Meet Roger-Roger: The Classroom Battle Droid And Teacher’s Assistant

Posted by Admin - April 21st, 2014

rogerroger1Kids who love Star Wars grow up to be adults who love Star Wars, and some of them take their love of the Saga into the workplace. Meet “Roger-Roger”: a full scale replica battle droid that helps one junior high history teacher educate and entertain in the classroom. Whenever Roger-Roger’s classroom moves on to a new era in history, the battle droid is dressed in period clothing. After seeing Roger-Roger on a Star Wars message board, I reached out to his creator to learn more. The educator agreed to speak, but asked that I do not reveal their identity, location, or user name.

Are you a Star Wars fan, or is Roger-Roger just to amuse the kids?

I’m a huge Star Wars fan. I have loved them ever since I was little. A lot of people talk down about the prequels but I loved them too. The prequels came out when I was in middle school so I always relate them to those days of youthful enthusiasm. Roger-Roger is an outcropping of my love for anything and everything Star Wars with the added benefit of amusing the kids.

What is Roger-Roger made out of?

He is solid pine from his joints, the pegs that hold him together.

What kind of classroom does Roger-Roger live in?

I have a big classroom with around 40 desks. My class changes every couple of weeks to fit the time period that we are discussing. I put up different models and posters and pictures to fit whatever we are learning.

What do you teach? What grade?

Eighth grade history.

Ever have any interesting questions or comments about Roger Roger?

No one in particular sticks out but the best are the kids who walk in on the first day and he is the first thing they notice. The look in their faces reminds me of when I was that age watching Star Wars for the first time. Having something that they know and can relate to (especially something that big and cool looking) makes them feel at home my class almost immediately. Another great thing is seeing the kids who don’t know what Roger-Roger is from talking to the ones who do and trying to figure it out. Some of these kids may be the “uncool” or “unpopular” kids and, all of a sudden, they know something that the others don’t and they get to be the center of attention for a little while.

Does it make it easier for kids to learn when they have things like Roger-Roger?

It most certainly does. Roger-Roger isn’t just a cool thing to look at. He helps the kids. When they come in and see him in a different outfit they know that we have moved on to a different period in history. It helps them organize and conceptualize the hundreds of years of history that we have to fly through in a couple of months.

If you could pick any character from Star Wars and be his/her/its teacher who would it be? What subject would you teach it?

I think it would be cool to teach a young Anakin Skywalker the history of the Jedi. Hopefully I would be able to show him the dangers of the dark side and keep that whole Darth Vader thing from happening. It it used a lot but that old phrase about those who don’t learn from history being doomed to repeat it is very true. I think I could have shown little Anakin the good things that the Jedis did and the dangers of the dark side and changed his future choices for the better.

Anything else? Are you interested in Episode VII?

I await Episode VII with bated breath. I was worried about Disney taking over at first but, after seeing the great job they have been doing with the Marvel movies, my excitement is renewed and then some!

Suvudu » Science Fiction and Fantasy Books, Movies, Comics, and Games

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Badass Comic Book Cover: Hulk #1

Posted by Admin - April 19th, 2014


Every week, I’ll be bringing you a comic book cover that I feel eclipses others out there—to the point I might just have to own it!

The BadAss Comic Book Cover for this week is for Hulk #1. Why do I love this cover? It’s evocative of what lies within. Bruce Banner shot? If you remember from The Avengers movie, Bruce Banner tells Black Widow “Are you here to kill me, Ms. Romanoff? Because that’s not going to work out so well for everyone.” Even if Banner is shot, the Hulk emerges, and the behemoth’s healing powers make Banner whole once more.

This cover makes it apparent that, while Banner is shot, he is not returned entirely whole again. I love that. I love the anguish on Bruce’s face, the blood spatter on the wall—surrounded by scientific equations that he hopes will set him free of the Hulk. And yet the Hulk keeps him safe. The duality is amazing in this image and it possesses a mystery that makes me want to open the book immediately. A great image for one of my favorite Marvel characters!

Here is a bit more about Hulk #1:

Writer: Mark Waid
Cover Artist: Jerome Opena
Published: April 16, 2014
Format: Comic
Price: .99

The Story: Following the shocking events of last month’s INDESTRUCTIBLE HULK finale, Bruce Banner lies at death’s door! If he survives, it WON’T be as the Bruce Banner we’ve known! How will the Hulk wreak vengeance on Banner’s assailant? How CAN he?

Hulk #1 is in fine comic book stores now!

More next Saturday! In the meantime, go visit your local comic book store…

speakman-shawnShawn Speakman is the author of The Dark Thorn, an urban/epic fantasy hybrid novel bestselling author Terry Brooks calls, “a fine tale by a talented writer.”

He is also editor and contributor of Unfettered, a fantasy anthology featuring some of the best writers in the genre. When Shawn isn’t lying for a living, he runs The Signed Page and Grim Oak Press.

Suvudu » Science Fiction and Fantasy Books, Movies, Comics, and Games

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Bird Box by Josh Malerman (Reviewed by Will Byrnes)

Posted by Admin - April 12th, 2014

Official Author Page
Pre-0rder the book HERE

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Close your eyes and imagine the basso sound of voiceover icon Don LaFontaine intoning, “In a world gone mad…” and that is pretty much where Bird Box begins. Open your eyes and go mad. Kill others, yourself. Can you keep from peeking? For how long? In Josh Malerman’s post-apocalyptic, eye-opening scare-scape, something happened. An invasion? Some natural phenomenon? No one is really certain. But what has become clear is that anyone who steps outside with their eyes open goes insane, not just gibbering or confused, but violently and destructively, homicidally mad.

In the near-future today of the story, Malorie is a young mother, with two small children in her charge. She has been training them for over four years, to hear, with a sensitivity and acuity more usually associated with flying mammals. They embark on a river journey to what she hopes is a safe haven, twenty miles away, blindfolded. Any noise could be someone, or something following them. She must rely on the skill she has rigorously drilled into the boy and girl every day to help guide them, and alert them to danger. And we must wonder if the destination she aims for will offer relief or some version of Mistah Kurtz.

Chapters alternate, mostly, between the river journey and Malorie’s back story. We follow her from when The Problem began, seeing death and destruction in first a few isolated locations, then spreading everywhere, seeing loved ones succumb, then finding a place to live, a refuge, with others, and watch as they cope, or fail.

In horror stories, it helps to have an appealing hero. I am sure most of us have seen our share of splatter films in which the demise of each obnoxious teen is met with cheers rather than with dismay. The other sort is of the Wait until Dark variety, in which our heart goes out to the Audrey Hepburn character beset by dark forces. Bird Box is the latter type. Malorie is a very sympathetic character, an everywoman trying her best under ridiculous circumstances, more the Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) of Nightmare On Elm Street or the Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) of Halloween, than the Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) of Alien, but Malorie does what she must to survive and to prepare with patience and diligence to sally forth against the unknown.

Malerman was bitten by the horror bug as an early teen:

My big introduction was Twilight Zone: the Movie, the first horror movie I ever saw. After that came Saturday Shockers and sneaking in whatever I could at a friend’s house (Faces of Death, PsychoBlaculaProm Night.) I was also reading a lot. There’s a great period of horror fiction history, before the novel-boom of the 70’s spearheaded by Rosemary’s Baby, The Other, and The Exorcist, in which the short story ruled the genre. That period is golden and completely bursting with ideas. I read M.R. James, H.P. Lovecraft, Poe, Blackwood, Bierce, et al. When you first approach it, the genre, it feels infinite, but it’s not. So, come high school, I was trying to write my own scary stories, weird poems, strange tales.” (from Detroit CBS Local news interview)

He likes to write with horror movie soundtracks on. And he is a musical sort as well, singing and playing in the band The High Strung. In fact, fans of Shameless, on Showtime, have already been exposed to Malerman’s work, as the writer and performer of that show’s theme song.

The dynamics of the house-full of refugees in the back story will feel familiar. Who to let in, or not, concerns over sharing limited resources, discussions over what adventuresome risks might or might not be worth taking re looking toward the future, or in trying to learn more about the cause of their situation. One might be forgiven for seeing here a societal microcosm, but I do not really think this was what Malerman was on about. He does offer a bit of a larger, thematic view though, tied to the central image of the book, which definitely adds to the heft of the story. A wondering at more existential questions:

 ”She thinks of the house as one big box. She wants out of this box. Tom and Jules, outside, are still in this box. The entire globe is shut in. The world is confined to the same cardboard box that houses the birds outside. Malorie understands that Tom is looking for a way to open the lid. He’s looking for a way out. But she wonders if there’s not a second lid above this one, then a third above that. Boxed in, she thinks. Forever.”

You really want Malorie to reach safety with the children, but there is a gauntlet to be run, and there is no certainty that any of them will make it. The dangers are human, natural and eldritch, and I mean that in a very Lovecraftian way. You will definitely not want to put Bird Box down once you pick it up.

This is a very scary, and gripping novel. If you are reading on the train, you may miss your stop. If you are reading at bedtime, you will definitely miss a few winks, and might want to sleep with the lights on after you finish.

A generic problem I have with the book is that the dark elements here sometimes tend to step back when they have decided advantages, failing to make the most (or worst as the case may be) of their positions. It was not obvious to me that there was some point being made by these unexpected choices. Nevertheless, Malerman takes the notion of the unseen and pushes readers to create the scariest thing of all, that which lurks in the imagination.

CONCLUSION: It is not at all dangerous to see how much fun this book is. Usually it is considered a good thing to think outside the box, but in this case it is clearly a far, far better thing that Malerman has done his thinking inside one.

NOTE: This review was originally posted on Will‘s blog. Josh Malerman picture courtesy of  Sara Castillo and Fearnet.

Fantasy Book Critic

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SyFy Channel Continues Ambitious Push Into Original Programming With ‘12 Monkeys’ Series

Posted by Admin - April 6th, 2014

twelve-monkeys-posterThe Hollywood Reporter‘s Lesley Goldberg broke the story today that the SyFy Channel is moving toward a series adaptation of Terry Gilliam’s 1995 post-apocalyptic time travel film 12 Monkeys. While nothing about the series is set in stone yet, SyFy President of Original Programming Mark Stern told THR that they’ve got a “great” pilot in mind and that they’re fleshing out what the rest of the series might look like. (, meanwhile, reports that the channel has given the order a 12 episode season.)

Terra Nova and Nikita scribes Terry Matalas Travis Fickett will pen the script for the pilot, and 24‘s Jon Cassar will direct.

The 12 Monkeys project is part of the channel’s push toward creating original programming that can compete with the likes of HBO’s A Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The increased emphasis on original sci-fi programming followed executive staff changes and directions from parent company NBC Universal to produce another series of the quality and popularity of Battlestar Galactica.

Read the THR story here.

Suvudu » Science Fiction and Fantasy Books, Movies, Comics, and Games

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Shorter Reviews of Six 2014 Novels: R.J. Bennett, R. Ford, S. Saylor, J. Sprunk, A. Furst and A. Roberts (with comments by Liviu Suciu)

Posted by Admin - April 6th, 2014

“A densely atmospheric and intrigue-filled fantasy novel of living spies, dead gods, buried histories, and a mysterious, ever-changing city-from one of America’s most acclaimed young SF writers.

Years ago, the city of Bulikov wielded the powers of the Gods to conquer the world. But after its divine protectors were mysteriously killed, the conqueror has become the conquered; the city’s proud history has been erased and censored, progress has left it behind, and it is just another colonial outpost of the world’s new geopolitical power. Into this musty, backward city steps Shara Thivani. Officially, the quiet mousy woman is just another lowly diplomat sent by Bulikov’s oppressors. Unofficially, Shara is one of her country’s most accomplished spymasters-dispatched to investigate the brutal murder of a seemingly harmless historian. As Shara pursues the mystery through the ever-shifting physical and political geography of the city, she begins to suspect that the beings who once protected Bulikov may not be as dead as they seem-and that her own abilities might be touched by the divine as well.”

So far the biggest positive surprise of the year for me and the current top fantasy for 2014 – though “heavy hitters” from A. Ryan, B. Weeks, D. Wexler and A. Tchaikovsky are due in the summer and I expect at least one of those to get to the top – Robert Jackson Bennett’s City of Stairs is one of the rare secondary world fantasy novels that succeed superbly at being different and showing that it is possible to do new things and not recycle the faux-medieval, far eastern, classical or Victorian settings as the genre tends to do over and over, however well done on occasion.

As lots of things happen and I do not want to spoil the twists, I would just mention that there is everything one wants – drama, romance, battles, fights, mysteries, amazing world building and great characters who stay with you.

Regarding originality, the last fantasies I felt similarly about were The Last Page by A. Huso, Thunderer by F. Gilman and Perdido Street Station/The Scar by C. Mieville.

Here is just a small taste of the wonders of the book – an extract from a list of miraculous things now stowed away in a secret warehouse whose content are of course of great interest to our heroes and villains:

“368. Shelf C5-158. Glass of Kivrey: Small marble bead that supposedly contains the sleeping body of Saint Kivrey, a Jukoshtani priest who changed gender every night as part of one of Jukov’s miracles. Miraculous nature—undetermined.

369. Shelf C5-159. Small iron key: Name is unknown, but when used on any door the door sometimes opens onto an unidentified tropical forest. Pattern has yet to be determined. Still miraculous.

370. Shelf C5-160. Bust of Ahanas: Once cried tears that possessed some healing properties. Users of the tears also had a tendency to levitate. No longer miraculous.

371. Shelf C5-161. Nine stone cups: if left in a place where they receive sun, these cups would refill with goat’s milk every dawn. No longer miraculous.

372. Shelf C5-162. Ear of Jukov: an engraved, stone door frame that contains no door. Iron wheels on the base. Speculated that it has a twin, and no matter where the other Ear is, if the doors are operated in the correct manner one can pass through one door and come out the other. We speculate that the twin has been destroyed. No longer miraculous.

373. Shelf C5-163. Edicts of Kolkan, books 783 to 797: fifteen tomes mostly dictating Kolkan’s attitudes on dancing. Total weight: 378 pounds. Not miraculous, but content is definitely dangerous.

374. Shelf C5-164. Glass sphere. Contained a small pond and overhanging tree Ahanas was fond of visiting when she felt troubled. No longer miraculous” 


The King is dead. His daughter, untested and alone, now wears the Steel Crown. And a vast horde is steadily carving a bloody road south, hell-bent on razing Steelhaven to the ground

…or the city will fall

Before the city faces the terror that approaches, it must crush the danger already lurking within its walls. But will the cost of victory be as devastating as that of defeat?”

The Shattered Crown by Richard Ford is the second Steelhaven novel after The Herald of the Storm which was a surprise hit of 2013 due to its mixing of the familiar with a somewhat outrageous twisting of it in the various story-lines that follow the multiple and wonderfully diverse in all ways cast.
I was wondering a little if that was a one time trick only as there is a clear logic to the “usual” fantasy storyline – whether new gritty and ambiguous or older traditional with clear sides – and what reads new in a first series novel can look gimmicky and become tired fast in a second, but The Shattered Crown managed to deliver another superb reading experience one could not put down.
This time I would say that the novel is less interested in twisting the familiar tropes and more in brutal no let up action that has our main characters in continual dangers as the outside threat of the dark magic invader army becomes imminent; sides are drawn, agents are exposed or make their final move and the novel bursts with action from page one to the last. 

Overall. another highly recommended installment of this wonderful series.


In 88 B.C. it seems as if all the world is at war. From Rome to Greece and to Egypt itself, most of civilization is on the verge of war. The young Gordianus—a born-and-raised Roman citizen—is living in Alexandria, making ends meet by plying his trade of solving puzzles and finding things out for pay. He whiles away his time with his slave Bethesda, waiting for the world to regain its sanity. But on the day Gordianus turns twenty-two, Bethesda is kidnapped by brigands who mistake her for a rich man’s mistress. If Gordianus is to find and save Bethesda, who has come to mean more to him than even he suspected, he must find the kidnappers before they realize their mistake and cut their losses. Using all the skills he learned from his father, Gordianus must track them down and convince them that he can offer something of enough value in exchange for Bethesda’s release.

As the streets of Alexandria slowly descend into chaos, and the citizenry begin to riot with rumors of an impending invasion by Ptolmey’s brother, Gordianus finds himself in the midst of a very bold and dangerous plot—the raiding and pillaging of the golden sarcophagus of Alexander the Great himself.

New York Times bestselling author Steven Saylor returns, chronicling the early years of his detective, Gordianus, before he assumed the title of The Finder. Raiders of the Nile is the latest in his much-loved series of mysteries set in the late Roman Republic.”

Raiders of the Nile by Steven Saylor is the 2nd young Gordianus book and it is excellent stuff and another top 25 of mine for 2014, as it is more coherent and unitary than the short fiction like The Seven Wonders, though it continues strands of the storyline there.
The novel is also much more adventure oriented and Gordianus plays action hero, fights some bandits and joins some others, befriends a lion and even uses his budding observation skills to inadvertently wreak havoc.

The postscript of the author – in the form of a q/a – explains his thinking behind the structure of the young Gordianus books and I definitely want more, though the long promised March Ides book would do quite well too. Any Gordianus will do actually as my older post about this wonderful series explains why!

As an aside, in the upcoming Rogues anthology, Steven Saylor has a young Gordianus story that uses the 40′s pulp sf heroes Fafrhrd and the Gray Mouser as legendary beings in the classical worlds, showing again how sff interacts with other genres in occasionally surprising ways,


“Set in a richly-imagined world, this action-heavy fantasy epic and series opener is like a sword-and-sorcery Spartacus.

It starts with a shipwreck following a magical storm at sea. Horace, a soldier from the west, had joined the Great Crusade against the heathens of Akeshia after the deaths of his wife and son from plague. When he washes ashore, he finds himself at the mercy of the very people he was sent to kill, who speak a language and have a culture and customs he doesn’t even begin to understand.

Not long after, Horace is pressed into service as a house slave. But this doesn’t last. The Akeshians discover that Horace was a latent sorcerer, and he is catapulted from the chains of a slave to the halls of power in the queen’s court. Together with Jirom, an ex-mercenary and gladiator, and Alyra, a spy in the court, he will seek a path to free himself and the empire’s caste of slaves from a system where every man and woman must pay the price of blood or iron. Before the end, Horace will have paid dearly in both.”

 Blood and Iron by Jon Sprunk is a reasonably well executed version of the “humble stranger turns out to have great powers in a different world” version of action adventure fantasy, engagingly written and refreshingly modern in attitudes and language, but not bringing anything new, while the characters and narrative energy on which such stuff depends the most are reasonably interesting to have kept me reading, but not outstandingly so to keep me overtly interested in what comes next. 

Non stop action where the main hero seems not to have any time to do anything but keep saving the world, or at least his current slice at the time…

Overall, a B plus level pulp fantasy which lacks that extra to raise it to the top so far, the way Brent Weeks‘ novels – by far the best practitioner of this fantasy subgenre of today – do.

“Paris, 1938. As the shadow of war darkens Europe, democratic forces on the Continent struggle against fascism and communism, while in Spain the war has already begun. Alan Furst, whom Vince Flynn has called “the most talented espionage novelist of our generation,” now gives us a taut, suspenseful, romantic, and richly rendered novel of spies and secret operatives in Paris and New York, in Warsaw and Odessa, on the eve of World War II.
Cristián Ferrar, a brilliant and handsome Spanish émigré, is a lawyer in the Paris office of a prestigious international law firm. Ferrar is approached by the embassy of the Spanish Republic and asked to help a clandestine agency trying desperately to supply weapons to the Republic’s beleaguered army—an effort that puts his life at risk in the battle against fascism.
Joining Ferrar in this mission is a group of unlikely men and women: idealists and gangsters, arms traders and aristocrats and spies. From shady Paris nightclubs to white-shoe New York law firms, from brothels in Istanbul to the dockyards of Poland, Ferrar and his allies battle the secret agents of Hitler and Franco. And what allies they are: there’s Max de Lyon, a former arms merchant now hunted by the Gestapo; the Marquesa Maria Cristina, a beautiful aristocrat with a taste for danger; and the Macedonian Stavros, who grew up “fighting Bulgarian bandits. After that, being a gangster was easy.” Then there is Eileen Moore, the American woman Ferrar could never forget.
In Midnight in Europe, Alan Furst paints a spellbinding portrait of a continent marching into a nightmare—and the heroes and heroines who fought back against the darkness.”

After Mission to Paris, the superb previous novel of Alan Furst from his long running Night Soldiers series of late 1930′s suspense with different main cast but keeping quite a few secondary characters around,  Midnight in Europe fails to repeat its success despite an exciting start. 
The atmosphere is there and the main character is the vintage non-military Furst one – successful early 40′s professional with a taste for women and the good life, but also quietly decided to oppose the creeping menace of Hitlerism – however there is something that doesn’t gel together as in the more successful installments. 
Still a page turner I couldn’t put down, but overall a B plus Furst versus the A+ of his best like Dark Star – which a bit surprisingly is mentioned as inspiration by RJ Bennett for his City of Stairs novel above – one more example how sff and other genres interact and why “narrowness in reviewing” is self-defeating in many ways…


“It is 1955. Funded, in part, by a reclusive Swiss millionaire and working — it is claimed — from Nemo’s actual blueprints discovered in India, the French Navy build a replica Nautilus. Crewed with sailors and scientists, and commanded by the short-tempered Captain Mason, it is launched in great secrecy from Bayonne.

Almost as soon as it is underwater, however, and having passed beyond the Continental Shelf, an accident (or sabotage!) sends it plummeting towards the ocean floor. The crew desperately attempt repairs as the pressure builds, threatening to crush the entire craft.

But then something very strange happens: despite the fact that they are still descending, the pressure equalises. The descent continues for days; soon passing the 5000m depth that ought to mark the bottom of the ocean. As days turn to weeks, the mystery of their plight only grows deeper: for they pass hundreds and soon thousands kilometres of ‘depth’ with no ill effects.

Other constraints press upon them: particularly the need to find food, and conserve fuel. Pressures amongst the all-male crew intensify as well, approaching breaking point as weeks pass, and the depth becomes measurable in millions of kilometres. Are they dead, trapped in an eternal descent to Hell? Have they passed through some portal into a realm of infinite water? Or have they somehow stumbled upon — or been deliberately lead to, via the mysterious Indian blueprint — some truth about the world too profound even to be measured in trillions?

Then, when they think all hope is lost, and as they approach the trillionth kilometre of depth, they see light below them …”

Usually Adam Roberts‘ novels are in my top 25 of the year, but Twenty Trillion Leagues Under the Sea  was very uneven: as a Vernian pastiche including the superb drawings by Mahendra Singh, it was quite in the spirit, from the lack of female characters, to name checking, to crazy but scientific jargon adventure. 
Unfortunately, it mostly remained that and the genre has moved a lot since the 19th century so the novel fell flat as modern sf which was a bit surprising since Adam Roberts also wrote Swiftly (a Gulliverian pastiche) and Splinter (more Verne) that worked very well, with Splinter one of my huge favorites from the author’s work.
On the bright side, the novel was not an utter disaster like the Null-A sequel by J.C. Wright, as its style was good and the pages turned by themselves.

Overall a minor Roberts and one hopes the upcoming Bete will revert to form.

Fantasy Book Critic

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AGOT’s Red Viper Pedro Pascal: ‘Dorne Is The Punk-Rock Region of Westeros’

Posted by Admin - April 4th, 2014

We’re moving into the home stretch, A Game of Thrones fans: The season four premiere is set to air Sunday! While I’ve been busy tracking down set locations and guessing what’s going to happen where, the lucky folks at The Rolling Stone are interviewing some of the stars. Writer Sean T. Collins spoke with Pedro Pascal about his role as the Red Viper of Dorne and why Dorne is the “Punk Rock” region of Westeros. Here’s a little snippet of the piece, but you should really go and read the rest of it at the site!

Via Rolling Stone:

I think it’s a great opportunity for them to usher in an element that is very “other,” in terms of what we’re familiar with as an audience. Dorne is the punk-rock region of Westeros. We follow the beat of a totally different drum. A woman’s position in Dorne has far more power. They’re much more highly regarded. Even if it’s still shaped by the old conventions that shaped King’s Landing, Oberyn Martell in particular isn’t going to play by any of those rules. He does represent, with his partner Ellaria Sand, a culture that completely clashes with the world that he’s forcibly wedging himself into. And he uses that as a source of power, making anyone whose collar is buttoned all the way up a little uncomfortable. He’s gonna sit the way he wants to sit. If he has the impulse to kiss Ellaria, a beautiful bastard, at a royal wedding in front of those who are throwing it, he’s gonna do it — again, not just to prove a point, but because there’s more of a freeness there.


If you’re a fan of A Game of Thrones, you might enjoy this collection of maps of Westeros and beyond. It’s a great way to follow along with the action!

Suvudu » Science Fiction and Fantasy Books, Movies, Comics, and Games

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Mirage Men: Like ‘Men In Black’ In Reverse

Posted by Admin - April 3rd, 2014

Mirage_Men_posterMark Pilkington’s book Mirage Men is one of my favorites on the topic of Unidentified Flying Objects and supposed alien contact. Pilkington, you see, has come to the conclusion that UFO stories are the the products of lies and hoaxes. Well, no kidding, right?

Sure, but it’s who is doing the lying and why that’s so interesting. After doing a lot of research, he thinks that it’s government intelligence agencies that are spreading these stories, and it’s not to cover up the existence of alien bodies in Hangar 18 or the reverse-engineered UFO at Area 51: It’s to distract people from getting close to top secret military technology, and to make sure that anyone who does sees something classified loses any and all credibility when they try to share their story with other people.

Think about it: If you tell someone you saw a UFO then there’s a good chance that you’ll be regarded with well-warranted skepticism, but if you tell the same person that you think you saw a weird looking jet fighter late last night then they’re likely to believe you. If you keep telling enough people, someone may get curious enough to start doing a little poking around themselves. That person will probably be a reporter, but what if it’s a spy or saboteur? Suddenly there’s national security issues at stake.

It’s an interesting idea. The mirage men are Men in Black in reverse: “That wasn’t a coded military message that you accidentally picked up on your HAM radio last night. It was an alien communication. Hang on. Let me go get some documents out of the car and “brief” you in. Don’t share these with those UFO buffs!” (hint, hint.)

I loved Mirage Men when I read it a few years ago, and now Pilkington, along with directors John Lundberg, Roland Denning, and Kypros Kyprianou, just released a documentary based on the book. Also titled Mirage Men, the film expands on the premise of the book and feature interviews with some of the mirage men and the people who believed their stories. It’s a nicely put together documentary, and some of the stories are – well – kind of hard to believe, but that’s the fun.

Mirage Men is definitely a case of truth being stranger than fiction, but it’s going to be up to you to decide which is which, and the Mirage Men themselves aren’t going to make the job easy.

Suvudu » Science Fiction and Fantasy Books, Movies, Comics, and Games

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Hollywood Monkeyed Around With ‘Planet of the Apes’ And Created a Masterpiece

Posted by Admin - April 1st, 2014

The year 1968 was a pretty good one for science fiction, fantasy and horror: Future genre classics 2001: A Space Odyssey, Rosemary’s Baby, and Night of the Living Dead all premiered that year to greater or lesser fanfare. So did one more: Planet of the Apes.

Apes starred Charlton Heston in one of his most memorable roles: Astronaut George Taylor, one of a crew of astronauts awakened from suspended animation after their craft crashes on what they initially take to be an alien planet. The ship has been traveling at near light-speed while the crew hibernated, and it’s now thousands of years in the future. Soon they discover that this strange world is ruled by intelligent gorillas, chimpanzees and baboons. The planet is also home to human beings, but they’re mute and only semi-intelligent. One of Taylor’s friends is killed and the other is lobotomized, leaving him the only talking human on the planet. The apes consider Taylor’s tales of a grand civilization ruled by human beings blasphemy and a threat to public order, and intend to have him killed. With the aid of sympathetic Chimpanzees, Taylor escapes into the “Forbidden Zone”, a place where no apes are allowed to travel. Once there, he learns the truth: This “alien planet” is actually future Earth. The movie ends with him falling on his knees before the ruins of the Statue of Liberty, raging that humanity destroyed itself.

Almost fifty years later, the movie still packs quite a punch. That last scene of the Statue of Liberty’s crumbling head and torch is so perfectly revealed in those final moments, and Heston’s reaction so genuine, that you feel it in the pit of your stomach. It’s not only Taylor who experiences a terrible realization, the audience does too: Taylor’s cry of “You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!” is directed at them.

Planet of the Apes had a lot of things going for it right from the start: Groundbreaking prosthetic effects by John Chambers (He designed Mr. Spock’s pointed ears, among other thing), direction by the brilliant Franklin J. Schaffner (later the director of Patton, Papillon, and The Boys from Brazil, among other films) a talented cast hat not only included Heston, but also Roddy McDowall, a disjointingly avant-garde yest instantly recognizable music score composed by Jerry Goldsmith, and a screenplay written by Michael Wilson and none other than Twilight Zone‘s Rod Serling, who had adapted it from La Planète des singes (Monkey Planet), an original novel published in 1963 by French writer Pierre Boulle. (Boulle also wrote The Bridge Over the River Kwai. It was adapted into a feature film staring Sir Alec Guinness, who was later Star Wars‘ Obi-Wan Kenobi.)

Audiences and critics alike loved Planet of the Apes. The movie went on to spawn eight films (including the soon to be released Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), two television series, spin-off novels, comic books, toys, games , and more. From the late sixties until the early to mid seventies, America went “ape”. More than a few of these ape fans probably rushed out and picked up Boulle’s novel. If so, they were probably confused by what they found. See, Planet of the Apes the movie had only a superficial resemblance to Planet of the Apes the book.

In the original novel a couple on an outer space pleasure cruise intercept a message in a bottle. Inside is the unbelievable story of a man’s adventures on a faraway planet where apes rule over semi-intelligent human beings. The man, an astronaut named Ulysee Merou, writes that he wwas stranded for years on an odd planet run by apes. This is where things get different. A lot different. Spoilers ahead.

Boulle’s apes dress and act exactly like twentieth century humans. They wear regular clothes, live in houses, and even have their own aircraft. They even smoke cigarettes and wear little gloves on their feet. The one thing that they don’t do is speak English or any other human tongue. They grunt, hoot, and roar like real apes. Boulle’s ape society sounds more like the old “Bear City” skits on Saturday Night Live than anything else.

Merou is taken to a laboratory and held there until he learns their language. When he does, he presents a speech to the apes and is granted his freedom, plus clothes, and other accoutrements of civilization. Merou goes digging around and discovers evidence of an ancient human civilization that was overthrown by the apes. His ape hosts aren’t happy about his discovery, so Merou gets the spacecraft working again and high-tails it out of there and sets a course for Earth. In due time, he arrives on Earth, where he is greeted by gorillas. Yep, Earth. Not the other planet, which was definitely NOT Earth, but had a Earth-like civilization, human beings, and the apes that took over… and apparently took over Earth, too. Complete coincidence, I guess. Merou takes off into space once more, and that’s when he tosses out the message in a bottle. Oh! And you ready for the big surprise? The couple on the ship that found it? Apes. You got it. Ape people. (“What a twist!”)

It’s not that Boulle’s novel is bad, it’s just different: Really, really different. Surrealistic sixties social science fiction that’s brilliant on its own, but as a movie is Probably a hard sell. The framing device is useful only to deliver an odd secondary twist that takes place after the big finale, which in itself might be confusing to audiences: Why have  your protagonist go to an Earth-like planet full of apes and then have the poor guy go back planet Earth and find it full of apes? What are the odds, anyway? That, and civilized cities full of apes wearing tailored suits and going to work and raising families sounds awfully boring, at least as the premise of a movie. It sounds like Merou just joined a really weird gated community instead of an alien civilization.

Serling’s initial script bore a closer resemblance to Boulle’s novel, but execs were concerned with the cost.  Subsequent revisions by other writers took it further and further from the source material, but Serling, Wilson, Schaffner and the rest of the production had to make an entertaining action film out of Boulle’s odd bit of social science fiction. In the end extricated the bit about astronauts encountering an ape civilization and stitched it all up the best they could. Normally that spells disaster, but in this case it all came together and made a great film. Boulle was pretty much fine with it, as even he wasn’t that crazy about the book. He called it a fantasy and said it wasn’t his best work. The one thing the writer took exception to was Serling’s twist ending in front of the Statue of Liberty – which was one thing that even critics who didn’t care for the movie still thought was pretty good.

We’re on the second total reboot of the franchise, although to be fair, this is more of a prequel series. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes looks like a great movie, and like the other films, bears little to no resemblance to Boulle’s book. Fandom usually gets pretty mad about liberal interpretations of books and comic books, but in this case Is that a bad thing? Read Boulle’s Planet of the Apes and find out.

Suvudu » Science Fiction and Fantasy Books, Movies, Comics, and Games

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The Ukraine Internet Party is At It Again: ‘Darth Vader’ Announces Run For Presidency

Posted by Admin - March 30th, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 11.09.35 PMThe beleaguered Eastern European nation of Ukraine has been in the news a lot lately, and for all the wrong reasons! The Ukrainians had barely caught their breath following a narrowly averted Russian incursion, and now they’ve learned that their future president may be none other than Darth Vader: The Dark Lord of the Sith.

The Sith Lord’s candidacy for president was announced this week by Dmitry Golubov, leader of the Ukraine Internet Party. Golubov said that Vader had defeated other potential nominees and was now the party’s official candidate for presidency. Golubov also mentioned that Vader would require a landing field for his space craft. That could be a major disaster depending on what kind of craft Darth Vader would choose to bring him to Earth. So many choices: Tie Advanced? Maybe a Lambda-Class Shuttle? Oh, man. I hope he’s not going to try to land the Executor.

Golubov stated that the party had paid the required registration fee, and that all was in order. “Stormtroopers” were already handing out information about the candidate at the time of the announcement.  Vader promised to bring pride and order to the people of Ukraine in an official statement:

“I alone can make an empire out of a republic, to restore former glory, to return lost territories and pride for this country.”

Despite the heavy imperial presence surrounding the election, the Ukranian people probably don’t have too much to worry about – at least from Vader: The Ukraine Internet Party is well known for all kinds of wild stunts, including many others that they have performed while disguised as Darth Vader and his Stormtroopers.

“Vader” (or an unknown person (or persons) posing as the infamous Star Wars villain) has had a history of political activism in Ukraine. He and his troops have made several appearances at street protests, as well as engaged in aggressive “attacks” against its enemies.

In November 2011, Vader stormed Odessa’s city hall and declared himself Mayor, much to the amusement of local media. The story soon made national headlines thanks to coverage by, a Russian television news channel with a healthy English viewership.

On February 26, 2013, Vader and his Imperial Stormtroopers marched on the Ministry of Justice in Ukraine to demand that officials accept a copy of the UIP’s political party charter. Vader was not successful, despite his fearsome knowledge of lightsaber combat and Force aptitude. Apparently the Stormtroopers didn’t intimidate the Ministry’s guards, either, even when the Troopers took one of them “hostage”.

On March 5 of the same year, Vader and his troops “raided” a convenience store that they suspected was a front for an illegal drug enterprise. Vader – or one of the Vaders – stated that he was there on the orders of Emperor Palpatine, who had commanded him “to mercilessly and irreversibly cut the knot of drug dealing: to destroy the shops selling smoking blends and other powders,” Vader stated in an comment to Ukrainian media. “Those guilty of poisoning the nation should be brought to strict account before the Empire.”

Sadly, it appears that Vader’s anti-drug mission is not yet complete. But the space ship will probably show up any day now.

Suvudu » Science Fiction and Fantasy Books, Movies, Comics, and Games

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“The Tropic of Serpents: A Memoir by Lady Trent” by Marie Brennan (Reviewed by Casey Blair)

Posted by Admin - March 29th, 2014

Order “The Tropic of SerpentsHERE

Read An Excerpt HERE
Read FBC’s Review of A Natural History of Dragons
The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan is a great follow-up to A Natural History of Dragons. Like its predecessor, it’s framed as the next installment of the memoirs of Lady Trent, now an old lady and a famous naturalist.
I still really enjoy Lady Trent’sno-nonsense tone, and Brennan uses the POV effectively: having the story told from a naturalist’s perspective puts all the exposition not just in character, but also makes it more interesting by embedding it within the context of the story.
In The Tropic of Serpents, Lady Trent travels to an analog of Africa, traveling from the savannah, with at least a few trappings of civilization she’s familiar with, to the Green Hell. The POV choice is marvelous for describing such very different settings without exoticizing the people and cultures she interacts with. Lady Trent deals with different cultural treatments of genders and biology, because the difference is more than just a matter of costuming; she deals with different notions of property and propriety and value; she finds herself more entrenched in politics and what her role means for them than ever before.
As much as I enjoyed the author’s application of POV and framing device, I think it caused some pacing problems later on in the book. Because ostensibly Lady Trent is writing a memoir, not a novel, so she takes breaks from the action to give us all kinds of exposition, and sometimes these are inconveniently placed. By the climax of the novel, I wanted to have all the necessary information already so I could focus on the story, without needing to stop for the protagonist to explain things in the middle of confrontations.
I also found myself frustrated that the protagonist doesn’t have much of a character arc in this book. She’s come into her own as a naturalist, or at least come to terms with that in her own mind, and so the main personal struggle she faces is in regard to how she thinks about her son. But in practice, by the end this hasn’t changed: Lady Trent has dealt with her guilt so that she can presumably work on building a relationship with her son in the future, but she hasn’t done anything.
Character developments, anyway: she’s made huge advances in understanding dragons, and in the space between the previous book and this one she’s grown far less shy about telling people she’s going to do whatever she wants.
One of my qualms about the previous novel was that it seemed like there were no other women in Lady Trent’s world of a similarly scientific turn of mind, but Marie Brennan has blown that out of the water in this book: I particularly enjoyed the addition to the main cast of Nataliewith her bent for engineering—and her utter disinterest in romance of any kind. While A Natural History of Dragonsdealt more with Lady Trent coming to terms with who she was as a person, this volume allowed her to explore the possibilities in her chosen career.
Lady Trent has hinted at happenings in her future that I’m excited to read. So whenever the third installment of this series is out, I’m totally on board.

Fantasy Book Critic

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