Thursday, 31 December 2015

Happy New Year!

Not much to say today, except I hope you had a good year and that 2016 will be even better for you.

For me it was a pretty slow year. I only had the chance to officially release one short story despite actually having written nearly four novels this year. I still need the money and time to seek out a good editor, but at the very least I was productive.

I hope next year I can go at least a little bit further, but for now I'm grateful for what I've had and what little I've accomplished. Trust me when I say there have been years when I put out nothing at all and did even less. Thanks to God's graces I'm still here and trying much harder.

So, adios to 2015. See you in 2016.

Who know what lies ahead?

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Season 2 of Daredevil is on the way!

And I couldn't be happier! (Check out the last thirty seconds for a teaser)



As I have posted about before, I was a big fan of season 1 and am more than eager to see where they take a second season. You see, Daredevil was not only a boon for superhero shows, but for drama and action shows as well. What did it do well, you might ask? What did it do that most modern drama shows absolutely fail at? Well, that's a good question.

The biggest positive about Daredevil above everything else is that the main character, Matt Murdock, while not a saint, is a legitimate man with morals, and a hero. You might think this would be a strange thing to praise the show for, but let me ask you a question. How many action or drama shows have you watched in the last couple of years not based on a comic book where the protagonist, the man you're supposed to root for and want to follow, when was the last time he was either a moral man or a good man? When was he not either an amoral antihero who doesn't care about anything (no using the "he really has a heart of gold!" cheat, either) or a completely ineffective geek that is overshadowed by everyone else in the cast and is basically comic relief the rest of the time?

Of all the shows I've seen, only Person of Interest comes to mind. That's about it.

I mean, Matt Murdock has a pretty rough past, but he persevered through it all to become a man that wants to do good. And he honest to goodness tries. He doesn't succumb to despair, he doesn't become a clown that nobody takes seriously, he becomes a hero that wants to do the right thing.

On the opposite side is Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin. This is one of the best portrayals of villainy I've seen in a long time. They manage this by making Fisk personable and completely understandable at the same time thereby leaving the viewer with wanting to follow him. What the difference is? They never once excuse anything he does as anything less than wrong and evil. He is not a gooey grey mass of boring "no one is really evil" garbage most villains (again, outside of comic book material) are these days. Fisk is a well layered character with emotions, motivations, and a drive to succeed, but you never root for him to succeed. Because he is knowingly evil and a bad guy.

The other major positive is how it is shot. Daredevil succeeds at "gritty" better than most grim-dark wannabe edgy shows do because it hearkens back to a time when Hollywood knew how to do it right. The fight scenes are crisp and clear--you can actually see everything going on in them. The camera never shakes once. Scenes linger, actors act and add ticks to their characters, and the angles and direction show you everything you need to understand a scene. It actually reminds me most of old 80s action movies like Lethal Weapon, The Killer, or Die Hard, where the "grit" comes in the style of film used to shoot the story and not in dark filters or dreary CGI to fill in the rest.

For instance, there is this soon to be legendary fight from the second episode (don't worry, it isn't very bloody):


One shot. Crystal clear. Highly dramatic. It also thematically bookends the episode about the relationship between Matt and his father by showing that he really is his father's son, and the hope for the next generation.

In short, modern shows could learn a lot from Daredevil, and season 2 looks to improve and an already excellent foundation.

I have also heard that this season will feature both more action and a faster pace, which I'm more than happy to hear. I don't want a repeat of season 1, but to see the series expand and grow with its characters. The addition of both Elektra and the Punisher to the cast should certainly add quite a bit to the formula as they will both test Matt and he will test them as the season goes on. After that, who knows? But Daredevil could go on for years like this and I wouldn't be against it.

Although I didn't like Jessica Jones nearly as much as some others (couldn't stand the characters) and I am eager to see future Marvel series, it looks like my heart will be locked on Daredevil for the time being. As far as I'm concerned, this is how you not only do comic book shows, but action and dram as well. I only hope it catches on.

In the meantime, I'll just be sitting here, counting down the hours until season 2 is put up on Netflix. That should be a long wait, but the best things in life are usually worth that wait. Let's hope Daredevil's second season can top the stellar first season, because it has a lot to live up to.

Friday, 25 December 2015

Merry Christmas!

I hope you're having a great day as it is one of the best of the year. Christmas this year has been strange since we don't have a lot this year, but a lot more people seem more pleasant and happy than usual. Christmas is always odd that way.

Anyway, have a Merry Christmas and I will see you next week!


Thursday, 24 December 2015

Let's Go Hero Training!


Since the last time I've posted about My Hero Academia, several things have happened. The first was that the sales of the first volume did extremely well to the point that it's a bit ridiculous for a manga series without an anime to do so well. The second thing that happened was that it got an anime announcement recently aiming it for a Spring premiere in April.

Keep in mind that the manga has only been running serialized in Shonen Jump in Japan for only a little over a year. This is how much faith everyone has in this series to be huge.

I was surprised, too. Here's the trailer:


Not only is it being done by Studio Bones (the studio behind Blood Blockade Battlefront), but it's also being written by Yousuke Kuroda, writer of the Trigun anime. To say that I'm not as excited for this as anyone else would be an understatement. This is what I have been hoping for since the series first began, Not only that, but by a staff I would have never thought possible.

But enough of that, let's get to volume 2 of the manga instead. That's why we're all here.

As I contended at the end of my review of the first volume, My Hero Academia is a breath of fresh air in the manga world for being not only hopeful but rather action packed without having to rely on gore or over the top fetishisizing on the violence.

In the second volume, Izuku Midoriya, our hero, now starts his first semester at the prestigious U.A. High School officially and has his first few tests and assignments as a hero in training. These include a two on two villain battle to stop a bomb from leveling the city and an exercise in rescue training to save lives. Of course much else happens, but it requires a lot of spoilers to go through and I don't want to ruin it. Suffice to say, in volume 2 we meet a group of villains that are actually quite terrifying to behold and out main characters become more fleshed out.

While volume 1 established the characters (mainly those of Midoriya, All Might, and Bakugo), volume 2 shows us the other members of Midoriya's class and how they have just as much potential to be heroes as he does. Midoriya's rivalry with Bakugo officially starts in their very first battle against each other, requiring a lot more cooperation with their team members in order to win. Oh yeah, and the heroes get their costumes.

It also must be said that the pacing in volume 2 is very brisk. A lot of modern manga (and by extension, anime) has a tendency to navel gaze a bit too much and take forever to get to the end. Bleach, for example, can go months on just a single fight (at one chapter a week) which can absolutely kill the momentum. My Hero Academia doesn't suffer from this. Fights between heroes and villains are quick, strategies are key, and dramatic battles are given exactly the gravitas they need without feeling long at all. And I can confirm the series continues in this vein after this volume. Kohei Horikoshi's feel for pacing is probably second only to Akira Toriyama (author of Dragon Ball) in how sharp it is.

On the other hand, I have to mention the negatives here. The first volume didn't really have any due to just being set up, but the second only has a couple. The first is the character of Mineta who is as cowardly as he is perverted. He is constantly told off for his actions, but he is still quite annoying to deal with compared to other characters. The second is Bakugo from the first volume. Bakugo takes a while to really learn anything in this series compared to just about anyone else and he can seem annoying to those who don't like hot-headed characters. But I'm going to go into a bit of spoilers in the next paragraph, so skip it if you don't want it.

*SPOILERS*

Bakugo is frequently hated in fan circles because he is hot-headed, arrogant, stubborn, and a jerk. Which he is. The thing that is never pointed out about him is that he isn't stupid. You know this when they mention his test scores and when you see how smartly he fights. He's actually on par with Midoriya. The problem is that Bakugo wears nothing on his sleeve. Nothing at all. If you want to see him develop, you have to pay closer attention to the way he says things. He was arrogant until he came to UA High School and slowly lost it over time. It isn't blatant because he never outright says it, but it's there. Also, his superiority complex over Midoriya is another thing that very slowly changes until a very recent chapter when the two get past their differences and work together for a common goal. Bakugo is a hero despite his faults, just like the others. His problems are more internal and how he deals with them externally is part of his character's appeal. It's no coincidence that his quirk is to cause explosions.

*END SPOILERS*

Anyway, in this volume, Bakugo gets pretty obnoxious as the cover would have you believe. As I said, at this point he's a bit more annoying than heroic, but he slowly gets better as the series goes on.

Despite those small faults, volume 2 is actually an improvement on the first and a great introduction to the wider world of My Hero Academia. If you liked volume 1, there's no real chance you won't like this one even more.

But I've rambled. My Hero Academia is a great manga, and on its way to being a classic of the genre. If you like superheroes, shonen manga, or action adventure stories, this series was made just for you. It's a real gem.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Words of Encouragement for Writers

From Science Fiction author, John C. Wright:

"The Devil invented lies to turn the power of speech into a weapon of falsehood. And God invented the parable, the poem, the epic, the song, and the sonnet in order to turn the power of lies into fables, myths, types and shadows, to turn fiction into a weapon of truth.
I know more people who were converted by Aslan than by Aquinas. What does that tell you about the power of fiction?"

Food for thought. Have a Merry fourth week of Advent!

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Outside the Future

I've made no bones about the fact that I am a fan of Urge Overkill, specifically everything after their underrated Stull EP, which is why I tend to post so many lyrics of theirs. It might be because despite being a rock n roll band that parodied excess before succumbing to it, one of the things they got really good at with parts of Stull that continued for the rest of their career is how strong heir lyrics became.

Unfortunately, none of their albums include the lyrics in them (probably to help maintain the illusion) but the lyrics when paid attention to are often quite good.

For instance, listen to this song called "Tequila Sundae" (which is a pretty jokey title up until you read the lyrics) without looking at the lyrics below.




Now try it with the lyrics and compare how they contrast with the music:




Tequila Sundae
Music and Lyrics by Urge Overkill


Got no time for stimulation
Daylight runs and runs for hours
Heavy cold sweat under the black sun shower
Under the silicon valley sun

Flattery will get you nowhere
Oh my God, I didn't wanna hurt no one
In a false sleep, in need of stimulation
I wish the z-ball was the sun

She was gone (I believe her)
Gone (Underneath the)
A tequila sun

She was gone (I believe her)
Gone (I believe her)
A tequila sun

Now that I need her (Tequila sun)
She's off in the sun
With someone
With someone

Melt away!

Put yourself outside the future
Silicon sun rising above the ground

She was gone (I believe her)
Gone (Underneath the)
A tequila sun

She was gone (I believe her)
Gone (Underneath the)
A tequila sun

Now that I need her (Tequila sun)
She's off in the sun
With someone
With someone

She was gone (I believe her)
Gone (Underneath the)
A tequila sun

She was gone (I believe her)
Gone (I believe her)
I believe that woman

Now that I need you (Tequila sun)

Don't melt away!

Got no need for stimulation
Let the cheeba be the sun.




Not quite as simple as it first came across, no? On the surface it sounds like another rock song about glorifying self-destruction and excess, but instead becomes a lament on losing what is really important and replacing it with material things.

The usage of "Silicon Sun" and the replacement of the real sun with drink and drugs contrasts the artificial sun of the singer's desire with whoever "she is" that is off in the real sun. To me, that is the most interesting part of the song. She's off in the sun? She's in a better place? Is she dead? Did she find someone new? I guess it doesn't make a difference in the subject's mind since it's all the same to him. Now he's got nothing and fills it with substances that won't fill anything at all as the last line implies.

But to me, it's the title that is really clever. Tequila Sunrise is a well known drink, but he never once says it in the song. Tequila Sundae instead implies a desert, a treat, one that can melt away like the lyrics say. But in the song, what he wants to melt away are his memories of "her" and by the end he realizes what he lost and changes his mind. However, as the final lines imply, that's simply to late. He's filled the deep hole in himself with junk instead.

Contrasting the drink with the real sun is a great comparison for both the song, and a deeper level to the straightforward lyrics.

But what I like the most is how deceptively simple the lyrics are. They are essentially about a man drinking himself to forget, which is a popular topic in music, just as the similarly named "Tequila Sunrise" by the Eagles is. But what it is about is a bit more than that. Urge Overkill had always parodied the rock n roll lifestyle of sex, drugs, and alcohol, before, but this is the first song that doesn't feel like that at all. The song treats addition like the pit it is, but with a small inkling of hope that there is more than the artificial sun the singer lives his life by. It aims a bit higher than similar songs of its style.

It also helps that it has a kicking riff that goes great with the dark tinge of the lyrics. Sonically, the band has rarely ever sounded tighter than on this track, which goes well with the desperate state of the subject of the lyrics.

At some point instead of just being about carefree fun and optimism like Chuck Berry and the Beach Boys, rock music became entrenched in love of excess, lust, fatalism, and nihilism, until it became the grey mush of forgetful nothing it is nowadays. Bands like Urge Overkill wisely took the things rock bands made important and shone a light on how stupid, how dangerous, (and eventually) how evil, they actually are. Fun is fun, but the line is there for a reason, and patting yourself on the back for stumbling over it and off a cliff is not cool or rebellious, it's suicidal.

Or maybe it's just me. Either way, I'm glad songs, and bands, like this exist. Keeps me away from modern radio and away from all the pop songs celebrating self-destruction. I'm under no illusion that suicide is is preferable to life, and as someone who has stared the devil in the face and has no desire to ever see it again.


Monday, 7 December 2015

Nice Haul


With some extra change in my pocket I made my way to the used book store for the first time in months and found myself with a ton of books I've always wanted to read but have either never found on a shelf or simply haven't had the money for when found.

Here's what I got my hands on:

"Eaters of the Dead" by Michael Crichton
"On Basilisk Station" by David Weber
"The Honor of the Queen" by David Weber
"Three Hearts & Three Lions" by Poul Anderson
"Speaker for the Dead" by Orson Scott Card
"The Bourne Identity" by Robert Ludlum
"Double Star" by Robert Heinlein
"Pacific Vortex!" by Clive Cussler
"Night Probe!" by Clive Cussler
"The Naked Sun" by Isaac Asimov
"The Foundation Trilogy" by Isaac Asimov

There were more I wanted to look into, but I had to stop somewhere. I'm assuming someone recently got rid of their collections of books, which is quite good for chumps like me who prefer to read physical copies.

It should take me a while to get through them, being a slow reader, but that's fine with me. All these have been near the top of my list to read for a long time now and I'm eager to get into them. I have already dived into Double Star. It is exactly what I hoped it was.

Have a good week, and don't forget to read something good while you're at it! I just don't expect you'll be reading anything as good as some of these any time soon.