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Thursday, January 17, 2019

This Weeks Review Of...


Seventh Decimate
It was an immense treat to immerse myself in a new novel by one of my favorite authors, this time set in a world where war – cruel and terrible – has governed life for centuries.
But war is always bitter, and all the more so when armies are strengthened by sorcerers who can wield the Decimates of fire, wind, pestilence, earthquake, drought and lightning to rain death upon their enemies. Or at least they used to until someone or something stripped the land of magic, leaving its armies defenseless.
Prince Bifalt, eldest son of the Bellegerin king, is privately elated by such a turn of events, for he detests all forms of enchantment. Without it, however, the kingdom and its citizens will wither and die. As such, Bifalt is sent on a quest in search of a place of legend: the repository. A storehouse of all the knowledge – both magical and mundane – that has ever existed, in an effort to turn back the ravages wrought against his people.
The thing is, nobody in the land knows where such a place might be – or if it exists at all.
One thing’s for sure, the prince – a hard-headed, short tempered man – is in for a shock, for he is but a pawn in a much larger game of strategy than he could ever imagine.
The Seventh Decimate is an excellent adventure. Involving complex characters and superb story-telling, the master of the slow burn returns, weaving a world of mystery and intrigue that you won’t want to leave.
I can’t wait for the next installment.



Bird Box
An unknown force decimates the world’s population. Only, you never get to see it. If you did, you’d wind up like everybody else: dead!
A clever premise that keeps you hanging from beginning to end, for the closest you’ll get to discovering exactly what this malevolent force is, will be by watching other people’s reactions to it.
In the story, Sandra Bullock plays Malorie Hayes, a woman with two children desperate to find a place of safety. The thing is, to reach such a place, they have to traverse unknown forests and navigate treacherous rivers whilst blindfolded. If they dare take a peek, it could be their last. Thankfully, birds give warning of the entities presence, but only at the last second – so you have to stay sharp.
As you can imagine, their journey is fraught with danger and things don’t go to plan, and you really do find yourself caught up in their nightmare.
I can’t say more as I don’t want to give away the slightest hint of what transpires. Try it, it’s well worth the risk.

Saturday, January 5, 2019


My Review of Paperclip & The Handmaid’s Tale



Paperclip

I think it was only a month or so ago that I mentioned I liked to be surprised. You know, it’s like those occasions you sit down to watch a film or read a book and it ends up taking you unexpected places that please you no end?

Well, in “Paperclip” I experienced another one of those out-of-the-blue- moments that I thoroughly enjoyed. (Who would have thought?)

Carlie and Mickey are different from other children. They know things. Things they shouldn’t. A bit of a pain when they can’t exactly broadcast the fact without being thought of as weird or one sandwich short of a full picnic. Each tries to cope in their own way. Alas, people “like them” appear to act as a lodestone to others who are different. And that’s not always a good thing.

Based on a real life project, Paperclip is a clever paranormal psychological thriller, involving government conspiracies; national security at the highest level; Nazi scientists living under false identities; and killer stalkers with a penchant for being it the right place at the wrong time.
I thoroughly enjoyed it. The story is well constructed, engages you from the beginning, and adopts a pace that allows you to become involved in Carlie and Mickey’s lives as they try to make sense of why things keep happening to them.

Oh, and who’s the mysterious cowboy with a brute of a dog?
Make the effort to find out, you’ll be glad you did.



The Handmaid’s Tale (Seasons 1 & 2)

This TV series based on the 1985 Margaret Attwood novel of the same name is bound to divide opinion. Set in a dystopian near future, the world is suffering. Fertility rates among humans have dropped dramatically due to sexually transmitted disease and environmental pollution. Events are set in motion that lead to a second American civil war, resulting in the emergence of “Gilead”, a totalitarian theonomic government hungry for power and influence. Gilead’s society is hierarchical, aggressive and wholly militarized, and under the umbrella of resetting a proper balance, forces a new regime upon its citizens.

In a nutshell, only men retain any degree of autonomy, albeit controlled by the state. And women? They lose all their rights as individuals and are not allowed to read or write, open their own bank accounts, drive a car, etc. Nor can they hold position like doctors, scientists, or police officers. Basically, they become nothing more than property divided into various social classes: Wives – (the infertile spouse of a commander) is the highest status a woman can have, and they are expected to run households under the strict guidance of their husbands; Marthas are infertile housekeepers and cooks; Aunts (also infertile – you get the gist?) train and oversee the handmaidens; Econowives are lower-class fertile women who have a degree of freedom the Marthas and Aunts, etc, don’t have. In the series, they live under constant fear and are totally subservient to all the rules and regulations. And well they should be. At the drop of a hat, they can be forced into servitude as a handmaiden, and their spouses disposed of. And if they have children? Well, they are farmed out to “families” of commanders.

You’re starting to see how things are now, eh?

If anyone breaks the law? Men are executed, or, if powerful and influential enough, expected to submit to the biblical precept of “an eye for an eye”. In a woman’s case, if they aren’t executed outright, they’re sent to the colonies, where they’re worked to death clearing toxic waste.

With me so far?

Now we come to the handmaids. Distinguished by their red robes, the handmaids are supposedly afforded a place of great honor in Gilead, as they’re the only women who are fertile. Yeah right! (Strange how the econowives are overlooked?)

Basically, all they are there for is to produce children to repopulate Gilead asap. And how – pray tell – is this wonderful idea applied? I’ll tell you. They are raped on a regular basis by their male masters, who, if they are married, expect their wives to take part! (Oh yes). Even more infuriating, they try to ritualize the whole sordid affair by making out it is a solemn and sacred duty for everyone taking part.

Having grasped the basic concept of the way things are, we come to the actual series.

The story follows the life of June Osborne (Elizabeth Moss) who, before the world turns upside down, lives a happy life with her husband and child. In a series of flashback, we see the events that led to the rise of Gilead: Behind the scenes maneuvering to get the “right” men into positions of power; unrest; rioting; the implementation of martial law; an act of terrorism that eradicates the government . . . Ta-dah . . .Hello Gilead!

Unfortunately for June, neither she nor her husband pay attention to how serious things are getting and they leave it far too late to try and flee the former United States to Canada. They are caught, her husband is shot, her child is taken into care (for adoption to a commander’s family) and when it’s discovered she is fertile . . . THAT’s when her nightmare really begins.

She undergoes a brutal form of conditioning in an attempt to make her become subservient and compliant enough “to serve” her state. She is now property, and is no longer known by her given name. What she did before doesn’t matter. Her qualifications are irrelevant. She becomes Offred (literally, Of Fred) the name of her assigned commander (Fred Waterford) and his wife Serena Joy. If she steps out of line or says the wrong thing, she can expect to be beaten, tortured . . . or worse. And it really does get worse for those who retain the spark of defiance.

As you watch this series, you really feel for June’s plight, and that of a society so easily manipulated into giving up their rights to a bunch of egotistical, power-hungry autocrats whose only agenda is to look out for themselves. Nowhere is this displayed more poignantly, than when a handmaid gives birth. (I won’t explain here, you’ll see for yourself if you watch the series – but if you do, rest assured, it will enrage you).

It’s shocking, repulsive, heartrending, alarming. And so thoroughly mesmerizing, you can’t help but get sucked into the mire that is her life. I can honestly say, I’ve never wanted to reach into a screen and throttle the *******s on the other side so much as when I was watching this. My poor wife who suggested we watch this together needed to apply ice-packs to my brow on a regular basis to cool me down. (And a gag. I do admit, I cussed . . . a lot!)

Powerful stuff. And kudos to the team who dared to make it.

(For a more in depth review, see my January article for Amazing Stories)

Friday, December 28, 2018

This Week's Reviews Of. . .


The Retreat to Avalon

Our story follows the life of someone barely into manhood; Gawain, the younger son of a tribal chieftain in what would now be called Scotland. Although well thought of, Gawain struggles to find his place in life. The culture he belongs to pride themselves on honor and prowess in battle, qualities that he aspires to. The trouble is, things have been peaceful for some time now, and Gawain has little chance to prove himself. Until events take a turn that is, and the legendary figure – Arthur – calls for volunteers to help stem the tide of a rising threat.

Coming from the UK, and living extensively throughout the Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Wales at one time or another, I could instantly relate to the places Poage depicts. Legends abound regarding Arthur’s exploits. The thing is, there’s no one canonical version regarding those exploits, so it was refreshing to read a tale that concentrated on the antics of a charismatic leader and a canny, celebrated military commander for a change, someone with flaws doing his level best to unite a divided people in the face of treachery and politicking on a grand scale.

Seeing things through the eyes of Gawain was also rather enjoyable. At the outset, you are presented with an accurate representation of the way life must have been during the 5th century and the pressures facing people as they set out to make a place for themselves in a fragile, barely balanced society. His own personal adventures are remarkable, revealing how quickly fortunes can rise or fall. The battle scenes are well written; they engage you and ease you along at a steady pace without losing track of what’s happening and where. Above all, you can see Poage strove to keep things real, while presenting a touch of mysticism that strikes just the right balance.

I liked it a great deal, and look forward to the continuing story.



Outlander


This is a series I started by accident. (Think of it as a wife request – something to watch together) on cold winter nights.

Based upon author Diana Gabaldon’s historical time travel book of the same name, it stars Caitriona Balfe as Claire Randall, a married WWII nurse who, on returning home from the war, travels to Scotland with her husband to spend some time together to get reacquainted.
While there, she happens upon some standing stones and is transported back to 1743 Scotland where she encounters a gallant Highland warrior Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) and becomes embroiled in the Jacobite risings.

I have to say, although the events it portrays start out slowly – and do have a tendency to drag in places – Outlander manages to weave a magic that gradually spellbinds you to Claire’s plight, and the uphill struggle she endures in adjusting to the times, the people and their suspicions, and of course, how to get back home.
It never goes over the top, trying to ram home the fact this is a paranormal/fantasy story, concentrating instead on the swashbuckling romance and injustice of the times. I think the thing that made season one work for me was Claire’s slow realization that she’s been put into a situation where the brooding, ever building chemistry between her and Jamie will lead to trouble. Trouble she knows she should avoid . . . yet can’t.

Give this a try. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

A Review of. . .



Good Omens
Plans for the apocalypse are well under way and – according to the most accurate guide to the future in existence: the Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (written in 1655) – the world will end next Saturday . . . just after tea.
Things really do look dire. Except, someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist. And the angel and demon who have been keeping an eye on things since mankind were evicted from Eden? Well, they’ve become rather comfy with the way things are. And as they countdown continues, mayhem on an earth-shaking scale begins to unravel their best laid plans.
As familiar as an old pair of gloves; or perhaps the walking boots you’ve used for years.
That’s what it feels like to read this gem of a story from two of the most eccentric writers you will ever meet. Inventive; out there; wickedly funny; heavenly.
A superb recipe for disaster. I didn’t stop grinning from beginning to end.




Daredevil – Season 3
After a number of TV flops, Marvel returned to Netflix earlier this year with their best (in my opinion) superhero. (Jessica Jones being their only other quality show). And from the outset, we find Matt Murdock on the receiving end of more blood, bruises and moral dilemmas than ever before. A surprise, you might think, especially with The Hand now seemingly out of the equation.
However, this allows the attention to be focused squarely on an old nemesis: Fisk. And it is here that Daredevil manages to encapsulate a gripping level of gloriously realistic and moody balance that makes the show so compelling to watch.
Softly spoken; quietly introspective; explosively lethal. Fisk reminded me of Hannibal Lecter, especially in the manner he is able to influence all around him, even when locked down and guarded 24/7. And when the fists do fly, it is as intensely vicious, soul-sappingly exhausting as ever. And no wonder, for Fisk – aka, the Kingpin – has set out to ruin Daredevil’s life in a way previously thought unimaginable. It’s the manner Fisk’s schemes play into the plot that provides some of the new story's finest moments.
A sound supporting cast littered with new characters adds weight to an already sound plot. And as Matt Murdock slips further and further into the morally gray quagmire that is vengeance, you can be sure the slow burn that builds and builds through each episode will have an explosive finale.
The thing that did it for me? The old superhero premise of “endangering or hurting the ones you love the most through your actions.” As you’ll see, that doesn’t only weigh heavily on Matt, but on Fisk too. (An interesting twist). And it really works!

A pity Marvel couldn’t capture the mood of Daredevil (and the aforementioned Jessica Jones) and transpose it into their other Netflix offerings. And an even greater pity that, despite the show’s success, some executive hotshot-in-the-head thinks it needs to be cancelled. 

(Madhatter’s tea party invites are on the way)

Need I say more?

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

You Sir, Are a Winner!


It is with pleasure that I can announce
PRELUDE TO SORROW
is the winner of this year's N. N. Light Book Award in the science fiction category.


May I take the opportunity to say "thank you" to the team at Perseid Press and to the fans of the IX Series as a whole. Your efforts and continued support go a long way to making delightful and rewarding times like this possible.

And of course,
a special "thank you" goes to N. N. Light for possessing exceedingly good taste 😊

If you would like to find out for yourself what people find so special about Prelude to Sorrow, just click the link in the sidebar.

Friday, December 14, 2018

My Thoughts On...


The Book of Life
It begins with a discovery of witches.

What happens when a constitution established centuries ago – one designed to protect its subjects – is in fact responsible for doing the opposite?
What happens if the bedrock upon which such a constitution was built isn’t one of unity in the face of adversity, but segregation and prejudice?
And what happens when a covenant promoted as a nurturing agent actually contributes to a decline, both in proclivity and power?

Find out as Diana and Matthew face these hurdles and more in the face of relentless adversity.
It began with absence and desire.
It began with blood and fear.
One thing’s for sure, the Book of Life isn’t what everyone thinks it is, for it is catalyst of endings; a medium through which new beginnings might be forged; and a harbinger of change. And only by applying what witches discovered long, long ago, can a new age be ushered in.

An outstanding conclusion to a stunning story. You won’t be disappointed.



Penny Dreadful - Seasons 1 - 3

If you only ever get to see one supernatural period drama, then Penny Dreadful is an absolute must. A sterling cast – where the interaction among the characters creates explosive chemistry – the superbly atmospheric mood; an excellent backstory; skillfully introduced plot lines. You know you’re in for a seductive treat from the word go.
The production and period values are outstanding, as is the cast. What I particularly loved was the way creator John Logan manages to steer the arc away from a purely “horror by the Thames” toward the internal demons that haunt and drive each member of the cast. Outstanding!
A legendary masterpiece.


Saturday, December 1, 2018

This Week, I Have Been Enjoying...


The MechMen of Canis-9
This time our adventure finds your favorite starheads; Master Sergeant Seamus O’Hara; Gunnery Sergeant Fernando Cortez; and Gunnery Sergeant Claudia Akira, on a secret mission to a forbidden planet: Canis 9 – closed to all forms of exploration and colonization.
Why? Nobody will say.
The reason for their mission? Classified.
SOPs? They’ll find out en route.
Security is tight. Despite this, treachery abounds and the mission is doomed from the moment they set out. Stranded on an alien world and cut off from civilization, what do our heroes do?
What they do best: Semper fi!
With subtle tributes to Vietnam vets and Starship Troopers threaded throughout the narrative, this is a thoroughly entertaining, action packed romp that pits our friends against a hostile environment, megalomaniacs hell-bent on world domination, and mysteries to confound the senses. One thing’s for sure. Not everyone will come back!
Great fun. Enjoy it before you ship out on your next mission.



The Predator
I’ve been a fan of the Predator ever since it first hit the big screen back in 1987. And though there have been some ups and downs in its journey, the franchise had managed to retain its popularity with a bit of inventive tweaking here, and quite frankly, a spot of genius there. (AvP – an absolute gem)
This latest outing lies somewhere in between. Straight into the action; a clever twist to the ongoing story line; a slightly deeper understanding of what’s going on in the Yautja society . . . spoilt by a predictable plot, a needless reliance on comedy, and tedious bloodletting.
While it’s entertaining – to a degree, it lacks the suspense of the original. The buildup and the inevitable “BAM you’re dead!” After the initial slaughter in the lab, you overlook the fact that there’s supposed to be a remorseless killer on the loose, and end up being sidelined by the good guys v government bad guys scenario. A shame, the potential simmers just beneath the surface just waiting to be unleashed.
Hopefully the powers-that-be will do just that in the inevitable sequel.