Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Review: Karina Fabian's "Neeta Lyffe: Zombie Exterminator"

You might remember that, a while back, I had been involved in a Catholic Writer's Guild online conference. I ran a workshop on fight scenes, and ran a discussion on creating a villain. During the course of that latter chat, I mentioned that it helped if the villain had the brain. Mindless, shambling zombies were not really that much fun, as villains go … Then I remembered that one of the people in the chat was Karina Fabian … who had written – surprise – a book about a Zombie Exterminator.

Now, if I had had my wits about me, I would have noted how, in zombie films, zombies are generally NOT the main bad guys. They set the scene, they act as cannon fodder (for an action franchise like Resident Evil, where the real villains are the Evil Corporation du jour), but most zombie movies are more about the people in the Zombie Apocalypse du jour rather than about the zombies. The zombies are window dressing.

Instead, my witless wonder moment had me hasten to add "Though I can't speak for every zombie storyline, I have yet to read Karina Fabian's." I think I inserted a smiley and went on from there.

Within two minutes, I heard an email click. I had just received an e-copy of Karina Fabian's Neeta Lyffe: Zombie Exterminator.

See, when I shoot from the lip, I have no idea what'll happen.

Neeta Lyffe: Zombie Exterminator, takes place in the 2040s, several decades after the zombie outbreaks started. There are no zombie apocalypses here.  It never happened. However, the undead can be annoying, so exterminators have to be called in -- exterminators with chainsaws.  Zombies are attracted to certain strong smells, and they don't like standard household cleaners.... don't ask.

Neeta Lyffe, a second-generation exterminator (motto: "I want to be buried like my mother, with my head cradled in my arms") is sued after an extermination call went into property damage. Now, in order to generate income, she's agreed to do the most terrifying thing in her life..... host a reality show.

Yes, you read that right. The reality show Zombie Death Extreme, where Neeta is stuck with a handful of exterminator wannabes, training them to re-kill the occasional nests of undead that threaten LA (then again, if parts of LA were turned into shambling mindless hordes, would anyone notice?). Also included: re-grief training ... for when you have to mourn for loved ones a second time, when they come back; and flash cards to tell the difference between a stroke victim, a drunk, and a zombie.  And you can probably guess, this has a sense of humor, unlike most zombie films ("We throw the grenades on the count of 3. 1, 2, 3."  Second person shouts "Five," and throws the grenade ... sorry, Monty Python joke.).

The cast looks like it should be stocked with the standard cliches: an ex-marine, a farm boy with a stutter, an African-American woman from an urban environment, an Afghan emigre who's first language isn't English (he speaks it perfectly well, but the producers want him so speak more like Hasan from a Bugs Bunny Cartoon). The Producer of the show is the standard two-dimension cardboard cutout, which means he's drawn very accurately -- however, he's never had to negotiate with someone who carries a chainsaw on a daily basis, including the occasional brainstorming session for the show.

All of the characters are vivid and brightly drawn ... and heavily mocked, in some cases. Everything you have ever hated about reality television is skewered ruthlesly, and wonderfully.

Possibly one of the best parts of this book (and there are plenty to choose from), use the running excerpts from a documentary on the rise of zombies, detailing a somewhat funny look on the matter, down to and including Darwin Award winners who tried to play tag with a zombie. That was fun.

In short, it's one part satire, one part action, and all parts fun.

Coming Soon, Netta Lyffe: I Left My Brains in San Francisco.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Blog in review, March / April 2012

First, February knocked me out.  The whole month sucked, and you can probably guess why.

Then in March, I started getting pulled down -- first with bouts of depression, then I was busy with video games, girlfriends, and a new job.  And since then, let's face it, I haven't been that great at keeping to schedule. So, sorry about that.

I started March with a character generation chart, for those people who want an easy way to create characters.  WARNING: characters make develop minds of their own in short order.  To follow up on that, there is a more advanced version with the psychology of characters, with real psychology, if you don't consider that an oxymoron.

In April, I had an interview with Karina Fabian about her new book Live and Let Fly, which I also reviewed.

And, I made a quick study of Writer's Block.  And, to go along with it, I explained my current situation in getting published: it's situation normal.

In music, I posted a blog for Simple Gifts ... just go with it. It works.  And, if you don't know Loreena McKinnett ... have a sample, I can recommend her work.  We also had a return to the awesome Lindsay Stirling, and her tribute to Skyrim.

But what about the Catholic Writer's Guild conference? That was covered in March!  Well, that was so self contained, I did that as a separate entry.

Be well, all.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Catholic writer's organization workshop in review: Fighting and Writing.

Back in March, I did a little work with a writer's conference. The Catholic Writer's Organization. I mentioned this before, but, well, there is a story behind it. The moral? Never volunteer. :)

No, seriously, I told Karina Fabian (search the blog for previous references) that I would only be good for talking about villains and fighting. She said great, when could I be put down for?

Anyway.... so, here it is, in one, easy to find package.

To Start with, a little introduction, filled with required readings and other useful handouts.

Fighting and your world: Let's face it, all worlds have cultural rules about violence. You have to think about that.

Setting the chessboard: Fights don't happen in a vacuum. Before the fight even starts, the stage has to be set in your brain before it can start on paper.

Writing fight technique. Knowing technical skill is one thing. Writing it down is another.

Guns in fighting: there are millions of weapons out there. Guns are used like magic weapons. Time to de-spell them.

Military fight scenes: When you absolutely, positively, must have something destroyed overnight.

Be well all.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Review of The Avengers

"Why, yes, there are seven of us."
So, I finally saw The Avengers on Sunday. Yes, I was a little late.

To be honest, I went in half-expecting this to be over-hyped by every fanboy across the land. I know that Joss Whedon was good with ensemble casts.  And I half expected the film to be a matter of "Here's Robert Downey Jr. and Sam Jackson making snarky remarks with Agent Coulson, Scarlett Johansson will be standing in for Buffy, and there'll be a few other guys."

Then, on the other hand, there was the New York Times review, which can be summed up as follows: "WAAAAAHHHH, this movie was forced upon us by evil Disney executives! This is movie making by corporate fiat!  We hate Summer Movies! And superheroes! And children! And anyone who sees this film is stupid...."

Obviously, I didn't think much about what the Times had to say.

Then I saw the movie.

Damn that was AWESOME.

That's the short version. The longer version .... well, let's go over a few things.

THE PLOT: Loki has gone through some changes since Thor. By the end of the film, he was definitely a little unstable. Here, there's no question. Marbles are missing from the bag. He's struck a deal with an interstellar bad guy, and he has an army on loan from ... someone to be revealed later. He comes to Earth with a philosophy that's heavy on the nihilism, and a plan that's heavy on manipulation (but it's Loki, that's his job). The owner of the army wants the Cosmic Cube (the glowing toy from Captain America: The First Avenger), and with it, they're going to have a little party, just Loki, the evil overlord in the background, and about seven million of his closest, heavily-armed friends.  There's only one thing standing in the way, and that's seven people with some nice costumes, and cool toys.

Everyone gets screen time in this. This is not Iron Man's movie, or Thor's, or Captain America's, or anyone else -- this is about a team. A slightly dysfunctional, occasionally self-destructive, team.  Ignore any review that insists that someone got more screentime than anyone else, or that Captain America, or whatever their favorite character is, got short-changed. Those people are whiny fan-boys/girls who probably can't shut up for five minutes during the movie.

"Enjoy the view. I'm going to hurt you in a minute."
Also ignore anyone who makes a big deal about the back end of Black Widow. While Scarlett Johansson has nice features all around, it wasn't shoved at the audience ... even in her low-cut little black dress, she spends more time kicking ass than showing off her's.

At the end of the day, this film worked. It is an ensemble where everyone's strengths came to the fore. When the shooting starts, Captain America leaps into the fray, giving orders about the deployment of forces, while at the same time fending off seven-foot aliens who are trying to kill him. Thor and the Hulk are heavy hitters. Iron Man is air cavalry, and Hawkeye makes for a spotter. Yes, Hawkeye has screen time in this one. And he is also awesome.

Relatively new member to the franchise is Mark Ruffalo, playing Dr. Bruce Banner. Now, those of you who might be weeping for Ed Norton will stop about three minutes into Ruffalo's performance.  He gets some of the better lines in the movie, and so does the Hulk. Yes, the Hulk was done well.

"I make this look good."
And then there's Loki, who's mightiest ability is the power to piss off everyone he comes in contact with. Much like the last major villain on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Loki's mind games don't quite work as expected. Tom Hiddleston seems to have studied Loki, and gives the impression that Loki is quite insane, possibly knows it, but is going to enjoy himself anyway. Not to mention that he can get away with making horns look cool.

And, oh, yes, everyone takes a shot at Loki, even the super-powerless, like Black Widow and Hawkeye, get some nice shots in.

Not to mention we also have the cast of the Nick Fury movie already set and raring to go. You'll understand when you see the film.

And the one-liners. You will have to see the movie at least twice. Yes, twice. The second time will be for all the lines you missed on the first viewing.

Some of the better lines?

Captain America: "There's only one God, ma'am, and he doesn't dress like [Loki]"

Agent Coulson: "We make this gun to fight the Destroyer [from Thor]. I don't even know what it does. Let's find out." [He didn't even have to say "Do you feel lucky?"]

Tony Stark to Hawkeye: "Clinch up, Legolas."

Captain America to Hulk. "Hulk .... Smash."

Bruce Banner: "Wanna know my secret? I'm always angry."

And Loki might have the best line in the movie, though it's very contextual, and very spoilery, so I won't.

Oh, and I should probably mention the forty minutes of nonstop blowing up New York's Park Avenue and trashing Grand Central Station. That was fun, too.

How good is this movie? I heard that Joss Whedon had to cut 40 minutes from the theatrical release.  I want to see the full, three hour version.  That's how much I liked it.

Be well.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Article You Knew Was Coming: The Da Vinci Code, A Personal Opinion.

I should probably start with a disclaimer: You do not have to hate Dan Brown, any of his works, or any of the movies based off of his books, in order to enjoy A Pius Man. Promise. You'll see why.

My family has been big on reading since my father was twelve. I read The Once and Future King when I was in sixth grade—for personal pleasure. My freshman year of high school had my English professor confused when I finished off one Tom Clancy novel a week. And I mean the big ones that could be used for door stoppers.

So, when I started in on The Da Vinci Code, I figured it would be yet another book. You can sell me practically anything as long it's a well-designed, good story. I could not care any less about saving the whales, but I enjoyed Star Trek IV anyway. I don't think the CIA is the source of all evil, but I liked the film The Long Kiss Goodnight, since it was entertaining—and since the primary villain was a bureaucrat. From what I had gathered about the premise of Dan Brown's work, I was certain that I could take it or leave it, and I had been assured that it was a rip-roaring good time.

So, in that vein, I was given The Da Vinci Code, I was told to ignore the bad history, enjoy it for what it was …And what was it?

The pretentious, petty, pedantic prattling was one thing. And my God, can that man lecture. Having survived grad school, I've been to boring seminars before, but they at least had the good manners to provide me with free food and coffee. I skipped pages and pages of lecture, and bad history, and “My God sir, what fantasy world did you get that history FROM?”

And the content … I have had friends of mine look at his Gaia-ish, pseudo-feminist look at sex and spirituality. My Wiccan ex considered recreating the Wiccer Man, with Dan Brown in the center before they set it, and him, on fire.

And you thought Christians were the only ones who had problems with his views.

However: that isn't a problem for me. I've read Clive Cussler books that went on, endlessly, about fictionalized history that, in some cases, only tangentially touched on the main plot. And I've read everything Cussler's written, and enjoyed about 90% of his body of work. I could skim history lectures, I could skip them. I'm fairly good at knowing when to ignore large parts of dreck in books without having it affect the story. And I have experience sleeping through lectures.

So, if I wasn't massive offended by the main premise and the history, or enraged, or having a (Bruce) Banner moment, why didn't I enjoy it as much as everyone else had?

There's this phrase in writing fiction that's called the suspension of disbelief …{more below the break}