27 December 2011

Book Review: The Natural History of Unicorns

The Natural History of Unicorns (2009)
By Chris Lavers

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

Some book titles can grab you across a room and demand your money. Such was the case with The Natural History of Unicorns, which I discovered not in a bookstore, but in a curio shop in San Francisco specializing in . . . actually, I have no idea what the store was really selling, except that it was next to the Pirate Supply Store (no joke, this exists, although principally to fund a writing workshop in the back) and the excellent science-fiction and fantasy bookstore Borderlands. A bit of both stores rubbed off onto this one, and so in the midst of taxidermy snakes was this book promising to tell me the Natural History of a fantasy animal. Immediate sell.

Well, almost immediate. I did check to see that the book was not crazy pseudo-science making the claim that the fantasy version of the unicorn was real and scientists were refusing to admit the truth. But the book appeared to be exactly what I wanted: a multi-discipline exploration of the development and evolution of the unicorn legend.

21 December 2011

“Farewell to Tyrn” Coming January 15th

Update: “Farewell to Tyrn” is now available for Kindle at Amazon.com, and for other formats at Smashwords.com.

And now, an official announcement regarding my first publication of 2012:

My novelette “Farewell to Tyrn” will be available as a 99¢ ebook in all e-reader formats on January 16. You will be able to purchase it from Amazon for the Kindle, and from Smashwords for all other e-readers.

Feast your eyes on the cover art, from the magnificently talented Fred Jordan, who also illustrated my story “An Acolyte of Black Spires” for Writers of the Future Vol. XXVII.
“Farewell to Tyrn” is a new science-fantasy story set in the continent of Ahn-Tarqa, and is linked to “An Acolyte of Black Spires,” although not a direct sequel to it. It also serves as the prologue to my upcoming novel Turn over the Moon.

This tale of city-set adventure pits twelve-year-old Belde, a girl who makes a startling discovery about her life, and her dinosaur companion Rint against the soldiers and creations of the vile Shapers, the masked sorcerers of Ahn-Tarqa. “Farewell to Tyrn” combines tragedy, action, weird science, and dinosaurs in a thrilling story that further explores the mystery of Ahn-Tarqa and prepares Belde for an even greater adventure.

Here’s a sample from the opening pages:
My last summer in Tyrn, when the Shapers came for me, was the hottest I could remember. Father often told me stories about a summer when he was a boy that was so boiling fishermen could fill a pot from the Glosser River and use it to brew tea without a fire. I used to think Father was teasing me, but that Month of the Sun taught me the truth.

But I didn’t mind the scorching weather. The Month of the Sun was my favorite time of the year because I could play outside with Rint and my friends as much as I wanted, and my parents never remembered what time it was to call me in for supper. When the sun is always in the sky, people don’t think about “dinnertime” or “bedtime.”

I never imagined anything horrible could happen on bright days like that. . . .

19 December 2011

Wrath of the Titans Trailer Gives Me a Chimera, But Little Hope

Cross posted to Black Gate.

If you were talking about movie trailers yesterday or over the weekend, chances are the subject was The Dark Knight Rises. The most anticipated film of 2012 revealed its first full-length trailer (after a teaser during the summer) on selected theater screens with Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows. The IMAX six-minute prologue to the film also appeared before 70 mm screenings of Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol. I saw the prologue yesterday in the glorious IMAX presentation, and yes, The Dark Knight Rises is going to be something amazing. (By the way, Ghost Protocol is the best of the “Mission: Impossible” films, and delivers everything you want from a big-budget action movie. Here’s to Brad Bird having a great career in live-action films.)

In the middle of mad speculation and analysis from the new Bat-info Warner Bros. and Legendary Films poured on us, the studio and production company also sneake out the trailer for another of their 2012 releases: Wrath of the Titans, the sequel to the 2010 re-make of Ray Harryhusen’s Clash of the Titans.

13 December 2011

Ryan Harryhausen’s Mysterious Island on Blu-Ray

Mysterious Island (1961)
Directed by Cy Enfield. Starring Michael Craig, Herbert Lom, Joan Greenwood, Michael Callan, Gary Merrill, Percy Herbert, Dan Jackson, Beth Rogan.

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

I have no qualms admitting that I enjoyed the 2007 Walden Media adaptation of Journey to the Center of the Earth. It surprised me how much of Verne’s novel made it onto the screen in a contemporary setting. However, the prospect of a sequel, riffing slightly (at least from what I can detect from the first trailer) on Verne’s 1874 classic The Mysterious Island, does nothing for me other than as a reminder to read that recent translation of the novel from the Modern Library that has stared at me from my “to read” stack for over a year. The new film is called Journey 2: Mysterious Island, which explains exactly what the filmmakers intend: the same thing as the last film. Maybe some younger viewers will go find the book after watching the movie, although the novel is less child-appealing than some of Verne’s other works, such as Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, which children should read first anyway because Mysterious Island is a sequel to it. Will Captain Nemo show up in the new film? Who cares.

However, the marketing for Journey 2 coincides with the Blu-ray release of an earlier adaptation, the Ray Harryhausen-Charles H. Schneer Mysterious Island released in 1961. A number of Harryhausen’s classics have reached Blu-ray already, but Mysterious Island makes its high definition debut in a limited edition from a small direct distributor, Twilight Time, that specializes in film soundtrack albums. This concerns me for the release of other of Harryhausen titles. Mysterious Island is a Columbia film, and Sony Home Video released The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts on Blu-ray. Apparently they preferred to farm out Mysterious Island to an independent—and on the film’s fiftieth anniversary! I may never have learned about the Mysterious Island Blu-ray if I wasn’t a soundtrack collector on mailing lists for small labels. (If you want to buy the Mysterious Island Blu-ray, go here. It’s limited to 3,000 unit, and I have no idea how fast they will sell.)

06 December 2011

Destroy All Monsters on Blu-ray

Destroy All Monsters (1968)
Directed by Ishiro Honda. Starring Akira Kubo, Jun Tazaki, Yukiko Kobayahsi, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Kyoko Ai, Kenji Sahara, Yoshifumi Tajima, Andrew Hughes, Haruo Nakajima.

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

Last month, the second Godzilla film to reach Blu-ray in North America made its thundering, skyline-flattening debut, courtesy of Media Blasters: the 1968 science-fiction suitmation mash Destroy All Monsters (Japanese title: Kaiju Soshingeki, “Charge of the Monsters” or “Monster Invasion”). The only Godzilla movie to beat it onto Blu-ray is the 1954 original, which will get a re-release as part of the Criterion Collection in January 2012. (The Criterion Collection! Godzilla has gained a well-deserved highbrow victory and sits on the same shelf with Kubrick and Bergman!) Also scheduled for Hi-Def release is 1973’s Godzilla vs. Megalon. This is arguably the worst movie of the long series, but I welcome it onto Blu-ray nonetheless: three cheers for glittering mediocrity!

But Destroy All Monsters is anything but mediocre: like Universal’s House of Frankenstein over twenty years before, it pulls together all the science-fiction Kandy Korn goodness available to give audiences a mad monster party for the ages. The plot is simplistic, the characters even more so, but the movie pops with color and spectacle of a bygone age of entertainment without irony. It isn’t the best of the Godzilla series, but until 2004’s Godzilla: Final Wars, no monster movie could boast a larger monster cast. Eleven of Toho Studio’s stable of big beasts crowd into its hundred minutes, and the result is a giddy confection no ten-year-old or ten-year-old at heart can resist. If geekdom has a defining film, here it is.