Thoughts on speculative fiction. Join in the conversation on books, television and film. I review everything I read or watch from the world of the imaginative and the fantastic.

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February 18, 2015

The Wheel of Time is Better Than Game of Thrones and How I feel about the Winter Dragon Pilot

Published in 1990, The Eye of the World promised a venture into Fantasy of epic proportions, but it's possible no one could have predicted The Wheel of Time series would be a huge story that took two decades, two authors, and fourteen volumes of over four million words. Author Robert Jordan died while working on the twelfth book, which he expected to be the last, but the series was completed by Brandon Sanderson in three more books.

The fourteenth and final volume, A Memory of Light, was completed January 2013, a dazzling conclusion that was applauded for the most part by readers who never thought they would find themselves wanting any more of The Wheel of Time. But there have always been rumors of the possibility of an adaptation, and with the widespread success of Game of Thrones as a TV show, Wheel of Time fans have been waiting and wishing to see the books brought to either the big screen or the little screen.

On Feb 9, despite the hoards of fans with an ear open for any of the first whispers of a TV series, a pilot called Winter Dragon was aired without anyone, not even Robert Jordan's widow Harriet, expecting a thing.

Starring Billy Zane as the bad guy, the pilot took the short (maybe ten page?) prologue and turned it into a boring and unfocused 30 minute affair plagued with late night commercials that's available in no better than 480p on YouTube after being recorded off someone's TV screen in the middle of the night.

Please don't watch the Eye of the World pilot if you haven't read The Wheel of Time. It doesn't make sense and leaves out a crucial event in the Eye of the World prologue, when Lews Therin in his insanity and guilt kills himself and creates Dragonmount. That didn't make it into the pilot for some reason. He and the hundred companions have pretty much destroyed civilization and killed just about everyone, a point that's mentioned but not really drawn out well enough to hit home with someone who isn't familiar with the series. As someone who has read the entire series, I can't even imagine how boring this pilot would be for someone who hasn't; it's barely enjoyable as someone who already knows the importance of this chapter.

Personally, my biggest concern is that I want everyone to know that The Wheel of Time is better than Game of ThronesThe Wheel of Time kicks GOT's ass. That's just where I'm coming from. Too much hinges on a good adaptation of this series, because the world needs to know that Robert Jordan is better than George R. R. Martin. I like A Song of Ice and Fire, but most everything I once loved about it is already dead (i.e. the characters that have been killed off, heroes and interesting villains alike, not to mention the Dire Wolves that have been killed so far). The Winter Dragon pilot gives me no confidence that a Wheel of Time adaptation will come anywhere close to competing with HBO's Game of Thrones, and I won't be able to tell all my friends how I knew it was cool all along.

There's not really enough to Winter Dragon to call it awful. It sticks fairly closely to the way the prologue of The Eye of the World was written; Lews Therin wanders his palace in a delusion that all is well and his wife Ilyena is playing hide and seek with the children, when really they are all dead and everything has been destroyed. Ishamael shows up calling himself Elan Morin Tedronai, and makes Lews Therin see the truth: he killed his family. Ishamael tempts Lews Therin to become a servant of Shai'tan, promising to return Ilyena to life in exchange for service to the shadow. To me this is a scene with a lot of potential — I love the madness and the temptation, Lews Therin grappling with what he did in madness, and resisting Ishamael's offer. Red Eagle's pilot doesn't tap into that potential. It's a long, drawn out mess of crucial moments that either fall flat or are straight out omitted.

Possibly the slowness is due to the fact that I can read the prologue to The Wheel of Time in under ten minutes; Winter Dragon turns that into thirty minutes of screen time. It's excruciating. It doesn't bode incredibly well for a series potentially coming out of this studio.

io9 is covering the story of why this pilot was made and whether an adaption will be realized. Read the latest update here.

February 3, 2015

Lone Star Renegades: A New Sci-Fi from Mark Wayne McGinnis

Mark Wayne McGinnis

Lone Star Renegades by Mark Wayne McGinnis (Get it on Amazon)

A perfect military training sci-fi mashup, Lone Star Renegades is a brilliant execution of one of my favorite genres. A football team is accidentally abducted into the belly of a big collector ship and vie for their survival in a desperate, hopeless situation. When Collin Frost and his Lone Stars teammates make an agreement with alien spacecraft captain Dante Primo for their return home, the teenagers must first complete six weeks of training and a year of service to Primo's faction, the Brotherhood. The teenagers are in for weapons training, hand-to-hand, and competitions in the sport of Pangallo. But it's not all fun and training; the Brotherhood forces are under constant attack, and I don't want to spoil anything, but you can bet the new recruits are going to see their share of action. It's a fun adventure abroad — really far abroad, in the far reaches of outer space.

For fans of Mark Wayne McGinnis's Scrapyard Ship series, look out for Book 7 in March 2015. Have a look at Mark Wayne McGinnis's site for all works in progress.

September 25, 2014

Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Every novel by Carlos Ruiz Zafon features dark mystery, gothic architecture, shadows of Barcelona, and a love of books, and his latest English release Marina adds to that teen romance and absolute horror. Set in the late 1970s, the year is later and the cast of characters is younger; Oscar Drai is a schoolboy falling in love for the first time, not just with a pretty girl but with her secrets, and the mystery that takes hold of the two of them. The couple follow the mystery — namely a woman dressed all in black with a black veil hiding her face — to the Sarria cemetery and spy on her as she grieves at a grave embossed with the symbol of a black butterfly, and for their curiosity, they are ensnared in an old unsolved case that’s coming back for vengeance.

Originally published in Spanish in 1999, Marina was translated this year by Lucia Graves, the translator for all of Zafon’s internationally acclaimed novels. Intended for a young adult audience, it’s a shorter read meant for one mesmerizing sitting. In this Zafon novel the love of stories and storytelling is embodied in Marina, the character of the tragic writer.

While not the darkest of Zafon’s works, Marina is probably the scariest; the theme of man playing god turns scary when a scientific attempt at immortality leads to animated corpses, violent and angry, and acting out the revenge of their master. More captivating is certainly Oscar’s relationship with Marina and her father Germ├ín, a surrogate family for him and the first he has ever known, and Zafon’s classic uncovering of history and old wrongs that would have been better left in the past (except for the sake of our literary enjoyment.)

August 5, 2014

The balanced Guardians of the Galaxy review

Guardians of the Galaxy is the buzzworthy space action flick of the summer, with its August box office record-breakage ($94 million), a trailer that leaves the mainstream audience giggling but with very confused expectations, and the rave reviews from critics and your Facebook friends alike. It's worth the ticket price, but not your first born child, just in case there was any confusion going by what your friends posted in your Facebook news feed. Enjoyable, and nice and short at 121 minutes, and silly. I'll even go as far as to say fun, with characters, and visuals. I'm avoiding modifiers and superlatives for fear of being misinterpreted as having composed what could be called a rave review in any way. I liked it, and I recommend it.

The one bit of hyperbole I will agree with is where Zaki from Huffington Post calls it "the most confident bit of sci-fi world-building I've seen since the original Star Wars," to which I will add, if only because there hasn't been anything close to a strong attempt at sci-fi world building since Star Wars.

But while unique in the immersiveness and detail of its intergalactic universe, and perhaps in its heroes, it just wasn't unique in its story. Swashbuckler and carefree space adventurer with a Han Solo mien foolishly strikes out apart from his treasure-hunting boss and gang of thugs to slip away with the booty for himself: a silver orb thingy that everybody wants and nobody knows what it really is. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is then chased through the galaxy by the likes of bounty hunters Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel, apparently), and assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana). When he ends up in jail with them, they become friends (with the addition of Drax, played by WWE wrestler Dave Bautista), fusing together into an Avengers-like team only much stranger. I mean, Rocket is a genetically engineered raccoon who suffers deeply for being the only of his kind and the mockery that goes along with it, and who knows what Groot is? And why is Zoe Saldana green?

The story from there is that Peter Quill's orb turns out to have some kind of world-destroying cosmic capability that makes it insanely dangerous and it's about to fall into the malevolent hands of some big deal bad guy named Thanos, played by Josh Brolin, who is wonderful and completely unrecognizable, which is less wonderful, because had I known it was him I would have actually paid attention to the otherwise cliche and yawn-worthy big bad guy monologue. The rest of the movie is spent trying to keep the orb away from Thanos and then trying to get it back from him. With giant space ships crashing into planets and all that fun Marvel stuff, plus some fighter pilot maneuvering and hand to hand combat.

I have to compare it to The Avengers — only quite a bit better — in that the first two thirds of the movie are very strong, and the end falls flat. There are a lot of comparable plot points. The defeat of one of the big bad guys is essentially a punch line: in this case there's no Hulk smash, only Peter Quill breaking into dance suddenly at the moment of his defeat, distracting Ronan the Accuser so they can destroy the warhammer and use the orb thingy to kill him (it's a much funnier punchline than "Hulk smash" if you ask me.) There's also the saving grace, which was another problem I had with the Hulk in The Avengers, which actually makes sense in Guardians of the Galaxy — Groot protects the group, sacrificing himself (although he comes back much cuter). None of this to say that Guardians of the Galaxy was bad, just that it had similar flaws.

The jokes and the prison break scene are what make it good. Kudos to Marvel for casting an actor, Chris Pratt, as star hero who can actually do comedy. This could have gone so wrong had they given those one liners to a type cast tough guy action hero. Instead, there's a humorous overtone on a colorful space adventure that will make you smile, even if it's silly, and won't leave you with too many frustrations of the plot-hole or inconsistency variety. How's that for balance?

July 28, 2014

Mad Powers by Mark Wayne McGinnis

The latest book from Best-Selling Amazon author Mark Wayne McGinnis is available now: get Mad Powers on Amazon.

Mad Powers is a paranormal thriller. It's nice to see the author expand into new territory genre-wise, and as usual he does it with original writing, unique and lovable (as well as intentionally hate-able) characters, and a very different kind of story.

This is the story of Rob Chandler, an agent who loses his memory in a car crash that simultaneously gives him new mad powers to read and meddle with people's minds. Previously a novella in which Rob struggled through the days following his accident with no idea how to find out his true identity and suspecting his life may still be in danger, it's now a full-length novel that ends up somewhere completely unexpected. I won't ruin it for you, but suffice it to say, there's a thrilling mission waiting for Rob once he figures out just who he is.

The way Rob discovers tapping in and then makes use of its power to get through obstacles and out-smart his antagonists, even with the disadvantage of amnesia, is enjoyable, thrilling, and often-times really humorous.

If you like Dean Koontz, this will be very much up your alley; some bits reminded me of Watchers. Another entertaining, fast-paced page turner to curl up with on the couch (and stay there until you finish). The only downside is that you'll be dying to find out what happens next, and you'll just have to wait for the next one.