Book Reviews

Review: "Thomas the Rhymer" by Ellen Kushner

It is happening everywhere. Perfectly good movies and TV shows are being remade by Hollywood left and right. Stepford Wives, Starsky and Hutch, Around the World in Eighty Days, the Time Machine, Vanilla Sky, the Ring. Etc, etc. ad nauseum. I hear that Evil Dead is going to be remade. I weep.

Apparently, the big screen is not the only medium in which remakes are popular. There are many authors that have written successful versions of children's stories and fairy tales. Gail Carson Levine wrote the popular children's novel Ella Enchanted, a marvelous reinvention of Cinderella. Anne Rice wrote the popular oh-so-not-for-children's novel The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty. Ellen Kushner brings us Thomas the Rhymer, winner of the World Fantasy Award.

The blessed difference between these novels and the flicker-shows is that the books are actually pretty damn good.

The Gist: The book is based on the ballad of Thomas the Rhymer, a traveling minstrel who is loved by the men of royalty for his music and song and by the women of royalty for his other talents.

Getting caught outside during particularly bleak weather, Thomas is taken in and befriended by a peasant couple, and falls madly in love with Elspeth.

One day, the Queen of Elfland comes upon our fair Thomas, who suddenly says, ?Elsie who?? and rides off to stay with the queen in her enchanted land for seven years, during which he is not allowed to speak.

Seven years later, after no speaking, some heroics, and a fair amount of sex, Thomas is sent back to earth with the gift of the tongue which cannot lie. The gift inflicts poor Thomas with the gift of foresight and the source material for Jim Carey movies.

Thomas and Elspeth marry and live happily ever after. That is, after Elspeth calms down a bit ?cuz the lout ditched her for seven years.

The Good: If you like romance, you'll like this book. If you like romance mixed with magical surroundings, you'll love this book. If romance is your thing, buy this book. The characters are sympathetic, the prose is poetic, even beautiful. You will not be wasting your time.

The Bad: If you want an engaging story, you won't like this book. I have a feeling women will enjoy this book much more than men. It's a romance, a mild one by romance-novel standards, but a very feel-good, magic in the air, a song in the heart kind of romance. And while the book is exquisitely written, left me flat most of the time, since that just isn't my thing.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Thomas the Rhymer by Ellen Kushner
Published by: Spectra; June 1, 2004
ISBN: 0553586971
Genre: Romantic Fantasy
Author's Webpage: www.ellenkushner.com
  [Read more...]

Review: "Seven Seasons of Buffy"

I try to avoid reading books out of order, and while it usually wouldn't matter in this case, my having read Five Seasons of Angel before this one brings a couple of things to mind... the foremost being that while editor Glenn Yeffeth obtained fewer essays for the Angel collection, he also seems to have obtained more highly engaging essays for the it than for the Buffy collection. While that may sound like a minor slam of the Buffy collection, it's not... it's a big time golf-clap salute.   [Read more...]

Minority Report and Other Short Stories

I drive a lot. Well, I used to drive a lot more, but when you're 90 miles from your studio, you tend to put a mile or two on the family truckster. So I'm always on the lookout for free or cheap-ass audio books of great SF. A few days ago I stumbled across Philip K. Dick's Minority Report and Other Stories narrated by Dullea Keir, the perfect mind-escape from the four-hour drive back from Vegas over the holiday weekend. And what a ride.

RATING: 4 out of 5

I suppose I should cover the audio quality as much as the material itself, seeing how this is an audio book and all. Keir's delivery is near-flawless, though I did expect him to break out with ?Open the pod bay door, Hal? at any time. His various character inflections are just enough to provide clear distinction between characters without being over the top.

There are five stories, three of which Hollywood has destroyed made into movies. Or should I say, made movies based on the inspirations of the stories penned by PKD.

Minority Report
Wow was this a little dated! Huge computers, smoking indoors, punch cards? but don't let the low-tech approach fool you, this is an interesting ride. Yes, it's somewhat a thriller, though by no means the non-stop chase sequence offered up in the Hollywood rendition. Same premise: the director of Pre-Crime is being made the patsy for someone with larger ambitions. Similar cast of characters, complete with three pre-cogs. And the similarity dies there. No kidnapping, no perfect Hollywood ending where the good guy gets away, and no Cruise. What you get instead: three minority reports. Let your mind wrap around that for a while.

We Can Remember It For You Wholesale
Hollywood didn't care for the title, so they called it Total Recall and cast the Governator in the staring role. Which is priceless, as the last person you'd imagine in the role from the short story would be Ahrnold. In the short story, PK tells all of it from right here on Terra, never requiring a trip to Mars. Oh sure, the basic premise is again the same: Quail (not Quaid) grows bored with his 9-5 and seeks adventure on Mars, which he longs for but has not the means to acquire. The Recall procedure unlocks that he was a secret agent which blows his cover. But get this: the next implanted memory triggers something even more amazing! I won't tell you what, but the creators of Pinky and the Brain and Douglas Adams knew!

Paycheck
Here's the one I think Hollywood did a great job of adapting. Not because the followed the story line (which they didn't), but because their inspiration wound up with something? better. [pause to duck flying vegetables and other random objects.] Say what you want about Ben Affleck's acting talent, but the script was better, IMHO, than the original short story. Hats of to the screenwriter who took an inspiring but somewhat trite tale and crafted it into something better for the screen.

Second Variety
The one that wasn't a movie, but should have been. And don't mess with it. World War III happens, and we lost. And by ?we? I mean the entire human race. Nearly wiped out of existence, your prototypical MAD scenario played out. We (the American's) are headed the way of the dodo until we invent ?claws?, little pre-sentient machines that track down anything warm and get all medieval on their asses. Except us, that is. For those of you who are familiar with the work of Skynet, you know what happens next. (Side thought: Was this story the original inspiration for The Terminator?) The little machines start turning out more and more sophisticated machines in their own factories, until one day? the djinn is loose?and we're toast. Russians. Americans. Life. No Hollywood ending here.

The Eyes Have It
Short, sweet and paranoid beyond belief, PK Dick pokes lighthearted fun at the way we use words to represent things we couldn't possibly mean. I don't want to spoil it, but I see this going on my MP3 player as a favorite track!

Minority Report and Other Short Stories by Philip K. Dick, narrated by Dullea Keir
Published by: HarperAudio
ISBN: 0-06-009526-1
Genre: Short Science Fiction   [Read more...]

Review: "Five Seasons of Angel"

You know that a pop culture staple has gone far beyond the normal range of fandom and reached saturation when serious academic studies relating to the psychology, philosophy, and morality of show and of its characters are being published.

To my knowledge, only Buffy the Vampire Slayer (with two academic conferences dedicated to it so far) and Godzilla fall into that category, but Buffy's spinoff, Angel, should be right beside them.   [Read more...]

Review: Orphanage

Robert Buettner is a great writer. Seriously. Anyone who can keep me not only interested in a military SF book, but also interested enough to read it in less than THREE DAYS is doing something right. You just don't want to put the book down. Every chapter is wrapped up nicely in a perfect spot to set the book down and hop off the crapper? but then Buettner writes something like:

Everything was great and wonderful in my life. Nothing could be better than this.   [Read more...]

Review: The Crazy Years

I can tell you this: Spider is funny, and he's smart, and you can't go wrong with a combination like that. Warren James, host of Mike Hodel's Hour 25, says that science fiction allows us to see the world through another set of eyes. Take a chance and take a look at world through the eyes of the Spider.

Rating: 4 out of 5   [Read more...]

Review: "Just a Geek" by Wil Wheaton

It's not often I read books which both reverse and elevate my opinion of the author. Before reading Just a Geek, Wil Wheaton was the child-actor who played arguably the most hated character on Star Trek:TNG, as well as the kid with the biggest (leech-infested) one in four counties. After finishing the book, Wil has become one of my Personal Heroes.

To summarize the book by saying it publicly chronicles his personal struggles after leaving TNG is simultaneously accurate and whole inadequate. Peter Coyote said his advice to anyone wishing to publish his or her memoirs is simply? ?don't.? But Peter, ignoring his own advice, released his story when he was in his 50's, with a rich, varied and sordid past to chronicle. Christ, Wheaton is a few years younger than me! How much interesting crap can you dig up, honestly?

Surprisingly, and as my high school physics teacher often said, I had the units of measurement wrong. With Wil's book, it's the quality of his life experiences that draws you in, not the quantity.

Uber-geek Trek fans looking for the dirty nasties which happened behind-the-scenes of the show are going to be disappointed. There are no tales of late night coke-parties which ended with Dr. Crusher and Councilor Troy bumping uglies, no recitations of the time Picard stuck a flattened tribble on his head and ran around the set saying ?I'M WILLAM FUCKING SHATNER!?

But what you will find is always honest, often heart wrenching and other times hilarious accounts of his life during, after and orbiting around TNG. It's not been a rosy ride for Wil, but rather than bottle it up inside or turn to the ever-so-tempting lure of sweet, sweet heroin, he talked about it. Publicly. It's all there in the book (and on his blog) for the whole world to see.

I think people will take from the book what they need. For me, I found not only a new understanding of an amazing human being, but also inspiration and perspective. Christ this boy went through some serious shit, often at the hands of you people! But through it all, he survived, flourished and grew into the person he is today. I'll bet you if you asked him (which I'll do in a month during our interview), he wouldn't change a thing.

Hats off to you, Wil. You're a damn fine storyteller, writer, comic and one of the more decent folks I've had the pleasure of knowing. And best of all, you're just a geek? like me.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Just a Geek by Wil Wheaton
Published by: O'Reilly Media; July 2004
ISBN: 059600768X
Genre: Non fiction
Author's Webpage: WilWheaton.net
  [Read more...]

Review: "The Tattooed Wolf"

If you like short, satisfying reads between your Harry Potter or A Song of Ice and Fire, ten pound seat-raisers, then buy the tree-killer or planet-friendly version of this book.   [Read more...]

Billibub Baddings

Do you hear that sound? That is the sound of a thousand Sacred Cows of Fantasy being tipped in the night.

Let me share a piece of wisdom I've picked up being the reviewer for the Dragon Page. You simply cannot go wrong reading anything Tee Morris writes. You won't find a better blend of action, humor, suspense, and romance anywhere else.   [Read more...]

Review: "Ella Enchanted" - The Book

The DVD for Ella Enchanted has just come out recently, so I decided to go for a 2-4-1 deal. With my book review, you also get a brand new, one of a kind movie review at no extra charge! (Only at participating stores. Check local store for details. Offer does not include state and local taxes. Void where prohibited.)   [Read more...]

Elric

Think we should review comics? Hate the idea? Let us know... Michael Moorcock's Elric returns to comics with the legendary Walt Simonson delivering the artwork. What more could you want? Before Elric became the legendary figure fantasy fans know and love, he was a young man still trying to find his identity and carve his […]

Twisted Rhymes

Of all the forms of speculative fiction (i.e. science fiction, hard science fiction, space opera, space western, fantasy, dark fantasy, horror, time travel, magical realism, fairy tales, mythology, Authurian legend, chick fantasy, romantic horror, action/adventure fantasy, etc.), horror is easily my least favorite genre. I know all the monsters and demons are supposed to be evil incarnate, but I always find myself wondering why they have to be so mean, you know?

Also, I'm not a big poetry fan. I mean, shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Um... you're hot and sweaty and full of mosquitoes. Whose woods these are I don't think I know. I've seen lots of things more lovely than a tree. Stop with all the pretty words, just gimme the story.

So what do I get in the mail to review for the Dragon Page this week? I get a CD of horror poetry to review for chrissakes! Horror poetry!! And if you've ever read one of my reviews before then you knew by the second sentence that I'm going to give this CD a big thumbs up.

Twisted Rhymes, by Bob Harper, is a collection of ten horror stories told in rhyme. Each piece is performed to sound effects and music designed to compliment the narration.

I think one of the reasons I like these stories is that they are not so much scary or hateful as they are creepy. Mr. Harper is a good story teller, using rhythm and repetition to build the tension. Some of the stories, like Royal Blood, & And Nothing More, are more than a little influenced by Poe. They're mood pieces. Almost like appetizers for bigger and better things to come.

While the background sounds are used to great effect, I did wonder whether some of the stories wouldn't have been even more eerie if the background effects were removed, and all you heard was the narrator's voice. I imagined what it would be like to use the poems as a basis for a Halloween game in which the pieces are recited by individuals or groups trying to come up with the scariest performances. Dim the lights, ignite the candles, and tell the rhyming ghost stories.

Some of the stories were certainly better than others, but isn't that always the case? From the first few lines of track one, to the end of track ten, I wore a smile that never left my face. Can't ask for more than that.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Twisted Rhymes by Bob Harper
Published by: BHP Productions
Genre: Horror
Author's Webpage: www.horrorsound.com
  [Read more...]

Review: "Bride of the Fat White Vampire" by Andrew Fox

God, I love the sci-fi-fantasy-horror-magicrealism-pagan-mystic genres, cause every once in a while you come across a book like Bride of the Fat White Vampire, by Andrew Fox. Funny, clever, and highly entertaining.   [Read more...]

Review: The Piaculum

Just between you and me, I thought the life of a book reviewer would have more glamour to it, you know? A little cash, a little flash, a little redheaded something on my arm once in a while.

Nope. The life of a book reviewer sucks. No chicks. No cool cars. Have to dig around in the couch cushions for laundry money.

But sometimes I come across a book that makes me smile.   [Read more...]

The Luck of Madonna 13

Usually, as I'm reading a novel, I get an idea of how I'm going to start off the review. Usually a theme coalesces and is fully formed by the time I reach "The End." But with The Luck of Madonna 13, by E. T. Ellison, I honestly have no idea where to begin, other than to say that this is easily the weirdest book I have ever read. Which must be a good thing, as I whole-heartedly believe that was one of the author's intentions.

St. Coriander is an isolated, self-contained, and self-sufficient community in what used to be the southwestern United States. The town is based on a unique religion based around luck and probabilities. Glendyl Fenderwell, the town's luckiest sixteener, is awarded the great honor of going on a quest for the Last Nevergate, a quest no one has returned from alive. (Luckiest my white hairy ass.)

If that last paragraph made absolutely no sense, don't worry, you'll have that feeling for most of the time you're reading the novel. The book seems to be a gigantic exercise in science fiction world building more than anything else. And this is a big, complicated, multidimensional world created by an obvious madman who needs to be locked away before someone gets hurt. You have: clones, genetic engineering, parallel universes, world governments rising and falling, magic wands powered by orbital satellites, artificial intelligences, secret hundred year old schemes, talking book bags, twin on twin action, purple-and-yellow squirrels, and enough dates and names to make you hold your head and cry "make it stop!"

The Good: I've read quite a few self-published and small press books reviewing for the Dragon Page. This is one of the few books from a small press that I thought was written well enough to be published by a big press. Man, can E. T. Ellison write. It was almost distracting, as time and time again, I would read along, and stop, and re-read a line, and stop, and think, "wow, what a fantastic sentence," and move on. His knack with coming up with unusual yet spot-on metaphors is remarkable.

And while building strange, exciting new worlds to play with is nothing new in science fiction, the depth of back story and intricacy in Ellison's world staggers the mind. If you're a fan of series like Discworld, if you can talk for hours over Star Trek universe continuity, you'll pee your pants in excitement reading this book.

The Bad: If you don't care all that much about world building and invented histories and the like, you probably won't like this book. One of the bigger "controversies" concerning the book is that the first chapter, called Genesis, is a thirty-seven page appendix on the history of St. Coriander and the surrounding area. And it's at the beginning of the book. There are also detailed footnotes throughout the book, even in the appendix. If that weren't enough, in certain spots it refers the reader to find even more information on the Last Nevergate website. Many, many words have been dedicated to sculpting this world.

In fact, so much of the text is devoted to world building that I think the story suffers from it. After four hundred pages, I finished the book feeling I've only read the first act of a play. I generally dislike books that are obviously written as first volumes in a series, rather than as entire stories in and of themselves. I hate unresolved sub-plots, cliffhanger endings, and the like. The Luck of Madonna 13 begs for at least one more volume to finish the story.

The Ugly: As much as I liked Ellison's writing, I was disappointed in his dialogue. It read quite stilted in spots, and sometimes came across as silly. This didn't happen often, and I don't think most people would mind the style, but I'm picky about dialogue, and it bugged me a bit.

When it was all said and done, the book didn't disappoint, but didn't thrill me either. However, I have a feeling I'm in the minority. I see a bright future for The Chronicler.

The Luck of Madonna 13 was awarded ForeWord Magazine's Book of the Year award for 2002, and made January Magazine's list of the 92 best books of 2002.

Rating: 3 out of 5

The Luck of Madonna 13 by E. T. Ellison
Published by: Wynderry Press; July 2002
ISBN: 1931347131
Genre: Science Fiction
Author's Webpage: www.etellison.com

Author's Webpage: www.lastnevergate.com   [Read more...]

Review: "My Soul To Keep" by Tananarive Due

Tananarive Due writes a character driven adventure with an African-American heroine in a literary field of plot driven stories about white male heroes. That alone makes me recommend it. The fact that the book will chew you up, spit you out, and make you beg for more? Gravy.   [Read more...]