Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Merlin's Shadow

Merlin’s Shadow continues the imaginative reworking of Arthurian legend begun in Merlin’s Blade. While it makes no pretense of being a historical account, the cultural background of cultural structure adds depth and a fresh perspective to a familiar tale.  I especially appreciated the tension in Ganieda’s subplot; the author skillfully walks the line between the reader’s expectations and the girl’s devotion to her druid grandfather.
 I was especially impressed by the scenes where druidic powers are used. Magic powers are common in fantasy, but they are most often portrayed as inept or totally under the user’s control—scenarios where the magic overpowers the magician are rather rare in my reading experience, and increase the stakes. If no one knows what the magic can do, then it cannot be used to resolve situations without first making them worse.
Likewise, the conflict between the druids and the Christians avoids flanderizing both sides (though I know less about the Druids), and tries to include honorable characteristics in both leaders.  I also enjoyed seeing the knights of Arthur slowly gather. 
I’d recommend this book not only for YA readers, but also for anyone wanting a new approach to Arthurian legend. 

I received a free copy of this book from Thomas Nelson in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

As a veteran of long-distance car trips ever since I can remember,  audio dramas have been a significant part of my life. We’d measure the six-hour drive to my grandparents’ house in Odyssey episodes (twelve episodes long), though I also gathered the Focus on the Family Radio Theatre adaptations of Narnia.
In the past few years, I’ve realized how amazing the format can be. I still own over a dozen Odyssey albums, as well as several Focus on the Family Radio Theatre, a few digital Big FInish albums, and a BBC Radio 4 adaptation of Neverwhere.
When I was in elementary and middle-school, there was a radio station that aired three or so hours of radio dramas on Saturday mornings. So I’d creep out of bed and listen to Children’s Bible Hour, Down Gilead Lane, Ranger Bill: Warrior of the Woodland,  Fables of Faith, A Visit with Mrs. G,  and some other ones I can’t remember. My favorite was Down Gilead Lane, a family drama much like Adventures in Odyssey, but on a lower budget.  
Once I started going to public school, I had less desire to get up early on Saturdays, but I kept listening to Odyssey and keeping up with Radio Theatre. Besides Narnia, I have or have heard At the Back of the North Wind, A Christmas Carol, The Screwtape Letters, Les Miserables, Dietrich Bonhoffer: The Cost of Freedom, and The Hiding Place. I remain particularly impressed with Screwtape, as they took the epistolary format and adapted it into conversations, with Andy Serkis as Screwtape. And it still feels exactly  like the Lewis I know and admire.
But my current audio fixation is the Big Finish line of Doctor Who adventures. Or, more accurately, the lines, as the company lists eighteen ranges under the Doctor Who tab itself, not counting various spinoffs focusing on characters (Sarah Jane Smith, Jago and Lightfoot), locations (Gallifrey) or villains (Cybermen, Davros).  Without the limits of a visual effects budget, settings are scattered across time and space. They also boast a higher diversity of companions than the main series, ranging from an Edwardian adventuress to a senior citizen professor. 
Even BBC Radio adaptations and original dramas offer high quality, with actors like Benedict Cumberbatch lending his voice to the Cabin Pressure series and the Neverwhere adaptation as the Angel Islington. The later is even available on iPlayer and accessible worldwide through the end of the year. 
While the genre may seem old-fashioned, audio dramas are amazing,and still a great way to spend a long drive.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The First (Doctor) this Face Saw

So, before my post (s?) about Time of the Doctor, I have to comment about familial reactions to my reactions.  Specifically, my mom’s reaction.
My younger brother and I were lying on his bed, watching Time of the Doctor on my laptop, lights off, propped up on pillows, and vocally responding every few seconds with cries of  ”The cracks!” “Trenzalore!” and most frequently “River should be here.” 
Then there were flashing lights. Hm? Was something odd going on with the screen? Oh, Mom was taking pictures. “Mooomm,” I muttered. What’s up with this?
Not to mention a few random comments. “Are you okay in there? What’s going on ?”
After I came out, she’s like “What was going on in there?”
"He grew old, he grew old and River wasn’t there, she should have been there."
"Who’s River?"
"His wife," *tone between laughter, tears, and snorts.
Since I graduated in December, I’m likely to be home for a while, and I’m trying to figure out how to explain the feels to her. Or if I even should. I sat her down for The Eleventh Hour , but she’s pretty much a stranger to Doctor Who and scifi in general.  
Should I even try to explain why Matt’s wig had me shouting “Put it back on, put it back on.” Or  why his mention of River had me punch the air.  Or the fish custard and Amy Pond…Amy, Amy, Amelia…Raggedy Man, goodbye.  
I have a feeling she’d keep looking at me like “and, why?” On the other hand, I do want her to have at least some idea why I’m shouting at the computer.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Day of the Doctor

Time Lords of Gallifrey, Daleks of Skaro. I serve notice on you all. Too long I have stayed my hand. No more. Today you leave me no choice. Today this war will end. No more. No more.

I apologize for the delay--or would, if anyone else was reading this. But I've had homework and break and work and all sorts of other real life commitments. Even now, I really should be studying for my Shakespeare final....
Well, onwards. I will admit, I had my doubts about this episode, particularly regarding the return of Billie Piper as Rose, but Moffat totally pulled it off.  Furthermore, the return to the Time War--which I had firmly placed in the never-ever-see-because-impossible-to-portray--was absolutely, completely terrifying. Not just because of the Daleks or the explosions, but because of the children.
Given Eleven's love for children, and the emphasis the Moment puts on the children of Gallifrey...all those scenes of children in red robes, hiding in the rubble or dancing in the fields...yes. That's how you portray a war of that magnitude--by its impact on innocents.
Ten was a bit more of a womanizer than I'm used to, and some of Eleven's jabs were very mature for a family show, especially with regards to the Zygons.Just...ew.
Other interesting things: Baker reappearing at the end--regardless of who he was, that was epic.  And Osgood is so cool--like, she has a scarf and follows Kate around.
Actually, never mind, I can't think this all over right now.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Songs and tales fall utterly short: the Desolation of Smaug

“Truly songs and tales fall utterly short of the reality, O Smaug the Chiefest and greatest of Calamities.”
First of all, I am now convinced that Jackson is covertly borrowing from Unfinished Tales, as Gandalf and Thorin's meeting in Bree is not in The Hobbit proper, but as  "The Quest for Erebor" in the former. It's not entirely necessary, but it provides more information on Gandalf's goals.  As for the film proper, I was immensely pleased with Beorn's house. I wasn't sure how they'd manage the lighthearted tone, but it was wonderful.
As for Mirkwood and the spiders, I was pleased that they left the soundtrack low, as I had sat through Unexpected Journey less than an hour before and was rather over-run by the warg/orc fights.  Thranduil's palace was intriguing--did anyone else get distinct echoes of Menegroth from the First Age? After a quick web search, I learned that Thranduil was originally a Sindarin elf from Doriath, so it makes sense that he'd model his fortress and foreign policy (especially isolationism) after Thingol. However, Thingol had a Maia to wife--her power was the main reason the kingdom stood against Morgoth as long as it did. Without divine power on his side, Thranduil's not likely to be as fortunate.
And what was up with that weird flash of burned skin? I don't get it at all. Not to mention how extraordinarily creepy his interactions with Thorin were.
And for Tauriel...ah, Tauriel. I would have been fine with a female captain of the guard, even one with feelings for Legolas, but a love triangle with a Dwarf? Of four confirmed interspecies romances in Tolkien (only one of which is in the Fourth Age), three are female elf/male human and one is Maia/male elf. Only one does not end in tragedy. It only got worse with the healing of Kili--why does a Silvan elf get to do the magic healing-other-side thing? In The Fellowship of the Ring, Glorifindel 's power(whose role was taken by Arwen in the films) was explained by his having lived in the Blessed Realm, Valinor. The Silvan elves never made it to Valinor.
At least Laketown/Esgorath was good. If I had to explain it to someone, I'd say "Venice in Minnesota," which aligns with Dale's Mediterranean style. Bard was a good character, the setting was developed well, etc.
Gandalf and Radagast's quest was quite good--I really appreciate the White Council storyline. And I noticed  the word "sharku" in one of the Dol Guldur scenes--the Orcish word was the origin of Saruman's nickname Sharkey in the Scouring of the Shire chapter, so nice in-joke there. And the shot of Gandalf hanging in the cage--poor wizard.
The Lonely Mountain itself was very impressive. Taking into account the differences between film and literature,  the scenes were really good, but did they have to add the golden statue sequence?
When I left the theatre, I was 50/50, or even 70/30 against this film, but after taking some time to think about it, I think several of the changes are due to pacing/adaptation limits, but I still wish they hadn't made Tauriel a love interest or had the Dwarves make that huge statue.

Friday, December 6, 2013

There are too many people around and not enough friends.

Amish Vampires in Space

This is not a drill. Repeat, this is not a drill.
Amish Vampires in Space exists. And it's exactly what it says on the cover. When their planet's sun enters its red-giant phase, an Amish colony must decide whether to accept the help of a spaceship to evacuate. But their troubles don't end after the decision is made...
This book began as a joke: Amish titles dominate the Christian publishing industry, while vampires are trending in secular markets, especially the YA subgenre. But despite the parodist elements, the novel has carefully developed characters. The author has considered how Amish pacifism would respond to vampires, as well as setting up conflict between the spaceship crew and the Amish. It also avoids the reverence of Amish culture common in many Christian novels while still treating them with respect.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Rest Now~A writing thing

I'm not entirely sure what this is. Part eulogy for Matt Smith and Eleven, part allegory, and all feels. 

"Well , then," I swallow the lump in my throat. It's just my cold, just the slimy, disgusting leftovers of everything that doesn't clear up in two weeks. "I guess...it's just that...it's not fair!"  No one ever said life was fair--but if anyone brings up the truism, I'll punch him. Okay, glare sullenly. As a scrawny English major, I'm not much of a physical threat to anyone.
"I'll still be around. Stop by every now and then."
"It won't be the same. " No more late nights munching jammie dodgers or arguing if bow ties are cool. No more terrifying stores or amazing adventures. I grab the fleece throw off the couch and throw it around my shoulders. "I wish Amy and Rory were still around. Have you heard from River yet?"
"She'll turn up when she turns up."
"Spoilers!" we chime together.
"Clara will be there," he remarks.
"I'm not really fond of her yet."
"Give her time. Any of your friends coming?"
"No, just me." I sink onto the couch. He sits next to me, letting me lean on his shoulder.  "It...it just seems like more than three and a half years. All the places I've been, things I've learned, books I've read. Even with homework, stress, colds and roommates, college beats high school hollow. And now..."
I'm sniffling now, soon to slip into full-blown crying: ugly crying, with red eyes and drippy nose and a headache. "I'll have to be an adult. Get a full time job and pay rent and find new friends and buy $20 pots with lids and everything. I'm not ready."
"There's no point in being grown-up if you can't be childish sometimes," he quotes himself. "It's not all bad. There are some good points too."
"Like what?"
I make a noise. "Not helping. Can you wait a few months? Just until I find a real job. Not five days after graduation."
"It's all lined up, I can't change it."
"Not coming." I drape the throw over my head and curl up into a ball.  The light filters through the red material, giving only vague outlines.  But the air is stuffy. "I was lying."

"It's time."
I can barely breath around the lump in my throat. And this time, I will admit that it's tears.  I want to beg him to stay, there's so much more we could see, but I can't speak. Would I? There's no turning back now--move into the future or embrace empty memories.
He smiles and is gone.

Monday, December 2, 2013

No Cape Required

As a fan of sci-fi, fantasy and graphic novels, this devotional caught my eye. Although it was a quick, easy read with a few good questions, I was disappointed by the superficial lessons and simplified story lines.   For example, Robin Hood is provided as an example of charity, while ignoring that Robin’s charity came from criminal gains.  Jake Sully is listed as “protecting others”, which is similar to the listed trait for Katniss. 
Another problem I have is some of the author’s sources. His chapter on Eustace is drawn entirely from the film adaptation, including quotes.  And for the Hunchback of Notre Dame, he refers to an old film very few people will have access too.

 While I can admire the author’s intentions, I did not find this book useful.  It might be useful for upper elementary children, but older kids would benefit more from reading the books or watching the movies mentioned for themselves.   Parents might  use this book to movies to watch, but the oversimplification annoyed me. Stories, while they may have good lessons, should not be boiled down to those lessons; students should be allowed to explore stories for themselves. Perhaps they’ll find something new that no one else did.