Saturday, 20 December 2014

MODERN SCI-FI FILMS FAQ - by Tom DeMichael

Another book in the FAQ series addresses one of our favourite subjects, science fiction movies. Considering we call ourselves the Sci Fi Freak Site, that shouldn't come as any great surprise to anyone.

Also not coming as a surprise to anyone will be the reservations we have over the title and subtitle. There are still no frequently asked questions in this book and we still don't know what they mean by 'all that's left to know about...', in this case time travel, alien, robot and out-of-this-world movies since 1970.

With this book, though, we also have larger reservations about the content than the previous entries we've tried (Doctor Who and Stephen King Films). It's not that it's hard to read; the writer's style is clean and easy to read and doesn't distract from the content at all. It's the construction that we don't understand.

Each film starts with a synopsis and then has some afterwords, analysis, box office and anecdotes. Nothing wrong with that, but it's the amount of room devoted to each that confuses. Take the entry for INCEPTION for example - the plot synopsis runs to seven pages whilst the rest runs to two. That seems to us to be entirely the wrong way around. Admittedly, INCEPTION is a film with a dense and twisting plot, but does anyone really need every twist and turn to be laid out for them? And that's the problem. If you've seen (and loved in most cases) the films then you'll know them well enough to not need to read a detailed synopsis of what happens. If you're going to see the film then you're not going to want to know all the twists and plot spoilers that are included. We found ourselves skipping the synopses altogether and reading only the 'afterwords'. Since these are the smaller sections and seemingly obsessed with box office receipts and not a lot else, the 380 page count gets a lot, lot less.

More interesting are the opening section on the literary roots of the genre (i.e. some important sci fi writers whose work has been recently adapted), science fiction movie spaceships and notable sci fi movie personages. Since these are not simply regurgitating plots, they have more interest.

It's hard to know who this book can be aimed that who won't be disappointed by it, and that's a big problem.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA VAULT by Paul Ruditis

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA is one of the most lauded television shows of recent years. Notice that we left out the qualifier 'science fiction' in that? That's because the redefined version of a camp 70's STAR WARS wannabe was a genuine phenomenon that crossed the critical divide from genre into the mainstream. That might not be such a big thing nowadays with the success of the likes of GAME OF THRONES and other HBO shows, but it was big at the time.

So, if you were one of the people who loved the show (and if not, why not?) then you could do a lot worse than getting your hands on this lavishly illustrated book that starts with that camp 70's wannabe and goes right through to the doomed spin-off CAPRICA and the tv movies that tried to extend the magic.

There's only a couple of hours' reading time here and the devoted fan won't learn a lot that they didn't already know, but the words aren't what books like this are all about. The production art and set designs are crammed onto every page and there's more than enough to satisfy even the most hardened Galactica buff. And just in case you weren't convinced that this is all about the images, there are a couple of envelopes inside the front and back cover stuffed with pull out images like Ralph McQuarrie's poster, comparisons of ships of the fleet and the development of the cylon warrior.

The design of the book and the gatefold cover make the £20 cover price seem like a bargain. It's coming up to Christmas, so if you have a frakkin' Galactica fan in your life your present problems could just have been solved.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Know Your Sci Fi Computers?

So you think that you know your science fiction computers? Sure which ones you could trust in a pinch? Well, follow the link below to a pretty neat info graphic (no, we don't know what that means either, but the kids do) that will tell you all you need to know about trusting those pesky bunches of isolinear logic circuits.

Fictional Computers Good vs Evil

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

SCI-FI CHRONICLES - Aurum Press - Out 2nd October

It's not often that we open something that we've been sent to review and let out very unmanly fanboy squeals, but that is exactly what happened when we opened the packaging on SCI-FI CHRONICLES. Our very first impression was 'Oh my God, it's beautiful'. The cover is a lush patterned black with a rendering of Hal 9000's eye lens and some very shiny lettering that just isn't done justice by the image alongside.

But, the beauty of this book doesn't just stop at the cover. It is lavishly illustrated throughout with glorious colour images. They're not huge, but there are so many of them. Each entry is illustrated with small icon images with some of the larger subjects getting two or four pages devoted purely to the pictures.

You need a lot of pages to get all of that onto and SCI-FI CHRONICLES has more than 570 of them (though admittedly 40 of those are dedicated to the index and the credits.

With so much information now readily available on our electronic devices at the swipe of a finger, encyclopedias like this one are much harder to come by, so it's to Aurum's credit that they are willing to even produce the book, let alone do such a good job on it. There are 27 listed contributors, all of whom seem to have a passion for the subject.

And it's a wide-ranging subject too, since the book doesn't restrict itself to just one medium. There are landmark books, films, TV shows, comics, video games and even characters and personalities all contained within. Isaac Asimov shares space with The Day The Earth Stood Still and Jack Kirby. Steven Spielberg jostles elbows with King Kong and Halo. Even with half a thousand pages, it can't be all-encompassing, but we've yet to come up with one entry that we thought ought to be featured that wasn't. The detail is more of a sketch, an introduction to each subject, but you'll know whether you're interested in finding out more about each by the time that you reach the end of the page.

It's not perfect, though, surely. Very nearly. The chronological structure makes it a little harder than necessary to find your subject of choice if you're not interested in reading it as a narrative and the index is a touch fiddly to find the main article of choice. The chronology also stops in 2009, which suggests that there has not been one single book, film, video game, graphic novel, character or creator who has emerged in the genre in the past five years. That seems a little hard to believe.

The space devoted to each entry can be a little obscure as well. Blade Runner, visually the second most influential film of all time, shares its page with the book Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep and mention isn't even given to the excellent video game version and the not quite so excellent KW Jeter sequels. This means that the most influential movie in the genre since Metropolis actually gets less page space that soggy submarine series Seaquest DSV!

Also, any book that states as fact that Tom Baker was the third Doctor has to lose some credibility points.

All of which is nit-picking. The fact is that we have lost hours to this book already and we've had it for less than two days. It has become our favoured reference book of choice and has pride of place on our shelves. That is seriously not bad going.

The £25 price tag might seem a little steep, but take a look inside and you'll probably fall as instantly in love as we did. Also, it's a book that you will go back to time and time again. And it's the kind of gift that your science-loving significant other would thank you for and mean it.

The lovely folks at Aurum have promised one lucky winner a copy of this book absolutely free, so trot on over to www.scififreaksite.com and take part in our giveaway.

Monday, 22 September 2014

DOCTOR WHO FAQ - All That's Left To Know About The Most Famous Time Lord In The Universe by Dave Thompson

It may have escaped your attention, but the BBC TV series DOCTOR WHO celebrated its fiftieth birthday recently. This was as good a reason for a few million more words to be written about what must be one the most written about television series of all time. What, indeed, can there be left to know?

Quibbles first - title and subtitle. This is not a book of frequently asked questions. And as for its claim that it contains 'all that's left to know' about the Doctor, well that's just nonsense. 'All that's left to know' after what?

Don't get me wrong, author Dave Thompson knows his stuff and certainly has opinions on his stuff, but there is very little here that even a semi-knowledgeable viewer like me didn't already know, or certainly couldn't have found out pretty quickly on the internet. True enough, the chapters on the Big Finish audio productions and the music inspired by Doctor Who were news to me, but then I did say that I was only semi-knowledgeable.

What this book really is, is a comprehensive overview of the show for someone who knows a little and wants to know a lot  more. This is for people who are new to the series in its modern incarnation and want to be indoctrinated in the history.

It is also, make no bones about it, for Americans. The opening chapter is entitled 'The TARDIS in America'.

It is also out of date, containing nothing of the fiftieth year's celebrations, but that's a minor point since any book like this is out of date as soon as it's printed (if it's lucky).

So, what's good about it? Well, if you don't already have an overview of the show then you could certainly do worse than this and it does cover those Big Finish audio productions and books and music as well. There's a comprehensive listing of TV episodes, audio productions, original books and even comic books featuring the 'most famous time lord in the universe'.

It's also pretty easy to read. Thompson has a clean style and isn't shy about coming forward with what he thinks. That he didn't like Adric or Mel is no surprise to any right-thinking individual, but his views on the Moffat era might not go down so well with some others.

There's an eclectic mix of illustrations (black and white) to break up the text and at 258 pages of history and opinions, there ought to be something for everyone to find of interest.

We're back, though, to that thorny question of who exactly this book is for. Completists will want it for, well, completeness, but there's very little in it to make it indispensable. Then again, after so much has been written about the show, what on earth could there be left to know?

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Joss Whedon - Geek King Of The Universe by Amy Pascale

 
Before you start worrying, this is not another long-winded speech about our love for the Geek King of the Universe that is Joss Whedon. Someone else has already got there.

Sort of.

For those who don't know (and why the hell are your reading this blog if you don't know?) Joss Whedon is a writer of TV shows, films and comic books. Up until recently, his work was known to a smallish audience who made up for their lack of huge numbers with passion.

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, ANGEL and FIREFLY are considered (by their fans at least) as some of the finest science fiction and fantasy shows ever put on television. They never broke into the mainstream, though, and DOLLHOUSE barely made a dent on the popular culture.

Marvel's AVENGERS ASSEMBLE, however, really put the man on the map by becoming one of the biggest moneymaking movies of all time. Taking time off to relax from making that blockbuster, he made a film version of Shakespeare's MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING in his house!

We at the Sci Fi Freak Site have always loved Joss Whedon, so it was no hardship to read this biography. Amy Pascale's chronological retelling is carried out in a clean and clear style that never puts the writing ahead of the story that it is telling. The author certainly knows her subject, with input from Whedon's family, friends and co-workers on almost all subjects, whether it is his work, his Shakespeare readings with friends, his support of the writers' union or his rocky relationships with various TV companies and movie producers. Whilst his private life is kept private (he's married, he has children, that's about all you're getting), his professional life is laid bare and whilst his early life might not raise too much interest, the moment that we get into the stuff we really want to know about, the book becomes unputdownable.

If there is a negative to be found then it is that a book about a man who is described by almost everyone as the wittiest man they have ever met could have done with a bit more itself.

If you're interested in Joss Whedon's work, then this biography gives a great insight into his history and his methods.

It's available now.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

THE ZOMBIE FILM from White Zombie to World War Z by Alain Silver and James Ursini

Now that the whole sparkly-vampires-make-good-boyfriends farrago is come to an end and the werewolves-also-make good-boyfriends phase never managed to get off the ground, attention has turned to the zombie as the paranormal boogeyman of choice. Zombies have often featured in low-budget movies, but now the budgets aren't always so low and screens both large and small are awash with the shambling dead.

To cover this increasingly huge genre of work comes this large format book that starts with the generally accepted first zombie movie, White Zombie (having already covered the myth and written words history of the undead) and takes the reader through all the various iterations of the zombie whether it be George A Romero's shambling metaphors for modern society, Stephen King's reanimated pets in a sematary, raging speedsters appearing 28 Days Later or (oh the horror, the horror) zombie strippers.

The early parts of the book are the more interesting as the formative years are covered with appearances by masters of horror Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff in films that set the earlier, voodoo-linked stories. That moves on nicely into the George A Romero period of increasing gore and social commentary. When it moves into the more modern era, it becomes less sure of itself, often becoming overwhelmed by the sheer amount of output that there is to cover and becoming often a list of films and what happens in them rather than analysis into the thematic and historical contexts. Of course, that might just be because there are no themes being examined any longer. The writing style is generally clean and accessible and entertaining, certainly in the book's earlier sections.

It is surprising, however, that THE WALKING DEAD television series gets so little coverage, considering how influential it has been in the genre.

There is a huge filmography at the end so that you can make sure that you have caught up with all of the more obscure offerings that the genre has and the book also has interviews with zombie filmmakers and contributors that vary from the interesting to the intrusive. For sheer coverage, the book also cannot be faulted as it covers the most obvious entries in the genre to some of the less obvious. It's concentration on the contribution made by Richard Matheson's I Am Legend is refreshingly insightful.

The content of the written words might be variable, but there is no faulting the visuals. The books comes stuffed full of lobby cards, stills and images of corpses in various stages of decay. As you can see from the cover image, this is probably not a book to leave where your four year old can get their hands on it and give themselves nightmares.

THE ZOMBIE FILM from White Zombie to World War Z might not be the ultimate guide to the zombie genre, but it will certainly fill the hole whilst we wait for that that one to come along.