Thursday, March 24, 2022

Paramount's Scream (2022)


 


I was hesitant to watch Scream because I'm a LOOOOOONG way from being the world's biggest fan of reboots, but it wasn't really a reboot in the same way that the new Ghostbusters  wasn't a reboot, so I figured I'd check it out. If nothing else, it was a movie with Courtney Cox and Neve Campbell in it right? I've had a thing for both of those women for years. (NEWSFLASH: They're still beautiful.) And turns out that I was right: It's not a reboot, it's a requel.

There are all kinds of rules about what makes a requel versus what makes a sequel versus what constitutes a reboot, but Scream definitely is one. It's all explained in one of the movies meta moments and honestly, it wouldn't BE Scream without the meta moments. Those have to be there and they were. There has never been a Scream  (or for that matter, one of its Scary Movie parodies) that wasn't very heavily meta. What would be over the line in any other entertainment, on- or off-screen, is normal and necessary for Scream and, as someone who saw the original Scream  in movie theaters back during the Clinton Administration, I can assure you that they did it right once again. 

Seriously, this was a good movie. It had the kill scenes, the jump moments, the circuitous logic, the big plot twist, and everything else you would expect. Scream is a whodunit wrapped in a slasher flick and they pulled this one off brilliantly. The only thing it was missing was the popcorn and that's my fault. I had two bags and just didn't put one in the microwave.

To be fair, I'm uhhh...

Not totally certain that was the films fault. I just can't think of who else's fault it might be.


Listen, I've never admitted to anything being my fault. Just ask my ex-wife.

Anyway...

I like the new cast of youngsters. Scream  started out as a movie about young people and it looks like the franchise is headed back that way. I approve. Running for your life from psychotic killers is a bad career choice in your 40s (which is where the remaining original cast members are). Us forty-somethings don't have the high enery levels, physical conditioning and ability to bounce back once injured that we did twenty years ago. There is a reason most professional athletes retire before they hit forty and it's not because they don't love the millions.

Which isn't to say that the original cast members aren't important to the movie. They for sure are and their presence makes sense. I remember reading somewhere about how Leonard Nimoy had refused to do Star Trek: Generations because there was no reason for Spock to be there. The character served no purpose. That's not the case here. All three returning Screamers are there for valid reasons and are central to what's going on. You won't see any "human exclamation points" here.

I a world where school shootings continue to happen because they get press, the Scream franchise has a visceral realism that other franchises just don't. Schools get shot up by evil assholes who want to get their faces on TV, so why wouldn't someone go to a town with a history of serial killers whose exploits get made into movies and kill people? Don't get me wrong. I'm not encouraging it. I'm just saying that this story hits close to home and it makes the fear more real. A Nightmare on Elm Street movie might be scary in the moment, but on some level you know that no dead guy is ever going to murder you in your dreams. When copycat killings happen in real life, it's easy to see something like the plot of a  Scream movie occurring. I'm honestly kind of surprised that it hasn't.

Somewhere out there exists an EMT/trauma surgeon type that's going to tell me I'm wrong about this, but the injuries looked totally realistic to me. Even down to the blood spatter (not spray! I watched CSI, so I know this) on the walls, floors and the characters themselves. This movie left me disgusted when I needed to be and in shock when I needed to be.

Speaking of in shock, I want to compliment both the writers and the actresses here. Sydney Prescott (played by Neve Campbell) and Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) have been through a lot in the previous four movies. It would have been very easy to write and play them as jaded and immune to the types of reactions that most people would have upon encountering some of what is in this movie. In some parts, they actually are. But in the parts where you need to feel the shock that the characters would, those two characters shine.  It wasn't until I sat down to write this that I thought about how well those scenes were done, but they were flawless. I should probably mention David Arquette as Dewey Riley here as well. He played his part well but, to be honest, I've never been a fan of either the character or the actor. Still, he did a better job than I expected him to and I really enjoyed him.

Anyone who says that horror movies in general, or Scream movies in particular, are not highly formulaic is lying. That much having been said, that's part of why I enjoy them. You never know what the details are going to be, but there's always the sense that, at least in a vague way, you know what's coming up. It's an unthought of comfort when someone is screaming, the blood is flying and you're starting to get that queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach. That is very much here. As part of the generation that grew up on Michael Myers, Freddie Kreuger, Jason Voorhies, Pinhead and whoever else I'm forgetting you have an expectation. Out there in Internetland, some egghead is complaining that the plot of Scream is the result of a formula. They're right. They're also an idiot. OF COURSE IT'S FORMULAIC. THEY'VE BEEN MAKING THESE TYPES OF MOVIES FOR DECADES NOW BECAUSE IT WORKS. Moviegoers love the formula. So seriously, go file the point off of your head and join the rest of us who like to have a good time, If you want big serious boring crap go watch something that won a  Nebula or a Hugo. I'll be over here with the people having a good time. For those of you who like to watch something you can enjoy, go watch Scream. You'll be glad you did.


Bottom Line: 5.0 out of 5 Long Bladed Knives

Scream
Paramount Pictures, 2022

Scream is available for purchase at the following link. If you click the link and buy literally anything from Amazon I get a small percentage at no additional cost to you.


Scream

Monday, January 31, 2022

About the Maus Thing




A school district in Tennessee has banned teaching a graphic novel (That's a fancy term for a really long comic book.) named Maus. Maus is a take on the Holocaust, retelling the story with the Jews as mice and Nazis as cats. The school board states that they banned it because of nudity and bad language. 

For the record, I have purchased (and never got around to reading) a copy of the book for myself that I lost in the move when I got divorced and have gifted another copy to my oldest daughter. I also have a BA in History and my senior thesis/capstone paper was written on the involvement of the Heer, the German Army (not to be confused with the Wehrmacht which was the Nazi equivalent to the Department of Defense) in the Holocaust. I have read everything from translations of primary sources in the form of German After Action Reports to transcripts of the Nuremberg Trials to Ordinary Men to various writings of Omer Bartov...

The list goes on. 

Then add to that the fact that, at least according to my father I have some Jewish ancestry (meaning that I am in some way related to every one if the oeople who died in those camps or from the mass shootings), and well...

You'd be hard pressed to find a person who believes more strongly in the importance of Holocaust education than me. I mean that sincerely.

Boobies and bad language happen in the real world and, honestly, you can't accurately recount some events without the atmosphere of profanity and exploitation that those elements add.

And yet...

I'm not a big fan of using things like comic books/Hollywood movies as educational aids to begin with. The amount of historical inaccuracies that creep into one of these works is unreal. I seriously (and I KID YOU NOT) took a course in Japanese history in college in which we read a scholarly paper detailing the historical inaccuracies in The Last Samurai. If I recall correctly, and I may not since it's been awhile, it spanned somewhere in the twenty-five to thirty page range. 

If you've seen Glory, you know that the Fifty Fourth Massachusetts Regiment was not issued uniforms when they first arrived. Of course, what you know is wrong. The Fifty- Fourth most certainly did suffer from racism and discrimination. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying or an idiot (possibly both if they think you're dumb enough to believe them) but they got their uniforms. Now, the scene where they're paid a smaller wage and therefore refuse to accept payment is one hundred percent true. It's complicated. We were shown Glory in high school. We all took the work to be one hundred percent accurate. I mean, our teacher showed it to us, right? Except that it wasn't and that has altered our perception of history.

As another example, there was the movie The Tuskegee Airmen. In that movie, we see two senators arguing about the existence of a flight program for black men in the military. The senator from New York (I think, it's been awhile) is in favor of the program. His southern counterpart is not. The debate was real. The two senators depicted in the movie are not. And yes, Eleanor Roosevelt really did fly with one of the Tuskegee Airmen shortly before they deployed to Europe, so that part is real. It gets complicated. The Tuskegee Airmen came out after I graduated from high school, so I'm not sure if it was ever used in a classroom or not. I can only say, that despite viewing the movie so many times that the VHS tape I purchased it on fell apart and was eaten by my VCR, I never saw it in a classroom.

Please, if you value your life don't even mention the phrases "historical accuracy" and "John Wayne movie" in front of a college professor. Since I value mine, DEFINITELY don't mention it if I'm standing between the two of you. If and when I see a real fact in a work featuring John Wayne, I promise to inform you of its existence. Given the fact that my father and grandfather (on my Mom's side) were both John Wayne fanatics I've seen a lot but I'm not able to name one movie that got anything right. Actually, that's not technically true. There really were Green Berets in Vietnam. Granted, they called THEMSELVES, US Army Special Forces...

Anyway...

I cannot comment on the historical accuracy and inaccuracies in Maus because I haven't read it other than the obvious. Jews and Nazis were both human beings and not animals. I'm willing to bet that there are a lot more than inaccuracies than just that and I'm pretty sure your average junior high school student is smart enough to know that. And yes, I am aware that Art Spiegelman, author of Maus, based his work on interviews with his grandfather. That doesn't make them one hundred percent copies though, and I'm not sure I trust this book to get it right. 

The Left, of course, is screaming racism because that is what the left does. The problem with the Left and their Critical Social Theory (which encompasses Critical Race theory but also things like the LGBT and Feminist movements) is that they refuse to consider causes outside of race, gender, orientation, etc. When they refuse to consider causes outside of those bounds then everything is going to come up either -ist or -phobic. That's just life. Considering whether nudity and profanity are proper fare for a junior high audience would never have crossed their mind because they are blind to even understanding the argument, let alone evaluating it.

So, while I believe in Freedom of Speech and the Press, I don't believe that a persons right to say or right something entitles them to have their works used as a teaching aid. We wouldn't use a movie stating that there is no need to balance equations in either an algebra or chemistry class because of Freedom of Speech. And so, what I'm actually saying here is that I'm not sure Maus was the correct book to be teaching to kids anyway. It should've been left in the library for a curious student to find if they went looking later. It was, after all, watching John Wayne movies with all their inaccuracies that led me to love history in the first place. There are factual works that could have been used to teach the Holocaust Unit. So, for my money, I'd prefer that Maus and other works of historical fiction be kept out of classrooms, even if I have praised them previously.

Maus
Art Spiegelman
Pantheon, 1986


Maus and related works are available for purchase at the links below. If you click the links and buy literally anything from Amazon I get a small percentage at no additional cost to you.





Monday, January 17, 2022

Declan Finn's White Ops

What do you get when you mix Star Wars, James Bond, The Hardy Boys, Chuck Norris and The Manchurian Candidate? Honestly, I get excited, but if you’re Declan Finn and you mix all of those things you get White Ops.  What a thrill ride. Seriously, this was a really good time but it’s really hard to classify outside of being a Science Fiction novel. There is a lot here though.


Sean P Ryan (descendant of Sean AP Ryan from Finn’s Pius Trilogy) is the baddass’s badass and the main character of White Ops. Not only does he come from a long line of “Rangers” in the space sense but he is pretty much unbeatable in hand to hand and small unit combat. He has a reputation and people (not all of them human by any stretch of the imagination) like to test him, but it goes further than that. Ryan has a tendency to find himself at the heart of trouble. And when he finds himself looking for something that he just knows has to be there…

Yup. The fecal matter hits the rotary air impeller at a high rate of speed. The mess gets all over everything. Ryan doesn’t seem to care though. He finds himself just as worried about what it takes to get the job done as Captain Benjamin Cisco does in ST:DS9 Episode “In the Pale Moonlight.” Which is to say, not at all. You could say he just doesn’t give a…

Nevermind. This is a family blog. I won’t go there. Let’s just say that fornication is not high on Ryan’s list of priorities while considering the costs paid by those who have crossed him. As such, he shall distribute zero coituses.


Or sumfin’


Wait…


Did that make any sense? Probably not. Too bad. I’m leaving it in.


So anyway…

Listen


You need to check White Ops out. I was kind of surprised actually. See, even if I have read a lot of an author (and both of my long time fans will be aware that I’ve read and reviewed a ton of Finn’s stuff for this blog) it can be kind of hard for me to get into a new series with all new characters. Seriously, I often struggle through the first probably one to two hundred pages of the average new series while I try to figure out what’s going on, who all of these people are, why any of this matters and where any of this is going, but for whatever reason, I was into this thing from the second it started. Seriously, it took me the better part of a night to read the first, like, fifty pages of David Weber’s On Basilisk Station and about half an hour to read the first hundred pages of White Ops. I’m not sure how Finn did that, but he did.


Speaking of White Ops (which are actually Black Ops, but done for the purpose of good) I have to wonder about something. See, I’ve got a degree in history and the universe that White Ops is set in obviously has a lot of history to it. So, like, who wants to team up, raid Finn’s house and steal all of his notes? I’ll let you read them after I get done. I mean, this is a well crafted story and there’s enough backstory listed to make things make sense but I need more. I know this is going to be a trilogy and we’ll probably get more later but it’s not later yet and I’m like that spoiled little girl in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I don’t care how. I want it now.


This is definitely a departure from some of Finn’s earlier work. Ryan is most definitely not a saint. He was raised by a Catholic order and educated accordingly, but there is no prayer in the books that I remember. I will give Ryan this much though; As Father Mulcahey once said, his “Heart was in the right place, even if his hands weren’t.” I’m all for supporting the church but I’m not at all certain that’s how God told us to do it. I must’ve missed that day of Sunday School. I think. Or maybe…

Yeah, nobody’s perfect and that’s a pretty good system if you subtract the laws of God and man, I guess. It certainly works. `At any rate, if you’re here looking for Tommy Nolan, you’re not going to find him. You won’t even find Marco Catalano. Sean P Ryan is his own man and he stands out well. 


Of course, I haven’t said a word about all of the different types of aliens in White Ops. There are oodles and bunches of them, each with their own culture, history, temperament and physical appearance. They’re well thought out. Finn has obviously studied some real world cultures. He includes bits and pieces here and there and that helps the stuff he created kind of stick together.


The technology in White Ops is pretty awesome as well. Some of it is familiar. A lot of it is not. At least one tech is new to me as a science fiction reader. I’m pretty excited about that. I’ve been reading SF since the Eighties and I know all the tropes. I like seeing something that’s fun, but doesn't quite fit with anything I’ve seen before. I also like a bit of fantasy with my SF, so it works that Finn throws in a bit of psychic activity as well.


Finn himself has stated that this was the first novel he wrote. That does make sense because I can see a lot of the enthusiasm of the newbie in his writing here. That much having been said, I’m glad he waited to publish it because I don’t think he could have told the story this well as a newbie. This one took some panache to pull off. I’m guessing he’s edited this thing approximately 0876876897689768768769876986897689698768769869868967 times. As quickly as he writes, it’s not like it took him that long to get it on paper. It all works and it makes too much sense to be something that was written by someone their first time out. He definitely rocked it out here.


Bottom Line: 5.0 out of 5 Mystery Aliens


White Ops

Declan Finn

Tuscan Bay Books, 2022


White Ops is available at the following link. If you click the link and buy literally anything from Amazon, I get a small percentage at no additional cost to you.



Saturday, January 8, 2022

Columbia Pictures Ghostbusters: Afterlife


You guys! You guys! You guys! I heard the sound! I heard the sound!

If you're a Ghostbusters fan you know the sound. If you're not, GO WATCH SOME GHOSTBUSTERS SO YOU CAN HEAR THE SOUND!!!

And trust me, the amount of pure, unadulterated AWESOME contained in the sound will make it obvious what the sound is. I know you’re skeptical but it really is that cool. And when you point it out, you too can be known to your friends as ‘Captain Observo, King of the Obvious.’ I mean, it’s a hard earned title that comes with a massive amount of responsibility, but it’s worth it.


For those that missed it; I just got home from watching Ghostbusters: Afterlife.


So like, yeah totally awesome. But before I get to the awesome part (other than the unbelievably amazing sound of THE SOUND) I have a bone to pick with Columbia Pictures and it’s writing staff.

Listen guys, you had to have known that there were going to be a bunch of old dudes watching this flick for the nostalgia value alone. (See, this is how you get to be Captain Observo.) And listen, I have a lot of love for young ladies with glasses who love things like science and math. (If you don’t know, that describes both of my daughters. They are - being 100% serious - both in accelerated science and math classes and their daddy is so proud it hurts.) But DUDE - WHY IS THE SMART SCIENCY CHICK THE TWELVE YEAR OLD?!?!?!?!?!??!?!!?!? Or, I mean, maybe you could have made the junior high aged female smart and sciency AND made her mom the same way, because honestly, all of the former pimple faced freaks who went days without eating so that they could save up their lunch money to buy tickets to the first two movies would have LOVED a woman approaching their age that was, like, smart and stuff. Seriously, I’d compare nerdy girls to gold only I don’t want to insult nerdy girls like that. As far as a worthy compliment, sorry ladies. I got nothin’. You’re just that unbelievably awesome.


Why, yes I have been single for a long time. What brought that up?


*SIGH* Yes, Callie was a good character. I enjoyed her. I even get why she wasn’t written to be sciency. I’m just that guy sometimes.


And while we’re on the topic of girls:

I’m not telling you to kiss the pretty lady, brother. I’m just telling you that I went to high school with a guy who wouldn’t and we still dog him about it. In his forties. Your call.


Anyway…


So yeah, I enjoyed the movie. It wasn’t what I expected exactly, but that’s okay because it’s better than what I expected and people, I expected a lot.


There is a lot more to the latest installment in the Ghostbusters mythos than I thought there would be. The first two were popcorn movies. They were fun and engaging but somehow I missed just exactly how much lore there was. With something like Lord of the Rings  or any D&D related world, it’s all there and it’s obvious. Somehow, I learned it all without knowing I learned it all with Ghostbusters. To be fair, I haven’t seen the 2016 remake because the trailers were weak and everyone I know that saw the movie hated it. I therefore cannot comment on it directly.


I don’t do the thing where I remember who produced and directed every movie/TV show ever. That’s just not me. I’m thinking that whoever wrote Ghostbusters: Afterlife must have been related to Stranger Things somehow or is at least a fan, and I don’t say that just because Finn Wolfhard is in both. Seriously, this movie feels like Stranger Things on it’s best day only better. Kids in the lead, adults in support, kids get in trouble…

So much  fun. Ghostbusters: Afterlife is the movie to take your kid who doesn’t remember the original Ghostbusters movies too when you want to have a fandom to share with them. I can guarantee that any kid with an interest in geeky things will love this movie just as much as the old fart sitting next to them. And then you can be Mr(s). Sneakybutt and get the kid to watch the first two because they love the new one.


It’s got the feeling of the first two movies as well. Not only do we get to see some old friends, there might be an old enemy or two along for the ride, and possibly not in the way you, or at least I, anticipated.


They kept a lot of the old ghostbusting technology and you would think it would look outdated but the way they presented it makes it work. Like, I totally got behind the Eighties look of some of the props. Partially because I remember things that way but also because it works in the setting.

And about the setting: Most of Ghostbusters: Afterlife does not take place in the big city. I liked that about it. I’m a straight up city-boy who has spent his life thinking that driving fifteen minutes to get McDonalds was hardship, but I’ve also spent time in the country, riding in the back of pickups and heading out to the woods to get away from the old people. The feeling is right here. Writers, director, actors, they all get it. And if all this country flavored leads into something straight out of an epic fantasy novel, I’m with it. That was maybe the best part.


Any Ghostbusters fan knows that we lost Harold Ramis awhile back. If you’ve been paying attention to nerdish news and rumors it should come as no surprise that the Egon character that he played so well makes an appearance as a CGI construct. I don’t want to say too much here and spoil things, but let me say that Egon’s actions were in character, entertaining and necessary to the plot. If the CGI had a Star Wars feel to it, then that’s good too.

Seriously, if you haven’t seen Ghostbusters: Afterlife do so. Now. The script, the nostalgia, seeing our old heroes and the new generation all make this movie an instant favorite. You DO NOT want to miss it.


Bottom Line: 5.0 out of 5 Proton Packs (whiiiiiine)


Ghostbusters: Afterlife
Columbia Pictures, 2022


Links to Ghostbusters: Afterlife are listed below. If you click a link and buy literally anything from Amazon I get a small percentage at no cost to you.





Monday, December 27, 2021

The Romanov Rescue by Justin Watson, Kacey Ezell and Tom Kratman

 

There have always been times in history where things didn't go the way they should have. Sometimes it's a matter of luck. Sometimes it's a matter of bad actors. And sometimes, sometimes, one or two moments can lead to the slaughter of millions. One of those moments happened in Russia in 1918. The Bolsheviks, led Vladimir Lenin, seized power from the Russian monarchy and, as Leftist governments always do, proceeded to slaughter millions over the next several decades while simultaneously subjecting anyone who voiced an unapproved opinion to at least Cancel Culture and possibly imprisonment. But here's the thing: It didn't have to be that way. And The Romanov Rescue by Tom Kratman, Justin Watson and Kacey Ezell shows an attempt by Tsarist elements within Russia to end Communist rule only months into their reign with the only symbol that could have been adequately used against them; The Romanovs, Russia's royal family.

There is a lot to The Romanov Rescue and I loved the complexity of it.  The authors gave us interpersonal conflict, military conflict, lots of challenges to solve, plenty of action and just a touch of romance. It's all there. The characters feel real. The conflicts that started the mess contained within the pages (IE World War I and The Russian Revolution) both actually did exist and seem to be, as far as I can tell from my limited research into both, dead on. (Now some history professor is going to read this and argue with me about the spelling of a city's name when the original name was written in another alphabet. You only think I'm joking.)

Something that you can appreciate in a tome like The Romanov Rescue is that all three authors are military and this is, like most Alternate History, a work of military fiction. Tom Kratman and Justin Watson are both retired Army officers and Kacey Ezell is a currently serving Air Force chopper pilot and a Major, last I heard. I get complaints from military people on occasion, upset about the lack of a true military feeling in works of fiction written by people who haven't served. You will not have that problem here. These are people who have been there, done that and gotten the t-shirt. When you crack this bad boy open it's going to be the real deal.

It occurs to me that I'm kinda because I didn't review this book for my annual Memorial Day event, but I suppose I should just get over myself.

Something I really like about The Romanov Rescue is that it's not just a shoot 'em up novel. I mean, you get some combat, but there's more to it than bullets and  blowuptuations. We get a good look at what it was like to plan and train for an operation at the end of the Great War. From the construction of ranges, to feeding the troops to finding horses and donkeys to haul stuff around while keeping them healthy and on and on we see the real side of things. Yes, the troops who do the shooting are important but so are the people who get them the guns and the bullets to shoot with. The authors have done a terrific job of making sure that all gets in here. That's not to say that the book bogs down. We get to be in on a few of the discussions and get a solid idea of what's needed to pull the mission off, but we don't have to watch all the paperwork get filed.

I spoke a bit about interpersonal conflict earlier, but TRR features a lot of inTRA personal conflict too. Some of the characters aren't sure about their assignments. Others think their assignments might be changed in a way they find objectionable. It's part of the life and it's in there. It also adds a lot to the characters because members of the military, regardless of whose military, are not simply automatons that follow their programming. They are actual flesh and blood human beings with likes, dislikes and qualms. Yes, the physical challenges are real. The mental challenges are no less real.

It feels weird typing thins, but I'd recommend The Romanov Rescue to any military historian out there. It's not for the works scholarly value but for what it reminds us all of: That people who serve in the military really are people. That's a point that frequently gets lost in historical writing where, at best, you might talk about one or two generals as individuals. Reading something like this every now and again is both a brain massage and a reminder to keep those people in mind. Oh, and war does make for strange bedfellows. I'm just sayin'.

The action sequences tend to be short, sharp, and violent and that's just how I like them. Some of the action takes place as part of training and functions as both entertainment and a warning that training to do dangerous things is in and of itself frequently dangerous. A bit of overt gun-geeking does take place, but in a book about a military operation, it fits. We need to know what the troops are using and how it works. If I actually enjoyed the discussion well, the point of reading the book was to enjoy it, right?

In short, I'd recommend The Romanov Rescue to anyone who likes to read things that are fun and interesting. I mean, if The Scarlet Letter is your thing, I don't see TRR as being for you. Dull and depressing have their place in classrooms, but I like to read things that I enjoy. I found someone I could root for (and if you're not a fan of feudalism I get it, but they were fighting Communists.) I found a group of villains I could root against. I got to spend some time with some people I'd love a chance to meet, if only they actually existed. Then again, I wasn't surprised. I've loved both Kratman and Ezell as authors for quite awhile now and, if this was my first experience with Watson, I think he at least lived up to the company he was in and, from me, that's high praise indeed.

Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 Flashbangs

The Romanov Rescue
Justin Watson, Kacey Ezell and Tom Kratman
Baen Books, 2021

The Romanov Rescue is available for purchase at the following link. If you click the link and buy literally anything from Amazon, I get a small percentage at no extra cost to you.



Monday, December 13, 2021

Rest in Peace Anne Rice


 


There was this one time, at Band Camp...


Where a bunch of my friends were talking about a movie they couldn't wait to go see when it came out that weekend. They had wanted to go Friday, but band camp lasted till Saturday and we had a performance right before dismissal so...

Yeah, life sucks that way sometimes I guess.

It turns out that the name of that movie was Interview With the Vampire. I went and saw it with a couple of other people that weekend. (Hey, we had a two hundred and twenty-five member marching band that year. I can't help it if I couldn't take ALL of them with me. Although it would have been nice if that one flute player had come...)

Here's the thing though: None of them told me it had anything to do with a book. Yes, you read that right. I had no clue that there was a book involved. So I totally went and totally loved it, (Remember how it had Tom Cruise and that one other guy in it? It turns out that Brad Pitt is a REALLY good actor but this is the first movie that I remember him from.) but the first inkling I had that it existed in book form was when I bought the VHS tape from Columbia House a few years later (remember them?) and Anne Rice showed up to talk about it. How cool was that? Here I was, finding out that I could read the book and watching my first ever author interview (hey, it was the 90s okay?) all at the same time. I was impressed. I headed out to B Dalton Bookseller the next day and picked up a copy of Interview and also The Vampire Lestat because Lestat was a totally awesome character and I mean, it was book two...

I fell in love that day. I fell in love with New Orleans (which I still haven't seen). I fell in love with homoerotic vampires. And I fell in love with an author named Anne Rice. 

Listen folks, I could read before I started kindergarten. I've read everything from Dick and Jane to scholarly history and an awful lot of science fiction and fantasy. I've read the Bible. I've read parts of the Book of Mormon. I've read bits and pieces of the classics for classes I've taken. I have read very damn few writers of Anne Rice's caliber and none that could paint a picture the way that woman could. Seriously, is it possible to read her work and not feel like you've physically been to the headquarters of the Talamasca? 

Seriously. I've ridden horses with Louis. I've been to Lestat's rock concerts. I've brooded with Armand. I've faced the sun with Claudia. I've toured through pyramids with Akasha. I feel like I'm part of Maharet's Great Family. I have been to heaven and hell, once again with Lestat.

And yes, Memnoch the Devil will always be my favorite Anne Rice novel. Why? Partially because of the stakes, Lestat was literally helping Satan save the people, and yes that does make sense if you read the novel. Satan, of course, is the Great Deceiver and Lestat does have a certain amount of vanity to him...

Yeah, most of the non-fiction I've read hasn't been this believable and I've read non-fic about events I can remember. 

But really, a lot of it was how well Rice set the scene. When Satan took Lestat to Heaven, I almost wanted to put the book down and start looking for my grandpa. When Satan took Lestat to Hell, I was tempted to see if I could find some of the great nutcases from history and ask them what they were thinking. Except he didn't call it Hell. It was Sheol I think. I need to reread that and if you haven't read it then what are you doing with your life? If you're smart, you're heading off to the bookstore and grabbing a copy.

You know what's weird? I read story on top of story about places that don't exist. I had been to Narnia, Middle Earth, The United Colonies of Cobol, Vulcan, Romulus and a million other places before I got my driver's license. Since I've been to other places. Hogwarts, Z'ha'Dum, Krispos,  I  can't even name them all. None of them, not a single one, has ever felt as exotic as Anne Rice's New Orleans.

I will grant you that I've never been there, but I have to wonder if a New Orleans native wouldn't read one of Rice's novels and wonder if they hadn't been someplace else. Someplace familiar, but different. A place much more mysterious and just cooler. It's a weird comparison, and don't I know it, but reading Anne Rice setting a scene in New Orleans is like the time another one of my favorite authors wrote an open letter to her husband as a blog post on their anniversary. It's the kind of love that, while certainly pure at its core, has a certain sensual nature to it. When Anne Rice described New Orleans you didn't want to travel there. You didn't want to move there. You wanted to marry the whole stinkin' city, stinky sewers, sweaty tourists, and all.

I haven't talked much about Anne's Christ the Lord series and it's because I'm a bit uncomfortable doing so. There is something about a young Christ playing on a dusty street in Egypt that just fits...

But also feels a bit like heresy. Then again, I was just talking about Memnoch the Devil so color me hypocritical. Still and all, I loved those books and I think it's time for a reread. 

But yeah, one day after I've actually managed to write a completed novel and published it and become a world famous author, and I'm writing my how-to book because I've got writers block toward my fiction writing, I'm going to have to do a chapter on setting the scene and transporting your reader. The thing is, I won't be describing how I do it. My whole chapter is going to consist of a sales pitch for Anne Rice: "Go read her stuff," I'll say, "Figure out how she did it and do it that way. You'll be better than I'll ever have a chance of being because you'll have learned from the true master."

So farewell, Mrs. Rice. Fair winds and following seas. Third star from the right and straight on until morning. 


Some of Anne Rice's works are available at the links below. If you click a link and buy literally anything from Amazon, I get a small percentage at no cost to you.




Monday, August 9, 2021

J.A. Sutherland's Alexis Carew series




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Seriously, if you're an Honor Harrington fan and you haven't read J.A. Sutherland's Alexis Carew series, what are you doing with your life? And if you're an Alexis Carew fan who hasn't read Honor Harrington, what's wrong with you? 

Or sumfin' 

I mean, the two series are far from identical, but they have a lot in common. The plucky young woman who takes a position of authority in the navy, the career growth, the love interest, a certain willingness to do what  is necessary even if it doesn't -strictly speaking- match up with the exact wording of their orders as given, etc. 

 The thing is, we get to meet Alexis younger and follow her career sooner and that means, potentially at least, more death rides than Honor got to have. We all love that, right? The charge directly into fire, the blasting away, the shooting, the carnage, horror, it all works for those of us who like a particular kind of literature, and it's all here. This is combat in its gritty, horrible detail, and yet...


It's not what you'd expect from a typical work of Space Opera. I mean that. And the reason is because of how the combat and interstellar travel are conducted.

Combat in the Alexis Carew series is closer to that of the Age of Sail than David Weber ever dreamed of for his Honor Harrington series. Stop laughing. I'm serious. When Alexis charges into battle, she's not loading a missile. She's loading a cannon. Granted it's a cannonball coated in Gallenium to decrease the effects of Darkspace (keep reading, I'll get there) but it's a freaking cannon, on a rail that has to be loaded from the muzzle and fired over open sights. When Ms. Midshipwoman Carew goes into her first boarding action, she's not just armed with a flechette pistol, she's carrying a cutlass. Yes, just like pirates used to use. And she's not afraid to use it. She actually does really well with it.

Space travel is so Age of Sail that it hurts. Real space transits are made to Lagrangian points, where the ship transitions to Darkspace. This is where the Age of Sail thing really takes over. It works out that Darkspace is filled with dark matter, which flows and creates "winds" that ships can sail on. It also collects in places and creates dangerous "shoals" that ships can founder on. So it is really close to real life travel on the high seas circa the seventeen and eighteen hundreds. The ships are actually three masted (sticking off the sides and top of the ship one hundred and twenty degrees apart) so you get people actually working the masts. The best of the crew are referred to as "topmen" because they handle the highest sails. Add in the fact that dark matter causes shots to curve and drop like what would happen when firing a normal cannon on planet Earth and if it wasn't for the loss of oxygen and need for suits, you'd never know you weren't in a real world naval battle two hundred years ago. Sutherland did some serious research to write this novel and it shows. I don't know that John Paul Jones could have wrote a more accurate and entertaining account of combat at sea than Sutherland has.

Alexis Carew is not a character for the squeamish or for those of you who will rise up screaming about political correctness and strong female characters. Alexis is a teenage girl with a girl's smaller physical frame and more powerfully displayed emotions. She also starts out stuck on a world where she cannot inherit her grandfather's lands and political power due to her gender. That's why she takes to the stars. She is strong, proud, smart, tough and brave. Her guts get her through when nothing else will. l wanna buy this chick a drink, only I can't because she's too young. Also because she doesn't really exist, but nobody's perfect.

Alexis finds herself in a world where she is doubted by the provincials that she has chosen to protect. She puts them all to shame, not with her words but with her actions. This is a woman that I would gladly follow. She has the grit, the determination and, above all, the intelligence to lead a crew into their duty. That's not to say that she's the nicest person ever. Her job is to fight wars and wars are fought by killing people. It's that she understands her job and that mistakes on her part will cost lives on her side. She is also forced to accept that doing the right thing will sometimes lead to the deaths of her "lads". I won't say she's happy about it, but she doesn't shy away from it. Well, for the most part.

This is a series of books that goes much further toward showing the true costs of war on the people that survive it than anything else I've read. Alexis looks the horrors of war straight in the face...

And blinks.

Hard.

It almost ruins her. She struggles with the guilt of giving the orders she had to give. She feels the weight of every crew member she loses in combat. That's not a small amount, especially for such a young girl. She attempts to balance some of the losses against some of the lives she's saved, but it's not easy. There may be a bottle involved...

It gets ugly.

Let's face it though. War is ugly. What war does to people is ugly. This is a fairly accurate depiction, which means it's going to be ugly. Kudos to Sutherland for the hard work he put into creating a character that acts the way she really would. And no, I don't say that because she's a girl. Men act like this too and it's time we acknowledged the cost. 

There are six books to this series so far and I've read them all. Of course, I would read more but there aren't any more to read and I find myself somewhat vexed by that. Now, it happens that Sutherland had a somewhat rough 2020 (he's err... not the only one by the way) and didn't get any novels completed last year. I'll give him a pass because 2020 was pretty terrible, but still I've subscribed to his newsletter and I keep hoping to see an update about a new novel coming soon. It hasn't happened yet, but I'm confident that it will. The ending of the last novel lead me to believe that more was coming and that's all I'm gonna say about that.

Bottom Line: 5.0 out of 5 Cutlass Blades

Into the Dark/Mutineer/The Little Ships/HMS Nightingale/Privateer, The Queens Pardon
J.A. Sutherland
Self published, Various Years

The Alexis Carew Series is available for purchase at the following link. If you click the link and buy literally anything from Amazon, I get a small percentage of your purchase at no additional cost to you.