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joehill nos4a2

Review: N0S4A2 by Joe Hill (2013)

joehill nos4a2

With N0S4A2 (Nosferatu), author Joe Hill hems even closer to the odd, the weird and the often horrifying universe of his father, Stephen King.

This is  a  creepy, suspenseful novel of the supernatural, where a man in a 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith kidnaps kids and takes them to a place he calls Christmasland.

Of all the holidays, Christmas remains my favorite, even if it’s lost all meaning. I love the decorations, I love the music (which is odd, because it’s so religious and I’m not very religious), I love the sweets and all the other food that goes with those 6 weeks that starts at Thanksgiving. Yeah, presents are great, but for me they pale next to the colorful lights, the sparkling tinsel, and the smell of pumpkin pie and gingerbread cookies (love the odor, but not a huge fan of the taste).

Here in N0S4A2, Hill gives us a very dark side to the holiday. Charles Manx has a totem, one that enables him to traverse our world to an “mindspace” dimension where Christmas exists all the time (ever since I saw the fourth Indiana Jones movie, the one with the aliens who don’t come from space, but from other dimension, the whole innerspace crutch seems a bit nonsensical to me, mostly because then the writer really does not have to explain too much about the internal logic of how a man and a car, or a girl and bridge can do what can be done in the this book). The Wraith, which could be the cousin to Stephen King’s Christine, exists here in our world, but is also able to open a doorway to Christmasland, where Manx drives them down the highways of his mind. It sort of preserves them in their young innocence, but it also sucks the life out of them during the car ride. What’s left of the children –empty husks, really – is stored away like cans of corn in the dark pantry of his demented mind. Thus, these kidnapped children now can live worry free life and never, ever be hurt by the outside world, or (the reason for Manx’s demented idea) by their parents. Much like Neverland, the kids never need to grow up.

For a long time, Manx has been able to do what he thought right, until he met a seventeen year-old girl in 1996, Victoria McQueen. Much like what Manx could do, when Vic was a child in the mid 1980’s, she was able to leave her squabbling parents behind, and with her Triumph bike and a magical bridge, she could go anywhere. First not understanding what it was she could do, Vic used the bridge to find lost things. But like any magical thing, it began to take its toll on her. But a near fatal accident put her trips behind her.

Until a decade later when a much troubled Vic uses her thoughts and her bridge that brings her into the contact with Manx and his able henchman (or Renfield, if you will), Bing. But Vic is able to escape, saved by a fat young man who will –as time moves on- becomes Vic’s lover that produces a son, Bruce Wayne Carmody.

Now, more than a decade later, Vic remains a troubled woman. She is damaged by her parents, her magical bridge and life in general. Despite this, she still loves her son Wayne and –though she seemed never to admit it out loud for a long time- Lou, the geek that saved her. But the past, much as the theme in many of his dad’s novels, never stays there, and Manx (caught and imprisoned and who died there, but was able to walk out even after his heart was removed) never forgot the one girl who got away.

But as much as Manx wants Vic to pay for what she did to him, his real target is her son Wayne, and an epic battle for control over the soul of a 12 year-old boy is about to begin.

It is clear that Joe Hillstrom King inherited his father’s droll, gothic style humor –that includes the rhyming Bing and stuttering Liberian who possess some version of what Vic and Charles Manx can do. And much like his dad, Hill is able to create wonderful, believable characters. We see Vic go from being a messed up kid, to a messed up parent and it all rings true. And Manx can come across, at times, as a sympathetic vampire. I mean he does horrible things in pursuant of his goals, but he is not evil in every sense of the typical horror novel tropes (and something King has done in his later novels as well , especially in Under the Dome where we meet Big Jim Rennie. He is a horrible person, but evil? And in 11/22/63, King paints Oswald much more human. Yes, he’s still a bitter man and a wife-beater, but was he evil enough to kill a president?).

Also, if Joe Hill is to be the next Stephen King, he seems to be fine with the comparison (he decided to use a pen name early in his career in hopes of getting published on his own merits, not his name. The story goes that not even his publishers of his story collection 20th Century Ghosts and his first novel, Heart-Shaped Box, was aware of his lineage until shortly before they were release), as he drops some references to his dad’s work, including a nod to The Dark Tower and the True Knot, the “vampires” that will take on Danny Torrance in this September’s long awaited sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep.  Then again, this whole book is sort of rift on his dad’s ‘Salem Lot (which borrows heavily from both the classic silent film Nosferatu and Bram Stoker’s Dracula) and, as mentioned, Christine. And Hill also names a character after his mother, Tabitha.

It’s a bit over long, but the characters are strong and the story creepy enough to keep you reading. I’ll admit it kept me turning the pages. Again, the whole “inscapes” aspect leaves me feeling a bit unfilled with what it actually is, or was, but Hill’s abilities as a writer have grown. Heart-Shaped Box was a strong debut, and Horns (which will be a film starring Daniel Radcliff) –though a more conventional Twilight Zone tale- was still wonderfully mean.

readyplayerone

Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (2011)

It’s been a while since I read a science fiction book that was just pure fun as much as it’s clever.

On the surface, the premise seems a bit pandering: It’s 2041, and the world has been over thirty years in the grips of the Great Recession. Most people spend most of their free time in the greatest, most massively-multiplayer virtual world ever created –sort of a bigger version of World of Warcraft- called OASIS. Pretty much all gaming and sci-fi and fantasy worlds you can think of have been ported into this massive virtual multiverse, and players can move from planet to planet (and fantasy to fantasy) via Star Trek like teleport pads or any space ship from almost any science fiction film created. Designed and created by James Halliday and Ogden Morrow, OASIS becomes the solution for many who seek to escape the real world. But when Halliday learns he is dying –and with no heirs or other family- decides to leave his vast fortune (something like $240 billion) to anyone who can solve where he hidden an Easter Egg within the vast universe of OASIS. But years later, no one has figured out the puzzle, and thus the only ones who seem interested are people called “gunters,” a subculture of people who’ve become obsessed with Halliday and who spend hours upon hours going through everything he wrote and reliving almost every aspect of the 1980’s, because Halliday was fascinated with 80s pop and nerd culture of all kinds, including sci-fi, fantasy, anime, Giant Robot Japanese shows, Duran Duran, videogames and Dungeons & Dragons. So all the challenges, all the riddles involve trivia from that era, so Ready Player One becomes a massive mash-up of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Matrix (as USA Today called it) and Stephenson’s Snow Crash and other novels that feature a treasure hunt premise. Our hero and narrator, Wade Watts, is an awkward teenager, poor, over-weight, with acne and is living with his aunt in what amounts to future version of a trailer park, where RVs are stacked upon each other twenty or more trailers high to preserve ground space (which is a very clever idea, in my opinion). Like all gunters, he too seeks to solve the riddles and gain the fortune that will take him away from the world he currently lives in. Then one day, Wade stumbles upon the first clue in Halliday’s game and sets in motion a race to the finish. But there are some, including a huge corporation, that is willing to do anything, including kill people, to get control of the money and OASIS itself.

This is a delightful novel, fast-paced page turner and surprisingly well constructed. Debut novelist Ernest Cline –who wrote the screenplay for the little seen (but worth it) indie film Fanboys- spent much of his young adulthood working a series of low-paying tech support jobs that allowed him to surf the Internet while on the clock and research his many pop-culture obsessions. His love of the 1980’s shines with endless nods to almost every popular pop culture event that made that decade my favorite as well.

In the end, Ready Player One is pure escapism, yet there is coda to it as well, but it does not interfere with the pacing. One thing that interests me is that Cline sold the rights to Warner Bros and I’m curious how the studio and Cline (who is writing the screenplay) intend to use the multi copyrighted material of other companies and studios. I mean the holders might not want to sign the rights over, but if handled right, this could be a great movie the same way Toy Story was. Everyone knows the story of Mattel not allowing Barbie to be used in the first film, only to realize what money the lost by not allowing Pixar to use her –so the quickly acquiesced for the later films.

As huge fan of the 1980s and classic video games, Ready Player One is a valentine to the era and an enjoyable trip to those halcyon days.

The premise of NBC's 'Revolution' not revolutionary, but can it succeed where others have failed?

It’s become somewhat of futile effort for the networks over the last few years to try and replicate the success of ABC’s Lost. Not one of Big Four has triumphed, though they’ve made a concerted effort, so you got give them an E for effort. But for every Lost, we gotten V, Flash Forward,The Event, Alcatraz and Terra Nova.

Revolution is NBC’s latest attempt at the global conspiracy thriller, a serialized drama that takes place in a post-apocalyptic future. The pre-credit teaser begins with a harried mother Rachel Matheson trying to get her kids to talk to grandma on the mobile phone. But one is watching Bugs Bunny, the other playing on his tablet. In walks husband Ben, who tells his wife to fill the tub and be prepared, because it’s all going to go away. She seems to know what he means. He also begins downloading a program from his laptop onto some sort of external drive and stores it in some pendant. Meanwhile, Ben calls his brother, who is driving back to his military base with a friend. Ben tries to explain to Miles that something is about to happen, when suddenly an unknown phenomenon permanently disables all advanced technology on the planet, ranging from computers and electronics to car engines, jet engines, and batteries.

Now, it’s fifteen years later and people have forced to adapt to a world without technology, and due to the collapse of public order, many areas are ruled by warlords and militias. Ben’s wife Rachel has died, and daughter Charlie and son Danny struggle to make a living with others in cul-de-sac. But when a militia force arrives in their little circle, searching for Ben, the man knows time has run out, that these men want him because their leader believes he possesses certain knowledge about what happened fifteen years earlier and the militia leader will do anything to seize that power for themselves.

But Ben is killed –in probably the most pointless, and unbelievable aspect of the pilot; but hey, you need a weekly premise. Also, Danny is taken by the militia. But before he dies, Ben gives Aaron, another friend, the pendant that contains whatever he downloaded 15 years before. And then with his dying breath, he tells Charlie to find his brother Miles in Chicago.

The show was created by Eric Kripke, who is responsible for the long running CW series, Supernatural. The pilot, which is available for watching at NBC.com, starts off promising, and despite some compression to tell the tale in 44 minutes, this might work.

One of the first things I noticed was how the show resembles the CBS series Jericho from 2006 and Showtime series Jeremiah from 2002. Insomuch, I guess that they too were post-apocalyptic series, one about groups of survivors living in the aftermath of a nuclear attack and the other about a group of survivors living in the aftermath of a virus that killed adults.

Yeah, we know there are no new concepts out there, so what the writers and the producers need to do is up the story and create interesting characters to potentially to get around the prospective problem of viewers saying “seen this, done that.” Revolution does have a thread of believability in it, as we’ve come to rely on electricity, computers and our cars for everyday life. And if something like this were to happen, I do foresee a world coming apart, because the center will not hold and mere anarchy will be unleashed upon the world.

And much like Lost (and probably because the show is executive produced by J.J. Abrams) the show will feature flashbacks to when the power went off and how all things fell apart. At least I’m assuming they will. I mean why hire Elizabeth Mitchell (who was on screen for less than five minutes) as Rachel Metheson or even Tim Guinee as her husband, if you’re not?

The cast is good, led by doe-eyed Tracy Spiridakos as Charlie Matheson. With the success of The Hunger Games and Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss, this was a wise move to center the show on her. The only drawback is that she seems too impulsive, especially when she, Aaron (Zak Orth) and Maggie (Anna Lise Phillips)- who seems to be in a relationship with her dad- are hiking to Chicago to find her Uncle, she stumbles upon Nate (J.D. Pardo) by a stream. Yes, she seems cautious at first, but because he well-built and extraordinarily handsome, she ignores this potential breach by not mentioning she saw, what amounts to Ambercrombie & Fitch underwear model, lurking close by to her companions when she comes back to camp. In a world ruled by violent militias, and having your father murdered by one, I think not telling your friends you saw him was stupid and unbelievable.  Besides, the viewer knows from the start that he had to working for the militia, so no huge surprise when Uncle Miles (Twilight’s Billy Burke) rats him out.

Meanwhile, Burke plays retired USMC man Miles Matheson. It’s hinted in the pilot that his brother, Ben was working for someone –he knew the power was going to go off, as I noted- and that Miles may know something as well. This is what prompts the arrival of Tom Neville (Giancarlo Esposito) leader of the Monroe Militia to come and get Ben. Neville, who was some insurance man in another life, is portrayed as rather violent, even sadistic man (too much power corrupts maybe?)

While Revolution’s pilot offers little new in its premise, there is a kernel of good conspiracy show.  And the lines of good and evil maybe a bit blurred, as Nate may not be as bad he starts out to be –though I will be deeply disappointed he saved Charlie because he loves her. Though I suspect he might have something to do with the Maria Howell’s character of Grace, who rescues Charlie’s brother Danny (new comer Graham Rogers, who could be the younger brother of Queer as Folk star Randy Harrison) –at least temporarily- from the militia and who has a secret section of her house which where her mysterious looking broach (the same one Ben had at the beginning) can turn on power, and boot up a computer that could have come from 1991.

Still, it will need to keep the story interesting if viewers are going to come back every week. As a serialized show, it will need to balance the mythology with some great stories and not get mired down in ennui that these shows have problem with while working on a tight weekly schedule. It was also have to have very interesting characters. What made Lost work so well was its cast of flawed, yet believable people, caught in a mouse and cat game between two mysterious forces. Yet even as a science fiction series, the characters were grounded in reality.

That will be the greatest challenge of any show trying to replicate Lost.

'Doctor Who: 7.01: Asylum of the Daleks'

First off, I got to say that I’m not often surprised anymore by TV and movies. The internet age has spoiled everything for everyone, and I’ve been one the biggest enablers as well. It’s got to the point where I’m more fascinated by the information than the actual end product.

As a long-time viewer of Doctor Who –going on 32 years now- I’ve watched the show grow in the United States from a cult program to the “global phenomena” it’s become as the revived series launches into its seventh season. I’ve watched them all, every single episode from TOS not lost to the BBC’s lack of vision (even though I know it was a cost issue that forced the loss of a lot of William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton episodes in the 1960s) and every single episode in this new format.

Over the years, both old and new series showrunners have tried to keep secrets from press, and thus the fans. In the olden days, it was much easier; there were no internet and the fan’s, just as excited as today, were limited to small groups within their home towns, so getting information to each other was difficult.

Now, of course, as showrunner Steven Moffat has pointed out, it’s difficult to keep anything secret on Doctor Who. Due to the availability of the internet, phones that can take pictures that then can be transmitted instantly, and fans who come and stalk location shoots, information on what and who the Doctor is battling is rapidly spread across the world via blog forums and entertainment websites.

But the nearly 50 year-old franchise pulled a bait and switch with the TV viewing audience with its seventh season opener Asylum of the Daleks, and in doing so, provided a spectacular surprise that somehow never got out, despite four preview showings (plus, I think, this twist will cement Steven Moffat as one the most cleverest showrunners the series has ever been given). And as an added bonus, he skillfully rebooted the Daleks –not an easy task considering their long continuity history with the show.

At the end of season six, the Doctor had faked his death.  But what of the other prophecies that Dorium asks the Doctor about: the “fall of the Eleventh” and the ultimate question always hinted about in the long series history, “Doctor who?”

Little of that is addressed in what Moffat claims this will be a fairly episodic season, so no two-parter’s and apparently no huge arcs. So, as Asylum of the Daleks opens, the Doctor has arrived on Skaro, home world of the Daleks after receiving a message from a woman who needs the Doctor’s help in rescuing her daughter from a Dalek prison camp. While the Daleks have used humans before in their plans, they’ve never –as far as I known- had a prison camp. So all too late, the Time Lord realizes it’s a trap (which then begs the question if the Daleks could find him so easily, why all the subterfuge over the years?). Meanwhile, Amy and Rory have split up as the viewing audience is given a glimpse into just how much River Song has ruined their lives. Both are soon captured by the Daleks hybrids (where Moffat, in a sort of screw you to the Star Trek franchises Borg, have made the Daleks a hive mind now. I mean, after all, the Cybermen have always been the precursor to them, so why not for the Daleks?) and brought aboard a ship, where the Parliament of the Daleks takes them to their shielded asylum planet, a place where they keep the most battle-scarred and unstable of their kind.

The Dalek prime minister tells the Doctor that the planet has been penetrated by a ship and someone must go down to the planet and turn off the force field so they can destroy it.

And then it’s here we get to the surprise. Since the announcement of the departure of Amy and Rory was going to be the fifth episode and that the new companion was to be introduced in the sixth story, the Christmas episode called The Snowman, we were given a twist because there she was, appearing five episodes early, and, apparently, (taking a page from the life of River Song) doomed.

This sets up an interesting conundrum for fans, as they’ll have to ponder how Jenna-Louise Coleman’s character –going by Oswin Oswald here- ends up as Clara Oswin in the Christmas episode. The other intriguing aspect is how the Doctor heard her voice so clearly as a woman than a Dalek, until the reveal was made (and who else was reminded of Dalek, the episode from the first season of the revived series, when the Doctor saw who he been in contact with?)

In the meantime, while this episode does have “Dalek” in its title, the episode seems more focused on Amy and Rory’s fractured relationship. Here, both Arthur Darvil and Karen Gillan shine as they explore the repercussions of events at Demon’s Run –Amy was setting Rory free because she can never have kids, and Rory wants them so much (the performances of the actors was fantastic in that scene, but I afterwards, I began to ponder would Amy really divorce Rory without explaining the reason for why she’s divorcing him? I mean, who does that?).

As noted with the Star Trek franchise, continuity has been a hobgoblin to Doctor Who as well, especially with the Dalek’s, who’ve been the Doctor’s foes since its beginning. Here, Moffat gives the Daleks a bit of an evolution not seen in the franchise in a long time, and reboots them back to the menace they once were (and Oswin –in a sort of dues ex machina- has figured out a way to wipe the Dalek’s collective memory of their most deadly enemy, the Doctor). This intriguing development put’s their long-time battle between each other in new and very welcome position.

As we’ve learned, Moffat lies, and it will be interesting to see how this Oswin arc plays out. Also, hopefully, we’ll be given some explanation as why the Doctor heard her voice instead of a Dalek one, how he “saves” her (and she can’t be living in some sort reverse timeline like River Song, as she specifically says she’s never “seen him before.”).

How will she get to the Christmas episode intact? Is she really dead? Is she a ghost, as some rumors have suggested? Has the Doctor’s mind been clouded due to the nanoclouds on the planet, just as Amy’s was, so he assumes she’s a human and not a Dalek? Ironic, if the next companion turns out to be a Dalek, though then, Moffat would be borrowing from Voyager’s Seven of Nine, would he not?

And that, my friends, does not seem to be Steven Moffat.

Review: 'Doctor Who: Shada'

Shada was an untransmitted tale of the original Doctor Who series. It was a six-part serial scheduled to be the final story of season seventeen. But with all location footage finished and one block of three studio sessions done, there was a strike at the BBC. While it did not last long, the damage to the production schedule of all shows produced there was unfixable, so certain dramas –one being Doctor Who- got scrapped, ending the season six weeks earlier than scheduled.

And then a legend is born. Whether Shada deserves that status is questionable for many, especially if you watch the version the BBC released in 1992. After years of trying to remount the production, eventually producer John Nathan Turner got Tom Baker to film a linking narrative between the filmed and what never got a chance to be filmed. But since it was story was written by the genius that was Douglas Adams, this unfinished story grew to mythical proportions. It became, in some ways, much like Charles Dickens unfinished novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

But for Douglas Adams, it became a problem. He refused to have his name on the video release, claiming that he somehow “unintentionally” authorized its release –“Whoever it was had forgotten that I wanted Shada sat on.” Yes, like all artists, he was not pleased with his own work. And anyone watching it now –or even then- could see why, as it has a lot of silly humor, bad puns and looks cheap (this was the height of BBC cutbacks that made the show look like crap in the production department).

But, for the most part, the story pretty much makes sense, and the plot is interesting, even ambitious for that time period, almost justifying the 6 episodes the serial would have been (which sometimes was a rarity back then).  And like most contracts with Doctor Who writers went then, the authors were given the option to novelize their stories or have someone else do them.  Adams, however, would not allow anyone else to write them (he has two other serials, The Pirate Planet and The City of Death, that remain unpublished as novel as well), plus he asked for a higher price than the publishers were willing to pay. But Adams liked the ideas presented so much here so he recycled them (including bits from City of Death) for his 1987 novel, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. And, it seemed for Douglas Adams that was that.

Anyways, the plot is about an ancient book holding the location of the Time Lords’ secret prison, Shada. It’s desired by Skagra, a megalomaniacal alien who wants to break into the prison to steal the powers of its most infamous internee, a renegade Gallifreyan named Salyavin, and thus conquer the universe. The book is in the possession of the Doctor’s old friend Professor Chronotis, who has retired from Time Lord life and taken up at Cambridge University, where he’s been able to blend in as a doddering, absent-minded don for hundreds of years. Interrupting a visit from the Doctor, Skagra steals not only the book, but the professor’s mind, leaving him for dead, and heads for Shada with the Doctor in hot pursuit, along with Romana, his robot dog K9, and Chris and Claire, a pair of young grad students who haven’t fully figured out their relationship.

So, despite the all other things, there had been some hope that Adams might consider finishing Shada as a novel, but his tragic early death in May of 2001 put that idea to bed completely. Then in 2011, Gareth Roberts –a frequent, humorous, and prolific writer of original Doctor Who novels of the 1990s as well as a writer for the revived version of series and The Sarah Jane Adventures- was given the chance by Adams estate to adapt Shada as novel.

Choosing Robert’s was inspired, as his breezy approach to both The Unicorn and the Wasp and The Lodger (two of the four modern Doctor Who stories he has penned) will testify to. And you can tell he took great pains to be respectful to the original script all while fleshing out the sometimes underwritten side characters, even as he attempts to follow Adams’ script as closely as possible.

Still, the story suffers. Which is not Robert’s fault by far, as it becomes clear even Douglas Adams –whose rise in popularity began then with the success of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and was busy working on that as well as Doctor Who- was losing interest in the show. He just did not have the time to fix some of the major plot holes the serial had. Plus, it is an imitation of a Douglas Adams novel (as much as Eoin Colfer’s sixth novel in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy trilogy, And Another Thing is).

What made Adams successful was his ability to be satirical. He was humanist, making social commentary through humor; he was the slow-burning pessimist who looked at randomness of life, and how we could be destructive on one hand, and beautifully intelligent on the other. He was funny and that existential humor was what made him science fictions true pioneer of philosophical jokes.

With 33 years of Doctor Who lore behind him, Roberts does add more modern references to the novel, including the phrase “fixed points in time” and a mention of Neil Gaiman’s unseen Time Lord the Corsair. There is also a scene where Romana and the Doctor discuss other renegade Time Lords that includes an untold tale of the Doctor running up against the Interfering Nun.

In the end, Shada is a good novelization, but not a great one because Douglas Adams is not around. Any chance of seeing it as could have been originally, is long gone. So the serial is a rare dead end in Doctor Who lore and no matter if it is ever remounted again as an episode (In 2003, Paul McGann starred as the Eighth Doctor in a rewritten, partly animated audio version) it will always be the one story that got away.