“The Shape of Water” by Daniel Krauss

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Most science fiction and fantasy movies nowadays get a tie-in novelization. Often, these adaptations reincorporate scenes that were deleted from the final cut of the film (as Jason Fry’s The Last Jedi recently did). They can also let readers peer into a character’s private thoughts, something notoriously difficult to do on screen (see David Lynch’s Dune adaptation). The Shape of Water novel by Daniel Kraus is something rarer and altogether more interesting. According to io9, Kraus pitched the story to Guillermo del Toro several years ago. Although Del Toro’s film The Shape of Water came out first, they agreed that each would tell their own version of the story through their respective mediums. In other words, Kraus’ book is not simply an adaptation of the film, but a unique and original telling of that story. Continue reading

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“Overneath” by Peter S. Beagle

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I’ve been a fan of Peter S. Beagle’s work ever since I read The Last Unicorn, a cheerfully bittersweet examination of life and fairy tales. I also enjoyed In Calabria, Beagle’s more recent take on unicorns. However, aside from a short sequel to The Last Unicorn, I hadn’t read any of Beagle’s shorter fiction. Overneath is a collection Beagle’s short stories, some previously published and some new to this volume. It’s a great introduction to Beagle’s fiction. Continue reading

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“The Shape of Water”

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Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water is the first science fiction film ever to win an Oscar for Best Picture. This alone makes it worthy of a place in the annals of sci-fi. It’s also a great example of what makes del Toro such a fascinating filmmaker and storyteller. Like many geniuses, del Toro has an ability to look at the ordinary and see something extraordinary. His films often take familiar story tropes and make them feel fresh again. In The Shape of Water, Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a janitor at a government lab in Baltimore, falls in love with a humanoid fish-creature (Doug Jones). In one sense, this is simply a twist on the classic “odd-couple romance” story, like Beauty & the Beast or The Frog Prince. However, del Toro does several things to make the story feel completely unlike anything that’s come before. Continue reading

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“The Last Jedi” by Jason Fry

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Jason Fry’s novelization of The Last Jedi is a retelling of Rian Johnson’s film, with a greater emphasis on the characters and less humor. Like most novelizations, the book sticks pretty close to the story we saw on screen back in December. However, Fry gets to spend time inside the characters’ heads, shedding light on how the characters viewed certain events.

This technique provides quite a bit of insight into Luke Skywalker. In The Last Jedi, Luke is a bitter old man, a far cry from the optimistic youth we saw in the Original Trilogy. I enjoyed this take on the character, but also felt the film should have done more to explain Luke’s arc between the films. Fry’s novelization offers a few tantalizing hints. One early sequence in the book hints that Luke yearns for a more normal life. He comes to regret not only his infamous encounter with Ben Solo, but also other life decisions. Seeing Luke doubt not just that one moment but a whole lifetime helps explain his radical transformation since Return of the Jedi. Continue reading

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Star Trek Discovery

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As some of you know, I’m a huge Star Trek fan. It was probably my first big fandom. So you might be wondering why I haven’t been reviewing Star Trek Discovery. Well, the truth is I’ve found the show to be an disappointing mess. It flouts the liberal humanism and optimistic spirit of Star Trek in favor of modern TV grimdark conventions. The show is filled with plot twists that seem more designed to shock audiences than to open interesting new story possibilities. Frankly, I don’t really have much to say that hasn’t already been said about this show. This LA Times Review of Books explains many of the problems.

Like many Trek fans, I’ve waited years for Star Trek to return to TV. It’s too bad the end product wasn’t worth the wait.

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Mythgard Movie Club: The Last Jedi

I had the honor of joining the Mythgard Movie Club last week to talk about The Last Jedi. It was honestly one of the better discussions I’ve heard about the film. Whereas most of the discussion has been dominated by the polarized reaction to certain scenes, we tried to focus on understanding the themes in this film.

You can listen to the audio-only version here or watch the video below:

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The Last Jedi and Me

luke-last-jedi-posterIn the weeks since I shared my first impressions of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Episode VIII has become the most divisive film in the Star Wars canon. Professional reviewers, who tend to prioritize the acting and themes in a film, have overwhelmingly praised the way director Rian Johnson deconstructs Star Wars tropes and subverts expectations. By contrast, fans, who often care more about the characters and story continuity, have been much more mixed in their response. Some love that the film takes the franchise in new directions, while others complain about the self-aware humor and the slow middle act. The Last Jedi has become a sort of Star Wars Rorschach test in that each viewer’s response says as much about that person’s relationship with Star Wars as it does about the film. Continue reading

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First Impressions of The Last Jedi through other Sci-Fi

the-last-jedi-theatrical-blogOne of my biggest critiques of Star Wars: The Force Awakens was that it relied too much on nostalgia. At times, it seemed like a soft reboot of A New Hope. Naturally, this led me to worry that Disney was too reluctant, too concerned with profits to take risks with the franchise. When promotional images for The Last Jedi included vehicles that looked suspiciously like AT-AT walkers, I worried that Director Rian Johnson’s new Star Wars film would again play it safe by retreading the plot of The Empire Strikes Back.

I was wrong. I am glad. Continue reading

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“Stan Lee: The Man Behind Marvel” by Bob Batchelor

61szh04fjpL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_I come to this book less as a Marvel fan and more as someone interested in the history of pop culture. Given the recent explosion of superhero films, Stan Lee has come to rank as one of the most important figures in pop culture history. Yet, I realized I knew remarkably little about him. I’ve enjoyed some of the Marvel movies, but had never read any of Stan Lee’s comics.

Bob Batchelor’s new biography is a good start for the uninitiated. He provides a comprehensive overview of Stan Lee’s life and work. It’s a largely sympathetic – but not uncritical – biography of a man who brimmed with creative energy and occasionally made bad financial deals.  Continue reading

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“Artemis” by Andy Weir

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Andy Weir’s debut novel, The Martian, was one of the best science fiction novels of the past decade, so I was naturally intrigued when I heard about his new book, Artemis. On the one hand, Weir’s success means that he’ll likely have a much larger audience for Artemis than he initially did for The Martian, which he had to self-publish on Amazon. On the other hand, it’s nearly impossible to avoid comparing Artemis to The Martian, and unfortunately that comparison does Weir’s new book no favors. Continue reading

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