Reviews May Contain Minor Spoilers

If you're reading a review you should expect to hear some spoilers. I try to keep them to a minimum though.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Live Free or Die Hard

We've been through Die Hard, Die Hard 2 and Die Hard with a Vengeance. For fifteen years that was the Die Hard Trilogy. Then in 2007, we got a fourth film.

Live Free or Die Hard aka Die Hard 4.0 (2007) is the return of John McClane after a fifteen year absence.

We start off with a sexy woman at a computer receiving downloads from several hackers. We then see one of them getting killed and it shows that each of the others has been "deactivated" on her screen. The CIA Cyber Terrorist unit then gets shut down and reboots. The feds want all the possible suspects questioned. We cut to John McClane threatening his daughter's date. After she gets pissed at him and storms off, John is ordered to pick up Matthew Farrell, one of the hackers from the intro. Once he arrives they are fired at and an action scene ensues.

This film was released to some stellar reviews with some calling it better than the original. I wholeheartedly disagree. This film returns to the holiday theme, in this case the Fourth of July, though much like Die Hard 2 it doesn't do much with it. Internationally this theme was disguised a bit. This film, like many resurgent sequels in the 2000s, goes bigger and more insane. The stability of the eastern U.S. is but in jeopardy thanks to a big cyber attack. Of course, since one of my favorite things was the simplicity of the first film, I dislike this a lot. Things are amped up from the very first fight scene and escalate to the ridiculous with the fighter jet versus big rig scene. Honestly, I had a hard time caring about these massive overblown and unrealistic scenes.

Our Heroes
John McClane has gotten old and kind of creepy. In the first scene he spies on his teenage daughter. Creepy. Had he really been watching the whole date? Or did he just show up at the end to make sure nothing happened? Does he do that often? Anyway, Bruce Willis puts in a good performance, but he is getting old. he also survives some things that I don't think he would have been able to even nineteen years earlier during the first film.

Matthew Farrell is your typical nerdy computer hacker. He's anti establishment to the point of being kind of annoying. He does "man up" over the course of the film and I was likeable by the end. He's best when bonding with John. He becomes more funny and less of a pain in the ass as he and John both learn from each other. His romance with Lucy comes out of nowhere at the end and is a little bit creepy given the comparisons he draws between her and her father. Ah, true love.

Adorable Observer
Lucy Gennero-McClane is John's daughter all grown up. She has some unspecified reasons for hating him that may stem from his weird stalking. behavior. She shines the most when she's being a tough girl and with more development she could have her own action series. She's also really cute in this role. They tried their hardest to make her really sexy and flirty at the start, but I just thought she came off as the cute girl next door. She definitely should have had more of a role through the middle of the story since her relationship with her father is a key point. I would have liked to know what happened between her and her father that caused her to take her mother's maiden name (seems like it should be something really big).

Psychotic Foes
Thomas Gabriel is a truly psychotic hacker (and he doesn't have to do Ty-chi naked to get it across). The only problem with this is that he's too psychotic. He's so unrelatable with such crazy motives that I didn't find him interesting. He was menacing, yet boring. At least he had some personality though.

Mai Linh is a sexy Asian ninja hacker. Yep. She is there to look good and fight. That's what she does. Personality? Not really. Oh, and she's Gabriel's girlfriend or something.

Explosive Atmosphere
This movie has more explosions that the past three films put together. There's also more martial arts and the usual action hero beats martial artist with ingenuity thing. The sets do look great, but the action was too big and ridiculous.

In the End

The end fight was pretty awesome and I wish the rest of the movie would have been as plain badass as the end. It hits all the right notes and gives the characters a good send off.

Live Free or Die Hard is just too overblown and flashy for me. The story wasn't bad, but it focused on action rather than character. That's a shame because the characters were entertaining and likeable. I can see why a lot of people like this installment. I just think this too big. Give me a simple character driven film any day. So it's not bad, but not terribly good. Check this out if you like bigger and more ridiculous action scenes with solid characters. "Yippie Ki-Yay Mother F-----" Oh and Live Free is PG-13!

Well that's it. That's the whole series...

Except the one coming out next year. So I'll be back in a month and a half and I'll see if it is A Good Day to Die Hard.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Die Hard with a Vengeance

Today we continue my review of the Die Hard series. My Christmas present was Die Hard, but we don't get presents after Christmas hence Die Hard 2. Today is another attempt to return to the first.

Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995) is the third and most critically panned of the series.

A department store is blown up in New York. In the midst of the police response a man calls requesting John McClane. His name is Simon and he wants to play a game. Simon will bomb the city unless McClane does exactly as 'Simon Says.'

"Summer in the City" starts the film as a clear departure from the Christmas formula. Though it has numerous references and the plot is still very reliant on the first movie. The first 45 minutes of this movie are really fun and evoke a strong feeling of the first without any real direct references. Then the bad guy's plan is set up. This brings the movie to a crawl for about 10 minutes. We get some flashes of the secondary villains during this time, but they don't really pay off. The pace never really recovers making the last half of the movie about slowly moving between action setpieces. Yay.

Our Hero
John McClane is not on his A game. He has been suspended from the force and is on the outs with his wife. He's hungover at the start of the movie. Most of these plot threads run through the movie, though the hangover thing is more of a running joke it pays off in the alternate ending. I was a bit disappointed that they fell back on the 'separated from his wife' thing again. They seemed to go so far as to try to wipe Die Hard 2 out of the canon, which is fine with me.

Zeus Carver is a 'fight the power,' but do it through proper channels, black guy. Despite this, he an McClane make a good team. Zeus brings both street and mathematical knowledge to the game. This it the type of role that people think of when Samuel L. Jackson is mentioned. I enjoyed Zeus, but I was disappointed that he didn't get as much story as Al. The racial angle was heavily played up to some success. However, there was also the 90s problem of pushing it too far like the Rodney King reference.

Rhyming Foe
Simon doesn't appear fully until a third of the way into the film. Until then, he creates quite a menacing and unbalanced force over the phone. Once he is revealed, he continues to be smart and fun, but he doesn't have as much presence or screen time, which seemed rather odd to me.

Nineties New York Atmosphere
This flick goes all over New York. Wall Street, Central Park, the Brooklyn Bridge, Yankee Stadium, Harlem, everything except the Statue of Liberty. After seeing the L.A. atmosphere in the first one produced almost effortlessly, it was nice to see some for New York. Now, I don't know how accurate it is, but it was nice to see the nod. Especially after the airport.

In the End
The end is very over-the-top action movie, but doesn't really give the viewer a solid conclusion. There is a more intense ending that I like more. It makes McClane more ruthless and it ties the movie together much better. Apparently some take issue with it, but it really works better and was clearly written with the rest of this film.

This movie is definitely a product of its time. The nineties are all about being gritty and dark. In that respect I think this film succeeds. There are several references to the first one: gun taped to his back, the main villain's backstory, the German villain fakes a bad American accent, and the initial plot being a distraction for a heist. I particularly enjoyed the clever jab at Americans not knowing their own history (Chester A. Arthur). There's still Christmas references. The 'Yippie Ky Yay Mother Fucker' is much more relevant in both endings of this movie. Check this one out if you like action movies and watch both endings and pick your favorite.

Tomorrow, I either Live Free or Die Hard.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Die Hard 2: Die Harder

So, if my favorite Christmas movie is Die Hard, how do I feel about the others? I've watched Die Hard every Christmas for the last four Christmases not counting the numerous other times I've seen it. I've seen each of the others twice, including the times I watched them for this review...

Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990) is the follow-up to Die Hard. I guess people liked it, but I do not.

John McClane is waiting for his wife to land in Washington DC when spots two guys with a suspicious package heading into the luggage room. After an action scene he decides to investigate while waiting for his wife. He soon discovers one of them may be a black ops agent. A South American dictator is due to land at the airport in an hour. Then things begin to go haywire at the airport.

Even my summary seems a bit roundabout and I left out the clutter of the first half hour: a naked Colonel Stewart practicing Ty-chi, a crazy lady talking about tasering her dog, and guys setting up a comm room in a church. Characters we care about? Nah, they're gonna burn off all the good will from the first movie. Plot? They dance around setting it up until about thirty minutes in. This leaves the first fight scene in the luggage room with little point and no stakes.

Warning: Possible Rant Follows

This is going to suck how bad?
Our Hero
Even John McClane comments about being in the same situation twice. McClane fires a machine gun in the midst of a bunch of cops because that's smart. McClane stabs a guy in the eye with an icicle. McClane gets yelled at a lot for trying to say anything. He laughs like a maniac at several parts. He has some lame one liners. It's like a cheap knock off version of the character.

Pretty Bad
Baffled Bystanders
The bit players include ninties favorites: the T-1000/Agent Dogget, Miles O'Brien, Det. Andy Sipowicz, and D.A. Arthur Branch! Okay, there are a ton of characters in this, but they fall mostly into bad guys and guys yelling at McClane for interfering as they mess up. I know the first one had this, but the difference is that it was clearly funny in that. The yelling in this movie is not funny. There's also tons of it in this Die Hard 2. Plus, the scummy journalist who had a minor part in the first one is back to annoy us more. There is a nicer lady journalist to act as a foil I guess... Then there's the annoying janitor and a technician from the airline who are the only ones to help John. It keeps cutting back to his wife, though she's the punchline to an unfunny joke that was clearly set up at the beginning. The bottom line is there are way too many characters. There's even a cameo from Al that is one of the only bright spots in this movie.

Switching off a TV never looked so stupid!
Flat Foes
Colonel Stewart and his men are the most flat and boring terrorists ever. The most personality the Colonel gets is in the opening minutes of the film when he is naked and practicing Ty-chi. His men get pretty much no personality at all. They are meant to be proper military guys, but even the military has some personality.

The General is a stereotypical South American dictator who deals cocaine and flies planes.

Airport Atmosphere
There's some Christmas at the beginning to dupe us into believing that it's going to be as nicely blended in as the original. Then, for the majority of the movie the only thing to remind us about Christmas is the snow. The airport is dull and has no personality of its own. We see everything we expect from an airport and that's a shame. Even airports tend to have a bit of personality.

In the End
It ends on a little bit more Christmas, but I think Holly's line at the end say it all: "Why does this keep happening to us?" Why did they make this film.

Dammit, that did suck.
Die Hard 2's biggest sin is that there are very few moments of levity and a lot of yelling at authority figures. We only care about the stakes because of John and Holly McClane who we learned to like in the first film. Like many films trying to be more ingenious than their predecessor it just becomes convoluted. Even the 'Yippie Ki-Yay Mother Fucker' feels tacked on. I know I should be judging this film on its own merits, but this sequel is such a half-assed recreation of the first that I have no idea how it has a 65% on Rotten tomatoes. (Seriously, if you like this movie please feel free to explain in the comments!) Both times I've watched this movie, I wonder why I didn't just re-watch the first one. I still don't know.

Ugh, fortunately it doesn't get worse than that with this series. Yeah, I said it! I'll be back tomorrow, with a Vengeance!

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Die Hard

Merry Christmas! So, I've largely ignored Christmas in favor of the apocalypse because the next halfway decent apocalypse is not for six years. (Also, my attitude oddly mirrors Charlie Brown's on Christmas [and only Christmas]) So, for Christmas, I'm reviewing my favorite Christmas movie! No, not It's a Wonderful Life nor the Muppet Christmas Carol... It is:

Die Hard (1988) is the start of a huge series and one of the best action movies ever.

John McClane travels to the Nakatomi Corporation Christmas party in L.A. to be with his estranged wife. Unfortunately terrorists have set their sights on the building and quickly take it over. Now John McClane must save as many people as he can while taking out the terrorists with almost no help from the outside.

I know some of you are thinking "That's not a Christmas movie!" Watch it again. This movie relies on Christmas for a lot of its jokes as well as a good deal of its suspense. Both of which combine to create both a great action movie, but a hilarious Christmas one. This is all while being neck deep in eighties government incompetence, Japanese financial dominance and of course European terrorism.

Our Hero
John McClane is a wise cracking hero with a heart. He's been having some friction with his wife since she moved to L.A. to become a high powered executive. This action hero has a family and some issues with his job are hinted at. These struggles are balanced with his humorous attitude. He is alone and isolated and the film perfectly portrays him using humor to comfort himself and deal with the isolation and mounting odds.

Spirited Observers
Holly Generro McClane is John's wife and eighties power woman. She clearly cares for John, but some very mundane human issues come between them. The handling of her character is brilliant. She is a powerful career woman with a tremendous amount of courage. There's also the will they, won't they suspense game as to when Hans will discover why John is at Nakatomi.

Al is a desk bound police officer on his way home for Christmas when he gets the call to head over to the Plaza. He becomes the voice of the auidence as the movie continues, but has his own small arc that is a bit tacked on. I think I'm just glad that this movie bothers to build characters. By the time anyone is in jeopardy, the audience has some attachment to several of the characters which the film quickly lets you know can die.

International Foes
Hans Gruber and his crew are our villains, but their motives aren't clear until the end. They are ruthlessly smart and keep cool even as John hacks at their number. Hans himself is a great villain and I believe still ranks on some great movie villains lists. Most of his henchmen are even given some personality and grow a rivalry with John as the movie goes on. Dear modern action movies, henchmen with character are a great thing!

Eighties L.A. Atmosphere
As I mentioned at the top this film is firmly rooted in 80s culture. A hip hop loving limo driver features as a minor character. The 'advanced' computer systems being touch screens and automated directories. John carries his gun on an airplane. Everybody smokes everywhere. Not only that: this is an L.A. movie that, despite limited locations, manages to give a good look at the city.

In the End
Shoot Outs! Holiday Cheer! Explosions! Honestly it isn't the most original ending, but it sure is satisfying like all good holiday flicks.

Does it have flaws? Of course, there is the required 80s action movie nudity, plenty of cliches(though it often subverts them), as well as some cheesy moments. What makes me forgive this is that it is both a fun and funny film. Small points carry through the entire film and jokes reappear to provide a clever laugh. This is a very simple film with a brilliant execution. If you haven't seen Die Hard why not!?! give yourself a Christmas treat and watch this movie. "Yippie Ki-Yay Mother Fucker!"

Tomorrow, I dive into why I don't watch the sequels when I Die Harder.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Doctor Who Short Trips Vol. 1

Merry Christmas Eve! Big Finish's Short Trips is a series of short stories read mostly by Doctor Who actors. Each volume contains one story for each of the first eight Doctors.

Rise and Fall (2010) By: George Mann, Read by: William Russell
The First Doctor and Ian Chesterton land on an idyllic planet and view strange faces blinking in and out of existence. This is a nice little mood piece that gives not only a sense of the First Doctor's stories, but of science fiction during the sixties in general. New listeners should be fine with understanding this after just the first episode of the classic Doctor era. 7/10

A Stain of Red in the Sand (2010) By: David A McEwan, Read by: David Troughton
A woman lives in a run down building at the edge of a desert overseen by the strange insectoid caretakers. This is a strange alien world tale with a lot of bizarre and abstract ideas that aren't really explored. This short story is less of a story and more of a character witnessing the Doctor's actions without being involved. Really strange, but worth a listen. 6/10

A True Gentleman (2010) By: Jamie Hailstone, Read by: Katy Manning
A strange yet kindly visitor always rents a boy's father's cabin in the summer. One day the boy is walking home and he gets a flat tire. His father allows him to go with the strange man and he winds up in the middle of an interstellar conflict. This story is short, simple and to the point. Not the most original tale, but certainly enjoyable and fun. 7/10

Death-Dealer (2010) By: Damian Sawyer, Read by: Louise Jameson
Leela and the Fourth Doctor are in an alien marketplace and he is trying to teach her the concept of currency. Leela spots a knife and decides to purchase it when the Doctor gets distracted. Unfortunately she gets more than she bargains for. This is the best story in the collection. It manages to hit all the best Doctor Who notes while not stretching itself too thin. 8/10

The Deep (2010) By: Ally Kennen, Read by: Peter Davison
Nyssa has fixed the TARDIS' chameleon circuit and the Fifth Doctor decides to test it out. He decides to land where there couldn't possibly be a police box around to replicate: the middle of the ocean. This is a fun and peril filled tale that highlights the more pacifist Fifth Doctor and gives Nyssa a chance to shine. 7/10

The Wings of a Butterfly (2010) Written and Read by: Colin Baker
The Sixth Doctor is summoned by one of his old professors on Galifrey. The teacher wants to know why an advanced and peaceful civilization has wiped itself out. Both written and read by the Sixth Doctor, Colin Baker, himself, this is a great Sixth Doctor tale. It is a bit wonky, but it delves into some of the more "timey wimey" stuff. 7.5/10

Police and Shreeves (2010) By: Adam Smith, Read by Sophie Aldred
A young shopkeeper has a secret. She is an alien known as a Shreeve who feeds on electricity. Unfortunately she's gotten herself mixed up with the wrong people and its up to the Seventh Doctor and Ace to help. A nice slice of life that feels like it jumped right out of the better parts of eighties Doctor Who. 7/10

Running Out of Time (2010) By: Dorothy Koomson, Read by India Fisher
A man knows when people are after him. He awakened years ago with no memories of his past. Now they've found him again, but this time a man has come to help him remember: the Eighth Doctor. Okay, I may be being a bit harsh on this one, but it has a weird mix of espionage, fantasy and science fiction that didn't quite come together. 5.5/10

This is not for Doctor Who newbies, but is an excellent listen for classic series fans. Each story provides a great taste of the first eight Doctors and even conatins a feel for their era.
Buy it here from Big Finish!

Sunday, 23 December 2012

1001 Nights - The Fifth Doctor and Nyssa -

I'm back with another Doctor Who audio, surprise! The Fifth Doctor and Nyssa star in the December release. It features four short stories with a frame that I think is awesome. Does it live up to the premise?

1001 Nights (2012)

The Fifth Doctor and Nyssa have arrived in ancient Arabia when they pick up a distress call from a Gantha ship. Soon, the Doctor is trapped in the Sultan's dungeons. As he tries to escape, Nyssa pleads with the Sultan for his release. The Sultan is amused by her stories and decides she should mimic Scheherazade. He decides that she and the Doctor will survive as long as he is entertained.

1001 Nights By: Emma Beeby
The Doctor and Nyssa arrive on a prison asteroid at the edge of the universe. They find a prisoner being continuously tortured in an electric chair. The Doctor decides that he must be freed, but doesn't take his crimes into account.

This is a very typical Doctor Who story. The Doctor rushes in without thinking and winds up in over his head. It has some comical moments and the usual Doctor Who banter. It just doesn't do anything too surprising, impressive or new. It's not bad, it's just okay. 6/10
My Brother's Keeper By: George Rennie
In 1892 Norwood, England at the home of  Elizabeth Spinnaker. She and her butler, Mr. Hill, care for an insane woman and await the arrival of a Doctor. He soon arrives and must deal with the interplanetary menace locked in the woman.

The seconds story is a cute exorcism tale. Yeah, you heard me: cute. It has some callbacks to Jane Eyre and of course The Exorcist. The Victorian lovers could annoy some people, but they were so over the top I thought they were funny. The Doctor does his thing, but it comes off as a bit more clever than the first tale. I rather enjoyed it. This is my favorite of the lot. 7/10
The Interplanetarian By: Jonathan Barnes
The Doctor and Nyssa arrive on a "dark and stormy night" to a tavern on some seaside cliffs. When they enter, they discover the natives have a curious method of currency. They tell stories to pay for things. Unfortunately, unscrupulous plagiarists abound.

This story has a very interesting concept and they do some neat things with it. They don't really go as far with the idea of creativity as a commodity as I'd like. The plot is relatively standard, but fun. Props for the throwing in the title where I didn't expect it though. 7/10

Smuggling Tales By: Catherine Harvey
The last story concludes the frame narrative.

The frame story starts off very typical and gets bizarre very quickly as both Nyssa and the Doctor deal with two different sultans. The telling of stories actually factors nicely into the plot and it even has a Middle Eastern flavored villain. There are definitely some cool ideas, but the ultimate conclusion is a bit unsatisfying. I wish the frame story had gotten more development. Overall, this a good listen, but nothing spectacular.

Get it here from Big Finish!

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Voyage to the New World - Sixth Doctor, Jago and Litefoot -

Well, I hope everyone enjoyed the apocalypse. Today I'm reviewing the second of the Sixth Doctor, Jago and Litefoot set that started with Voyage to Venus. I do find it strange that the more jovial yuletide one came out before Halloween and this ghost story is coming out before Christmas. This one concludes the Doctor's travels with Jago and Litefoot for now...

Voyage to the New World (2012) By: Matthew Sweet

The Sixth Doctor, Henry Gordon Jago and Professor George Litefoot land on a beach in 1590 Roanoake Virgina. They are instantly set upon by native Americans and Jago flees into the woods. The Doctor and Professor Litefoot are captured by the native chief, Wanchese, who decides to execute them for the disappearance of his daughter. Jago finds himself in the lost Roanoke colony and runs into the rescue party lead by John White. They soon learn that a plague brought by ghostly children is to blame for the disappearances. Our heroes must save themselves before they become like the lost colonists.

This story is much darker than Voyage to Venus. It has its share of humor that is rather nicely integrated. However, this is an incredibly chilling story that really had me wonder what was happening. The tone is a little strange for how humorous Jago and Litefoot tend to be, but allowing them some dramatic leeway is richly rewarded.

Our Heroes
The Sixth Doctor spends most of this episode trying to figure out what's happening. Aside from some strange semi-racist remarks (that may not be understood by the British writers) the Doctor is his usual self. He is willing to lead men into the jaws of death itself to do what he thinks is right.

Henry Gordon Jago melds the hilarious and somber. He is the first of our cast to fall victim to the mysterious plague, so it becomes a race to save him. He has an interesting exchange with the mysterious Governor of Roanoke. Also, bonus points for squeezing a Christmas Carol reference to try and make this ghost story a bit more Christmasy.

Professor George Litefoot teams up with the Sixth Doctor and gets to stretch his usual straight man role. He gets some of the funniest lines. His friendship with Jago is tried as they face the horror of the plague.

Civilized Observer
Wanchese is the leader of the Algonquian tribe. I was concerned that he might be a Native American stereotype, but he turned out to be far more interesting. His character blends into the background for much of chapters 2 and 3, but he surprised me by the end. His subtle use pays off well.

Mysterious Foes
The children are as creepy as they seem. The explanation behind them had the potential to be stupid, but it has an interesting angle that I wish they'd explored more.

The Governor is an old man who seems both enslaved by and in charge of the children. They have a somewhat annoying tease about his possible identity, but the truth is far better. His conclusion puts a haunting cap to the tale.

Foreboding Atmosphere
This piece is greatly helped by its atmosphere on the swampy beaches of Roanoke, Virginia. It almost conjures up a Lovecraftian vision of ancient and savage New England ruled over by powerful spirits.

In the End
This ending of this story is somber and fits the tone of the piece. Then of course, it slips in the hook for Jago and Litefoot series five... and it is fantastic. I cannot wait for the release of that series and I still need to catch up on the rest of the show.

This twisting ghost tale may not be quite as enjoyable as its steampunk romp predecessor, however its still a great listen. I think its biggest flaw lies in the lower use of the characters' strengths. However, it is a nice change once you get used to it. We have another fantastic hour's worth of entertainment for five dollars! Also, see my review of Jago and Litefoot's series pilot: The Mahogany Murders, as well as the first Voyage audio: Voyage to Venus.
Buy it here from Big Finish!

Friday, 21 December 2012

Childhood's End

Day 11
Childhood's End (1953)
By: Arthur C. Clarke

Spaceships appear over the every major city on earth and just sit there. Some countries fire missiles at them, but the missiles have no effect. After a time the alien Overlords announce that they will supervise earth so that it doesn't destroy itself. The ships end animal and human cruelties, but otherwise leave things alone. They have contact only with the U.N. Secretary-General Rikki Stormgren. But what are the Overlords ultimate intentions and why do they never show themselves to anyone?

This skirts alien apocalypse territory, but I wasn't able to get ahold of several novels I originally wanted. This book takes place over three parts with surprising developments in each. The mystery of the Overlords is fantastic and definitely worthwhile. All the strangeness has great explanation. and the end is both emotional and thought provoking.

Our Heroes
Rikki Stormgren is the Finnish U.N. Secretary General. He is the first man to have direct contact with the Overlords. He governs earth in a time of great peace, but underlying strife. He must deal not only with the Overlords, but human opposition groups and even his own fears and insecurities. He is my favorite of the human characters and certainly the most interesting.

Jan Rodricks longed for a career in space, however the Overlords have shut down the space program. After being at a party where he gets a strange lead on the planet, he creates a plan to travel to the Overlord's home planet. Jan annoyed me when he first appeared, but I grew to like him through his story in part three. He witnesses the most interesting sections of the novel.

Kalleren is the leader of the Overlords and the only contact with humanity until their reveal in the Golden Age. He is characterized as a great statesman and a persuasive speaker. He was pprobably my favorite character as an exemplary member of an alien species.

Distant Observers
George and Jean Greggson are a pair of upper class people who've grown up under the Overlord's rule. They are among the first to host an Overlord and are our window into the true suffering at the end.

Rashaverak is a more scientific Overlord who is a guest of George Greggson. He gives us our first look at how the Overlords act in social situations. He provides us with some interesting views on social customs and of course depens the mystery.

Futuristic Atmosphere
The writing does a great job of establishing a retro-furture, well that's what it is now. The thing is that it is easily extrapolated into our own future. I especially liked the descriptions of the Overlord planet.

In the End
I predicted what was going to happen at the end of part one and even most of part two. Part three is one of the most bittersweet endings I've ever read. However, it is a perfect end to the tale.

Arthur C. Clarke does social Sci-fi and gets it right. This book manages to be both hopeful and grim. I applaud its treatment of the Overlords as a complex and mysterious species. Their motives and civilization are brilliantly rendered and I often found them more relatable than the human characters, aside from Rikki Stormgren and toward the end Jan. I thought the humans were overly simplified and a bit dull. The end of humanity was the one thing that really prevented me from giving this a ten. I might just be too much of an optimist, but I don't feel all of humanity would go out int he manner he describes. Anyway, this is a fantastic read and I think it is probably even better than 2001: A Space Odyssey.

So, that's my apocalypse preparation reading list. I hope you have a great end of the world. My personal list of things to do:

- Decapitate a zombie with a katana
- Ride a mile high tidal wave
- Fist-bump Jesus
- Add some 'sword game' swords to my collection
- Play a bass line to the seven trumpets and Gjallar horn
- Ride a giant wolf
- Survive a nuke by getting in a refrigerator
- Beat an alien at paper, rock, scissors
- Spear a mutant monster
- Hold up a lighter as the sun goes out
- Get a quick tan
- Show Vishnu my awesome plans for a recreated L.A.
- Attempt to cast a replica of Sage of the Halo's armor as hot metal covers the earth

I hope you complete your end of the world checklist! See you tomorrow!

Thursday, 20 December 2012

The Drowned World

Day 10
The Drowned World (1962)
By: J.G. Ballard

Large solar flares have reverted the world's environment back to the Triassic period. 2145 London is under a mass of bogs with only tall buildings jutting above the jungle. Dr. Kerans is one of the medical officers of a military detachment taking final studies as the world's temperature slowly climbs. Many of the group are experiencing strange flashbacks to man's distant past. This leads Kerans, Dr. Bokin and Keran's lover Beatrice to stay behind as the group pulls out. Soon after the fiendishly charming Strangman arrives intent on causing chaos with his pirate gang.

This is one of those novels that requires a decent amount of study to really love. The concepts are fascinating, but the presentation is often off-putting. It is a very psychological novel that is more about the atmosphere and ideas rather than the characters. Much of the novel meanders around strange plotlines and the struggle against the much harsher environment. As with pretty much all of the older novels this contains some racism and sexism.

Our Hero
Dr. Robert Kerans has been having dreams of a womblike past that haunt his psyche. He soon discovers that many of his colleagues have been having the same dreams. He is drawn toward the new state of the world and must struggle against the push back of the recent past. Unfortunately, he's not the most interesting character since he is defined by his psychosis.

Distant Observers
Beatrice Dahl is a beautiful woman who is trapped by her dreams, but still puts forth the effort to look beautiful. She is an insane damsel in distress. I found her more interesting than Kerans because of some of her strange conflicting behaviors. She just doesn't do much.

Dr. Bodkin acts as a strange mentor to Kerans only to end up shaking him into action. As the elder doctor of the squad he put Kerans on his strange path.

Hardman is our first look into what it looks like when a character sinks too far into the psychosis that permeates the main characters. It isn't a pleasant look and it really drives home the strangeness of our protagonists.

Colonel Riggs is the only truly sane person in this as such he is treated with suspicion and antagonism. I feel kind of bad for him, but he acts as a mark for how far the protagonists have fallen.

Insane Foes
Strangman, the Admiral, and Big Caesar are the merciless pirates. Strangman is among the most interesting, bizarre and over the top villains I've ever read about. He manages to start charming and slowly devolving into a raging psychopath who rivals the Batman's Joker.

Triassic Atmosphere
The overgrown jungles, giant iguanas, and oppressive heat. The characters fix up impressive buildings with refrigeration units, but quickly give in to sweltering heat. The world is as bizarre as it is fascinating.

In the End
The ending is just a cryptic and perplexing as the rest of the novel.

This is a hard sci-fi novel that focuses more on science and atmosphere than story and characters. I can appreciate it as a work, but I didn't really enjoy it. It was incredibly interesting and had some fantastically strange moments.
Check it out if you love sci-fi.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Cat's Cradle

Day 9
Cat's Cradle (1963) By: Kurt Vonnegut

John has decided to write a book about the day that the U.S. dropped nuclear warheads on Japan. He seeks to find out how the inventors of the bomb felt on that day, specifically Dr. Hoenikker. John learns from Felix, Hoenikker's son, that he was playing the child's game of cat's cradle on that day. John soon loses interest in writing his book, but not before hearing about a theory on a way to freeze over any terrain called Ice 9. Later he runs into the Hoenikker family again on the way to the paradise nation of San Lorenzo. Little does he know that he's on his way to end the world.

This novel is a satire of the US-Russian arms race though this novel is much more and much stranger than that. It does come off as funny when it is not disturbingly similar to certain things that have actually happened. The people of San Lorenzo's apathy to the selection of their leader, the narcissism of the leaders and scientists, not to mention the whole religion of Bokonon. With this novel I've run into the same trouble I had reviewing Vathek. In this it's not just the comedy, but parsing out if anything is even to be taken seriously.

Our Hero
John is a writer who is very impulsive. He is carried from place to place and meets some strange individuals on his quest for a story. He even lets himself be drawn to San Lorenzo by a pretty girl on the flyer. He's an everyman taken to his most absurd.

Satirical Atmosphere
Vonnegut has always been a leading name in literature and this is very representative of his work.The descriptions are disturbing yet often funny.

In the End
The novel ends about how I should have expected it to. A fitting end to a strange story.

The entire novel is a reduction to absurdity. There are a number of things you can take from it or completely ignore. It is a fascinating book by one of science fiction's most challenging and controversial writers. I'm not sure this is where you should start with Vonnegut, but it certainly provides an interesting and worthwhile read. However, keep in mind that this is satire otherwise this is one of the most depressing novels ever written.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Lucifer's Hammer

Day 8
Lucifer's Hammer (1977)
By: Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

The Hamner-Brown comet is discovered by rich playboy Tim Hamner who convinces famous documentarian Harvey Randall to make his comet famous. Along the way they convince astrophysicist Dr. Sharp to promote it scientifically and Senator Jellison to help get a joint US-Russian survey journey. However, as the comet gets closer, Hamner-Brown starts looking like Lucifer's Hammer bound to destroy mankind's civilizations.

This novel takes a broad scope and has a lot of characters. I admire its ambition, but with all the character I found myself caring about only a select few (much like The Last Man). This novel also walks the line between hard and soft (social) science fiction by integrating the hard science with common people's and the government's reactions. All this leads to a very unfocused and sometimes meandering plot, but an interesting experiment.

Our Heroes
Harvey Randall is a famous journalist who has become somewhat dissatisfied with his life. Through the novel he comes to learn what is truly important to him, sort of. Certain aspects of his character like his intelligence and bravery were okay, but I had major issues with his mixed feelings on the women in his life.

Tim Hamner is a billionaire playboy who discovers the comet. He has a stronger and more relatable story arc than Harvey. He kind of gets lost near the end and reappears at the end. I wish he'd have been followed more closely.

Maureen Jellison is the daughter of Senator Jellison. She starts as a kind of minor character and is one of the prominent female characters. She, Marie and Eileen represent the women's liberation issues crushed by the end of the world.

Foul Foes
The New Brotherhood is a strangely built enemy. Their sections seem very divorced from the rest of the narrative at the start until they come together at the end. As an enemy they had a very interesting, if racist and bigoted, slant. My issue is why we needed some of the story from their point of view. We get several looks into what they did through other characters.I would say it was to humanize them, but their sections just made me care about them less. There were some interesting race politics, but they were made more effectively (and less stereotyped) by Rick Delanty the first African American astronaut.

Groovy Atmosphere
Most of this novel is alive with the culture of the nineteen-seventies. There are even some somewhat archaic racial stereotypes and jokes. It is, as I've said many times, a cool look back at another era. I had a good laugh at the unintentional humor of their 'corrupt' politics. The post-comet survival is more technology focused and something that I compare more to Lest Darkness Fall (Which I may do a review on eventually) than something like Earth Abides. There are also numerous references to classic science fiction like Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein.

In the End
The end is quite the opposite of most every other book on this list in that it is overtly positive. That is fine. What's not fine is that the ending is just as uneven as everything else. It delivers on some great scenes, yet passes on others. Not bad, but not great.

It get progressively more interesting after the 75% mark. It takes a lot of reading to get there, but I think it's worth it.The things they could have left out are the more sensational serial killer bit and the New Brotherhood viewpoints. They could have been left out and I think the book would have been improved. This is a really good novel, but it doesn't quite make it to great. The focus technology as something to fight for was certainly interesting and that kind of case can't really be made today. It is a solid science fiction novel and a good apocalyptic tale.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Left Behind

Day 7
Left Behind (1995)
By: Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins

Captain Rayford Steele is thinking about having an affair with flight attendant Hattie when she tells him that around fifty people have disappeared from their commercial flight. His wife was religious and he begins to realize they may have been taken by the Rapture. Cameron "Buck" Williams is an ace news magazine reporter begins seeing a move toward a one world currency and the rise on a young smooth talking Romaninan named Nicholae Carpathia. We follow these men as they deal with the chaos that has resulted from millions around the world disappearing.

I'm gonna catch hell for this review, but doing a religious apocalyptic novel was a must. Plus I had this lying around. LaHaye and Jenkins display an interesting amount of dislike for non-Evangelicals in this novel. Our protagonists start as real shovenist jerks. They also seem to relish in casual blaspheming as often as they can. So often it seems forced. Also, apparently all Californians believe tabloids as though they were the New York Times, who knew?

Our Heroes
Rayford Steele is an airline captain who must deal with losing half his family. He opens the novel by thinking about having an affair. Charming. He softens after the tribulation because we can't have them have too many flaws. He seems to be the emotional pull of this story, but the book doesn't stay very consistent about it. We are given a moving description of his return home to see if his wife and son are alive, but his daughter's homecoming gets half a page. His daughter's conversion is given similarly scant treatment. Rayford seems kind of ignorant in relation to passages of the Bible as well. I get what the passages mean to the authors without the several pages of explanation they provide and then repeat. These are one of many instance that makes me wonder who this book was written for, but I'll get into that later.

Cameron "Buck" Williams is a star journalist and award winning writer. Despite all this he seems to be awkward with women and not that great at staying in hiding. In one of his more charismatic passages he complains about Hattie venting to him. He's the character who gets into the risky situations, but I couldn't feel very afraid for him. Much of the writing lacks tension and it is easy to predict that he is going to be okay.

Traumatized Observers
Hattie is shallow materialistic stewardess who acts as a potential love interest for both our heroes. As such, she's mostly just along for the ride and built up as a more disposable prominent side character. Also, she is treated like the airhead she's written as.

Chloe Steele is Rayford's twenty year old daughter. She's there to cause dramatic tension about the salvation of her soul. This is meant to be a major plot thread, but it is handled mostly by some false leads and weak explanation about her not wanting to give into her Dad's wishes too quickly. Her romance with Cameron happens as a "love at first sight" kind of deal that further served to make me believe this occurred in a strange fantastical version of Earth.

Demonic Foe
Nicholae Carpathia is our Antichrist, which I guess is a spoiler, but if you can't tell by his build up what is going to happen I don't think you were paying attention. He starts as a nice guy and plays the passive aggressive route to power. Also, he has superpowers...

90's Atmosphere
One of the main plot points involves a VHS tape and VCR. They refer frequently to laptops as computers. And how long has it been since you heard a thirty year old say "cellular phone?" The writing is simple and straight forward and it does have some nice scenes involving the destruction that occurred as a result of the rapture. It seems that it can't decide on whether the people who have disappeared are having a significant effect on the work force or not. Rayford is needed as a relief pilot, but Hattie's sister who works at an abortion clinic doesn't think she could get another medical job. So pilots are religious, but doctors not so much? There needs to be some consistency to the devastation.

In the End
The end is the only time the novel approaches any form of tension. Nicholae's first speech in the novel was almost comical to read, but it did set up the more sinister echo at the end. The thing is that this book serves mostly to set up our heroes for the following 15, that's right FIFTEEN, books. As such this one's ending is not very satisfying unless you found the "will they, won't they" become Christian game compelling.

For a book that seems to want to convert skeptics (sometimes) it takes quite a few underhanded jabs at them. It seems a little strange to me that they'd take that approach. You likely will find this book offensive unless you're already a born again Christian or you enjoy comparing the Antichrist to Santa Claus. The science of the world is very B-movie sci-fi level. I know they wanted to make science sound ridiculous, but it really just tore apart the credibility of this book. I also though the idea of there needing to be a world religion before a world government to be absolutely preposterous. One does not make the other necessesary or even inevitable. I would posit that we will have a world government and still have many languages and religions long after that. So, unless you already believe the way these two do you will likely only get mad or become more resistant to what they're saying. As a book, I can't recommend it due to weak plot and lack of narrative.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

The Day of the Triffids

Day 6
The Day of the Triffids (1951)
By: John Wyndham

A man tells the story of how he survived the rise of the Triffids. After a comet blinds all adults who looked at it. The world is overrun with a strange and deadly species of plant monster. However; different ideas spring from humanity as to how to deal with the sighted and the blind. Bill Masen must choose between bad and worse.

This is another novel that skirts my rule against alien invasions for this list. In the movie version the Triffids are alien invaders, but in the novel they are far more interesting. The novel may not go over well with disabled rights groups as the blind are most often protrayed as a drain on the post-apocalyptic society. As with most of the novels Ive covered, this one also contains some sexist and racist notions that were typical of the time, but they don't distract from the plot. This especially noticed in the character of Josella as she walks the line between damsel love interest and independent woman.

Our Heroes
Bill Masen is the protagonist who escapes being blinded due to a Triffid attack. Having worked with Triffids as part of his job, he becomes more sought after once the Triffid threat becomes real. He is also a romantic and falls for Josella. Once apart he risks his own life to be with her.

Josella Playton is a former novelist who loses her family to the Triffids. Bill first rescues her after she is enslaved by an abusive blind man. Josella is quite a progressive woman, after she gets over her initial shock. She gives some nice insight into the ideas presented for the future.

Sighted Foes
Coker is an altruistic person who feel that the blind can be saved. He captures Bill and Josella and forces them to lead groups of the blind in different parts of London.

Durrant is a stubborn woman whose Christian virtues blind her to the present problems. She runs a farm commune that tries to save several hundred of the blind.

Torrence is a man with red hair who has notions of international control. He is the ultimate threat that seeks to split the lovers and is quick to use force.

The Triffids are large plant monsters with a deadly sting. In the novel they are treated similarly to how zombies often are: dangerous, but not as dangerous as other humans. They are probably the book's best idea and it is a shame that they are cheapened in the film.

Cold War Atmosphere
This novel was written early in the cold war and you can feel it in some of the paranoid comments. The descriptions of the slowly overgrown London countryside mesh well with the nefarious triffids knocking at the gates.

In the End
I wish the end had more to say. One of the villains reappears after not having been seen since about the halfway point. This results in a daring ruse that isn't too exiciting. Then we get a glimpse of the future, but as much as I would have liked. Maybe I've been spoiled by The Earth Abides.

This is a very enjoyable sci-fi tale that has really great concepts and ideas. This book's biggest problem is that it gets a bit diluted. There are four antagonists throughout the book that serve to represent different ways for dealing with the crisis. It is necessary to serve the book's goal, but hinders the story progression. This book has a lot of great ideas and will be a treat for fans of fifties sci-fi.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Earth Abides

Day 5
Earth Abides (1949)
By: George R. Stewart

Ish is bitten by a rattlesnake while working on his graduate degree in Biology. He manages to get most of the poison out, but lies in bed delirious for days. A few people come, but run away when they notice he is sick. Ish first notices that he has seen fewer people in the last few days. He heads into town and sees the headlines that many have died of a great plague. This starts him on a journey to witness the results of the plague and its effect on the earth.

This is a very challenging book and contains many ideas about the nature of man and his progress. However; being written in the late forties means it can also slip into racism, sexism, and anachronism. Also, I'm not sure the writer liked animals terribly much if at all. He does use them effectively sometimes, but in certain sections there are dogs that don't act like I think they should. That said, it is still a fantastic look at its own time, containing some interesting comparisons to our own possible future. It tracks the adaption of man to the loss of civilization. In doing so, Earth Abides also seek to pin down what civilization is with its pros and cons being mostly up to the reader. As with most great books it draws some of its own conclusions, but also leaves the reader free to come to their own.

Our Hero
Isherwood 'Ish' Williams acts as our eyes and ears throughout the incredible journey. He is educated, but came off as a bit arrogant, especially at the start. By the end I thought he was a great main character and really felt a connection to him. So, if you dislike him at the beginning at least reserve judgment until part two.

Tribe of Observers
There are other important members of the Tribe, such as Em, Ezra, and Joey. However, including accounts of them spoils a lot of the charm of the book and wouldn't serve much good. I'll just say they are very effective in their goals. There is also technically a villain who serves to make a tremendous point, but doesn't actually do that much.

Declining Atmosphere
It is split into three different parts, each covering a year, with two interludes that serve to fill in the time gaps. The first year, year zero, contains Isherwood's assessment of the devastation. The second, year 22, show the progress of 'the Tribe' and the struggle of old versus new. The final, an unspecified year, is incredibly short and details the ultimate fate of Ish as he witnesses how his great grandchildren survive. The novel also contains articles, radio broadcasts, and prose from outside points of view interspersed through Ish's accounts. I was impressed at how cohesive the whole books is. It didn't feel like three different parts or even three different years. It felt like I read the entire life of Isherwood Williams.

In the End
The whole last three chapters of this book are awesome. It gets a little stranger and more stream of consciousness at the end, but it is a powerful finale to this epic tale.

It is difficult to talk about parts of this book since it works so well as a whole. This book reads like a natural update to and expansion of Jack London's The Scarlet Plague. Earth Abides has long been considered a seminal classic of both the science fiction genre as a whole and the apocalyptic fiction subgenre. I definitely agree with its placement in the canon of science fiction and recommend this book to anyone interested in those genres. It should also be an interesting read for anyone with anthropological interests. This is one of the best on this list and I keep finding myself comparing the other novels on the list to this one. Read it!