Saturday, March 26, 2011

Old Man's War

Recently, a little bored with reading the same old thing over and over again; I started reading science fiction again. I read sci-fi voraciously as a youngster, got into it again in a big way in the late 80s/early 90s, and read very little for the last fifteen plus years. There are a lot of advantages to this approach: you’ve let enough time pass you can go back and re-read old favorites, finding them somewhat fresh after so long, and there is sure to have been a lot of good books published while you were away.

I don’t intend to do any real reviews of the sci-fi I read. Other than a second major in mathematics, I don’t have any real scientific knowledge, and I don’t think I would grow as a person reading the comments explaining how I must be a complete moron because I incorrectly explained the formula to express a closed thermodynamic system. At least from the outside, the sci-fi community seems amazingly argumentative and devoted to feuds, often over the most trivial things. Science fiction writers and readers range from the obsessively politically correct to proudly politically insensitive, and are willing to write tens of thousands of words to fight over things you wouldn’t even notice, let alone hold a grudge over.

(My use of the term “sci-fi” in place of science fiction is enough to piss a large number of people off. I read a comment by a noted sci-fi author where he stated calling science fiction “sci-fi” was the same as calling a black person the “n-word.” Which is so ludicrous I had to use it, despite the knowledge it may be a provocation.)

Without going into detail, I do want to recommend sci-fi books from time to time, although anyone who reads the genre on a regular basis knows these books pretty well. With that in mind, I would like to whole-heartedly recommend John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series. I just finished reading the first three books, Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, and The Last Colony. They are wonderful stuff, heavily influenced by Robert Heinlein and Joe Haldeman, particularly the respective authors’ books Starship Troopers and The Forever War. They are military science fiction with a conscience and a surprising amount of humor, very well done, and I read through the three of them in just a couple of days. My only regret is I won’t get to read them again for the first time.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

EBook Alert: Rock 'n Roll Reform School Zombies

Bryan Smith's book Rock 'n Roll Reform School Zombies is now available on the cheap, for those of you who have e-readers. It can be downloaded for just $2.99 at Amazon. I haven't gotten around to reviewing the book because I am insanely lazy, but I will tell you it is a bargain at that price.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


There is a special class of flawed movies that, despite their limitations, grabs hold of you for one reason or another. They vary from person to person, but for me one of those is John Boorman’s uneven 1981 film Excalibur.

Like a lot of boys, I went through a strong “knights in shining armor” phase. I listened while my Grandmother told Welsh-centric stories of Arthur and his knights, and read the books by Howard Pyle, T. E. White, and Thomas Mallory that told of their exploits. The first Latin phrase I ever learned was “Hic Jacet Arturus, Rex Quondam, Rexque Futurus.” All legends and moonbeams, but it stuck with me.

When I was in college, the movie Excalibur came out (now I’ve dated myself) at the exact time the two rival theater chains in town were locked in a bitter competition, which would ultimately destroy both of them. One of the by-products of their struggle was a pricing system of $1 for evening showings Monday through Thursday, and 50 cent matinees Monday through Friday. Affordable for even a broke college student, and it resulted in my seeing Excalibur probably a dozen times during its long run.

Last week, the movie was released for the first time on blu ray (earlier VHS and DVD releases were very poorly mastered), so I thought I would see how well it held up. The short answer is that everything that was good about it back in 1981 is still good, while the rough spots, well, they are still painful. I won’t bother to recap the plot, since I assume everyone either knows the Arthur story, or doesn’t care about it.

The good: What originally attracted me to the movie was its beauty. The photography is gorgeous, depicting a lush green England. The knights are clad in completely impractical but beautiful shining armor (which they never remove – even when they are having sex. This indicates the women of the day were made of pretty stern stuff.) against which spatters of red blood seem to glow. Many of the better scenes were shot at night, and the flickering torches give the scenes a mythological beauty. Music is also used very well, with this film being the basis of my love for Carl Orff’s now-overused Carmina Burana. Some of the acting (Nicol Williamson as Merlin, Helen Mirren as Morgana, Gabriel Byrne as Uther Pendragon) is also top notch.

The bad: As much as I like the good parts of Excalibur, I have to admit where it comes up short, it’s terrible. The script, by Boorman and his frequent collaborator Rospo Pallenberg, has some of the most clunky and obvious dialogue in the history of cinema (Examples: The king is ambushed, and shortly after, his bodyguards arrive. Their dialogue: “The king is ambushed!”, which we just observed. Helpful for the blind, perhaps. Hector says to Arthur “You are not my son”. Arthur replies “Then Kay is not my brother?” Makes you think Arthur is a little slow.) There is a scene at the end where the dying Arthur asks Percival to take Excalibur and throw it into the water. Percival rides off, can’t do it, comes back, tells Arthur he couldn’t, Arthur says you must, and Percival finally comes through. An unnecessary break in the pacing of the movie.

The bad acting in the movie is truly horrendous. Boorman’s daughter Katrine played Igrayne. She is beautiful, but struggles to say the simplest lines. The child playing the young Morgana does much better. Also disappointing is Liam Neeson. Neeson is a great actor, but this is one of his earliest roles, and he had a lot to learn about technique.

Despite the bad spots, I still enjoy the movie. Whether you will or not will depend on your ability to overlook its flaws.

A Brief Interview With Christopher Golden

My interview with Christopher Golden is now up at Horror World. Mr. Golden was very gracious to submit to my questioning.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Stupid, Stupid

I’ve had to come to grips with being an addict. A week ago, I stopped taking a drug I’ve used recreationally for a long time. This was followed by days of alternate lethargy and twitchy energy, pounding headaches, an inability to concentrate, sleeplessness and a deep craving for the drug. My productivity plunged to historically low levels, and I was irritable even by my questionable standards. I was slow to acknowledge cause and effect, because I couldn’t believe I was hooked.
Yes, a week ago, for no apparent reason, I stopped drinking coffee. Apparently, a decades-long habit that has turned my blood jet black has a powerful hold on me. Good to know, I suppose.
This morning, I had four large cups of coffee within an hour of getting up. I feel so much better.
Happiness through chemicals.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Two New Collections From Ronald Kelly

Ronald Kelly has announced two new collections of his Southern-fried horror stories. They are Twilight Hankerings and Unhinged, both available from Crossroads Press for the low, low price of $3.99. I know I have a hankerin’ for these stories, and I imagine they would please you, too. Click on the names to be taken to the ordering page.