For Father’s Day, we went out to see Man of Steel. I had been seeing mixed reactions over this one, and been (willingly) spoiled for one of the things that happens at the end, so my expectations weren’t tremendous. Memories of Superman Returns probably helped keep my hopes from getting overly high. But going in with that mindset, I mostly enjoyed the movie. I liked Amy Adams as Lois Lane a lot, and thought Henry Cavill made a pretty good Superman. Laurence Fishburne was sadly wasted in his role as Perry White. I liked a lot of what Russell Crowe did as Jor-El, though.
I think Christopher Reeve will always be my Superman, just like David Tennant will always be my Doctor. Reeve brought a bit more fun and heart, and a less angst. But unlike Superman Returned, which tried and failed to duplicate what had been done before, Man of Steel tried to do something new, and I give them points for that.
Storywise, the last thing I’ll say before moving into spoiler territory is when they do Man of Steel II, I’d like More Character Development and Less Destroying ALL THE THINGS, please.
My wife has been reading the goblin books to my eight-year-old son. Earlier this week, they finished the final book in the trilogy, Goblin War [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy]. I admit, I’m a little sad. This has been an amazing thing to watch. Toward the end, I found myself sneaking over to the couch to listen to my wife read and watch Jackson’s reactions. When I tucked him in at night, we’d talk about the latest chapter and what he thought might happen next.
But then I realized it’s not quite over! I’ve got five goblin short stories they can read, too! We started in on “Goblin Lullaby,” which has already led to some diaper-related laughter
In the meantime, here are Jackson’s thoughts on Goblin War, as transcribed by me.
What is Goblin War about?
It’s about Jig and how he and Shadowstar have to defeat Billa and her god Issa. Relka, who was stabbed in the belly by Jig in Goblin Hero, became obsessed with Jig and Shadowstar. And Darnak comes back, because Theodore got the Rod of Creation. He used it to [SPOILER]!
Who are your favorite characters, and why?
Jig, because he’s the main character. And Tymalous Shadowstar, the other main character. I like them.
What about the other characters?
Yeah, I liked them too. I really liked how you made Noc and Issa.
What was the best part of the story?
I can’t decide. It’s too good!
Okay, what were some of the best parts?
I liked when it showed about Jig as a baby.
Let’s see… Don’t type that. Daddy!
I liked when Jig, Relka, and Trok had to clean the wolf pen. Smelly (one of the wolves) rolled around in the poop!
Were there any parts you didn’t like?
What’s the best book, Goblin Quest, Goblin Hero, or Goblin War?
Who should read this book?
I always say that, because I really like them.
What do you think will happen to Jig and the goblins next?
I think that more characters will come back, either Veka or Riana.
Star Trek: Of Gods and Men is an interesting phenomenon. It’s a fan-made film, but one done with at least the tacit acceptance of the powers that be. I picked this up after watching and enjoying another fan0-made Trek film, World Enough and Time.
Of Gods and Men is set about twelve years after the “death” of Captain Kirk on board the Enterprise B (in Star Trek: Generations). Starfleet has built a replica of the original USS Enterprise, a kind of museum and tribute. Captains Nyota Uhura and Pavel Chekov are in attendance, along with Captain John Harriman (captain of the Enterprise B). A time disturbance leads them to the planet of the Guardian of Forever, where Charlie X (from the original episodes, now 40 years older) is seeking revenge on Kirk. He escapes into the guardian and changes history…
The result is a mirror universe-like empire, the “Galactic Order,” made up of humans, Klingons, and more. Uhura is married to Stonn on Vulcan, which has remained neutral in the face of the Galactic Order’s oppression. Chekov is now a ruthless freedom fighter. And Harriman is still captain of the Enterprise, but he now serves the Galactic Order. Thus the film’s tagline, “Legends come together one last time…to destroy each other.”
While it opened kind of slowly, and the special effects were a bit uneven, I loved seeing some of the classic actors again. Nichelle Nichols will always be awesome, and while Walter Koenig sometimes seemed a bit tired, I really liked him as Kittrick the freedom fighter. We also got Trek alumni like Tim Russ as Tuvok, Grace Lee Whitney as Janice Rand, Chase Masterson, Ethan Phillips, and many more.
I’m having a hard time trying to evaluate this thing. Some of the plot elements were familiar, particularly after the J. J. Abrams Star Trek reboot. On the other hand, Of Gods and Men came out two years before the Abrams movie, which raises a few questions in the back of my mind… But even aside from that, the broken timeline isn’t exactly a new approach in Star Trek or science fiction in general. But it worked. It gave us a plausible story, and allowed the creators to bring back a number of characters from the old series. The tension didn’t exactly have me gripping my seats, but I stayed to watch the whole thing when I should have been working.
Familiarity with the old series will help. Otherwise, there are a lot of characters and references that probably won’t make a lot of sense. But as someone who grew up on original Trek, it was fun to see everyone coming together again.
My only other two comments are that the final battle dragged on a bit, and the Uhura/Stonn thing didn’t make sense to me, particularly given Stonn’s character in the original series. That said, it was a lot of fun to revisit Star Trek, and this had more of the original Star Trek feel than the Abrams reboot.
Also recommended: Star Trek: World Enough and Time. I believe both this and Of Gods and Men can be viewed online for free, as well as ordered on DVD from their respective websites.
He and my wife finished reading Goblin Hero [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] last night, so I asked him to share his thoughts again. I was nervous, because he had said the first chapter was kind of slow. I also introduced a second point of view character in this book, and he didn’t really like Veka’s chapters, at least in the beginning. But by the end, he seemed to be really enjoying the story. Even the gross bits. (Glowing pee!!!)
Jackson would like everyone to know that there are SPOILERS in his review.
What is Goblin Hero about?
It’s about Jig, who has to kill the pixie queen, and Veka, who wants to be a hero, but she can’t really. None of the things that she did were in her book* except [SPOILER ALERT!] slaying a dragon, and that wasn’t really direct, but I guess a giant flying snake is kind of like a dragon.
*The Path of the Hero, Wizard’s Ed., by Josca. It’s a book Veka carries around that supposedly tells her how to become a hero. Naturally, shenanigans ensue.
Who is your favorite character?
I like Braf, but he’s not my favorite. He’s funny, and I like what he did to avoid getting killed by the other goblins. He just plays dumb. Jig is my favorite. He was in the last book. Of course, in the last book, most of the people were bad guys, and they were treating Jig like a slave. The only two good guys in Goblin Quest were Jig and Riana.
I liked them. Veka, well, I liked her, but what she was doing to try to help the pixies, I didn’t like that. I think you made more Veka chapters than there were Jig chapters. Jig chapters were my favorite.
The best part was when Jig found out [SPOILER ALERT!] that he couldn’t get affected by the pixie queen because he would be looking at her through two steel circles*, and steel is what the pixies call death metal. It’s the only thing powerful enough to kill a pixie!
Were there any parts you didn’t like?
There were some chapters I didn’t really like, but I don’t really remember them.
Which is better, Goblin Quest or Goblin Hero?
I can’t pick.
Who should read this book?
What do you think is going to happen in Goblin War?
I do not know. I’d like to see Riana coming back in her [SPOILER ALERT!] dragonchild form.
The story behind this book is almost as interesting as the book itself. Buckell talks here about how he used Kickstarter to successfully reboot this series. I haven’t seen the ebook, but I can tell you the hardcover is gorgeous. More about that later, though…
The Apocalypse Ocean continues Buckell’s tradition of blending larger-than-life characters (Pepper and Nashara are back!) and … well, let’s call them “life-sized” characters for comparison. Tiago is a boy doing his best to survive on Placa del Fuego, an island where acidic, flammable rains are only the least of people’s troubles. Placa del Fuego is a dead zone, where little technology functions, and an alien known as the Doaq roams the streets at night, devouring all who oppose it. Tiago is a clever but low-level pickpocket, and his Fagin is Kay, a woman raised and engineered on a hellish alien world who’s determined to run Placa del Fuego for herself. Unfortunately, their island is about to be caught in the middle of a galactic conflict…
It’s been four and a half years since I read and reviewed Sly Mongoose, the previous book in the series, and I stumbled a few times as a result of my own forgetfulness about what had happened. The new book does stand on its own, but it will mean more if you’re familiar with the first three.
You can tell Buckell knows his world and his characters very well, and has spent a lot of time developing both. From the smallest details of the home Tiago shares to the sweeping history and conflicts of the wormhole network, he’s gone beyond surface flash to consider the implications and possibilities of his worldbuilding. The Doaq uses a horrifying but fascinating version of wormhole technology, for example.
All in all, it’s a strong, engaging adventure, one that leaves me hoping for a fifth book in this universe.
As an author myself, I was fascinated by the way this book came about. Buckell has always been near the forefront of publishing, following and analyzing the trends, and doing a good job of taking advantage of new possibilities. So I wasn’t surprised to see him try Kickstarter, nor was I surprised to see him succeed. Physically speaking, this hardcover is as good or even better quality than a lot of what I’ve seen from professional publishers. I did notice a few typos, but nothing that threw me out of the story. Buckell put a lot of work and care into this book, and it shows.
A week or so back, my wife sat down and started reading Goblin Quest [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy] to my son Jackson. To be honest, this made me nervous. I wrote this book more than a decade ago, and while some people have loved it, no book works for everyone. What if he didn’t like it? What if he didn’t get the humor? What if it was just too old for him?
Basically, I was more worried about what my seven-year-old boy thought of my book than I was about what my editor thought of the Codex Born draft.
I’m happy to say he loved it. Night after night when I put him to bed, he’d ask me questions about the goblins and the hobgoblins and the dragon, and told me what he thought would happen next. He even guessed where the Rod of Creation would be found. The first time the forgotten god Tymalous Shadowstar spoke to Jig the goblin, Jackson literally gasped. He giggled when Smudge set various people and things on fire. He worried about Riana and Jig, and got mad at the adventurers for how they treated Jig.
I’ve gotten some great reviews for this book. Wil Wheaton called it “too f***ing cool for words.” Ed Greenwood loved it. Fans have made crocheted goblins and gotten tattoos of Jig or Smudge.
But this review is at the top of my list. Watching and listening to his reactions as my wife read the story has been one of the best experiences in almost 20 years of writing.
With that said, let’s find out what he thought of the book.
What is Goblin Quest about?
You should know that. You wrote it!
Okay, fine. What do you think Goblin Quest is about?
I think it’s about the first goblin that goes on an adventure. Jig was on muck duty, and then Porak and the rest of his patrol took him out and sent him ahead so they could play games and not technically abandon their duties. But they really did abandon their duties, but Jig didn’t. He did their duties for them, and he got captured by a group of adventurers that were on a quest to find the Rod of Creation.
Who was your favorite character?
Jig, because he’s he main character, and I think he’s pretty cool.
What did you think of the other characters?
I liked it when Jig was talking to the adventurers in English, but then he talked to the other goblins in Goblin, except that he forgot that Darnak could speak Goblin. Uh oh…
What was the best part of the story?
For me, it was when they found out that [SPOILER ABOUT THE ROD OF CREATION].
Were there any parts you didn’t like, or that you thought were too scary?
I didn’t like when Riana was picking one of the Necromancer’s locks and it started to turn her into one of the walking corpses, a zombie, basically. It was scary.
Who do you think should read this book?
What are you and Mama going to read next?
I remember seeing an ad last year for the Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who crossover from IDW. So when I found myself with a B&N gift card (courtesy of my mother-in-law — thank you!), I hopped online and ordered volumes 1 and 2 of Assimilation, which reprint the entire eight-issue run.
The cover tells you everything you need to know. The Doctor and his companions (Amy and Rory) hop over to the universe of the Enterprise D. There, they find that the Cybermen have forged an alliance with the Borg. Voila: instant profit story.
It’s a fun idea, right up there with “Enterprise vs. Death Star” and “Buffy & Scoobies vs. The Smurfs.” But while the story tried to go beyond that fannish “What if?” it only partially succeeded.
There’s a convenient side plot about an oceanic mining operation that doesn’t really add anything. We do get a flashback to a former incarnation of the Doctor meeting up with the original Enterprise crew, which was rather fun. And we see Picard struggling to overcome his trauma with the Borg. While that’s a powerful, painful thing to watch, it’s also something we’ve seen before in the series and in First Contact.
The Borg/Cyberman vs. the Doctor/Federation is the big conflict here, but I think the conflict between Picard and the Doctor was far more interesting. Both are good, strong, stubbornly determined characters whose style couldn’t be more different. I wish we had seen more of their struggle to stop butting heads and finding a way to work together.
Also, more of Rory and Worf teaming up, please. I would read an entire comic about that duo. Guinan and the Doctor were fun too.
The artwork…okay, I’m not a comics reader, but the art did not impress me. Some of it was decent, but mostly it felt rushed.
Is this great literature? Not so much. On the other hand, I didn’t order them expecting great literature. I ordered them because it was an idea that hit me right in my inner fanboy. Could it have been better? Absolutely. But the toy inside gives you exactly what it promises on the box.
Now, when are we getting the crossover where Torchwood goes up against Q?
I’ve wanted to talk about How to Train Your Dragon for a while now, and last week’s review of Merrie Haskell’s Handbook for Dragon Slayers and the resulting comments about disability in fiction made me finally sit my butt down to do it.
I love this movie. I love the story, I love the message and themes, I love the humor … there’s very little it gets wrong, in my opinion. I would have appreciated more female characters, but even there, as I understand it, the movie improves on the source material.
The story is pretty straightforward. Hiccup is basically a nerd among Vikings. He works as an apprentice to the village blacksmith, but he lacks the physical strength and battle prowess of his fellow Vikings, and is more interested in gadgets and inventions that don’t always work. Oh, and his village is constantly fighting off dragons.
I’m rather fond of Jay Baruchel, the actor who voices Hiccup. He’s got a very distinctive voice, and his sardonic and often self-deprecating tone works for me.
During one dragon raid, Hiccup manages to shoot down a Night Fury, the deadliest breed of dragons. The Night Fury’s tail is crippled, leaving it unable to fly. Hiccup tracks where the dragon fell, planning to finish it off and prove himself, but he can’t do it. Instead, he studies and slowly befriends the dragon, which he names Toothless (because Night Furies have retractable teeth).
Toothless is awesome. The expressiveness and humor the animators capture in every scene is amazing. This dragon, who never says a word, is a better actor and character than most humans. I love the details, whether it’s watching him scorch a circle and turn around before settling down to sleep, or the obvious love and loyalty he develops for Hiccup. (Love and loyalty which are returned in full.)
Some of what follows is predictable, of course. Hiccup uses his secret dragon knowledge to impress the other Vikings and improve his standing, only to fall when the truth comes out. There’s a low-key romantic thing between Hiccup and Astrid. The dragons turn out to be more than simple livestock thieves, and there’s a big old battle at the end. While the twists aren’t entirely original, they’re well done and engaging.
But one of the things I most respect about this movie is how it handles disability.
I reviewed Merrie Haskell’s first book about a year ago. The Princess Curse was a retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, meaning Haskell has officially usurped me as Head of the Michigan Fairy Tale Princess Mafia. At ConFusion last month, she was kind enough to give me a copy of her new book Handbook for Dragon Slayers [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], which comes out at the end of May.
This is a middle grade title about Tilda, a young princess who’s much more interested in writing her own book than she is in being a princess. Particularly given how little her people seem to like her. Born with a deformed leg that requires her to use a cane to get around, she often finds herself the target of whispers and gossip and general nastiness. So when the bad guy sets out to steal her lands and title, Tilda considers it no real loss.
I haven’t done a lot of middle grade reading–something I need to remedy–but Handbook follows the pattern I’ve seen of focusing more on internal conflicts and development than external plot. An “adult” novel would generally focus more on the central conflict between Tilda and the would-be usurper. Whereas this novel jumps around a bit more, plotwise, in order to show us how Tilda grows and changes. The story includes a pair of would-be dragon slayers, Elysian horses, the Wild Hunt, evil magic, and perhaps my favorite bit character, Curschin the dragon.
I appreciated the way Haskell addressed Tilda’s handicap, neither shying away from the pain and complications it presented, nor trying to give us a feel-good Message about overcoming disability. My wife has been dealing with chronic pain for many years, and often requires a cane to get around, so Tilda’s struggle felt familiar. But this wasn’t a book about a disabled character; it was a book about a character who happened to have a disability.
There were a few points where I stumbled. The book doesn’t exactly take place in our world, but there are references to Plato and Christmas, things that were just discordant enough to bump me out of the story. There were also one or two plot points that seemed a little too convenient or unexplained. The story about the girl who wants desperately to be a writer could easily become self-indulgent, but Haskell manages it well, focusing on the character’s love and excitement and never slipping into “Writers are awesome!” or inside jokes/commentary.
Overall, this was a quick and enjoyable read, with a range of good, strong characters both male and female.
Handbook for Dragon Slayers has the official approval of the ex-head of the Princess Mafia.
We saw The Hobbit on New Year’s Day, and overall, I enjoyed it. It did feel occasionally bloated, but there were other additions I appreciated and enjoyed. “Riddles in the Dark” was, as many have said already, one of the best parts of the film. While I don’t think it was as strong as Lord of the Rings, that would be a pretty high bar to reach.
That said, the movie did have some problems. I have no taste for fat jokes, which felt like pretty much all they did with the character of Bombur. The stone giants seemed completely random and unnecessary to the story. But my biggest complaint, which will probably come as no surprise, was the way the story treated the goblins.
In Lord of the Rings, our heroes slaughtered an awful lot of orcs. Orcs were the stormtroopers of Middle Earth, generic villains who could be killed with little to no remorse, because they’re all Evil. On the other hand, Lord of the Rings took place in a time of war. The orcs we saw were generally soldiers sent out to hunt and kill humans and other races. The Uruk-hai were specifically created to be evil killing machines.
But then we get to The Hobbit. The dwarves take shelter in a cave, and find themselves tumbling into the goblin kingdom under the mountain. They’re taken prisoner and brought to the goblin king, and oversized and grotesque creature. The dwarves, with Gandalf’s help, eventually break free and fight their way out. In the process, they pretty much Kill All The Goblins.
This scene drags on and on. Goblins are smashed with rocks, stabbed with swords, chopped with axes, knocked into the abyss, and generally massacred left and right.
As a mental exercise, how do you think a party of goblins would have been treated had they stumbled into a dwarf kingdom? They’d have been taken prisoner, hauled in front of the authorities, and probably sentenced to death for the crime of being goblins. How is what the goblins did any different? Yet we’re supposed to sympathize and cheer as the heroes kill every goblin they come across?
Exercise the second: remember toward the beginning of the movie, when they’re talking about how most of these dwarves aren’t really warriors? Yet they killed all of those goblins without a single casualty. What does that tell you about the goblins they were fighting? Those goblins weren’t trained or experienced fighters. They couldn’t have been. Most of them were probably just minding their own business and got caught up in the chaos.
Yeah, I have a soft spot for goblins, but this was just thoughtless storytelling. It felt almost pornographic in a way. Instead of Debbie Does Dallas, we get Gandalf Guts Goblins.
I can appreciate a good fight scene. This wasn’t one. This was empty hack and slash, and I want better.