Friday October 4, 2013
Gravity is far and away the best hard-SF film I've ever seen. That doesn't make it the most fun I've had at the movies this year, but I can still tell when a film is actually good, and not just a good time.
There was one moment, just one, where the physics failed for me. I'll talk about it in the comments to avoid spoiling things for you. There may have been others, of course, but this film had me fully invested and totally sold so I only noticed the one. How did they film this without actually being in space? I have no idea.
I don't want to say much more than this. The film is a powerful ride, and the less you know about it the better the ride will be. I'll say this much, though: the soundtrack--not the musical OST, the film's audio component--took my breath away. Oh, and the musical bits were impressive enough that I bought them on iTunes before leaving the theater. But don't do that before seeing the movie. Track titles will give things away.
And do go see it. If you love science fiction, if you want science--more and harder--in your movies, this is one you don't want to miss, and it's one that you'll want to throw your support behind. As of this writing Gravity comes in at #7 for me for the year, easily clearing the Threshold of Awesome.
Wednesday October 2, 2013
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 was doing fine for the first five minutes, and then it fell apart for me.
The first five minutes were a recap of the first movie, with the insertion of the new movie's villain, plus a brilliant introduction of the cast of characters as they all agree to join Sam and Flynn in the creation of a lab. It was silly fun, with a pretty well-delivered monkey-poo joke. I was on board and invested.
Then we have our plot complication, a scattering of the cast, and a 6-months-later montage which, for me anyway, sucked all the energy out of the film, and squandered my investment. When we got everybody back together for the adventure it felt forced, and the roles they had promised us in that opening introduction sequence were mostly ignored.
See, it looked like we were going to get a "caper" film with a fun team of characters, but the "fun" was re-hashing of the last film's gags, the side characters were almost completely interchangeable, and the running theme seemed to be food+animal names = pun! Shrimpanzee! Watermelophant! Ad nauseum! Clever, but quickly boring. The Tacosaurus Supreme was pretty good, and made me hungry for tacos, but that's about the limit of my interest in those jokes.
Where the first film appeared to be doing throwaway gags, but then revealed each of them to be a promise that was later fulfilled, this movie made what felt like an obvious promise, and then wandered around in the food puns for an hour and a half, with dozens of throwaway gags and zero memorable callbacks. The closing credits did a better job of fulfilling promises to the viewer than the film itself did.
I did like how the TV with legs, which was the one invention in the first film that did not come into play during that film's final act, actually DID come into play here. Clearly SOMEBODY knew how these things are supposed to work. Ultimately, though, the film was disappointing. I think the first film is a great example of how a formula can be used correctly to make a silly story powerful. The second one is a great example of how a formula can be a crutch that bad storytelling kicks away. It might be fun to make a class project out of deconstructing both movies along these lines, but I've got other projects on my plate right now OH SNAP FOOD PUN... and that one was better than the ones in the movie.
This film comes in at #24 for me as of this writing, below the threshold of disappointment. Will it be fun for you and the kids? I don't know, but at the showing I attended none of the children in the audience were laughing. As barometers go, that one says "stay indoors and play Parcheesi."
Thursday September 26, 2013
I have three books to recommend to you. All three just came out this week, and as of this writing I've only completely read two of them, but since I contributed to the third I'm going to recommend all three.
The first is Steelheart, by Brandon Sanderson, which I just finished on Tuesday, the day it released. It's wonderful. It's much more tautly paced than Brandon's other recent books, and that's probably why I read it straight through when I should have been doing other things. Also, at 100,000-ish words long, it's actually possible for me to read it straight through. (I have it on very good authority that Brandon does us all the great kindness of deliberately NOT pacing his 250,000-word epic fantasies like this. People would die.)
Steelheart is a post-apocalyptic sci-fantasy adventure set in a sort-of-rebuilt Chicago. The apocalypse in question was the coming of the Epics -- super-powered humans who ruin everything, except not in a clumsy, collateral damage manner.
Did I mention that it's tight? Pay attention as you read, even though you'll be driven to read fast. The twists, turns, and reveals are rewarding, and in every case they fulfil "surprising yet inevitable" for me. It's a rare read that pulls this off so effectively.
The second book I'd like to recommend is The Scroll of Years, by Chris Willrich, which I cover-quoted after reading an ARC. Here's my cover-quote:
"Willrich puts the mystery back in magic and the majesty back in dragons. Gaunt and Bone are the Han and Leia of heroic fantasy." -- Howard Tayler
I was not paid to say that, unless you count getting an e-ARC as payment, which maybe you should because it really was that good.
Gaunt and Bone are our protagonists, a husband-and-wife team who have been there, done that, and bought a reputation far more eye-catching than any t-shirt. And it has caught up to them. And I'll admit, the story's structure eluded me in fun ways. Sure, I could probably deconstruct it and assign it a form I'm familiar with, but I was happier being surprised time and again by turns of events. Surprised, and ultimately delighted.
The book was edited by my friend Lou Anders, and I've come to really like the things he touches. I hadn't read Willrich's work until this book, but when another Gaunt and Bone story comes out I'll be acquiring it by whatever legal means remain at my disposal.
My third recommendation is Called to Battle, a collection from Privateer Press, which I mentioned in my previous blog post. I'm partial to this one because I wrote a 10,000-word novelette for it, and had a blast doing so. Have I mentioned that I'm a Privateer Press fanboy? I probably shouldn't, because I don't want them to think that I'd do this stuff without being paid.
Called To Battle features four stories, one from me, and one each from Larry Corriea, Erik Scott de Bie, and Orrin Grey. I haven't read the other three, but I have come to trust the editors at Privateer Press to give us the good stuff. And I'm not saying that because they're paying me to. In fact, they're NOT paying me to say that. I checked my contract.
So there you have it! Three books to choose from, good choices all! And best of all, unless you're resource-constrained, there is no requirement that you only pick one!
Monday September 23, 2013
I had insomnia one night at GenCon Indy, and during that sleepless night I wandered over to the convention center, brushed past Brandon Sanderson (who was schooling James Dashner in Magic: The Gathering), and sat down to write.
True story! GenCon, 2:00am, you may happen across amazing things...
During that writing jag I pushed through a particularly sticky patch in a novelette for Privateer Press. That novelette, sticky patch all unstuck and smoothed over, releases this Thursday as part of Called To Battle.
The heavily-armored gentleman on the far right of the cover is Arlan Strangewayes, arcane mechanic, and he's the wrench-slinging, battle-called protagonist in the story I wrote. I loved digging in to his character just a hair more than I loved tearing apart some steamjacks and talking about how the things actually work.
I haven't read any of the other stories in the collection, but I'm looking forward to them.
Saturday September 21, 2013
My friends at Mimic Miniatures finally got their Kickstarter off the ground! Earlier this year they Kinect-scanned a bunch of us creatorly-types at a convention, printed miniatures, and painted them in anticipation of the project. Here's how I turned out...
Their Kickstarter project is live! Go have a look!
(I said "they finally got it off the ground" -- I was waiting ALL SUMMER for this, and then when they launched it in late August I was in the middle of my Three-Con Death March. Right now the project is in its last ten days. I'm totally late to the party.)
If you were at Salt Lake Comic Con, these were the folks in the booth adjacent to mine. They were scanning cosplayers all weekend. What they were NOT doing, unfortunately, is printing them on site. I haven't looked at the business plan, but I suspect that if this project does well enough, that will happen at future shows, which, quite frankly, would be awesome.