26 September 2007

Big Trouble In Little China

Another old favorite rewatched, this film has lost none of it's charm over the years. The jokes, action and even the special effects hold up very well indeed.

This copy also had a commentary track with Carpenter and Russell, which was very funny. They said a fair amount about the film, but it seemed that primarily they were enjoying watching it again and catching up. Russell seemed to spend half the film laughing at whatever just happened, and they even digressed into asking about each others' kids at one point. Despite all this, it was good to listen to, because the amount of fun they had making the film really shines through. Worth a listen for fans, maybe not so much for others.

Shanghaied to the Moon by Michael Daley

A fun novel about a thirteen year old who wants to be a rocket pilot. Feels similar to Heinlein's novels for young adults in style. However, this one has a little more going on than those did. It turns out to be a little more grim than I expected, with the protagonist dealing with his mother's death in the course of his adventure (she was also a pilot, and died in a shuttle crash).

23 September 2007


It's hard to say much about a film you have watched this many times (this must have been the fifth or sixth). I'm going to bullet point the key things.
  • Some really good lines there ("He shoulda armed himself if he's gonna decorate his saloon with my friend").
  • Boy howdy is it a cynical picture of humanity. Or maybe just how humans get when there's no rule of law, to put the most positive spin on it that I can. Plus, the people killed, beaten and injured get theirs almost wholly irrespective of how much they deserve it - luck is the rule here.
  • Sure is some pretty cinematography.
  • Eastwood, Freeman, and Hackman are fantastic here.
  • Certainly one of the great westerns.

Academ's Fury by Jim Butcher

This is the second in the Alera series, after Furies of Calderon. It's notably better. The book starts a little slow, with several new characters as well as the existing ones mainly being in new situations. Once it gets going, however, it's exciting and hard to put down.

It still suffers from an excess of description, a common problem in fantasy novels. Butcher also splits the narrative a little too much. There are three main point of view characters, each with their own story, and a few others get a chapter here and there. I think I would have found the story more compelling if it just followed the main protagonist, Tavi, and we found out about the other events from his point of view or in shorter subplots. There's also a lot of made up words (well, use of Latin for a feel of Roman antiquity, I guess) which is something I no longer enjoy having to work through.

One thing that I really do like about this is that Tavi is really not a chosen one. He's negatively special, in that he's unique in his country for not being able to do magic. So he makes up for it by working really hard and aiming to out-think his opponents (who are used to relying on magic to do anything difficult). This theme was present in the first book as well, but wasn't really developed fully.

20 September 2007

Spook Country by William Gibson

Really great.

It's in the same style as Pattern Recognition (indeed, it shares some characters), and again deals with possible alternative uses of existing technology. It seems to me that Gibson's writing is getting more subtle each book, and this one is almost sparse. There aren't many wasted words.

It follows three different characters, all tied into a mystery, and they get chapters in turn. I've read some other books in this style recently, and this one shows how it should be done. Gibson's chapters are short and punchy, so you never have to think about what was happening to a character last time you were with them. A positive contrast to multi-character stories that seem to use this as a way to essentially fit multiple novels into one book.

17 September 2007

Soldier of Sidon by Gene Wolfe

Wolfe's books Soldier of the Mist and Soldier of Arete are amongst my favorites of his work, so I was pleased to see that he's written a third volume.

The stories follow Latro, a Roman mercenary, who suffered a head injury that makes him forget everything after a day or so. He also gained the ability to see gods and monsters. The conceit of the books is that he wrote down the events of each day to remember them, and that Wolfe is merely translating the found scrolls.

The first two books deal with his travels in Greece during the Persian War, as he seeks both a cure and his home.

This one deals with another journey he made, after finding his home but still not able to remember from day to day. He has come to Egypt to attempt to find a cure there, and he gets involved in a journey up the Nile.

In style, the story is much as the others, with Latro perhaps the ultimate in unreliable narrators. The depiction of ancient Egypt complete with the supernatural beings as believed in at the time is fantastic.

16 September 2007

Neon Genesis Evangelion

I started watching this mainly because it keeps getting mentioned in relation to Bliss Stage, which I'm pretty interested in right now. Last night I watched the last few episodes.

It's kind of hard to look back on, due to the fact that the different parts of the series have very different styles. The middle part, in which the action is pretty much constant and the characters are most well developed, is fantastic. Before then, it starts a little slowly. Finally, at the end, it goes into full-blown crazy psychological stuff that is fairly unclear.

Anyhow, it's a cool study of some fucked up people given terrible things that (they believe) are necessary to save humanity. The protagonist's entire story is about having the courage to do what he has to versus his desire to run away and have a normal life again. His father, a remote and hostile figure in control of the EVA robot program, has pretty much decided what needs to be done and resists any deviation from his plan (which later turns out to be diverging somewhat from the plan his bosses intend him to carry out). The other characters generally seem to include variations on these sort of stories, too.

The animation quality varies somewhat - at it's best, there are some very good sequences, but sometimes it's pretty lazy (stills montages, characters talking while their mouths are covered to save on animation, shots that just plain aren't animated that well).

It's a good one to watch, but doesn't challenge Cowboy Bebop as my favorite animated series.

The Pirates in an Adventure with Communists by Gideon Defoe

Probably the funniest pirates book yet. In this episode, the Pirate Captain ends up helping save Karl Marx and indeed the entire Communist movement. There are some hiccups along the way, such as when the Pirate Captain suspects Marx's beard might me more luxuriant than his own.

10 September 2007

The Bourne Ultimatum

Fine action movie here. The plot seems to have been edited down to a point where there are holes bigger than what remains, but this doesn't prevent it holding together the three key action sequences that are what the film's really about.

This is as good as the first two films in the series, maybe better.

Nova Swing by M John Harrison

A bizarre science fiction novel. It's kind of a hard-boiled detective story, set in a city which has some kind of rift to a dangerous, dreamlike place. The story focuses on a guy who escorts people into this area, and a detective investigating anomalies coming out. There's a background of crazy advanced technology, too, which means even some of the stuff that's normal to the characters is strange to the reader.

It ends up being a meditation on humanity, I suppose, but without the lack of story that would often imply.

07 September 2007

If Chins Could Kill by Bruce Campbell

This autobiography is both very funny and has a lot of interesting bits and pieces about his career.

06 September 2007

Ragamuffin by Tobias Buckell

Exciting space opera in a badass human rebels throw off the evil alien empire mold.

The author makes a few cuts from the action to wholly new characters and plots, which I found disconcerting. I think this kind of multi-threaded plot works better if you introduce all of them at the beginning, rather than staggered through the novel. Especially as this means that you get moved from character A doing some exciting stuff to a new character D who is just starting their story arc (i.e. not doing anything exciting just yet). I think there's an underappreciation of just telling a story from beginning to end these days. But that's not really a big deal.

05 September 2007

Napoleon's Pyramids by William Dietrich

A fairly straightforward and fun adventure story about an American who ends up accompanying Napoleon's expedition to Egypt. Of course, he ends up involved with ancient Egyptian cults, evil Freemasons and various other bad sorts along the way.

One interesting point (mild spoiler) is that, for all the religious mysteries and hints of ancient alchemical knowledge (and so on), nothing magical actually happens. Plenty of unlikely coincidences, of course, but heroism gets out man and his companions out of those.

04 September 2007

Mother Aegypt by Kage Baker

This is a collection of short stories. The first three deal with characters and places from The Anvil of the World and are just as good as the novel. The others are of varying quality, with a few gems in there.

03 September 2007

Bright of the Sky by Kay Kenyon

A very good fantasy novel. In fact this might be hard fantasy, in that there are some (admittedly fairly weird) physics behind the fantasy world, and not really any magic.

It's set in the future, and the main character is a starship pilot. He lost his ship, and later turned up somewhere far removed claiming he and his wife and daughter had been in another world. Once further evidence of this world appears, his old employers get him to go back and explore for them.

The world was fascinating, and I really enjoyed finding out all the little bits about it as the book went on, despite generally being bored to tears by fantasy novelists showing off their world. I think the main difference here is that the world is actually quite original and interesting (with not an elf, dwarf or wizard to be see).

On top of that, the main characters are all interesting. In particular, Quinn the pilot, who is perhaps the most bitter person imaginable after all that has happened to him, and who agrees to the company's mission as a way to get back and find his family.

Good stuff, I look forward to the second one in the series

02 September 2007

Wolf of the Plains by Conn Iggulden

This is the first of a series about Genghis Khan. It is just as exciting as his books about Julius Caesar, but I found it more interesting purely due to knowing less about Mongolian history.

It's clear that the story is based on the myths of the life as much as the history (and, from the sounds of it, the only extant history is pretty much the same).