Prophet: Remission – A Book Review

Because I’d heard such good things about the Prophet revitalization, I decided to check it out.  I rarely read reviews before buying a book, mostly due to fear of spoilers, but because I wanted to be sure I spent my money well, I did just that this time around.  The reviews were, like the word of mouth I’d experienced, favorable.

I pulled the trigger and bought a copy.

Let me be frank … the reviews did not do it justice.

At the age of thirty-six, I basically just want one thing from my books and movies—originality.  Please give me something new, something I haven’t seen before.  Now, I realize this is an ironic statement considering that Prophet is a reboot of sorts, but trust me, this book is blazing new trails.

In fact, Prophet: Remission is one of the most original and refreshingly weird books I’ve read in quite a long time.

It begins with John Prophet awakening in the far, far future.  Humanity is seemingly lost, and the world is a devastated heap inhabited by creatures that you’ll have to see to believe.  He has one mission, to try to “awaken the Earth empire.”

But, as you’ll soon realize with this book, what you presume to come next does not.  In fact, Prophet delighted in its unpredictability.  I love that the writers are building their own worlds by their own rules.  All of the medium’s conventions for which you expect are gone—this is a book unlike any other.

The prose is sparse and direct, and the artwork is … well, it’s excellent, but it’s not pretty.  It looks like the world is falling apart.  The creatures are gross.  The tone is unpleasant.  In other words, the art fits the story perfectly and is absolutely part of the reason Prophet won me over.

This isn’t a super hero book, and that’s a good thing.  John Prophet is almost out of a Cormac McCarthy novel—he’s tough, resolute, and absolutely self-reliant.  This is not a science fiction story, though it does wade heavily into those waters.  It’s not a fantasy space epic, but it carries that vibe, too.  There is plenty of adventure, to be sure, but there seems to be an underlying philosophical message just beneath the surface.  Is it a post-apocalyptic dystopian tale?  In all honestly, I don’t know how to label this book, and that’s fantastic.

I want to keep reading Prophet for one simple reason: I have no idea where this story is going.

 

 

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Cloud Atlas – A Movie Review

This movie, adapted from the exceedingly difficult novel by David Mitchell and directed by the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer, shot right into my top five favorites of all time.

I’ve never seen anything quite like this film.

Never.

If you’re unfamiliar with the book, it presents six different storylines that are loosely related.  Mitchell gives you the first half of each in the first part of the book, then the second half of each in the last part of the book.  Each storyline is written vastly different, seemingly by different authors.   At times, it seems incomprehensible.

I won’t lie to you – I did not enjoy the book whatsoever while reading it.  However, upon finishing it, it burrowed into my mind and I grew to love it.  But it is a hard, hard, hard book to read.

The movie, as one would expect, is far more digestible.  It still adheres to the six storylines, but it now weaves in and out of those storylines as they progress, transitioning from one to the other to the next and back again.  The viewer experiences them nearly all at once, while, in the book, you had to work your way through each section and connect the dots on your own.

The story spans hundreds of years.  One story takes place in the 1800s, two more take place in the 1900s, one takes place in 2012, another takes place in the twenty-second century, and the last takes place sometime after 2300.

I won’t go into great detail about the film’s plot, because that would take far too much time, but the film maintains that all are connected, that aspects of ourselves live on, both good and bad, and that love, justice, and equality are things worth fighting for, even if it’s across the chasms of time.

Now, this is a departure from the book.  In my mind, the book implied that the stories were connected, but it did not overtly state that the characters were, in a way, reincarnations.  The film, by using the same actors to play nearly six different parts each, definitely wanted the audience to take note.

This is a complicated, well executed, beautiful movie to behold.  It’s a little bit of a comedy, a little bit of a mystery action film, a little bit of a science fiction adventure, a little bit of a post-apocalyptic dystopia, a little bit of a period piece, and a little bit of a philosophical wake-up call, yet it’s not completely any of these things.  It is unlike anything else.  It is all of them at once.  It is new.  It is original.  It is refreshing.

Tom Hanks, who, frankly, initially struck me as miscast, gave this movie its heart and soul and I loved him in it.  There were several times he nearly moved me to tears.  Halle Berry was the best I’ve ever seen her.  Jim Broadbent stole the show as the ridiculous Timothy Cavendish.  Hugo Weaving is always fun to watch no matter what he’s doing.  And good old Hugh Grant finally impressed me as an actor – he did a wonderful job!  In fact, all of the actors in this movie were fantastic.  They made a tremendously ambitious movie feel cozy and inviting.  They made an epic feel personal.

You’ll notice as the film advances that several actors play different roles in different time periods.  In all cases they work.  As already mentioned, these are very good actors and they were chosen wisely.  My only complaint about the entire film is when they had Caucasian actors playing Asian characters. It was incredibly distracting and took me out of the movie a little bit.  The prosthetic artists got it almost perfect, but not quite, and so I found myself wondering who was really Asian and who wasn’t, and that’s something I didn’t want to think about as I watched the movie.  Hugo Weaving as an Asian man was especially jarring.  The eyes were so unnatural that they seemed almost to be mocking.  I know this was not the directors’ intent, but it did come off that way to a degree.

On the flip side, I totally understand why they did that.  Far more so than the book, the film adaptation goes to great lengths to impart upon us that race, creed, and color should not matter when it comes to love and justice.  The movie had African Americans playing Caucasians, Asians playing Hispanics, men playing women, women playing men, etc.  The message, of course, is that our core, our very soul, takes precedence over our outward appearance.  Justice is deserved by all.

By the way, if you have an opportunity to buy the soundtrack, do so.  It is a beautiful, fulfilling musical score that lives up to the mythos of the Cloud Atlas Sextet.  I listen to it all the time while I write, I have for months, and it sounds new to me each and every time.  I actually bought it long before I saw the movie because, after previewing it, I knew it was something very, very special.  (I’m listening to it now, even as I type.)

I understood Cloud Atlas because I read the novel beforehand, but I’m not sure I could make that statement had I not read the book.  Be that as it may, this movie is not only a visual triumph, it is also ambitious in its storytelling and unafraid to take risks.  The acting is superb, the music is heart wrenching, the characters are charismatic, the story is captivating – this movie surpassed my expectations.

In other words, I loved it and I think you should watch it.

Mind the Gap by Jim McCann – A Book Review

I’d heard excellent things about Mind the Gap and saw that the reviews were quite favorable, so imagine my surprise when I found myself disappointed by this first volume.

I can sum up my dissatisfaction with one simple reason: I did not care about a single character.

Ellis, the main character, is attacked in the subway and taken to the hospital.  There she has physically entered a coma but her psyche has traveled to the astral plane where she interacts with other coma sufferers.  Elle must work out her own attack as she struggles to remember even the most basic of facts about herself.

The list of potential attackers is quite large: her mother, her father, her brother, her boyfriend, a few doctors, as well as what is implied to be a clandestine organization of some sort.  But here’s the thing – Elle is not especially likable.  Frankly, nothing about her character makes me sympathize with her nor do I really care who attacked her.  This is, of course, a problem when the entire series appears to be hanging on that core plot point.

The dialogue jarred me a bit as well.  The problem with trying to write trendy, cool dialogue is that it becomes dated rather quickly and if a reader happens to be neither trendy nor cool (such as me), the dialogue reads incredibly hokey.

Finally, the art is beautiful, but I did not find it particularly dynamic.  Each panel, for the most part, depicts a person or people talking.  There isn’t much that I would consider visually striking or fluid.  Yes, the artist is very good at drawing people and backgrounds, but I didn’t feel it moved the story along well.  Granted, it would be difficult to draw page after page of people talking and doing not much else.

A protagonist who is not all that charismatic, a mystery that isn’t especially important to me, cheesy dialogue, and largely uninteresting artwork – Mind the Gap did not impress.

On Lenore Vadenburgh and Breaking Writing Rules

In my latest Dr. Nekros story, “Diatribe and Divulgence,” we get to know Lenore Vadenburgh – Dr. Nekros’ mother.  I won’t spoil too much about her if you haven’t yet read the story, but I wanted to clear a few things up that are already concerning some readers.

Now, I’m no expert at writing – far from it.  Most of you know I’m actually a living cliché in that I’m a high school English teacher who writes primarily as a hobby, though I’ve had a few successes here and there.  But, I do know one rule about writing, one that must never be broken.  Do not publicly discuss a story you’re working on until it’s completion.

Well, normally, I try to adhere to this maxim, but I’ve got a few things begging revolt this one time.  The first is that my Dr. Nekros story is actually an eighteen-part electronic serial that will span three years to write.  That’s a long time to keep silent.  Of course, I’ll never reveal its ending before the last story, but there are certain things I’m comfortable discussing and Lenore Vadenburgh is one such thing.

Which leads me to the second catalyst.  Lenore Vadenburgh is a cancer survivor.  Because I’m known for sometimes killing off characters, some readers are already worried that I’m going to be especially horrible by killing a cancer survivor.

Though I shouldn’t tell you this, though I’m breaking an important rule of writing, I vow to you here and now that Lenore will survive the entire Dr. Nekros serial and beyond.

You see, with Lenore, I’m actually turning my back on virtually every rule of writing in existence.  I’m sentimental toward her, she represents a lot of hurt in my loved one’s lives, and she stands for something greater than the story in which she thrives.

In reality, I’ve known too many fantastic, vital, loving, wonderful women who have been taken by cancer.  These women made the world a better place, and they were stolen far too soon from us.  Lenore will not be stolen.  I can’t guarantee anyone’s victory over cancer in real life, but in my story, in my little pocket universe, I rule supreme and I am telling cancer what it cannot have Lenore.

I wish I had this power in reality, but I don’t.

I won’t guarantee any other character’s survival in Dr. Nekros – not Dr. Nekros himself, nor his ex-wife Zetta, nor the demon Xaphan, nor Zetta’s children Matty and Joey, nor Nekros’ father Cashel.

However, Lenore will live – cancer cannot have her.  Though it breaks every rule of writing, it makes my broken heart feel just a little bit better to know that the women we’ve lost would enjoy Lenore’s character, they would enjoy her strength, her passion, her faith, her panache, her bluntness, and her caring heart.

What’s the point of creating world’s if you don’t get to bend the rules every once in a while?

About That Of Mice and Men Ending …

During June, July, and August, I’ve implemented my Summer Rereading Program.  You can read more about it here.  First up: Of Mice and Men.  The first time I read it, last year, actually, I blew through it pretty quickly and didn’t reflect on it much, hence the need to reread.  This time around, there’s something I’d really like to discuss with others, and that’s the ending.

No, not that ending – not Lennie’s final fate.  Rather, when Lennie is sitting, waiting for George, and we get a few visions from his perspective – the first being Aunt Clara, the second being the giant rabbit.  Did anyone else find this wildly inconsistent with the rest of the book?  I don’t know if stories come much more grounded than Of Mice and Men, and these two visions struck me as incredibly strange.  At no other point do we get the story from Lennie’s perspective, and these two visions end as quickly as they began, as does the story from Lennie’s viewpoint.

What are your theories?  Do the visions belong?  What purpose do they serve?  Is this a stroke of craftsmanship on Steinbeck’s part, or an oversight?  Please do share your thoughts …

 

 

Man of Steel – A Movie Review

(Spoilers at the very end of this review.  I will warn you before going into them.)

If you’ve been waiting for a Superman movie that shows our hero strutting all of his super stuff, then you will be very happy with Man of Steel.  In fact, I’ve never seen the kind of all-out action depicted in Man of Steel.  As you can expect with a Zach Snyder film, it is visually astounding.

However, there’s some real depth to the film as well.  Kevin Costner nearly brought tears to my eyes on several occasions, and Russell Crowe gave us the most likable and formidable Jor-El I’ve ever seen.  Diane Lane as Martha offers a fresh take on the character, and Amy Adams owned a tough, charismatic Lois Lane.  Michael Shannon had very big shoes to fill with General Zod, but because the character is far more military science fiction oriented, he was able to make it his own.  Henry Cavill looks like Superman, sounds like Superman, and moves like Superman.  He’s a very serviceable Superman.  No one will ever be as charismatic as Christopher Reeve, we all just have to accept that.  Cavill didn’t have the sparkle in his eyes that Reeve did, but that’s okay.  I think Cavill did an adequate job with the character.  I certainly look forward to seeing him as Superman in future movies.

Speaking of which, they made a necessary departure from Reeve’s Superman.  They had to, really.  This Superman is a physical force.  Cavill got huge for the film, and you could cut diamond with his jaw line.  And while there is a kindness in Cavill’s eyes as Superman, there is not a twinkle.  He’s a very serious Superman – lots of frowning.  But hey, that’s all right. We needed a different take if a new Superman franchise is going to work.  The fact he’s serious makes him no less noble.  In fact, they really made the strong and silent thing work well for him.  This Superman is clearly haunted by his being different from everyone else.  I can deal with a moody Superman.

I also love the science fiction route they took with this film over the super hero fantasy angle they could have used.  The movie starts off with an amazing scene on Krypton.  They truly strived to ground the movie in some aspect of technology with scientific explanations.  We know the story well at this point, but Snyder and company, again, took it in such a different direction that it felt totally new.  It was pretty much nonstop action from that moment forward.

As you’ve gathered from the commercials, we see a lot of Clark as a young man, but Snyder employed flashbacks to deliver these scenes to us, and, in my opinion, they were the best scenes in the whole movie.  Clark discovering his powers and using them to help people showed us the true hero within, and, like I said before, the scenes with Kevin Costner interacting with his adopted son choked me up on several occasions.

The storyline pretty much made sense, the characters all had fairly strong motivation, and, until the very end, nothing seemed to go off the tracks too much.  This is an epic, gigantic, mesmerizing movie that will not fail to keep your attention.  For a two and a half hour movie, it flew by.  No pun intended.

All in all, if you want a Superman movie that’s a visual spectacle with tons of action and Superman doing everything you ever wished you could see him do, then Man of Steel is for you.  I sincerely hope they continue with this cast and take Superman in exciting, new directions.

However, the film is not without a major problem.  That problem is detailed below the spoiler break.  Do NOT read if you don’t want the ending revealed:

 

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Throughout much of the movie, Clark Kent goes to great lengths to help people.  Every time he helps someone, though, he pretty much has to move on.  His concern for the world not being ready for him forces him to relocate time and time again.  But, no matter the personal sacrifice, he does the right thing.

That is, until he puts on the suit and adapts the guise of Superman.  Now he can actually help those people in need right out in the open, but instead opts not to.

Case in point, he fights Zod and his soldiers in the streets of Smallville.  There is maximum carnage.  Things are blowing up.  Trains are flying.  Missiles are exploding.  He keeps fighting.  Okay, hey, Smallville is small.  Maybe he did an X-ray vision sweep and saw that every single building on Main Street was cleared of people.  Probably not, but I’ll go with it.

And then we get to Metropolis, and that’s where I can’t turn the other way.  We’ve got entire skyscrapers falling.  We’ve got people dying left and right and left and right.  Superman and Zod are flying through buildings, and the buildings topple as a result.  What does Superman do?  Keep fighting.  At no point does he seem concerned about the people suffering and dying by the thousands.  If I’m a kid, I don’t understand why Superman isn’t helping people.  If I’m a parent, I don’t know how to explain the gratuitous destruction.

In a final inexplicable scene, Superman has Zod in a choke-lock, and Zod is about to kill a family.  The choice Superman makes is utterly senseless.  I won’t go into too much detail, but why is Superman suddenly so concerned about a family of four, and how is he suddenly able to break Zod’s bones when they just got done destroying half the city without either spilling a drop of blood?  I don’t get it.  Yes, I realize you have to have Superman stop Zod somehow, but it felt cheap and too easy to me.  It fact, it reminds me of this.

You know how they could have overcome the whole Superman fighting as a city dies thing?  At the end of the movie, if they had just had Superman issue a speech, apologizing for his role in the deaths of thousands and vowing to help the city rebuild, that would have gone a long way to showing me that he cares – that he has a noble heart.  Here’s a guy who risked everything as a child to help those in need but now doesn’t bat an eyelash at mass slaughter.

For me, this is a serious misstep.  Yes, they got all of the physical super stuff right, exceptionally so, and for most of the film, they got the hero stuff right as well.  But, at the very end, Superman came off more as an action character than a hero, and for some that works, but for me it doesn’t.  Superman always has to be about the people first and foremost.

The Manhattan Projects: Science. Bad. by Hickman and Pitarra – A Book Review

I’ve heard a lot of very good things about The Manhattan Projects, so I thought I’d head to my local library and see if they had the first volume.  Luckily for me, they did!

I’m fascinated by the concept of the book.  As we all know, The Manhattan Project introduced the first atomic bomb.  This book written by Jonathan Hickman with art by Nick Pitarra introduces the idea that the atomic bomb was just one of many, many projects the scientists were working on during that era.

The concept is fascinating, I’ll grant you that.  Furthermore, Hickman makes a bold move by actually using Oppenheimer, Einstein, Feynman, Fermi, Daghlian, Von Bruan, Groves, and FDR!  These are historical figures from The Manhattan Project, some more famous than others, and Hickman uses them unabashedly.  He’s got guts, I’ll give him that, especially because he paints none of them in an overtly positive light.

The book itself is a fun read.  It really gets into science fiction, which is nice since most graphic novels deal more with science fantasy.  I’m not sure it struck me as being unlike anything else I’ve ever read, but it was definitely entertaining.

Some of the major storylines running through this volume includes Oppenheimer’s evil twin brother working to usurp his place in life, Einstein trying to open an inter-dimensional door he created, FDR assimilating to AI, and Groves trying to get more and more weapons out of his scientists.  As you can gather, this book has gusto.

Pitarra’s artwork is adequate.  It didn’t knock me off my chair, but it also didn’t negatively distract me.  I think his style services the story well.  He excels at details.  There is a great deal of devices in The Manhattan Projects, and Pitarra renders each and every one of them intricately.

While The Manhattan Projects interested me, I’m not sure I’ll add it to my “must buy” list.  If the other volumes become available at the library, however, I will certainly check them out.