Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Bloody Acquisitions (Fred, the Vampire Accountant #3) by Drew Hayes

Fred's new undead life as an abandoned vampire in Winslow, Colorado has been busy and full of trials but he's settled now, having built a family out of the friends he's managed to acquire in recent years. Even Fred's business as a paranormal accountant is booming, causing him to work both and night and day to deliver on his contracts on time.  All in all, other than having more business than he can handle sometimes, Fred is pretty content.  As the saying goes however eventually every shoe must fall.  When a new vampire clan moves into town intent on filling in the power vacuum, Fred must choose between staying and fighting for the life he has built or moving to a town run by fellow paranormals.

This is the third installment in the Fred, the Vampire Accountant series. My major concern in the first two books is that they read like a collection of short stories rather than one continuous novel from start to finish.  Hayes does much better this time around though at times the he does drift into little side stories that don't have much to do with the main plot.  Because I find the idea of a vampire accountant who simply wants to do right by his clients and be with his friends so novel, when the distraction happens, it's easy to just go along for the ride, particularly because the distraction usually comes with some sort of ridiculous nonsense which is laugh out loud funny.   It is however worth noting that Blood Acquisitions does have a problem with line editing which might be an issue for some readers.

What continues to make Fred, the Vampire Accountant series so fascinating to me is Hayes treatment of gender. Normally in a vampire story, it's the vampire who fits into the role of anti hero and the vampire who is strong enough to induce fear in anyone or anything he meets.  Fred, the Vampire Accountant series puts this all out of balance because Fred, with his infamous sweater vests, is never the strongest person in any room and in fact, when the opportunity arises for him to amass more power, Fred turns it down. With the exception of a human female lawyer who Fred absolutely sees as an equal, all the women in Fred's life are significantly more powerful and knowledgeable about the paranormal world than he is. Even Fred's agent girlfriend Krystal, sees it as her job to protect Fred.

What I like the most about Fred is his loyalty to his friends and his clients.  When the Turva sets up residence in Winslow, Fred quickly finds that he's running out of options.  He heads to see a dragon to ask about other vampires and when offered a sample to increase his power or the opportunity to have all of his problems simply whisked away, Fred refuses. It would be so easy for Fred to have all of his enemies killed, thus assuring him that no other group of vampires would try to set up stakes in Winslow for at least a hundred years but Fred instead considers the innocent vampires who would lose their lives. Even when he's about to forced into making an alliance with Turva, essentially making him subordinate to their leadership, Fred refuses to lean on his much stronger friends because he sees that as taking advantage.  He's determined to stand on his own two feet come what may.

The Strain, Season 3, Episode 8: White Light

It’s time to reveal what nefarious thing Eichorst and the Master are building in Eldritch’s factories. Sadly, it’s the same as in the book

It’s a big plant where humans are loaded up, exsanguinated and their bodies incinerated and they want it to work faster (and human lackies are apparently willing to work on this).



Is speed of exsanguination a problem?

Is killing humans for food in vast and quick numbers even a viable

This is obviously scary scary genocide because we’re reaaaaaly trying to stretch that with some desperate and frankly offensive comparisons and thematic links to the holocaust and Abe.

But not only is it insulting to compare the very real horror of the holocaust to this story, but it makes no sense. The vampires cannot possibly wipe out their primary food source, that’d be utterly ridiculous. This whole factory makes no sense – the vampires don’t have a problem killing and feeding on humans.

Now an extraction factory that took a lot of blood from people but left them alive, basically vast warehouses akin to what we saw on the Matrix, humans bound in cells from birth and constantly bled but kept alive (which provides both blood and stops them being turned by being bitten). That would be horrific and make sense. This? Does not make sense. This is a mutual extinction machine.

A now healthy Palmer, buzzing on the White, gives enough information to Abe and Vasiliy to allow them to track down the crate that was delivered. There’s a gun fight but in the end Eichorst manages to escape with the crate and its mysterious cargo. But they also learn about the death factory

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Braineater Jones by Stephen Kozeniewski

A man wakes up, face down in the pool with a bullet wound in his chest. He doesn’t remember his name, his life or how he got there – or how he died. Or how he’s still walking around.

He is a zombie and he has so much to learn about that – a full list of questions in fact. As he learns how to survive as an alcohol soaked member of the undead he finds his habit of asking questions sets him up to solve many other cases.

Braineater Jones, zombie PI, with many questions, few answers and a whole whacky noir world to navigate.

This book gets definite points for originality. Sentient zombies – but sentient rotting zombies, sentient rotting zombies with a shelf-life, memory issues and a society which semi-acknowledges them but only to put them on the very bottom of the social ladder. It’s definitely an interesting concept

That setting is the late 1920s/early 1930s and has a very film noir setting with shades of Prohibition (prohibition is over but the town is still dry) which is especially difficult for the zombies who need alcohol to keep their mental facilities. Without which they degrade quickly and become braineaters, marauding monsters of movie legend. Which is a fate that awaits them eventually anyway as their bodies and minds rot

This makes Braineater a slur among their community and more than one vampire is outraged by Jones, who doesn’t remember much or anything of his human life, chooses to use it as a name.

The story itself is very very twisty in classic Noir style. We have shocks and surprises. We have twists and turns. There’s lots of double crossing and lots of misdirection and lots of people being the complete opposite of what you expect them to be. The whole idea of what’s being explored and examined changes from chapter to chapter with Jones both desperately trying to drag up some memories of his past life, some indication of who he was and why he died – or who killed him since he has a big bullet hole. Throwing in just learning what it means to be a zombie on tip of that – there’s a lot to get through.

And that’s something of the problem. There’s a lot to get through and the book isn’t that long and we just sprint through it all. Along the way we kind of lose things like motivation, development or exploration. I don’t know why Jones has decided to become a detective. He doesn’t exactly do a lot of work to figure out who he was nor to really try and regain his memories. He becomes super suspicious about people and I’m not quite sure where the suspicion comes from. He develops friendships and positions where I’m not sure where they’ve come from and many of them apparently become passionate and deep very quickly.

It feels like we have an excellent book, or even an excellent series of books, with complete interesting world building and a really twisty complex storyline. But then it felt like an over-eager editor decided to cut huge chunks of development and exploration from the book leaving it all a bit too fast and just a bit hollow and unsupported in places.

Lucifer, Season Two, Episode Five: Weaponizer

Last week's episode ended with Chloe getting into a car accident.  This is significant because Lucifer made a deal with God to save her life in exchange for taking his mother back to hell.  As we know, Lucifer didn't follow through on his end of the bargain.  It turns out that Chloe's accident wasn't an accident after all and was in fact orchestrated by Uriel.  That's right, there's a new angel in town to join Lucifer's dysfunctional family on earth. Even better, the role is played by Michael Imperioli.

Like all episodes, Weaponizer does have a crime which needs to be solved but this time, instead of the crime being used to highlight some existential problem Lucifer is dealing with, this week's crime seems to exist to show that Lucifer and Dan share a common love of action flicks of all things.  Their shared love causes them to repeat lines from the movies, high five each other and have a dudebro bond moment.  Perhaps this will make detective douche more palatable to Lucifer as the series continues.

What's interesting about Weaponizer is not the crime drama but the peril that Chloe is in and how Lucifer deals with it. When Uriel arrives, Lucifer isn't immediately concerned because he has a secret weapon in his back pocket - his older brother Amenadiel. Unfortunately, Amenadiel isn't quite himself and has lost his powers, a secret he has kept from Lucifer.  Maze however thinks that the solution is simple and suggests that Lucifer simply take mommy dearest back to hell and fulfill his end of the deal. Lucifer however is insistent that he is fulfilling the agreement because he is punishing his mother on earth.  Amenadiel tries to suggest that Lucifer should simply hide Chloe and their mother until Uriel gives up and returns home.  This is enough for Lucifer to suggest that maybe the problem is that Amenadiel has been on earth too long and forgotten the power that he is. Lucifer points out that Uriel is the younger brother and that as the eldest, they were all in a awe of him.  Amenadiel gets the idea that all Uriel needs to see is him in his full glory.

Amenadiel meets with Uriel on a rooftop wearing his angel outfit and looking fine as hell.

Amenadiel assures Uriel that he has everything under control but Uriel points out that not only is Lucifer living on earth but their mother is now.  Uriel claims that he only wants to help.  Amenadiel goes all bad ass and points out that he is Amenadiel and is the one who delivers the wrath of God not, Uriel the diminutive little brother.  This is enough for Uriel to cower a bit in fear and agree to go home.  Amenadiel believes his business is done and starts to leave but is stopped by Uriel, who punches him in the face. It seems that Uriel figured out right away that something was wrong with Amenadiel by the fact that Amenadiel spent so much time talking instead of kicking his ass.  Uriel releases his wings and proceeds to give Amenadiel the beat down he's been dying to issue since the dawn of the universe.

Once Upon a Time, Season 6, Episode 5: Street Rats

Time for a history lesson back to Agrabah, suffering under the yoke of Jafar, with poor people turned into rats for stealing (honestly this seems like a terrible way to deal with any problem, creating a plague of rodents).

Jasmin sneaks into the city to find someone she is sure can help her – Aladdin, the thief who can help her steal the Diamond in the Rough. He’s not exactly eager to help the dedicated Princess, but when she threatens to frame him for theft he gives in and joins her to the cave of wonders

Along the way we get some interesting little hints at more depth. While Jasmin is furious that Aladdin is so selfish, Aladdin points out that their city wasn’t exactly a utopia before Jafar arrived and really Jasmin only cares because Jafar has breached her happy rich bubble as a princess. It’s a nice analysis and suggests more nuance than Once Upon a Time usually applies to their monarchy. Of course, we could point out that we’re getting a nuance of a less than perfect but not outright evil royalty with Jasmin and the Sultan but not the oh-so-pure-and-inept Snow White.

In the cave we learn the obvious truth – Aladdin is the Diamond in the Rough and he even has magic, Saviour Magic. He can save Agrabah… though Jafar shows him the cost of that, Jafar shows him that Saviours have a short shelf life. He has a solution to that – the sheers of fate. They will cut Aladdin from his destiny as a Saviour – no longer a hero but no longer doomed to die.

Of course he doesn’t take it and swoops in to rescue Jasmin. Though Jafar leaves him with the sheers for the future. He also is still out there doing mischief. Despite chemistry Jasmin and Aladdin don’t become a couple because they’re focused on duty- or Jasmin is. She’s taken Aladdin’s words to heart and won’t run off with him when there are still flaws in their kingdom to address.

In the present Emma finds Jasmin, following birds and dead oracles. She’s sure that Jasmin isn’t the killer though because of that rarely remembered lie detecting power. Instead it gives Jasmin chance to talk about Aladdin the Saviour which offers Emma hope: because Aladdin is apparently alive. Aladdin alive means all Saviours don’t die. It means maybe Emma’s visions won’t come true, maybe Emma can live.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Westworld, Season One, Episode Four: Dissonance Theory

It's now episode four and it seems as though Westworld is beginning to journey into the rabbit hole now that we have some sense of who the players are.  We begin once gain with Bernard having a sit down with Dolores.  It's almost comforting at this point to see the same opening each week.  This week, they talk about the fact that Dolores has just seen her parents die and the grief she feels.  It's a direct parallel to the grief Bernard feels at the loss of his son.  Bernard offers to take the pain away from Dolores but she refuses because pain is all she has left of her parents. Unfortunately, after questioning, Dolores reveals that this is a scripted response.  Bernard however does offer Dolores a carrot - find the center of the maze and maybe you can be free. Yes, the same maze that the MIB (man in black) is looking for. 

When Dolores awakes back in the park she is with William and his soon to be Dudebro brother in-law Logan. Okay, this is a big one because it means Dolores's little conversation with Bernard was a flashback.  Does that mean that all of their chats so far have been flashbacks, handed out piecemeal each week? Considering that her parents are murdered nightly, we don't even know to which murder this conversation referred to. This however does come in line with one of my pet theories, William is the MIB thirty years ago.  This doesn't bode well for Dolores because his fascination with her moves from wanting to protect her to raping her repeatedly.  Hmmmm?  Possible? Yeah, I'm not sure yet. 

Like many of the fans watching this show, I have my own theories about what is going on and they all hedge on whether or not Westworld is telling a linear story or not.  Could it possibly be that William is the MIB?  He starts off wanting to play the hero and be the good guy but dudebro (read: Logan) having been forced on an adventure away from his robotic prostitutes wants fun in the form of violence and suggests that they go the black hat route.  William isn't down with this until dudebro threatens Dolores.  For some reason, even though he only saw her once in town, William is absolutely fascinated with her. 

For dudebro, Westworld is just one big game whereas for William, it's all still exciting and new (and not in a Love Boat type way either). It's why Dudebro has no problem with simply killing with expedience, leaving the staff to clean up his mess. It's why Dudebro believes that Dolores's sudden appearance in their camp is because the staff noticed William's fascination with her. It's why Dudebro was able to convince William to go black, by suggesting they had just discovered an Easter egg in the game - a chance for them to experience something few people do. If William is indeed the MIB, this could be the start of his craving to discover new things in Westworld.

Coyote's Creed (Broken Mirrors #1) by Vaughn R. Demont

Spencer Cain is barely making it through high school but it's not for lack of intelligence. With his mother battling mental illness, Spencer as no choice but to run cons to keep food on the table.  This all would have been so much easier if his deadbeat father hadn't decided to walk out one day.  When Spencer gets word that his long absent father has died, he believes that at least the man can do him and his mother no more harm, at least until he finds out the truth about who his father really was.  It seems that Spencer is half human and half Coyote.  This knowledge quickly launches Spencer into a supernatural world that he is scarce prepared to deal with despite the fact that he has spent his eighteen years running cons.

This book is pretty action and plot driven – we hit the ground running. Spencer learns he is supernatural and almost immediate begins charging through the plot at great speed. We quickly get him running head first into this world, pulling of tricks and learning as fast as he can do. We get some decent stories and history from Rourke and some entertaining hints of the nature of the competition between the three races, the sneaky, fun, yet sometimes lethal and serious nature of these prankster races constantly battling for bragging rights against each other.

It’s fun, it’s fast, it’s funny. Did I mention fun? Because that’s the main tone I have from this book, certainly to begin, Spencer is out of his depth but while so many protagonists would mope and despair, Spencer ran with it. I found myself reading this book extremely quickly because it happily pulled me in. It was one of those books where I blink and then see the book has finished.

The downside to this fun rocking charge through the plot is that the story doesn’t get into much depth with the world. Which is a real shame because I really really want to know. I want to know more about the powers of a Bard, the power of stories, I want to know more about the three races of tricksters, their histories, their powers, their natures, I want to know more about the curses

I love the idea that then Kitsune are meticulous planners while the Coyotes wing it and have a lot of luck to various degrees of success and stability. I like the idea that the three races of trickster have very different ways of being tricksters – this is great but I want to know far more about this. We only touch on it in passing and then leap forward to the next part of the plot. It generally works – I can still easily follow the book (though more information about the Sorcerers would have helped) but more would have helped a lot

I find Spencer to be a fun protagonist. He’s a rogue – but he’s not malicious with it. He’s fun, doesn’t take anything too seriously but isn’t so light hearted to be frustrating. His relationship with his mother is also utterly, painfully poignant – having to navigate around his mother’s mental illness, respecting her, loving her but deeply strained trying to support and help her. This really does bring out a part of Spencer’s character that is touching, caring and hurting that adds a lot of humanisation to the character. It’s powerful but there is a problem with mental illness basically being used as character development for another character. But it is extremely powerful – we don’t undermined his mother’s authority as his mother, nor the emotional bond between them and minors having to support parents with mental illnesses. It’s very real, very raw and very powerful

Spencer is bisexual – which is definitely a rare find in this genre. We hardly ever see LGBTQ protagonists in this genre and less bisexual male protagonists, so this definitely interests me

I also really like the way the sex is portrayed, being much more graphic than we often see, but also much less formulaic without unnecessary gender roles or patterns I see a lot

What I’m much less a fan of is Spencer’s sexual partner – Rourke. Rourke is an older bisexual man – and I’m quite happy to see an LGBTQ character be older and be portrayed as sexual and sexy (and not older in an “is thousand years old but looks 20” kind of way). This is definitely a plus. What isn’t so much is that Spencer at least begins the book referring to Rourke as “uncle” and clearly sees him in some level of, if not parental then certainly something close to it. No he’s not family, but he was a close friend of his parents and has clearly watched Spencer grow up. Further, some mojo between them makes Spencer and him especially horny. I’m not saying that it removed his consent but it likely increased the amount of sex they had. Finally Rourke announces his love for Spencer very quickly and tries to pressure Spencer into becoming his consort.

The Walking Dead, Season Seven, Episode One: The Day Will Come When You Won't Be

Okay people I'm giving you a spoiler alert. Don't read this if you haven't watched last night's episode.

On Friday, Sparky and I published a piece on our prediction as to who was going to die and as it turns out, we were both wrong. 

For months now, whenever someone mentioned The Walking Dead, it was all about who was going to die on tonight's episode.  The writers didn't make it easy for us and made us deal with the aftermath first.  Rick's loss and rage plays center stage and he deals with it by threatening to kill Negan, which of course was not the reaction that Negan wanted.  Negan wanted Rick and his group to be defeated, to feel powerless and to be broken.  

Negan's first act was to take out Abraham.  As horrible as it may sound, I actually felt relief seeing Abraham die, falsely believing in that moment that the worst was over.  The truth of the matter is that Abraham was supposed to die in the episode where Denise died and so it simply felt as though the writers held over Abraham's death so that they could open with it this season.  Abraham died well, telling Negan to, "suck his balls".  I'm going to miss Abraham and his wonderful one liners, his burgeoning relationship with  Sasha and even his friendship with Eugene.  In many ways, Abraham's character was in a good place and that, as we know, is how the writers like to leave a character before they kill them off.  

Abraham as it turns out was only the appetizer to the main meal.  Seeing Abraham smashed remains an enraged Darryl attacks and actually manages to punch Negan in the face.  For me, that was probably the most satisfying punch to date. Only Tyrion slapping Joffery felt better.  With all things  Negan however, there's a price to pay for challenging his authority.  Negan decides that an example must be made and he goes onto his next victim.