Reviews: Area 51 1/2 October 2014


area51-200by Steven Sawicki

Greenings Third Worlders.

It seems some explanation is in order. And while there are many things that you truly do need to explain — raison d’etres, raisons alone, why you call them the three musketeers when there are clearly more than three, Strawberry Alarm Clocks, Ted Nugent, and, well, the list is a very long one. That will all have to wait though for it is we who are here to explain a bit more than we did last time. (But seriously, if you can enlighten us on any of the above, get in touch. We’ll see you get off the probe list.)

We understand that elsewhere in this ephemeral communication tool, there is what one might call an origin story. Or there was an origin story. Or perhaps there will be one in the future. Look for it. None of it is true. Did we not explain the whole fiction/non-fiction thing last time? Sure it explains some things, but for the most part it does not. As Klaarg often says, “Asteroid dents are very tough to get out of the Neutrontium hull so it’s best to avoid them in the first place.” That Klaarg and his folksy wisdom. We sometimes wonder how he actually managed to crawl out of the birthing pool. But, then, all the great navigators do.

queen-of-dark-thingsQueen of the Dark Things, C. Robert Cargill, Harper, ISBN 97800-06-219045-1, May 2014, $26.99, 432 pgs.
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Colby has decided that the events which took the life of his friend require action on his part and he has decided that the action required is to make Austin, Texas a safer place in terms of the supernatural. This has all gone okay, more or less, partly because Colby is a very powerful wizard and can make things go away simply by unbelieving in them. But, great power is not wielded in silence and Colby has come under the attention of a number of extremely powerful, and possibly more powerful than him, individuals. One of them is the Queen of Darkness, a young girl that Colby had to leave when he was an apprentice many years in the past. Another is Austin, the powerful embodiment of the city, and then there are the 72 — demons, or fallen angels, depending on your point of view, who are so powerful that no one ever wants to meet them, not ever. And amidst all this Colby needs to figure out who are his friends, who are his enemies, and who he can rely on and use to come out of a situation that is, because of past actions, impossible to get out of.

We enjoyed this offering. We have to admit that we often travel your planet looking for unusual species to add to our knowledge base. But we have not found any of the things that this Cargill so adeptly describes. We’d like to know about his own experiences as we are sure they are more than he was able to contain in this work. And we have to admit that the way he manages to describe not only their appearance but their actions and motivations leaves us wanting to know more. And there is even some humor, albeit the dark, dry kind, but still.

This offering is the second that Cargill has put out dealing with Colby the Wizard and the amazing creatures that he comes to know and get involved with. We do not believe that you would have to go through the first one in order to understand and enjoy this one but yet you should, unless you are part of the segment of the population that enjoys intentionally denying yourself good things. We’re adding that behavior to the list of things you need to explain by the way.

undead-poolThe Undead Pool, Kim Harrison, Harper Voyager, ISBN 978-0-06-195793-2, $27.99, 423 pgs. 
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Yes, it seems like it is that time of the month. And we are okay with that. Kim Harrison has been on our list for a while now. We have been absorbing pretty much everything she produces. We have been reading her books as well. She writes what you know best as urban fantasy. Having been to many of your cities we feel this is not an apt description. We’ve been to New York, Pittsburgh, Berlin, London, Boston, well better not count Boston as there are still events that happened there that even we can not explain. But the rest are not really very fantastical. Harrison does write about Cincinnati though and while we have never been there we have no reason to believe it is any different than, say, Cleveland, or Des Moines. Except perhaps for the tigers of which there are none in Harrison’s books so we wonder about the authenticity. In fact, there are elves, werewolves, vampires, gargoyles, demons, witches and all kinds of other creatures that we have been looking for but not yet finding so we’re leery of the whole thing. On the other hand Harrison writes in such a believable way that surely this can be nothing more than notes from a less than casual observer — so meticulous that she may actually be a participant. So real is it in fact that Klaarg has twice proposed an alien autopsy to find out. Maybe later.

This latest venture on Harrison’s part continues the story of good witch Rachel and her efforts to get her life in order, resolve the Demon curse on her, figure out her love situation, manage her vampire roommate, and fix all the damage that has been done by various meddlings on her part in the past. It is both amusing and anxiety producing to think that one with so much power has so little self confidence in her own abilities. She’s the exact opposite of politicians who have much confidence but no abilities to speak of.

Moving along. This is the penultimate book in the series although we have our doubts about that. Your species is driven by cash, money, and fame and this series seems like a pipeline for both. But, just in case, you should get out now and snap up copies or electrons depending on how you manage to absorb information. We prefer the tactile sensation of cardboard and paper. Besides, when one goes bad it gives us the opportunity to make it pay in ways we can not speak of here.

hydra-protocolThe Hydra Protocol, David Wellington, William Morrow, ISBN 978-0-06-224880-0, $25.99, 430 pgs. 
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This is the second book in this series. Or the follow up book to the first one because who really knows if this is going to be a series. Well, we suppose it could be a series of two, like the Fffflujiinaka series which underlies all of our propulsion systems, but we’re thinking probably not. The first book introduced us to Jim Chapel, military man on the mend after losing an arm in the desert (before you judge remember this guy was flesh colored, the sand is flesh colored so trying to find a dropped arm in the sand would be incredibly difficult. Unless you were on the black, volcanic sands of Portugal. Or Mars. Mars would be an easy place to find a flesh colored arm. If only he had planned better.). We noted before, although it was in an entirely different place so you are forgiven for not remembering, that a human with only 3 out of 4 limbs is probably not the one you are going to choose for an assignment that requires, as stated, one of the best. In fact we think that most humans who had 4 out of 4 limbs probably would not qualify. And it’s not like you excel at cybernetics.

In any case, or, more particularly, in this case, Chapel is the man for the job apparently. He, along with a boat full of party people, sneak across international waters so he can dive to a sunken soviet submarine to retrieve a key code. Things go wrong but turn out okay and Chapel learns that the Soviets had built a supercomputer to control all of their nuclear missiles in order to launch them all on its own if needed. Then they kind of forgot about it. No big deal except there have been some recent problems with the computer and there’s a fear that the thing may decide all on its own to just launch. So, Chapel is sent to find it, enter it, disarm it. All on his own. Because, we guess, all the other Navy Seals, Army Rangers, and other special forces who have been specifically trained for this kind of thing were busy. He ends up getting help from a beautiful Russian spy and everything works out okay. Well, except that the spy is not quite who she says she is, the programmer who went along to fix it so the computer could not launch, really just made it so someone could force a launch, and no one is all that happy with any of this.

We were captivated from beginning to end. We would have read it out loud except the arm stuff and the computer stuff would have really set Klaarg off and the last time that happened he abandoned us on a moonlet for 6 cycles. We’ve been trying not to piss him off since then.
Well, what can we say? If you like this kind of thriller you will like this thriller. If you don’t you probably won’t.

extreme-metaphorsExtreme Metaphors, Interviews with J. G. Ballard, 1867-2008, 4th Estate, ISBN 978-0-007-45485-3, $29.99, 503 pgs.  Amazon  |  Nook 

We knew J. G. Ballard, almost. It was 1963 and we were experimenting with LSD. We’d introduce it to that person and watch what happened and then we’d introduce it to this person and watch what happened. It was one of the few times we could appear to you without any metaphasic trickery. Anyway, we were in Britain, on the west coast, near Brighton, the rocky beaches of England hold some fascination for us because we can’t quite understand why they don’t just bring in some sand. The flesh colored kind. Not the black kind or the red Mars kind. Again though, anyway, we were there and heading off for tea when who should we just miss but J. G. Ballard who had heard of our free LSD and, well, enough said.

Oddly enough, in this book which collects almost 50 different interviews with Ballard, we are not mentioned once. Or, maybe it’s a good thing. He does mention aliens…a number of times. And a host of other things that are out of the ordinary. But this is to be expected from one of the persons who can be credited with creating the New Wave.

Sometimes it is best to not dig too deeply into the minds of writers. One might find that the fantastical imagination one thought was there was nothing more than delusional rantings. We’re not saying that this is the case here although Ballard’s seeming obsession with car accidents is, shall we say, a bit on the odd side. At least we take no blame for that, having not quite met the man. The interviews are good to great to average, often depending on the interviewer’s skill in getting beyond the initial question to more meatier topics. There’s still plenty here to chew on, especially if you were around for the New Wave, or are a student or the period, or just happen to wonder what J. G. was like.

We think that you will find this fascinating reading and we note that it continues out thematic journey exploring the fiction of non-fiction and the non-fiction of fiction. Ballard was all about exploration of theme and concept. He probably would have enjoyed meeting us.

transformersTransformers: Age of Extinction (Blu-Ray + DVD + Digital HD UltraViolet Combo Pack) Paramount, (2014), $19.99, 164 mins

We’d like to note, right off, that 164 minutes is nearly 3 hours of your time periods. That’s a lot of minutes looking at giant robots. It’s also a lot of minutes to keep something like this from Klaarg. Klaarg is not a fan of regular sized robots never mind the giant ones. We had to send him to Wisconsin for cheese. The Gouda kind. Ha, we made a funny.

Which is more than we can say for Michael Bay who, apparently, has deep seated anger issues, otherwise it would be hard to explain why he destroys nearly everything he gets his hands on. The story goes something like this. Giant Robots and exploding things. And it lasts for almost 3 hours. We think there was some dialogue but it was hard to tell given the loudness of the exploding things and the clanking of the giant robots. The other thing we noticed is that these giant robots are actually much bigger on the outside than on the inside. How they manage to pack all of their giantness into the size of a car is beyond us. We’ve been in some of your cars and we can attest that there ain’t no giant robots hiding in your Hyundais.

You used to make good movies. We’re not sure what happened to you. Too much sugar substitution products?

And, speaking of sugar, we have to go for now. There’s rumors that crop circles have begun appearing in sugar cane crops in Havana. We haven’t seen the beings who make those in quite some time and we’d like to say hey. Remember we see almost everything you do. We just don’t understand most of it.

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