Thursday, December 19, 2019

My Thought's On. . .

The Poppy War
I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy. And by a lot, I mean over forty books a year on average. It’s not only because I love the genre, either – which I do. I treat each journey into an author’s imagination as a treasure hunt, you see. It’s as if I’m panning for gold in mineral laden sediment that’s become a little choked in recent decades. (Avid readers will know what I mean). But it’s worth the effort, because every now and then, I uncover a 24-carat nugget that stands out from all the other gems. And “The Poppy War” by R. F. Kuang is one of them.

Fang – Rin – Runin is a war orphan. A girl forced upon a merchant family from a poor province in a society where class and station mean everything. As you can imagine, Rin in looked upon as a burden that the Fang’s want to offload as soon as possible.

Sure enough, the moment Rin reaches fourteen years of age, the Fang’s arrange a marriage for her. She is to wed a man twice divorced and three times her age. Little wonder, then, that Rin rebels. The Keju – an annual national test to find the brightest students in the Nikara Empire – is approaching. Rin takes matters into her own hands. She’s a bright girl with a good mind, and through some artful maneuvering, manages to secure private tuition.

The trouble is, when Rin aces the exams, she finds her success is merely illusory, like fools gold. Why? Entry into Sinegard – the Empire’s most prestigious military school – doesn’t guarantee her troubles are over. Far from it. They’ve only just begun!

Prejudice, bitter rivalry, narcissism – from classmates and instructors alike, make Rin’s life a living hell. But this dark-skinned peasant girl with a strange accent from the south has one thing going in her favor. She’s not a quitter. And when she discovers she is one of only a few people in existence who can summon the power of the gods, well . . . events take quite a turn.
Alas, the gods are unpredictable. Vast in scope. Insanely passionate and impossibly cold and aloof. And when their majesty is brought to bear upon insignificant little humans, the results can be – and often are – catastrophic. Rin witnesses this firsthand when the Mugen Federation declares war upon Nikara.

Far from helping her take control of her own life, Rin finds her future thrown into jeopardy when an avenging god seeks to use her as its conduit onto the mortal plane.
As to how that goes, exactly, you’ll have to find out for yourselves. But in summation:

“The Poppy War” is a fantastically mystical story, operatic in scale, personal in its appeal, and one of the most entertaining, thoroughly satisfying journeys you will ever take through the pages of a book.
Prepare to have your perceptions altered.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

This Weeks Review Of. . .

After the events that almost tore their family apart in Australia, life has changed for the better as far as Rebecca Hope-Patko and her husband, Lord Justyn are concerned. They’ve brought Eric and his new sister, Harmony, home to New Jersey, and opened their very own dinner theater – the Ange du Palais. Not only that, but Rebecca has taken firmer control of her personal affairs. She’s learned to look after herself, and volunteered her services and her home to a covert underground railway that helps women and their children escape life-threatening situations.
All starts well. The children are happy; Rebecca receives her first assignment, helping an abused mother and child flee a violent home; and the Hope-Patkos launch their new venture with their very own production of “Ghost Bride” based on the animated adventure – Corpse Bride.
Alas, the specter of past trials and tribulations continue to haunt them. There are skeletons in the closet – and in all sorts of other places they shouldn’t be, come to that. And soon, it becomes obvious that someone’s out to sabotage their every effort. No wonder everyone is spooked, for they don’t stand a ghost of a chance of finding out who is responsible unless they pick through the bones of all the little clues left along the way to put this latest whodunit to rest.

It’s always been a treat to return to the ever evolving world of Lord Justyn and Rebecca. I’ve followed them from the very beginning, and love the way their creator, Laura DeLuca, molds their lives around the theme of popular musicals. It creates an environment you can immediately relate to, and helps you involve yourself in the Hope-Patkos’ struggles as they become embroiled in their latest murder mystery. Very clever . . . and lots of fun!
Christmas is coming. Why not treat yourself and take a peek into something that’s bound to leave you feeling both festive and reanimated for the New Year?

Saturday, December 7, 2019

My Thought's On. . .

The War Within
Twenty years have passed since the events recorded in Seventh Decimate. Prince – Now King – Bifalt of Belleger is now married to Queen Estie of Amika, forging an uneasy alliance in order that the two nations can work together for a war they can ill afford to fight. Alas, the Last Repository – the greatest library of arcane knowledge in existence – has to be protected at all coasts. Or so the Magisters say.
At this stage, the enemy is still unknown. However, that enemy must be great indeed if the protectors of the Repository fear their coming. So, despite the fragile peace, Belleger and Amika work hard in preparation. Existing defenses are expanded; new ones built and fortified; old alliances strengthened as best they can. Even so, a damaging rift still exists: that between Bifalt and Estie, one that might be exploited if the missionary priests of the Great God Rile have anything to do with it.
How do they fare when the enemy arrives at last, revealing a command of the decimates unlike anything seen before?
Only time will tell, but in true Stephen Donaldson style, every step of the way will be described in graphic detail, revealing a depth of narrative and skill that will involve you from the moment you turn the first page. Outstanding work from the master of speculative fiction.

Friday, November 22, 2019

This Week's Review Of. . .

We Are the Dead
For longer than most people can remember, the Shulka – Jia’s invincible master warriors – have kept their nation safe from the ever-present threat represented by the Egril, a savage race they know hardly anything about.
Then one day, the unthinkable happens. The unbeatable are swept aside like chaff, and an invading army the likes of which is impossible to count, sweeps into Jia, wreaking havoc and destroying everything in its path.
Our story follows the lives of some of the refugees as they set out to make their mark and reclaim their land. Some are soldiers; others resistance fighters; most are normal folk doing what they must to survive. All are united in their hatred of a brutal, despicable foe that looks on them as nothing but chattel to serve their purposes and die.
This is no fairy tale. It’s a lesson in endurance and doing what you must to survive until the next day.
I had absolutely no problem immersing myself within the pages of this book. It’s excellent stuff. Riveting. Engrossing. Compelling . . . and a wonderful introduction to what I’m sure will be an epic series.
Bravo to Mike Shackle – if you continue writing adventures like this; you’ve got yourself a lifelong fan.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

My Review of. . .

Black City Dragon
In Black City Dragon, the Gatekeeper needs to show his mettle as never before when the puppet master behind a sixteen hundred year-old deception shows their face at last. The thing is, this adversary seems more intent on claiming Nick’s reincarnated lover – Claryce – than him.
That begs the question, why? What is it about Claryce and her connection to the Dacian Draco that’s holds the key to life and death, and ultimately, which reality will survive the coming upheaval?
Perhaps history has got it wrong, and our man isn’t so saintly after all.
Find out in this concluding book of the Black City trilogy that sees megalomaniacs square off against tyrants; humans against feirie; cops against gangsters, and of course, mutant monstrosities against legends made flesh.
This is one of the best blends of historical and mythological fantasy you’ll find. Treat yourself. You won’t regret it.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

My Reaction To. . .

Vita Nostra
When I first began to read this story, I must admit, I had difficulty adjusting to its style and some of the phraseology used. But, remembering this is a translation from another language, (Russian), I persisted. And I’m glad I did, for what started off as a dissonant, tongue-tripping slog smoothed out into a magic carpet ride of an intellectual adventure.
Vita Nostra – Latin for Our Life – tells the story of Sasha Samokhina, a teenage girl living at home with her mother, who stands at a crossroads. She must soon decide her future. Does she go off to university as everyone expects to become a tiny cog in part of the big machine that is society, or should she strive for something better?
It’s as she ponders that conundrum that she meets the mysterious Farit Kozhennikov. A man who knows more than he’s letting on, and someone who seems able to compel her to carry out ridiculous tasks as a way of measuring her character.
Whatever that special something is, Sasha has it, and she is offered the opportunity of attending an obscure place of learning nobody seems to have heard of: The Institute of Special Technology.
Sasha accepts that placement against her mother’s wishes, and discovers to her cost how different the institute is.
I’m never one to give away the plot, so all I’ll say is . . .
What follows is a deeply intimate and skilful exposition that deals with – dependent upon your viewpoint and character – some of the major hurdles/stepping stones in life: the nature of reality; the influence of philosophy; the true magic of mysticism; the power of faith – and how all these factors combined can lead to a metamorphosis of self beyond our wildest dreams.
Far from tripping over my hypothetical tongue, I ended up skating through a thought provoking – if disquieting – tale, one that should appeal to the chrysalis in all of us.

Criminals UK
If you’re in desperate need of a breath of televisual fresh air, I’d recommend Criminal UK. This is the first of four anthologies from different countries throughout Europe set almost entirely within a police interview room.
And that’s it!
The crimes in question have already been committed, so there’s no bloodthirsty violence, madcap escape attempts or high-speed pursuits. Neither do you get huge budgets, explosive sets, continent-hopping or intricate action scenes to play with.
Everything takes place within that interview room – or the observation lounge on the other side of a two-way mirror – and the intricacies you do see revolve around the mental agility of the police team dedicated to seeing justice done.
In some respects, Criminal UK reminded me of a stage play, as it’s the skills of the actors that immerses you in the psychology of the procedures involved in obtaining a confession – or in some cases – revealing the truth of what actually took place.
Superb stuff. And compelling too, as its quality TV like this that highlights the power of the human narrative. If you do it right, you don’t need high-octane special effects and state-of-the-art weapons. The minds of a detective and a desperate suspect will do. Each lining up their pieces on the chessboard of the interview; each one hoping their strategy is the one that prevails.
Try it. I guarantee it will leave a lasting impression.

Friday, October 25, 2019

My Thoughts On. . .

The Book of Flora
Time marches on. One hundred and forty-four years have now passed for our heroines following in the footsteps of the Unnamed midwife. Flora is growing old and content at Bambrich island, a place she felt was safe enough to settle and live out her days.
But to get there?
Ah, it’s been a long, long journey. We discover what happened to Nowhere; to Jeff City; to Ommun and many other settlements like them who tried to rebuild a part of themselves in the aftermath of a devastating plague, only to fall to an army the likes of which hasn’t existed since the end of the old world.
And why is it marching?
Now that’s another story, bringing a fitting end to the Midwife chronicles.
The thing that struck me about this series is that, sometimes, the end of an era brings changes we don’t expect. Strange and frightening changes. But wondrous nonetheless.
That’s how the author, Meg Elison rounds her story off. Life finds a way . . . if we only let it.

Our story revolves around fourteen year old Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a boy abandoned by his mother when he was a little boy, and someone who has been brought up in one foster home after another ever since. The reason? He constantly runs away, having never given up searching for his mom.
Given one last chance, Billy is placed in a “family” home with foster parents who have successfully raised a wackily weird host of other children. Just the right fit you might think.
Yes and no.
Billy is adamant he’s not going to cave in and feel like he belongs. But when he stands up to bullies at school who target his foster-brother, Freddie – who walks with a brace – Billy is summoned to appear before a dying master magician who is looking for a champion to take on the mantle of his power.
The thing is, Billy knows he’s not a champion. That seems to make an impression on the wizard who transfers his power into him with the magic word – Shazam!
Whenever he says that word, Billy becomes the champion he could be. A towering, muscle-rippling hero who is super strong, agile and fast, and can fly and shoot lightning bolts from his fingertips.
The twist? He may look like a grown man, but he’s still a fourteen year old boy inside.
And therein resides the recipe for a fast paced and I must say, charmingly funny film that is way better than I thought it would be. The balance between slapstick and action; childlike glee and menacing terror is just right. Probably because Billy’s back-story of the continued search for his mother is a credible thread holding everything together.
That vulnerability, the insecurities and stigma that come with being abandoned leak over into his development from loner school kid into a real life hero who has to learn by trial and error exactly what his abilities allow him to do. Of course, Freddie’s there to help him, and the two mess about as teenagers would do, just as much as actually applying themselves to testing Billy/Shazam’s limits.
It's great fun, engaging and downright entertaining. And it never seems to go too far. When has the learning curve of grow up ever been so magical?

Friday, October 18, 2019

This Week's Reviews

Black City Demon
Having barely escaped with his life after helping defeat an attempted coup in the land of Feirie, you’d be forgiven for thinking Nick Medea might seize the opportunity to take a well-earned break.
Oh, if only being the Guardian of the Gate between realms was ever that easy.
Not only is it necessary for Nick to increase his efforts – balancing the investigation of paranormal events during the upheaval caused by a gang warfare laced prohibition, against warding off repeated incursions from the Wyld – but, it seems, he also has to contend with a full-on attack from an incubuslike creature founded on the mortal plane that’s set its sights on subverting all life on both sides of the Gate.
Who could this illusive monster be? Why is it so determined to strike at supposedly undefeatable foes? And how do these events tie into a horrific spate of murders committed more than thirty years previously?
One thing’s for sure, life’s never dull for Nick and the gang who once again get caught in the middle of a titanic battle that threatens the very fabric of reality.
Hold onto your hats. This is urban fantasy at its best, where fact, fiction and dark humor are plausibly woven together in a way that’ll guarantee you’ll want to take a second look at those shadows lurking in the corner.
Superb stuff, and tremendously good fun!

When They See Us
This miniseries is based on the events of the 1989 Central Park jogger case and explores the repercussions in the lives of 5 young boys – Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Korey Wise – and their families when they are arrested, brutalized and subsequently imprisoned for a crime they did not commit.
The true assailant was eventually identified in 2002 after coming forward. DNA and corroborating evidenced proved that person to be the true offender. Alas for the five boys, they had already served lengthy prison sentences and were looked on as pariahs by many in their communities until the state withdrew all charges against them, removed them from the sex offender registry, and awarding them considerable damages
A happy ending, do you think?
Far from it.
What’s particularly powerful about this show is the way it captures the essence of the time. Those boys were innocent. The cops knew it, and yet, they went out of their way to secure a conviction at all costs. Systematic racism. Psychological and physical abuse amounting to torture. Bending – and in many cases, simply breaking – the rules and due process. And don’t forget, we’re talking about boys between 14 and 16 years old. Not only were they innocent, but one, Korey Wise, wasn’t even there in Central Park.
And once they were in the system, it got worse. Parents were unable to visit their sons because they were incarcerated hundreds of miles from home. And in Korey’s case – he couldn’t apply for parole as that would mean admitting to a crime he never committed and accepting he did wrong. A terrible injustice. I don’t mind admitting I was spitting bricks through many parts of the show.
Because that’s the thing.
This wasn’t just a show. “When They See Us” is merely a frank portrayal of the true life discrimination suffered by five boys who last a major part of their young adult lives because of a corrupt and unfair system. No amount of compensation can ever redress the balance.
But people can. The question is: will we?

Saturday, October 12, 2019

My Thought's On. . .

The Girl Who Could Move S**t With Her Mind
They say . . . “First impressions count”.
In this case, that maxim hits the nail on the head. How? As soon as I saw the title of this book, I knew I’d love it. I mean, anyone who uses that as a title for their book has to have a great sense of humor. MY kind of humor.
And I was right.
Teagan Frost is a girl on a mission. Literally. She works for a clandestine government team. A team so secret that they’ll deny any knowledge of her at the drop of a hat if she screws up. Not a good thing when you’re the only person with psychokinetic abilities in the world and a queue of drooling scientists with top security clearance are itching for you to fail so they can dissect you.
When a body turns up at the site of Teagan’s last job, murdered in such a way that it’s obvious someone with paranormal abilities must be involved, plastic fingered gloves point the blame her way and scalpels get sharpened.
Fortunately, she gets twenty-four hours to prove her innocence. But will it be enough? Teagan’s boss wants rid of her. The rest of the team hate her. A squad of black-ops goons think she’s nothing but a freak that needs locking up and experimenting on. And someone’s obviously out to ensure she fails.
Just the recipe for a nice little whodunit. One presented with an aperitif of disaster-in-the-making, with a side salad of action all the way. It’s irreverent, down and dirty, underhand, and guaranteed to please the mischief-maker in all of us.
An insanely imaginative peek into a twisted mind.

The Boys
Continuing the “first impressions count” theme. . . .
I adored this series! There you go. My thoughts in brief, expressed from the heart.
Adapted from the Dynamite comic book series of the same name, The Boys follows the life of Hughie Campbell. A mild-mannered, down-to-earth young man, Hughie is madly in love with the girl of his dreams, Robin . . . up to the moment she’s obliterated by a superhero who literally runs right through her, that is.
Hughie is traumatized, until Billy Butcher crosses his path. Butcher despises all “Supers” and wants to wipe the lot of them out. Even so, he has eyes for one in particular; Homelander, the charismatic leader of the most popular of the super heroes – The Seven, who are sponsored by the mega rich, ultra powerful Vought International corporation.
As the show goes on to reveal, the Seven aren’t all that special. In fact, most are out and out self-serving scumbags who don’t give a toss about the populace at large . . . unless it can improve their ratings, that is.
Butcher knows this, and leads his vigilantes on a desperate crusade to expose the “supers” for what they really are, while fulfilling his own personal vendetta.
What I particularly liked about this series is that it’s a great judge of human nature. If people did somehow become blessed with powers in real life, THIS is what they’d be like. Oh, they’d start off wanting to do good, but with multi-billion dollar corporations and social media gurus plotting their every move, they’d end up emotionally wrecked trash monsters.
A lot of outrageous things happen in the series. (Ass-murder being a prime example) A truly explosive moment, I guarantee. And it’s awesome. Bad behavior. Even worse language. Sexual exploitation.  One of the most timely – tongue-in-cheek- exposes I’ve seen in a long time.
Even better, there’s one hellova twist at the end that sets up series 2 quite nicely, thank you very much. And I for one can’t wait J

Friday, September 27, 2019

My Reviews Of . . .

Black City Saint
Nick Medea is an investigator of things that go bump in the night. While that might sound corny, it isn’t. Far from it! For Nick is a man with a history extending back 1600 years.
He’s the guardian of The Gate, the supernatural barrier which is the only thing standing between the world of mankind and their worst nightmare: the Wyld. The thing is, during the Prohibition Era of the 1920’s, the Gate just so happens to be anchored in Chicago, the Black City, where the temperance movement, the Mob, ethnic distrust and precincts full of cops on the take, face off against a growing instability that makes each day a trial to deal with.
An apt analogy, especially when you consider another, more insidious influence that fans the flames of unrest spreading like wildfire throughout the city: the aforementioned Wyld.
Double-dealing; betrayal; half-truths and outright deception. Nick has to deal with it all, and THAT’s from those who are supposed to be on his side! How does he juggle the turmoil created by these warring factions while averting an all-out disaster that will change both worlds forever?
Find out in this fast-paced, action packed noir fantasy that blends the gritty, down-n-dirty gangster-era of Chicago with the macabre, metaphysical terror represented by the altered reality the coming of Feirie would bring. Great stuff, and great fun.
Remember, Public Enemy No 1 isn’t always the guy holding a Tommy Gun.

The Rook
Based on the novel by Daniel O’Malley, the Rook follows the exploits of the Checquy, a secret agency within the British government that protect the public from threats of a ‘supernatural’ kind. And to do that, they employ some pretty uncanny powers of their own.
As the title hints, the Checquy use chess-related codenames: King – Lady Farrier (Joely Richardson); Queen – Conrad Grantchester (Adrian Lester); the Rooks – the Gestalt quadruplets, Eliza, Robert and the twins Alex and Teddy (Catherine Steadman, Ronan Raftery & Jon Fletcher), and our main character, Rook Myfanwy Thomas (Emma Greenwell).
The story begins with Myfanwy regaining consciousness after a traumatic event. She’s not only lost her memory, but she’s surrounded by dead bodies. Fortunately, she seemed to be aware trouble was coming, because the ‘alternative’ her left a series of clues, in the form of a red pill/blue pill scenario, to help her make a choice.
She can either start a new life away from the shadowy world of international psychic espionage and meta-human trafficking, or regain details of her former occupation and reintegrate as a frontline operative.
To help you (and the mind-wiped version of Myfanwy) understand what’s going on, there are a series of detailed video recordings and helpful flashbacks that unravel the mystery.
Is she simply a cold-hearted killer who wants to wipe the blood from her hands, or is there more to it?
Betrayal. Steamy affairs. Questionable allegiances. It’s all there, along with a doozy of a ‘whodunit to her’ teaser that holds this ambitious project together pretty well without taking itself too seriously.
I for one, hope the second series doesn’t take too long.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

This Week's Thought's on. . .

The Book of Etta
In the Book of Etta, we follow the trials and tribulations of one of the descendants of those few women trained by the Unnamed Midwife to care for those priceless gems who can still successfully give birth to newborns one hundred years after the fall of mankind.
The thing is, Etta doesn’t want to be a midwife. Nor does she wish to bear children. She follows in the footsteps of the Unnamed Midwife herself, who traveled the wilds armed with nothing but an antique revolver and her wits.
Thus, Etta becomes a raider – and one of the most successful ones Nowhere has ever seen.
But a raider’s life is fraught with danger, as Etta discovers to her cost when she deviates from her normal routines and encounters strangers who demonstrate that – despite the calamity almost ending mankind’s reign – you still can’t trust human nature . . . or our capacity to learn from the mistakes of the past.
A superb sequel to a hauntingly poignant series, and one of the most compelling reads you’ll ever come across.

For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, Pennyworth is the story of Alfred – The Alfred who later becomes the butler to Bruce – Batman – Wayne.
Produced by the team who brought us Gotham, you can expect a somewhat noir atmosphere to predominate. And it does. A comic book brought to life, Pennyworth is creative, gritty, and has a definite charm that engages you from the moment it starts.
In Pennyworth, Alfred is a young man, recently demobbed from the army after 10 years. As an ex SAS soldier, he possesses a maturity and approach to life that belies his youth, and in an effort to avoid the future earmarked for him by his father – that of a butler – he starts his own security company in the rough and tumble London of an alternate 1960s Britain.
Alfred runs into trouble from the get-go. For one, he bumps into Thomas Wayne, (Bruce’s dad), who is in London trying to track down his wayward sister, while engaged on some dodgy business for the American government. The two become embroiled, leading Alfred into conflict with an entity called the Raven Society. Things get complicated when he falls for Esme, an upper-class girl who his parents think are out of his league.
What follows is tremendously good fun, and although parts are deliberately outlandish and manically unhinged, creates just the right balance to keep you rooting for Alfred and his team as they navigate their way through one carefully crafted crisis after another.
Give it a go. You won’t be disappointed.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

My Reviews Of. . .

Three Laws Lethal
It’s been a long time since I sat down to read a book, only to find myself going from cover to cover in two days.
I did exactly that with “Three Laws Lethal”, the latest offering from David Walton. And you might appreciate why. The topic of Artificial Intelligence is not only current, but it’s the subject of much controversy and conjecture.
A superb avenue, therefore, to introduce us to the driving force behind our story.
Why? Think about it. We already have cars that can park themselves and carry out all sorts of complicated maneuvers unassisted.  Some can even project images of the road ahead onto a screen or heads-up display on the windshield during conditions of reduced visibility. So, why not take that one step further?
Walton does, and uses it as the foundation on which to build his world:
It’s the very near future and self-driving cars are now a reality. As you might expect, competition is fierce, especially among the big-name car manufacturers. Two friends at college have a dream to cut in on the market by developing a state-of-the-art predictive system to beat everything else that’s available. And beat it they do . . . only, not in the way you would expect.
The road to success is beset by hazards, you see. Tragedy leads to heartbreak. Heartbreak to a fierce rivalry that festers over the years into a deep abiding hatred. And behind it all, an emerging intelligence begins to comprehend it can do more; much more, that simply follow instructions.
Yes, what happens when the real and virtual worlds collide?
Well, strap in and hang on! You’re about to find out in a story that’s so believable, you’ll never want to turn control of your safety over to a machine! And THAT’s what I particularly enjoyed about this book. I’m something of a physics geek myself. The fact that the science incorporated into the storyline already has a toehold in society makes you forget you’re reading a sci-fi novel.
Kudos to David Walton.
“Three Laws Lethal” – a story as immersive as the VR it portrays.

Stranger Things 3
As any discerning connoisseur will affirm, you can have all the right ingredients at the ready, but unless you mix them together in the right order, at the right time and in the right way, you won’t produce a Michelin star class meal.
And when it comes to producing a masterful recipe, Stranger Things 3 sets the bar.
This time around, the gang are doing their best to settle into their lives after sealing the rift between dimensions and the loss of someone close to them. A degree of normalcy returns, so much so, that life might be said to be boring.
But fear not, pesky Russian villains have infiltrated Hawkins, and they’re up to mischief. Somehow, they’ve managed to set up a huge underground base beneath the town’s new shopping mall where they’re working hard to reopen the rift. Of course, the malevolence lurking on the other side doesn’t need an invitation to resume its dastardly schemes, and in no time at all, local residents start acting strangely.
As the mind flayer consolidates its hold, you could be forgiven for thinking revenge will be the sweetest of dishes served with a garnish of dead bodies.
Not if the gang has anything to do with it!
Once they learn what is happening, they set out in their own unique ways to spoil the broth that is brewing right under their feet: A touch of mood setting here; a dash of 1980’s kitsch there; a liberal sprinkling of fast paced witty dialogue; all stirred into a sound base of cast interaction that blends everything together into a wonderfully enjoyable runaway extravaganza served with a cherry on top.
It really is great stuff, and guaranteed to please the hundreds and thousands who are bound to binge on this third serving of one of the best shows on TV at the moment.
Roll on series 4.

Friday, September 6, 2019

My Thoughts On. . .

The Robots of Gotham
Smart machines are here – whatever the laws banning the development of AI might be – and they’re here to stay. They’ve made sure of that, in the post apocalyptic future in which The Robots of Gotham is set.
Canadian businessman, Barry Simcoe, arrives in 2083 Chicago only days before the hotel in which he is staying is attacked by a rogue war machine. In the chaos that ensues, he ends up accused of murder, makes the acquaintance of a badly damaged robot called Nineteen Black Winter and, while awaiting interrogation, chips in to help an overworked, understaffed Russian medic.
It’s as this hotchpotch of events come together that Barry stumbles upon a machine conspiracy to reduce mankind to nothing more than a token species by way of a deadly plague. Obviously, he wants to do something about it. And as he begins his hopelessly inept investigation, he ends up committing himself – and his new friends – to a helter-skelter ride that rapidly spirals out of control.
How much out of control?
Trigger-happy revolutionaries; maniacal scientists; bloodthirsty tyrants; hidden robot colonies; genocidal war machines; James Bond scenarios. Barry has to face them all, and still find time to arrange a charity dinner for Chicago’s elite while maintaining the charade of total, bumbling innocence.
Never a dull moment in this compulsive, fast paced and thoroughly engaging romp through a future that could all too easily overtake us. And on a personal note, I DO hope to see Barry Simcoe again one day.

Jessica Jones – Series 3
Sadly, this is the last we will see of Jessica Jones – a wonderfully gritty series ended before its time due to inter-company politics. (sigh).
Jessica is a reluctant hero; powered; outcast; looked upon by some with suspicion and other with grudging respect. Her nemesis this time around is a polymathic serial-killer. Someone without powers who, nevertheless, strives to excel at everything while daring anyone who thinks they're intelligent enough to catch him. And when his activities inadvertently catch the eye of Jessica Jones? Well, it’s gloves off and game on in a tit-for-tat game that becomes increasingly vindictive and deadly with each passing day. Ingenious stuff, and as compelling as ever.
Jessica Jones maintains the bar that Marvel failed to sustain with any of their other TV shows – except for Daredevil – with polish aplomb. A pity viewers will have to suffer the end of one of the best shows Netflix ever had.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Review Time

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife
The long anticipated fall of mankind is the subject matter of this first book in the “Road to Nowhere” series. And like any tragedy waiting to happen, it takes people by surprise. Before the world realizes what they’re dealing with, it’s already too late and we’re facing a mass extinction event.
The thing that really makes an impact with this story is that no one knows why! And that’s a poignantly powerful statement to make . . . and a humbling one too, because let’s face it; the majority of humanity doesn’t give two hoots about what we’re doing to the planet or our environment. Not until it affects them personally, that is. And in the Unnamed Midwife, it does, with bells on!
All the scant survivors do know is that whatever the pandemic was, it hit suddenly; it hit hard; and very few were able to endure. Of those that did, men were in the majority, for the plague proved especially virulent among pregnant women and newborns. In the aftermath, pregnancy becomes a death sentence. A dilemma for any female old enough to bear children in a society that spirals into chaos and hormone-riddled rape gangs.
Told from the perspective of a nurse – and one of the few females to survive – the Unnamed Midwife details her personal journey from successful career woman into an existence fuelled by isolation and fear of discovery. Part story – part extract from her journal, its a haunting, gripping indictment of inhuman nature at its bases level, and sums up what would most likely happen if such a thing ever happened.
Powerful stuff. And a compelling read.

This mini-series is lesson in how to present fictional drama.
I’m sure we’ve all heard of Chernobyl. The date of April 26th 1986 will be etched on the minds of many as the day one of the worst man-made catastrophes ever unfurled.
The TV mini-series dramatizes the story of that event, and is based – for the most part – on the recollections of those living in Pripyat at the time by Belarusian Nobel Laureate, Svetlana Alexievich in her book, “Voices from Chernobyl”.
I’ve got to say, I was really impressed by this series. It’s a powerful, deeply disturbing account of how a tragic accident rapidly declined from bad to worse. And why? In a nutshell, the political ethos of the time in the Soviet Union was that the “party line” came first . . . or else!
That “line” allowed former shoe factory managers to dictate policy on issues they simply weren’t prepared or qualified to handle, leading to hundreds of needless deaths. That brutal reality was portrayed by a strong cast and superb directing where the brooding menace of the regime almost overshadowed the tragedy as it unfurled: The refusal to accept the facts; disbelief of those qualified to make accurate assessments; the negligence involved in sending countless heroes – the firemen, miners and soldiers tasked to contain the outbreak – to their deaths as they battled to contain a force they didn’t understand.
Gripping, compelling, and infuriating, to say the least. And a poignant reminder to us all as to how fragile we are, and how little we understand the powers we play with.

Friday, August 16, 2019

This Week's Thoughts On. . .

Dead Moon
You’d be forgiven for thinking that with the kind of life Samantha Moon has led, not much would take her by surprise anymore?
You’d be wrong!
Still immortal, yet free of the presence of Elizabeth – the dark master that empowered her when she first became a vampire – Sam is adjusting well to her new condition and the freedom this brings to spend much more time with her family . . . if having a telepathic daughter and Light Warrior son can be construed as normal . . . Ah, if only things could stay that way.
Why? She’s suddenly struck by a strong premonition of foreboding while watching TV when a young zombie woman suddenly turns to face her from within the show, and reaches out to her, begging for help.
But even in the topsy-turvy paranormal world of Samantha Moon, there’s no such thing as zombies . . . Right?
Thus begins an adventure that forces Sam to realize she might be rid of her dark master, but so are a whole host of other supernatural entities. And those dark masters are celebrating their freedom by fomenting something. Something awful. Something evil. Massing together, they’re forming unholy alliances that simply shouldn’t be considered, for such alliances will spell the end of mankind.
Unless Samantha Moon lends a hand.
Enjoy yourself. You just know it’s going to be fun!

The OA – Series 2

This time out, OA finds herself in a new dimension in a different version of herself; a rich and successful version where she never suffered the accident that blinded her as a child. An excellent start, you might think. However, the rose tinted spectacles of new expectations quickly become clouded when she realizes she isn’t safe. Her adversary, Hap, is there too. His version is a prominent psychiatrist heading a successful psychiatric hospital where he lures unwilling victims to continue his abusive experiments.
You might guess what happens. . .
Even so, it’s not plain sailing for anybody. OA also crosses paths with Karim Washington, a private detective tasked with finding missing teenager, Michelle Vu, who goes missing inside an eerie old house in another part of the neighborhood.
What’s the link? Find out for yourselves in a multilayered tale that expands on the original series in a skilful and redolent way, blending the two together so provocatively that you’re held spellbound throughout because a part of you – deep down inside – relates to what’s happening on a subliminal level.
Quality viewing. I look forward to series 3 with anticipation.

Friday, August 2, 2019

This Weeks Thoughts On. . .

Necropolis PD
The fine folks over at Black gate Fantasy provided the inspiration to try this story out. And I’m sooo pleased they did, because it’s an absolute gem.
Jacob Green can see dead people. Lots of them . . . everywhere!
How come?
A good deed at the scene of a car accident turns bad. Very bad. So much so, that it’s not the victim of the crash who is in dire need of help. And when Jacob pursues the offender into a disused tunnel under a bridge, he finds out to his cost that the tunnel isn’t disused at all. It’s a conduit leading to an in-between place where those who have passed on live out their unlives as they did before they died: A place called Necropolis.
Of course, not only should it be impossible for Necropolis to exist, but its denizens can’t possibly allow Jacob to leave now he knows of its existence.
Things look bleak until one of the undead winds up murdered. And because of his unique perspective, Jacob is pressed into service as a detective to help solve the case.
That’s when things start getting really complicated, and Jacob spirals from one disaster to another, somehow only just managing to keep his head above water . . . and all the time, he’s watching and waiting for the first opportunity to escape.
How does he fare?
Find out, in this action packed, roister-doister tale that sits easily on the eye and dark humor funny bone (Think of a blend of RIPD and Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and you’ll be on the right track).
A great story and superb debut novel from an author I shall gladly read again.

Good Omens

Having read the book, a cunning and exceedingly funny conspiracy by two of the most humorous guys on (and off) the planet (Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman) I had high expectations for the TV adaptation.
Ouch! (Yes I know . . . I’m an idiot!)
True to form, cutting satire, wit, and a heady imagination don’t translate well from print to screen. A shame, because the story – based on “The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch” – expounds the story of the birth of the son of Satan and the coming of the end times. A terribly important even, I’m sure you’ll agree, and one that would concern all right-minded people.
The thing is, it concerns the two representatives of heaven and hell left on Earth since the times of the Garden of Eden even more. Aziraphale – the angel, and Crowley, the serpent who tempted Eve – have become quite accustomed to living amongst humans. And even though they’re supposed to be polar opposites reporting back to their respective “HQs” in preparation for an eventual Armageddon, they’ve become firm friends; cutting corners here, slipping the odd false report in there; taking credit for mankind’s perverseness or ingenuity when the mood takes them.
As such, when the antichrist is born and the end times loom, they go out of their way to put the proverbial spanner in the works. Their solution? Swap several children born at the same time so the antichrist grows up as a normal child in an average family in a quaint English town.
The result?
What follows is pure magical mayhem as the monumental balls-up is unearthed and Crowley and Aziraphale struggle to put things right against an increasing avalanche of woe. Also, credit where credit’s due: David Tennant and Michael Sheen do incredibly well portraying our two main protagonists, Crowley and Aziraphale in a cast comprised of swings and roundabouts. Some characters are superb, hitting the mark exactly. Others? – Oh dear!
But the thing that really spoiled it for me was the “back voice.” In the book, the authors address YOU, the reader, with witty expose and details that draw you in. Here’s an example:

“It wasn't a dark and stormy night.
It should have been, but that's the weather for you. For every mad scientist who's had a convenient thunderstorm just on the night his Great Work is finished and lying on the slab, there have been dozens who've sat around aimlessly under the peaceful stars while Igor clocks up the overtime.
But don't let the fog (with rain later, temperatures dropping to around forty five degrees) give anyone a false sense of security. Just because it's a mild night doesn't mean that dark forces aren't abroad. They're abroad all the time. They're everywhere.
They always are. That's the whole point.
Two of them lurked in the ruined graveyard. Two shadowy figures, one hunched and squat, the other lean and menacing, both of them Olympic grade lurkers. If Bruce Springsteen had ever recorded “Born to Lurk,” these two would have been on the album cover. They had been lurking in the fog for an hour now, but they had been pacing themselves and could lurk for the rest of the night if necessary, with still enough sullen menace left for a final burst of lurking around dawn.”

This excerpt is taken from the beginning of the book and helps set the scene of two demons waiting for Crowley to arrive with the antichrist babe. When you read it in context, you can’t help but smile at the images conjured in your mind. It’s pithy; it’s punchy; and certainly puts you in the mood for what follows. When I watched this part on the TV, however, I cringed. It totally ruined the atmosphere of what I’d originally imagined and to me, was a nails across a chalkboard moment that broke the magic . . . as do a minority of the characters.
But there you go. THAT’s why reading + imagination are often far superior to a screen production.
(For an in-depth review - see my latest article over at Amazing Stories).