A Quick Update

I’ve been rather inactive on updating this page, but I’ve had a lot going on lately. I should have a little more time now to catch up and to get back to posting here. In no particular order, here is what I’m going to be working on:

I should be back to posting some reviews for books, comics, and television shows.

I’m getting back to writing some fiction, so I may have an occasional update on that.

I’ll be back at fencing practice next week, preparing for competitions as the spring nears. I’m also training for my first triathlon, which will be easier when the weather warms up.

converted PNM file

Mars – Photo courtesy of NASA

Lastly, my main focus for the next few weeks is to work on submitting my application to NASA for the upcoming astronaut selection. The requirements to apply are straightforward, but the odds are very long. I may post an update on that process here if I hear anything more than the standard “thank you for applying, but no” postcard.

Thoughts on The Bastard Executioner

The Bastard Executioner is a new television show on FX, and I had a chance to watch the two-hour pilot last night. While it isn’t billed as fantasy, but rather historical fiction, there are certainly some mystical elements at play.

The Bastard Executioner -- Lee Jones as Wilkin Brattle.  Cr: Ollie Upton/FX

The Bastard Executioner — Lee Jones as Wilkin Brattle.
Cr: Ollie Upton/FX

FX provides this description:

The Bastard Executioner is a blood-soaked, medieval epic that tells the story of Wilkin Brattle, a 14th century warrior, whose life is forever changed when a divine messenger beseeches him to lay down his sword and lead the life of another man: a journeyman executioner. Set in northern Wales during a time rife with rebellion and political upheaval, Wilkin must walk a tight rope between protecting his true identity while also serving a mysterious destiny.

Guided by Annora, a mystical healer whose seeming omniscience keeps Wilkin under her sway; manipulated by Milus Corbett, a devious Chamberlain with grand political aspirations; and driven by a deepening connection with the Baroness Lady Love, Wilkin struggles to navigate political, emotional and supernal pitfalls in his quest to understand his greater purpose.

The Bastard Executioner starts with a series of dreams that give the viewer a vague idea that the main character, Wilkin, was once a soldier who was badly injured in battle. Now retired from whatever cause or lord he fought for, he is dwelling in an idyllic village in Wales. His days are spent teasing his pregnant wife, teasing another peasant about his sheep, carrying water, and riding his horse around the countryside with the other men of the village.

** SPOILERS TO FOLLOW **

THE BASTARD EXECUTIONER - "Pilot" Episode 101/102 Pictured: (front) Lee Jones as Wilkin Brattle. CR: Ollie Upton/FX

The Bastard Executioner – “Pilot” Episode 101/102 Pictured: (front) Lee Jones as Wilkin Brattle. CR: Ollie Upton/FX

All of this is very nice (and the CGI shots of the village were some of the nicer ones), but the story drags until a conflict arrives in the form of a greedy baron who needs to collect more taxes.

Clearly, Wilkin’s happy pastoral life could not continue, so the first hour of The Bastard Executioner culminated in a predictable gory village burning and peasant stabbing reminiscent of Braveheart.

Now that Wilkin and his friends found motivation to do something more exciting, the show became more fun. The greedy Baron is pitched against the rebellious peasants. Swords clash in battle in some fight choreography that I didn’t completely hate. Like most battle scenes nowadays, there were plenty close-up shots (this is the part that I hate) where you can only see a blurry arm fly by or a bloody spurt. I get it – it’s easier to choreograph and easier to film – but I want to watch the larger view of the swordplay. The Bastard Executioner did pan out for a few nicer glimpses of this.

Although The Bastard Executioner brings some interesting ideas and the richness of a historical setting to it’s production, it tries too hard to emulate both Game of Thrones and Braveheart by throwing in random nudity and sex, a white-blond girl followed closely by a vision of a demon (looks a bit like a dragon), a witch who makes mysterious prophecies, a baroness (who I predict will fall suddenly in love with our bastard executioner in upcoming episodes), and a unique dagger (let’s guess where the blame where by placed).

I’m not sure that I like Lee Jones’ (Wilkin) emotional portrayal in the second half of the pilot. For a lot of it, his facial expression doesn’t change and he simply appears confused. Many of the characters were a little over-the-top and no one really surprised me in terms of breaking expectations. I hope that the Baroness redeems herself in this respect now that she’s a widow, and I’m interested to discover what will happen politically and whether she will be able to maintain power.

The plot had some holes as the show progressed, but they didn’t completely take away from my enjoyment of the second half. I’ll keep watching for at least a few more episodes.

Did you watch The Bastard Executioner? What did you think?

Ash vs Evil Dead

I found this the other day and thought it may be worth watching this fall:

Ash vs Evil DeadHere is a description:

“Ash vs Evil Dead” is the long-awaited follow-up to the classic horror films The Evil Dead.  The 10-episode half-hour series is executive produced by Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert, and Bruce Campbell, the original filmmakers, and Craig DiGregorio who serves as executive producer and showrunner.

Campbell reprises his role as Ash, the stock boy, aging lothario, and chainsaw-handed monster hunter who has spent the last 30 years avoiding responsibility, maturity and the terrors of the Evil Dead.  When a Deadite plague threatens to destroy all of mankind, Ash is finally forced to face his demons –personal and literal.  Destiny, it turns out, has no plans to release the unlikely hero from its “Evil” grip.

And here is a link to the trailer!

“Ash vs Evil Dead” premieres Saturday, October 31st at 9:00pm ET/PT exclusively on STARZ with a 10-episode season.

I have some random links for everyone today!

 

Here is an article on tor.com discussing the recent 2015 Eisner awards and how comics are becoming more diverse in many ways.

I have several book reviews that went up over on Book Spot Central in the last few months. In case you missed them over there, they are:

Yesterday’s Kin by Nancy Kress

ApocalyptiGirl: An Aria for the End Times (graphic novel) by Andrew MacLean

Shattering the Ley by Joshua Palmatier

Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb

Link

ESPN The Body Issue: Superhero Edition

I have been a fan of ESPN The Body Issue since I first noticed it a few years ago. I admire the athletic human form, and perhaps some of my professional study of anatomy is also likely to blame. This year, ESPN and Marvel have brought something a little different to the issue by including a superhero insert.

Marvel_ESPN_The_Body_Issue_Super_Heroes_Edition_covThis special feature will include Davedevil, Captain Marvel, Medusa, Luke Cage, She-Hulk, Iron Fist, Iron Man, the Hulk, and Ant-Man. You can see a preview in a digital sketch book at ESPN now.

Here are some insights from the creators:

“For a comic book artist drawing the human anatomy is an everyday job,” says Marvel Comics artist Sara Pichelli. “But here it was matter of celebrating the maximum expression of human muscles and shapes. Creating believable, powerful, and at the same time harmonic bodies is always a challenge, that’s why I wanted to be part of this.”

“While The Body Issue itself celebrates the unique characteristics of each athlete’s physique, we thought it made perfect sense to extend this theme to these Marvel characters,” says ESPN The Magazine Deputy Editor Otto Strong.

“When comic book artists imagine the physical ideal, they have to start somewhere,” says Editor In Chief Axel Alonso. “And let’s face it, professional athletes, whose bodies are fine-tuned instruments, are the closest thing to real-life Super Heroes. Marvel’s Body Issue insert is a celebration of the most iconic Super Heroes in the world and the athletes that inspired them.”

The ESPN: Body Issue hits newstands today, July 10th.

R + L = J (+M) and A x D – My (Not So) Crazy Theories About What’s to Come in Game of Thrones

I can’t help it – I like to speculate and make up theories about what will happen next in Game of Thrones. I have read all of the books and watch the show as well. Just don’t read any further if you are trying to avoid spoilers. Here are my (not so) crazy theories about what’s to come.

SERIOUSLY! – SPOILERS AHEAD

 

 

 

 

R+L = J

If you don’t already know about Jon Snow’s questionable parentage, there is plenty already written about this. It has been all but confirmed by GRRM, so I’m not going to rehash why it is almost certainly true (despite book 5).

R+L = J + M

Lyanna died in childbirth. In GoT level medicine, this is not that unlikely. But you know what would make childbirth even riskier? Twins. Yeah – not only is Jon the rightful heir to the Iron Throne, he may have a twin sister. Who is the right age? Who is a character that has been included in the show and looks an awful lot like Jon on TV? Who comes from a family that is isolated enough to keep this an absolute secret? Who was with Ned Stark and had the opportunity to take a baby girl home to raise as his own?

Howland Reed. He’s also still alive as far as we know. His “daughter” is Meera Reed. What purpose would this serve in the story? I have no idea. Crazy theory or not, it’s fun to think about.

Hmm, what else…

A x D

So there is no way that Daenerys will survive the series to claim the throne. Think about how GRRM likes to twist his readers’ expectations. Since Daenerys has been obsessed with retaking her throne, there is absolutely no way that she will succeed at this. However, she is so determined to do so that the only way she will fail is if she dies.

This brings us to Arya. It has been well-established that she is going to be an assassin. What is the purpose of her storyline if she doesn’t kill someone important? My suspicion is that she will be sent as a Faceless Man to kill Jon. She will come on scene just as Daenerys and Jon meet and fight. Arya never forgot that she is a Stark and she kills Daenerys to save Jon.

I think that we have also been misled by the three-headed dragon theory/prophecy. Rhaegar thought that he needed to have a third child to fulfill the prophecy (and thus R + L = J). Daenerys has three dragons, so it has been assumed that three people will ride the dragons, with one being Daenerys. I think this has been overinterpreted and I’m not sure that the dragons will survive any longer than Daenerys does.

But How Can R+L = J Possibly Work?

There is one main problem with R+L = J (+/-M) – no one knows about it. In order for Jon to have a valid claim to the Iron Throne, there are many obstacles. First – he has to live (yeah, book 5 again, but that’s a separate set of theories). Then, he has to learn who he is. But this alone is not enough. Jon can’t just waltz into King’s Landing and claim to be Rhaegar’s son. He needs some type of proof, or enough power in some other sense that his parentage doesn’t matter.

What type of proof could exist? I’ve read speculation that Lyanna’s wedding cloak lies beneath Winterfell, emblazoned with Stark and Targaryen emblems. If it does exist, is this enough?

Who is left alive that may have first-hand knowledge? Howland Reed. But does his word alone carry enough weight to give Jon a legitimate claim? Not really. He’s hardly an influential Lord at this point in the game. So either Ned, Lyanna, or Rhaegar could have make up a document outlining Jon’s parentage and had it stashed at Greywater Watch under Howland Reed’s care. That still doesn’t let anyone find out unless Howland crawls out of his swamp or… someone else arrives.

Where are Littlefinger and Sansa headed after the first episode of Season 5? Somewhere west of the Eyrie, somewhere beyond the reach of King’s Landing. Greywater Watch is a good fit for that. Littlefinger grew up with the Tullys and Starks. He was alive during Robert’s Rebellion and is a clever man. He may have an inkling of who Jon really is. If he takes Sansa to Howland Reed, will R+L = J finally be revealed?

What do YOU think? Do you have any favorite theories about what’s to come?

Looking for a Few Reviewers

Is anyone out there interested in becoming a book reviewer? I’m looking for a handful of new reviewers over at Book Spot Central for genre novels. The site covers mainly fantasy and science fiction, but books with some mystery or romance elements are fine. You can also review graphic novels.

Benefits include the ability to get a Net Galley account where you can find e-book advance review copies of the latest books. If you may be interested, fill out the form below explaining why you want to write book reviews and a link to anything similar that you’ve written (or paste it into the other box if it isn’t available online).

Thoughts on Ascension – Part 2

Well it took me a while to find the time to watch part 2 of Syfy’s miniseries, Ascension. This installment was easier to follow. The plot still leaves me with many unanswered questions, but I found this second part to have fewer WTF moments.

 

*** SPOILER WARNING ***

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the end of the part 1, we learn that the Ascension mission was all a ruse. Those people on board for 50 years believe that they are in space, while they are really still on earth in a simulated interstellar journey. A sinister government agency (not sure which one), is running an experiment on the 600 people on board.

Where I become confused is when there are still references to how important the Ascension is to saving humanity. If it isn’t en route to a new planet and has been sitting on the ground for 50 years, how is this helpful to that goal? What is this nebulous threat?

I have to wonder whether anyone on board would really believe that they took off. I’m not sure how the project simulated the G-forces that would have been involved in a launch. If all of these super-bright scientists made up the original crew, was there an equal group of super-bright scientists that worked to ensure the voyage was accurately faked?

I did notice that two of the original scientists who are mentioned to have been on board the Ascension were really SF authors – Fritz Leiber and Alfred Bester. That was a fun tribute to throw in.

The project is being investigated by a special agent. I’m not sure what triggered this, but I like her, mainly because I don’t like the guy who is currently in charge of it.

The little girl on the Ascension looks like she is developing some psychic or telekinetic powers. It is hinted that one purpose of the project is to try to produce this effect.

Off to watch the last part!

Thoughts on Ascension – Part 1

This isn’t really a review because I don’t have the time or energy for that tonight. But I just watched the first part of Syfy’s Ascension mini-series and I feel like writing something.

Ascension promoThe show is pretty, and I have to give some to Syfy for their production and special effects. This is certainly a step above Sharknado. The premise was also interesting, with most of the show taking place on Ascension, a generation ship launched in secret by the United States sometime in the 1950’s. I wanted to know more about why and how this happened, however, which is not explained (at least in the first part).

When the show opens, a young woman on Ascension is murdered. The story follows the investigation of her death, with secondary plots involving a confusing number of cheating spouses, a strange little girl, and some brewing insurrection. A few scenes on earth are interspersed with those on the ship.

At first, the plot progressed logically, but as more twists came up and more characters became involved, the plausibility began to falter. Characters suddenly knew information that they shouldn’t, while others leaped to conclusions without any explanation of what led them to this. I could barely follow who was setting up whom for what. And as to why – well, I’d probably have to watch it again to guess at that, and I can think of at least a couple dozen better ways to spend another 90 minutes.

Photo by Tom, shared under Creative Commons license.

Here are a few other random thoughts:

Apparently, the standard procedure for surviving radiation is to go to sleep with the aid of a creepy breathing mask. Why would you need to sleep through the radiation? As long as you are in a shielded area, can’t you stay awake?

I don’t understand why the commander is elected position. If I understood correctly, he was once a working class guy from the lower decks. It is hinted that he saved some people from a fire and that propelled his political success. But – here is the problem. If he never trained to command a starship, how does he know how to do it? He acts as more than a politician, giving technical commands when the ship is in trouble. Clearly he learned that somewhere, but it defies my character logic.

Then there’s the big reveal at the end of the episode, which I won’t give any more specifics about. I don’t buy it. I doubt that this would have been possible to pull off.

Okay, so maybe this was a review. Who else watched Ascension this week? What did you think of it?

Book Review – Kingdom of Cages

Catching up on some book reviews now:

Kingdom of Cages
by Sarah Zettel
Aspect (2001)

Kingdom of Cages is an older novel by Sarah Zettel and is the only work of hers that I have read. Set amidst a space-faring society, the novel focuses on the plight of a single mother, Helice Trust, and her two young daughters, Chena and Teal.

Human society is in trouble, plagued by the Diversity Crisis. I had a tough time figuring out what this really was, and to the best of my ability it was a collection of afflictions that are supposedly brought on a lack of genetic diversity, akin to a bottleneck phenomenon. However, it acted more like something infectious, and that is how the characters treated it, so I found the premise unbelievable.

With society in fear of the Diversity Crisis, many flee to Pandora, a world which seems to be unaffected simply for the reason that the inhabitants are kept in habitats separate from the ecosystems. This also didn’t make sense to me, because in the villages people breathe the air from the world and live in the trees.

Amidst this setting, Helice Trust and her daughters manage to make it to Pandora, but are misled about their roles there. The ruling body on Pandora has other plans for Chena trust, but cannot convince her to play nice.

I had a hard time finishing this book for several reasons. The story mainly followed Chena and Teal Trust, but wandered without a clear plot for much of the time. I never cared whether either one of them accomplished their goals, and Teal struck me as a spoiled brat, so I was actively rooting against her. Also, the antagonists were too similar and I kept confusing them through the entire book.

The writing itself was solid and did not distract me, so I would be open to reading another book by this author, but it needs to have a more logical premise.

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