Sunday, September 21, 2014

Z Nation, Season 1, Episode 2: Fracking Zombies

Y’know, after the Zombie Baby of last week, I’m not even sure what they’re going to do this week. But I have a curious sense of… morbid curiosity

The very annoying Simon (no I cannot call him Citizen Z and keep a straight face) who is now a radio DJ and quite possibly all that is left of the NSA manages to contact Mount Wilson, the place in California the gang’s trying to get the annoying Murphy to. They’re being overrun by zombies and the only thing Simon can do is helpfully fry their power (which is… helpful. Apparently) but in doing so he may have also fried their files and all their work. If they don’t have backups. C’mon, no backups?

After which he gets no responses and starts to go just a little zany, presumably from isolation. Or because, this show. He starts to fall apart a little with it – until he see a dog sled arriving. People! He’s overjoyed before he realises this may not be a good thing. But it’s ok the guy is dead (Simon puts a bullet in his brain just in case) though his huskie isn’t. Citizen Z now has a pet.

And a zombie huskie. Yes, a zombie huskie to fight. Basically take the scene last week with a baby hiding in a room and change it to a dog hiding in a room. Yes the zombie hides, no it doesn’t make sense. Simon ends up killing it with a wooden stick rather than have it kill the only living thing he’s seen for a year. Afterwards he injects the first real emotion into the show with his tearful joy/despair about being alive.

The gang, meanwhile, is ploughing their way down the road through packs of zombies in a convoy lead by a big armoured truck and Warren is having WAAAAY too much fun. Though it does mean stopping for fuel and maintenance and killing zombie that is mangled into the wheel well. Time to search for fuel, Addy continuing to record everything for the future (her explanation is they may be the last generation of humans. Which… doesn’t strike me as an argument for recording anything. Who is she recording for, visiting aliens?) Murphy is still an over the top arsehole and the mystery sniper hitch-hiker is called “10K” for the number of zombies he intends to kill. Oh, Z Nation, cheesier than fondue.

They run into a survivor, a biker they passed earlier who offers the location of more petrol in exchange for a ride. To the refinery or, as Murphy dubs it, the zombie factory – because it’s crawling with zombies attracted by the noise of the pump. Also, zombies are so flammable they can’t use guns (I think simply saying the petrol was flammable would make more sense). To draw the zombies away, Cassandra has a music box.

No… really… zombies are attached to high pitch music. Apparently. It’s Z Nation, don’t think too hard guys. She and the new guy (dubbed Travis because why not) are on distraction duty where we learn she used to be called Sunshine, be part of something called “the family” and Travis was sent to bring her back.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Haven, Season 5, Episode 2: Speak No Evil

Duke is having a bad day and decides to unload to Nathan – who tells Duke Mara shot him. Y’know stealing someone’s thunder like that is just rude. Nathan’s not getting medical help though because Mara’s after evil Aether (the black goo) and Duke is willing to let it go because he’s obsessed with finding Jennifer

Mara, meanwhile, happily murders someone possibly over a pencil before recruiting intern Vicki with her drawing Trouble to do some sketching for her, hoping her power will open the Thinnie (oh gods are we calling them that?) Thankfully, no, Vicki isn’t powerful enough because she’s an “early model.” Vicki gets tased – it’s useful being semi-regular cast, less chance of being murdered. But Mara did get Vicki’s keycard which lets her in the morgue where she works.

As we check in on Gloria (who is awesome) we see the test-tube of Aether she has stored acting up – just as Mara arrives with a gun.

Having spoken to Vicki, Nathan arrives looking quite chipper considering the bullet wound and finds the morgue in disarray and Gloria, thankfully, (or we’d have ISSUES), alive and snarky (and still awesome – she had the presence of mind to hide when Mara showed up with Intern’s pass. Yes, Intern, Gloria has no patience for silly things like names). Gloria also hid the Aether, because she’s Gloria and awesome. It also means Nathan fills her in on the whole Audrey/Mara thing while she deals with the many many bodies.

Dwight drops in on Vince who is still guarding Dave’s bedside – he’s not happy about Vince keeping the whole Mara-is-responsible-for-the-Troubles to himself and also Driscol’s fanatics are giving the Barrow family grief because the whole face sewing Trouble going round is their family Trouble (even if it’s now on Duke). And, basically, Vince is totally slacking off in his task of heading the Guard.

Dave does finally wake up and Vince uses the arcane powers of soda and porn to question his brother about his little secret of having being through the portal. Though all he remembers is fog – and returning to the real world in terrible pain and with bruises which now has all over again. Vince takes scans of the injuries to Gloria who declares them terribad.

Dwight’s still trying to fix the Trouble issue which means grabbing Duke and stopping him obsessing about Jennifer for 5 seconds – especially since he just got an entire coastguard crews’ eyes sewn shut. Dragging Duke to the Barrows finds Henry Barrow badly beaten – looks like Vince was distracted and didn’t arrange the protection he should have. Bringing them to the hospital also unleashes Duke’s little sewing problem on the poor medical staff. While Duke is panicking, Dwight questions an elderly member of the Barrow family about the Trouble and learns that the sewing happens whenever someone tries to tell them bad news (everyone telling Duke that they haven’t seen Jennifer). There’s even more rumbling of the Guard being restless.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Zombies: More Recent Dead Anthology

The Afflicted by Matthew Johnson; Dead Song by Jay Wilburn; Iphigenia in Aulis by Mike Carey; Pollution by Don Webb; Becca at the End of the World by Shira Lipkin; The Naturalist by Maureen F McHugh; Selected Sources for the Babylonian Plague of the Dead (572-571 BCE) by Alex Dally MacFarlane; What Maisie Knew by David Liss; Rocket Man by Stephen Graham Jones; The Day the Music Died by Joe McKinney; The Children’s Hour by Marge Simon; Delice by Holly Newstein; Trail of the Dead by Joanne Anderton; The Death and Life of Bob by William Jablonsky; Stemming the Tide by Simon Strantzas; Those Beneath the Bog by Jacques I Condor (Maka Tai Meh); What Still Abides by Marie Brennan; Jack and Jill by Jonathan Maberry; In the Dreamtime of Lady Resurrection by Caitlin R Kiernan; Rigormarole by Michael A Arnzen; Kitty’s Zombie New Year by Carrie Vaughn; The Gravedigger of Konstan Spring by Genevieve Valentine; Chew by Tamsyn Muir; ‘Til Death Do Us Part  by Shaun Jeffrey; There is No “E” in Zombi Which Mean there Can Be No You or We by Roxanne Gay; What Once We Feared  by Carrie Ryan; The Harrowers by Eric Gregory; Resurgam by Lisa Mennetti;  I Waltzed with a Zombie by Ron Goulart; Aftermath by Joy Kennedy-O’Neill; A Shepherd of the Valley by Maggie Slater; The Day the Saucers Came by Neil Gaiman; Love Resurrected by Cat Rambo; Present by Nicole Kornher-Stace; The Hunt: Before, and the Aftermath Joe R Lansdale; Bit Rot by Charles Stross

My first impression of this book: 36? Thirty-six? That’s a vast amount of stories for an anthology! Even 20 would have been pretty big

My second impression: No, really, 36? Seriously?

My third impression: wait, 36 stories and it’s only 480 pages long? How does that work?

Simply, a lot of it doesn’t – we have some frankly weird, surreal, barely related and generally random filler fluff pieces some of which defy me even commenting on them because I have no idea why they’re there other than to pad an already hugely stuffed book – so The Day the Saucers Came is just some randomness that barely covers two pages and is only, at best, tangentially related to the theme (or any theme for that matter), The Children’s Hour is a poem and not a particularly good one. Rigormarole feels like a tiny scrap that was edited out of a longer book and is kind of lost and pointless without the rest

But then we get down to the inherent problem of zombies and short stories. Now, I know I’ve said before that I’m generally not a huge fan of short stories anyway – and I hold on to that. A short story is usually too short to establish characters, world or a decent plot line, so often it relies on lots of info dump and no plot, lots of short cuts or relies on a lot of prior knowledge of a longer series. Then we get to zombies – there’s actually not a lot you can do with zombies. Oh, you can switch around the origin and nature and properties of zombies but, ultimately, a zombie is generally a rapacious killing machine with low intellect and (usually) both spreads rapidly and is made up of our former loved ones. Most zombie stories actually focus less on zombies and more on the characters reacting to grief, shock, horror, struggling to survive, etc etc – look at most zombies stories out there: from The Walking Dead to World War Z, most of the time zombie stories are about the people in an apocalypse

Which is damn hard to do in a short story – because you have a few short words in which to make me care enough about this person and the situation they’re in. Worse, you have a few short words to make me care enough about this person and the situation we’re in while 30+ other stories have already tried to convince me about their person in, basically, the same situation. It’s hard not to reach story 30 and not think “can you just be eaten already so I can get to the next one?”

So a lot of these stories rely on the emotional horror of loss in a dystopian. Some work and some not so much. Becca at the End of the World manages a very real emotional impact with a mother facing her 16 year old daughter turning in front of her, but it also feels heavy handed. I mean, we have a mother watching her child turn zombie – you’d have to be a horrendously awful writer not to make that emotional. I found it both very impactful but also kind of lazy – the easy route. I also thought Jack and Jill with its comparisons of zombiehood to terminal illness (and presenting someone with cancer – and in remission no less - as being, effectively, the living dead) both problematic and, again, a way of forcing emotional impact by hammering it in. Shepherd of the Valley was a man in a zombie apocalypse with a rather unique way of dealing with things but the story primarily centred around his sadness for his daughter  which just wasn’t that well conveyed- lots of moping with an odd setting. Which also kind of describes Love Resurrected; it’s a fantasy setting with the twist of a “zombie” point of view – but there was too much distraction from character development to get any real emotion out of the character

POC as Other: The Foreigner, The Savage, The Non-Human

We’ve said repeatedly on Fangs for the Fantasy is that not all inclusion is good inclusion - something that is often forgotten since so many shows and books completely erase minorities or, at best, present hollow tokens that are blatantly there to tick boxes. It’s tempting to celebrate even limited inclusion - but we should be wary of given uncritical praise to problematic tropes raising their ugly heads over and over and over again

One of the most pervasive of which, for POC, is the Other. Not Like Us. The Alien. The different - repeatedly we will see something that separated POC from the “local” people (or, in extreme cases “normal” people). This isn’t the same as presenting POC with cultural markers - in fact we’ve spoken before about the removal of identity with POC characters - but as expressly Othering POC as external to the setting

A common example of this is by making all POC foreign. When POC are included they are often not local to the setting - they come from elsewhere, some foreign land, they’re immigrants or visitors or passing through or, in some cases, outright alien or non-human. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, obviously there is no problem with having POC from foreign countries to the setting nor even in having non-human POC - the problem comes when these are the only or the overwhelmingly predominant representations especially when the setting of the book/show is much more diverse.

Take The Dresden Files. Harry lives in Chicago - a city that is 55% non-White, yet the vast majority of the very few POC who appear in the city are not native Chicagoans. We have members of the High Council (emphasising how global and diverse the High Council is, which isn’t a bad thing), visiting wizards (Ramirez), foreign knights of the cross from Japan (Shiro) and Russia (Sanya); but very few actual Chicagoans are POC. This allows the (very limited) presentation of a few POC in the book while still implying that Chicago is an all White city. We also have Uriel, a Black angel - non-human POC who is by definition alien, which leads me nicely to Dominion.

Dominion is set in Vega, a post-dystopian Las Vegas. In the here and now, Las Vegas is only 48% non-Hispanic White - fast forward to Vega and we do have a fair number of POC in the city; but when you looked at actual people from Vega it is all white. All of the POC were either foreigners - natives of Helena (Arika) with it’s often emphasised different culture (nearly every time Arika or her fellow Hellenites appeared it was to emphasise her sexual nature or their foreignness and alienness to Vega) - or, tellingly, not human at all. Noma, Michael and Furiad, perhaps even Gabriel, are all POC and all angels. Again we have a setting that has presented several POC to the cameras (albeit not always for very long or in much depth), but they’re all Other, they’re all foreign or alien or inhuman. They’re all “not from round here.” We have an attempted display of diversity while still implying that the “home” location is all White.

Even in the future we get this same sense - look at Almost Human with Dorian the Black android. Again, there is no problem with Dorian being a Black man - nor is there a problem with a number of the other androids being POC (both the police bots and the sex bots). There is a problem that very few of the other human cast, both background extras and main characters combined, are actually POC. Again, we have diversity presented on the screen, even a co-protagonist presented as a POC, but we still have a trope that renders the POC as Other.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Infinity Key (Senyaza Series #2) by Chrysoula Tzavelas

Branwyn is human. A nice, normal human – which isn’t a great thing to be when magical shenanigans, monsters, fae and wizards are running around. There can be no greater evidence of this than her best friend, Penny, slowly dying in a hospital bed. A fate that could have been Branwyn’s if Marley hadn’t worked so hard to keep her out of the supernatural drama that had consumed her life.

Branwyn doesn’t want to be protected, she doesn’t want to be a tool, a victim or something to be sheltered and she certainly doesn’t want to sit and watch her best friend die. Against all advice and all established knowledge, she reaches out to Tarn, a fae noble, in his imprisonment in the fae world. He’s definitely using her for his own devices but he is the only one who offers even flimsy hope of saving Penny’s life – and, perhaps, of Branwyn learning some human skills that will allow her to protect herself in the magical world she has been plunged into.

When I started reading this book I was very worried I would hate Branwyn because in many ways she does exactly what I hate human characters in Urban Fantasy to do. She seeks out danger, she gets in way over her head, she doesn’t listen to warnings, she takes massive risks and she doesn’t know nearly enough to be safe. That is usually a recipe for me to be cursing a character and the magical luck that allows her to somehow exist and breathe through.

But Branwyn works. She works because she is extremely, painfully, aware of how vulnerable she is in fact the core of everything she does is because she is so vulnerable – she’s trying to reduce that vulnerability. She’s an aware human in the supernatural world – she’s inherently vulnerable. She’s tired of having to rely on the (sometimes dubious) protection of others and she can’t bring herself to pretend she isn’t aware of the supernatural around her. She needs to take these risks or spend the rest of her life being at risk or dependent on other people which is most definitely not her nor something she could endure.

It works, it fits her personality – she’s irrepressible, irreverent, fun loving, passionate and defiant – not in a constantly angry kind of way, but in her insistence that she will walk her own path and do her own thing and isn’t going to accept what others lay down as “the way things are.” This also makes her very determined and completely unwilling to accept the inevitable fatalism about Penny’s slow death, nor accept that her vulnerability or lesser status is just something she has to put up with. She’s also, unlike Marley, not willing to take the word of Senyaza for anything –neither assuming they know everything or assuming that they have her best interests in mind (especially since they’re more than a little condescending when it comes to humans anyway)

This makes her an excellent, caring, challenging character – if I had any criticism at al, it’s that her “irreverence” often comes across as brash or even outright rude with little justification for it – and seems more like showing off bravado than appropriateness of the situation. But then, when the only power you have in a situation is confidence and bluff – and making it abundantly clear to all concerned that you will NOT be playing by their rules then you have to spin it well.

Witches of East End, Season 2, Episode 9: Smells Like King Spirit

Ok, let’s clear the B storylines first:

Dash is having massive temper tantrums because Ingrid doesn’t want to return his calls. Dash does kind of epitomise the entitled, spoiled, rich kid doesn’t he? His tantrums reveal a hidden stash of letters and books from his evil grandfather – that would be the evil grandfather who was in a relationship with evil past!life Ingrid. There’s even a photograph of her.

He tracks down Ingrid because her not returning his calls is STILL not a big enough hint to ask about his evil-granddad’s journals. Ingrid explains the whole cursed rebirth thing and past lives. Dash also realises his mother was over a century old and that Ingrid had sex with his grandfather- but thankfully Ingrid is not his granny because uckies uckies uckies. Ingrid also remembers that evil granddad was evil – he had her do things like kill people and cover it up. Like she did with Dash. Ooops.

Dash counters it’s totally different because he’s not evil. Uh-huh, I think he’d have trouble convincing an impartial jury – and Ingrid for that matter. To prove his lack-of-evilness he has to burn the journals and black magic. Which he does. Good step. Step 2 involves Dash telling Killian he nearly killed him with magic. Yeah, not sure this step is a good idea, to be honest. Ingrid keeps trying to sell this as redemption while he’s clearly seeing it as a step-by-step guide back into Ingrid’s bed.

2nd B storyline and 2nd Beauchamp daughter:

Freya (argh, must we?) who dumps all of her Killian issues on Ingrid including that she thinks Eva is bespelling Killian (which is a) a classic case of main characters magically knowing the script and/or b) super arrogant because Freya assumes the only way Killian would chose Eva over her is witchcraft).

Eva and her daughter/grandmother seem to be using a magical pregnancy test that comes up negative which makes Eva very sad.

Freya sneaks into their house to steal a bottle of potion and runs into the grandma/daughter – who responds to this trespass by breaking glass and making a huge mess. Not the most useful offensive spells in the world. Granny needs to work on her aim. The stress of random vandalism also causes her heart trouble.

Freya tries to convince Killian that her breaking into his house is nothing to do with him being a depraved stalker and that Eva is totally evil but it’s not because of Freya’s jealousy. Uh-huh – that’s a pretty hard sell there.

They go to see Eva – and find her much older. Eva’s daughter/grandmother died from the heart attack. Eva isn’t even a witch – she’s human, but so long as she has a child by a warlock she remains young and powerful - which is why she needed to be pregnant by Killian before her daughter died. That didn’t work out so now death is catching up with her. As she collapses, Killian begs Freya to help and she leads him in a chant to help Eva but it doesn’t work. Tragic death follows Eva assuring Killian she really loved him, honest.

Killian goes, alone, to talk the whole living a lie thing through with Dash – reflecting on people he thought he loved lying to him. Guess what Dash decides to talk about? Yes, perhaps the worst possible moment, ever. Literally, he could not possibly have chosen a worst time for this.

Dash tries to point out he was angry and panicky, Killian points out that Dash actually pushed him out to see for him to die. “I was mad” and “I panicked” are really not good excuses for this. Lots of old brother issues are dragged up and a huge magical fight follows

In the aftermath both are unconscious and surrounded by wreckage – including the broken charm that’s supposed to keep the body of Dash’s victim underwater. It rises to the surface. What, you didn’t think to use a breezeblock as well as magic?

And the main plot:

Freddie is busy slicing and dicing Caroline for his sacrifice to granddaddy but Caroline keeps being funny and cute and declaring how much she loves and trusts him so Freddie just can’t go through with it. Y’know, rather than family members and lovers maybe you should try to sacrifice and arsehole? Like, say… Dash?

This Week in Book Covers 1st September - 5th September

This week the theme is Vague. We have a lot of books with some, generally very nice looking covers - but none of them really give me a sense of what’s inside the covers. In fact, they don’t really give me a good sense of the genre they belong to either

Blood and Gold (Vampire Chronicles #8) by Anne Rice

This cover is beautiful, there’s absolutely no denying it. It’s a glorious picture of a glorious scene. And it tells me not one thing about the inside. At least it’s prettier than most Vampire Chronicles covers, but like the rest it relies on name and author recognition rather than cover to actually tell us what is inside.

Shaman Rises (The Walker Papers #9) by C. E. Murphy

Again, it’s pretty, definitely a pretty cover, definitely something that’s nice to look at… but this is a book where Seattle is devastated in an apocalyptic magical battle, where buildings fall and dread magical forces ravage the good guys - gods! Monsters! Magic! What is this rather peaceful and beatific cover? I wonder if this book is resting more on being the 9th and concluding book in a series

Also, while we have the belt and tassels and, yes, Joanne does have strong Irish ancestry this cover doesn’t seem to touch much on her being Native American

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Seven Souls (Harrow #1) by Elissa Stark

Phoebe is a detective, one who is especially good at her job because of her ability to read emotions from things people have touched. But even she was surprised by a prophetic vision from a small child – one that predicted her surviving a car crash

She survived the crash, but afterwards she’s left with blackouts and an odd voice. While the doctors offer one explanation, she knows there’s more to this world and seeks out the child – and her father, the paranormal detective Jack with his own gifts. And his own job – to seek out the truth behind a murder she once investigated – and which seems to be racking up more victims

But as she seeks the killer, she also learns far more about the supernatural in the world – and in her own family history.

We have a very involved and different world here with a lot of mysteries. Different realms, angels, demons, humans with uncanny abilities – and hints of far more out there. There’s a lot to grasp here, especially since the demons and angels definitely come in different flavours as well – and it’s all shrouded in mystery; mystery that’s made all the more mysterious by being not entirely like anything I’ve read before.

I think this book actually manages a decent job with the mystery element in that it resists the urge to be too info-dumpy. Phoebe is somewhat new to the world and rather doubting – but not entirely because her own psychic gifts at least crack the door to the supernatural being possible. She hits the perfect spot between being hardcore cynical and just eating up everything everyone tells her without blinking no matter how outlandish it happens to be. She contrasts well with her partner, Charlie, who can deal with Phoebe’s abilities but draws the line of allowing this much woo-woo into his police work and Jack who is right in the middle of all the supernatural. If I have any criticism of the world building it’s that I would have actually appreciated a little more information or clarification on some points – perhaps a little more in depth curiosity from Phoebe (part of that is a style choice – she does get the big book of info but it’s hard to read and we don’t get what she’s actually read beyond the fact it’s not helpful to her).

I think, even with that curiosity into what the angels are doing in the city, what they’re involved in and what their missions are, is probably handled better as being kept a mystery – something to build on in later books especially as this book revealed some interesting and deep questions about Phoebe’s past which will likely be explored at the same time. Doubly so because the actual storyline is quite complex – with 3 different murders over 3 different time periods all with 3 different murderers and 3 different families – there’s a lot of names. That’s a lot of threads. That’s a lot of leads. Throw in Phoebe’s best friend and her police partner and her family history and a voice in her head and it’s very very easy to get lost in all this. I didn’t get swamped, but it came close, especially for the first book in a series.

So, I’m torn – I want more information and I think it’s kind of dubious that Phoebe didn’t push for more, while at the same time thinking the world building we had and the storyline combined to have enough questions and complexities to chew on and more would risk me being rather lost. Similarly with the pacing, I kind of wanted the book to go faster and reveal more of the plot, do more investigating but, again, I would be hopelessly lost if it did.

There are a number of POC characters – Charlie, Phoebe’s partner, his family, Suzy her best friend and one of the key witnesses ; these aren’t huge characters but beyond Phoebe and Jack no-one really is – they’re bigger than any others and somewhat involved in either the plot or Phoebe’s life with strong hints that they are/were much more involved. There are no LGBT characters. Phoebe, like many with sensory woo-woo in the genre, touches potential on mental illness but she seems to be actually possessed: so it’s more magic pretending to be woo-woo than anything.