Doctor Who versus the Snowmen!

December 28, 2012

Yay, new Doctor Who, finally! It took me a few days to track down and watch the 2012 Doctor Who Christmas special, but if you’re further behind than me, don’t read ahead, because – you guessed it. “Spoilers!”

I’ll start off with a few odd notes on characters and casting. I hadn’t remembered that Madame Vastra’s human sidekick (and wife, apparently,) was named Jenny, and so when I read somewhere that the trailers hinted that Vastra, Sontaran Strax, and Jenny would be back for the Christmas special, the first character I connected with Jenny was the title character of the David Tennant episode The Doctor’s Daughter.

Also, the first thing I thought when I heard the voice of ‘The Intelligence’ was “OMG, it’s Patrick Stewart”, and I couldn’t shake that connection even when I found out that the voice acting was actually done by Ian McKellan. Weird.

Okay, so – great adventure with the Doctor. I liked lots of things about it, starting with the plot arc where the Doctor began as very withdrawn and remote, observing the Victorian world but not interfering in it, and ending as once again very engaged and excited about the future. Also, loved all the Sherlock Holmes references.

Jenna-Louise Coleman. Clara Oswyn Oswald. There’s a lot that Moffat is obviously trying not to give away about her still, so I’m really looking forward to more regular episodes coming out – whenever they do. Moffat does well with women of mystery, I think, looking back on Amy Pond, and River Song, so if he’s specifically trying to keep us off balance and not sure what to expect next, I think we’re in for an amazing series; though I do have one guess, as I’ll mention later.

What I was most aware of in a lot of the scenes with Jenna-Louise and Matt was how they were going through a lot of the established tropes of a long-term companion falling in love with the magic of the Doctor’s universe – but that this was really the first time we’ve really seen those tropes in a Christmas special, at least with New Who. Rose Tyler and Amy Pond were both established companions before their first Christmas with the Doctor. Many of the Christmas specials have had ‘one-shot Companions’, and even Donna Noble, who became a long-term companion in the end, was not established that was in “The Runaway Bride.”

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Unity of conflict and Sookie Stackhouse

October 10, 2012

I finished reading ‘From Dead to Worse’, the eighth book in the Charlaine Harris Southern Vampire Mysteries series today. I generally enjoy these books, and while I had fun with this one, I felt from a little after halfway that something seemed to be missing. Once I’d finished reading, I googled for reviews of the books, and was surprised that none of the most prominent hits mentioned something important, though a lot of the feedback reviews on Amazon and Goodreads touched on it. NOTE: Spoilers ahoy!

There’s no central unifying conflict to this book, and it muddles the plot considerably.

There’s lots of interesting conflict; possibly too much, as if Harris was tossing everything into the kitchen sink, or throwing it like spaghetti to a wall to see what stuck. There’s a hostile takeover, a werewolf war. Sookie discovers that she has a surprising great-grandfather, which isn’t an easy adjustment for either of them, and her brother Jason’s wedding to Crystal the were-Panther starts off a chain of events that lead to Sookie refusing all contact with Jason. And don’t get me started on the ups and downs of her love life in this one… 😉

But none of these conflicts are pervasive enough to serve as a spine to the plot. The Great-grandfather element is close, especially since it’s introduced near the start of the book and is last touched on close to the end, but Great-grandpa pops in and out too seldom for his influence to really be felt on large swathes of the book. And the last scene seems to be little more than a WTF teaser to queue up a new idea that Harris is toying with.

In contrast, I am now going to go through the previous seven books in the series and try to sum up their conflict in a single sentence:

Dead Until Dark: Sookie has to find a serial killer targeting ‘fang-banging’ vampire lovers… before she becomes the next victim.

Living Dead in Dallas: This is a bit complicated because of the ‘framing plot’ with the Maenad back in Bon Temps, but overall I’d say that the main plot is Sookie’s mission in Dallas to find the missing vampire, and who’s responsible.

Club Dead: There are two interlaced main plots here – Eric’s abduction in Mississippi and Sookie’s mission to rescue him is one. While there, she gets involved with the Jackson weres who try to kill her.

Dead to the World: Again, we’ve got a few interrelating plots – the mystery of what happened to Eric is probably the most significant one, which spawns off the subplot of amnesia Eric’s romance with Sookie. Less closely related is the subplot of Jason being missing as well.

Dead as a Doornail: Tying everything together here is the mystery plot of the sniper targeting shapeshifters. The pack leadership contests are a major subplot, and Sookie’s house getting burned down is really just a side note and red herring.

Definitely Dead: This one isn’t very neat, but I’d say the central conflict is between Sookie and Sophie-Anne, who appears as a major character in a novel for the first time and certainly looms large. There’s at least three layers to the relationship, in that Sookie is trying to impress Sophie-Anne to a certain extent, maintain her independence from the vampire Queen, and above all not get herself killed. Romance between Sookie and Quinn the were-tiger is the B plot.

All Together Dead: There’s a lot going on in Rhodes, but the mystery and the hints of a plot help to unify it together, and that conflict certainly brings the book to a big finish.

I’m glad that I picked up on that, and this series certainly serves as good lesson about what you can and can’t do with conflict. 🙂 Are there any other vampire fans among my followers? What do you think of conflict in these books – or what about your favorite series?


Doctor Who, Every Saturday in September

September 29, 2012

“The Angels Take Manhattan” is going to air in a little more than half an hour on the Canadian cable channel ‘Space.’ This is the last Doctor Who episode for the year, except for the 2012 Christmas special.

I’ve loved each and every episode out of the limited 2012 run so far, (though ‘The Power of Three’ was definitely unusual,) but I’m still disappointed that it was so limited. For the past week, I’ve been particularly annoyed that, given there were only 5 new episodes for the year, they were released on a schedule that put them all into the same calendar month. It would FEEL like more if they spanned from August into September, or September and October. But no, what we get is every Saturday in September. For one thing, when you say that, you expect it to be only four episodes, since over 70 percent of the time there won’t be a fifth Saturday (or any other particular day of the week,) in a 30-day month.

But at least we get this much, and apparently the reason Steven Moffat is being so stingy with new episodes right now is to stretch his budget and make it really pay off in the run-up to the 50th anniversary. Hopefully I can focus on that.

So, until Christmas – Geronimo! Bow ties are cool, right? 🙂


Some of what I’ve been watching lately

October 18, 2011

I don’t often talk much about television I watch on this blog, partly because the DVR has helped me fall so far behind on a lot of good series… but I thought at this point in the 2011-2012 season, I’d give a few thoughts on some relatively recent shows, even if I’m not up to date on all of it:

Charlie’s Angels (RIP)

After giving this one a chance, I really was hoping that it would make it. There was a very fun vibe to the series, and I liked that each case was either fighting crime that victimized women.

Myself, I almost had the sense that the original series, the Barrymore movies, and this remake were all in the same canon – Charlie Townsend stays the same, but the Angels working for him change – as do the Bosleys.

Supernatural

I’ve watched Supernatural here and there for a while, but never really followed the show – but I decided that I wanted to pick it up for this season, mostly because of the news of some prominent guest stars from the Whedonverse – Jewel Staite, James Marsters and Charisma Carpenter.

Again, it’s been a fun show so far – I’m not hugely wild about the Leviathan as the series-long Big Bads, (if they’re going to be,) but they seem to be working well so far – supernatural spirits with great appetites for blood and remarkable powers to physically blend in among humans, but completely clueless to start about the human world.

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What I’ve been reading lately – Flatlander

August 9, 2011

I’ve been trying to read more, ever since getting back from Kansas. Unfortunately, other things to do keep trying to crowd out reading time.

One book that I’ve managed to make headway is a collection of short stories from Larry Niven: “Flatlander” – not to be confused with the single short story of the same title and author, which is one from the Beowulf Shaeffer sequence.

But the short stories in this collection are set several hundred years earlier, at least – and center around a cop with a past as an asteroid belt miner – Gil Hamilton the Arm. That last bit is a play on words – Gil is part of the ARM, or Amalgamation of Regional Militia – an organization which serves as the worldwide police force on Earth in the future of Larry Niven’s books. But Gil also has a phantom psychic arm, partly because he lost his arm in a mining accident. (He later got a transplanted replacement arm too.) His psychic arm isn’t strong enough to lift anything heavy, but it can do things that a physical arm can’t, like reach through walls – or TV screens.

The stories all have some kind of mystery element, set against a future where the mining Belters have achieved independence from Earth and lunar settlers are caught between the two groups. There are a few references to Lucas Garner, Gil’s aging but sharp boss, and this is presumably the same character who appears in the first half of Niven’s novel ‘Protector’, thus linking the Gil stories into the known space universe, long before humanity met Kzinti or puppeteers or any extant alien species.

I’ve actually read one of these stories years ago. “Arm” was one of the Larry Niven stories that I was able to download from fictionwise.com, and I enjoyed reading it on my palmpilot, though I didn’t really follow the references to the psychic hand, as the backstory wasn’t given in detail.

Ever since I was in Kansas, ‘Flatlander’ has been my go-to for reading when I happened to have my iPhone around, as it’s cued up in the iPhone’s kindle app. I’m still in the middle of a novella-length mystery taking place on the moon’s surface, with an old flame of Gil’s taking the fall for a laser shooting that he knows she couldn’t have committed.

I’d recommend it to any lover of science fiction mysteries.


The Prisoner of Azkaban, Part Two

June 20, 2011

Been busy for the past several days, so I’m only covering two chapters this time.

Chapter Four: In Diagon alley, Harry revels in the feeling of independence away from school and Privet drive, both of which, in different ways, full of people telling him where not to go, what to eat, and when to wake up. He does Hogwarts homework in the ice cream shop patio, he people-watches the witches and wizards, and he manages enough willpower not to spend his parent’s inheritance on a new professional-grade Quidditch broom.

He gets his school books, and finds out that Hagrid’s birthday present, the impracticably monstrous ‘Monster book’, is the textbook for ‘Care of Magical Creatures. He also has a strange premonition among the divination books, that could be interpreted as a death omen.

Hermione and the entire Weasley clan show up the day before Harry’s to leave with Hogwarts, and he’s excited to be reunited with his best friends. Hermione goes looking for an early birthday present at the pet shop, and ends up with a big ginger cat, who likes Ron’s rat Scabbers rather too much. Ron isn’t happy about that and worries that Scabbers will get eaten before long.

That night at the Leaky Cauldron, Harry goes back downstairs to look for Ron’s rat tonic that he dropped, and overhears Mister and Missus Weasley talking about Sirius Black and why the Ministry of Magic are convinced that he’s out to kill Harry. Harry immediately connects all the dots about why Fudge was acting so relieved to see him, how this means that he won’t be let out of Hogwarts until Sirius is back in Azkaban prison, and tries to keep himself from entirely panicking.

Chapter Five: Everybody heads out to King’s Cross station for the Hogwarts express, and on the platform, Mister Weasley tries to warn Harry about Sirius. Harry admits to having overheard, and Mister Weasley tries to get Harry to promise that he won’t go looking for Sirius. Harry is startled at the thought, but he has to run for the train and doesn’t actually promise. On the train, he tells Hermione and Ron about the connection to Sirius and ‘You-know-who’.

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The Prisoner of Azkaban, Part One

June 12, 2011

Okay, so, I’m going to start my new blog series on ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ today, and thanks to everybody who voted in the poll. Since it’s a fairly short book with a lot of small chapters, I’ll try to cover 2-3 chapters a week, and maybe finish in eight installments or so.

I’ll try to avoid going through the plot details in as much depth as I did with ‘A Wizard of Mars’, and try to spend a bit more time looking at plot structure, interesting use of language, and my own reactions. So, let’s get started!

Chapter 1: Harry starts off, as always, at the Dursley’s, completely miserable for the summer, and sneaking around doing Hogwarts homework under the covers in the middle of the night.

In the wee hours of the morning on Harry’s thirteenth birthday, he gets a bunch of deliveries and letters from wizardly owls, even though he didn’t send his own owl, Hedwig, out with any letters. The Weasley family won a bunch of gold in a Wizard’s lottery, and went off to visit Ron’s big brother Bill in Egypt. Ron sent Harry a pocket Sneakoscope which can tell him if someone around is untrustworthy. Hermione’s on holiday too, in France, and sent him a broomstick care kit for his Quidditch broom. Hagrid sent him a ‘Book of Monsters’ (which acts like a living monster itself,)

And there’s an official letter from Hogwarts about the train to catch for next year’s classes, the required reading – and a permission form to be signed by a parent or guardian for a third-year student to go off to the village on select weekends. Harry really wants to be able to go, of course, but he doesn’t kow how he’ll be able to convince his uncle or aunt to sign off.

But he feels glad that it’s his birthday for the first time in his life.

Chapter 2: There’s something on the Muggle news about a dangerous escaped convict, named Black. (Foreshadowing!)

Uncle Vernon’s sister, Aunt Marge, is coming, and though she hasn’t been to visit since the first book proper started, (leaving aside the prolog from when Harry was a baby,) she’s apparently as bad as all the other Dursleys put together when she does pop up in Harry’s life. Uncle Vernon has a big list of ways that Harry’s supposed to stick with his program and not let Marge know that he’s a wizard or other than the loser that Marge always thought he was, and Harry agrees, on the condition that Vernon sign the permission slip. Vernon isn’t happy, but agrees to sign if he thinks Harry’s behaved perfectly.
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A wizard of Mars, the last chapter. (16)

June 5, 2011

A Wizard of Mars chapter index.

The final chapter of ‘A wizard of Mars’, to me, reads mostly like an epilog. The body of the story is already told, the climax has come and gone, and the main characters are talking through the post-mortem at a barbecue, working out things like the interpretation of the Red Rede prophecy, and how they managed to set up a temporal causality loop that influenced key events, by sending the Martian cities back into the past.

Mamvish is as funny a character as ever, especially when Nita’s father gives her some more tomatoes, and there’s an interesting little philosophical discussion with Tom, inspired by the fact that this is the first Young Wizard book that didn’t directly feature a manifestation of the Lone Power, the oldest source of evil, although Nita says that she definitely felt his influence, trying to bring about war on Mars, and between Mars and Earth.

Tom’s point of view, (and yes, he does sound a little like a proxy for a lecture from Diane, but I’ll let that slide this time,) is that it’s a sign that Nita and Kit are growing up. When they were younger, between raw power and viewing the world in simple terms, they were able to force the Lone One to become physical to take them on. Now, their practice of the art is going to be getting more complicated because of these changes in their lives.

After the post-mortem barbecue is done, Nita has a dream of Mars, with Kit, and Khretef, and Aurirelde in it, which is mostly more wrap-up, but at the very end, Kit brings up something that’s been left unresolved:

“Meanwhile,” Kit said, “something I forgot to ask you.”

“What?”

“Just what was it you called me back there?”

She shook her head. “Back there where?”

“You remember. Back at Argyre Planitia, when you were telling Aurirelde you didn’t have to keep yours in a cage.”

Nita stared at him, bewildered – then realized what he was talking about, and took a very deep breath.

“My boyfriend?” she said. And then Nita felt like cursing at herself for the way her voice squeaked with stress on the second word, turning it into a question.

Kit just looked at her. “Took you long enough,” he said. He grinned at her and vanished.

Nita’s eyes went wide, then narrowed with annoyance – and relieved delight.

“I’m gonna get you for that!” she said, and went after him.

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A Wizard of Mars, Chapter Fifteen

May 29, 2011

A Wizard of Mars chapter index.

So, I’m drawing close to the end of my chapter-by-chapter recap of Diane Duane’s novel “A Wizard of Mars”, and I’d like to say that I’ve had a great time sharing this book with you. I’d like to try something else soon, possibly not chapter by chapter, but going through a book in installments as I read it, instead of a single review/book report of the novel as a whole, and I’m setting up a poll to see what possible titles there’s any interest in from my regulars.

So, at the end of the last chapter, Nita teleports into the throne room of one of the Martian royal houses, that of the Shamaska city, and she’s very pissed off and wizardly and competent and magnificent, as Kit said about her a bit earlier. So she tells off Iskard, the king, and Rorsik, his toadying minister, for the way they’ve treated the planet, and wizardry, and their people, and Aurirelde, Isakard’s daughter, and Khretef, her sweetie from the other side of Mars, the Eilitt. Particularly Nita rages on at the blindness of wizards letting themselves slip into an ‘us or them, we have to use wizardry against them because they’d do it to us’ mentality.

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A wizard of Mars – Chapter Fourteen

May 18, 2011

A Wizard of Mars chapter index.

Okay, so, when we last left Nita Callahan, she was up against the Waters of Mars, as the Martian seer Aurirelde melted the icecaps, and blocked Nita’s shield or transit spells, figuring that that would leave her for dead. After talking over her options with her invisible friend Bobo, the essence of all wizardry, she decides that the only option is a big water wizardry that S’reee was telling her about way back in chapter six – the Gibraltar Passthrough. It’s a tough spell, with a high cost in energy that Nita has to pay and a complicated enough spell diagram that she could never draw it herself in time, but with Bobo’s help in that department, she just manages to pull it off and save herself.

Then she lets herself get mad, (which is when Nita usually gets seriously bad-ass,) and opens up a visual communication wizardry to the Shamaska headquarters, issuing Aurirelde a duel arcane challenge. If Aurirelde wants to prove that she can use the kernel to dominate her, then Nita will meet her face to face for the confrontation. And if not, Nita threatens to use her wizardry to take the Shamaska and Eilitt cities and leave the survivors to fend for themselves in the Martian badlands. Then she starts flying up through the Martian atmosphere, to get some distance from the surface, where Aurirelde’s influence over her wizardry will be greatest, because the kernel has the most power near the planet it controls. Nita’s under a time limit at this point – if she can’t settle with Aurirelde before the backlash of the energy she spent on the Passthrough hits, she’ll be helpless – and every big spell she uses in the meantime will bring that reckoning closer.

We cut away from Nita for just a few pages to get Kit’s point of view, trapped inside his old body by the re-emerged personality of his Martian doppleganger, Khretef. Kit can’t see and hear much of what Khretef’s been doing, but he caught a brief glimpse of Nita, when she came to the Shamaska throne room with Mamvish to confront the Shamaska leaders for the first time – and he comes to the belated realization that Nita is really hot when she’s pissed off. This gives him the motivation to fight for his freedom, and he starts a debate with Khretef, trying to argue him into giving up on Aurirelde’s crazy scheme and letting Kit help Nita. At the end, Khretef gives up, but tells Kit that he’s too late anyway.

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