war story which was Festung Europa, this one relies very much on its two leads to carry the story rather than increasing stakes or the drivers of history. It also shows you that stories set in one of the 'overdone' settings of alternate history, can, and most likely will, give you some great entertainment.

Thursday, 11 July 2019

The Dead Don't Die

As a long time connoisseur of the zombie genre, I was pleased to discover a few months ago that we were supposed to be getting an ensemble, all star cast for a new zombie comedy The Dead Don't Die. Looking like a big homage to the tropes and fun of the best the zombie genre had to offer, its' trailer played well and had me hooked from the first time I saw it. Starring, Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Chloe Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Tilda Swinton, Danny Glover and Selena Gomez, to name only a few! The cast is actually quite large and very likable, with what I thought were for sure going to be some stellar performances!

Did we get that? Well, we got something...


Set in the town of Centerville (A Nice Place) it follows the work of Sheriff Cliff Robertson (Murray), Ronnie (Driver) and Minerva "Mindy" (Sevigny) and others from the small town as they deal with some inexplicable changes caused by polar fracking. The day is longer, the moon emits a strange 'toxic' glow, and strange things are happening in the cemetery.

Robertson is first going after local Hermit Bob (Tom Waites) who Farmer Miller (Buscemi) has accused of stealing his chickens. We then have the the two policemen driving away and leaning very abruptly on the fourth wall when Ronnie comments that the song The Dead Don't Die, by Sturgill Simpson, is the theme song for the film after Robertson comments that it sounds very familiar. Get used to this song, this joke is gonna be overused a lot. There is a pretty cleverly done establishing shot done as the police cruiser goes by all the various locations we will be seeing as the film goes on.

We meet more of the town's denizens at a local diner, Hank (Glover), Farmer Miller, and a scene with some juvenile delinquents locked up in the county juvy center, Geronimo (Jahi Winston), Olivia (Taliyah Whitaker), and Stella (Maya Delmont). There's also local gas store/paraphernalia shop owner Bobby Wiggins (Caleb Landry Jones), motel owner Danny Perkins (Larry Fessenden) and travelling at the head of some 'city hipsters' is Selena Gomez as Zoe. Finally we have Tilda Swinton as the new local mortician, Zelda Winston.

The zombie weirdness begins one night as two 'coffee zombies' attack the diner and devour locals Fern and Lilly in a genuinely unsettling scene. It has some dark humor to it as the zombies recognize coffee and quit their mauling to ineptly swig some back before shuffling on. Now, these two zombies are played by Iggy Pop and Sara Driver, so you'd expect them to show up again. Other than a single scene where they are walking around with the coffee pots... they're kind of irrelevant.

Following this is an amusing sequence where we once again see some well done humor as a three part take with each police officer viewing the scene goes on. Then we finally get some delightful weirdness from Swinton's character Zelda as she wanders around in odd ways, speaks strangely (addressing people by their full names) and has jerky, almost planned moves when she isn't wielding her katana.

Next the zombies begin to follow in waves, and as the undead begin to slowly overwhelm the town. Madness ensues.

Something I should pause to praise is the zombies themselves. While they are the usual undead shamblers, the actors and extras who play them just dig into the roles and damn they do it well! And rather than big bloody sprays of gore, when the zombies are killed they instead shoot out these black dust clouds. It's a unique and very visually appealing touch that I think should be applauded.

From here we get intervening bits of well executed horror, some good bits of comedy, and a lot of flat jokes. Some of it is well executed, especially in the second act as I found myself laughing uproariously at Driver and Murray's banter with Sevigny, then Swinton just stole every scene she was in. But the first hour of the film tends to drag, with only a few well done jokes. Then the finale comes across as, well, confusing.

Now, past this cut there be spoilers, you have been warned. Sadly, it is almost impossible to do a good critique of the film without them.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Atlas Shrugged Part III

God alone knows how, but the producers managed to waste enough money to make three of these dumb movies. It took a small fortune to create these disasters, but it took them only an hour to drain my brain of any, even halfhearted, enthusiasm for watching this last film! As before, please check out the reviews of this film alongside my friend Andrew over at I Choose to Stand where he looks at all three like me!

After Part II bombed even more spectacularly than the first film, making less than a quarter of its stated budget back, the series seemed to be in some limbo for a while. There was even talk of optioning it for a musical (God wouldn't that have been annoying?) way back when. However, this fortunately (sadly?) did not come to pass and instead they did what they had done for the last two installments, scrapped the old cast and hired all new actors making things even more confusing for people.

In a now hilariously familiar story, the budget for this film was only half of its predecessors, with some 440,000$ of that being raised on Kickstarter. Really, this film should have been called Atlas Shrugged Part III: The Search For More Money. In should come as no surprise that from a budget of 5 million, the film made only 800,000$ back at the box office. Considering what this was, even in comparison to Part III of the book, there isn't any question of why it bombed even worse than it's predecessors.


Now as someone who had read the book I will admit full disclosure to being interested to seeing Part III of this film series. It was, in themes, set pieces and story, very different from the first two parts which can be very well described as "business people talking business" with some bland mystery coloring the background.

Part III of the novel however, had one large section of ideological screed, followed by some rather entertaining pulpy action bits and the close up examination of society collapsing. Trains stop running, harvests are left to rot, and sections of the country break into open civil war. It's actually rather gripping stuff as we see the United States collapse into anarchy as part of the plan by the megalomaniacs heroes of the story.

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Atlas Shrugged Part II

So we come to Part II of this nonsense, and let me tell you it just gets sillier from here. If you have missed it, my friend and fellow blogger Andrew Cowie has also done a review for this film over on his blog I Choose to Stand and it is well worth reading!

After the first installment of the Atlas Shrugged trilogy bombed fantastically. The idiots Randian heroes who had made this film decided rather than let the free market do the talking as their own philosophy would compel them to do, they were going to double down on their idea and decided the world must learn of the brilliance of their prophet's ideology.

The only problem was that now, after making less than a quarter of their budget back from the first film, the plan of financing it with profits was no longer feasible. The strategy? Hire an all new cast because keeping actors is expensive! Well, there was also a massive debt sale in order to keep the film afloat, and a big investment of personal funds. Apparently this film, when you tally up marketing and everything, cost as much as the first one. If that was the case oh boy did it have problems.

It seems that the other portion of the plan was to stoke the public's expectations by keeping it from being screened by critics pre-release so everyone would have to be surprised and appalled at the same time. This fantastically misleading article from Fox News in 2012 has the producer John Aglialoro stating "The integrity of the critics are going off a cliff...Why should I give them the sword and they are just going to use to decapitate me with?" The article of course blames the 'Liberal Media' for casting the movie down, but as a National Post review of Part I by Peter Foster notes: "Still, if it sinks without trace, its backers should at least be proud that they lost their own money."

Turns out, the film wasn't proud with just losing its own money, it didn't even need to give anyone else the sword to decapitate itself! The film made even less money than the first, and received an even lower rating from critics and audiences alike!


Why might that be you ask?

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Atlas Shrugged Part I

Years and years ago, my teen self made a monumental mistake. I discovered a supposedly great work of fiction which, according to some people I knew, would change my life. To their credit, they weren't wrong. However, the book I read Atlas Shrugged did not change my life for the better. Instead, it left me knowing what true evil felt like. The magnum opus of philosopher madwoman (and Superman arch nemesis)  Ayn Rand, it was written explicitly to solidify her economic, philosophical and political codes. Essentially, this is the Bible of the weird philosophy of Objectivism.

This strange little philosophy has had a disproportionate effect on world economics and thinking, especially in the United States of America. It has influenced politicians, philosophers, gurus, and most significantly, the head of the United States Federal Reserve who oversaw the disastrous policies leading to the 2008 Financial Crisis. Some would say that isn't a coincidence. Reading its long drawn out piece was misery personified.

Imagine then, to my chagrin, discovering way back in 2015, that after years of simmering in development hell some fanatic acolyte far sighted visionary John Aglialoro, had finally decided to bring Ayn Rand's creation to the screen.

God Help Us

Now, for a quick cliff notes version of Objectivism. Essentially it is be selfish for selfishness sake. To use the fancier terms, pursue your own enlightened self interest (rational egoism) and that laissez-faire capitalism is the only system which can allow you to pursue this. There's more boring 'metaphysical' stuff about how true reality can be expressed through art or human will, but its dull as watching paint dry so Rand wrote a book. Atlas Shrugged is intended to showcase how this life is to be lived. For a normal, sane person, it's pretty awful stuff.

Unsurprisingly, it has largely been roundly rejected by the civilized world and people at large, but, also unsurprisingly, rich right leaning white people tend to love it overwhelmingly.

Discussion over a movie adaptation has been in the works for decades, near since Rand first wrote it. However, while she was alive Rand was uncompromising with her vision and always demanded strict control over any script, something no producer or Hollywood exec was going to give her. Even after she died Objectivists still hoarded the story lest its purity be 'spoiled' by Hollywood elites. Eventually Aglialoro bought the rights, but numerous conflicts with writers and executives stalled the film from going anywhere. In the 2000s, there was talk of a two part series directed by Vadim Perelman, with people like Angelina Jolie apparently being considered to star. Finally, with the rights running out, in 2011 Aglialoro basically poured 20 million into this new film trilogy so he wouldn't lose them.

So what is there to say about this film?

Friday, 28 June 2019

Book Releases I'm Excited For

Summer and Fall of 2019 are so far looking like a good time to be alive for a bookworm like me. Why you ask? Well allow me to share with you some exciting releases coming out soon!

First up one of my favorite fantasy authors is continuing his long running fantasy series with:

A Little Hatred


Joe Abercrombie returns to the Circle of the World, picking up his stories some time after the events of his first trilogy The First Law and it's various outrigger novels. Now this story picks up years later following a new cast, but with some familiar faces in the background.

Set as the first in a new trilogy, this piece will be taking us back to the places we all know and love from Abercrombie. The Union, seething with new industrial technology and unrest, The North, as chaotic and war torn as ever. These new characters will be navigating the world so changed from how it first appeared in The Blade Itself and dealing with both old, and new, problems.

To avoid spoilers for the previous novels I will not mention much more here. But if you love gritty fantasy and some awesome action and characters, these are begging to be checked out. I highly recommend it.

Expect it September 17th 2019!

The Testaments


Ever since Margaret Atwood first published The Handmaid's Tale in 1985, people have been asking, what happens next? Many questions are left frustratingly unanswered by this book, and the postscript raises even further questions! With the run away success of the streaming series, and arguably the modern political climate, Atwood it seems felt compelled to write the answers to these questions.

Now in The Testaments we will get some (but if I had to guess, not all) of the answers we have been waiting years for. Whether you've been waiting since 1985 or (like me) the 2010s, this book is a no brainer for your shelves in 2019.

I think that the hook speaks for itself:
When the van door slammed on Offred's future at the end of The Handmaid's Tale, readers had no way of telling what lay ahead for her—freedom, prison or death.

With The Testaments, the wait is over.

Margaret Atwood's sequel picks up the story fifteen years after Offred stepped into the unknown, with the explosive testaments of three female narrators from Gilead.

"Dear Readers: Everything you've ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book. Well, almost everything! The other inspiration is the world we've been living in." —Margaret Atwood
Expect it September 10th 2019!

Aftershocks 


Marko Kloos returns with a new science fiction series, the Palladium Wars! Taking place in a new solar system far from Earth and with an exciting new cast of characters, it will be handling some tough stuff. Losing a war, occupation, and the aftermath of a brutal conflict. We have new characters like Aden, a POW who was part of the Gretian military forces and who is now going home finding himself facing a conflict he thought he had left behind.

While I myself have only read the first chapter from the preview (and only seen the character of Aden) there promise to be many more interesting characters to indulge in. As one reviewer on goodreads put it:
As the Expanse nears the conclusion of its nine book arc fans are going to need something to look forward to, and this more than fills the bill.
Unlike his long running Frontlines series, this one will be told from the third person perspective with multiple points of view, giving us numerous characters to see these fascinating new worlds through. Having been a huge fan of Kloos's previous work, I'm stoked to get my hands on this one as it promises to be just the thing I need to keep my sci-fi kick going this year!

Expect it on July 1st, Canada Day! On this one at least, you don't have long to wait!