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Welcome to my blog. Here, you will find information about my novels, life in Japan, as well as author interviews, discussions on writing, and more. Feel free to browse and if you enjoy a post, please comment. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Book Review: Only Superhuman

I've never posted a book review before, but since I had made some posts on Facebook saying "I'm looking forward to this," I thought I should.

Only Superhuman is written by Christopher L. Bennett and is a hard-science take on superheroes, in a science fiction setting. Without giving too many details away, the main plot is about Emerald Blair, a member of the Troubleshooters Corps, a group of modified humans who maintain law and order in the colonies established in the asteroid belt region beyond Earth. When a conspiracy is discovered to enslave all of mankind, Blair's loyalties are questioned when all is not what it seems to be.

This is Bennett's first original novel, a project he has been working on for twenty-plus years, and I'm happy to see him have his pet project come to fruition. Until now, Bennett's novels have all been media tie-ins, mostly for Star Trek. His stories always have a hard-science slant to them.

First the good. Blair is a likable character, fun and funny. She sometimes uses puns, both amusing and groan-inducing, but it isn't Bennett being funny. It's Blair corny sense of humor and she knows her jokes are bad. It's all part of the fun. The characters are distinct, and while they may not have the over-the-top powers of their comic book counterparts, each Troubleshooter has their own unique power or ability. You do get some of the archetypes: the super strong one, the hyper intelligent one, etc., but I never felt these were copies or rip-offs of existing characters. The science in the book is plausible without bogging down the story in explanations or too many scientific terms (a pitfall of some of his earlier works). The pacing is fast, which is good for an action story and their are plenty of nods to superhero characters, especially in some of the names. Bennett is very good at world building and he knows Blair's universe and how it works.

Now the bad. For my personal taste, there was too much sex and nudity. Bennett has spent most of his time writing Star Trek novels, which seems to have strict rules about nudity and sex, as in, there is almost none at all. While it gets hinted at and talked about in the two Department of Temporal Investigations novels by Bennett, nothing really happens or is shown. With Only Superhuman, Bennett seems to be making up for those restrictions. While I have no problem with Blair being sexual or sexually aggressive, I do feel it was too much, shown too many times. After several intrudes in the book, I was thinking "Okay, I get it! She likes sex! Let's move on." It didn't have to to with Bennett's writing ability, it just seemed sometimes unnecessary. And while I have no problem with Blair as a character being comfortable being naked, there were a few times when I felt it was, again, not necessary for the story. Sort of like in horror movies, where the first victim takes off her clothes with her back to us, hears a sound, turns around so we cane see her nude, then gets in the shower. Really? Was that shot necessary? Nine times out of ten, no. Like I said before, it seems to me Bennett was making up for all the sex he couldn't put into the Star Trek books. The sex scenes and nudity aren't graphic, just too many of those kinds of scenes.

Another thing I didn't like was not knowing how strong Blair was. They always said she was strong, enhanced beyond the norm, but we never learn how much. It is implied she can bench press a ton, but we never see that. I know Bennett wants to keep things realistic, but this was half comic book as well as SF, and the former half wasn't really shown. Descriptions of lifting things, bending things, showcasing Cowboy's gun skills, are never showcased. That's part of the appeal of a good comic book novel but was sadly never written in this one. But, this is also part of Bennett's pitfalls, he is not good at physical description. He mentions plasma guns and other weapons but never what they look like.

However, I do recommend this book. The good points outweigh the bad. The characters are funny, well-written, Blair's history is thought out and detailed, and the world building spot on. I'm hoping for a sequel.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

My Writing Space

Every writer has their preferred place to write in. I do too, along with a few things I always take with me when I do.

I've gotten into the habit of writing at least one hour a day. Sometimes I do it longer but I try for at least an hour minimum. I actually have the time to write for longer periods but I'm trying to get into the habit of writing every day. Then I'll work on stretching my time. It's difficult for me to form new habits.

I usually write around 2PM. By that time, I've gotten most of the housework done, had lunch, and watched an episode or two of a show I'm trying to catch up on. Currently it is Smallvile, although I'm hooked on Arrow, as well.

I have two writing spaces, depending on the weather. The first, and my preferred one, is the roof of the large apartment I live in. It's above the fourteenth floor and offers an impressive view of Iwakuni. While there are other apartments as tall as this one, this may be one of a few with an accessible roof. It is fenced off, with two tables and square blocks for sitting. A slide and spring horse are available for children. I like the fact that it is ten floors above mine. I can get far away from my apartment, but still close enough in case I forgot something, or such.

The second place, if the roof is too windy or its raining, is the balcony. While not offering as nice a view, it is shaded and relatively blocks the wind. I've got a legless chair but no table, I have to type with the my iPad propped on my legs but it's okay.

There are always a few things I take with me: my iPad, iPhone, something to drink (usually coffee or cola), my Morning Musume cap, my sunglasses, and earphones. I use my iPhone to set a one-hour timer (mostly to make sure I write for at least an hour than as a maximum limit). I wore the cap at first to block the sun to keep my face from burning, I never wear caps and this is the only chance I get to wear my Morning Musume cap, so I do it now, even on the shady balcony. I type on my iPad using Pages and listen to movie soundtracks as I write.

I've typed in other places as well, McDonald's and Doutor Coffee Shop, but no matter when I went, it was too noisy, even with earphones, as well as having the visual distractions of everyone walking by. I like the roof because it gets me out of the apartment but it's still close. I find it more difficult to write in the apartment itself (especially with no desk and chairs); the TV is there to watch, I can stretch out on the couch, the futon bed is in the next room… You get the idea.

With fall and winter are coming, I'll have to start writing indoors. I'll just have to push those distractions aside and keep at it. I'd like to write in a coffee shop, a small local one but Iwakuni doesn't have many of them. I guess I'll have to look into it. It isn't because I want to perpetuate the image of writers in coffee shops, I just really like coffee and the idea that as soon as I'm done with one cup I can get another.

Post your comments below. Where do you like to write?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Hulk vs. Hulk vs. Hulk

I'd like to use this posting to talk about the three Hulks that have appeared in Marvel's movies. I'm in the minority when I say I'm a fan of Ang Lee's Hulk. I think it's far far better than that mess The Incredible Hulk, and I prefer Eric Bana's portrayal over Mark Ruffalo's.

Now, The Avengers. When I heard Ruffalo was taking over the role of the Hulk/Bruce Banner, I was disappointed. While I was positive Bana wouldn't be reprising his role, I held out a small hope that he would. Now, I know nothing about Ruffalo. But his portrayal was good. His Banner seemed like a man who has a tight lid on himself, assessing every situation on how it would affect him emotionally. And Joss Whedon was right to insert the Hulk in small doses, he works better that way. Whedon's Hulk wasn't the cut and buff version of Louis Leterrier's nor the somewhat soft giant of Ang Lee's. He was somewhat in the middle, and more gray, it seemed to me. While I don't think Whedon's Hulk was outstanding, it wasn't bad either, and fit in well with the rest of the cast and the movie itself.

Which brings us to the meat of this post: Hulk vs. The Incredible Hulk. The first time I saw Hulk, I was disappointed at the end, I'll admit that. I even remember the UA Crimson White review. It said "Ang Lee, it's 'Hulk smash!' Not 'Hulk deal with repressed childhood trauma.'"The first time I saw The Incredible Hulk, I thought that was how it should be done. But Ang Lee's film stuck with me and the more I watched it, the more I liked it. I also watched Leterrier's, mostly for the action scenes. And the more I watched it, the less I liked it, while the more I watched Lee's, the more I preferred it over Leterrier's movie. I realized the difference was story: Lee's was full of story and emotion, while Leterrier's was empty.

Take Bruce and Betty. We learn more of their relationship in the five minute scene at the lab in Hulk than all of The Incredible Hulk. And in the latter movie, I hate to say that Liv Tyler couldn't act her way out of a paper bag in that one. Normally I like her, especially in low-key roles, like in The Lord of the Rings. But she needed emotional depth, showing hurt, distress, and anger. Liv Tyler was wrong for the role, and I'm sure doing the same role after the outstanding Jennifer Connelly was difficult. I've seen a couple of other of Leterrier's movies and directing actors is not his specialty.

William Hurt was wrong for Ross and seemed to be sleeping his way through the movie, or at least laughing on the inside, as in, "What am I doing in a movie like this?" Sam Elliot seemed like a general and a concerned father, and again, there was more depth to the relationship between him and Betty.

Which brings us to Edward Norton and Eric Bana. Norton is infamous for rewriting movies he stars in and The Incredible Hulk was no exception. While I'm not sure of which parts he rewrote, or how much of the movie he did, Norton just seemed like...Edward Norton. I got no sense of danger from him. Eric Bana, on the other hand, seemed to know there was a monster within him and portrayed that.

To me, the scenes that most distinguish the two movies is when Bruce Banner tells what it is like when he is the Hulk. There was one exchange in The Incredible Hulk and three in Hulk. Here is Edward Norton's.
Betty Ross: What is it like? When it happens, what do you experience?
Bruce Banner: Remember those experiments we volunteered for at Harvard? Those induced hallucination? It's a lot like that, just a thousand times amplified. It's like someone poured a litre of acid into my brain.
Betty Ross: Do you remember anything?
Bruce Banner: Just fragments. Images. There's too much noise. I can never derive anything out of it.
Betty Ross: But then it's still YOU inside of it.
Bruce Banner: No. No, it's not.
Betty Ross: I don't know. In the cave, I really felt like it knew me. Maybe your mind is in there, it's just overcharged and can't process what's happening.
Bruce Banner: I don't want to control it. I want to get rid of it.

Eric Bana
Betty Ross: What happened to you last night?
Bruce Banner: I had the most vivid dream. It was being born. Coming up for air, light hitting my face. Screaming. My heartbeat. Boom. Boom. Boom
(and later in the movie)
Betty Ross: Can you remember anything. Is there anything from when you were changed?
Bruce Banner: It was like a dream.
Betty Ross: About what?
Bruce Banner: Rage. Power. And freedom.
(later, in another scene)
Bruce Banner: You know what scares me the most? When it happens, when it comes over me and I totally lose control…I like it.
Bana's was more dramatic and traumatic. When he talked about how it felt, the "boom, boom, boom," his face shows the elation. Norton just looked out a truck window as he delivered his lines.

Lee's use of multiple frames really made it seem like I was watching a cinematic comic book. The "Hulk dogs" and repressed memories? Those were actual elements from the comics. I also feel The Incredible Hulk is the weakest movie in Marvel's Cinematic Universe.

The difference between the two, as I said, is story. Hulk has it in spades. You learn more about Bruce than you ever did in the second movie. Of all the superhero movies I've seen lately, I think no other film has delved deeper into the main character as Hulk. It's not just telling how he became like that, but the why, and the effects it has on him mentally and emotionally.

Few films can balance action and drama but Hulk did that well. Audiences want to know a character, and Ang Lee delved deep into Bruce Banner's psyche. I'm disappointed the movie is so poorly received but it is one I'd highly recommend.

Cat Cafe

What's your favorite animal? Picture it. Now, imagine a place where you can be with your favorite animal anytime you want. Unless your favorite animal is a 12 foot mako shark, ready to tear you, Samuel L. Jackson, or anybody else in half. Sharks are just dangerous.

My favorite animal is a cat. I love cats: small, large, any kind of cat. And if you live in Japan, you're in luck. Japan (which should be nicknamed CCCW: the Cute and Cuddly Capital of the World) has cat cafes. These places are small cafes, serving coffee, snacks, and bundles of fur and happiness.

I live near Hiroshima and there is a cat cafe about 40 minutes away. What are these oases of cuteness? Cat+cafe= cat cafe. Often small, these places look like any decent coffee shop. Warm decor, tables and counters for sitting and relaxing. But I noticed the tables were low, the chairs legless. And furry animals were everywhere.

Cats own this place and they know it. They roam free, having run of the place except for the kitchen areas. (As much as I love cats, I hate cat hair in my coffee). Scratching posts and toys are scattered about. Cats ranging from kittens to full grown, and of different breeds, live here, providing warmth and a stress-free place to unwind.

I pay for an hour, around $10, for time with the cats, and an included beverage; coffee, tea, or such. They serve light cafe-style food as well, cakes and sandwiches and the like. Time after the allotted amount is extra, you often pay for 15 or 20 minute extensions.

For my time and money I get a quiet environment. Depending on the time of day, the cats maybe playful, chasing balls or feathers attached to the ends of sticks. Sometimes, everyone is tired, and they are curled in balls or stretched out. And these cats sleep where they want: in the window, under tables, in the shoe case, on the counter. No place, except the kitchen/food service area, is off-limits.

And who might patronage this kind of place? If your image is young girls yelling out "CUTE!" every five minutes, you're mistaken. Many cat cafe owners, especially the ones in the major cities, say their best customers are salarymen. Office workers, stressed out after working until 8 or 9 PM often come to cat cafes before heading home. They order a drink and unwind, petting their cares away And since most of them are repeat customers, they have point cards. Each visit get a stamp and when the card is filled, you get a free visit. I've filled up a couple of cards.

Where I live now, I'm not allowed pets. I love the cat cafe, it allows me a brief time to have a pet of my own. The breeds of the cats are ones that are known for being tame and domicile: Russian blue, Scottish fold, and the like.

With space a premium in Japan, not everyone can afford pets. Cat cafes provide people a place to have a pet of their own for a short time. The success of these cafes have spawned similar ones for different animals, dogs and rabbits being the most popular.

But nothing will beat a cat cafe. Bushy tails, soft paws…what's not to love?

Thursday, October 04, 2012

I'm Back, George Lucas, and More

It's been so long since I've posted on this blog. My few followers may have thought I've abandoned it. I haven't. I've realized I need to post more than just writing stuff, hopefully I'll be adding something new, with an aim to post it on a weekly basis. We'll see how that goes.

When I was back in America hanging out with friends, they showed me the YouTube video ""The Star Wars That I Used To Know". They asked me what I thought (it was interesting and well made) and said something along the lines of George Lucas ruining Star Wars. I basically said nothing, since I hate confrontation, but it stuck with me. I later heard George Lucas used as a verb, either "pulling a George Lucas" or "George Lucasing", I can't remember which. The main point seems not to be the actual changes Lucas has made to his films but rather if he has the right to.

Yes, he absolutely does.

I'm a Lucas supporter. I love all the Star Wars, even the prequels. The Empire Strikes Back is my least favorite of the six. I have no problem with JarJar and I don't think it was stereotyping. The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull wasn't what I expected but it isn't the travesty people make it out to be. But, back to the changes.

The debate seems to be whether Lucas should be allowed to change his films or not. Do they belong to the fans or him? They are George Lucas's. As the creator, I think he has every right to change them. The films are his, both legally and creatively. Haven't you written a story, painted a picture, or built a model, only later to come back to it and say "I wish had done this, or changed that"? I'm sure most people have. So why can't he?

Fans believe, for the most part, the films are theirs. Once it is released, the original creators no longer have a say. Sometimes, fans think it belongs to them even before it is released; they probe the Net for set images and costume designs, critiquing every little thing and seeing if it matches with "their" vision. I think that's why some films, like The Phantom Menace and Ridley Scott's Prometheus, are disliked. It didn't match what the audiences were expecting.

So then we have fanon. Fan+canon= fanon. It is where fans take a film or episode of a beloved TV show and series and, because they hate it so much, pretend it never happened and doesn't fit into the movie or show's universe. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, These Are The Voyages…, the series finale of Star Trek: Enterprise, and The Incredible Hulk with Edward Norton, come to mind. I admit I engage in some fanon as well. Creators aren't perfect and will produce clunkers now and then.

But if they have the opportunity to tweak it, to go back and add the little touches they think will enhance the movie, shouldn't they be allowed the shot? Yes.

Creators need fans. They are the people who make the movies and shows known. But they aren't the final say in the matter. The creator is. At the end of the day, it is George Lucas's name on the movies They are his. Do we have to agree with and like every single change he makes to the Star Wars saga. No.

But it IS his right, as the creator, to make those changes.