Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Attack of the Evil Plot Clones

This week I was Googling character names for my work in progress. I wanted to be sure I hadn’t inadvertently picked something I thought was cool and obscure, but in reality riddled half the titles on bestseller list. For me, it's the literary equivalent of checking popular baby names du jour so you can avoid saddling your kid with the next "Jacob" or "Isabella" moniker (with apologies to Jacobs and Isabellas everywhere).

To my slight dismay, I found my main character name used in another series of books. Since it was a completely different genre, and a supporting character at that, I chalked it up to a minor annoyance, but not a show stopper.

But then I sat up and took notice, realizing I'd uncovered bigger potatoes than the shared name.
Evil plot clones may, or may not have facial hair.

As I read more, I realized this book shared some pretty significant plot elements with a manuscript I’d just finished beta reading for a friend. And when I say significant, I mean the core-premise-of-the-story significant. AND the book was in her genre. An evil plot clone!

When told her what I’d found, I got a reply that I won’t repeat here on the prime time Internet. Suffice it to say, it was in all caps.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

*Warning* May contain spoilers.

So apparently, POTC4 has been receiving a lot of hate and I’m not sure why. I suppose a lot of people were expecting this movie to wash out the bad taste that the last two movies left. Look, this movie isn’t going to redeem the franchise. I think they tried to make it the best they could. Could it be better? Sure, but that can be said about anything.   

The story is a little disjointed, but it isn’t the bloated mess that was the last two movies. Things begin when Spanish fishermen discover a man (alive!) in their nets and he’s holding onto a map that leads to the fountain of youth. The Spaniards set out, thus kicking off the Fountain race. Unfortunately, it’s never disclosed on how that guy in the net managed to survive underwater for who knows how long, or where he came upon the map.

Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is back, and no surprise, he’s caught in a bad place. He escapes the clutches of the British Monarch only to run into an imposter in a tavern. The imposter turns out to be a long lost love of his Angelica (Penélope Cruz). She has a ship. He doesn’t. So he joins up with her and her father, the voodoo pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane) as they too search for the fountain of youth.

I’m going to butt heads with some of the criticism, such as the one saying this movie is preachy! Okay, just because there’s a cute clergyman (Sam Claflin) doesn’t mean this movie is trying to push Christian morals down your throat. Every time clergy boy got on his high horse, he was always knocked off by Blackbeard or Sparrow.

Everyone is weird! Jack doesn’t stand out! Well, everyone is a pirate, yes. Are they all weirdos? Eh, I’d say each has unique qualities, but Jack doesn’t get buried. You have Blackbeard who’s a badass mofo on one end, and then you have clergy boy and Angelica (to a lesser degree) on the other end. Jack treads in the middle, being selfish, but also showing a selfless side.

Also, there’s another theme to consider, in that all the characters are essentially true to themselves, despite trying to turn a new leaf or two. Blackbeard says “I’m a bad man,” and guess what? He is! He tries to care for Angelica as the one good thing in his life and – he can’t, he just can’t. Angelica lies in the beginning and, well, lies in the end. Remember Jack showing he could be selfless? Well – it doesn’t last. He may care for Angelica but he ain’t stupid. And Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) is, and always will be, a pirate, no matter what hat he wears.

It’s too dark! Now this I agree with. There are some scenes, like the one beach scene before the vampiric mermaids’ attack, where all you can see are silhouettes. And mind you, I saw this in 2D. Apparently, no one took into account that people will be seeing this film in DARK movie theater. D’oh!

You know how movies have that extra little teaser scene after the credits? My advice: Skip it. I usually really enjoy these teaser scenes, like the one from THOR, but this one was wimpy and too short. You can easily wiki it to find out what it is.

So the bottom line is: If you love these characters and want to see more of Jack Sparrow and his zany adventures, then you’ll enjoy this film (I think). If you want something new, refreshing, with a twist of lemon, then go find something else. I mean, c’mon, it’s a franchise, what do you expect?

I give Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides 3 out of 5 seafaring stars.         

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Review: Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds

2001, Gollancz Books. 480 pages.
Writing rule of thumb: Don’t parcel out your good ideas, saving them for the sequel. It takes more than one to make a good book.

Alastair Reynolds must have listened, because his novel, Revelation Space, is packed with great ideas.

When a 26th-century dig turns up clues about a dead alien civilization on a distant world, archeologist Dan Sylveste will stop at nothing to discover who -- or what -- caused “The Event” that wiped them out. But as determined as Sylveste is to find answers to the mystery of the extinct Amarantin, others are just as determined to find him. Among them, the crew of the city-sized interstellar ship, Nostalgia for Infinity, who need Sylveste to cure their captain of the nano-plague which is slowly consuming both him and their ship. And among them -- assassin Ana Khouri, contracted by the mysterious Madamoiselle, who has her own interest in Sylveste – namely seeing him dead.

Across multiple worlds and decades, these factions pursue their own ends only to find themselves mere pawns in a millennias-old struggle between ancient intellegences. And of course, this is a struggle that will determine the survival of life in the galaxy.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Review: City of Bones

I’m a sucker for fantasy stories set in our world. I love feeling that there’s something exciting happening just around the corner, or maybe right in front of our faces -- we just can’t see it.

Sooo, I was pretty glad when I saw this in WHSmith. I’d seen it on Amazon and heard a few people suggesting it on YahooAnswers, and I figured I’d check it out. Here’s the blurb:

 When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder–much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Clary knows she should call the police, but it’s hard to explain a murder when the body disappears into thin air and the murderers are invisible to everyone but Clary.
Equally startled by her ability to see them, the murderers explain themselves as Shadowhunters: a secret tribe of warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. Within twenty-hour hours, Clary’s mother disappears and Clary herself is almost killed by a grotesque demon.
But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know . . . 

I really liked it. The Shadowhunters -- part-angels who draw tattoos on their skin and, occasionally, other objects to do magic -- were pretty interesting. I enjoyed reading about their culture and seeing the different kinds of magic they could do. Some of the tattoos/runes they drew were pretty nifty; for example, there’s a healing rune that’s more effective the closer it’s drawn to a person’s heart. I don’t know why, but I thought that was cool.

The story moved quickly and there were enough fights to sate my thirst for heroic violence. There was also a pretty big twist at the end, but because many people on the internet are lame and like to ruin the fun for everyone else, I’d already discovered it a long time ago. It would have been a pretty shocking twist had I not already found out, though.

Now, the stuff that irritated me. I did not like Clary. In my head she was weak and annoying -- I can only relate to characters if they are kind, or cool, or determined to accomplish a goal for some reason or another. I suppose Clary was determined, but to me, she was not likeable. I found her to be kind of an asshole, what with the way she led Simon on (who is, by the way, my favourite character in the book. What guy hasn’t felt like Simon? Can I get a high five?) Then there was Jace. That guy annoyed the hell out of me. I suppose I would have found him hot if I was a girl (I like cold girls who warm up), but as I am not, he is just a First Rate Asshole. I will forgive him because he killed stuff and he actually has a half-decent reason for being the way he is.

So, I’m going to give this book a four out of five. Remember that this is all opinion and based on my own ideas of what a good book should be like -- but then again, if you didn’t care about other people’s opinions, you wouldn’t be reading a review. ;)