Saturday, September 20, 2014

Review(s): "Among Thieves" and "Sworn in Steel" by Douglas Hulick

Amazon reviews suggested a book to me a while back: "Among Thieves" by Douglas Hulick. In my last batch of books I acquired, that was among them.

It was the first of my latest batch to read and... wow.

It is the tale of Drothe, a "Nose" among the Kin (slang for being a snoop/investigator for the criminal class of his homeland).

Drothe is a tolerable swordsman, a reasonably good thief, and has a fondness for stimulant seeds called armahni. He smuggles holy artifacts while serving as a spy (of sorts) for a local "Upright Man" (crime boss).

A client of his turns on him, stealing one of his artifacts, and things go sour really quickly.

Before long, Drothe is finding himself in the middle of a brewing gang war that endangers the Kin and has secrets that threaten the Empire in which he lives. His assets are his wits, his few friends (a blonde, grouchy, bodyguard who serves as his occasional lover), his semi-homicidal sister, and his best friend - a lethal swordsman named Degan.

Just when I thought I had a handle on what the book was about, Hulick took the story off in directions I wasn't expecting. I have to say it had me hooked up to the last page. I was so thrilled by it, that I ran out to a local Barnes & Noble to pick up the sequel: "Sworn in Steel".

Set three months after the insanity of "Among Thieves", Drothe is in a different place with his fortunes and not all of them good. Circumstances (mostly blackmail) have him and Fowler Jess (his lethal lover/bodyguard) going to the land of the Djann to find a friend of Drothe's so he can try to save his friends and himself.

As with "Among Thieves", Hulick quickly takes Drothe's tale and spins it into something bigger and deeper in his intricate and insanely-well-developed mythology.

Hulick does a fantastic job with his characters and his world-building. His "cant" spoken by the criminals of his world is apparently based on real-world criminal slang he researched and it adds a fantastic flavor to the series.

I can't wait for the next book. Argh! I seriously can't wait...

Review "Time Heist"

"Time Heist".

Okay, that was a pretty good episode.

Spoilers follow, blah-blah-blah.












































































































Still there? You were warned...

















Clara's getting spiffed-up for a date while the Doctor lingers around in a vaguely creepy manner. There's a phone call from the TARDIS and... bam. Next thing everyone knows, the Doctor and Clara are in a room with two other people - Psi (a cyborg) and Saibra (a shapeshifter). Everyone's had their memories voluntarily wiped up to a certain point by memory worms.

A mysterious figure known only as "The Architect" explains in a recording that their little quasi-Ocean's Seven group is to rob the most secure bank in the galaxy.

What follows is a classic parody of a "heist film", complete with the stylized cut-outs and poses.

There's lots of timey-whimey stuff that makes one ask how the Architect got all kinds of little tools in place for the robbers. And opposing them are the bank staff, including a creature known as "the Teller" which can not only read minds, but melt brains (and skulls, apparently).

There's a few moments to reveal what Psi and Saibra want in a few scenes. Psi, a hacker, deleted all memories of his family and loved ones to save them when he was arrested. He wants those memories back. Saibra takes the form of anyone she touches, making physical relations nearly impossible. She wants a cure for her mutant powers.

There's sudden reversals in which it seems Saibra is killed by a "fail-safe" left by the Architect. Psi follows not too long after.

Then all is revealed as the Doctor and Clara confront the bank owner. It turns out the bank owner has her own clones operating the bank and has the mate of the Teller captive in order to get the Teller's service. The two beings are the last of their kind.

It turns out - predictably - that the Doctor is "the Architect". He gives the bank owner a way to contact him for when she's old and regretting all the terrible things she's done. She contacts him as he's dying, starting the chain of events that becomes the episode.

All in all, it was a fun romp. The story felt rushed and cramped in parts, but it was tons better than the naval-gazing nonsense from "Listen".

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Review: "Listen"

Aaaand we're back to Steven Moffat's writing for the latest episode of "Doctor Who".


Spoilers, masked with a font tag... blah blah blah.







































































Still there? Okay, you were warned...


The episode starts with the Doctor musing about some kind of hypothetical creature that has evolved a perfect method for hiding. He's seeming a bit manic, though there's a bit of creepy stuff in the TARDIS that lends credence to the idea that the Doctor is not actually alone.

Cue Clara having her date with Danny (aka Rupert) Pink, her fellow teacher. The date goes poorly. There is much mutual head-banging over both Clara and Danny having classic date awkwardness issues. Blah-blah-blah.

The Doctor grabs Clara from her apartment and has her plug into the TARDIS mainframe for... um... reasons... so they can go to a point in her timeline when she had a weird dream about something being under the bed in order for the Doctor to pursue his bug hunt.

Clara gets a call while plugged into the TARDIS, causing the TARDIS to go to Danny Pink's childhood where she interacts with the young Rupert Pink (he changes his name later) in a boy's home.

Turns out there is something creepy going on. Clara and the young Rupert encounter a thing on Rupert's bed that hides under a blanket. The Doctor intervenes and he, Clara, and Rupert convince the never-seen thing that it can go away. It leaves, both the room and the story.

Clara has the Doctor take her to the tail end of her date disaster where she tries to reconnect with the adult-Rupert-now-called-Danny, but makes a slip by calling him "Rupert" when she's not supposed to know his name.

The date ends badly again. A guy in a spacesuit then comes along and lures Clara back into the TARDIS.

Turns out the guy in the spacesuit - who looks like Danny/Rupert is a descendant of Danny (and probably Clara) who blew a time-travel experiment and wound up at the end of the Universe.

The Doctor takes them to the end of the Universe so descendent-boy can pack. The Doctor and Clara then try to see if there's really something hiding at the end of the Universe that may be his mysterious hidden alien.

It's ambiguous if there ever is an alien. The Doctor gets knocked out by a hull-breach and Clara plugs into the TARDIS again to flee... this time accidentally to the Doctor's childhood where she gives him cloying words of wisdom against being afraid of the dark.

Everyone goes home to their respective timelines, Clara and Danny get busy snogging. The Doctor gets no closure. No sign is ever seen of these hidden aliens again or why anyone even needs to care about them.

Okay, that should take care of the spoilery-bits.

The episode was classic Moffat: great mood and ambiance with fantastic setup, then utterly falls short on delivery. The plot details are all about a cool gimmick with no proper delivery or attention to continuity or details. Mix in some cloying, overly-sentimental and navel-gazing nonsense and there's your story.

Another bit of cotton candy. He gets points for the awesome mood but the weak, disjointed, incoherent story kind of spoiled it for me.

Why is it so hard to write a goddamn story?

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Review: "Robot of Sherwood"

FINALLY!

A goddamn "Doctor Who" episode that didn't feel as though it was written by a deranged five-year-old on acid.

So, standard deal. I'm going to offer my opinions and they'll contain spoilers. I'll try to obscure them with that font tag, but... well... it may not work, so be warned.




























































































Still there? Okay...









"Robot of Sherwood" is written by the ever-brilliant Mark Gatiss. Plot summary:

The TARDIS is in the vortex. The Doctor offers Clara the choice of their next destination as he works away writing obscure stuff on a chalkboard and licking food off a spoon. Clara says she wants to meet Robin Hood.

The Doctor assures Clara that Robin Hood is a myth, but takes her to Sherwood Forest all the same to prove he's not real.

And that's when they meet Robin Hood.

The Doctor duels Robin Hood in a somewhat ludicrous battle with Robin using a sword and the Doctor using a spoon. The Doctor mostly wins, establishing animosity between the Time Lord and the outlaw.

The Doctor and Clara go to meet the Merry Men and learn of the whole Sheriff of Nottingham deal.

The Doctor is convinced Robin Hood and his Merry Men are not real, despite scientific evidence to the contrary. The one thing that the Doctor finds to be off is the weather. The sun is shining and the forest green in Autumn.

Meanwhile, the Sheriff has taken away a damsel in distress with faceless knights at his beck and call. His interest is in gathering slave labor and gold.

Robin Hood intends to interrupt the legendary archery contest. Clara warns him it is a trap but he claims to already know and intend to interrupt all the same.

The archery contest goes down as expected, though the Doctor trumps it by his own fancy archery seeming to be a match for Robin Hood. The Sheriff's guards come to arrest everyone and in a battle, one has its arm cut off revealing the Sheriff's men to be robots with laser-beams that shoot out of their faces.

And then the fun begins.

The Doctor, Clara, and Robin Hood are captured. After some bickering in a cell, Clara is taken to the Sheriff where she learns that the robots come from a crashed spacecraft and they elicited the Sheriff's aid. The Sheriff gathers gold to help them repair their ship and they will help the Sheriff conquer the world.

The Doctor and Robin, in the meantime, argue and bicker endlessly (and stupidly). They finally cooperate to escape and stumble across the control center for the spaceship. Turns out the Sheriff's castle is the spaceship in disguise. The spaceship and its robot crew is going to "the Promised Land" (the strange and somewhat stupid story-arc for this season) and they crashed on Earth.

The Doctor determines that the ship is too badly damaged. If it tries to take off, the explosion will obliterate half of England.

Another fight. Robin Hood escapes with Clara. The Doctor is captured by the Sheriff.

Robin interrogates Clara on what she knows of Robin Hood from history. The Doctor, in the meantime meets up with the girl captured earlier in the episode and brings about a revolt of the captives, using plates and trays to reflect the robot lasers and destroy most of the robots.

Robin and Clara then arrive and it's all Robin vs. the Sheriff. Robin wins, the Sheriff falls into a vat of gold (ouch). They flee the launching spaceship. The ship takes off but can't get into orbit. The Doctor, a wounded Robin Hood, and Clara use the golden arrow won from the archery contest to shoot gold into the spaceship (in fairness, that was probably the stupidest part of this whole story).

The spaceship gets into orbit and blows up.

The Doctor and Clara leave. Robin learns he is not considered a historical figure. He seems cool with it.

The TARDIS fades away and the saved damsel-in-distress appears behind it. Turns out she's Maid Marion, who Robin has been looking for but somehow unable to find. Happy kissing reunion. Good times.



So, yeah. Gatiss wrote an episode that was silly but felt more true to classic "Doctor Who" than anything I've seen in a good, long time. Classic villains, robots, the Doctor having to resort to tricks rather than exclusively using the sonic screwdriver, and not too much focus on the Doctor.

There were parts I found disappointing: I wasn't keen on how ridiculously-contrary the Doctor was. I enjoyed him being dark and crotchety, but that got old fast.



Overall, pretty entertaining episode. Best one of the season. I hope Gatiss writes many more.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Belaboring

So it's September. 2014 is blazing along nicely, it seems.

The rugrats are all in school, causing all sorts of traffic hell.

Labor Day is behind us and with it, the delightful days of sloth. I took a five day weekend and my only regret was my empty bank account.

Oh, and maybe watching "Into the Dalek". Yeesh, that was a bad episode. I'm getting soured on the Capaldi Doctor pretty quickly. I expected the first episode to suck, but the obligatory Dalek one was just a horrible mishmash of stupid.

Working my way through "Among Thieves" by Douglas Hulick. Delightful read thus far. I expect I'll pick up the next book after I finish this one. I'm trying to savor it and take my time. I have a small backlog of books for when I do finish, but still, I'm in no rush.

I can't freakin' believe it's September already.