Thursday, October 28, 2010

TV show review: "Heroes" Season One

For the last two weeks or so, I have watched "Heroes". It is a science fiction TV show that started in 2006 and had four seasons. It was quite popular, especially first season. A number of my friends watched it and few tried to talk me into watching it. I don't know what I was doing it at that time, but I was probably busy with reading books. Or I was just starting to watch anime. Anyway, most of those friends who watched it, stopped because the show got too "soapy". Recently the show ended, so I decided to give it a try. I don't have to wait for new episodes, and I have some time free while waiting for "Towers of Midnight". So, this is my review of the first season.

"Heroes" is a story about regular men and women finding out they have special abilities, like super-heroes (thus the name, of course). Explanation for this phenomenon is genetics: they are all carriers of a special gene that allows them these special powers. Everyone has only one and unique ability (there are one or two exceptions) and most of them don't understand it at first. Our heroes are at first scattered around the world (well, America mostly) and they are quite different people. Hiro is a young man, working in big company in Japan; he can bend time and space. Isaac is a heroin addict and a comic artist, living in New York; he can paint the future. Claire is a teenage girl, a blonde cheerleader from Texas; she can heal. There are a fifteen or so main characters, most of them special people, plus some people connected to them.

Focus of the show, at first at least, is on special powers and how normal people adopt to being not-normal. Most of them don't take it good: they are scared and confused. Most of them have personal issues and realizing that ability to hear people's thoughts can bring them unexpected problem (although it looks like a great feat at beginning). Later in show, bigger, season-size plot start to reveal. Not to spoil too much, it involves a bomb, the Company (organization that keeps track of "gifted" people) and a secret plot. Pace is slow, but not boring. One episode focus on one group of people, then second on another, then back again. Also, there is a recap of last episode(s) at the beginning of each, so it's not hard to follow (even if you skip it for days).

As I said, this is a SF show, but science in here is very light. There are some big words (evolution, Darwin, Human Genome Project...) thrown in to give it some credential, but this is a show for general population. If you know a bit about biology, you can notice weak spots (or even false explanations) with ease. I am not especially picky about these things and I don't insist for science to be real (in shows, I mean). If I want to study about biology or learn new things, I will read science articles (or Wikipedia, which is a good starting point, never mind the risks). I am more of "relax and enjoy the world" person.

Show IS interesting. First part particularly, when characters are learning about their abilities and everything is a surprise. Later, things got a bit too far-fetched. Not too much, but enough to spoil the fun a bit. First, "everything and everyone is connected" thing. I can buy this in fantasy books that include Fate, Pattern or Great Design, but in SF, this is not acceptable. This especially comes to focus when hidden kinship relations and "older generation" start to show. As I said, this is acceptable in fantasy and shounen anime, but if you fight for audience of intelligent SF-fans, then it is not.

Second... I know that it is easy to act as general after the battle is done, but some of the choices our heroes do are plain stupid. I don't expect people to be Yagami Lights or Quick Bens and pull Xanatos Gambits from behind ear, but if you have the ability (stopping time, for example) you should use it and use it smart. There are lots examples and this bothered me. Also, more innovations would be welcomed. I know that every possible ability has been used at least once, but it is still possible to rearrange it originally.

Also, I am starting to see what people meant when said "soapy". It is not too evident in first season, but I have watched few episodes of second season and it is starting to show that writers now have money instead of originality on their mind. I wouldn't like to see this becoming "Passions" meets "X-Men" show.

But, in the end, I like "Heroes". It is far from a hard SF show that will inspire kids to become scientist when they grow up, but it is a nice, funny and interesting TV show for general population. If you want a funny action SF show that doesn't require much thinking and you are looking just for fun, then go for it. Especially now when, all episodes are out.

I have finished first season and currently I am watching second season. After I finish it, I will probably take a break from it and start with WoT reread.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Book review: "Return of the Crimson Guard" by Ian C. Esslemont

I was all "WOW!!!!" even before reading this book. Just the look at "Dramatis Personae" made me more excited than whole books. I hoped this will be a good book when I was ordering it, basing it on size (1024 pages) and good comments on Amazon. But I must say I was surprised in the end how good this book is. If with "Night of Knives" Esslemont toe-touched the water of "Malazan Book of the Fallen" ocean, with this book he made a cliff dive, five-meter high splash and a little tsunami! This is one of the best books in Malazan world and definitely the most exciting book I read this year (with "Dust of Dreams" being infinitesimally less exciting).

(What's with the boats?)

As with "Night of Knives", "Return of the Crimson Guardcan be read separately from Erikson's sequence. But to fully enjoy it, you need to read at least books till "The Bonehunters", Erikson's sixth book. From then, Erikson focuses on Letherii and Genebaris, while Esslement took charge of the events in Malazan Empire. Here, we are introduced to quite a host of characters. Many characters (like the Crimson Guard) has been already announced or even present in Erikson's books, but new characters Esslemont brings in are very good. Actually, I think that Erikson and Esslemont have quite similar character, both exquisite.

As I said, story continues events started in Erikson books from one side, but on the other, in introduces new momentum, presented by the Crimson Guard from the title. Due to internal problems and rapidly decreasing belief in government (mainly in the Empress), also helped by scheming, both divine and mundane, great Malazan Empire is on brink of breaking. Parts of it, led by member of the Old Guard (legendary leaders from pre-Empress time), try to separate from it. Everything is in confusion: military takes sides, some stay loyal to Empress and some chose older loyalties. To increase the tension, countries that make the Empire have long and bloody history of mutual warring. This cauldron of potential violence will get even more pressured when the Crimson Guard, oldest and forgotten enemy of the Empire (that most of people consider just a myth), decides to come back to conquer it while it is weaken. Other entities will also take hand in future events, some by their own will and some accidentally.

This is a very long book. Not just in number of pages, but in events that takes place in it. Erikson, especially in later books, tends to prolong things, adding many internal monologue, lengthy descriptions and detailed histories. He also inserts sequences that have no sway in longer run. I not complaining; on the contrary, it is what gives MBoF its unique feel. Esslemont doesn't have approach. His writing is simpler (not simple, mind, just simpler compared to Erikson's) and more focused. Because of that, book gives a feeling of even larger one.

This is definitely a good book, for fans, but also for others. I strongly suggest you to read first Erikson's books; if you like them, you will need no more encouraging picking this book then. But also, if you tried Erikson and found it not to your taste, give this book a try. I think Esslemont's approach will work for some people quite well. His focused writing, orientation to action, but keeping things complex will definitely found audience. I think that especially George R. R. Martin's fans will like this book. So, "Return of the Crimson Guard" is definitely a recommendation.

First part of blog was for reader with no or slight experience with MBoF books. For fans and those more experience, continue reading.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Anime review: Box of Goblins

After giving up on "K-On!!" I switched to "Box of Goblins". It is a 2008 anime which I had in my wishlist for some time, but never gave it much thought. I decided to watch it because I wanted something serious and short. It turned out this was a big score!

It's hard to define "Box of Goblins". In first episode we are introduced to two high-school girls. One, Kanako, is a captivating and popular, while other, Yoriko, is not. But for some reason Kanako befriends Yoriko, and so Yoriko starts to practically worship her. There is a lot of talk about reincarnation, past lives and future and so on. It gave me completely different fell of the anime than I expected. Then, a crime happens and Kanako ends up almost dead. This is where the action starts.

Show is quite a mix. It starts with philosophical mussing of a teenage girl, but then changes to a detective story. Then to supernatural mystery based on Japanese mythology. And then again to science fiction action... But it does so in such a great way that all feels natural. Show is broken in different POVs and in between we have slices of history (probably imagined, but looking realistic) that gives it a feel of real-life story. It has a resemblance to "Aoi Bungaku" series, because it happens in first half of 20th century (after WWII, which is important) and has that creepy mood, dark tones and surreal scenes. But it also has something of a Frankenstein novel (you will see why if you bear till the end).

We have a moderately large cast of some dozen important characters. What is peculiar that some of the main character got introduced only after half of the show. All characters are interesting. For some we get a nice characterization, realized from one side by inner monologue and from other by psychology analyze by others. While other character are just shown from the outside and we don't know anything of their history or motives. I hope for more series revolving around these characters, because two of them (exorcist and private detective) have great potential. I just checked Wikipedia: anime is based on a novel, and there is a series of novels by same author (Kyogoku Natsuhiko) with one of them a main character.

Visually, it's quite strong and realistic. The same is true for audio. And it has to be pretty good for me to notice it.

Anyway, I'm quite surprised that this "Box of Goblins" is not more famous. Although, first episode can be something of a turn-off, but after second and third, you should be already hooked up on this great fantasy-SF mystery-history mix. Definitely an anime for all fans of seinen and mystery shows.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Anime review: K-On!!

Heh, I knew it was wrong to be smug about reading and watching only the good stuff. First "Elfen Lied" got visited by the Suck Fairy (got this term from Jo Valton at and now "K-On!!".

I usually don't stop watching anime in the middle of the show (I did it twice, I think).But I already knew I will not like this show after watching the first episode. But I decided to give it one more chance, to be sure. So I quit after second episode. It's not that this show is bad, but it failed to entertain me in any level. I decided that I don't watch 22 more episode of the show that failed to bring any kind of reaction from me in two episodes (it made me smile once, but that is not enough).

I just realized that I made one mistake: this is actually the second season, so maybe my experience would have been better if I watched the first season. Milk is spilled now, though.

Anyway, from what I gathered in these two episodes, "K-On!!" is one of those moe-girls anime with no plot. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against this kind of anime. "Minami-Ke" is one of my favorite anime, as is "Ichigo Mashimaro". I also liked "Lucky Star" and "Azumanga Daioh". This anime has a fairly good rating on AniDB, also. But for some reason, I just don't like this show. Animation was nice, but I didn't like the character design. Girls are in senior year of high school, but they are drawn as they are in middle school (stubby legs and flat chest). Jokes were not especially bad, but I just didn't laugh. Also, I didn't like one character: a blond rich foreigner; she was an exact copy of the kid in "Ichigo Mashimaro" (well, except older).

So, for my final judgment, I don't have it. If you like moe anime, try first season and if you like it, continue with it. But you don't need me for that. In the mean time, I will be waiting for next season of "Minami-Ke".