March 20, 2014

Game of Thrones is back April 6

This is the most badass Game of Thrones Season 4 trailer yet! Got me SO excited.

Have I ever mentioned how much I love Cersei? Probably a fact best kept to myself ... and it's going to be especially awkward now that Jaime is back in King's Landing ... Oh well!

March 13, 2014

New York City Serenade is Flawless [Once Upon a Time]

Don't get me wrong, I'm the biggest Oncer there is, but that doesn't mean I don't want to smack Snow upside the head every time she delivers her cheesy "We always find each other" sickeningly overdone line. Sometimes the special effects are an eyesore, and sometimes there are boring one-dimensional beast/villain things that are just as ugly, distracting, and over the top. Sometimes Emma and the gang get out of situations way too easily using her savior "I'm the savior and I have magic powers" power (remember Greg and Tamara's destroy-Storybrooke-gem-thingy?) And what's with Regina's one liners lately?

Well, other than a good hearty "Watch me," from the evil queen, New York City Serenade toned down all of the series' flaws and only made me flinch one time (when I predicted Regina would say "Watch me" and she did.)

Seriously, I thought it didn't lose a beat. I loved Emma's romantic dates in picturesque NYC restaurants, how she grappled with whether or not her fake life with Henry is real (it's not), and the trail of clues that brings back her memories. I thought the dreamcatcher in Neal's apartment was inspired, finding Henry's camera there was genius and Emma going back for her red leather jacket was adorable.

The end back in Storybrooke left so many confusing questions. So as far as anyone remembers they've just been there the whole time? Nobody remembers going back to the Enchanted Forest? What is the new curse then? Wouldn't it have been more fun if they were back to not remembering they're story book characters? (I'm talking to you, Kitsis and Horowitz — the show was at its best when they were all "Fairy tale characters, what? I'm not Snow White, that's silly and impossible. I just really don't like apples.")

And hey! Snow's pregnant! Wait, why are we acting like that's a reveal? I thought that would be obvious. Well, congratulations, Mary Margaret.

Seems like they're just back where they started, pre-Pan. That whole thing where they're never supposed to see Emma and Henry again didn't last very long, did it? So much for Regina's punishment. Whatever, she seems like she's learned her lesson and earned redemption. Now if only she would stop being such a ... meany pants ... to her step-daughter.

Did anyone else notice the bromance with Hook and Charming? Watch how David smiles when Kilian walks away. It's been a while since I've seen him look at Snow like that. She looks kinda peeved.

I expected to see a bit more of the Wicked Witch, but her final scene sure was ominous! Wicked always wins. But what's her plan? I have to wait until next Sunday to find out what she's up to? Because I don't think reuniting the Charmings back in their hometown was really the point of her evil curse. 

What do you think? Did the first episode of part two of season 3 of Once Upon a Time miss a beat at any point? I was gonna try to come up with some theories as to what the Wicked Witch of the East is up to, but I got nada. How bout you?

March 6, 2014

From Rabbit Holes, coming soon [rabbit holes]

That year wasn't real. Everything in it had happened before. Nothing after it is real, and I don't even know how many times it has all repeated. Let me explain.

At the start of 2012, my girlfriend died and I moved into my new apartment. It was snug for a couple, but alone I had too much room. I was new to the city, and that is a feeling I love. It’s exciting to enter a new city by air, then uncover it from the window of the cab that drives you to your hotel, revealing a bit more between the curb and the lobby, but when you inevitably get to your room to drop off your things and end up crashing on the bed, too tired to not take a break even though you don't want to, sitting back on the hotel bed against the headboard with your shoes on, and if this really is a new city, then all you have exposed of it is that negligible square footage that surrounded the cab — a few unimportant miles of mostly freeway and the widest lanes downtown — the grandiose hotel lobby, and now your hundred square foot bedroom. Maybe you haven't even checked out the en-suite bathroom. That’s all that’s made it into your spacial consciousness so far. In a city of 468 square miles, you have fleetingly experienced perhaps thirty-six point six of them, if you're like me and flew into JFK before being driven to the Roosevelt. For all I knew, the rest of the city didn't even exist. It could be a void. Or it could be a literal circus — tents pitched everywhere — or a war zone, zombie invasion style.

Anything was possible, because I hadn't seen anything yet. But I was grieving, and whatever denial I was in at the time didn't course deep enough for me to even pretend to feel any excitement about that. Truth be told, that first night I fell asleep with my shoes on on that bed, with no supper. I ate breakfast in the restaurant attached to the hotel, an incredibly boring choice that Sheila would never in a million years have agreed to. She would have said, “Be adventurous! Try Blue Moon diner, it has really good Yelp reviews!” as if going to a restaurant based on its high rating on Yelp was adventurous. After a few weeks of apartment-searching, I gave up and moved into the place I had already signed a lease for and paid a deposit on with Sheila, even though it would be big for just one of us. I lived in the apartment that was intended for both of us, her signature still scribbled on the only lease, and I began to do as her ghost demanded.

“See the sights,” said Sheila. She insisted on typical touristy things: the Empire State building, the MET, central park and its troll, which reminded me of taking her to see the troll under the bridge in Fremont, the new Yankee Stadium, but she also insisted that I eat at the least famous dining spots, seeking out the least popular bars and walk down only the streets I had never heard of, because while one really must do a Broadway show and climb the statue of liberty, it was also important to live the city like a local would and discover the hidden gems (without guidance — that would be cheating). It took me a long time to decide whether getting a pumpkin spiced latte would count as a tick on my tourist experience list or my ‘living like a local’ list.  It was before the statue of liberty, actually, that I first knew for sure that everything I did I was doing for a second or third time, no more, and definitely no less, and by that I mean that I was living the year of 2012 over again. When I first stepped up to the foot of lady liberty, for the first time standing in her real presence instead of seeing her through the lens of a camera, I knew at once that I had been there before, yet I had never been there before. There is no other way to explain it. Logically, I knew that this was my first ever trip to New York City, and that this was the first time I ever visited Ellis Island, where my grandmother had landed in ’39, and that my naked eyes had never before looked at the statue — everything was new: the vantage, the unaltered color, the unreplicable sense of amazing height — and at the same time I remembered standing there before.

Paradoxical, to say the least. Impossible. Insane. Yes, that was it. I had been swept up unawares in my brief and the mental break down had taken me completely by surprise, so much so that I couldn't even point to when it started. Everywhere that I went, I argued with myself, convincing myself and begging myself to be persuaded that I had not been there before, while I simultaneously knew and argued calmly and rationally that I had. The year was repeating. And everywhere I went, Sheila came with me, making sweet conversation and so many good suggestions. At first her ghost seemed a representation of what I knew she would do and say had she been here, but eventually she became real — she became unpredictable, and if I created her with my own imagination how could she surprise me? But she did. I had to be insane — but I knew the Giants would beat the Yankees when I saw them play before it happened, and to break or test the spell, I went to the next game the Yankees played — something I couldn't have possibly done the first time 2012 repeated itself because it was something I would never do — and I was convinced the Yankees would beat the Jays, and they did. If they hadn’t, would I have given up my belief as delusion? Did I really know, or did I just take a stubborn unfounded guess and happen to be right? Was I drowning in confirmation bias? I’ll never know, because the fact remained, no matter how much I tested it, that I was always, always, right.

March 4, 2014

Casting Some Starlight on Kory M. Shrum: Dying for a Living [review time]

Dying for a Living by KORY M. SHRUM: 4/5 STARS (Get it on Amazon)

"On the morning before her 67th death, it is business as usual for Jesse Sullivan: meet with the mortician, counsel soon-to-be-dead clients, and have coffee while reading the latest regeneration theory. Jesse dies for a living, literally. As a Necronite, she is one of the population’s rare 2% who can serve as a death replacement agent, dying so others don’t have to. Although each death is different, the result is the same: a life is saved, and Jesse resurrects days later with sore muscles, new scars, and another hole in her memory.

But when Jesse is murdered and becomes the sole suspect in a federal investigation, more than her freedom and sanity are at stake. She must catch the killer herself—or die trying."

Set in a world where ‘Necronites’ die (for a hefty sum) in a profession called death replacement, Dying for a Living is gripping, and sexier than it sounds. Jesse is a death replacement agent — don't call her a zombie, it's rude — which means she temporarily sacrifices her life to bring back the rich from the clutches of death itself.

I really appreciate a great beginning, and Dying for a Living could write the textbook for how to subtly intertwine good exposition into real time action. The setting isn't very different from present day; there’s no distracting new tech or flashy devices, just the present reality of Jesse’s work, and its broader social implications.

The writing is impressive: the right balance of modern (complete with swearing and slang) and literary without falling into overly formal or lyrical crap. You can expect me to tweet the best quotations in future; some of Kory's wording is pristine — totally tweet material.

Where it loses stars: I wanted it to be shorter, and the extra words delving into Jesse’s thoughts and emotions could have been instead devoted to a plot that was brilliant, but hard to keep track of. I was really into the suspenseful mystery that arises when someone tries to kill Jesse for good, and the deeper conspiracy that thousands of death replacement agents across the country have been (permanently) murdered, but I wasn’t pulled in to the love triangle even a little bit. The romance side-plot was nowhere near as interesting as the main story, which was what kept me reading. The story was original, well-planned, and nice and suspenseful.

I recommend Dying for a Living as a read; it’s worth a couple dollars and a few hours of your time, especially if you’re enticed by the premise, like I was. There’s a right way to craft a modern fantasy, and Kory Shrum shows us how it’s done. Dying for a Living isn’t just good for a debut novel, it’s a straight up good read for the escape and the breathlessness it’ll give you over the gripping climax (sexual innuendo intended).

To new and indie writers: While I have a fair supply of books to get me started, I am in the market for review copies of independently published fiction, with a preference for science fiction and fantasy. It won't be the first time I've accepted a book as payment for labor. I will feature your book on Musings by Starlight, first come first serve, and post the review to Amazon (and wherever else you please). While I can't promise five stars, I can promise a promotion that is thought out, fair and honest.

March 3, 2014

Rediscovering Secrets: Revisiting The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson [Review Time]

The wait for Words of Radiance was a perfect opportunity to re-read The Way of Kings, a bulky, epic fantasy premiere that I remembered to be awesome, but couldn't remember why. In those thousand pages, some of which were slow and plodding, there ended up being a number of fantastically complicated and hard to remember twists and turns, and secrets worth re-discovering.

I'll divulge those secrets momentarily, because chances are if you're Googling The Way of Kings right now it’s because you're too lazy to re-read it yourself? And if not, just take this as a spoiler warning and go away :) In the meantime, there are a few other reflections that have come to me after a revisit of Brandon Sanderson’s debut to the Stormlight series.

Classic fantasy can be slow, long, boring and out of touch. Why start a traditional high fantasy these days? The question can be posed to both readers and authors — to authors, why plod over well trodden territory yet again, and to readers, what’s in it to read another Lord of the Rings-esque epic series that just isn't going to be as good as Tolkien?

That was my response to the initial announcement that Brandon Sanderson was moving away from the short, single contemporary fantasy novel that was Elantris and, after finishing another huge, epic, traditional fantasy (The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan) was going to start his own damn multi-volume huge epic. I mean, come on. I just finished reading WOT, I’m not caught up on A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, there are a dozen other series that have been recommended to me that I've never even touched (Discworld by Terry Pratchett, Stephen King’s Dark Tower, anything by Guy Gavriel Kay, Ursula K. LeGuin, Terry Goodkind, R. A. Salvatore, the list goes on) — does this sound like any other avid fantasy reader’s life? We've got catching up to do! Why are you giving us more?!

Surprisingly, The Way of Kings has a lot to offer the genre and grapples with incredibly modern themes. Like how to turn a war-torn world into a peaceful one. Instead of trying to eradicate all of the Lannisters — sorry, enemies — characters like Dalinar Kholin, The Blackthorn for his battle prowess and mercilessness, are starting to lose the Thrill of battle and doubting the cause of revenge for the murder of the Alethi king, his brother Gavilar. Then there are the ideas that build up Sanderson’s world, like Shadesmar, the cognitive shadow world made up of signifiers that represent the signified of the physical world (sorry to descend into literary criticism-ese, that’s just the most concise way to put it). I also like how in response to Tolkien’s world of fading magic and an emphasis on legend and the past, Stormlight sees a return of long-lost abilities and the discovery of new ones, and while history features prominently, it is like the scholar and atheist heretic Jasnah Kholin puts it: the point is future-oriented, using the truth found in the past to decide present action (paraphrasing).

Also fairly modern is its treatment of religion. It’s very easy to forget that Sanderson is Mormon because he treats characters like Jasnah with such respect and gives her incredible wisdom while she tears down the idea of faith in favor of science. It’s the mark of a genius to not only be able to see the reason of the arguments made by your opponents, but to be able to represent them with dignity, with so little bias that they might as well have been written by the atheist his or herself, and not a bitter, mean one like Gregory House but the kind that might be sitting next to you in your college philosophy class. In The Way of Kings it might be Vorinism and The Almighty that Jasnah repudiates, but it’s an easy stand-in for any major religion + God.

The secrets I mentioned are key to what to look forward to in Words of Radiance, out March 4. It’s easy to forget, for example, that not only is Shallan secretly a Shardbearer, she also admitted to murdering her father (at least that's how I read it, and I'm too scared of WoR spoilers to google other interpretations). Which begs the question of whether she took the Blade from him, or from someone else. Another open mystery to recall is that Kabsal, the ardent who flirted with Shallan and eventually revealed his only purpose was to assassinate Jasnah, resulting only in his own death, is a member of a secret society called the Ghostbloods, to which Shallan’s father also belonged. We still don't know where Daddy Davar got his Soulcaster, either, and you can bet we'll learn more about how Shallan and Jasnah can Soulcast without a real fabrial.

All of this are why I've argued in the past that Shallan is a much more interesting character than Kaladin and I raced through the pages dedicated to him to get back to the lady's many mysteries. Still, keep in mind that Kaladin successfully freed all of the bridgemen from Sadeas's army, making Bridge Four Dalinar's personal guard in exchange for his Blade (holy crap, I'll never get over that.) So in addition to Kaladin learning how to become a Radiant, that’s where he is, entering book two — free.

Dalinar was betrayed by Sadeas, losing a huge portion of his army and the faith that Alethkar can ever be united. This feels like another incredibly modern theme to me as well. I don’t see Sadeas as a villain, but a product of Alethi society that, as Dalinar put it, finds rivalry justified always.

The last two humungous twists are the following: Szeth was has been sent to kill Dalinar Kholin (good luck, Dalinar, or should I say RIP?) by King Taravangian, and the Parshendi turn out to be the Voidbringers. Amazing. I love this book.

All of that’s what makes it worth reading. Plus, it’s less daunting to tackle when it’s just coming out now. You’ve only got two to read! There are fricking dozens of Discworld books.

Let me know what you think of the mysteries of The Way of Kings — did you remember them all? Did I miss any? Will you help me find and string Brandon Sanderson up in a highstorm if he doesn't answer all of our questions before book 3? Cool. Thanks.