The Girl With All The Gifts & The Last of Us: A Dual Review With No Spoilers

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I watched The Girl With All The Gifts since I was very interested and decided it would be a good while before I could get to the book.

Well.

It’s…okay. It’s not the revelatory burst of cool originality I’d been led to believe, and it’s nowhere near as good as the other zombie flick I saw recently, the Korean Train To Busan which is a revelatory burst of cool and one of the best films in this genre ever made.

The Girl With All The Gifts is kind of tedious, the characters sketchily drawn, and the story underdeveloped. That said, I’d have probably enjoyed it more if it weren’t for one thing:

I’ve played the video game The Last Of Us.

The Girl With All The Gifts is like a clumsy echo of The Last Of Us. It has a similar theme, similar setting, suspiciously similar ideas (The Last Of Us came out a year before the novel). I’m not saying it’s a rip-off, I doubt it is. But the thought occurs.

And while The Girl With All The Gifts is a so-so zombie flick with a few new ideas, The Last Of Us is a goddamned masterpiece.

The Last Of Us is one of those works of art which elevates its medium. It isn’t just possibly the greatest narrative game ever made, it isn’t just a more satisfying cinematic experience than most films…it is literature.

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The writing, the direction, the art design are all phenomenal. The acting — and acting it is, full motion capture by the actors, with all the subtleties and complexities of real life, and eyes full of humanity — is amazing, and moving, and heartrending. And the characters are real the way the best characters in any medium become real, we live with them and die with them and feel their pain and occasional bits of joy. The settings are gorgeous, a civilization fallen and returning to nature. And the music…good lord, the music. My wife Nydia and I both tear up when we hear just a few notes of this game’s theme.

The Last Of Us, all by itself, entirely justified the money I spent on my PlayStation 4. All other pleasures I get out of it are gravy.

The Girl With All The Gifts just can’t compete. The only reason I’ll remember it is because it’s such a dull shadow of the game that got there first.

Watch Edison’s FRANKENSTEIN From 1910!

Frankenstein (1910)

As we creep toward Halloween, get in the mood by visiting with the very first cinematic Frankenstein’s monster.

This short film from Edison Studios was made in 1910 by writer/director J. Searle Dawley. It stars Augustus Phillips as Dr. Victor Frankenstein, Charles Ogle as the Monster, and Mary Fuller as the doctor’s fiancée.

It ain’t Karloff, but it’s a fascinating piece of film history. There’s some creative use of a mirror, both in the mise-en-scène and in the storytelling, and the sequence depicting the birth of the monster is primitive but amazingly creepy.

Book Review: SANTA CLAUS SAVES THE WORLD by Robert Devereaux

Santa

I’ve been reviewing and plugging Robert Devereaux’s work since I reviewed his masterful Santa Steps Out way back in 2000. I’ve given his books books as Christmas gifts to I don’t know how many folks, and pointed folks toward them during that season nearly every year on my blog. I even read all of Santa Steps Out out loud to my girlfriend. There are good reasons for all that attention, and those reasons are definitely on display in Devereaux’s latest, Santa Claus Saves The World.

I need to point out that these books are a series and follow a definite chronology. Those new to Devereaux’s Santa should definitely read Santa Steps Out (which I reviewed here) and Santa Claus Conquers The Homophobes (reviewed here) before reading this one. In the first book, Santa steps out on his beloved wife, having a torrid affair with the Tooth Fairy, and all sorts of mayhem and wonder result. In the second book, Santa becomes concerned about all the hatred in the world leveled at gay people and takes definitive action to put an end to it. Santa Claus Saves The World is a much shorter book (a novella, actually), and serves as an open-ended coda of sorts to the earlier works.

It does, of course, tell its own tale. This time, Santa and his flock (and allies ranging from Aphrodite to God himself) take it upon themselves to fix humanity itself, to banish all the horrible and nagging imperfections in our basic psyches and make the world the place of wonder it has the potential to be. This involves a lot of hard work by Santa and his elves, and a lot of hardcore fucking. Folks already familiar with the series know very well by now that Devereaux’s stories are violent and profane, in your face, and brilliantly written. They also elevate the carnal to a wonderful spiritual level, a celebration of love and of  life itself. If you’re easily offended, stay the hell away from his work, but if you can enjoy (or at least tolerate) seeing beloved childhood mythical figures engaging in the wildest, most pornographic sexual activities imaginable (and some stark, inventive violence), you’ll be rewarded with some incredible, thought-provoking fiction. As he puts it in his author’s bio, “…as long as one’s writing illuminates characters in all their kinks, quirks, kindnesses, and extremes, the imagination must be free to explore nasty places as well as nice, or what’s the point?” Robert Devereaux’s imagination explores a lot.

I enjoyed this book, but it’s definitely a pleasure for folks who’ve visited this North Pole before. The beloved characters from the earlier books are here, but the full development of their personalities already occurred in the first two books, and the narrative velocity of this shorter tale doesn’t allow much backpedaling to explain who they are or what happened to them before this new adventure. Reading this book alone will spoil the previous tales in a big way. But if you read the trilogy in order, this won’t be an issue; you’ll know these people very well by the time you crack this book’s cover.

Read Robert Devereaux’s Santa tales, they will entertain and challenge you, and may even make you open your eyes a bit more.

Mongo to Face THE BEASTS OF VALHALLA on HBO…Maybe.

The Beasts of Valhalla

About a month ago, I wrote a post about ten books that had a strong impact on me over the years, and one of them was George Chesbro’s magnificent mash-up of science fiction and horror and the detective novel, The Beasts of ValhallaThis is part of what I said about the book:

It stars one Robert “Mongo the Magnificent” Frederickson, a PI who shares both sharp intellect and deep compassion with Robert Parker’s Spenser, but, as a dwarf, has nowhere near the physical power. Mongo is an ex-circus acrobat, professor of criminology, and black belt in karate, and he’s a wonderful hero starring in a series of books of which this one is by far the best. Beasts of Valhalla starts as a detective novel but winds up somewhere in a dark, science fiction/horror territory, with Mongo acting as the daring hobbit facing dread evil in a modern day Lord of the Rings. This book ROCKS.

Now, it’s being reported that HBO is considering a ten-part adaptation of The Beasts of Valhalla starring Peter Dinklage. Since Dinklage first popped up on my radar years ago, I’ve dreamed of a Mongo movie starring him (and indeed, in 2005 there were rumors of such that ultimately didn’t pan out), and now it looks like we might be getting a ten hour movie with him based on the best book in the series.

Mongo

Please, HBO. Please. Please please please. Also, please.

Valentine’s Sale: DOC WILDE AND THE FROGS OF DOOM $3.99! (Three Bucks Off!)

DOC WILDE AND THE FROGS OF DOOMI love readers. I particularly love my readers, and I love getting more of them. So, in celebration of the upcoming Valentine’s holiday, a day dedicated to love, I am putting the digital version of my novel Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom on sale through Valentine’s weekend, ending February 16 at midnight Eastern Time.

The sale price is just $3.99. Usual price is $6.99.

The book is an old-fashioned pulp adventure told through a modern lens, written for all ages; I hear from kids as young as eight, and grown-ups up into their eighties. It is fully illustrated by Australian comics whiz Gary Chaloner, and when I say fully illustrated, I mean it. There are a lot of cool pictures in this book. It is a labor of love, a celebration of pulp fiction, families, literature, and battles against armies of man-frogs out to destroy the world.

A Frog of Doom

The sale price is in effect at Amazon (Kindle) and at DriveThru Fiction (epub, mobi, and PDF).

Please share this post as widely as you are willing to your friends on Facebook and Google+ and Twitter and Pinterest etc. And if you enjoy Frogs of Doom and really want to help out this dashing author who’s desperately trying to make ends meet, please consider writing up an honest review. It can be just a few lines, but all reviews are helpful, even the not-so-great ones. On your blog or Goodreads or B&N or anywhere is good, but the most helpful in reaching a lot of people is, at this point, Amazon.

Thanks for reading, and stay Wilde!

The Creature from the Blog Lagoon (ABC Wednesday, 1/29/14)

C is for Creature

We all know the creature.

The monster. The dangerous thing, stalking, creeping, hunting in the silence of the night. Hairy, clawed, savage. Less than human…or is it?

For me, and many others who grew up with Universal monster movies, the word creature evokes the Creature From The Black Lagoon. Who, when you get down to it, is clawed and savage, but not so hairy. The Creature stalks and kidnaps the gorgeous Julie Adams, mesmerized by her preternatural beauty, no doubt with thoughts of ichthyological rape and scaly little spawn cavorting in the lagoon’s dark waters. The movie he’s in is undeniably a “monster movie,” but is he a monster? No. But he is, obviously, a beast, an animal, an inhuman thing. A creature. He operates on instinct more than thought, and in his case, because he comes into conflict with anti-instinctual man, it proves his undoing. Had he stayed hidden, not tried to woo, in his way, the beauty (a common failing among beasts), he would never have been harpooned, brought to man’s world, had his gills sliced off (a clumsy attempt to make a man of him), and ultimately killed.

Stories often warn us that this is what will happen if we let our creature side out. Our instinct. Our wild. Our Id. We aren’t animals, right? Never mind the blood and bile, our often maddening emotional lives, our wonderfully messy means of procreation. The fangs in our mouths, the hair on our pelts.

I’ve always been fascinated with werewolves, and themes of transformation often manifest in my writing. Often the transfiguration is into a wilder state, like the werewolf, rather than an “ascended” state. But is it therefore a devolution? Or is it an imperfect call toward wholeness? I believe we are at our best when we are comfortable with both sides of our nature, the primal and the thoughtful, the rational and the passionate. Be a creature and be a man. Be a creature and be a woman. Be complete.

Evolution isn’t a paved road away from the creature, it’s a forest path toward a better creature.

C

I’ll return next Wednesday with the letter D. I hope you’ll stop by. I’m a writer and I post about a wide variety of non-alphabet-specific topics. Feel free to comment under my posts. If you want to subscribe to the blog, there’s a button in the sidebar.

For another fun ABC Wednesday post, visit the Carioca Witch here: Bringing Up Salamanders.

Find many more posts by others, and more info on ABC Wednesday, here: ABC Wednesday

10(ish) Books

It’s one of those memes spreading across Facebook, but one that actually has some merit (to my mind) in that it is designed to engage folks in conversations about books they love:

Rules: In your status line, list 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take more than a few minutes and don’t think too hard – they don’t have to be the “right” or “great” works, just the ones that have touched you.

I like that. I like that it specifies “books that have stayed with you in some way” rather than your all-time favorites. “Ones that have touched you.” I wouldn’t even start trying to list my favorite ten books of all time, but I’m happy to list a few favorites that moved me and now come to mind.

I also like the exercise well enough to share it here, for posterity, rather than as just a mote of data washing by in the social media stream. And I won’t simply list the books, I’ll tell you something about them, and about what they mean to me. (This also fits in with my recent pledge to get back to regularly reviewing books I read).

And I’ll do it now. Here they are, in no particular order:

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Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury This one would be on my list of all-time favorites if I ever made it. A tale of two small town boys, friends, born on opposite sides of midnight Halloween night, facing the surreal and terrifying threats of a dark circus that comes to town one chill night. This is a book about childhood and magic and dreams and libraries and laughter and books. Ray Bradbury was the writer who inspired me to officially decide I was going to be a writer, and this is his very best. It also makes me think of my best friend of many years, Rusty, the Will Halloway to my Jim Nightshade in the dyad of our youth.

WintersTale

Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin Another wonderful book, an epic tale of fantasy and magic realism which explores New York City and life from all sorts of whimsical and tragic directions. I don’t know much about Mark Helprin as a person (I do know he supported and wrote speeches for Bob Dole, which deeply disappointed me at the time but seems a nearly insignificant fault in light of the monstrous Republicans who replaced Dole on the national scene), but he’s a brilliant writer. This book made me laugh out loud (there’s a brilliantly cartoonish gang of ne’er-do-wells in its pages), fall in love, and cry. It’s an overflowing treasure chest of literary wonder. (Apparently it’s now a movie, but I guarantee you should read the book before, or instead of, seeing it.)

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Looking For Rachel Wallace by Robert B. Parker Many of you will know the private detective Spenser from the old Robert Urich TV show Spenser: For Hire, which, as such adaptations go, was pretty good; Urich was personable, growing into the character over time, and his costar Avery Brooks was the definitive Hawk. I wanted to have a Spenser book here because Spenser — and his creator — have been great personal and professional influences on me for years. But there are a lot of Spenser novels, so the question was, which to feature? I decided to go with the very first I read, in which Spenser, manly man with a poet’s soul, is hired to bodyguard a rabidly feminist lesbian writer who most definitely doesn’t like having a seeming brute like him around. The interplay between the two as they intelligently argue sexual politics, along with Spenser’s relationship with his beloved Susan Silverman and the easy action of the tale, hooked me for life. Spenser is the thinking man’s gumshoe, big and brawny but just as quick with a Yeats quote as he is with his fists, and Parker rarely fails to deliver the goods. Continue reading