The purpose of this blog is to have a little fun. It is NOT to start arguments. I don't profess to be an expert on Sci-fi, nor do I aspire to become an expert. You are welcome to comment on any and all content you find here. If my opinion differs from yours, as far as I am concerned, it's all okay. I will never say that you are wrong because you disagree with me, and I expect the same from those that comment here. Also, my audience on the blog will include some young people. Please govern your language when posting comments.

Posts will hopefully be regular based on the movies I see, the television shows I watch, and the books I read as well as what ever strikes me as noteworthy.

Spoilers will appear here and are welcome.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Captain America: Winter Soldier - It Won't Leave You Cold - Awesome Entertainment From Marvel Studios

Captain America: Winter Soldier – 2014

The SPOILER light is on for this one.  Read on at your own peril.

Way back on June 15th of 2013, I reviewed Man of Steel and stated that it was the best superhero film I had ever seen.  I stated that it had set the bar pretty high for that particular genre.  I stand by that statement, but I have to admit, happily I might add, that Marvel came back and not only met the standard set by Man Of Steel, but actually has raised the bar even higher with Captain America: Winter Soldier.

The film opens with Steve Rogers and his friend, Sam Wilson going for a run together, well kind of together.  While Sam is struggling to get one lap around the Capital, Steve does three laps passing Sam numerous times.  When they stop running, Steve and Sam talk about how Steve is managing to cope in modern society.  He actually seems to be doing quite well educating himself on the ins and outs of being a man decades out of his own time.  Steve then receives a message calling him to a mission to rescue a number of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents being held hostage on an agency ship.  Natasha Romanoff, aka the Black Widow, arrives shortly after to join Steve on his mission. 

During the hostage rescue, Steve finds that Natasha has another mission to extract information stored on the ship’s computer and return it to Nick Fury.  Steve confronts Fury about this and is briefed on Operation Insight.  Insight consists of three helicarriers that are linked by satellite to be a preemptive measure against threats to national security.  Nick unsuccessfully attempts to access the information that came from the ship causing him to be suspicious of Insight.

While Fury is on his way to meet with another agent, he is ambushed by a multitude of hit men being led by a masked assassin known as the Winter Soldier.  Fury is shot, but manages to escape to Steve’s apartment, where fury gives him the flashdrive and tells him that shield has been compromised, so he should not trust anyone.  Steve is then called to meet with Secretary Alexander Pierce, part of a council that works to insure world security.  Pierce asks Steve to tell him what information he received from Fury.  When Steve refuses to tell him anything, he tags him a fugitive and orders his arrest.  Steve manages to escape and contact Natasha.  The flashdrive direct them to a bunker in New Jersey.  In the deep subbasement of the bunker was an old computer that surprisingly has a flashdrive interface.  When they plug the flashdrive in, it activates a supercomputer that contains the disembodied consciousness of Arnim Zola, who as you should remember was the scientific assistant to the Red Skull.

Zola explains that after World War Two, an organization called HYDRA whose sole purpose is to create chaos all over the world to the point that everyone is willing to give up their freedoms in favor of security.  He further explains that HYDRA has infiltrated all levels of every government, including S.H.I.E.L.D.  Not only has HYDRA infiltrated governments, but it has also gotten their man in on the World Security Council in the person of Pierce.

Even with the spoilers I have mentioned above, there are still many surprises, twists, and turns.  Some that made me want to stand up and cheer right there in the theater.  This is a great movie.
It was a great pleasure to see all of the elements come together in this film to make something very special in Winter Soldier.  The script and the cast really was artfully blended by the director to make a film that didn’t go over the top.  While Captain America was the center of the attention and the action in this film, all the other parts played very well developed and strong roles.  There was humor in the script, but just the right amount for enjoyment while not calling undue attention to itself.  There were some very poignant moments where one could feel the emotion of the characters.  The visual effects were stunning while, again, not overdone and complement the story and do not become the story.

It was probably put best to me on Facebook from my good friend Hank Davis of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Podcast when he said, “They humanized a super soldier in my opinion. This movie could have been done without any superheroes at all. I loved the theme of the movie!”  One doesn't need to be a comic fan to appreciate this film; you might be a little out of the loop as far as character background is concerned though.

A real treat for the fans of Marvel movies was the introduction of the character Sam Wilson; the Falcon.  Brilliantly played by Sam Mackie, I am hoping to see him in many future films in the marvel universe.  He is very easy going and I liked him from the first moment he was on the screen.

I really enjoyed was seeing Robert Redford on the big screen again in his role of Pierce.  Redford was a really hot property during the 1970’s and 80’s playing many different roles in several hit films.  It has been said that his role in Captain America was in homage to his film Three Days of the Condor.

And what of the character that has his name appear in the title, Winter Soldier?  It is revealed who the character is and how he came to be, but this film is not the end of his story.  I'm not going to reveal who he turns out to be, but please be sure, if you aren't familiar with the comic book Captain America, that you at least see the first film in the C.A. Saga, Captain America: The First Avenger before you see Winter Soldier.
Well, there it is…


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Kirk Meets Seven Of Nine In No Time Like The Past - A Crossover Novel By Greg Cox

Star Trek: No Time Like The Past by Greg Cox

If you enjoy Star Trek crossover stories that involve lots lots of fast moving action and time travel, then you are going to love Greg Cox's No Time Like The Past.  Greg imagines what might happen if Seven of Nine from Voyager were to be unwillingly be sent back to the 23rd century to meet Captain Kirk and the crew of the USS Enterprise in a story that careens through time and space at breakneck speed.

The events of No Time Like The Past mostly take place about two years after the events of the third season episode, "All Our Yesterdays," in which Kirk Spock and McCoy are sent back into the history of the planet Sarpeidon.

The Crew of the USS Voyager, still in the Delta Quadrant, encounter a Starfleet distress signal from a small planet.  When an away team beams down to investigate, they discover a giant likeness of James T. Kirk carved into a cliff.  There is an opening and when the away team enters, three of them, Janeway, Tuvok, and Neelix are injured and Seven finds herself in the middle of a battle between Kirk and a group of Orions that are disrupting a diplomatic mission on the planet Yusub.

Seven left three injured Voyager crew members behind when she jumped through time and needs to return to her own time to rescue them, not to mention that she also needs to be near her alcove to regenerate.  Her time is limited and she has to find a way to return to her own time soon.  Kirk and the crew agree to help, but there are others who see an opportunity to exploit Seven's knowledge of the future including, the Orions and a Federation ambassador who has an axe to grind with them.

The only clue for how to return Seven to her own time is imprinted on a fragment of some device that Seven brought with her into her past.  On this fragment, Seven finds a stardate that refers to a past mission of the Enterprise that starts her, Kirk, and the crew on a quest that spans space and time to find three remaining fragments that when joined together will allow Seven to presumably allow Seven to return to her own time.

While this should have been a simple mission, there are many turns that keep getting in the way of the quest; a spy on the Enterprise and the Orions keep getting in the way until Kirk has enough of their interference and is forced to deal with them in a most clever way.

For me, one of the most compelling aspects of No Time Like The Past was the way that the author weaved old stories into this new one.  Along with the All Our Yesterdays episode of TOS, he also included references
to "The Apple" from the second season and "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield."  One of the best parts of the story is when Greg speculates on the history of the events that lead to the annihilation of the people of Cheron, the planet of Lokai and Bele; he take us right into the thick of what finally purged the population of the planet while the two characters from the episode were on their chase through the galaxy.  There is also a reference to another books series that I have not read yet, The Yesterday Saga novels which chronicle the aftermath of the events resulting from the relationship between Spock and Zarabeth in "All Our Yesterdays."

Any TOS fan will enjoy this story because it has everything we love in a Kirk-era story should have.  The pace is quick, the characters are larger than life, but yet remain human, there are space battles and phaser fights, and Scotty remains a miracle worker.  There is a great deal of the "final frontier" flavor that us TOS fans have come to expect in our stories.

In short, this is a good one!

Well, there it is...


Friday, March 14, 2014

Dayton Ward Ties Up All The Loose Ends In Star Trek: The Fall: Peaceable Kingdoms

Star Trek: The Fall: Peaceable Kingdoms by Dayton Ward

         Dayton Ward was tapped to wrap up The Fall series of Star Trek novels that were released this past year.  His task was to take all of the loose ends that were presented in the previous four books and bring them together to form a complete picture.  He did so quite expertly, as those of us who enjoy Trek novels have come to expect from Dayton.  He does not disappoint.

         Up to this point in the series, the Federation has fallen into some times where corruption is being discovered at the highest levels of government.  The president of the Federation, Nan Bacco has been assassinated, a member race of the Typhon Pact is suspected at first, but it is later discovered that a Cardassian faction called the True Way was actually guilty of the deed in order to disrupt improving relations between Cardassia and the Federation.  Captain Riker of the USS Titan is promoted to Admiral and charged by Admiral Akaar to get answers on what is happening at the highest levels of the Federation government.  Dr. Julian Bashier took it upon himself to find a cure for a disease that was threatening to make the Andorian race extinct; for that, he may have to face charges of treason.  Andor rejoins the Federation.  Riker turns to one of the only people he can trust to aid him in his endeavor, Captain Jean-Luc Picard.

         Deceptions abound in Peaceable Kingdoms.  While DS-9 is without a medical officer, Dr. Crusher is sent there to take over until a replacement for Bashier is found, however She actually goes on her own secret mission to discover the identity of remains of a living person.  Riker and Akaar are trying to find Presiden Pro Tem Ishan’s aid to learn about his complicity in Bacco’s death.  Some Federation officials believe that they should be taking a harder line in dealings with other races and factions.  And all leads to a discovery that someone is not who they appear to be while on a power-grabbing quest to hold the highest office of the Federation.

         Peaceable Kingdoms is a typically (at least in my experience) fast paced fun ride in the Trek universe from Dayton.  He leaves no stone unturned as he guides the reader through all the deception that takes place in the entire series.  While one might suspect they know the answers as they read, there are surprises to be found.  The story is solid and satisfying while at the same time leaving the doors open to future questions that hopefully will be answered for those of us that enjoy reading the continuing story of the characters we have come to know, and the new ones that are introduced as time goes on.

         For me as a reader, one of Dayton’s strongest gifts in writing for the characters is his ability to capture the essence of the characters personalities so that one can actually hear the voices in the dialog and in their thoughts.  He never disappoints.

 On The Fall Series In General

          If you have not already read the series, you should read them in order to avoid spoilers.  The series includes the following books:

Revelationand Dust by David R. George III

The Crimson Shadow by Una McCormack

A Ceremony of Losses by David Mack

ThePoisoned Chalice by James Swallow

Peaceable Kingdoms by Dayton Ward

         All-in-all, a fine series that together tell a great story of political maneuvering and corruption at the highest levels of Federation government. 

 I do have one minor nitpicky complaint though.  In the first book, there was a thread that never seemed to be picked up that perhaps might appear in a future novel.  In Revelation and Dust, there was a long subplot that involved Kira Nerys who had become a Vedek and entered the Wormhole and was being given visions of Bajoran history.  That thread never was really picked up in the rest of the series and as a DS-9 fan I would be interested to know where that was heading.  Just a thought.

I have always been curious about the creative process and found myself even more curious about the creative process when it comes to writing in a collaborative situation such as it take place in a series of books that are penned by numerous authors, as it is in the fall.  Every now and then, Dayton Ward opens his blog, The Fog Of Ward, up to questions from the public.  A few days ago he did and I took advantage of the opportunity to ask about writing a complete story with others. I asked:  

"Having just completed The Fall series, I find that I am curious about the group writing process. How close are the collaborations? Do you ever find that someone has written you into a corner that is difficult to write your way out of? Is there a master plan of what direction a series is to take? Do you ever thanks heat for maybe not going in a direction that a previous writer might have wanted you to take?”

Dayton answered:

         “Yes, to all of the above.

         When it comes to collaborations, there’s always going to be varying degrees of “give and take,” and what sounded good at the outset when the “master plan” was laid down might not end up working so well once it’s time to execute the story (or a given part of a larger story). If everybody is working toward the same goal, the story and telling it in the best possible way is the primary goal. Opinions will differ on the details from time to time, but the key there is to not take such things personally, regardless of which side you’re on for any given “differences.” 

         Just my $.02.”

            I should mention that after I contacted Dayton asking for permission to post this on this blog, he pointed out that his answer was about collaborative writing in general and should not be taken as any specific reference to the writing of The Fall.

Well, there it is…


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Aztlan: Michael Jan Friedman's View Of A Modern Aztec Society

Imagine for a minute what it might be like if a long dead civilization had actually survived to modern times.  Say, for instance, the Aztecs.  What would it be like if the Conquistadors under Cortez had never arrived in ancient Mexico, or if they had what would it be like if the Aztecs had successfully defended themselves against the Spanish conquerors?

Michael Jan Friedman of Star Trek novel fame as well as numerous other projects put his imagination to work and came up with two independently published novellas that take a look at criminal activity in the Aztec city of Atzlan.

The first of the two works, Aztlan: The Last Sun (and Mike recommends that you read them in order because there are spoilers in the second book that point events in the first), introduces us to Maxtla Colhua, an investigator for the Aztec Empire that stretches across a large part of the Americas.  Maxtla is a former athlete that played an often brutal game that seemed to be a mix between American football and basketball.  

While enjoying a meal with his aunt, Maxtla is called to the scene of a murder that is much like those from ancient times.  It is up to him to determine who is responsible for that murder and a series of murders that all follow the same pattern.  His investigation reveals numerous distractions and misdirection to stop him from finding the truth.  But his keen senses keep him on track as he discovers corruption in his own department, as well as problems at the highest levels.

In the second of the two novellas currently available, Aztlan: The Courts of Heaven, We once again follow the adventures of Maxtla as he learns more about his department’s corruption, and investigates the murder of the greatest athlete to play the game.  Maxtla has to find the answers again as he is lead through a confusing trail of leads that go nowhere, and with the most popular player of the game turning up dead, he has to get it done before the devoted fans rip the city to shreds.

I have always had a fascination with ancient civilizations, which is why I decided to read these two stories.  I thought I would give the first one a try and found myself hooked within the first few pages and couldn’t stop reading until I had finished both stories, finding myself wanting more.  Maxtla is a very interesting character that cares a great deal about the traditions of his department.  He is a patient, plodding detective that can use his wits to get to the bottom of a case, no matter what deceptions are thrown in his way.  He takes a lot of punishment in these two stories, but is like a devoted bloodhound, able to glean the truth and make sense of nonsense.  He is not a larger than life hero, just a man doing his job for the Empire.  He has a great sense of humor that manifests itself in the form of a dry wit.  If I had to compare these stories with another idea, I would have to say that it is much like NYPD Blue set in a world with a very different culture than what we know today.

I was able to contact Mike before writing this post to ask him a few questions about Aztlan.  He graciously responded to my questions, for which I extend my sincere thanks…

Q: Would you consider the Aztlan stories Science Fiction, Alternate Reality, or perhaps Speculative Fiction?  None of the above?

Mike: “Great question. I once described the Aztlan series to an editor at Random House. She said she loved the idea but she could never buy it because no chain book store buyer would know where to put it in his stores. It's certainly an alternate reality, but not what you might call an alternate history in that the point of divergence--the failure of Cortes to conquer the Aztecs--is hundreds of years in the past as compared to when the stories take place.”

Q.:What possessed you to resurrect a long dead civilization?

Mike: “I've always been fascinated by the Aztecs, I guess. As the end of the Mesoamerican calendar caught the public's imagination with its end-of-days flavor, I started thinking more and more about what that end would look like if the Aztecs were still a thriving civilization today--an isolationist empire that stretched from what we call Baffin Bay to what we call Tierra Del Fuego. The concept just grew from that point on.”

Q: Obviously, you were well researched in the culture of the Aztecs, what was involved with that?

Mike: “As I say, I'd been interested in the Aztecs for some time so I wasn't starting my research from scratch. Still, I took out books from the library, surfed the net, and so on until I felt comfortable in the world I was creating. Believe me, there's a lot of research that will never make it into the stories but you always have to know more than you'll tell the reader if you want to create a believable setting.”

Q: Can we Expect future installments of Aztlan?

Mike: “I've got more stories in mind, sure, but a couple of other projects are a somewhat higher priority right now--one of them being my new young-adult superhero novel I Am The Salamander, which was the subject of a successful Kickstarter and will be out in June.”

Q:   If every character is a part of you, which part is Imperial Investigator Maxtla Colhua, the protagonist in the Aztlan stories?

 Mike: “Maxtla is like me in a lot of ways. He's devoted to his work, he has a sense of humor, and he's a romantic. Of course, he's also a political conservative, as I was when I was very young, but he's learning more about the world around him and is becoming more open-minded as a result. He's growing in a way that I think is very plausible and very exciting, sort of like the Jack Nicholson character in Chinatown.”

Mike is part of an independent publishing company called Crazy 8 Press; a group of authors that that, along with Mike, includes such names as Robert Greenberger, and Peter David and many others.  While many of the authors are part of mainstream publishing, especially many of the Star Trek novels, they needed an outlet for their other works that the mainstream may not wish to take chances on, or as Mike explains it:

“The publisher of the Aztlan tales, Crazy 8 Press, which I co-founded, is dedicated to getting quirky stuff like the Aztlan stories out to readers. These are tales traditional publishers can't afford to take a chance on because they're suited more to the discerning reader than to the masses. However, we at Crazy 8 Press don't have to sell tens of thousands of copies to make the effort worth our while. All we need to reach is that consumer who has seen the same story a dozen times and wants something different for a change.”

Those of you that read this blog on a regular basis know that it is by and for fans of science fiction, but every now and again, I find that I have a need to read something that is outside of the strict scifi realm; I just need a break once in a while.  I came upon the Aztlan books through posts on Facebook from Mike promoting these stories, and found them to fit the bill of a diversion perfectly.  Both books are under 150 pages each and can easily be read in one sitting giving a complete story in each.  If you, like me, need a break from your usual fare, I highly recommend Aztlan to broaden your horizons a little.

Well, there it is…