Review: Captive State

Last night my wife and I were con­tem­plat­ing going to the movies. She real­ly want­ed to see the cystic-fibrosis–related teen rom-com/­dra­ma Five Feet Apart, and I want­ed to see the post–alien-invasion SF dra­ma Cap­tive State. So we com­pro­mised: she went to Five Feet Apart, and I went to Cap­tive State.

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Review: Son of a Trickster

Son of a Trickster

I read Eden Robinson’s Son of a Trick­ster this week­end.

It’s the sto­ry of six­teen-year-old Jared, who’s doing his best, try­ing to bal­ance bak­ing weed cook­ies, car­ing for his elder­ly neigh­bours, keep­ing his dad from los­ing his home, keep­ing his aggres­sive mom off his case, and gen­er­al­ly just try­ing to not fail grade ten.

It’s not real help­ful that he’s start­ed hear­ing crows talk­ing to him.

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Bad Times at the El Royale

Still from Bad Times at the El Royale

Final­ly, last night, I watched Bad Times at the El Royale. Back when I first saw the trail­er, I thought it was an Evans movie for sure, but it end­ed up play­ing at the mul­ti­plex down the street instead, for all of two weeks. I man­aged to miss it. Now I regret not see­ing it on the big screen.

El Royale takes place at a hotel in Lake Tahoe, on the bor­der between Neva­da and Cal­i­for­nia. The bor­der lit­er­al­ly bisects the hotel. Rooms on the Cal­i­for­nia side are $1 more per night.

The movie opens with a priest, a singer, and a vac­u­um-clean­er sales­man try­ing to check in, one love­ly after­noon in 1969, but the clerk is nowhere to be found. Once they do track him down, a fourth guest appears, and she’s got some bag­gage. Well, they all have bag­gage, but the fourth woman appears to have kid­napped some­one.

Of course, this is a noir-ish thriller, and no one—not even the venue—is who they seem to be.

I quite enjoyed El Royale. It felt a lot like a Quentin Taran­ti­no movie, but it was writ­ten and direct­ed by Drew God­dard. God­dard man­aged to take all the good things about a QT movie—colours, music, sud­den vio­lent twists—and dis­card the end­less solil­o­quies. It real­ly makes for a tight, nasty thriller, and it’s just the thing I was look­ing for.

If you like vio­lence, secrets, thun­der­storms, ’60s music, and vio­lence, it might be just what you’re look­ing for too.

Head­er image from The Movie DB.

The Old Man and the Gun

Still from The Old Man and the Gun

Last week­end I watched The Old Man and the Gun at the Evans The­atre. I loved it.



For­rest Tuck­er (played by Robert Red­ford) robs banks. We meet him as he’s rob­bing the lat­est one. He’s polite, he’s charm­ing, he’s got a gun that he shows the man­ag­er (but that we don’t actu­al­ly see till much lat­er). He makes his get­away, and after he’s switched cars he spies a truck bro­ken down on the side of the road. It’s dri­ven by Jew­el (Sis­sy Spacek), whom he offers a ride home (after the cop cars go scream­ing by, hunt­ing a get­away car he’s no longer dri­ving).

For­rest is in a gang with Ted­dy (Dan­ny Glover) and Waller (Tom Waits). The media dubs them the Over-the-Hill Gang. They don’t seem to need to rob banks, not for the mon­ey, at least; they seem to enjoy it.

(Aside: Teddy’s tragi­com­ic Christ­mas sto­ry was my favourite scene in the movie. It’s got noth­ing to do with the sto­ry, but it says some­thing about his char­ac­ter.)

Round­ing out the sto­ry is the police offi­cer John Hunt (Casey Affleck), who is deter­mined he’s going to be the one to nail the Over-the-Hill Gang. Will he suc­ceed? Will our plucky anti-heroes get away with their next heist? Will For­rest and Jewel’s meet-cute turn into some­thing deep­er? Watch the movie to find out. It’s worth it.

Few things in this movie are stat­ed out­right. What appears at first glance to be an old-timey hear­ing aid is more like­ly a police-radio scan­ner, and this rev­e­la­tion makes it eas­i­er to under­stand how Tuck­er man­ages his get­away in the open­ing scenes. As men­tioned, we don’t actu­al­ly see his gun for quite some time, and it’s unclear by the end of the film if he’s ever even loaded it, much less fired it. One of the cen­tre­piece heists isn’t even shown on-screen; we see a bit of the plan­ning, a lot of hand-wring­ing by the Over-the-Hillers (“Can we even do it? Is it worth try­ing? I can’t run near as fast as I used to”, etc), and then a news report about the crime as Tuck­er puts the loot into its hid­ing place.

It’s a fun movie, a fun­ny movie, and a sneaky, sly movie. I loved it.

I read recent­ly that Robert Red­ford decid­ed to retire after mak­ing The Old Man and the Gun because he want­ed to go out on a fun movie. I think he did a fine job.

Parallel Prairies review

Parallel Prairies cover

This is the first review I’ve come across for the new made-in-Man­i­to­ba anthol­o­gy Par­al­lel Prairies, and I’m glad to say the review­er appears to have enjoyed my short sto­ry “Vin­cent and Char­lie”.

Anoth­er rur­al close encounter of note in the col­lec­tion is Bran­don-based Patrick Johanneson’s Vin­cent and Char­lie. The sto­ry explores the con­cept of alien telepa­thy and mem­o­ry manip­u­la­tion from inside a mind descend­ing into demen­tia. Johan­neson finds an art­ful bal­ance between sus­pense and sen­ti­men­tal­i­ty and adds a soupçon of Men in Black for good mea­sure.

Sarah Jo Kirsch, The Uniter

Read the full review here.

Par­al­lel Prairies launch­es Oct. 11, 2018, at McNal­ly Robin­son Book­sellers in Win­nipeg, and Oct. 13, 2018, at Bran­don University’s John E. Rob­bins Library.

You can order the book from McNal­ly Robin­son, too, if you’d like (there will be copies avail­able at the launch­es, of course).

Eventually, there might be a Swanwick/Link interview

Wood type

…and it’s sort of my fault.

It start­ed with a request for book sug­ges­tions: Nik­ki was look­ing for books that “cap­tured [my] soul”.

https://twitter.com/AngelycDevil/status/1024443328497156096

I made a sug­ges­tion, nam­ing a cou­ple of my favourite short-sto­ry authors. (FYI, Kel­ly Link goes by @haszombiesinit on The Twit­ters.)

Michael Swan­wick, as is his wont, replied.

I offered up my 2-year-old review of Get in Trou­ble.

Mr. Swan­wick agreed with me.

Kel­ly Link chimed in.

And then it all kind of snow­balled.

So I’ve got that to look for­ward to. I hope it comes to pass; I think it’d be a fas­ci­nat­ing inter­view.

The Themis Files review

Only Human image (from thethemisfiles.com)

Thanks to my local library, I read Syl­vain Neu­v­el’s The Themis Files tril­o­gy:

  • Sleep­ing Giants
  • Wak­ing Gods
  • Only Human

As a young girl, Rose Franklin falls into a hole and dis­cov­ers a giant mechan­i­cal hand. As an adult, she goes to work on what has now been named Themis: a giant robot of alien ori­gin, which, for unknown rea­sons, trav­eled to Earth some­time in the dis­tant past, only to be dis­as­sem­bled and scat­tered around the globe.

Along the way she teams up with a cou­ple of mil­i­tary pilots, a man who claims he’s descend­ed more or less direct­ly from aliens, a rogue geneti­cist, and a mys­te­ri­ous stranger who wields more pow­er than lit­er­al­ly any­one else on Earth.

But no one’s ready for what hap­pens when the robot builders show up. Or what hap­pens when a hand­ful of peo­ple are trans­port­ed to the builders’ home­world.

Turns out an invul­ner­a­ble giant robot can have a pro­found effect on the geopo­lit­i­cal land­scape.


The nov­els are epis­to­lary, told in the form of tran­script­ed inter­views, news broad­casts, per­son­al jour­nals, let­ters, and the like. Syl­vain Neu­v­el is a mas­ter of propul­sive storytelling—I read books 2 and 3 in a cou­ple of days apiece (nor­mal­ly it takes me between a week and a month to read a book), and the sto­ry itself had me laugh­ing more than once. I espe­cial­ly enjoyed the tone of the Mys­te­ri­ous Stranger’s dia­logue, even though he was some­times not a very nice per­son. (There are no short­age of not very nice peo­ple here, and everyone’s flawed, just like the real world.)

The sto­ry exam­ines the con­se­quences of dis­cov­er­ing that, not only are we not alone in the uni­verse, but there exist aliens quite capa­ble of wip­ing out the entire human race with­out break­ing a sweat. How do you fight against a threat like that? And what hap­pens when flawed human beings get access to that tech­nol­o­gy?

Well, you’ll have to read the tril­o­gy to find out. Trust me, it’s worth it.

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed, espe­cial­ly if you’re into first-con­tact yarns, sar­don­ic humour, giant robots, or geopol­i­tics. Oh, and lin­guis­tics.

Tomorrowland

Still from Tomorrowland

On the week­end I final­ly watched Disney’s Tomor­row­land. I sort-of remem­bered its the­atre run, which was under­whelm­ing (appar­ent­ly it lost over $100 mil­lion dol­lars, based on its pro­duc­tion and mar­ket­ing costs vs. its box-office take).

The sto­ry in a nut­shell: As a boy, Frank Walk­er goes to live in a retro-future par­adise, till he’s boot­ed out for some crime that remains unspec­i­fied until near­ly the end of the movie. He grows up into a bit­ter, bit­ter man (played by George Clooney). Mean­while, Casey (Britt Robert­son) might be the key to Frank’s return to Tomor­row­land, and also the key to, you know, staving off the seem­ing­ly inevitable end of the world. Fac­ing off against them is Nix (Hugh Lau­rie) and his army of skin­jobs Audio-Ani­ma­tron­ic robots.

I thought it was a decent movie, worth a watch, even if it was unsub­tle. The scene in the Texas col­lectibles store (Blast From the Past), where Casey squares off against evil AA ’bots Hugo* and Ursu­la, was chock­ablock with reminders that Dis­ney bought Star Wars. Some of the AAs were pret­ty creepy, espe­cial­ly the man­i­cal­ly-grin­ning leader of the Men-in-Black–styled “Secret Ser­vice” squad.

In a world that seems to pre­fer its enter­tain­ment on the grim & grit­ty side, opti­mistic SF is a hard sell. It has a ten­den­cy to come off preachy or heavy-hand­ed, and this movie didn’t man­age to evade those pit­falls. I’m still glad I watched it, though.

It’s an inter­est­ing com­pan­ion to Elan Mastai’s All Our Wrong Todays, which I read a few months ago, in that both explore the idea of alter­nate futures, espe­cial­ly the sorts of futures we seemed to expect in the 1950s (fly­ing cars! shin­ing tow­ers! per­son­al jet­packs!).


* Hugo Gerns­back, because of course.

Review: The Collapsing Empire

Cover Art

Cross-post­ed on Goodreads, sans foot­notes.

Every time I read a John Scalzi nov­el, I’m remind­ed what a good writer he is.* This one’s no excep­tion. He han­dles the big pic­ture and the small, per­son­al details with equal deft­ness.

After I fin­ished the epi­logue, I jumped back to the pro­logue. With the knowl­edge of every­thing else that hap­pens in the book, it was fun to see how this lit­tle piece of the sto­ry — large­ly uncon­nect­ed to the events in the remain­der of the nov­el, fea­tur­ing char­ac­ters we wouldn’t see again — still added to the whole.**

When I start­ed read­ing the book, I wasn’t sure if it was a stand-alone nov­el or the launch of a new series. When I got to the end, it was pret­ty plain­ly the open­ing vol­ume in a mul­ti-vol­ume set. (Don’t get me wrong — the nov­el is com­plete in itself, but the end­ing indi­cates there’s more to come.) Under nor­mal cir­cum­stances, I’d have felt a twinge of irri­ta­tion at this, but in this case I was relieved. I want more time with these char­ac­ters, and I want to know just how they’re going to deal with an empire in col­lapse.

The Col­laps­ing Empire, by John Scalzi

One final note: Peer review is impor­tant. Read the nov­el and you’ll see what I mean.


* In a lot of ways, John Scalzi’s writ­ing reminds me of Joe Halde­man, who is one of my favourite writ­ers.

** A note on pro­logues: Elmore Leonard famous­ly want­ed writ­ers to avoid them, and gen­er­al­ly speak­ing he’s right (IMHO). But any list of “rules” of writ­ing are real­ly guide­lines, and usu­al­ly reflect what works best for the author writ­ing the list of rules. I’ve read a lot of Elmore Leonard’s detec­tive nov­els, and I can’t recall ever run­ning into a pro­logue there.

I don’t skip pro­logues when I read, but I do notice when they real­ly don’t con­nect at all to the sto­ry. When that hap­pens, I agree, it would have been bet­ter to excise the pro­logue entire­ly.

The Col­laps­ing Empire’s pro­logue was fun enough — and con­nect­ed enough to the over­all sto­ry — that I read it twice.