Short Film Sunday: Sundays

I know, I know, I usually share short stories on Sundays. But film is a form of narrative too! Through YouTube, Vimeo, and similar sites, I think a lot of filmmakers are getting the opportunity to show their chops in the short format. There are some wonderful short films out there, some of which I have shared on this site in the past, and I thought I’d go back to sharing some of them again instead of focusing purely on the written short form.

The aptly named (or at least as far as my blog goes) Sundays is a short film by Mischa Rozema and PostPanic Pictures that was funded via Kickstarter. The narrator of the film begins to discover that his world is not real, much like The Matrix. However, unlike The Matrix, I think this film is far more ominous and portrays a reality that is not only fabricated but also breaking down.

From what I understand, this project was a proof of concept piece, but I think that it was beautifully executed. Visually it is stunning, and I think the concept is quite cool. While I think it is easy to describe this film as “The Matrix” and view it as something that’s been done, I don’t think it strays into any of the same territory as that film and presents a different take of the fake-reality idea.

Murder and Magic: A Review of Storm Front

A friend of mine, a fan of this series, gave me Storm Front many years ago and said I should read it. It took me actually starting to write an urban fantasy to have any real interest. But now that I have read it, I can see why Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden books are wildly popular.

This book is pulp writing at its finest. The story (and I imagine whole series) is written in first person, and Dresden is a sympathetic and likable character. A lovable loser, really. He lives paycheck to paycheck, earning his income by consulting for the police on strange crimes and doing freelance work as a wizard who can locate lost objects and perform other small magical feats. At the start of the book Dresden is called in to investigate a particularly gruesome crime scene on the same day a mysterious woman asks him to look into the disappearance of her husband. Needing the money, Dresden takes on both jobs, and the action unwinds from there.

Butcher delivers tight, plot-driven writing colored by Dresden’s insights into the world of the paranormal and arcane and his gentlemanly struggling hero personality. There’s zero fat in the book, and it is a fun and quick read. It also provides a great introduction into the inner workings and rules of urban fantasy for Dresden’s world.

While this is hardly the greatest book I’ve ever read, it is certainly one of the most fun. It delivers the kind of fast paced and page turning narrative you’d expect, and Butcher is able to deliver it better than most. If you haven’t already started reading the Dresden Files, then I definitely recommend Storm Front, especially if you’re interested in urban fantasy or paranormal detective stories. With summer coming on, I can also say that it’s a great beach read for those of you who are more speculative fiction inclined.

Short Story Sunday: Discovering the Border Burgs and, by Deduction, the Brig Bazaar

Hello dear readers. I wanted to apologize for not having a review up this past week. I’ve been busy working on writing, and I just didn’t end up putting in as much reading time as I had intended to. I plan on having a review for Jim Butcher’s Storm Front up on Wednesday. But in the meantime here’s a short story for this Sunday.

Recently someone found a tale of Sherlock Holmes that had been previously lost. The story, “Discovering the Border Burgs and, by Deduction, the Brig Bazaar“, is actually a short pamphlet that is believed to have been written as a promotional story for a local bazaar.

There is some debate as to whether or not Conan Doyle actually wrote this story, but it is a Holmes tale nonetheless. I hope you enjoy it, even if just as an historic artifact of sorts, and I promise to be back on regular posting this week.

Asteroid Colonies and Vomit Zombies: A Review of Leviathan Wakes

With the new Syfy show The Expanse slated to release some time this year, I figured I should get through at least the first book of the series before the show premieres. And I have to say, this book was a joy to read.

The story is set in a future where humanity has colonized Mars and is expanding its influence into the far reaches of the solar system. Earth and Mars have created a kind of inner systems coalition, while “the Belt” is something of a wild west made up of asteroid colonies and space stations. Racial tensions seem to be a thing of the past. Instead, there is a great deal of tension between Earthers, Martians, and Belters.

There are two protagonists. One is Miller, a world weary cop who works on the Ceres colony. His superior assigns him to track down Julie Mao, a woman from a wealthy inner system family who decided to join one of the radical Belt organizations fighting for independence. The other lead is Holden, the XO of an ice freighter who sees his ship destroyed in an ambush. He and the remaining crew, as the only witnesses to the crime, begin a quest for answers. The missions of the two men eventually intertwine, and they unravel a strange conspiracy that threatens all of mankind. Naturally it involves space zombies.

Authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck (who are writing under the singular pseudonym James S.A. Corey) weave together a world that is engaging and believable. I don’t know a ton about space physics, but the details that they do include about space travel and space colony life seem legitimate. But, perhaps more importantly, the setting feels very epic even though it takes place in a single solar system, which is a hugely large place for a story to occupy but also rather small when compared to the scope of many other space operas.

I thought the characters were really great. I especially liked Miller. Holden could be kind of annoying, in my opinion, but his crew were a dynamic group that really made the story fun to read. The action kept up throughout as well. Even at around 550 pages the story kept my attention the entire time.

I’m eager to see where the rest of this series goes. It currently sits at three books, and I believe it is projected to be nine novels as well as several novellas. The ending of this first book leaves room for more, but the story does conclude in a sense, so I’m not entirely sure where the sequel picks up, but I suppose I’ll find out soon enough.

If you’re looking for a new space opera to read, I definitely recommend this one.

All of the Triggers: A Review of Trigger Warning

Neil Gaiman’s latest release, Trigger Warning, is a collection of short stories and poems that I think, perhaps more so than his other collections (though it has been awhile since I’ve read them), shows off his range as a writer. There are horror stories like “Click-Clack the Rattlebag” about monsters that drink humans; some humorous tales like “Orange”, wherein a girl’s teenage sister turns into an alien deity; and the more whimsical types of stories one might expect from Gaiman like “Thing Thing About Cassandra”, a story about a man whose make-believe high school girlfriend turns out to be real.

There are also some stories from other properties, like “The Case of Death and Honey”, which is a Sherlock Holmes story about the later years of Holmes and a strange adventure he has in China. Then there is “Nothing O’Clock”, a short story featuring Doctor Who and Amy Pond going up against a time traveling beast called The Kin.

I think the two stories that really stood out to me the most were “The Sleeper and the Spindle” and “Black Dog”. “The Sleeper and the Spindle” is a take on Sleeping Beauty that I found both fresh and fun. It involves an adventuring queen, rather than a prince, and sleep walkers who act very much like Romero zombies. I won’t ruin any more for you. I do think Gaiman’s adaptations of fairy tales are incredible though. “Snow, Glass, Apples” from one of his earlier collections, Smoke and Mirrors, is an adaptation of Snow White that sticks in my mind after many years, and I can see “The Sleeper and the Spindle” doing the same.

“Black Dog” is another adventure in the life of Shadow following the events of American Gods. This time he is journeying through the English countryside when he encounters a dangerous and legendary black dog that he needs to defeat with the help of his old friend/lover Bast. American Gods is one of my favorite novels, and it was great to read about Shadow in action once again.

Both of these stories were also proceeded by poems that tied into them, in a way. “Observing the Formalities” feels like it is a prologue of sorts to “The Sleeper and the Spindle” giving some insight into the witch’s thoughts when she decides to attack Snow White and her family. “In Relig Odhrain” is about a saint who is buried in the foundations of a chapel, and, without giving much away, the idea of being buried inside of a building plays a rather large role in “Black Dog”.

While each of the stories and poems in the collection is distinct, it is this sort of thematic flow between them that gives Trigger Warning a grander and more unified feel than being simply a collection of shorts. Naturally any fan of Neil Gaiman is going to pick up this book, but I recommend it anyway. And if you haven’t had the pleasure of reading Gaiman before, I think this is a good place to start, as you’ll get a real feel for the breadth of his work and style…though you may want to read American Gods before you tackle “Black Dog”, the collection’s last tale.

Short Story Sunday: Kino

Kino” written by Haruki Murakami (and translated by Philip Gabriel)is a story about a man named Kino going through the aftermath of a divorce. After finding his wife cheating on him with one of his coworkers, Kino quits his job and opens a small bar in Tokyo. But though he thinks that he is getting along well, he finds that he is only managing to do so because he’s been repressing his emotions.

As with most Murakami stories, there is a kind of magical realism that’s at work in the story. Though it’s difficult to pinpoint anything specifically supernatural happening, there are several strange events that take place. It’s this sort of mysterious, ethereal quality that I find makes his stories such a joy to read. Hopefully you enjoy this tale as much as I did.

Between Empires: A Review of The Grace Of Kings

One of the most hotly anticipated books of this year, The Grace of Kings easily lives up to the hype. In his debut novel Ken Liu delivers an amazing fantasy epic with a depth and style that is both familiar but also very unlike many other fantasy epics that I’ve read.

When describing this story to friends I’ve called it Game of Thrones based on Chinese history and mythology, and while I think that’s a convenient way to sum things up in a way that people can easily understand, it doesn’t really do justice to Liu’s work. The two series are similar in that they are both about the politics and grittiness of warfare involved in any war for power. However, that’s largely where the similarities end.

One thing that I think makes Liu’s novel stand out is the scope of its story. The first novel of this projected trilogy begins with the rebellion that destroys a rather newly established empire, goes through the succession wars that follow, and ends with the beginning of a new dynasty, a period of time that covers many years. But it’s not only the length of time covered that gives the novel such scope; it’s also the number of characters involved. While the story is really focused on two protagonists, Liu hops fluidly through the perspectives of a variety of characters, some who appear continuously and others who only have small roles to play, providing a truly full picture of everything that is going on in the conflict.

The two primary characters, around which everything else plays out, are Kuni Garu and Mata Zyndu. Garu is a low-born man who rises from a school drop-out and street thug to the position of lordship, taking advantage of the chaos of the rebellion to grab power. He is inventive and intelligent, winning through kindness and ingenuity rather than brute force. Zyndu is the opposite. He is from a noble house that was displaced by the empire, and he seeks to return the world to its former glory of honor and nobility. He is a great warrior, unmatched on the battlefield, but also quick to anger and limited in his thinking.

In many ways the conflict boils down to a battle between traditional (represented by Zyndu) and modernity or progress (represented by Garu). However, the characters don’t didactically represent their ideals. Both are complex, full of inner turmoil as well as shortcomings. Zyndu’s pride and vision of what the world should be often leave him blind to realities, and where the world doesn’t fit with his view he often sees imperfections and the betrayals of lesser men (though to be fair his is legitimately betrayed on more than one occasion). Garu, on the other hand, is often seen as a benevolent ruler who is good with people and listens to the counsel of his advisers. These are good qualities to have, but Garu’s reliance on his friends also causes some trouble, as their advice is not always sound.

Both of these characters are sympathetic and heroic, but sometimes also frustrating, each in their own way. I found myself rooting for each at different points in time but also seeing the severity of some of their flaws and what leads (or could lead) to their undoing.

The world building for this story is also quite good. The land of Dara, occupied by the many warring Tiro States that Zyndu, Garu, and others come from, is full of technologies and customs that are interesting and unique. As far as the fantastical element goes, there are many different gods who inhabit the realm, all of whom have a stake in the war. While they cannot directly influence what is going on, each seems to have a champion that he or she favors and will try to do what they can to put their state in the most advantageous position.

If you want to read a little bit more about Liu’s approach to world building, he did a great interview, along with Kameron Hurley, about world building and the importance of researching history. Personally I thought it was a fascinating read, and I definitely recommend it to any budding fantasy writers out there.

The first installment of The Dandelion Dynasty trilogy is incredibly grand, and I can’t wait to see how it develops. If you are a fan of epic fantasy, then I would say that this is absolutely a must-read.