Saturday, September 15, 2012

Haven teasers

Haven's rapidly approaching - soon we will be posting recaps of season 1 and 2 in preparation for the following season 3.

Until them, some videos to whet your appetite

The Almighty Johnsons Season Two, Episode Eight: Man-Flu

The brothers are gathered at Mike's bar and Anders is not pleased that Agnetha is dead and that the goddesses have been cut in on the will.  When they ask him about his secret mission, Anders says that he will tell him when he has overcome the small snag that he has come across. Anders also takes the time to mention that he is not the least bit pleased with Axl's plan to become a man, so that he can become Óðinn and believes Axl should be out sleeping with as many women as possible until he finds Frigg.  When Michelle comes down to grab brandy for a cold, which both she and Axl seem to be suffering from, Anders is not impressed that Mike is "sleeping with the enemy".  Mike responds, "I prefer to think of it as going where you struck out." Anders answers, "well I prefer to think of it as coming to my senses before she trapped me with her evil, insidious snatch." I wonder what an episode of The Almighty Johnsons would be like without the raving misogyny week after week.  Mostly, Anders is not happy to see what has become of his brothers, but Mike is even more upset and punches Anders in the jaw before he can leave the bar.

Axl is lying on the couch loudly complaining that he is sick, but neither Zeb or Gaia have an ounce of sympathy for him.  Zeb does however make the point of telling Axl that he gives "man flu a bad name." At Mike's, Michele is lying in bed complaining about her illness, when Axl calls to blame her for making him sick.  She counters by saying that she is sicker than him. After a small exchange of sicker than thou, Mike says, "you make me ashamed to be a man, harden up."  Okay, so now we have gender policing to add to the sexism.  I wonder if I will end up with a bingo doing the recap of this episode.

Anders is on the phone with Dawn, who is complaining about the loss of clients when he pulls up to an uncleared goods transitional facility. Clearly, what he attempted to bring from Norway got confiscated. Anders tries to use his powers on the agent but strikes out and she tells him that what he brought back is a bio hazard and has been quarantined according to the law.

Ty is working on a new ice sculpture when he realises that his strangely warm hand is actually melting the ice. Ty is standing outside shirtless (thanks for that writers and director) and calls Mike to ask him to pop by. Mike tries to shift to another time, but Ty says that it's too important. Mike goes to leave he discovers that he canot find his car keys. To anyone else, this would be no big deal, but because Mike is Ullr, something is definitely up. When he heads downstairs, Mike finds that Stacey is waiting for him. It turns out that Stacey knows exactly what she wants to do with her share of Agnetha's money - buy the courier company that she currently works for. Mike agrees to this plan and promises to make it happen.

When Mike shows up at Ty's, Ty hands him a bowl of Ingrid's special curry, which immediately puts Mike into a state of shock, because it's so hot.  Ty's beyond excited because it turns out that Ingrid's special curry is the first thing that he has tasted since he turned 21.  Ty believes that he can feel whatever made him Höðr going away.

When Gaia returns home, she finds Axl in bed shivering with looks to be a pretty high fever, murmuring repeatedly, "find Frigg."  Anders and Olaff are talking at Anders place about the fact that whatever he has brought back from Norway has been confiscated.  When Olaff sits on the couch, for the first time he does not look in the least bit like the vital man that we have come to know. We get a flash of Anders in Norway negotiating (read: having sex) with giants, fighting off a dwarf who wanted his hot drink and then finally cutting off a branch from Yggdrasil. Olaff gets upset when he realises that it is not a good idea for Yggdrasil to get fulminated. Anders explains his failure by saying that the women working there clearly hates good looking men.  Yet more misogyny.  Of course the woman there hates men that can be the only reason why she didn't immediately submit. When they head back to the uncleared goods transitional facility, Anders tries to argue that the branch from Yggdrasil is an extremely rare and important Norse artifact and says that he has someone with him, who will attest to the importance of the stick.  When the woman tries to brush him off by saying, "if you and your father," and is then promptly cut off my Anders who replies, "what do you mean my father you dyke?"  When he turns to Olaff, it is clear that he has visibly aged. Okay, first of dyke is a slur and that is exactly how he meant it.  Keep in mind that this is a show in which only one GLBT character appears and thus far she has only had sex with a woman at the behest of a man.  To make matters worse, the person Michele slept with was Axl, when he accidentally temporarily shifted sex for one episode. Anders grabs Olaff and escorts him out.

Olaff says that he feels weird but before they can talk more, Mike calls to talk about the lessening of their powers. Anders says that Olaf looks about fifty and grudgingly admit that he is having trouble with his powers as well.  They agree to meet and Anders' and Mike tells him that Axl won't be there.  Mike then goes to check up on Axl and Gaia tells him that the fever has not abated and that Axl probably has a virus, which he has to ride out.

Ty shows up at Ander's office looking for Dawn. Ty says that he hopes the fact that the police haven't shown up at his door means that she has changed he feelings about him. Dawn replies that she has thought everything through and realised that she have over thought what happened.  Ty asks Dawn to go out and when she asks where, she answers, "anywhere."

When Mike shows up at Anders, he is shocked to see how old Olaff looks.  When Anders asks where Ty is, Mike answers, "what's a curse for Olaff, is a gift for Ty."  Anders sees this as being selfish, particularly because he believes that Olaff is dying. Mike asks Olaff if the fact that they are losing their powers and he is getting old, has anything to do with the fact that Axl is sick.  Olaff answers, "have I taught you people nothing? We are all linked to him by blood, and by spirit. As he rises we rise, as he falls so we fall." When Gaia walks in to check on Axl, she finds him having a seizure and orders Zeb to call an ambulance.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Warehouse 13 Sneak Peak

Coming up next episode on Warehouse 13

Review: Power in the Blood by Angelia Sparrow

Oren is a Breather, so are his kids. If they die of natural causes then that will be it, they will die peacefully after leading a human life. This is what he hopes for – both for himself and his loved ones.

If they die violently, then they become the Undying. Immortal, doomed to live and regenerate for all time. It’s not a fate he wants for himself or wishes on his children.

But vampires are making that hope awfully difficult. A new church is in town and they’re recruiting  - and turning – members at an extreme rate, much to the worry not just of the Undying, but of the legitimate vampire community as well. They hope to bring the second coming by turning everyone into a vampire – and they already have enough numbers to quickly turn all of Memphis.

But to stop them means tolerating – and working with – other Undying, each with their own agenda. To say nothing of the Council that would love to turn his Breather family into Undying if they can – and that’s without the threat of combat

This world is an extremely interesting one. Ordered, semi-revealed vampire society which is partially policed by the Undying – humans who have vampire ancestry (or are half angels, depending who you believe) who literally cannot die. Decapitate them? They regrow from the head. Burn them? They regrow from the ashes. Even a nuclear explosion cannot kill these beings.

But this isn’t generally seen as a good thing. It’s fascinating how the extent of this is analysed – not just the fact that an immortal is going to see all the people they love around them, I’ve seen that covered before. But things like culture shock – how even people in their late middle age today can have trouble keeping up with the latest innovations, how much do you have to struggle to keep up with the curve of hundreds of years of advancement?

And it covers the trauma of dying. An Undying can regenerate from anything, but the vampires know that and don’t just kill them (and inter them in cement) but kill them in horrific, agonising ways. Regrowing from a head (and having to have cement scraped out of your sinuses) is pretty traumatising – but to be tortured slowly to death before hand? Repeatedly? The cost to their sanity of being traumatised over and over again is so extreme that most of the older field agents are extremely divorced from reality and houses in a torpor-like state. Yet these Sleepers are roused in need to become near-mindless shock troops – it seems very devaluing of people with severe mental illness – especially exposing them to the very triggers and conditions that caused the illness in the first place. I would have liked to see more emphasis on treatment and therapy or even retirement for them – especially Undying like Gilgamesh and Leilit who were apparently very reasonable and functional – but with levels of eccentricity peeking in.

It’s an interesting concept and side to explore and a pretty unique one – and shows some level of respect to what trauma can do to a person - that it can’t just be shrugged off. But, at the same time, I would have preferred some nod towards how the treatment of the Sleepers is poor.

The characters are interesting and fit the concept of this world. We see the hard lives they lead and the toll that takes on them – and how vampire hunting precludes any real income generation – which in turn causes hardship and difficulty. It’s interesting following Oren and his concerns as well as Brett and the uncomfortable expectations that are falling on him and Brigette, tired of so much of the family relying on her. They’re very strong characters with powerful concerns and motivations.

There's Always an Excuse for Prejudice, Erasure and Tropes

'No Excuses' photo (c) 2012, Gary Cooper - license:

One of the things we’ve found in our many reviews of the genre from a social justice perspective is how many times people will make up various excuses for the problems we talk about. There is no limit to the different excuses people raise, but often it can feel like we’re responding to the same script since we see the same points raised again and again. Since, we assume, they are widely believed we’re going to poke a few of these:

The Protagonist doesn’t hate them because they’re a minority - it’s because they’re horrible people.

This normally becomes an issue when we point out, for example, that a character has no female friends and strikes sparks with every woman around them. Or the protagonist hates every single POC in the book/TV series. Or that the only GBLT characters in a book have been the protagonist’s enemies.

Now these protagonists rarely turn round and say “I hate women!” or “she’s my enemy because she’s a lesbian, evil lesbian!” because most authors aren’t that ridiculous. Usually, the protagonist does have a very legitimate reason to hate these people. Yes, every woman they met was mean to them. Yes, all the POC around them were cruel and rude. Yes, that evil GBLT villain is indeed evil. There were big story reasons for the character to hate all of these people. This is true.

But this a work of fiction, not a report of real people. The writer is an author, not a journalist. The cruel POC, the evil GBLT villain, the mean women - they don’t exist. They’re all creations of the author. And if the author has created a book where all the women/POC/GBLT/etc are set up to be awful and hateable then it is because the author chose them to be so.

If the marginalised people in a series are all hateful people that the protagonist loathes - for good in story reasons - then the author has created that scenario. And, yes, that’s problematic.

It’s just who they are! I see them as people not POC/GBLT/etc

So you’ve written your story and it turns out you have a sexually predatory GBLT person, or a loud, angry, sassy black woman side-kick (bonus points if she has magic to help the protagonist) or some equally tired, stereotyped trope. Naturally we’re not impressed but the protest is “they’re not a sassy, magical side-kick because they’re black, it’s just who they are!” In other words, you assert that their adherence to an extremely tired trope is just coincidence.

Now it’s vaguely possible, I guess, that you are somehow packed into the Mars Rover and are actually beaming you books or scripts from there and your intended audience is actually aliens from the planet Zog. In which case I applaud you for being able to write under such difficult conditions and being our ambassador for the Zoggi with books about vampires.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Being Human U.K. Season Four, Episode Eight: The War Child

Okay, this is it people, the season finale.  When I started season four, I really didn't believe that it would work because 3/4 of the cast was missing.  It was bad enough when Mitchell died at the end of season three, but losing George really made me lose all faith that Being Human U.K. could possibly carry on and be interesting.  It really took me some time to warm up to Hal; it felt like being unfaithful to Mitchell.  Now I can say that I am glad that I stuck it out.

This episode begins with a flash forward to the year 2022. Snow (an old one) arrives at what looks like a weigh station and as he walks in, he sees a young girl sleeping in a car.  The man Snow is questioning claims that her name is Zoe and that she was born before the pregnancy embargo. Pause. Why would vampires not want humans to reproduce?  Without humans they have no food source. Snow asks the colour of the girls eyes and when he cannot say, Snow determines that the child is in fact Eve and not Zoe.  He makes quick work of killing the man and then instructs his staff to ensure that Eve makes her rendezvous safely because, "she's a very precious cargo."

In the present, Alex asks Hal why she is still there and he informs her that she must have unfinished business.  Alex wonders if her unfinished business is to beat up Cutler, but Hal answers that unfinished bbusiness tends to be more life affirming. Tom however agrees with Alex and feels that they should start hunting Cutler down. Alex decides to sit in the police van and Hal reminds Tom that he is her first werewolf and this must be a lot to process.  Really? This woman has seen her own dead body and was drained of her blood, but seeing Tom fully dressed in his human form is a lot to process?  Tom thanks Cutler for stopping him from killing the people at the club the night before. Tom says he cannot believe he let it happen because he is always good at hiding his transformations, which causes Hal to admit that he has taken a backward step as well. Hal admits that he has drunk human blood twice and then we get yet another spiel about the burdens of being a vampire.  This line of thought wouldn't even be possible if they didn't continually demand that a good vampire not drink blood.  It's ridiculous honestly, and I am sick of the self loathing angst.

Snow seems to be having a meeting when Cutler is ushered in. When Snow complains that there was no one to greet him, Cutler says that everyone has either run away or has met the final death thanks to a werewolf infestation. Snow demands that he be paid a tribute and tells the story of his last visit to Britain in 1779, when all the adults in a village had been killed and the children's blood was used to make wine. Mark Gatiss, who plays Snow, is downright creepy in this scene.  As Alex, Hal and Tom sneak in quietly, Cutler says that his tribute to Snow is to give him the world.  Culter unveils his plan to offer up werewolves as the true evil to humans and then have the vampires come in to act as saviors.  Tom and Milo make eye contact and Hal insists they leave the moment he sees Snow.  Outside, Hal says that they have to get away because Snow is one of the first vampires and if he asks him to join them, he would have had no choice but to say yes.  Alex is still concerned about Cutler, but Hal says that Cutler doesn't matter anymore, because of Snow, and that the longer they stay there, the greater chance that he will find Hal.

Cutler turns on the television and is shocked when it is not reporting what happened in the club with Tom the night before. Snow is not impressed and tells Cutler that a tribute must still be paid, or there will be consequences.  Milo is holding onto Cutler threatening him with his blood and so Culter says that the war child is there and he offers to kill her.  Snow makes it clear that no one is touch Eve. Cutler is shocked because he believes that Eve needs to die to save vampires but Snow pulls out the final piece of the parchment and reveals that the opposite is true - to save humanity, Eve must be killed. When Snow dismisses Cutler, Milo drags him out, as Cutler promises that Snow will one day remember his name.

Alex, Hal and Tom return to find Annie back from purgatory.  Hal is not impressed and wants to know where Annie has been and she says, "to the future."  Tom tells her that the old ones are here and Tom adds that they've bee here all along.  Annie tells them all about how Eve died in the future and then traveled back in time to make sure that she died as a child to save humanity. When Alex laughs inappropriately, Annie asks who she is and Alex replies, "and this is Alex and that drank my blood." Annie says that Tom dies and that Hal reverts to what he once was, but Hal tries to say that this was a momentary blip.  When Tom suggests that they need to get Eve out of there, Annie answers, "this is not a group decision, I saw the future." Hal asks if Annie might harm Eve and Annie gets upset and says that she could never hurt a child.  When Hal asks if she would turn her back if someone else tried, Annie has no words.  Hal decides that the best approach is to eliminate the old ones altogether to remove Eve from the equation and Tom suggests blowing them up.  When they go in the other room, Hal says he's not comfortable leaving Eve alone with Annie and so Tom suggests that they take her with them.  The idea is immediately nixed and they leave Alex behind with her.

At the cafe, Tom reveals he has been storing cooking oil to make a bomb. Hal is shocked and asks what he has been planning and Tom resonds, "always be kind and polite and have the materials to build a bomb." Tom says after the bombs are made, he will strap them to his chest and then walk into the vampire nest. Hal says that what they need is a remote detonator, but Tom says he has no idea how to build one because McNair always did that. Hal says that he will do it and they shake hands. If it was that easy to kill a vampire why aren't their nests constantly being blown up?

Back at the house, Alex tries to make small talk with Annie but it's not going anywhere. Alex says that she spent the last seven years living with men and has completely forgotten how to talk to women.  Really?  Alex says that when Hal gets back that they are going to go and do her unfinished business. Annie says that her unfinished business ship has moved on because she believes that the men of the after life are scared of her. Annie offers to teach her some tricks just in case returning her body to her family is not actually her unfinished business.

Milo shows up at the cafe to find out what Tom is up to and wants to know if Eve is safe.  Tom says that Eve is with her mom. Milo points out that when everyone finds out that Eve's death is the key to mankinds survival that no one will be able to protect her. Milo suggests that they hand Eve over to the vampires for safekeeping.  Tom believes that this makes Milo a sell out because of course, werewolves are marginalized in the supernatural world relative to vampires. It is not until Tom calls him a coward that Milo truly loses it and points out that no one knows what he had to do to become accepted by the vampires.

Review: The Burning Star by Jessie Lane

 Kay has returned with her mother to her home town after a lifetime of travelling around. But now she is staying still in her mother’s last ditch effort to try and save her life - since she’s dying from a terminal disease.

But the cure comes from an unexpected source – as she finds herself exposed to the supernatural world. Suddenly surrounded by fae royalty and werewolves, fighting demonic hellhounds and going on her first date in the middle of it, Kay finds there is far more to her past than her mother ever told her.

She has a new life ahead of her, a new world and a new family – and perhaps, in the midst of it – a cure for her disease.

Unfortunately, I didn’t like this book. And it wasn’t just a matter of disliking the book, I ended up disliking it for so many reasons that it’s difficult for me to try and find parts of it I liked.

Firstly, and, perhaps, worst for me as a reader was the pacing of this book or even just the organising of events. The book opens and, after a few pages, the action hits. The protagonist, Kay, arrives in town. On day 1 she meets Ryan, the love interest and first supernatural guy. On day 2 she meets Nick, the love interest competition and second supernatural guy. This is the same day she finds out the supernatural is real. There then follows info dump after info dump after info dump. So much of this book consists of just huge chunks of world building being told to Kay, huge chunks of history being told to Kay, huge chunks or preview being told to Kay and generally lots of people sitting around telling Kay things. Worse, the actual world building that could be useful to know – like the relationship between the four courts, what they do, what the courts involved, what powers the fae actually have or why the werewolves and the fae hate each other, isn’t actually included at all and certainly would be more useful than musing on about the werewolves’ creation myth. In fact, considering how much of this book is info dump after info dump, we’re given amazingly little information.  It’s so bad that the odd points of action that do drop in feel disjointed and out of place.

Even when we meet the secondary character, Kira and her storyline, we still have vast amounts of info dumps. In her case this involves several pages of internal monologue – this isn’t “show don’t tell” this is a character randomly decided to review her entire past life for pages on pages.

The characters are also a problem, firstly because the pacing of the story gave us no chance to learn anything about them. I know Kay has a terminal illness and is sad about this – which seems callous but this is a genre that is absolutely overflowing in angsting, tortured protagonists (especially since this book has 2 – with Kira also being an angsting tortured protagonist) it really is glutted – I think I actually have “tragedy burn out” it just isn’t interesting any more, even when the character has a very good reason for that angst. It would be better if I had something other than tragedy to try and engage with, but that’s pretty much all I know about Kay – and before we get to know her as a person we’re thrown head first into the action – well, into the info-dumping. We get to see none of the characters as characters before the story launches in – there’s no beginning to this story, just a middle – and I don’t know enough about these characters to care about their story yet.

Billy the Vampire Slayer: A New Gay Male Vampire Slayer

This is something I’ll watch with interest and suspicion - not least of which because the comics media in general is probably the third worst culprit when it comes to erasing GBLT people (I’d put children’s literature/programming and computer games ahead) and there has been a whole lot of problems in the past (already both DC’s Green Lantern, with extra gay-death and Northstar’s wedding, now with marital problems, look like they’re getting shaky) so I’m disinclined to jump up and down just yet.

Still, I do like the idea of a strong gay male character - especially an action character which is very rare.

I’m just not sure why he’s “Billy the Vampire Slayer” it seems cutesy, and rather silly. Especially since, in the Buffyverse, “Slayer” has a meaning - it’s not just someone who fights vampires, it’s someone with these ancestral ancient powers - which, they’ve made clear, Billy (or any man) will not have.

Which I approve of - I actually would be against Billy having powers that are reserved for women as it would be degendering and happens so many times with gay men (hi Ann McCaffrey and your thrice be damned Green Riders) if you’re going to have gendered abilities then deciding that the gay characters cross them feels more than a little “they aren’t REAL men/women” to me. Though a trans slayer? That would be awesome.

But it does make this quote from Jane Espenson “What if someone in high school is looking up to Buffy as a role model, and we're saying: You can’t be a Slayer”

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Review: Tainted City by Courtney Schafer

Dev and Kiran are unwilling guests of Alathia since crossing the border from the lawless, magic rules city of Niravel to free Kiran, a blood mage, from his cruel master, Ruslan. Dev is desperate to return – if he doesn’t, his friend’s daughter, Melly, will face a terrible fate without someone to look out for her, and time is running out.

They do get an opportunity to return when Alathia’s border wards start to fail. Something is happening in Niravel – and Ruslan is suspect, but the magic goes far beyond Alathia’s wards – seemingly killing wizards, threatening Niravel’s fragile water supply and possibly even threatening the city itself. Captain Marten of the guards leads an embassy to Niravel to help investigate, but that’s easier said than done in a city as corrupt and cruel as Niravel when you have to make severe sacrifices and work with unconscionable enemies.

Dev finds himself in the city, trying to find a way to rescue Melly and save Kiran from Ruslan – again. While at the same time finding himself both betrayed by Marten and having to work with him to save those he cares about. It’s a balancing act of trying to solve the mystery, save those he cares about while worrying about them falling into either Ruslan’s or Marten’s grasp – neither of them can be trusted and both are looking for levers with which to control Devlan.

I made the mistake with this book of picking up book 2 of a series. That’s less than ideal for any book – but particularly for a High fantasy novel. After all, if an Urban Fantasy vampire refers to “Chicago” you know what they’re talking about. If Dev refers to Alathia I don’t know if that’s a place, a person, a concept or a pet cat.

So I started reading this book thinking I’d made a massive mistake, I was hopelessly lost and there’d be no way I could give it a fair chance. But I held on, kept reading and it all fell into place – the world is well established, it doesn’t have any inconsistencies or weak points and is realistic enough that I could pick up even this fantastic world relatively quickly. It also helped a lot with how the world building was presented. It can be difficult for fantasy authors not to info dump. They’ve created this wonderful shiny world and they want to show us all of it – even if it’s not relevant. This author resisted the temptation. There are enough side references to let me know there’s a whole lot more out there and a whole lot more that can be explored over the course of the series, but there’s no desperate urge to tell me everything now and drown me in unnecessary minutiae. When it’s relevant it’s explained, when it matters, it’s explained. It made not just for an interesting world and good pacing – but also meant that I quickly got my bearings in the story. I still think it’d be a good idea to read the first book first (yes, I’m just conformist like that), but not having read it didn’t become a barrier to enjoying this book.

And I did enjoy it. It had a series of nuances in the story – something far too much fantasy lacks. The characters had multiple motivations and grey areas in their morality and world view with a lot of tolerating evil for the sake of achieving a greater good. The mystery and the investigation is good mainly for letting us explore the world, how the city works (and get me acquainted with things) but also is nicely complicated by the multiple threads – Dev’s worry for Kiran and Melly, his lack of trust for Marten and ultimately having to save the city while working with Ruslan – even while suspecting him as being the culprit behind the deaths.

Alphas Season Two, Episode Seven: Gods and Monsters

Rosen and Nina are walking with the Senator Charlotte Burton and Nina is pushing her to recall all of the photic stimulators.  Nina further goes on to force her to delete every record of their meeting and to tell anyone that asks that they are friends.  When this is finished, it's clear that Nina is in pain.  Senator Burton walks into the middle of the road and stands there, forcing Nina to walk into the streets and guide her to safety. You would think that this would be enough for Rosen to rethink encouraging Nina to push people this episode but you would be wrong.

At what appears to be a high school dance, Jason asks Lisa if she wants to hang out some time, but she says that she has a boyfriend. When her boyfriend Cody comes over, he slams Jason into the lockers and says that he creeps people out.  When Cody grabs Jason again, this time Jason uses his powers on him. When Cody returns to the dance, his attitude towards Jason has taken a complete 360 and he actually suggests to Lisa that Jason is an awesome guy who she should go out with.  When Lisa asks if this is a joke, Cody tells her that Jason is waiting outside to talk to her. When Lisa reaches outside, she finds a bunch of kids who begin to form a circle around her saying that Jason just wants to talk to her.  When Jason appears, he uses his powers on Lisa.

The next day at the office, Kat hands Rosen a police report and says that the two kids from the high school are in the situation room.  Rosen does take the time to say thanks; however he's quick to point out that this is something that Bill normally does and suggests that Kat needs to be working on retrieving her memories. Given how Rosen has treated the alphas his desire to work on Kat's memories has to be predatory. Kat suggests that she become a probationary agent, but Gary does not believe that this is a good idea.  Gary says that that Bill is his partner and that stealing partners is not allowed.  Clearly, what we have is a case of a jealous Gary.

As Rosen ponders over the file Kat says, "these two and fifteen others chased a girl right out of the senior dance and half the kids didn't make it home that night." Kat says that she read the file before handing it over and that a kid named Jason Miller was acting like the leader.  When Rosen asks the kids about Jason, they both say in tandem that they don't know anyone by that name. 

When Bill does show up he's limping and Rosen is clearly not impressed.  Bill points out that he's still getting his work done, but Rosen reminds him that they still haven't found the breach in security. Bill says that he cleared the team and Kat as much as she can be cleared but is still working on clearing friends, family and support staff. You just know that all hell is going to break lose when they find out that Dani is the mole.  Rosen says that he is going to bring in Clay because he has resources that Bill can use.  I don't quite understand Rosen's objections to Clay because their behavior towards the Alphas is very similar. It seems to me that Rosen is more concerned about a threat to his power and influence than anything else. 

Rosen does an EEG and determines that the brain patterns of the kids are exactly the same.  This should be absolutely impossible, but their is no indication on their MRI's of alpha ability and so Rosen surmises that they have become an extension of Jason's. It seems that in the hospital, Jason could only project his personality onto other alphas, but it is clear that his powers have evolved. Essentially, Jason creates hive minds.

In a meeting with Stanton Parish, Dani reports that Rosen is feeling optimistic over what he has managed to achieve with August medical; however, Parish sees this as nothing more than a minor setback.  Dani is worried that Parish will never bring Rosen around to their way of thinking.  Parish replies, "Dani some chasms can't be bridged, certainly not from one side." This causes Dani to assert that Rosen has a place in what they are dong and building, but when Parish equivocates, she reminds him that he promised and that she has risked a great deal for this.  Parish suggests that there may be a way to build a bridge because of a former patient of them both.

At the office, Hicks announces that he cannot get in touch with Jason's parents. Rosen says that they have to keep trying because "these kids could be in danger and Jason is a disturbed young man. The poor boy has a life long history of being ostracized because of his ability." Of course Rosen's interests are benign and to believe that you would have to believe that week after week he has had the best interests of the Alphas at heart and not himself.  I am sure you know which side we are on. Apparently, Jason's ability produces of discomfort and unease in people.

When none of the drugs that Rosen tries works, Nina agrees to try and push them.  When she tries, Nina gets weak and says that it's like dozens of people fighting back.  Nina believes that she cannot effect their will because it's Jason's will that is front and center. They realise that the only way forward is to find Jason.  Rosen heads off to the school to talk to Jason's teachers and sees the kids acting in tandem. Jason actually approaches Rosen on his own and tells him that his parents don't like him, let alone love him, but he says that he is fine now even as Rosen is quickly surrounded by the kids who Jason has taken over.  When he suggests that he come back to his lab, Jason says rather forcefully that he is good. Rosen tries again, but this time Jason touches a cop who instantly aims his gun at Rosen.  Jason demands Rosen promise that he will leave them alone but before the situation can go further, Parish grabs the cop's arm, which causes him to pull the trigger and the kids take off running.  Parish then turns to Rosen and says, "we need to talk." 

Warehouse 13: Season 4, Episode 7: Endless Wonder

 Pete and Myka are on a mission – people are getting taller. Sounds fairly benign, until a woman wastes perfectly good mousaka, falling to her knees in pain. Like all artefacts, the downsides seem to be unpleasant. Brief consult with Artie who, of course, is still hiding the evil priest’s evil campaign of evil (and a funny line on where they draw the line – David’s slingshot, yes, Paul Bunyan’s axe, yes – but magic beans? How silly!)

And on the subject of Artie hiding things – Jinks and Claudia confront Artie with one of the black diamonds . Artie tries to point out he is keeping it from them to protect them – but Claudia rejects that and Jinks points out he was an ATF agent and had already died while Claudia has already been possessed by Alice. They don’t need protecting.

On the case, it seems the people growing taller were all taking the heart burn medicine Roduxical – something even a member of the corporation has noticed. She wants to investigate because if it is true there’s so many wonderful applications for a drug with these kind of miracle properties (unfortunately, her boss at the pharmaceutical company doesn’t care that much about helping people – but he can be convinced by more vain applications).

Pete and Myka see all 4 of the growing people in the hospital in agony as their bodies start tearing themselves apart. They discover 2 of the victims went to the same doctor – and while there questioning the doctor (he’s only seen 2 of the people) they also run into Deb Stanley – the woman from the pharmaceutical company.

She wants to help and, after being sure that they’re not the FDA after their company since other people have taken the pill elsewhere and being unaffected, she concludes they’re looking for an environmental factor – something that connects them all that they’ve all been exposed to. This rather takes Myka and Pete back at how quickly she grasped the issue and what to do.

They start trying to track down connections and Pete awkwardly flirts with Deb, of course. And we learn that Deb didn’t become a doctor because she likes research – she likes things that are developing, she likes surprises and she’s sure the world is full of them, she likes new things, she likes to stamp “make me a Warehouse agent” on her forehead.

Then they wake up in bed together. Just as Myka knocks on the door and finds Pete in a sheet, she begins to sum up the case and point to an artefact Artie has sent that will slow down the symptoms -  before putting 2 and 2 together. In between mocking Pete for his sex life, she points out the newest victim is a Christian Scientist – so has no doctor and it has nothing to do with the drug. When Myka leaves, Pete tells that to Deb (after establishing that he’s not “that guy” who just has sex then leaves – Deb points out she’s an adult and is happy to be “that guy” herself) but Deb still wants to be involved in the investigation. She wants to be part of it – but he says she can’t (secrecy and all that). Of course being told no means she stops and goes home – hah. No.

Myka and Pete run around helping the victims, reversing the growth and buying them some time. But they’re seen by Deb who calls her boss and tells him that she has secret service agents with objects with amazing medical applications – and her boss sees profit while she sees boon for humanity.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Once Upon a Time Sneak Peak

A new season of Once Upon a Time will soon be on us - time for a teaser of Season 2!

Review: Monster Hunter Legion by Larry Correia, Book 4 of the Monster Hunter Nation Series

 Z and his fellow hunters are attending the first every International Hunter Convention in Las Vegas. A unique, happy opportunity to network with fellow hunters, check out the shiniest new toys and hear about hunting techniques from all over the world. And have a brawl that ruins the dining room, but that’s a side point.

That’s before Special Task Force Unicorn, the government organisation that uses the supernatural rather than just destroys it, calls with a job for them. There’s a creature on the loose that needs killing – but the bounty seems unnaturally high for the simple kill they find.

Except they haven’t killed it – they’ve brought it back with them to the convention. A creature released from Decision Week, a time when the US was exploring ways to use the supernatural to end World War 2, and it’s a being every bit as bad as you can imagine. Hunters have lots of experiences to fuel those imaginations.

How do you fight an intangible force that can throw absolutely everything at you and can come back from the dead? And how much can they lose before they stop it? More – how does this link in to the sinister pattern all the Hunters have been seeing, a vast uptick in terrifying supernatural activity around the world – all suggesting something big is coming. Something apocalyptic, if you listen to Z’s father.

A large part of the attraction of these books is the glorious action-movie feel to them. Sometimes you just want to read a book about blowing up the gribbly things with lots of explosions. It’s not exactly the highest or more sophisticated desire, but it still makes them pretty fun reads.

But it would be a mistake to dismiss these books as just being a mix of gun drooling (which I don’t care for) and massively impressive, epic fight scenes. There is a long, sustained meta-plot that has been developed from the very first book. The story keeps growing, the world getting richer and more and more characters are added to the mix, each of which add their own pieces to the overall story. This isn’t just a “see bad thing, blow up bad thing”, every bad thing they blow up adds more to plot and adds new allies and new players.

Even the story of this book itself is as much a mystery as it is a survival horror. The monster isn’t something that can be simply blown away with a sufficiently large gun. Tracking it down, discovering exactly what it is, exactly what it can do and how something like that can be stopped while sparing as many lives as possible is not even slightly simple. It’s also a story full of well written emotional content. Z’s worry about his wife, about the people he cares for are very well written and carry a lot of emotional impact. It adds a level of tension to the story that is exceptional – especially since so many stories rely on creating menace for the protagonist who, in general, we know is going to survive. You can still create fear and tension that way, but it’s hard to do. By creating not just threat for Z, but also for his loved ones – real, fascinating characters the reader is already strongly invested in – then that tension is really well maintained since any of these characters could die.

Beyond worry for his friends and family, the decisions Z makes is another source of excellent emotional writing. Z has to make decisions, and some of these decisions leave people to die – which echoes back to book one where he was on the other side of someone else making that decision. I’m almost glad that some miracle doesn’t take away the cost of these decisions, that the emotional cost and impact isn’t magically mitigated.

There’s also the complex relationship Z has with both his father and his brother. Both fraught with tension and a lot of bad experiences. Trying to reconcile with his brother after what happened to him in the last book is an emotional mine field.

Are we too tough on Indie Authors?

This is a Guest Post from Tracey Sinclair, Auithor of the Cassandra Bick Chronicles

I had my first novel published nearly 6 years ago. With spectacularly bad timing – though obviously I can take no blame for this – it came out on the day of the London bombings, so my jubilation at finally seeing my name on a book was understandably overshadowed by more pressing concern for the devastation of my beloved city. My second book, a collection of short stories, luckily had a happier entry into the world, complete with a wine-fuelled, well-attended launch at a central London art gallery, after which I assumed that literary fame and the accompanying riches were mine for the taking.

Which, of course, is how most writers feel when their books come out, only to quickly realise, at least for the most part, that it’s devilishly difficult to make real money from your writing, and even with a couple of books to your name, you can’t quit the day job just yet. But, in some ways, I didn’t care – I was very good at my day job and in no hurry to quit it, and I was proud enough that, after years of on-off publication in magazines and anthologies, finally if you looked me up on Amazon, there I would be. (Admittedly, that had always been the case – there’s a prolific romantic novelist called Tracy Sinclair, which has led to some entertaining misunderstandings over the years– but this time the books you found would at least have a 50-50 chance of actually being mine). My friends were delighted and supportive, and although my publisher was a small press with a limited budget so my marketing budget was very low, I felt in some crucial way I had made it. I was finally an author!

Fast forward a few years, and the day job had started to pall, so I went back to my old career of freelance writing. I’d also got bored of ‘literary’ fiction (as my previous work could probably be classed) and decided to write something I could have fun with: an urban fantasy novel. Admittedly, I wanted to make it MY kind of urban fantasy novel – tired of the teenage swoons of Twilight and its impersonators, I wanted a feminist heroine, with actual female friends, and a cast of characters that reflected the different cultural make up and varying sexualities of my adopted city. It clearly wasn’t a fit for my existing publisher – and besides, I wanted to embrace the new possibilities of the digital world, in which I was now so active. So after sending out queries to a few agents and getting tired of the same ‘vampires are over’ response, I thought, sod it, and put the book out myself. 

Now, I didn’t just chuck it together: I enlisted a beta team of readers to make it the best it could be, a publishing expert to do the cover, and I had it professionally formatted. I have over 20 years of writing and editing experience: I’m not a novice at this. I know it’s not perfect – in retrospect I would hire a proofer next time, as the odd typo has slipped through, proving the old adage that you can never edit your own work. (Though, since standards in traditional publishing are increasingly shonky due to cost cutting – I recently read a Harper Collins book that referred to Henry VIII’s siblings Edward, Mary and Elizabeth I – I think it holds up relatively well). I was ready to face the world! I knew that marketing it would be tough, and a lot of work, but I was ready for that. What surprised me though was the amount of hostility and downright suspicion that being an indie author attracts.

Sinbad, Season 1, Episode 10

 Tiger now appears to be a permanent member of the crew – and not only that but has injected some sense in getting them an actual paying job rather than relying on coin falling from the sky or whatever they were doing before. They are being paid a lot of money to transport a professor and her cargo – which looks like a giant egg. Rina is suspicious, partly because the job is overpaid and partly because she and Tiger seem to have taken a dislike to each other.

The professor is more than a little smug and sets out to make poor Anwar feel inadequate in his scholarship, but he strikes back showing he can guess some things about her vessel prompting her to tell the rest – it contains paradise, eradicated diseases, no mutation – human essence stored in the shell. Anwar is doubtful – even hostile – but she is sure the vessel will fertilise the abandoned Tyre island and create a new Eden

Anwar and Rina indulge in some mutual sulking, Anwar because the professor is smarter than her and Rina because the professor demands decent service having paid over the odds for the travel. But she is smugly happy she knows something that the professor doesn’t – Tyre island isn’t abandoned, it’s inhabited (there’s a prison there). Anwar passes this on to the professor who is busy injecting her giant egg-thing and she gets rather perturbed.

From which she gets even more unreasonable, demanding her egg be washed constantly in cold water and insulting Cook’s cooking (who spends the rest of the episode complaining about fussy eaters). But she takes the time to ingratiate herself with Anwar, asking his discretion and revealing she has a deal with the island’s extremely reclusive people – and that their being reclusive is what makes it such an ideal place to test her egg. That egg also cracks and eats a fly – then reseals the crack again, which is faintly ominous.

All the ingratiation in the world doesn’t stop Anwar falling asleep when it’s his turn to wash the egg – and when they wake up the next morning, it has broken open and eaten all their supplies. When they find it – it’s a giant snake and bites Gunnar. They lock it underground and run up to have an argument with the professor – with her furious that they ruined her experiment (but happy that it is so well developed) and them less than pleased by the giant demon snake

The professor tries a new lie on Anwar – the serpent was created to destroy the infestation of plague rodents on Tyre (because a BIG snake will still hunt rats rather than, say, something bigger) and it’s unstable and dangerous because it hatched early – which she blames on Anwar. While the crew wants to kill it, she wants to protect it. She and Anwar go hunting in the dark for it – and she locks him down in the hold with the snake. Sinbad rushes to save Anwar but when he’s free the professor grabs him and holds a knife to his throat, forcing everyone back.

She has Cook open the hatch to throw Anwar in – because it needs to feed. Unfortunately, her taking the time for the sinister whispering meant she stood a little too long with her back to the hatch and the snake grabs her. See, this is the problem with dramatic villains. Anwar and Sinbad, being the Wet lettuce he is, doesn’t point and laugh, but they help her and pull her free – minus and arm

Consulting her notes, Anwar discovers she is working with a rogue professor from the Imperial college who thought compassion was a weakness and a giant snake would return to eat the “weak” of every species. For this, he was banished from the college, rather unsurprisingly. I mean, harsh tutors fair enough, but feeding the weak to an evil snake is a bit much.

Realising the snake is going to destroy the ship, Sinbad announces they have to leave – and they all pack up and start to flee the ship. Except Cook, who refuses to leave. They have a dramatic talk about destiny but Cook refuses to abandon ship. Gunnar, Anwar, Rina and Sinbad won’t abandon him.

So, new plan – batten down the hatches, survive the night on deck then, when the sun rises, go do some snake killing. Except it batters the ship all night (screeching for some reason) and the ship may be sunk by dawn. New plan #2! Put some human bait in a cage and when the snake sticks it’s head out, lop it off.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Fangs for the Fantasy Episode 84

This week nearly every show we watch is on hiatus (much to our irritation) but we do discuss Grimm and the Misfits.

We also discuss inclusion – and what it takes to have real inclusion rather than just a token POC or GBLT person, the markers that are needed to flesh out a character to be a character rather than just a check box.

We also discuss the latest review dramas – and the “meanness” of giving 1 star reviews as well as the very point and value of reviewing.

Our book of the week is the Constantine Affliction by T Aaron Payton which we discuss at length as well as some of the common problems with Paranormal Steampunk.

We also refer to Ben Aaronvitch, Kim Harrison, Kevin Hearne, Patricia Briggs, Diana Rowland, LA Banks, Seressia Glass and Tracey Sinclair.

 Our next few books of the week are:

10/9-17/9: Tempest Rising: Tracy Deebs  
17/9-24/9:  Masque of the Red Death: Bethany Griffin  
24/9-1/10:  Lies Beneath: Anne Greenwood Brown  
1/10-8/10: Hexed Anthology
8/10-15/10: Into the Woods: Kim Harrison

We hope people can read along with us

Review: The Constantine Affliction by T Aaron Payton

Lord Pembroke, Pimm to his friends, is a dissolute, alcoholic younger son of a Marquess. And to be a real embarrassment, he had a hobby as a detective, how scandalous. Despite his familial disapproval, he will keep involving himself in criminal cases where his surprisingly able mind has lead him to great success.

It’s because of that reputation that he has been approached by Mr. Value, a man of poor repute who wishes him to investigate the murder of his prostitutes – and he’s willing to use blackmail to make Pimm accede to his request.

Ellie is a journalist who is determined to be treated as such. Unwilling to go to Paris to report on the latest fashions and instead pursuing stories of greater import – and scandal. Including going undercover into one of the infamous clockwork brothels. But while there she is quickly caught up in a scheme that goes far higher than respectable gentlemen frequenting a house of ill repute.

And she notices that Lord Pembroke, famed detective, is also involving himself with some rather unsavoury characters – perfect for a journalist to investigate.

Together they try to unravel the murders, but the plot goes far higher – to the very top of British society. Along the way they find the animate dead, a machine that makes brain talk, clockwork automata and disturbing revelations about the Constantine Affliction – the new disease stalking London that turns men into women and women into men.

I do love a good steampunk world – which this book certainly has. It manages to convey a true sense of the time and the place – you can feel Victorian London in this book, which is impressive considering how different this London is from actual Victorian London. With walled and domed Whitechapel and the many myriad inventions that so characterise steampunk – clockwork automatons, alchemical lights and all the other anachronistic, fantastic inventions – it’s a very different world. It’s one of those steampunk books that has really hit the language and the attitudes and the behaviour just right to give it an authenticity and a realness.

I also love the characters. Pimm, the alcoholic, dissolute younger noble son who has the terrible bad manners to actually have a productive and useful hobby, the very idea. His casual enjoyment of life, his breezing through things with bags of style, all covering a brilliant mind. Freddy, with the Constantine Affliction, still leads her life as she wishes, fighting against restrictions and having a great time doing it – and Ellie, determined to become a journalist, a real journalist, no matter what, uninterested in fashion and frippery her editor likes to push her towards, she’s determined to find the dangerous, the exciting and the seamy. They bounce off each other really well as a team and a group and I really hope for more from them – and a series - now they have been introduced because they work so well together.

Even side characters are really fleshed out with strong personalities – Adam’s tragic, sinister earnestness. Big Ben’s quiet, respectable nobility even when forced into a criminal life. Oswald’s classic Mad Scientist – they all work really well.

The story itself is a nice mystery. I won’t say it’s baffling since it’s pretty obvious from early on who the big bad guy is – but not the extent of his schemes. Following Pimm and Ellie as they negotiate this great world to find all the pieces of the puzzle is definitely a good read – it’s decently paced with enough interesting additions to keep it interesting. Especially since, even though it seems obvious who is involved, it’s far less so in tracking down exactly how and why – and at the end the whole plot opens up into a direction I never imagined or expected.

If I have one complaint it’s that there’s a little too much exposition. There’s a lot of somewhat contrived dialogues while the characters explain the plot or the world to each other and even a full blown villainous monologue (albeit a very well done one). Because so much changes in the end of the book, there’s a sense that lots of exposition needs to be packed in to explain it all. It makes the book a bit heavy at the end, when it should be charging forwards with long periods spend pondering or discussing things.

One of the great themes in this book is one of science and ethics. Of how progress can bring many incredible things, new knowledge, new technology that make so many lives better – but links that with the importance of ethics in scientific exploration. The arrogance of “ends justifies the means” thinking and of setting scientific truth and exploration above the well being of people. This is especially pertinent in a steam punk setting where, of course, there are immense scientific advances, technology, wonderful gadgets but set against a time of industry and development that so often trampled on the rights of people.

One of the cornerstones of this book is the Constantine Affliction itself – it’s a disease that causes the infected to either die or transform, physically, into the opposite gender. So man contracting the Constantine affliction becomes a woman and vice versa. One of the main characters, Winnifred “Freddy” was afflicted and became a woman.

And this is used to great effect to explore and discuss the rigid gender roles of the era, which I will cover in a moment. But while it’s used as a tool to explore gender roles, it completely fails to have even the slightest analysis of being in a body that doesn’t match your actual gender. These people aren’t trans, but they face a trans-like situation and there’s no analysis of that. All of Freddy’s frustrations about her body becoming a woman’s is to do with sexism – the rigid gender roles forced on her, the sexism in society – but nothing on body dysmorphia, gender identity or anything like that – it was as if, should the gender roles of society disappear they would have no problems at all. In fact, some of the afflicted with female bodies “disguise” themselves as men not to present as their real genders, but just to reassume their place in society. Similarly, women who are changed into men are seen to rejoice at all the doors opening up to them – again, no problems at all for having a body that doesn’t match their gender. It’s all about gender roles – and its’ great that gender roles can be analysed this deeply, but it feels like these issues have been used to explore gender roles and completely ignored the trans issues that should very much have been a part of it as well.

This is further problematic by the fact that the Constantine Affliction is an affliction – it’s a disease. And no just a disease, but a sexually transmitted disease that has largely been spread by prostitutes.

On gender roles, the book does an excellent job of challenging the ridiculousness of rigid gender restrictions, especially the gender restrictions of the era. From the minor, with Pimm minding his language around Ellie, quite unnecessarily, to Ellie having to use a pseudonym to write, to Freddy’s frustrations with the clothes she must wear to the activities she is limited to, we have a constant display of the societal sexism of the era. And they’re constantly challenged and displayed as ridiculous – the male bankers, accountants, lawyers et al who are transformed into women but still disguise themselves as men are no less capable in their jobs; for that matter, women who are transformed into men and reinvent themselves are not in any way lesser in their jobs. Ellie is a skilled and much praised writer. And in the end the charge against the enemy is not lead by Pimm and Big Ben – but by Ellie and Freddy.

Despite all the challenges there are some issues which aren’t quite covered – but we do have a general mockery of the gender roles in total which provides its own challenge. So the constant refrain “gentlemen have urges” used time and again to justify the brothels is never directly challenged, but the whole ridiculousness of gender roles itself is.

But there is a problem with the way sex workers are treated. Again, we have another book where prostitutes are the victims of crimes and many of the characters dismiss them as expendable – though, I’m glad to see, not the protagonists. Pimm expressly humanises them, presenting them as women with families and loved ones who will miss them. We also have Adam, and Margaret that, again, humanises her considerably and makes her a real, full person rather than just an expendable prostitute. The problem is that part of the way Margaret is humanised – because part of it rests on her desperation. One of the ongoing conversations on prostitution is one of pity – and whether sex workers deserve it or not: inevitably based on how poor they are, how many other options they’ve exhausted, whether they use drugs etc etc. Margaret is pitiable because she is forced into sex work, not chosen it through “base desires”.

But this does lead into something the book does cover extremely well – class. Even with the protagonists being firmly upper or at least middle class, there is still considerable discussion of how lower class people are considered expendable. We have the sex workers, but also Big Ben’s story of his cousin – as readily killed and tossed aside the in the factories as any of the sex workers who were murdered. Or his own path to a life of crime caused by trying to avenge his sister who was raped by a wealthy lord with no repercussions. The casual way the destruction of White Chapel and the East End is treated by Oswald – we have a clear indication of how the lower classes are valueless in society.

As is common with Steampunks, we have only a veiled hint at GBL characters (generally regarded with distaste) and POC are considered some exotic, alien other and in some other far flung corner of the empire – we got some side references to the Steel Raja and his steam powered war elephants, but only in the sense of him being a terrible threat.

This book covers a lot of really deep issues and social commentary – though it does ignore some important ones which the text begs to have explored. But it does so in a way that fits naturally with the story. The plot continues with these powerful messages, un-derailed and undistracted. The characters are fun and engaging – I genuinely liked them and would love to read the next book for them alone. The world is a classic steampunk world – beautiful and rich and full of dichotomies that a proper steampunk should be – and it is presented in an authentic and realistic manner. The story is fun, it flows naturally and is definitely worth a read. Despite its problems, it’s one I’d recommend

We received an ARC of this book through Netgalley