Archive for May, 2009

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Dean Koontz’ Frankenstein, Prodigal Son: A Review

May 28, 2009

Prodigal Son_R1Introduction & Overview: Having been thoroughly impressed by Dean Koontz’ celebrated Odd Thomas series, I thought that I would do myself a favor and try another series of his that had caught my attention while searching for something new on the shelves, namely, Koontz’ Frankenstein.  Now, here I should probably confess that outside of being a huge fan of Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder’s classic Young Frankenstein and being a child of the 80’s that enthusiastically swallowed up the campy Monster Squad flick and its gentle take on the Frankenstein monster that I’ve never really been all that keen on the myth.  I’ve always preferred reading about the howling creatures of the night, and maybe a few vampires and swamp things here and there to reading about Frankenstein or his creation.  I suppose that as ingenious a performance as it was, Boris Karloff’s theatrical version wasn’t enough to a yung-un weaned on Dr. Doom, The Joker and the Red Skull to ever really frighten and as a result I never really gave Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or his “monster” much of a chance (though, thankfully, the lesson of who the real “monster” of the two was wasn’t completely lost on me).

Enter Deucalion.

Over two hundred years has passed since that fateful night when Victor Frankenstein seemingly brought his creation to life, and having found the means wherewith to prolong his life Victor, now Helios, commands a vast biological empire in the heart of New Orleans, a front for a far reaching scheme to replace flawed and superstitious humanity with a “new race” of his own making who are physically superior in almost every way to the “old race” and completely subservient to his will and desires.  But things become complicated for Victor, and two homicide detectives when a string of ghastly murders breaks out in the city further threatening the safety of its citizens and bearing an unnerving connection to Helios and his plans.  To whom can the city, and a couple of perplexed detectives turn to when the natural becomes supernatural, and the enemy is unlike anything humanity has ever seen?

In these mountains of tibet, a fiery sunset conjured a mirage of molten gold from the glaciers and the snowfields. A serrated blade of Himalayan peaks, with Everest at its hilt, cut the sky.  Far from civilization, this vast panorama soothed Deucalion. For several years, he had preferred to avoid people, except for Buddhist monks in this windswept rooftop of the world.  Although he had not killed for a long time, he still harbored the capacity for homicidal fury. Here he strove always to suppress his darker urges, sought calm, and hoped to find true peace.

From an open stone balcony of the whitewashed monastery, as he gazed at the sun-splashed ice pack, he considered, not for the first time, that these two elements, fire and ice, defined his life.  At his side, an elderly monk, Nebo, asked, “Are you looking at the mountains—or beyond them, to what you left behind?”

Although Deucalion had learned to speak several Tibetan dialects during his lengthy sojourn here, he and the old monk often spoke English, for it afforded them privacy.  “I don’t miss much of that world. The sea. The sound of shore birds. A few friends. Cheez-Its.”

Shortly thereafter, in his seclusion, Deucalion is greeted by a messenger who while shocked at his appearance manages to deliver the post.  ‘It’s him, Victor Frankenstein is alive.’ And its up to his creation to do what he was unable to do more than two hundred years ago.  Stop Frankenstein.

Comments: This isn’t the Karloff monster.  Instead Deucalion (the son of Prometheus in Greek myth after whom he has named himself) is a haunted individual, long lived, with a tragic past who  has set foot on the road to redemption and self-sacrifice despite an inner struggle to suppress an inner rage that continually seeks release.  In Koontz’ Frankenstein we are presented with a heroic figure who has felt a divine presence in his life after some two hundred years of trying to grasp his place in the universe to the point he feels it his destiny to stop the unnatural perversions of his earthly creator.  As such, it was easy for me to cheer him on in the endeavor, particularly as we become more and more aware of the depths of Victor’s depraved mind and privy to what his new race is capable of with little to no remorse for who they hurt, kill and maim in the process.  Honestly, in the back of my mind I was constantly troubled by the ramifications of what an entire world populated by these cold killers would be like as I read and it was truly chilling to imagine.

The story is made all the richer by an interesting cast of characters including homicide detectives Carson O’ Conner and Michael Maddison who find themselves elbows deep in Victor’s plans desperately searching for answers as to what’s happening around them, as well as characters like Erica 4 and Randall 6 who despite being members of the “new race” prove that there’s a little more to his creations than even Victor can comprehend when they act contrary to his wishes, and with tendencies more akin to those he seeks to wipe out completely.  Koontz moves the story along at a breakneck pace, with short chapters that jump into the different characters perspectives and experience to piece together the narrative pinning down the underlying tapestry of the novel.  It’s a true page turner and an awful lot of fun in the process.  The first of a three part series there’s a lot to introduce and to discover in The Prodigal Son and its a fair criticism to say that the ending is a little abrupt, and surprisingly so, as it leads into the next installment but it does serve to prime the reader for the next chapter in City of  Night and I had little choice but to track that down and get started as quickly as I could.

Interestingly, the book was originally a script for a 2 hour pilot that Koontz had developed for an ongoing series on the USA Network, but as he explains in the foreword he pulled out of the project when extensive revisions to the script were made and disappointed in the direction it took, fully realized his story in the one we see here.  That’s good for us because it’s an exciting piece of work and one easily capable of completely capturing the imagination so I give it a very high recommendation to anyone even remotely interested in a good thriller, monster movie, or just a big ‘ol smile on your face.

Look for the 3rd installment of Dean Koontz’ Frankenstein, enttitled Dead or Alive on July 28th.

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On Audio Books…

May 26, 2009

MT_R1I don’t know where you stand on audio books, but up until recently I wasn’t really sure what to think of them.  I had some great experiences over the years with ‘books on tape’ where a few history, theology, and finance books were concerned but they were few and far between and I generally knew the authors, and their style of delivery, very well before purchasing the audio books.  I’m also more than a little “old school” in the sense that I enjoy sitting back in a recliner, flipping the front cover of a book open, and reading for a couple of uninterrupted hours (or more, obviously, depending on how engrossed I am).  I even love that old musty book smell and truthfully, I don’t imagine anything could take the place of these experiences, but I’ve got to say that I’m seeing things a little differently these days.

Several months ago I moved across the city (we actually call it a “town” in these here parts) and into my first home, and while I love the freedom that having a home affords, I now sport an hour commute both to and from work each day (no worries, it’s more than worth it and the gas-mileage-friendly car helps) so as to better keep my sanity on those lengthy drives I told myself that I needed to give this whole audio book thing a try to see if it might stave off some of the frustration that sitting in traffic and avoiding idiots on the road brings each day.  Well, long story short, I’ve been visiting my local library to check out their selections and have been really surprised at the treasures I’ve been able to find that I probably never would have tried otherwise.  A couple of hours in the car each day has proven to be just long enough to engross myself in a story before arriving at either destination and I’ve found that my outlook on the day changes for the better knowing that I’ve got an adventure ahead of me on the way home as opposed to 45-stress inducing minutes in traffic.  Not a bad deal at all and I hope to bring you that many more thoughts and reviews as a result.

Never thought I’d say it, but I look forward to today’s long drive home.

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Quote the Raven…

May 26, 2009

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“You can’t live on amusement. It is the froth on water – an inch deep and then the mud.”

– George MacDonald

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A Quick Arrival: Malazan, Black Company & Omega Squad

May 21, 2009

OmegaSquad

Well that was a nice surprise.  I arrived home last night, welcomed not only by a couple of Corgi’s happy out of their mind  (which is always nice) but also by 3 large packages from amazon.  I had expected them to arrive fairly soon, but not nearly as quick and not all at one time.  Thought y’all might be interested in the contents as it relates to the blog:

GardensoftheMoonreissueChronicles of the Black Company (Glen Cook)

The Books of the South: Tales of the Black Company (Glen Cook)

Ender’s Quartet (Orson Scott Card)

Gardens of the Moon, Malazan Book of the Fallen re-issue (Steven Erikson)

No Prisoners, Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Karen Traviss)

Order 66, Star Wars: Republic Commando (Karen Traviss)

I’m really excited about reading each and every one of these, I’ve probably had Erkison’s Malazan series recommended more than any other this side of GRRM in recent memory and I love Traviss’ Republic Commando series and can’t wait to see what’s in store for Omega Squad as we near “Order 66.”  The depth she’s added to the clones themsevles is nothing short of amazing and I’m hoping we continue to see that level of care in how she approaches the infamous order that tragically wiped out (most of) the Jedi.  And as for Cook’s Black Company, I’m looking forward to some honest hand’s on fighting in the trenches and to seeing what surprises lay in store.

devil_summoner_2On an unrelated note, I also received the pre-order edition of Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner 2: Raidou Kuzunoha versus King Abaddon (PS2), complete with Raiho (Jack Frost) plush, which I’m half tempted to keep sealed given the penchant Atlus titles (particular the SMT brand) have for shooting upwards in value due to the limited print runs.  Fortunately, the need to play it is much, much greater than any desire to sell it being that we are talking about a Shin Megami game.

Look for more discussion on the books themselves in future posts.

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“Another Song About Coraline…”

May 20, 2009

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A little over a year ago I had the pleasure of reading Neil Gaiman’s Coraline in its entirety while waiting in the hospital lobby for my younger sister to give birth to a beautiful baby girl.  It was a fantastic way to whittle away the morning hours as we waited and I was captivated both by the novel, and the recent stop motion animated film of the same name.  Additionally, the score in the film is haunting (in a good way) and I don’t think a day had passed  before I had downloaded the soundtrack from iTunes.

Anyhow, I mention it because in a recent letter to Mr. Gaiman, a reader brings up Bruno Coulais’ soundtrack, as well as the possibility of a missing track:

Dear Mr. Gaiman,

I can’t tell you how much I adored the movie Coraline, and the film’s score is no exception.

Bruno Coulais’ pieces were haunting and beautiful, and the TMBG’s “Other Father Song” was terrific, but sadly, the song which stood out to me the most I can’t find!

It’s the tune played when Coraline and her mother (real of course) are shopping. It was also featured in one of the TV commercials for the film. (See it here http://twurl.cc/p7j )

In all my searching all I’ve found is that I think it’s called “Nellie Jean”, by Kent Melton (who may also have been a sculptor for the movie as well).

I know it’s a long shot, but I was wondering if you had any information to pass along about the song. I downloaded the movie soundtrack from iTunes, and it’s not there. I guess at worst I’ll keep listening to it on YouTube, though I’d really like to download it!

Thank’s, and keep it up!

Jason B

I asked Henry Selick, who said,

It is not “Nellie Jean” by Kent Melton – that is the 5 to 7 seconds of ukulele played by the small character in front of the garden store where Dad is dropped off. I think we just called it “shopping music” and I’m surprised it’s not on the soundtrack CD. I’ve asked Bruno Coulais if he’d mind sending me an MP3 to share with Jason.

And then, because Henry is a remarkable man, he sent me an MP3 of the track in question, and the mighty webgoblin has put it up at http://www.neilgaiman.com/mediafiles/exclusive/Audio/in_the_store_2.mp3

(The high voice singing is actually Bruno himself.)

Enjoy Coraline’s “Shopping Music” and check out the soundtrack if you haven’t had the opportunity to do so yet.  Great stuff!

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Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card: A Review

May 19, 2009

endersgame_2Introductions: It’s been almost 15-years since a good friend of mine recommended Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game.  These were “the good old days,” we were in high school, I was dating my high school sweetheart and likely we were at his house discussing comics, religion or somesuch when in the course of the conversation he told me about Ender’s Game and that knowing my tastes I was sure to enjoy it.  I can recall only a few slivers of why he thought it would appeal to me, but an epic space battle and a group of warriors fighting in it that resembled a couple existing heroes of mine were probably part of the deal.  To be honest though, I wasn’t sold right away.  I loved Star Wars in its many forms, but beyond that, Sci-Fi wasn’t really my thing at all.  Still, I filed it away in the recesses of my mind for future reference and some 15 years later, shamed that I hadn’t yet read what was considered to be one of the greatest science fiction books of all time and primed through years of reading so as to see the error of my ways…here we are.

Synopsis: Set in Earth’s future, mankind finds itself performing a dangerous balancing act and tensions are high.  On the one hand, nations distrust one another and alliances are held together by weakening threads (as has long since been the case) but on the other hand mankind as a whole has only just begun to recover from a full-scale invasion by the Formics, or “buggers,” a highly intelligent insectoid race that attempted to subjugate the earth and its inhabitants before ultimately being driven back to their home world by a legendary pilot and more than a few dedicated individuals.  The earth knows a measure of peace, but what if the buggers return?  And what of the alliances left strained after the Formic War?  Thus the stage is set and we’re introduced to Andrew “Ender” Wiggen, a 6-year old boy that the International Fleet has had their eye on for some time.  Hand picked for his unique profile, family situation, and “skills” he is enrolled in the IF’s Battle School, an elite training academy removed far from the Earth’s atmosphere where he will train to potentially become an officer/commander in mankind’s future conflicts against the Formics.  In Battle School Ender is tried and tested in unique null gravity environments, high stress situations, and complex command simulators to the brink of exhaustion, and beyond, in the hopes that he is truly mankind’s next great hope.

I’ve watched through his eyes, I’ve listened through his ears,and I tell you he’s the one. Or at least as close as we’re going to get.  ‘That’s what you said about the brother.’ The brother tested out impossible. For other reasons. Nothing to do with his ability. ‘Same with the sister. And there are doubts about him. He’s too malleable. Too willing to submerge himself in someone else’s will.’  Not if the other person is his enemy.  ‘So what do we do? Surround himself with enemies all the time?’  If we have to.  ‘I thought you said you liked this kid.’  If the buggers get him, they’ll make me look like the favorite uncle.  ‘All right. We’re saving the world, after all.  Take him.’

Comments: In many ways, Ender’s Game was chock full of the things that I had expected, even hoped, that it would be.  Ender is at once an interesting, if troubled, protagonist with infinite potential for good (and bad) in the unforgiving setting in which he finds himself.  I was immediately sympathetic to his increasingly complex situation and was often surprised when remembering that this was a very young adolescent who faced decisions that would make confident adults cower in fear.  A child that was shaped, and almost forced, to mold himself into a military savior for mankind.  I had expected a morality tale and one that would make me cheer for our hero.  Don’t get me wrong, we did get that in Ender, but we also got a very hard book that tackled some extremely raw themes and along the way we got a more multi-faceted hero than I would have at first imagined.  I was a little hasty in a previous column to state that Ender didn’t give up, that he moved forward in the toughest times recalling why he had joined the International Fleet in the first place.  But as I progressed in the novel I found that I was mistaken, there were times when he did give up, when it was all too much for him and he had to find a way to cope for awhile.  But it would be unjust for me to have expected him to never give up, to be a perfect soldier.  He wasn’t even 10-years old for 9/10ths of the book for heavens sake.  What would I have done at 10?  Or as the author himself aptly put it: “If, at times, they still seem immature, remember that they have adult intellects operating in children’s bodies with children’s emotional responses.” But Ender did persevere, he overcame grief, sickness and exhaustion to put one foot in front of the other and when he couldn’t find a reason to follow the orders his commanders gave, he substituted reasoning that would propel him forward to perform his duties for those back home.  He was asked to bear a burden that no one else could have shouldered — despite being lied to at every turn — and unbeknownst to him, he turned out to be the hero the earth needed and the hero we envisioned, if through the refiner’s fire.  Evidenced, I’d wager, in the role he takes up after learning the truth and embarking with his sister on their more ‘spiritual’  journey (don’t want to let those 29 year old spoilers out of the bag).  In the end I can say that I wasn’t completely satisfied with the descriptions of the ships, star fighters, or even the buggers as they could have been even more fascinating than they ended up being for me but they were all functional, certainly, and it was the only area that I noted a passing disappointment, outside of a general disdain for the idea that parents wouldn’t do all that they could to care for a child they had brought into the world, their apathy was more than a little disheartening but then again maybe there’s more to be explored there.  I loved the cast at the IF’s Battle School, Bean was a real hoot as were Alai, Dink and Petra who I hope to read about in the future Ender books.  Card’s pacing was franetic in the 324-page novel and there were plenty of times where I couldn’t put it down, which always drives home the fun I’m really having.  That joy of reading goes a long way with me and upon closing the book I can say not only that I had a really good time, but that Ender & Co. will likely stay with me for a long time to come…especially as I dive further into Card’s Enderverse with the arrival of the next 3 books later this week!

Rating: I’m still mulling over whether or not to give out numerical scores, and would love any feedback as to what you think, but I’d highly recommend the book and hope it doesn’t take you 15-years to sit down and read it when all is said and done.  It deserves a much quicker response time, like now.

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A Word of Thanks

May 18, 2009

Raven_R1Follow That Raven is only a week old today and I’ve already had the privilege of speaking with a number of fine individuals that have offered compliments, criticism, and encouragement about the site.  As a result, I wanted to take a few moments to thank each of you for taking the time to visit and to offer your insights and support as I get the site off the ground.  I’m really encouraged by the feedback and look forward to seeing how the place grows in the weeks, months, and hopefully years to come.  To the creators I’ve spoken to thus far, thanks for your time as well, and keep up the great work because I can’t wait to discuss the inner workings of your books here at the site in the hopes you may gain and even greater following as new readers discover them, and existing fans have an additional opportunity to discuss them.

And finally, to the visitors to the site so far, I hope you’ll bear with me as I go through the inevitable growing pains and that you’ll enjoy having the place to hang your hat when you stop by to visit.