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Friday, March 20, 2015

Turning the Corner from Season 1 to Season 2: Orphan Black and The Americans

I have never been sucked into a TV program like Orphan Black. The first few episodes were edge-of-your-seat spectacular. In this program, we discover a character has been cloned mysteriously, and the clones gather to find out who/what has been killing them.

The Americans was similarly enthralling, if not quite as spectacular. Here we have a Russian spy couple who sneaked into the U.S., posing as an average Americam family, but one with principles that may make you cringe as they are more than willing to cover mistakes with murder. You have a weird feeling empathizing with a couple with whom you may share little except common humanity. One's own response to the series is nearly as interesting as the show itself.

The plotting and character fascinate. Both have incredibly versatile actors who can throw themselves into an entirely different role and look like someone else. In fact, while being the same person, some characters were attractive while others were not.

Both suffered, at least in terms of consecutive-episodes viewing from predictable sexual escapades averaging once per episode for Orphan Black, two or three in The Americans. With the upshot that there was little sexy about their sexcapades. In  The Americans, one wonders if that were part of the point. This is part of their job as spies. You can even note which sexual liasons were distasteful to the characters. The Americans uses several sexual events as points to create later plot tension, though not always. One wonders if more people will want to become spies after this--a more respectable profession that prostitution.

Something happened in season two with Orphan Black. Rather, something didn't happen. The writers wanted to keep the show going with continual surprise, to keep viewers on their toes--which I do love--but it felt like surprise for surprise's sake (or for the series' sake), rather than for the story's. Revelations were few. At some point the players'/protagonists' motives need to crystallize. I'm reminded of the Lemony Snickett series that built up a grand mystery only to open an empty box. Perhaps if it were a one-book or a short-story deal, this could work. Not fourteen books leading up to nothing. Otherwise, the story becomes mechanical and reveals nothing new. Which is what happens with soap operas. You start to feel you've seen it all before and there were will be nothing here to satisfy/conclude/ponder. I hope Season three reveals more than season two. I'm still debating whether to keep watching it.

Season Two of The Americans, on the other hand, seems to be working well. The difference? There isn't one grand narrative. A number of concurrent narratives allow viewers to be satisfied when resolved, yet they introduce new narratives to complicate scenarios. For instance, they resolve who murdered the couple's best spy friends, only to discover a plot that embroils their own children into a similar scenario.

While I love the period aspects, I'm not sure if I've ever watched a program with so many ugly ties before.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Finn Fancy Necromancy (Preview) by Randy Henderson

Finn Fancy Necromancy
Randy HendersonMacmillan-Tor/ForgeTor Books

What more could a debut author want? A cool title and a funky cover. Randy Henderson, winner of last year's Writers of the Future award, has it made. I reviewed his story here. Perhaps I should revisit this tale to confirm or negate my earlier impression.

Tor supplied a hefty amount of opening chapters for reviewers to check out Henderson's work. For those of us who love oddity, Henderson churns out a heady mix of the familiar and unfamiliar.

To pay for his crime of dark necromancy--a crime he didn't commit--Finn Gramaraye has been stuck in another realm for twenty-five years where he's been hanging with blobbish creatures and reflecting on past mistakes. When he exits, he has to deal with the difference between his last time on Earth [1986] and the present, and all the changes between. No sooner is he free, than he finds himself embroiled again in a battle against sasquatch (sasquatches?), among others.

This bears favorable comparisons to Kevin Hearne, Terry Pratchett and J. K. Rowling. The Rowling connection is in feel and scenario, mostly the prison and guards (Enforcers). The Hearne comparison comes with the voice, direct-to-reader with personality although both occasionally rely on too much dialogue. Both use traditional tropes, but Hearne is more explicit about its historical magic development.

Henderson shares with Pratchett a light humorous tone, except Henderson often relies on puns and 80s nostalgia i.e.
"He looked like one of the hair metal rockers from Poison, with a mighty mane that covered his face and draped down over his shoulders."
"The sasquatch ignored us. It looked like we'd narrowly escaped a hairy situation."
This is sample enough to give you a flavor for whether this is your cup of tea. It will appeal most to those who enjoy the off-beat, but there's plenty of tried-and-true as well:  an unusual dynamic that drives familiar genre tropes.

Monday, March 16, 2015

"Lois Lane: A Real Work of Art" by Gwenda Bond

Lois Lane: A Real Work of Art 
(an official teaser short story)
Gwenda Bond 
CapstoneSwitch Press
Here's a stroke of bookmaking genius: telling Lois Lane's story. In Gwenda Bond's capable hands, the character takes on new life as a girl detective. The story is billed as "an official teaser short story for the young adult novel LOIS LANE: FALLOUT that takes place before Lois moves to Metropolis. FALLOUT is forthcoming from Switch Press in May 2015."

This short work is available online here. It relates how Lois Lane, who is supposed to be an art prodigy, feels out of her depth in art class. However, she stumbles upon a clue that will help resolve a crime. There's also a cute reference at the story's finale if you don't read it too quickly as I nearly did.

The tale is described as a teaser, which it does well, hinting at the novel to come. The story itself is perhaps too quickly resolved, but one does sense something of Lane's character, a smart and sometimes witty YA detective. Fans of Veronica Mars, take note.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Review: Jamie Marks Is Dead

Based on Christopher Barzak's novel "One For Sorrow," Jamie Marks Is Dead relates the life of Adam in the wake of classmate Jamie Marks' death, a death which follows shortly after bullying incidents.

After Adam witnesses the ghost of Jamie, Adam wants to investigate who murdered Jamie. Adam's friend Gracie discourages his desire to unravel the mystery that becomes more and more psychological.

Some character motivations puzzle viewers in the middle. For instance, why does Gracie discourage Adam's sleuthing? What do Adam and Jamie want from each other? Some of it is explained by a very satisfying if melancholy conclusion; some of it remains a mystery. Also, the film make plain how Jamie, an attractive young man, had slipped into high school with no friends. One suspects poor socialization, but it isn't much demonstrated in his afterlife.

It's well worth watching, though. Several scenes are beautifully shot and composed, and it will leave you pondering questions of life and death.

Centipede Press's collected R A Lafferty titles

 The Man Who Made Models

The Man with the Aura

Monday, March 2, 2015

A critical component of Star Trek, Leonard Nimoy passed away.

This is nerdism cubed. Leonard Nimoy, actor of Star Trek, sings of Bilbo Baggins. The ladies have matching Sweatshirts, Spock ears and a little dance to go along with the lyrics. It has the feel of something dreamed up in an afternoon after smoking an illegal substance.

Here, Leonard Nimoy reads classic Ray Bradbury.