Last night, I watched Passengers, the film starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence whose characters wake up far too early on a colonial spaceship that’s en route to a new planet. I think it’s a film that certainly has its flaws but is ultimately worth a viewing for any fan of character-driven science-fiction. It’s a film that, given a fair shake, deserves attention for some solid storytelling and acting. But critics panned it.
With such an interesting premise and two of Hollywood’s biggest stars, you might think it was a solid bet. So what happened?
It’s conjecture, and a film’s failure and success is contingent on innumerable factors, but I think Passengers is another film where the critics got it wrong. What’s more, the film sufficiently and specifically addresses the most substantial problems in the second half, which makes me wonder if the critics who panned it checked out after a major development in the first half in which a character does something utterly, morally repugnant, something that is a huge risk in the realm of storytelling, something good stories have to do to be memorable and effective.
I spoil the hell out of the film below, so if you haven’t seen it and plan to, you may want to wait to read this until you do. But before you go, the bottom line is Passengers is a wonderful film, and you should watch it. If you’re interested, don’t be like me and let the critics dissuade you.
Generally speaking, whenever someone says, “the book was better,” about a book-to-film adaptation, I feel the need to punch them in the throat. I could go on a long digression here about my feelings of film adaptations, the different camps of people wanting them to be faithful, and creative freedoms of artists as well as the nature of truth, but I’m not going to do that. Suffice to say, The Girl With All The Gifts film adaptation gets it both wrong and right in really fascinating ways. Continue reading
Concept: Everything from Western fairy tales, fables, and myths is real. The powers of good and evil, light and dark, are locked in an eternal struggle that goes all the way back to the beginning of time. A modern day woman finds herself wrapped up in the war as she discovers she has the power of influence, to command the light and the dark, but the other side of that coin is she has become a target.
Execution: Do nothing that is obvious. Subvert expectations time and again. Build a rich, alluring world that incorporates fantastical elements of old Anglo-Saxon cultures to modern urban contemporaries. Create unique characters based on familiar ideas. Entertain. Stimulate the intellect. Cut the fat and reject nonsense. Tell a simple, powerful story that’s never been told before.
My experience in reading Frightfully Ever After by Nick DeWolf had a recurring theme, which was to be continually impressed by how incredibly imaginative it is. Originality and creativity are planted firmly in the driver’s seat. In trying to analyze the experience, I kept thinking of words like “alluring,” “captivating,” and “immersive.” I’ll no doubt use those words multiple times as I write this.
I’m sitting here at my desk, and instead of working on moving my WIPs to the “Ready for Humiliation” folder, I’m staring at my bookshelf. I’m gazing at the spines of Justin Cronin’s The Passage trilogy, and I’m thinking about reading them again.
I recently finished the third book, The City of Mirrors, and it’s one of few trilogies that I can legitimately, honestly say I loved. It has everything (well, many things) I look for in fiction: a fantastical, alluring world; rich mythology; risky storytelling; deep characters; solid writing that is at times literary; complexity in just about everything. In a word: depth.
I loved it, but I’m not thinking about reading it again only because of how I felt about it. You see, The Passage is one of the only trilogies or series I bought into immediately. I can’t recall any others that I picked up before they were all completely written. And Justin Cronin isn’t cranking out a new novel every quarter. He’s putting three or four years of his life into a book, and that’s a lot of time for a reader between books. But it’s part of the reason they are so good.
I’m increasingly of the mind that good fiction cannot be rushed out the door, that authors need to live in their worlds and with their characters to truly grant them the substance they need to create meaning and allow readers to leave and take with them whatever it is they find there in those pages.
Granted, I know plenty of authors who put out really good work annually and semi-annually. Those people are freaks.
I don’t know if this is the book you deserve, but it’s the book you need. (That’s clever, you see, because there are a lot of Batman references in this book… ahem, anyway.)
Blake Twenty-Three by Slade Grayson begins with a message the literary world needs to hear: “Just have fun.” We often forget reading and storytelling is supposed to be something we enjoy. Many of us get so stilted and wooden with our critical analysis and pushing our nerd glasses up on the bridges of our noses that we overlook an integral part of the reading experience: escape. If one-half of storytelling is information conveyance, the other half is signal quality. Maybe “integrity” is the right word there. I don’t know, but what it boils down to is a measure of enjoyment.
Sometimes, people come here and say, “oh, you do reviews. Well, I wrote a novel, and I have a blog. Why don’t we swap reviews?” It’s true that reviews are the life blood of any indie writer (have you reviewed Carrier yet?), but I write reviews here because, in addition to being an author, I’m also a reader. And sometimes, a good story gets me so hot that I have to tell people about it. I’m human. It’s only natural.
I love The Walking Dead. The TV series is perhaps my favorite of all time. Everything about it resonates with me. I love it so much, in fact, that I go to places just to hear people talk about it.
Among super fans, I am not a super fan, because that kind of love takes a special kind of attention that I just can’t devote to anything that isn’t my wife, my work, or my dog. But in the scheme of things I’m a fan of, The Walking Dead is near the top.
This past Sunday, April 3, AMC aired The Walking Dead’s season six finale. I was more amped for it than any TV event in my life. For the first 89 minutes of the 90-minute (minus lots of advertising) episode, it was a 10 out of 10, one of the best episodes the series had ever created. But something happens in the final seconds that completely undermines everything the show had done in the second half of season six, and it’s a terrible shame.
I’ve been reading Craig DiLouie’s work for a while. I believe his career is worth watching. Last year, he published Suffer the Children, which I fell in love with, and it was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award. Craig has unquestionably made his mark on horror.
But there comes a time in every artist’s career where they get fidgety and want to try something new. That’s what Crash Dive is.
In the grand scheme of Craig’s progression as an author, Crash Dive feels almost calculated. It’s a relatively short novel. It’s hard-and-fast in a genre that he clearly has a strong affinity for. It’s somewhat safe, but he’s testing waters (he even writes in an afterword that, if Crash Dive gets a good response, he’ll turn it into a series … also, pun intended).
Reading Rich Hawkins’ novella, Black Star, Black Sun, is a bit like waking up and finding the world has already been consumed by fire, and the final embers are burning the ashen remains. It is a fearless journey into an abyss of despair.
Why would anyone want to read that? Because it’s hauntingly beautiful.
We begin with Ben Ottway returning to his hometown, a small village in England, after the mysterious disappearance of his wife, but this is no thriller with plot twists you can see coming a mile away or that are surprising because they’re utter nonsense. Ben’s wife is gone, and the point is his world has ended, yet he fights it and remains hopeful.
Amid personal distractions, big events, work, and other happenings, I didn’t get to read as much in 2014 as I would have liked. But I did read some really good books that I connected with in ways that either surprised me or continue to affect me. Please note, I read some really good stuff this year, and these are just the books that struck a personal nerve.
Without further ado, here are my favorite novels that I read in 2014.