Saturday, June 22, 2013

Warehouse 13, Season 4, Episode 17: What Matters Most

In Marlin, Ohio, Terry Chambers, a district attorney is collecting his post when he suddenly seizes up in incredible pain, gasps that he’s burning up while the veins on his face stand out bright red. Then he collapses – and dies.

And at the Guesthouse, Artie tells this to Myka, complete with him not having eaten anything or have any injection sites. Cause of death? Muscle paralysis, heart attack and his lungs collapsed. Overkill much? Pete is absent because of his yearly physical so Myka’s off to catch the flight on her own

Abigail has cooked something delicious and Jinks and Artie follow their noses; Abigail has gone out and bought scones. And she’s not above bribing people into doing the dishes to share those scones. Which is when Claudia arrives and Artie makes a move on the scones by revealing a ping – a teenager went into a fugue state and started grafitting advanced maths. And Claudia realises she has become jaded. She is happy to go though because the alternative is flushing out the neutraliser. Apparently unpleasant

Which makes Steve offering to stay seem awfully suspicious. So it’s Claudia and Artie into the field.

Pete and Myka arrive in Ohio – and Pete is using hand-grippers while driving (with Pete worried about his grip strength, of course Myka has to make a joke of that). They enter a gated community (with the gate guard fawning over the secret service) and enter an ultra-creepy neighbourhood that looks like, as Pete puts it, a 50s TV show. Complete with officious man, Colonel Castle, in a golf buggy demanding they move their car – and not at all impressed with their badges.

This makes Pete blow up rather excessively – even if his “gated communities, for when you miss boot camp” is a good line. Myka wants to know what’s up; after his physical that morning the doctor said his testosterone levels were low. The doctor said it was fine, but he googled it and, of course, the internet predicted lots of doom – including… erectile dysfunction.

Random passing woman adds to the freaky 50s feel of the place and adds some gossip: apparently the dead DA forgot to park his car in his garage and someone broke his windshield. I think it speaks volumes for how well and truly bored out of their skull someone is that this counts as juicy gossip.

Time to talk to Roger (who insists on shortening his name. But then, if you’re called Roger you can’t be blamed for doing everything you can to avoid such a cruel fate), the DA’s stepson. Who is kind of creepily enthusiastic about, well, everything. He knows little about the broken window or any threats against the DA (who probably made some enemies since he earned the nickname “DA gaschamber”). And on that note – they get the forensics report – the chemicals in DA Henry’s blood are used in lethal injections. That’s a lead for Myka to follow up

Pete’s lead is the ambulance that just arrived, sirens screaming. Flashing his badge and tagging along, they enter a house to find a man and a woman stuck together – the flesh of their bare torsos melded together. Spencer is the son of the people who own the house (they’re on holiday) and they were working, just working, honest. And don’t pay attention to the lube being kicked under the sofa. The only connection they have with the DA is that the woman’s recently fired husband, Gerry LaBelle used to work for him. Looks like Gerry has revenge motive against all 3 victims.

Time to see Gerry; they find him in his garage and ask him about DA Henry Chambers. And Gerry responds by taking a swing at Pete. Which goes poorly for him. Taking this as a very big sign of guilt they ask him how he poisoned the DA – which confuses him since all he did was smash his windshield. Oh and he’s properly shocked that his wife is cheating on him; he didn’t know. Too early in the show for such an obvious suspect

Then the security guard spontaneously catches fire. With green fire no less. Pete smothers it with a blanket. And then he catches fire again – Myka moves in with a fire extinguisher. The guy doesn’t look healthy.

Cut to loading the man in an ambulance – he’s alive, for now. And they need to speak to someone who knows everything about the gated community in the hope of finding a new lead – time to interview creepy gossipy lady, Janice. Pete steals cookies while Myka asks about the security guard, Rex – who was apparently a loner with little contact with the other victims – but his house did burn down (yes with fire), 3 months ago.

Pete and Myka go to where Rex is staying to try and find some connection with the other victims but on entering Pete notices that all of Rex’s expensive electronics had been miraculously saved from his house fire. Looking at an arson report, it seems that boric acid was found in Rex’s power outlets – which burns green. Just like the flames that burned Rex. They hit on the blatantly obvious cause and effect artefact. The execution-happy DA who may have been unethical dies from lethal injection. The adulterers are melded together. The arsonist burns. So they need someone who is particularly obsessive about rules and morality – and come up with Colonel Castle who yelled at them for how they parked their car.

To his house where Myka picks the lock when the colonel doesn’t answer. Inside they find a room with orange smoke billowing out from under it – inside the colonel is choking on the floor. They call 911 and drag him outside, him still coughing up orange smoke. As the colonel chokes he says “someone knows” and tells them how in Kuwait he and his men were outnumbered in a village and they responded by gassing the whole town, killing them all in their sleep.

Calling on Abigail and Jinks for research, they’ve dug up sin related objects. All they found were suspected artefacts from Sodom and Gomorrah, objects that were crusted in salt (from the salt dunes around the city that made it so wealthy). The only connection they find between the victims is that all of them, except Rex, are on the board of the gated community. That leaves Myka to read through the minutes of the council meetings while Pete goes and checks the last unaffected board member.

He breaks down the door to the house – for extra testosterone insecurity – and Myka calls with a reason from the minutes. Janice (the creepy gossipy woman) has had her proposal for a bust of her late husband, the founder of the gated community, rejected for the 3rd time – with Rex speaking against it. And Myka has a flashback to all the locations they’ve been – where there were chocolate cookies in each one (this is a moment when watching the show you kick yourself for not noticing that!) Janice’s cookies that contain salt – the Artefact from Sodom wasn’t covered in salt, it was the salt. And Pete ate the cookies

Defiance, Season 1, Episode 10: If I Ever Leave This World Alive

We return to Defiance – in the midst of a plague. While life tries to continue as normal, Alak on his radio from the arch gives out information. It’s the Irath flu, humans and Irathients can carry the plague but only humans die from it – and it’s spread by skin contact. He warns everyone to buy gloves – but the masks do nothing (much to the annoyance of a Castithan selling masks who turns off the radio and continues to peddle them). If people feel ill he tells them to go to a triage tent

Which is where Amanda, Nolan and Dr. Yewll are; there’s a large number in the tent that shocks Amanda. Yewll has the numbers – 6 dead, 21 sick. Dr. Yewll knows of a curse – after an outbreak in San Francisco they developed an anti-viral – they have to wait for it to arrive, however.

As if that weren’t enough to worry about, Christie in the arch notices Earth Republic trucks approaching. Alak passes the message to Amanda – and she and Nolan go to see Connor (Earth Republic representative) in Need Want to give him menacing glares. Connor says that ERep is quarantining Defiance, preventing the disease from spreading East to the Republic. Connor says ERep is quite happy to see every human in Defiance die – including him – so they can then roll in and take the mines.

And, yes, Connor is rather drunk. Nolan discusses how they can break the quarantine, but Amanda can’t say they’re wrong – ERep has good reason not to want to spread the plague across North America. Amanda holds on to hope. Connor wants to get drunk and suggests Nolan does the same

Out on the street a group of Castithan are throwing rocks at a group of Irathient Spirit Riders – calling them dirty and filthy (why would the Castithans be so upset? They’re immune and can’t carry it. This would make more sense with humans). Irisa breaks it up before the Irathients respond with lethal weapons – and chases the Castithans into their homes by threatening to bite them. She then greets the Spirit Riders (friends of hers) who have come for food and medicine – but now they can’t leave because of the quarantine. An Irathient woman who acts as some kind of priest fears the humans will blame them and asks Irisa to pray with them

I like how much Irisa has grown, the slow distance between her and Nolan while her finding a new family with the Irathient – it shows her in both worlds and making a place for herself in both; and it doesn’t take much to show it, just little scenes like this.

At the town council, the numbers have been updated to 16 dead and 30 ill. One Councillor fears they won’t survive the quarantine and Rafe shifts the blame to the Irathients despite, as Amanda points out, humans also being carriers. Datak also blames the Irathients – and shows the prejudice the Castithans have against the Irathients that explains the earlier attacks – he believes that Irathients often carry disease but rarely get sick from illness themselves (something his fellow Castithan agrees on but Amanda disputes). He says other Votans see Irathients as plague carriers – which he agrees is partly bigotry but has a root of truth to it; and it’s why Irathients keep to themselves and why Castithan shun them. For once, Rafe agrees with Datak; and proposes forcibly quarantining Irathients in the mines. Amanda points out Irathients and humans have been asked to stay inside – but Rafe is contemptuous of the Irathients following orders: with the Castithans supporting him. Amanda reminds them how tense things have been with the Irathients and how they could be facing another armed uprising – but the spineless human Councillors make excuses how it’s “keeping them safe” from bigots to lock the Irathients up. When it goes to the vote, only Amanda votes against interring the Irathients.

Irisa and the Spirit Riders are praying on a rooftop when Rafe and an armed group of humans arrive. Rafe climbs up and tries to get Irisa and the others to surrender – but she’s not buying his crap and won’t be locked up like an animal – she pushes him down and tells the Spirit Riders to run and gather the Irathients while she slows the humans down. She fights them until she’s finally overwhelmed.

As they drag Irisa into a truck, Nolan arrives, with Amanda, and draws a gun at the man holding her who draws a gun of his own. Apparently Rafe was supposed to let Amanda tell Nolan before acting – of course Rafe had to push it. Amanda tries to talk Nolan down – again playing the “Irathients are safer locked up” card. Amanda tells Irisa to say she’s ok – Irisa doesn’t, but she says she doesn’t like the odds and to put the gun away.

Going to the Lawkeeper’s office, Nolan grabs several guns saying Irisa will know he’s coming for her – Amanda tries to talk him down again, saying he’s sweating (implying he has the disease) and that it’s just guilt over Sukar (and, hey, she voted against – so she’s done her bit when it comes to mass interment). Their argument is cut short by Yewll arriving with a message – San Francisco has sent the cure. But the drop is outside the quarantine.

To Need Want to wake up the drunk Connor so he can get them through the quarantine – well him and Nolan. Amanda nearly falls, dizzy, probably early stages of the disease.

Qunetin walks to the diner, past Irathients being rounded up and impounded, to meet with Nicky and her evil plotting. Yes, he’s taking Nicky’s bait and asking about his mother. She tells him that his mother, Pilar, is alive not dead as Rafe said, and she’ll tell him where to find her if he brings the gold artefact.

Being the trusting fool he is, he goes home and gets the artefact. Even his hallucination of his dead brother Luke thinks this is a bad idea.

The Irathient are locked up in cages in the mines – and one of them believes they’re going to die, killed with chlorine gas as the Castithans did to Irathients in the past. Defiance – you’re crossing the line from parallels to outright appropriation again.

Rafe, Quentin Atak, Datak and Stahma go to the hospital tent – Christie has the disease. Stahma urges Rafe and Quentin to leave since they’re healthy and it’s dangerous. There’s no pain medicine left, but Datak has a stash of old opiates and gives one to Christie. Christie talks about meeting her mother – and Amanda is brought in on a stretcher, unconscious and bleeding from the nose.

In the badlands, Nolan and Connor drive to find the cure – Nolan sweating and looking awful and asking Connor about his military service and how long he was with Amanda (3 years). Unknown side effect of the illness – gossip. Turns out Amanda got pregnant, Connor was ready to raise a family (though scared about the new world), Amanda wasn’t and had an abortion; and they broke up.

At the quarantine they meet Colonel Marsh, the commanding officer – and with him is evil ERep representative Olfin Tennety. They won’t let them past to get medicine and Olfin offers to get it – Nolan nixes that plan, not trusting her. Nolan invokes the 6,000 deaths (human population of Defiance) that will be on the Colonel’s head – and adds that they’ll have no chance of any kind of alliance with Defiance if they prevent medicine reaching the sick (they could move in anyway, as Connor said). Olfin tries to get Nolan shot, but the colonel overrules her and lets him collect the meds.

Defiance is eerily empty, as more and more humans fall ill and others die. And Stahma, not missing a trick, pushes the ill Amanda to put Datak in charge while she’s ill, since Castithan are immune and offer stability. Amanda’s not hearing it – Rafe is senior he will be interim mayor. Because Rafe is better?

Friday, June 21, 2013

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

It's now ten years since the world was almost destroyed by zombies and Max Brooks has determined that the stories of the survivors must be told for the benefit of future generation. The zombie war was almost an extinction moment for humans, as they found all of the military tactics they had developed didn't work on zacks. The technology we expected to ensure our superiority was absolutely useless.

Patient zero was Chinese and the disease spread to the uninfected to the west through the use of illegal organ transplant.  It was believed at first that people were suffering from a form of rabies and a vaccine was created, giving people a false sense of safety.   Government corruption and bureaucracy  meant that many died, who did not have to die.  People seeking to make profit in the face of disaster, caused the infection to spread even faster, as they illegally transported infected peoples across borders. The only country which reacted quickly was Israel and by being the first to shut their borders, actively worked to protect their citizens. 

I must admit that I chose to read this book because of the movie by the same title, which is set to be released in June of this year.  From the clips, I expected an action book and that is far from what  World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War is about.  It is a story about desperation, government corruption, families, the military, the environment and most importantly the human spirit and our drive to survive. Brooks makes the story of this zombie war international, which is absolutely unique in this genre.  Most zombies books speak about an infection breaking out in the U.S. or one country, leaving the reader with no idea of what is happening in the rest of the world. 

Unlike other books in this genre, there really is no protagonist in this story.  Every 3-4 pages, Brooks moves onto a new account of the zombie war. This means that the readers must invest in the setting itself, rather than the characters. It is helped by the fact that World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War is a global account and therefore the experiences continue to vary and are based on the world's various cultures.  For instance, residents of the U.K. didn't have guns to protect themselves because of their strict gun control laws and so broke into museums and stole medieval weapons.  Her Maj stayed in London and opened Windsor castle to survivors.  The North Koreans simply disappeared below ground, while Cuba moved quickly to eradicate the danger on the Island and opened its doors to Americans fleeing the danger.  

Dead Like Me Season 1, Episode 5: Reaping Havoc

Begin with a brief flashback of how Betty died – jumping off a cliff, before hitting the present hard, in the Waffle House, with George still finding Rube mad at her and telling her not to meddle with fate. Even angry he tries to be nice to her – and she heads off to her work with the sudden realisation that she has no friends – only co-workers.

She briefly considers Delores for the role – but then we’re all reminded how very very very annoying she is. Delores questions also required George to invent a jet pilot brother for “Millie” (I would have gone for only child myself) and suddenly being dragged along to a scrap booking meeting. As George puts it, the lengths she goes to for free food. Delores shows off her work related scrap book which promises to be a read several times worse than anything we’ve DNFed. George contemplates her own work related scrapbook – body parts and bones and mementos of terrible accidents! Yay!

What is scrapbooking? And how is it a social activity? Do people actually do this? Really? Do they come with warning signs?

To the Waffle House to spend time with Betty, talking about guys, cheese and how she thinks George is beautiful – definitely friend potential. Oh and they’re sharing a table with a very confused complete stranger  - who is actually dead and doesn’t quite realise it yet (they’ll get to that once George finishes telling Betty about her fictional brother)  and George remarks on how alive Betty is – for the undead.

Back Betty’s her actual life – and death – being reaped by Rube after that jump which she did for the thrill – and isn’t impressed by her boyfriend not joining her. She extolls the joy of jumping to Rube, the will and courage it takes and plans to do it again – then sees her body floating downstream. And we learn that Betty takes polaroids of every soul she reaps and sorts them into sacks – her signature.

To the Waffle House with George wondering about order and Betty preparing to go “shopping” – which means lots of items for removing tags. And Mason arrives with news about a dust storm in China and an awful comment about “yellow people” that makes even cynical George speak up. They quickly divert to foreign travel and Betty tells a wonderful tale of how she went to terrible devastating volcanoes alongside sandy beaches. Rube suggests taking George to the next running of the bulls.

Much as I loathe Mason’s comment, I do like the casual way they’re referring to death in the conversation. Is it insensitive? Sure – but how jaded would these people be by now? They get their appointments, George and Mason snipe about the fruit and Betty calls Rube an asshole for the way he treats George (since she’s a kid). I do love their banter.

Mason goes on a job reaps an old woman’s soul then has tea with her ghost listening to her memories (and she won’t let him use her cup – that’s her cup, she has other cups for guests). She’s definitely a character, refuses to let him call anyone because if it takes them a while to find her that’s their fault for not checking on her more often. And leave the door open – if the coyotes eat her it’ll make her kids feel terrible! Mason starts looking for valuables and even he comments on her racism.

Yeah – what is this, random racist comments for shits and giggles so people can call them out? What’s the point? It doesn’t even serve as a way of dating them by showing supposed “archaic” language because they haven’t been living in a tomb.

Back to Betty and George – since Betty shows up at George’s with all her sacks and Betty talks about her aliases (see, she’s sensible, she goes for “only child” and how she changes them to stop people being suspicious and to shake things up). She also gets Betty’s cynically accurate assessment of people – and how she can so easily split them into bags – like the “reiterator people”, people who take other’s thoughts and personalities and convince themselves they’re their own – and there’s only so many personalities in the world; she’s met them all

And there’s a method to her actions – she’s brought the sacks to show George that people aren’t snowflakes. Oh and she needs more storage space. George takes the lesson with her to work and hopes it’s not true but can’t help but notice the common types among her colleagues and how everything you love or hate is loved or hated by a gazillion other people – each colleague she can picture going into one of Betty’s sacks.

That’s depressing, the dead old woman is much more fun – she’s teaching mason how to forge her signature on social security cheques. And Mason reassures her about crossing over, telling her what she will see (something bright and lit up –something wonderful tailored to her) while lamenting that he never got to see one – only other people’s

Alas we can’t remain with those fun folk because George is still stuck in Millie hell. Delores and Mike try to drag her to a social outing involving stationery and George dodges it by saying she’s celebrating being 1 month sober… Is George incapable of telling normal white lies? Delores, being Delores, gushes pride and admiration. And talks about her cocaine addiction. That’ll teach you George!

She’s rescued by Rube – well is rescued is the word – who Delores assumes is Millie’s sponsor. Delores praises Millie to the hills and back – which Rube has trouble believing (can’t think why) and they head out, joined by Betty who is obsessing over Crystal’s hair (don’t ask why, it’s Betty). As to why she’s really going to the park –it’s the Bowers’ family reunion and an M J Bowers is due to die. Given the number of Bowers, the surname and initials isn’t that helpful.

Especially since there is a difference between “an M J Bowers” and “The M J Bowers”.  Especially with several to choose from in various perilous situations.

Back to the Waffle House with Betty’s wonderful way with the dead and the dead MJ asking why they won’t deliver last messages (postage, it adds up) and George repeating her complaint that they’re not paid to Reap.

Back to work where George finds herself actually talking to Delores and wanting to do so – before heading to a bar with Betty (who makes a brief comment about being restless, unable to sit still) where there’s a drunken Irishman, a birthday party and dancing on the bar. Betty takes the happy man’s picture, with everyone around him laughing and clapping and George reaps his soul, touching his foot –before the mounted sword fish impales him.

Written-By-Numbers Drinking Game: Urban Fantasy

'Cheap booze 1' photo (c) 2008, Melissa Wiese - license:
With yet more deja-vu assaulting us, it's time for another Written-by-Numbers drinking game!

And this week, it’s for Urban Fantasy. Grab your bottles, folks and prepare the stomach pumps (we are not responsible for any alcohol poisoning that may develop - in extreme cases you may want to drink non-alcoholic beverages or American beer))

The Protagonist - magic and work!: +1 drink if:

  • She has super-duper woo-woo powers that are super special
    • +1 drink for every element of them that is superduper rare
    • +1 drink if she’s super-duper strong
    • Empty the damn glass if she’s the only one with this power, ever
    • Empty the damn bottle if there’s no explanation why she has this power

  • She has magical powers she DOESN’T USE
    • +1 drink if she’s afraid of them (+1 extra drink if it’s never explained why she should be)
    • +1 drink if she thinks they’re evil (+1 extra drink it;s never explained why she does)
    • +1 drink if she can’t control them
    • Empty the damn glass if she just doesn’t use them for no apparent reason.

  • She grows more powerful as the series progresses
    • +1 drink she has leaps in power with no apparent reason or cause
    • Empty the damn glass if the reason is “tried really hard in emotional stress”
    • Empty the damn glass if she gains entirely new powers
    • Refill the glass and empty again if these powers aren’t even closely related to her current powers
    • Empty the damn bottle if she gains power so often it feels like levelling up in a computer game
    • Raid the brewery and drink all the booze if it’s Anita Blake.

  • She has a dark secret/hidden identity/curse (+1 drink per)

  • She is a police detective or private investigator
    • +1 drink if she has zero detective skills or experience
    • +1 drink if she never does any actual investigation
    • +1 drink if she hasn’t the slightest idea how the law works
    • Empty the damn glass if the author has watched waaay too much CSI
    • Empty the bottle if the “mystery” is solved by the bad guy attacking the protagonist

  • Despite NOT being a police detective or private investigator, she still ends up investigating a crime
    • Apply all the drinks above
    • +1 drink if she hardly ever attends her real job
    • Empty the damn glass if you forget she has a real job

        • Successfully “enhancing” CCTV images to see the impossible - like someone’s face reflected in a car mirror across a parking lot
        • DNA results returned within the hour
        • Hacking. Just hacking, because there’s no way in hell the depiction won’t be laughable.
        • Warrants? Who needs warrants?!
        • Or warrants - let’s go ask the judge, he hands them out like sweet sweet candy
        • Aggressive interview with a lawyer present who sits there silently. Could save money and just have a cardboard cutout

Thursday, June 20, 2013

One Silent Night (Dark Hunter Series #10, Dark Hunter World #17) by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Stryker, for reasons that don’t make sense to anyone, has decided he is finally going to bring down Acheron and Nick once and for all – by unleashing the very essence of War. A deity only the combined might of several pantheons – pantheons that are no longer complete – managed to defeat and imprison before.

Things do not go as planned.

Not least of which is the rise of old powers – powers older and greater than even War himself rising to make his mission difficult. And Artemis, rather annoyed with Stryker, sends her own assassin – Zephyra, the woman he wished to marry when he was 14, the woman he has spent 11,000 years missing, the woman he abandoned and a woman who most certainly wants him dead.

Almost completely certainly. Almost

This book failed terribly for me. Utterly and awfully – and it did it in many ways that are almost too long to list so I shall stick to the most annoying of them.

More than anything else, there is one fact that breaks this story for me. It’s a number: 11,000 years.

See, in the Dark hunter series just about everyone is older than god – and this has only become more pronounced as the series has possessed. At this stage mere 2,000 year old people are positive children! No, it’s 10 millennia or nothing!

The problem is absolutely no-one acts like it. In fact, most of them would be pressed to act like they’ve hit their 20s. Now I know there’s some backing to this in that the series is heavily based on Greek Mythology and there are few deities more inclined to childish, petulant overreactions than the Olympians (except, maybe, the Norse) but there’s a limit. It’s a problem that has been growing through the series and it really is the straw breaks the camel’s back on this one. Nick, in his mid-20s, acts no less mature than beings that have been around for literally longer than recorded human history (and he acts like a whiny child far too often).

So we come to the two main characters Stryker and Zephyra (which has to be shortened to Phyra for no damn reason than women needing to have a cutsey pet name to denote them as love interest). When they were 14 (yes uckies, but they rely on the history of the time to justify it) they were engaged to be married, briefly. But Stryker’s daddy said no (Apollo) and to marry the woman he chose. Stryker agreed because he eternally sought daddy’s approval and abandoned the pregnant Zephyra who was hellciously pissed.

That’s the history – fine. And from that we know that a) Stryker regrets leaving Zephyra, b) Styker has daddy issues (oh boy does he) and c) Zephyra hates Styker with the fiery passion of a thousand sons. Fine, I can sign off on all of that – if they were, say, still in their 20s. But they’re no, they’re 11,000 years old. 11,000. Eleven millennia. One hundred and ten centuries.

Zephyra has maintained her vast, all consuming hatred for her ex dumping her for 11,000 years. This is beyond restraining order territory. If you found someone still bitter and seeking the death of their ex 20 years after the break up you’d consider them to be a disturbed and frightening person. Yes he dumped her. Yes he was cruel. Yes it was tragic – but it was 11,000 years ago. Move on already. I can’t dredge up the slightest sympathy for someone who has managed to cling to burning hatred and sexual tension for 11,000 years

Much the same applies to Stryker “daddy likes my sisters more than me and said mean things!” Stryker, you are 11,000 years old. 11,000 years. By all means hate Apollo for the curse he has put on his people – but to run around looking for a pseudo-parental figure, apparently the source of his angst with both Acheron and Appolymi is ludicrous. I don’t care how mean your daddy was, when you are 11,000 years old it’s time to put on your big boy trousers and look beyond parental validation.

And the patronising way they treat their daughter is utterly ridiculous. That would be the same daughter they had aged 14 – meaning she is also 11,000 years old. At that age being 14 years older than someone hardly grants you even the slightest hint of parental authority – it’s ludicrous, it’s farcical and just adds to how much these characters fail to act anything remotely like their incredibly vast ages.

The second biggest break in the story for me is this series eternal power creep. When it began we had a wide world with one big, overwhelmingly terrifying horror lurking in the base – Appolymi, the Atlantean goddess of destruction who would cause an apocalypse if she was ever released. This was the big bad everything was terrified of. Then there was Acheron, her son, the Deus Ex Machinae who kind of drops in to unleash his awesome powers whenever a story needs resolving. Ok, I can work with that, both have limits by Acheron’s morality and Appolymi being stuck in hell. Then there were the Cthonians. And Savitar. And probably Jaden. And now there’s War, the Sephiroth and the Malachai.

The book is LITTERED with ridiculously over-powered stronger-than-all-the-gods characters. It doesn’t make the book more epic – because the writing doesn’t support the epic – there are no grand epic confrontations, there are no grand displays of epic powers, there is no real tension written in the book, no great scenes telling us what epic powers are about to clash – it’s just clogged with super powerful beings. The fight scenes were clumsy and distinctly unimpressive and it was pretty impressive that we had all of these uber-beings dancing around but there was no attempt to actually write them with any kind of interesting uber-powers. And the beings who HAVE had that epic established – Appolymi – now has bodyguards! Which really makes me question the previous books in the series when she was the thing to fear above all else.

Related to that we have moments were it seemed they were going to work on the epic – Zeus and all the Olympians gathering to stop War, an appearance by Hades and Ares and the Egyptian goddess Ma’at. We even had a moment where several of them, along with Artemis, were willing to go into battle and we never even saw it. You don’t even have to work to make these characters epic! They come pre-epicced! They have entire mythologies and belief systems behind them to make them epic.

The Walking Dead Vol. 4 The Heart's Desire

I think this is the first volume where there hasn’t been a definite theme I can point to and say “this is what this is about”. There are several potential themes and aspects touched on but none of them really maintained I think. In some ways, the volume is a filler, a deep breath. We had all the action of finding and clearing the prison last volume and now, after putting the rebellion down, they have to live there. So there’s a chance for people to live there.

If there is something I can put my finger on, it’s mental stability coupled with the reality of their situation hitting home as they have more physical security to actually consider things. We see this in both Rick’s iconic ending speech heavily foreshadowed with both Sophia and Carl talking about how the zombies are sad and Axel considering how every zombie was once a human. It combines together with the revelations of the last volume to drive home that every single one of them will become a zombie. There’s a despair to that which Rick underlines at the last page.

But this is also when all the stress they’ve been under rises to crack them – Carol being driven off the edge by Tyreese’s cheating on her and her attachment to Rick and Lori. Michonne talking to herself after all her loneliness. Allen almost welcoming death. Lori taking to her bed and just not being able to face the stress any more.  And, of course, Tyreese and Rick having their blow out.

Rick is the classic because, as the leader, he has also been establishing a growing fragility as he lashes out at anything that threatens the unity of the group. After all, he is the one responsible, he is the one people look to; he consults Tyreese but largely he’s been made leader. And it’d probably be nice to have zombies as the only worry – but it’s the people that are causing more headaches. Last volume we saw him completely lose it (albeit more understandably) on Thomas and this week he loses it again on Tyreese, trying to maintain that control and losing it when he can’t.

Finally there’s a sense that they have to change – it’s only introduced this comic, but it’s going to be ongoing. Rick’s epic speech – you need to kill to live – is, of course, the most obvious and powerful part of it. But even in the beginning Tyreese talks to Rick about looking again at the whole idea of executing murderers and taking death off the table. A new debate is emerging – how much of your humanity, your standards, your principles can you keep and how – and what it will cost you to change or not.

I think it’s a solid introduction of themes that are going to remain present throughout the series – how do you keep the group safe and united, what are you willing to do to make that so, and what will it cost you mentally and emotionally to do that. Or to fail to do that.

Of course, there are issues ongoing. And we will start with the treatment of women. This volume Lori wasn’t nearly so hectoring as the opposition – though she did Take To Her Bed. We also had Andrea fully accepted and expected to be part of the combat team and, of course, Michonne stepping into the picture and kicking arse better than anyone. While we’re not a big fan of women-as-weapons being used as a stand in for actual developed strong characters it’s still a relief to see women fight after the first volumes of utter female helplessness.

Sadly, this appears to be the only strength we see. Michonne I can understand being quiet given being a new arrival. But if it’s not Lori (whose every opinion is completely dismissed as her terrible silly lady hormones making her emotional and not to be trusted there-there let the men do your thinking for you), no-one speaks up. Dale is considering whether he and Andrea will stay or not – and Andrea? She will go where Dale goes. Does she have an opinion? An idea? Anything? Carol? Idea? Input? Anything? Noooope. Maggie? Nah, she and Glennn are off in corners getting it on and not really doing anything. Aha! Patricia! She has ideas – except she’s being Lori’d. Her ideas are so patently ridiculous she’s just a walking Spunky Agent and, besides, she sided with the Enemy so isn’t going to speak or be acknowledged if she did.

To top it all off we then have the ruling council:  Rick, Hershel, Dale and Tyreese. Even Rick commented on the lack of women – but that’s ok because none of the women WANTED to be in charge. Oh no, they just want to be protected and let the menfolk make the decisions.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Deceived by the Others (H & W Investigations #3) by Jess Haines

Shiarra is on the cusp of taking a big step – finally signing the contract between herself and Chaz that would formalise their relationship between a Human and an Other. Before doing so, she’s taking a romantic getaway with him to a camp site to spend some quality time together

And with his pack. While not as romantic as being alone, it does give her chance to get to know the pack and see Chaz around them. And find that while many hail her as a hero, not everyone is happy with the Alpha’s human girlfriend or her connections with vampires. Then there’s some pack politics to handle as well and…

Then all hell breaks loose. The holiday’s over, Shiarra’s running into hiding, but not happy to stay there. She’s plotting vengeance.

This is a book of two halves. Actually, worse than that, this is a book of about 60%/40%.

In the first 60% of the book I was severely losing my patience with it and kind of wondering what the point was. Shiarra is going on holiday with the Sunstriker pack during the full moon to get used to them, befriend them and, perhaps, take her relationship to the next level with her boyfriend Chaz.

This involved just hanging around, eating, drinking and enjoying the views. Chaz spent a substantial amount of time away from her dealing with various issues. She had some vague interactions with the pack that didn’t really go anywhere or really establish any characters (quickly forgot most of their names). There was a Mean Girl werewolf who hated Shiarra for random reasons but Shiarra pulled out some badassery to make her back down – so that petered off. I spent a lot of time wondering what the point was. If she was furthering her relationship with Chaz, I expected that relationship to develop. If she was forming bonds with the pack, I expected her to do so and spend time with them and develop some relationships. Neither really happened.

Then there were random sidequests. Seth and his teenaged minions challenged Chaz and were slapped down easily. End of. Was it supposed to be foreshadowing of Chaz’s true nature? Because it’s kinds of what I expected any way. In fact, the whole “revelation” to Shiarra that Chaz could be both violent in the face of rebellion and that he was politically minded seemed rather convoluted. Chaz is the Alpha of the third largest werewolf pack in the area, he commands 50-60 werewolves – surely being willing to fight down revolutions and being politically minded are assumed elements of the job? So it just kind of happened and then went away

And then there were the Nightstrikers – geeky shapeshifters who resent the Sunstrikers for being popular, bullying jocks. What are they supposed to achieve? Well, except break the whole story for me. As someone who has killed Onyxia, played WoW and is quite happy with geekiness (and I don’t think that’s unusual in the Urban Fantasy genre) I can’t help but feel… cringingly embarrassed by the depiction of the Nightstrikers. Not on their behalf, but at how ridiculously hollow and grossly out of date they are – out of date even when the book was released. It felt vaguely like the author had done 2 seconds of random googling of “Know your meme” and then splurged all the gamer stuff together. It was like watching one of those television programmes where one of the writers has discovered L33t and decided it makes one of the characters one of the most awesome hackers ever. It was embarrassingly ignorant, the characters didn’t even qualify as caricatures. It was like watching your dad try to be cool

And it didn’t work. They can’t possibly have been the viable threat that Royce and the White Hats were warned about. I can’t imagine Cassidy would allow these fools, regardless of family connection, to rampage around attacking and harassing his paying customers; it doesn’t make any sense, not for the sake of a childhood grudge. And how are we supposed to treat them? Because the book is treating them as silly, negligible comic relief, but these guys shot a silver arrow at a werewolf. They tried to commit murder – that’s not something to be brushed off so casually.

It was ill thought out and terribly put together.

Black Magic Woman (Black Knight Chronicles #3.5) by John G Hartness

Sabrina, Gregg and James go to a comic convention – only Gregg is there by choice but they both lost bets. Damn cheating vampire.

But a vampire can’t even rustle up comics back issues without running into a supernatural nasty to take out. And that doesn’t include the guys follow Sabrina around in her short shorts.

In many ways I think this novella is a lot like Movie Knight. It has a good introduction to the characters, a sense of the weird and the wonderful things they face, a good idea of how everyone interacts, how they think, their tones and natures as well as a decent exploration of the world.

Like Movie Knight, it also presents an opening to some of the more weird and unusual things James and Greg face above and beyond the normal. A quick little adventure so that those who have already read the series still have something of interest to see and be interested in; while at the same time not being so different and new as to leave completely new readers floundering and unable to keep up

It strikes the right balance between having enough story there to be interesting to people who are already reading the series while still providing a nice introduction to people who are thinking about checking the series out. It would be, like Movie Knight, a great anthology novel, introducing new readers to the series who have never come across it before.

And yes, the world building and information continues to hit that balance between filling in all the gaps necessary for a new reader to keep up while, at the same time, not completely inundating an old reader with stuff we already know. That takes some real skill.

It’s also kind of gloriously fun to have vampires at a geeky comic convention.

Unfortunately, this book also show cases some of the problems that the series has as well. Like Gregg being a fat vampire – which is nicely rare and I love that he’s included, but I’m less thrilled with it being something constantly referenced – especially when he wears spandex. It’s a short book and there are an awful lot of cracks about his weight within it.

And then there’s Sabrina. I’ve said before how much I love Sabrina and James’s relationship, I like how its developed, I like how its flirted close to several tropes but never quite gone over the edge. There’s a lot to like here. What I don’t like is that James has a severe case of Dresden Goggles. It’s rare for him to meet a woman without assessing her sexual attractiveness and that then becoming a major element of his description and interaction with her.  In this novella we have both Sabrina cosplaying as Lara Croft with the inevitable mass appreciation of her skimpy outfit and we have a big bad of a super-seductive beautiful woman who enthrals men to make them do her bidding

Teen Wolf, Season 3, Episode 3: Fireflies

Some kids are out in the woods catching fireflies… aww bless.

When they run into a werewolf who chases them – they run and hide in a flimsy tin shack. I think the werewolf is Boyd, does he have a can opener? He lifts the tin shack off them and they drop their fireflies – he’s so distracted by glow bugs, the kids manage to escape.

Damn, lucky thing he doesn’t have an advanced sense of smell that would let him track them ri- oh.

Scott calls Derek to tell him he’s lost Boyd – he had to because Boyd is just too fast, strong and angry. And he has the kids (Scott, no stealing Boyd’s snack – he’d probably share, but you can never just have one, right?).

Lydia, who has not had a good night we’ll remember, what with her random screaming, and she’s going out into the full moon to get some ibuprofen.

Scott and Derek keep running through the woods. They’d probably go faster if they didn’t deliberately aim for trees that let them be all impressively acrobatic. Unfortunately, Boyd and Cora are sticking together now – and Derek confirms that, yes, anyone they meet is snack food.

Lydia, who doesn’t seem to be all there, stops at the swimming pool. Even she seems confused as to why she’s there. She sees something – someone – floating in the water, face down. She approaches, desperately hoping they’re not dead. Good news! It’s just a dummy! Bad news – the lifeguard is totally dead and there’s a growing lake of blood under his seat from his slashed throat

All this action means we have to spend some time with Allison moping over Scott’s revelation – Mummy Argent tried to kill him. This would be because your whole family is evil Allison. You included. Scott didn’t want to tell her that her mother was an evil murderer because he didn’t want to ruin her last memory of her. Silly Scott, you almost let Allison believe her mother was the outsider – now she has confirmation her mother was just as evil as the rest of the clan. She angstily fiddles with one of her arrowheads.

Meanwhile, in these very very very busy woods, a couple of women are camping and, after one deftly avoids the snake trying to drag her into Mordor (her words, confirming that she is probably super awesome and deserving of permanent character status) gets in the tent and they start making out (first romantic/sexual contact between a same-sex couple in Teen Wolf!) when Emily screams because the tent is covered in a blanket of bugs. She runs, screaming, covered in bugs, trips and they catch up with her. Cover her. Consume her. Ok that’s new

The other woman nearly gets nommed by Cora but Scott, Isaac and Derek drive Cora off – Scott tells the woman to get out of the woods. It’s at this point that Stile arrives to see Lydia, she called him for support, though he’s horrified that she called the police first (much to her snarky objection). Stiles calls Scott and tells him they have a body with its throat ripped out. Scott wants him to get closer to find out “if it’s them” who ripped out the throat. Now Stiles asks “who else is ripping throats out” but the fact I don’t know “them” in this sentence means the Alphas or Stiles or Cora (or freaky bug thing) should tell you how silly that question is. Stiles sees that the man is wearing a purity ring.

In the woods Scott’s all “they killed someone” but Derek isn’t sure – not unless they’ve learned how to teleport (“they” being Boyd and Cora). Scott wants to know how they’re going to stop them given how fast and strong they are – and even if they catch them, what do they do? Kill them? Hold them down until sunrise? No, they need the help of a werewolf hunter

Oh dear gods, tell me I didn’t hear that? The Argents? Well I suppose there’s a vague chance I’ll get to see another Argent killed, that’s always fun.

Elsewhere in the woods, Sherriff Stilinski interviews Caitlin, the surviving woman. Her tale of a woman with glowing eyes and fangs doesn’t have a lot of credence since she took some drugs earlier, but Stilinksi still wants to find Emily – and doesn’t entirely dismiss Caitlin, saying she saw “something” not “someone.”

Scott goes to see Daddy Argent who just dropped his shopping bag full of eggs, so I can totally understand not being in a good mood, but pointing a gun at Scott seems a little extreme. From a car at some distance Isaac and Derek watch Scott expecting failure. And Isaac asks about Derek’s sister – he gets a look and decides to ask later. And gets another look. Later like never. Meanwhile Argent doesn’t know Boyd (his second name apparently, it’s Vernon Boyd). Argent says he saw Scott’s world decimate his family, his wife, his sister, his father and brainwash his daughter – he doesn’t want to step foot in it again

Point of order Argent, your family was decimated not by werewolves but because they were sadistic monstrous killers seeking power, unable to deal with their victims engaging in self-defence, and massacring entire families. Just saying.

Scott tricks Argent to go to the crime scene and the wave of guilt/pity whatever prompts him to help. So he takes them in the woods and, I kid you not, tells them to stop tracking footprints when they don’t know how and concentrate on their sense of smell instead.

Ok, he’s right that they’re trying to suppress their wolfiness under the full moon, but 3 werewolves just had to be told to use their sense of smell by a human. These wolves fail at werewolfdom.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Knight Moves (Black Knight Chronicles #3) by John G Hartness

James and Greg are called for a rather worrying murder – a body drained of blood and ready to wake up again as a vampire. Yes, they’re not the only vampires in town any more.

Far from it, they suddenly find themselves surrounded by vampires – a whole pack of bloodsuckers who have passed under their radar. Or, perhaps more accurately, James and Greg have passed under their radar.

They’ve been noticed now – and not only do they have a baby vampire to look after, but James’s creator is in town. Throw in a pack of college vampires preying indiscriminately and an old vampire who claims to be the boss of all vampires in the city and there’s a lot to handle and a lot to learn

Even before the werewolf vampire hunter shows up

Greg and James’ experience as vampires is interesting and grows complex in this book. I have previously said that I loved how we had 2 vampires who genuinely enjoyed being vampires. In this that changes a lot – while James still very much revels in being a vampire, he clearly still holds a severe grudge against the vampire that sired him. This is as much from the way he was sired as anything else. But Greg goes beyond that – he doesn’t like being a vampire, and part of that is linked to his weight, as a fat man who can now never lose weight, he resents being a vampire, but part of it is linked to the old cliché – he won’t be able to grow old and have kids. I have to say I don’t like the meme, it’s been done too often and there’s rarely enough justification for why people should hate being supernatural immortals so much. In this case we have more because of the way they were sired as well as watching their childhood friend grow old and develop cancer it probably brings it home much more powerfully. So, it’s a more reasoned depiction of the whole “woe is me I’m a vampire” and they certainly don’t spend pages whining about it, but I can’t help but be sad that they’ve reversed something in the series I loved so much.

But this also partially reflects their conflicting attitudes towards what it takes to be a vampire. Greg is ferociously dedicated to drinking blood only from blood bags and hates that James continues to bite people and teach the new vampire Abby how to hunt. They even have an outright argument about it when James finally snaps in the face of Greg’s judgement and reluctance because Sabrina is in trouble and it’s time for Greg to act like the apex predator he is. In some ways it’s reminiscent of the whole Musty Vampire vs Evil Fun Vampire trope we see a lot – but by making them friends and the differences not so extreme it adds a lot of new angles to an old idea.

I really quite like how Greg and James were introduced to the greater vampire community and authority. It’s interesting because, again, it’s so very different from what we’re used to. So often the local vampire authorities are extremely powerful and not to be messed with – they serve as a deus ex machinae, a limit on character actions. But Greg and James, because of their contact with Sabrina (and I also like that killing a human detective isn’t seen as something that can be done in a casual or offhand manner, even for a vampire) and the fae in previous books, they’re too much a wildcard to be so dismissed. It strikes an excellent balance between having a vastly older more powerful vampire to be respected, yet not having to grovel – it, again, flies in the face of many tropes and not just because the protagonist is cocky and spunky and refuses to grovel when they should. I like that the master of the city is clearly powerful through machinations and plotting not just age and power – and the plotting is rather nicely displayed.

I do like the dynamic and the relationship growing between Sabrina and James. They have finally taken the step into becoming an official couple. I love their declarations of affection for each other which are wonderfully well written, passionate and heartfelt without being soppy and ridiculous. I love their couple dynamic, I love how they interact. I love how James respects Sabrina’s strength and capability and values her and wants to save her without wanting to stuff her in a box to be kept safe.

I do not like that she needs to be rescued. Again. This is becoming an annoying habit that this supremely strong, confident, capable woman is repeatedly imperilled and needs rescuing by a man. It’s an old trope and it feels like some kind of requirement for strong female characters – they need to be kidnapped and rescued as some kind of reassertion of femininity. Like, yes she’s strong, yes she’s capable even yes she’s dangerous – but under it all she’s still a damsel. Especially since James’s “sister” Abby is also put in a situation where James rescues her. It’s a mixed bag – because Sabrina is powerful and dangerous and Abby can definitely kick arse. Sabrina openly challenges any sexism towards her and the brief jealousy between Sabrina and Abby over James is quickly shelved. But in some ways it seems even worse to set these two characters up as capable, powerful, strong, dangerous fighters and STILL have them kidnapped in need of rescue – which is hardly the first time, Sabrina’s getting her card stamped so many times she may get her 10th rescue free voucher.

I did like that, though Lillith was a bit part, there was far more respect for her power – even acknowledging her as The power in the city. And I liked the summation of her history – albeit highly simplistic, it emphasised that she was damned because she demanded equality – that she expected to be treated as an equal.

We have some background POC but not much more as far as racial inclusion. One thing that is interesting is that this book is set in the south and James openly challenges some really racist attitudes in his own family. That isn’t to say that all southern USA-ians are racist, of course not – bu this is interesting for the genre. The southern US states – and confederate vampires both – are far from uncommon in the genre. And there’s a lot of romanticism going on and a whole lot of whitewashing goes with it – so it’s quite refreshing to have an unvarnished, not going to look away from it condemnation of the romantic, racist attitudes.