Wednesday February 12, 2014
I picked up The Martian on the strength of Annalee Newitz's review of it on io9, and realized after reading the excerpt that the author, Andy Weir, was a webcartoonist at one point (Casey & Andy, back to haunt him!), and also happened to be an old friend of Sandra's.
Look, I'm not in the habit of reading books just because they were written by an ex-webtooning friend-of-a-friend , even if the "of-a-friend" friend is my best friend ever. I'm in the habit of reading books that I think I'll like, and based on the excerpt I was pretty sure I'd like this one.
The Martian is, bar none, the best hard science fiction I've ever read. I don't know what Andy Weir's background is, or who helped him with some of this research, but every bit of science in this book with which I had passing familiarity passed with flying colors. The pieces I wasn't sure about? Well, Andy sold me on them. The potentially boring bits (exploring the chemistry of hydrazine, for instance, which isn't at all boring if you have a sense of the energies involved, but I digress) were covered entertainingly, and on the few occasions where I decided to skim I only skimmed for a couple of paragraphs because I could tell a bad thing was going to happen and oh crap I'm so tense and...
Folks, this is hard science fiction, and it's a thriller, and it's brilliant.
What's it about? Man gets stranded on Mars, lost and left for dead in an emergency mission-abort event. Based on the mission specs, he can probably survive for six months. The next landing isn't for years, and it's 3,000 kilometers away besides.
I plowed through it yesterday, and while the book has some flaws and shortcomings (the first POV-shift from the 1st-person journal format was jarring, and could have been telegraphed better, but I DON'T CARE) none of them are show-stoppers.
It released this week. I'd love to see Andy's career take off, and I have no doubt that this is the right launch vehicle for it (pun unavoidable.) Buying the book this week is the best way for you to support a new author, and if you like hard science fiction (note: Schlock Mercenary isn't really hard science fiction, though I'm tickled that some of you call it that) The Martian by Andy Weir delivers the goods.
Monday February 10, 2014
I'm not a fine artist. Many, many of my classes were held in the Harris Fine Arts Center on BYU campus, however, so I do have some fine-artsy leanings, and that means that The Monuments Men, a story of art experts going to Europe in the final years of World War II in order to rescue as much fine art and architecture as possible, was bound to appeal to me.
Which it did. I really enjoyed it.
It was not an exciting action happy fun boom movie, though. It had a more sedate pace, and even the scenes with fighting in them were kind of leisurely, at least by the standards set by my usual fare. Will you enjoy it? I have no idea.
I also have no idea whether it was true to the source material, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert Edsel, let alone true to the historical facts in the matter, but I'll say this much -- this did not feel like an action movie representation of 20th-century warfare and espionage. It felt like real people being heroic, terrified, miserable, and courageous in various combinations. I'm sure some of the pacing was Hollywood Artifice, especially at the end, but there was very little in the way of running gunfight.
Some reviewers have complained about the film's tendency to ramble. I kind of liked it. I can spot the enforcement of formula a long way off, and The Monuments Men didn't do that. Oh, there were callbacks and payoffs and running gags and so forth, but they seemed pretty natural, and I had a great time.
Is it worth seeing at the local dodecaplex? I hesitate to tell you how to spend your time and money, but I believe this is at the very least worth renting when that option becomes available. In my own personal scale The Monuments Men doesn't crack the Threshold of Awesome, but it also did not disappoint. It's my #2 for the year as of this writing.
Saturday February 8, 2014
Let's get this out of the way: this film is going to sell a lot of Legos.
I'm okay with that. I had a great time at the show. The animation was wonderful, the story was the sort of over-the-top goofy/awesome stuff that you'd expect from the mind of a clever 10-year-old, and they hung a lantern on that. Liam Neeson and Morgan Freeman were voicing caricatures of some of their most memorable parts, and they did so with scenery-chewing abandon.
There were jokes meant for the grown-ups (or at least for those with a couple of decades of pop-culture immersion) and there were moments meant for the kids. And the ultimate peril these Legos face, well... it's perilous, and believable in spite of all the silly.
It's a Warner Brothers feature, so Lego Batman gets plenty of screen time while Lego Star Wars only gets a cameo, but you probably wouldn't notice the IP ownership boundaries without someone calling attention to them.
The Lego Movie holds my #1 slot for the (admittedly quite young) year. Convention travel makes it unlikely I'll be able to see it again with my 10-year-old, and that's going to save me a ton of money on popcorn and bricks.
UPDATED TO ADD...
Belatedly, I figured out how to articulate something important: I'm okay with this movie as a commercial for Legos, because it was also sort of a Public Service Announcement for Legos. Sure, there's product placement, but there's also a whole lot of message about why this toy is such an important part of so many people's lives. That may sound heavy, I know, but it's definitely in there, and I'm definitely okay with that.
Wednesday February 5, 2014
I'll be attending RadCon 6B next weekend, February 14-16 at the Red Lion in Pasco Washington. Since I'm their Artist Guest of Honor I got to do a bunch of original work just for the convention, including art for the badges, some single-panel gags for the convention book, the tee-shirt art, and of course the cover for the convention booklet.
The theme they asked me to work within was "Science Fiction vs. Science Fact." Here is the raw cover art I came up with.
I call it "I've Got This, Guys."
There's lots of blank space here for the convention to put words and stuff, so I'm excited to see what the final booklet looks like. The convention begins in about a week, and if you're in the area you should come see me! And not just me, US! The Writer Guest of Honor is Mike Resnick, the Music Guest is The Great Luke Ski, and the list of visiting professionals scrolls for quite a while.
(Note: I don't know what the "6B" means, but I'm pretty sure it's not hexadecimal, since 107 is a big number of times for a convention.)
Saturday February 1, 2014
I've read several debut novels over the years, most by authors who've gone on to do quite well for themselves, and I can confidently state that Promise of Blood, by Brian McClellan, is the best of them.
By the end of the first chapter I was hooked. By the third point-of-view switch I was amazed. McClellan was juggling characters like an old hand, and this was supposedly his first book. He was drawing me into his mythos and world without lengthy exposition, moving seamlessly from action to dialog and back, teaching me what to expect from this world he created, and I never felt "taught." Only entertained.
That takes real chops, that does. Many writers don't develop that level of skill until their five millionth word, if ever. And McClellan does it straight out of the gate.
Also, he created a fantasy world with gunpowder, magic, and "powder mages." It's right there on the cover. Setting is not story, of course, but McClellan hooked me with both.
So... go get the book.
Funny story, now: I was at Legendary ConFusion, and Brian McClellan was one of the authors with whom I was hanging out. The others, including Myke Cole and Peter Brett, were talking up Brian's book, which was (and still is, as of this writing) on sale. So I snagged it for $2 thinking "what the heck?"
Then I saw Brian in the Reddit Room, and he had a mousepad I recognized. It was ancient, with the wrist-grime of ages upon it, and it didn't take me much mental math to figure out that Brian had been a Schlock Mercenary fan since long before he was published.
Let me be up front about something: if you like my work, that's no guarantee that I'll like yours, let alone blog about it this gushingly. But when I dove into Promise of Blood I realized that this was epic fantasy written straight at my particular tastes. And you, fair reader, should take careful note of this, because if you like the things that I make (a fair bet, considering you were here on the site, and found this blog post) I think you're extremely likely to enjoy what Brian McClellan has written. And will yet write.
Two bucks, folks. It's still on sale, and I think you should get in on the ground floor.