Saturday, January 9, 2010

Review: The Digital Plague, by Jeff Somers

I bought this book to read on the plane. It was a good value for the price.

The cover advertises it as 'nano-noir', a term I would agree with. It is science fiction with a hard boiled detective edge, and a good dose of humor.

The lead character and narrator, Avery Cates, is a successful assassin. Cates and his world were introduced in Somer's previous novel, The Electric Church. I have not read that book, but as in all sequels much of the plot and characters in that book are quickly sketched in this one.

The book is fun and fast-paced. Its problems are relatively minor, but the editor was asleep at the wheel a few times.

My big issue with the book is that it tries to put too many ideas forward at the same time, instead of limiting itself to the exploration of one idea fully. One key idea in particular is terribly motivated, and even the characters agree is inexplicable. It appears to exist only to punch up flagging adrenaline levels and created scenes that might be more cinematic if filmed.

Good entertainment value at the paperback price. I will go back and buy the first book, and the next in the series as well.

Review: Daybreakers

Daybreakers is an Australian-made vampire film that explores some traditional vampire tropes in unconventional ways by taking them to their logical limits. Set in the near future, it has science fiction and horror elements skillfully mixed. Except for Willem Dafoe, I did not recognize the cast.

The premise is ecological. In a predator prey-relationship, if the population of predators goes above the level that the prey population can support, it will crash. Not enough antelope = starving lions. The mathematics (called Lotka-Volterra dynamics) are very beautiful.

Many vampire stories assume that vampires will carefully cultivate the human population they feed on. Not Daybreakers. This movie introduces a destabilizing idea - that vampires will 'promote' many humans instead of feeding on them, for essentially loving reasons. Done with the best intentions, but in the future of Daybreakers, ten years after a vampire plague of unspoken origin, most of humanity are now the immortal undead, kings and queens of the night.

For the sake of argument, if a vampire needs 60 humans as a stable blood farm to provide a renewable resource of one pint a day, you can see how converting 90 percent of the humans to vampires is going to lead to 'instabilities'. There is just not enough blood to go around. Blood is both food and currency in this future.

The premise is inventive. The details are worked out nicely. The film is a good blend of horror and s-f. Those who are fans of traditional effects, as opposed to CGI, will be happy. My main quibble is that it solves the main problem twice, apparently for cinematic rather than in-story reasons. I enjoyed the music quite a bit.


Review: Sherlock Holmes

I saw Sherlock Holmes last night with my son.

Title design
Set dressing
Irene Adler

That same washed out color palette you've seen in other recent films.

For those who enjoyed Robert Downey Jr. in Ironman, Sherlock Holmes (the film) has a bit of steampunk Tony Stark to the character Sherlock Holmes. Jude Law plays Dr Watson very well in my view. Rachel McAdams plays Irene Adler, the moral, comic, romantic, and intellectual foil (and equal) to Downey's Holmes.

One of the joys of detective fiction for a reader is to see if they can solve the mystery before the main character. This is difficult in film detective stories, but this film does honor the trope by at least letting you see the clues, even if they whiz by too fast to process until the requisite flashback at the end.

Holmes and Watson as the bickering odd couple got old fast, though it was better than the fawning hero worship versions of Watson in other films.

The least likable parts of the film are the fight scenes. Holmes does have a reputation 'in canon' as a boxer and martial artist, so I am not objecting that they are out of character. Rather, they are filmed in gratuitous slo-mo intercut with sped up footage on some very cluttered sets. The result is some very muddy views of the action - who is hitting whom how.

Recommended - a well made 'reboot' (though not 'origins') genre film. Strong detective, minor steampunk notes, and no bitter aftertaste.