Saturday, April 25, 2015

Caliban's War by James S. A. Corey

So, I finished book two of The Expanse by James S. A. Corey. This one was called Caliban's War.

I don't get the reference from the title unfortunately. I know Caliban is a character from Shakespeare, because I looked it up. But I've never read The Tempest, or seen it or anything. Shakespeare wrote 38 plays, so there are tons of them out there that I don't know.

Then again, they are more likely referring to the Caliban from Forbidden Planet, a 1956 film. I've also not seen that...or at least, I don't remember it. I did see a lot of films in my time as a film major. I don't think that was one of them though. In that film, according to Wikipedia, Caliban is a monster created by one of the characters, and it ultimately rebels and tries to kill its master. That's much more fitting I think.

At the end of part one, we are left with some crazy events. It seems like part two should be dealing with the fallout that results from said events. Instead, they (meaning Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, the two authors who make up the duo that is contained within the pseudonym James S. A. Corey) take the path that it seems like many people making series take. They leave the ominous stuff on Venus alone, and go into a sort of side adventure. Then, at the end, it seems obvious that they're going to be going back to that stuff in book three.

The example that immediately comes to mind is the recent Batman trilogy from Chris Nolan. Batman dueled with Ra's al Ghul in Batman Begins. Then in The Dark Knight it's a new unrelated baddie named The Joker. Then in The Dark Knight Rises, we're back full circle to the al Ghul stuff, this time with Talia al Ghul, Ra's al Ghul's daughter.

So, we're in part two here with The Expanse. And while it's somewhat related to the Protomolecule that was loosed in Eros Station in book one, it's not a straight up result of the previous book's events. Instead, there's a new person or group behind this incarnation. The incarnation of which I speak is a nasty, nigh-unstoppable space monster. Wait no, a whole group of them. Oh, crap, in fact somebody's building an army of them. As Dave Thompson, ex-podcastle enforcer, put it on Facebook: "Space monsters FTW!"

I have a really hard time writing about books that I've read. How much should I say about it? I don't want to spoil it for those of you who haven't read it, but I do want to be able to talk about things that happen in it, and give a worthwhile impression. Oh well, I guess I'll do my best.

What did I like about this book? It was full of interesting action. It was also full of interesting characters. I really enjoyed the new character additions of Chrisjen Avasarala and Bobbie Draper. Avasarala especially. She's an old woman, which doesn't seem like fodder for an awesome character, but the layers they gave here were really interesting. Avasarala has an unbelievably foul mouth, especially for a grandmother, and at first it seems like a random trait. In the end, you find out why she has such a foul mouth, and I'm glad they let us know. I wouldn't have figured it out on my own, and it made her character all the more deep to me.

Also, there was a scene from the book in which Avasarala makes the best use of the C-word that I think I've ever seen in any media. It's much better than J. K. Rowling's character from A Casual Vacancy, who just uses the C-word in a random, and unusual way. I mention this mostly because my partner in crime and podcasting, Rish Outfield, really loves the C-word. He doesn't use it a lot, but loves the power that it contains. He claims it is the most offensive word in the english language. I argued with him about that once, but I think I've come to agree with him. The F-word is just too overused to have the power it once seemed to have. Anyway, if you love the C-word too, then I recommend you read these books, so you can experience that scene. I won't even tell you what scene it is. I think you'll know it when you read it.

Avasarala is apparently poised to become a much bigger character. In the upcoming TV series; the first season of which is based on the first book, Leviathan Wakes; they are introducing Avasarala in the first season, even though she did not appear in the first book. That will be interesting. Also, the series is on Syfy, a regular cable channel. Meaning one that isn't allowed to just use whatever language they want to. It's not HBO, which can hide behind that pay-wall and say that people know what they're going to get, so the shackles are off. How they're going to play Avasarala's foul mouth, which is a very integral part of her character, will be very interesting. I hope they pull it off, and I'm not disappointed.

Anyway, again I recommend these books. The second one has been as wonderful as the first. The quality hasn't dropped in any way. It's becoming one of my favorites. I just listened to borrowed versions of the audiobooks, but now I'm trying to figure out how I can get my hands on some nice hardback editions of the books, so that I can add them to my collection along with all my other favorites. Unfortunately, that looks difficult to come by. I hope Orbit Books publishes a new hardback collection when the TV series comes out or something, like they often do with movies or The Game of Thrones.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Wake by Robert J. Sawyer

I Recently finished Wake by Robert J. Sawyer

It was different than the space opera-type books I've been reading recently, like Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey and Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson. Wake is a story about an artificial intelligence coming into being. It's the first volume of his WWW trilogy, which includes the books Wake, Watch, and Wonder. The other two are in my queue, and I'll get to the rest of the story eventually. I've got myself reading too many trilogies or series right now. I have to admit, the WWW thing, I think, is kind of cheesy, but it fits, so I guess that's fine.

Anyway, the book is about a girl named Caitlin Decter, who is blind. Her blindness has a rather rare cause. At the beginning of the book, she is approached by a Japanese scientist who has developed an experimental treatment for her particular form of blindness, and needs a test subject to try it out on. She agrees, and, by way of this experiment, becomes instrumental in helping an artificial intelligence that has been developing among the internet come to learn about itself, the world, and its place in that world.

The book was fun, incorporating a lot of the things that I've always liked about Rish Outfield's writing into this serious and significant storyline. Things like high school dances, teen love/heartbreak, and so on. Those kind of things that, no matter how old you have become, still seem to sit right there in the middle of your heart, which I suppose is why there's so many movies and books and TV shows and so on (video games, comic books, puppet shows) that have those elements worked into them.

I've heard that those memories, the ones from childhood through your teenage years, are the ones that sit right at your core. I suppose it's maybe because they're the first ones your brains lay down on the neurons. It's like when you make one of those soft serve ice cream cones. The stuff you put in last is what gets eaten first, and that first bit of ice cream is the very last thing to go. Even people like my dad, who is now almost eighty years old, still like to talk about their formative years, but if I ask him about the time when I was born...or any other time since then...well, he's kind of foggy on the details.

Anyway, I'm getting off course here. What I was trying to say is that I like to have my sci-fi draped in familiar trappings. It helps to make me understand and relate with it better. So, this book worked for me. I enjoyed it. And it ended, as the Ian Syndrome says, right where I wanted it to begin. Except that it was supposed to, because it's not really the end. It's only a third of the story. So, I look forward to the next one.

Oh, one other thing I wanted to mention. I listened to the audiobook version of this one, and they did something really cool with it at the end. There was a part where Caitlin is told to check out the words that a particular astronaut recorded and sent back to earth when he was on his visit to the moon. Sawyer, when he wrote the book, transcribed those words. But for the audio version, they actually got the original recordings, and cut them into the audio. I suppose that they are public domain, because I think anything generated by the government is, but still, I would never have thought somebody might do something like that. It's the kind of thing we'd do on the Dunesteef, but professionally produced audiobooks usually tend to shy away from Dunesteef-like things. I guess they're too afraid to upset those people who expected blandness in their audiobook. If it wasn't bland, they might not take a second drink. They might just walk away.

You know, it's like when you have a drink in front of you, and you think it's milk. And you bring it to your mouth without actually looking at it. You take a sip, and it's not milk. And even though it's Pibb Extra, which is really, really great. Because you thought it was going to be milk, it seems like the worst thing ever. Unless you have really great manners, you may actually spit it out all over the place. But, if you look down, and realize you drank from the wrong cup, and what you took was actually something really, really good. Then you can just enjoy it, and maybe broaden your palate.

I think the Dunesteef is one of those kinds of things. Something different enough that it only appeals to a small minority of the people who might otherwise enjoy it if it were packaged in a more familiar form. It's too bad. But the coolest things are always the things that are underground, not mainstream. So, I guess I can feel good about being cool, right? I am cool, right?

Anyway, I think I'm getting off course again. What I wanted to say was that it was really neat that they went the extra mile like that in their production. It gave the whole thing a bit of added worth in my mind. So, I guess I doubly recommend it.

It's a cyberpunk story, but it's not very cyberpunky, which is exactly how I like it.

Now it's back to Space Opera. My next read is part two of The Expanse. James S. A. Corey's Caliban's War. See you soon when I report on that one.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Six Seasons and a Movie

You may have noticed or will possibly notice in a time to come, that I have been making a lot of references to an out-of-the-limelight show called Community recently. I generally reserve bingeing to eating. It's how I got the name Big Anklevich, after all. Nobody calls me Trevor after I weighed in at three bills for the first time. So, I can't say that I have been binge watching Community, but I have been watching a lot of episodes of the show in a short period of time.

It started a while back when I noticed that all the back seasons of Community became available on Hulu Plus. I first came to Community in the middle of the second season, back in 2010. I managed to see a few re-runs from earlier that year, as well as seeing all the episodes from that point forward, and Rish loaned me a couple of episodes from the first season. But, my experience with Community couldn't be said to be anything better than spotty.

Then, after the end of the third season, which looked like it would be the last season (after all, they even had a final episode and everything), we jettisoned our cable in favor of Netflix, and I no longer could follow the show. But it wasn't cancelled after all. It turned out to go on to the fourth season, which was weird, because they fired the creator, Dan Harmon, from the show, and tried to run it without him. Rish continued to watch for a few episodes, but told me that the show went drastically off course, and he quit watching.

But, like I said, now it's on Hulu Plus, from season one all the way through season five. So, when I walk the treadmill in the morning, I punch up episodes of the show, and forget all about the pain in my feet and legs, laughing along with Jeff, Britta, Troy, Abed, Shirley, Annie, and Pierce.

And I'm here to recommend the same thing to you. If you've never seen this show, let me tell you now that you would love it. If you're reading my blog, then you are the kind of person that would love this show. It's so clever and fun, and does things that no other sitcom would dare to try. My wife watches a lot of sitcoms. She puts them on and uses them as background noise while she cleans the house. Usually, I do the piggish-man thing and don't help her at all. It's not because I'm a piggish-man, though. It's just that the shows she chooses are so awful that they drive me from the room. Just the laugh tracks alone are enough to push me out, and that awful way that the characters pause to wait for the studio audience to finish their forced laugh before they say their next line. In an episode in season 4, Abed imagines that they are in a sitcom with a laugh track, and it only serves to point out just how awful laugh tracks are. Why did any show ever do that?

Um, I got off track. Oh, yeah, my wife watches these shows like Last Man Standing and Baby Daddy, which I see as the normal fare you might get on television sitcoms. And then there's Community. It got low ratings, because it doesn't always play to the lowest common denominator, and it gave things time to happen. For example, check this out:

They said Beetlejuice three times, and in the background, Beetlejuice walked by...but each use of the word Beetlejuice was from episodes in three separate seasons!

Also, Community does things that other shows would never try. For example there was an episode in season two, where one of the main characters, Abed, makes almost no appearances in the main stories of the episode. But if you pay attention, in the background, he has a whole storyline in which he helps a pregnant woman deliver her baby in the parking lot of the school. Check it:

And there's so many other fun things. I noticed in the third season they started a running gag with the song, "Daybreak" by Michael Haggins. It began in their Halloween episode. Each character was telling their own messed up version of the man with the hook for a hand urban legend. When Abed told his version, he insisted that it would be unlikely that the people in the story would turn on the radio at exactly the time that the pertinent news broadcast came on to inform them about the hook-handed man who had escaped from prison. So, he had them listen to "Daybreak" for a while. The other characters were frustrated with his inability to get on with his story, but he really started something. They just kept playing, singing, and humming that song again and again from there on out.

And it goes on and on and on like that. But it's not just that. Sure, the show rewards you more than any other show I can think of if you pay attention, but each show is enjoyable and funny all on its own. They do a lot of really fun themed episodes...or meta episodes as some call it.

There was the mob movie episode. The bottle episode. The Dungeons and Dragons episode. The Ken Burns-style documentary about the pillow fort/blanket fort war. The claymation Christmas episode. The singing glee club Christmas episode. The Law and Order episode. The flashback clip episode made up entirely of clips from shows that didn't exist. And the season finale of seasons one and two involved some of my favorite television of all time, the paint ball episodes.

And, of course, there was the episode called "Remedial Chaos Theory" in which they explored all the different alternate dimensions created by rolling a die to see who has to go downstairs and get the pizza. Apparently, it's won Splitsider's award as the "Best Sitcom Episode of All Time". What's a Splitsider? I don't know. But my cousin Butch says it's also way funnier than that Baby Daddy show, which is for lamos.

I'm completely enamored of this show. I recommend it to anyone who wants hours of fun and enjoyment. The first five seasons are streaming on Hulu right now. Check it out.

Now, for the happy ending of all this stuff. Remember when I mentioned that the show's creator got fired off the show after season 3, and the show went drastically off course? Well, weirdly, the show's creator was brought back after season 4 to reinvigorate the show. The first episode of season 5 was called "Re-pilot". They sort of started it all over, and got things back on course.

But then, after season 5, NBC cancelled the show. But wait there's more! The show's still not dead. Instead of letting the show die off, Yahoo picked the show up for it's online channel called Yahoo Screen. So, now you can see the sixth season of the show too. It started on March 17th. I'm tyring to catch up to the present, so I can start watching those episodes too.

There's a catch phrase that started on the show in season 2, where Abed wanted that show, The Cape to last for a long time. When Jeff said it wouldn't last three weeks, Abed proclaimed it would go for "Six seasons and a movie." The phrase was brought up again and again throughout the run of the show, referring to how Abed wanted other shows, like Cougar Town and the like, to have long lives.

This year is Community's sixth season. And what's cool is that Sony is now talking about making a Community movie.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Anklecast 25

It was a hard month, with a lot of setbacks. I did still manage to accomplish a few things, and I also got motivated. I'm going to turn April into the best month ever. Just you wait and see...oh, and enjoy the show.

Music was "Crossing The Divide" courtesy of Kevin MacLeod of

Right click HERE to download the episode, select Save Link As, and save the file to your hard drive.

Related Links: That Blog Post That I Was Talking About