Gardens of the Moon

Paran is a soldier in the army of the Malazan Empire, chosen by events to play a part in a growing crisis of divinity. He is placed in command of the Bridgeburners, an infamous unit of skirmishers, in their siege of a foreign city. That siege, and Paran's efforts to consummate it by taking the city, is the focus of the novel. Yet that siege is also little more than a delaying action: a single battle in the prelude to the coming storm, a storm in the form of an army of religious fanatics on the march towards the Empire like a plague of locusts... destroying everything in their path.

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Wed Oct 27 11:57:20 CDT 2004 by Matthew. Comments

The Bourne Supremacy

I was fairly disappointed in this adaptation. Ludlum is an author who excels at plotting, rather than writing style or characterization. While the first adaptation ("The Bourne Identity") tossed out a fair bit of the original plot, it also went to some lengths to avoid directly contradicting the book. With this movie they completely tossed out that principle, along with most of the original plot. What's left is a skeleton hanging from wires -- enough to hang the plot of a mediocre action movie on, but not enough to retain any of the good qualities from Ludlum's novel.

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Wed Oct 27 02:00:04 CDT 2004 by Matthew. Comments

Absolution Gap

Absolution Gap is the fourth and final book in a series; as such, I will write about my impressions of the entire series as well as the final book specifically. The series also includes Revelation Space, and Chasm City.

Overall, the author has a fresh voice, an innovative concept of the future, and interesting stories to tell. The plot twists through some very surprising (and sometimes, too surprising) turns.

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Sat Oct 23 03:10:19 CDT 2004 by Matthew. Comments

Slashdot interviews Neal Stephenson...

It's a pretty good interview, covering questions like "Should cryptographic tools be considered arms, and protected by the 2nd Amendment?"

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Wed Oct 20 16:10:11 CDT 2004 by Matthew. Comments

Narcissus in Chains

The novel opens with Anita being called upon to rescue Nathaniel, her house leopard, from a local S&M club. After months of enforced separation from Jean-Claude and Richard, months spent learning to control her powers, Anita is suddenly thrust back into the world of the monsters and forced to contend with her enemies once more. And with her allies, as well, for not everything has been peachy with her boys while she was gone.

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Tue Oct 19 16:03:49 CDT 2004 by Matthew. Comments

Tehanu : The Earthsea Cycle

Like the movie Highlander 2, fans consider Tehanu to be a novel that doesn't exist. The original EarthSea trilogy (A Wizard of EarthSea, The Tombs of Atuan, and The Farthest Shore) represented a glorious and powerful work of fantasy literature, with depth of character and emotion, powerful themes, and a joy in the simple things that are the greatest mysteries.

Tehanu is a novel written explicitly to destroy everything that was good about that trilogy.

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Sun Oct 17 16:02:11 CDT 2004 by Matthew. Comments


  1. Foreigner
  2. Invader
  3. Inheritor
  4. Precursor
  5. Defender
  6. Explorer

The series follows a human paidhi (a diplomatic specialist in alien cultures) in his career as liason between a colony of humans and the native race of the planet, the Atevi, who are undergoing a dramatically accelerated transition from the beginning of their industrial period to a human-guided space age. Although a certain initial investment is required, the tale rapidly becomes engrossing. The paidhi's unenviable status as the sole human permitted in close contact with the Atevi, with responsibility for interperting all contact between their cultures, embroils him in labyrinthine politics that threaten his life as well as planetary war.

The Atevi are rendered both tauntingly humanlike and deeply alien, with characters and personalities quite distinct from one another even within the overall strangeness of the race. The humans have their own depth of character. It is, in many ways, a remarkably well-written series. Rarely can I be induced to sit still for 6 books of politicing where the end goal is always a peaceful resolution of differences -- even if that ideal is not always perfectly met.

Cherryh isn't the type of author who hits emotional home runs when the bases are loaded. This is a tale well-told; it does not aspire to greatness, but instead matter-of-factly excels at entertaining and engrossing.

Fri Oct 15 14:00:19 CDT 2004 by Matthew. Comments

The Paladin

"The Paladin" is the tale of an aging swordmaster, living in reclusion, trying to deal with a prospective student who wants him to return to the world and deal with the Evil Usurper. The plot is hardly original, although there are a few interesting twists. Even so, the story is well told and thoroughly enjoyable. It's worth noting that it dates from a time when fantasy novels could be simple, straightforward, and well-written; that was enough. These days it can be a little more complicated.

Fri Oct 15 14:00:19 CDT 2004 by Matthew. Comments

Smoke and Shadows

Smoke and Shadows is the latest "Vicki Nelson" novel. I suspect Tanya is returning to that universe for financial reasons, because the book itself feels like a "paint-by-numbers" effort that could have been spawned from a random plot generator. Vicki herself makes no appearance, and Henry plays a role that could be described as "muscle" -- if you were feeling like flattery, which any fan of this series won't be.

If that's not enough of a dire warning to drive you away from the book, read on. Because it's not really that bad. It's just stuck on the lower end of the Vicki Nelson series, and that particular series started at mediocre and went downhill about the time the corpse of Vicki's mother was turned into an undead robot by a deranged mortician. This book isn't THAT bad. In fact, after that disaster, it's almost a return to form. But it's definitely not as interesting as the first three.

Thu Oct 14 13:48:06 CDT 2004 by Matthew. Comments


Ultraviolet is one of those interesting experiments that occasionally show up on British television. Mostly, I'm a fan of British Comedy; for some reason the really good britcom just hits my funnybone when a lot of more American comedy falls flat. (If you're looking for recommendations, you can't go wrong with BlackAdder or Red Dwarf). But sometimes something that's not a comedy comes along and nevertheless works.

I heard about Ultraviolet by word of mouth. Friends of friends had seen it and declared it wonderful. Nobody had it, but they knew someone who knew someone who had once borrowed it. Eventually, I bought the whole set, sight-unseen, just to see what all the fuss was about. It helps that I got a basic scenario from friends, since I'm a mild vampire junkie, and while Ultraviolet never actually says "vampire", it's definitely about vampires.

That particular bit of style sets the tone for the whole series. It's all about ambiguity. The vampires are hunted mercilessly by a special government operation, and in many ways the effects they have on people are horrifying. Those effects are almost always viewed secondhand, so you can see the damage done to (sometimes innocent, and sometimes not so innocent) lives.

And yet they are sometimes strangely sympathetic as well. They know friendship, love, pain, and fear, just as the human characters do. They seem human even as they corrupt everything they touch.

Am I talking about the vampires or the humans who hunt them? I dunno. It works both ways.

This is one of the rare television programs that embraces moral ambiguity in a great big hug and won't let go. From beginning to end (and there is definitely a story arc), the watcher is asked to explore tough moral questions. From eternally-childlike vampires preying on child abusers (and who, exactly, is the victim there? Both?) to the abortion of a vampiric fetus, hard questions are asked and left for the audience to answer for themselves.

This is definitely not your typical vampire-genre production. But if you like television that makes you think, and you don't mind a bit of a British accent to your bloodsuckers, take a sip of this one.

Thu Oct 14 13:48:06 CDT 2004 by Matthew. Comments

I, Robot

I, Robot is a collection of short stories by Isaac Asimov, exploring the concept of robots that follow his Three Laws of Robotics in ways that result in strange and unexpected behavior. This is science fiction at its best; each short story effectively presents a puzzle that can be solved only by proper application of the Three Laws. The reader has the opportunity to puzzle why a robot would turn his subordinate robots into a marching band, whether a too-good-to-be-true politician is a robot or simply a very moral human, why a mind-reading robot might not be much use at all, and what to do when a robot gets religion.

This is definitely an ideas book, but it's a good one, and a classic of the genre. Any fan of science fiction should read it.

Thu Oct 14 13:48:06 CDT 2004 by Matthew. Comments

The Jupiter Theft

I read this in a 2003 reissue; it was originally published in 1977. Despite this, it's an engaging piece of hard science fiction that passes the test of time extremely well. The author was even lucky enough to guess at a Russian collapse, leaving the Chinese as the primary world power (other than the United States, of course). There are only a few references that date the book to its original publication, and none of those are jarring.

So what's the plot? Well, it's a first-contact novel. Like so many others, it begins with the detection of a mysterious interstellar object en route to the solar system at a large fraction of the speed of light, apparantly intending to take up an orbit around Jupiter. Coincidentally, Earth was about to launch a joint US-Chinese mission to the very same gas giant. Delay the mission just long enough for the government to add some mysterious cigar-shaped packages and off we go.

The prose is smooth, and flows well. The characters are convincingly rendered, although as with most science fiction, they are not the driving force for the plot. The author has spent enough time on his alien biology to produce extraterrestrials that are both familiar and alien, and enough time on his science to explain it clearly for the layman without making obvious errors.

What really makes this novel stand out is its clarity relative to many modern hard-science-fiction authors. It's an easy read, without any need to wade through poorly-written prose or incomprehensible character decisions; well suited for younger readers with an interest in space or science, and capable of holding an adult's attention without difficulty.

Thu Oct 14 13:48:06 CDT 2004 by Matthew. Comments

I, Robot

"I, Robot" is based loosely (the movie terms it "suggested by" in the credits) upon a collection of short stories by Isaac Asimov. It's been a while since I read the book, but I remembered the basic elements of Asimov's universe and the questions he raised in the book. Based on that recollection, the movie version successfully captured the flavor of Asimov's work, raising many of the same questions, but doing so in a single coherent action-adventure rather than a short-story format that would have translated poorly to the screen. (On the other hand, that format could work very well as a TV series -- movies are expected to have an overarching plot, TV series can get away with an episodic format).

I would not classify this as an adaptation of "I, Robot" for Asimov purists. Rather, it's an action-adventure set in Asimov's universe that happens to draw upon some of the characters from the stories. But as a stand-alone story, it's remarkably well done, better than most of what Hollywood produces by leaps and bounds. If the success of Lord of the Rings inspired this movie to cash in on the perceived new market, it worked and it worked well.

The plot is rather more complex than the standard action-movie ideal. It's fairly well thought out and has a number of twists and turns. Most of them were mildly predictable but not obvious. The tension between the main characters was well-handled, but wasn't terribly subtle in the area of robotic behavior and psychology -- I think that was a concession to the audience. The SF fans already know the subtleties, and the general public would be bored by them. Most of Asimov's themes and concepts are there or at at least briefly referenced, but not dealt with in-depth.

The CGI robots are absolutely stunning; smooth, detailed, expressive, and both human and not human at the same time. Most of the fight scenes are well done -- not exceptional, since they aren't the focus of the movie, but very well presented. The director abandoned the usual "slice and dice visuals" for this movie, presenting instead a number of long, detailed sequences -- each one complete in itself. Gone was the choppy, confusing, distorted feeling far too many films have embraced; give me the slow lingering shots with a beginning, middle, and end please! There was one particular fight between two robots, hand-to-hand, that was absolutely perfect and reeked with authenticity.

The only somewhat disappointing part of this film was the politics. There wasn't a lot, and it was fairly subtle, but there's a moment in the film when it is clearly obvious that the villian is speaking lines from the Bush administration's War on Terror, and the protagonist's struggle to resist is intended for the public to identify with. I don't disagree with the message, I just think that it was intended to BE a message, and that grates a little bit. It's a minor sin and it fits into the movie perfectly, though, so I'm not too worried.

On a more subtle note, there was a noticable lack of firearms in the hands of anyone other than the police, even in situations where most people would have pulled out the shotgun in the closest or the like. The police are running around with fully-automatic weapons that never need reloading, of course.

Some minor flaws... There were two absolutely, completely, totally blatent product placements. They don't detract from the movie, really, but they are awkward moments clearly placed there for commercial opportunity. There's a car chase scene that temporarily shattered my suspension of disbelief.

Whether you're an Asimov fan or not, go see the movie: it's very well done and very much worth it.

Thu Oct 14 13:48:06 CDT 2004 by Matthew. Comments

Atlas Shrugged

Atlas Shrugged is the tale of society on the verge of collapse, not from war or plague, but from leftist government policy. The US is the last remaining capitalist country, but it is slowly suffocating as progressive/communist-type elements encroach upon the government and stifle the industrial network that drives the economy. When major industrialists start dissappearing without a trace, leaving all their assets behind, some of those remaining start to wonder where they have gone, and why. Atlas, in addition to espousing various philosophies and portraying the Left at its worst, is a lively read with vivid characters, and is not by any means bogged down in nothing but politics and economics.

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Thu Oct 14 13:48:06 CDT 2004 by tsarren@infodancer.org. Comments

Guilty Pleasures

Guilty Pleasures is the first novel in a long-running series. The novel is set in a world very like our modern world, with a few minor differences: primarily the strong presence of the supernatural. In fact, that presence is so strong that vampires have been granted legal rights, a vaccine has been developed for lycanthropy, and degrees in "preternatural biology" are not unknown.
Anita Blake is making her way in the world through the use of her supernatural talents; specifically, her ability to raise the dead as zombies. While what might seem a talent limited only to halloween to some, Anita (along with the other employees of Animators, Inc) has found exotic uses for her abilities. Everything from zombies testifying in court to clear up the intent of their will to abused children getting one last chance to chew out their parents has come up. But that is the most mundane part of her duties.
Anita is also the registered vampire executioner for the city of St Louis. When a fanged menace goes rogue, it's her job to track down the criminal and put a stake through its undead heart. In order to facilitate that, she works closely with the local police's preternatural crimes unit.
So it should hardly come as a surprise that Anita is at the top of the list when someone -- or something -- starts killing the local vampires. But the vampires aren't exactly human themselves, and their power struggles cover centuries. It's easier to get in then it is to get out.
Guilty Pleasures starts off good and stays there. Any fan of vampire fiction will want to drain this book dry, along with most of its followup novels. Although this is the first novel in a series, readers should not be dismayed by the prospect of cliffhanger endings or a long committment: each novel in the series is written to stand alone, while also advancing the overall plot.
The writer is a skilled descriptive linguist, capable of evoking visceral and bloody horror with a great deal of power. This novel and this series is not for the squeamish! Blood drips from walls, soaks into carpets, and corpses are eaten by supernatural beasties. But fans of subtle shading and character development will not find Anita Blake's universe lacking in either. There is much to appreciate and enjoy throughout the series, and this novel is an accurate taste of the overall flavor.
Readers should be warned to expect a significant component of eroticism to the series. In the first 6 novels, the erotic element is muted; it exists in the interplay between the characters and the nature of the vampire's powers rather than explicit sexuality. The later novels, however, border upon soft-porn and the trend appears to be consistent. If that's not your cup of tea, read the series until you find it's not worth it anymore; because each novel stands alone you won't be left with a cliffhanger to trap you into reading the next book just to learn the ending.

Thu Oct 07 15:52:27 CDT 2004 by Matthew. Comments

The Laughing Corpse

Anita Blake is back, and this time she's asked to sort out a murderous zombie while convincing Jean-Claude, the vampire Master of the City, that dinner and a movie really aren't in her schedule, especially not when the undead are asking. And as if that wasn't enough, one of her clients wants her to raise a someone from the dead... someone long enough in the grave to require a human sacrifice.

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Thu Oct 07 15:52:27 CDT 2004 by Matthew. Comments

Circus of the Damned

Anita Blake and Jean-Claude struggle to sort out their love lives as a rogue pack of vampires moves into town, determined to take over the reins from the new Master of the City -- and not incidentally, to leave a few corpses for the police to investigate in the process. What sounds like the plot of a novel is only another day in Anita's harried life, and it doesn't get any easier from there.

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Thu Oct 07 15:52:27 CDT 2004 by Matthew. Comments

The Lunatic Cafe

Having established Jean-Claude as Master of the City in Circus of the Damned, in The Lunatic Cafe the attention shifts to Richard... Richard, Anita's science teacher and romantic interest... as well as beta wolf to Marcus in the local werewolf pack by way of a bad batch of lycanthrope vaccine. And while Anita learns to deal with her beloved getting furry once a month, she's handed a missing-lycanthrope case and a naga skin.

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Thu Oct 07 15:52:27 CDT 2004 by Matthew. Comments

Obsidian Butterfly

Obsidian Butterfly takes Anita out of her usual territory when Edward (bounty hunter, assassin, and scourge of the preternatural), invites her along for backup in a New Mexico monster-hunt. It's a rare chance to learn something new and interesting about Edward, who has been a consistent figure of mystery in the novels to date. And it does not disappoint in the least.

Fans of the series will appreciate the fact that the sexuality in this novel has been toned down significantly. Although it is not completely absent, Anita is separated from her usual companions and is thus less susceptible to distractions.

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Thu Oct 07 15:52:27 CDT 2004 by Matthew. Comments

Burnt Offerings

In Burnt Offerings some of the eggs laid in Circus of the Damned end up coming home to roost. Specifically, the vampire "Council" is visiting in order to investigate Jean-Claude's intentions following the death of Mr. Oliver. Normally, when you kill a member of the vampire council, you assume his seat. But Jean-CLaude didn't kill Oliver; that honor belongs to Anita. The only problem is, Jean-CLaude isn't a strong enough vampire to hold the council seat -- and if they find out Anita did the killing, she'll be next on the menu.

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Thu Oct 07 15:52:27 CDT 2004 by Matthew. Comments

Kindred the Embraced

Kindred: The Embraced is something I think fairly unique... a television series (or, arguably, soap opera) based on a roleplaying game. Specifically, based on White Wolf's Storyteller system, the first game in which was Vampire: The Masquerade. As you might expect from such a humble beginning, this series wasn't exactly the best thing on TV. Even so, it wasn't awful.

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Thu Oct 07 15:52:27 CDT 2004 by Matthew. Comments

Resident Evil

Most of the time, movies based off of video games are dismally bad, horrendously low-budget creations with little redeeming value. This one, however, stands out from the pack. While it is definitely low-budget (and clearly, most of the budget was spent on a particular CGI creature), most of the time that doesn't show. The actors are competent if not exceptional, and the action comes fast and furious. The plot is significantly more complex that should be expected from a video game adaptation.

Even so, don't go to this movie looking for high-gloss action or great one-liners. It's pure humans-versus-zombies fun. Definitely a B movie, but a well-done B movie that deserves praise for scoring well above expectations.

Thu Oct 07 15:52:27 CDT 2004 by Matthew. Comments


Hellsing is a fairly unique take on the vampire mythos in anime. The art is done in an unusual style, more abstract than I would normally prefer, and somewhat repetitive. The characters are intriguing if occasionally hackneyed. Although it's hard to pack much plot into individual episodes, due to time constraints and the need for cool visuals, there is a metaplot that develops throughout the episodes that looks to be going somewhere interesting.

Fans of vampires and anime will find much to enjoy about this series, which seems to combine some of the best of both. However, there is definitely better vampire anime out there, including the classic Vampire Hunter D and Vampire Hunter D: BloodLust.

Fri Oct 01 20:24:45 CDT 2004 by Matthew. Comments

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

If Vampire Hunter D was an excuse for a high "cool factor", Bloodlust turns the cool factor up to 11 and adds moral ambiguity, a much longer runtime, better art, and much improved dialog. Perhaps the best way to describe this sequel is simply this: everything you liked about the first one is present in the sequel, and there are a lot of really good additions that bring depth and quality to the sequel. What the original could be understood to have if you read between the lines is made explicit here.

Perhaps the single largest difference apparant in Bloodlust is the quality of the art. It's simply pretty. There are some very stunning and impressive visuals, and even the characters are much more detailed and painstakingly drawn.

Similarly, although not as obvious at first glance, the dialog and translation have improved enough to express some of the subtexts that were hidden between the lines in the original. As before, the character of D remains mostly an enigma, allowing the personalities of those around him to do most of the expressing.

If you liked Vampire Hunter D you'll like this even more; it's better in every measurable way, except in that it can't be the first. If you didn't like D, you might like this one anyway, depending on what it was that you didn't like. And if you never saw the first one, you won't be missing anything vital to the plot.

Fri Oct 01 20:21:45 CDT 2004 by Matthew. Comments


Innocence is a sequel to the popular anime Ghost in the Shell. And it's a sequel that gives the lie to sequelitis: Innocence may even surpass it's predecessor.

Fans of Ghost in the Shell will recognize Batou, who returns in the sequel as the solemn, philosophical cyborg cop. Since the disappearance of the Major, his partner, he has withdrawn further and further into himself. He's assigned a new partner and put on a case involving robots that are killing their human owners and committing suicide.

As you might expect, this is used as an opportunity to explore some of the same themes as before. When we learn to manipulate the senses and memories of other human beings, how can you really know what's real? What is it that makes a person human, if their body is merely a biological machine? What happens when the machines stop acting like machines, and start acting like humans?

The deep thoughts are so thick in this one that the characters engage in an extended conversation about Descartes at one point. They aren't self-conscious about it, but they really are wrestling with the questions themselves rather than just going through the motions.

For that matter, those of you who have not read any of Descartes' work would be well advised to glance through the cliff-notes version so you can understand what the relationship to the story is. For some works, expecting a basic familiarity with philosophy might come across the wrong way, or as grasping too hard for meaning, but here it works.

Innocence is out in theaters. I will link to the DVD version when it becomes available.

Fri Oct 01 14:37:30 CDT 2004 by Matthew. Comments

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