Temptation…

I am very tempted with the DC Universe service. I have a long fondness for the characters, and I am very intrigued by the Doom Patrol trailor.

But I really don’t believe in subscribing to more than 2 services. I was interested in getting Disney service due to the Clone Wars… but my faith there is not strong.  DC already crashed and burned when bringing the dark, nihilistic Batman into a shared universe. It almost had to go up. Diana and Arthur did it right, and Billy has the right optimism, too.

The issue is that I am fond of my cable lineup and I am not sure I can convince anyone in my family to drop a tier.

Discovery?

Federation Symbol – Star Trek

I’ve been a fan of Gene Roddenberry’s universe for a long time. I’m especially fond of IDIC and finding other solutions instead of clinging to the no-win ones. It was occasionally preachy, but especially the original series knew when it was time to fight and when to have a laugh. One of the lead principals during the Great Bird of the Galaxy’s lifespan, was that violence should not be the first reaction* and understanding is better than bombs. The later and later the series, and the more they tend to get caught up in the biggest issue of the day in heavy-handed ways and bigger explosions and lens flares. One feature said a work-life balance is good, but you don’t have families on a flag ship that will encounter combat. Each show has had at least one flaw, though I think the later casts should have been a little smaller to allow time for development and still tell good plots.

But now CBS/CBS Access is doing a new series, only ten years before the original series. So we could run into the Enterprise under Captains April or Pike. Spock is a young science officer and Kirk a junior officer on the Farragut. *One of the interesting things in the story was whether the Federation can shoot first? Can Han Solo shoot first? Do to follow traditional Federation/western culture of your own culture or adapt the the alien culture? Of course, the teaser tonight didn’t give the old answer.

I don’t know the result, and may not until I might use christmas giftings. Paid subscriptions to get only a fraction of the field, just can’t fit my budget. No Defenders, no Westworld, no Star Trek. I can afford a little more than basic cable, but I already spend too much on video content. I have a senior mother and midway home repairs and I think I speak for many when I say enough to all these companies who want me to subscribe to their corner of the pool.

Tonight the first half of the pilot was on open TV. Seeing the second part depends on getting that subscription. I like some of the characters, and one in particular reminds me of Chamberlin. Some characters already look strong and the near season big bad looks good. I do have two things that seem minor, but were very distracting and annoying. 1)The opening sucked. Schematics against a so-so score were not engaging, did not engage the imagination, or sweep us away. The show is supposed to be about exploration and discovery, and we see blueprints for a phaser. Where’s the spacescapes? Where’s the captain’s voiceover that states the purpose and theme of the show, the goal for the crew of the USS Shenzhou or Discovery. The opening shows a lack of focus and so many SF shows wander off and lose what starts as good. The opening reminds the viewers and the makers of the purpose of the ship. This one looks as much like an opening for How It’s Made…

Another annoyance was that the subtitles for the klingons had many lines in a short time. The subtitles were white on an often bright/torches background and ran faster than we could read. Surely it isn’t that hard to put a shadow behind the text so there is a contrast. Or anytime an alien tongue takes more than 5 minutes if airtime and long dialogues, switch to english. Few people have learned conversational klingon. Those scenes went on way, way too long and the captioning was inadequate for people with visions issues. Even someone with okay vision could not read it fast enough for someone who could not. It takes much longer to piece it out when there is little contrast.

Now those were my only objections to the teaser and I give it a cautious thumb’s up.


I’ve seen two episodes of the Orville, and it also gets a cautious thumb’s up. I like the humor, SF is often too grim. The second episode actually reminded me of “the Menagerie.” The characters are being established at a good rate, with a better slope to the threat level. It goes a little too sophomoric but it’s not only on open channels, but also rerun on an FX cable channel. That gives it a bigger audience that Trek deserves too. There are a few serious moments too, and it avoids the too PC like the avoidant Lt. Saru in Trek. People make mistakes and they learn. Trek leans to epic, Orville is an homage to much of Trek like Galaxy Quest did so well. Both shows have heroes, but there is only Number one who is interesting on Trek.

The Orville did not make the mistake to spend more time on the season’s big bad in the pilot than introducing the main cast. “A Vulcan Hello” isn’t “Encounter at Farpoint” or “Where No Man Has Gone Before…” or “the Cage.” BTW, this show should hae an effort to resemble the footage of the Cage as they should be contemporanaous. The tech can be better, but there was no effort to make the costumes and material culture align. I just wanted an effort, like not dressing Gueen Victoria is spandex just because someone ants to make a mark. Some things should not be changed,

A Kiss to Build a Series On

damaged and worn clockface

il tempo si è fermato by Alessandro Prada, from Flickr under the Creative Commons 2.0 licensed attribution

A Kiss Before the Apocalypse by Thomas Sniegoski, Roc trade paperback 2008.

Many detective stories open with the PI involved with surveillance on a possibly straying husband, and Remy is hanging out watching a seedy motel while his target goes in with his persaonal secretary. Gunshots ring out from the cheap motel, but is it jealous spouse or rival? Remy charges in, and his subject is midway through murder-suicide, because the straying husband has seen in visions just how close the end of the world really is.

And then the killer sees Remy, sees Remy for what he really is, an angel. Remy isn’t your garbed in glory angel, he’s a married private eye with a taste for Chandler and a dog named Marlowe. His main preoccupation is that wife is in hospice and he’s having trouble saying goodbye.

The first major harbinger of the apocalypse is that the husband and the secretary don’t die. And more people don’t die who should have. (I really don’t want to think about the trauma and cost for all the people left behind) Then like the classic noir, forces from all sides want the threaten Remy or try to coopt him for their own causes. Like the classic PIs, it’s not easy sunshine and sparkly unicorns and Remy gets beat on, but the strongest feels are for Madeline and Marlow’s scenes away from the major confrontations.


I have a fondness for cross-genre science-fiction or fantasy mysteries. I read and reread the Lord Darcy and R. Daneel Olivaw stories over and over. Other stories may have a genre feel even if they weren’t cross marked. The angel romances have their own issues. But this isn’t a romance, and it’s not a redo of “Death Takes a Holiday.” This gives a thought to what happens when Mr Black has gone AWOL. It’s not anything that simple and the final race feels a little like the end of Raiders with the race to stop the Apocalypse.

One of the deeper mysteries is why Remy is living as a mortal when he’s not really human.  I’m not sure he’s quite sure, al he knows is what triggered his decision and he tried hard not to think about it, despite all the various angels and demons who mess with his life during the tale.  I have my own suppositions that he’s on a high moral path not in spite of his doubt and abandoned position, but because of them.  Learning that the author had been involved in the old Angel series was not a surprise.  The sometimes too heavy melodrama in that world is handled with a lighter touch.  Too much angst becomes whining, and Remy’s human lofe isn’t that bad.

One of the more notable parts are how Remy relates to mortals in his life. The scenes with Madeline were very painful and touching. Death is looming issue for them and the lack of dying is not really the good thing it might appear to be. I wish we had seen more story with her in her prime. Marlowe is so very much a dog and not a fantasy magic one. The dog has his ‘squirrel’ moments. Now the mystery wasn’t that fair, but it was the start of a series, so that is a bit to be expected. But the way the mystery and Remy’s personal life fit together is very well done. Sooner or later we all have to relate with the fear and denial when someone is dying, but the world won’t let you stop to be with them. That made for a grounded and real feeling fantasy with more depth than most mysteries I’ve read in a long while.

Rating 4.5 out of five stars

The TBR fiasco

I had cut back on book reading a few years ago, closer to a decade.  The budget was tight, and I had many great books to reread and a few I hadn’t that were stored in an unheated room.  I was deep in the timesuck that was a wonderful MMO that had no subscription.  But all things end, and I fell into writing and fanfiction.

grains falling through hourglass

In Search of Lost Time by Alexander Boden on flickr, without changes, per Creative Commons.

That takes even more time and energy.

But late in 2014, I realized that I had gotten way too narrow, reading only fanfic and the occasional ebook.  So in the early fall I decided to make a go at some I’d gotten in error or by mistake with the TBR challenge from another site.  The main problem is that most of these books had already been rejected and I wasn’t that desperate. I ran out of books by authors I liked and ones I misplaced.  They weren’t good enough to warrant a good review, and weren’t so terrible that others needed to be warned.

With the holidays, I got some gift cards, great for electronic or used although I considered something something less useful:a food processor. So far, I’m enjoying the new books added to my TBR pile.

That stack didn’t shrink much and I suspect I should bite the bullet and give them to a local library to lend or sell.  And extra irony is that some in that pile were there because they were gifts from the library used sale… and could have been donated by me when I didn’t like them when they were published 25 years ago.  I hate donating gift items, but I can’t force myself to like the stories…  I just have to do a serious thinning of my collection because trade paperbacks take more than their fair volume of space.  When a book is rejected too often and I try to force myself to read over my subconscious’ urges, it almost never ends well.

But that TBR is changing to not just read but also remove sometimes without angst. I often keep them, in case I was just in the ‘wrong mood’ or short on time.  Those condition are usually true, and a good book will pull me in, not make me crazy.   Why waste time and shelf space on books I don’t enjoy?  So, I’m ending my own TBR challenge.  I’ll read what I want when I have the time to read, and comment only if it is noteworthy or cringeworthy.  All books come from a TBR pile and time is too short.

Recent Reading: Ides of March edition

Wind-Blown Tree image

Wind-Bent Tree, by Garry Knight, attribution per Creative Commons without changes. https://flic.kr/p/gN2bSr

I’ve decided to change the way I comment on books I’m reading this year, simple thumbs up and down just doesn’t seem very helpful.  I want to better explain why I like or dislike a novel.  Writing a story is a bit like juggling; if you don’t know how to catch and end the pattern, the balls or clubs can end up flying in all directions and make you look unprepared at best, a fool and liable for audience injury at worst.  A story falling apart doesn’t cause injury, but it makes the reader a little more careful about the author’s juggling and if they want to throw money their way in the future…

I admit I finish a book only if I’ve enjoyed it in some way.  That is no guarantee that I will like the finished whole.  Some books just don’t click, usually because I don’t care for the lead.  Of the last few years I’ve seen too many leads in the dreaded groups ‘too-stupid-to-live’ or the lesser known ‘too-special-to-sweat.’  I’m considering a new category of ‘enough-angst-and-bad-luck-to-melt-into-goo,’ though that is too long to be snappy. (I’d be glad of any suggestions)  I start and finish more books than I’ll do longer comments on.  Any reviews for those would tend toward a bad review, but I’m not that sure why.  So thumbs up/down will remain for some.

I’ve been slightly on a mystery kick, paranormal romances (romances are my guilty pleasure) tend to be too weak for me on plot and world-building.  Regency romances seem to feature way, way too many Dukes.  Once Earls, Counts, rich commoners, and every other possible rank were in period stories.  Now it seems only Dukes deserve love.

Isn’t that special?

Then again I’ve been reading more as my work computer is still in need of replacing.  When that resolves, rec reading will slow to mostly favorite authors.  For now, here’s a recent book.


The Hanover Square Affair, Ashley Gardner (Jenifer Ashley) regency mystery series, book 1

Captain Lacey left military service under a cloud to his reputation which gives him limited prospects for income.  Still he clings to his honor in his cheap rooms.  When he agrees to look into the disappearance of the daughter of a merchant, this throws him back among people whose motives are mostly to exploit his goodwill.  Think of this as regency noir.

Now I know that writing a series is somewhat different from standalone because you have to balance setting up (or continuing the series) with some kind of accomplishment or closure for each entry. This is a mystery series during the British regency of the George who will become George IV.  Now there are a plenitude of romances in that era and little general knowledge of how restricted investigation was. (The Maul and the Pear Tree, co authored by PD James is a good intro if you aren’t a history buff)  This series slides into this period.  The problem is that so much of the book is setting up the Captain and his supporting cast of mostly dangerous (to him) women that the initial mystery is not very interesting and the lead too much a patsy.

I just don’t like the female supporting characters.  I know even the wealthy ones had limited options by our standards, but these women had few of the period virtues either.  They all want something, but don’t have honor or kind of respectability or fairness.  I’m not talking the madonna/whore dichotomy, but a step above using the lead.  I might read the next book.

But then I might not.  I want my leads to accomplish something for themselves, even if they only solve the problem, earn enough to keep the dingy low rent office open for another month, and learn something for their problems. The mystery resolution here isn’t satisfying,  Period detail is okay, but some things seem a bit out of period with Bow Street almost a proto-Scotland Yard.  The world is a bit too dark and grim, I’m not at all sure why everyone is wallowing within it.  I hear emigrating to Canada might be a good idea for the lead, better than this hopeless life.

Rating 3/5.  Not hopeless writing, but not satisfying.

It Reminds Me of a Book I Once Read…

The Moon Maze Game, by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes, Tor paperback, 2012.

Writing a review like this is unpleasant, but then again so was reading the book. I kept hoping it would focus and thrill. As a fourth entry in the Dream Park series, it rates much like the fourth entry of the Indiana Jones movies. It had a few cool ideas and brief appearance of a familiar face, but it was far weaker than the original three stories. There were many poor aspects of the tale, but it just reminds this reader of stories I haven’t even reread in ten years, and I remember Alex, Tony, and Mary-em far better than anyone in the MMG a week later.

  • For the first, the cover is static and none of the people or props are anything but generic SF future. The most recent cover for Dream Park even features a white dragon, a bit out of place for a south Pacific setting. Better covers give some kind of hook into character, setting, or an action scene to draw you into the story. This cover looks like some kind of train station and no characters are particularly identifiable. One great character has a mobility pod for her handicaps and a major role in several major sections, but wasn’t on the cover. There were some very tense places, scenes that could have caught attention on a cover without spoiling the plot. Instead we get a station that says nothing about the conflict or events of the story.
    Good Dream Park Covers, with action and setting:

    Dream Park

    review

    Barsoom Project

    With these two covers, we want to know what happens next, that’s the most important part of storytelling. The swordswoman with the men hunkering down, gives a different view from the usual cover.
    Now, I know the authors have little to no influence over the covers, unless they are selfpubbed.

 

 


  • But the cover is one of the best hooks for a new reader, but this third cover could be almost any future SF.
    Moon Maze Game

    Moon Maze Game

    The story has people of multiple ethnic, gender, ableism and what is on the cover? Just whites. The only hint of the game setting is the railing and the lamp, even though the game setting is supposed to be immersive. The cover fails on every level. Now many covers fail, but that is not a good sign.

  • Now the biggest problem is plot, all the other problems are a consequences of errors there. Like the other Dream park stories, the world-building before we get to the game is dense, but the rest of the story feels rushed and sketchy. Subplots and characters introduced are dropped and the IFGS game become nearly irrelevant to the terrorist-kidnappers plot. The GM shows more personality in flashbacks and there seems to be no Loremasters. A grudge is a chimera. A strongly implied subplot of Lunar freedom, ala Moon is a Harsh Mistress, is really wasted space that is meaningless, when almost all conflict once the game starts is related to the kidnappers. (who are only threats because of their ruthlessness and not their competence) The vanity celebrities in the story fizzle instead of adding tension or sympathy. Since characters’ goals and actions are what grab the readers’ sympathy, fear, and thrill, putting too much emphasis on world building makes a boring story. The story felt like it was only to fill in events between Dream Park and much later books in that universe. The Moon Maze Game is so ruined by the political kidnapping, that there is no setting, no immersion.
    You never get much feel for the game layer of the plot and most personal plots are staked through the heart too. The three overlapping levels of story never coalesce, unlike the earlier books.
  • The book is simply too short to do justice to all the characters and plots introduced. There were some good scenes and a very few decent characters, but reading it was like reading a detailed outline instead of a dramatic epic. The most promising characters were only in brief sequences, and several central characters never quite came to life. The game becomes so much window dressing that there is almost no awe and wonder, no immersion, no tension to solve the game as the players get extra help so they can escape the criminals. One subplot ends in a thud after not being mentioned for a couple hundred pages.

Now my review went on rather longer than I expected. If you want a kidnapping/escape story, it’s okay, but this is not really a Dream Park Novel. Read the other three: Dream Park, California Voodoo Game, and Barsoom Project. Read this one only if you want to meet Alex Griffin’s daughter in law (her sparse subplot could have carried the story better than the kidnapping).

Series relative reviews:
Dream Park 9.5 of 10
California Voodoo Game 9.0
Barsoom Project 8.5
Moon Maze Game 6.7

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