Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Giveaway Results: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Thank you everyone for entering this giveaway!  The winner is....

Audra!  Congratulations!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Odd Passenger: An Odd Thomas Story

Odd Thomas, a novel written by Dead Koontz, was one of my favorite paranormal novels when I was younger. It tells the story of Odd (yes, that is his real name), a simple short order cook at a local diner that can also talk to dead people.  In so doing, he tries to bring them peace and prevent future violent acts.  In stead of simply posting a review, I wanted to share with you some video of a story that is based on the character of Odd Thomas.  I feel the following four episodes are a great representation of Odd Thomas, and should give you a good idea of the feel of the novel.

Odd Thomas is also being made into a full-length movie, due out in 2012!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Book Review: Deadline, by Mira Grant *SPOILERS OF FEED*

Title:  Deadline
Author:  Mira Grant
Genre:  Horror
Rating:  4 out of 5

This review contains spoilers of the first book in this series, Feed.  This review does NOT contain spoilers for Deadline.  I'm sorry folks, I know I said that I would not include spoilers in my reviews, but it is unavoidable in this case.  All of my feelings for the second book branch off of large events in the first book, and I would be unable to write a complete review if I did not refer to them directly.  If you have not yet read Feed, check out my spoiler-free review here.  If you want a spoiler-free review of Deadline, check out this review on Goodreads.  But, if you have read Feed or do not care about spoilers, click on "read more" below to continue!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Book Review: The Strain, by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan

Title:  The Strain
Authors:  Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan
Genre:  Horror
Rating:  4.5 out of 5

It's not every day that two well known names team up to write a novel.  Even more rare is to find a novel about vampires these days that is truly in the horror genre.  How does the first book of their trilogy measure up to this horror reader's expectations?

The Strain follows Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, an investigator for the CDC, as he tries to make sense of a devastatingly lethal outbreak surfacing in New York City.  It all begins when an airliner lands at the airport with all of its lights off, the shades all pulled down, and everyone on board dead.  Eph quickly learns that these individuals aren't deceased, but infected with a pathogen that turns them into blood sucking monsters.  Each night, the contagion spreads throughout the city.  Together with his CDC partner, a city exterminator, and a mysterious old pawn broker, Eph finds that they are on their own against a city full of vampires and a government conspiracy.

The Strain is an impressive mix of classical horror and science fiction.  The vampires are created by the introduction of a pathogen into an human's blood stream when they are attacked by one of the undead.  Because of this, and because the main characters work for the Centers for Disease Control, much of the book takes on a "cop drama" feel as they try to sort out the ultimate cause of the disease and how it is spread.  Sprinkled throughout are descriptions of the vampires feeding, which are truly horrific.

The strongest point of this book is the character development.  Two of the major characters have large back stories that really makes you root for them.  Eph is fighting to keep his son safe and the elderly Setrakian is trying to avenge the people he lost decades ago.  Even the victims of the vampires are all unique and colorfully depicted, something I didn't expect and was pleasantly surprised by.

I also loved the subtle nods to classic vampire lore that Del Toro and Hogan weave into their novel.  Many age-old myths (aversion to sunlight, inability to cross water, no reflection in a mirror, etc) are either incorporated or debunked as old wives tales.  Even the novel's opening scene, where a plane lands with everyone on board dead, is adapted from a scene in Bram Stoker's Dracula.  I'm happy that the authors recognized where their novel came from, and acknowledged its influences.

One thing that I wasn't exactly happy about was the depiction of the vampires.  I know that the authors wanted to get as far away from the "suave, romantic" vampires that plague literature lately, but I think they went too far.  The vampires are autonomous, shambling monsters that think of nothing other than spreading their disease.  Throughout most of the novel I felt like I was reading a book about zombies.  And although that isn't a bad thing in and of itself ("are vampires really that different from zombies?" you ask me incredulously), I think there is something much more scary about an enemy who is craft and intelligent.  For the most part, these vampires are just target practice for anyone with a silver sword or UV light.

With that being said, The Strain definitely lives up to the hype, and makes me look forward to the rest of the trilogy.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Lions and Men will be participating in Dueling Monsters 2011!

I just wanted to let everyone know that I will be participating in the Dueling Monsters event, which is hosted by Heather J. at Age 30+ Books and Jill at Fizzy Thoughts.

What is Dueling Monsters?  H. P. Lovecraft's Call of Cthulhu and H. G. Wells' The Island of Doctor Moreau are the two featured stories.  Any blogger can review one or both of the stories, and submit their links to Heather and Jill.  They will then post links to all of the reviews.

What does this mean to you?  First, you will get to read my reviews of The Island and Cthulhu before the end of October.  Second, you can go check out the host blogs on October 31st to check out EVERYONE's reviews!

Feel free to join, the more the merrier!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Book Review: Jurassic Park, by Michael Chrichton

Title:  Jurassic Park
Author:  Michael Crichton
Genre:  Science Fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5 velociraptors

Science can do some pretty crazy things.  When a man attempts to bring dinosaurs back from extinction, he risks the lives of everyone in the world. Jurassic Park is a modern classic of science fiction, mostly because of the success of the movie.  But what about the book that spawned that titanic beast of 90's pop culture?

Jurassic Park is a story about two paleontologists that are roped into taking a tour of a yet-to-be opened zoo that features dinosaurs as its main attraction.  Everything goes awry, however, when a greedy computer programmer sabotages the computer system in an attempt to get rich.  With the security fences down, the animals run loose and, well, I don't need to tell you much more than that.

Similar to The Princess Bride, I grew up watching Jurassic Park.  Over.  And over.  And over again.  After reading other works by Crichton, I decided to read the book.  I was nervous that it wouldn't live up to my expectations, but I was pleasantly surprised.

The book is different from the movie in a thousand little ways, most of which are so minor that I don't even remember them a few weeks after finishing the novel.  Some of the ones that stand out are...
  • There is no romantic tension between Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler.  In the movie, there was always something unspoken about the two scientists' relationship.  In the book, this tension is nowhere to be seen.  Ellie is also about 20 years younger than Alan in the book.  I have to admit, I missed this in the book.
  • The book includes many scenes that were not in the movie.  These include Grant and the kids hiding behind a waterfall from the T-Rex and getting lost in a Pterodactyl cage.  I imagine the reason for the scenes being left out of the movie has to do with the technological limitations in 1993.  What is interesting is that analogs of both of these scenes wound up in subsequent sequels to the movie.
Apart from these differences, one notices that the novel goes much further into the science behind the park than the movie does.  Crichton goes to great lengths to try to make his tale believable.  Sure the science isn't really accurate, but hey!  We're talking about dinosaurs here.  The fact that the author tries is good enough for me, and I find it very interesting.  The flip side of this coin happens when Crichton goes to great lengths to describe computers.  Now keep in mind, Jurassic Park was written in 1990.  Back then, computers were a BIG DEAL.  Crichton takes time describing the appearance of computer consoles and the intricacies of DOS-like menus.  Exciting, right?  Maybe in 1990, but not nowadays.  But in some ways, that just adds to the charm of the novel.

A great part of the book is the development of the characters.  And although I had the image Sam Neill stuck in my head whenever I read chapters about Alan Grant, I was able to appreciate the character in a completely new and better way.  Many of the characters have very complicated back stories and emotions.  That alone is a good enough reason to pick up this book.

I had a great time reading Jurassic Park. it was half blast from the past and half brand new experience.

4 out of 5 velociraptors!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

GIVEAWAY: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, by Seth Grahame-Smith

Hello friends!  After a long hiatus from blogging, I wanted to thank all of you for sticking with me.  And what better way than with a snazzy new giveaway?

From the back cover...

"While Abraham Lincoln is widely lauded for saving a Union and freeing millions of slaves, his valiant fight against the forces of the undead has remained in the shadows for hundreds of years. That is, until Seth Grahame-Smith stumbled upon The Secret Journal of Abraham Lincoln, and became the first living person to lay eyes on it in more than 140 years.

Using the journal as his guide and writing in the grand biographical style of Doris Kearns Goodwin and David McCullough, Seth has reconstructed the true life story of our greatest president for the first time-all while revealing the hidden history behind the Civil War and uncovering the role vampires played in the birth, growth, and near-death of our nation."

Also, check out my review of the book here.

This giveaway is for one hardcover copy of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, written by Seth Grahame-Smith.  The giveaway will run from 09/11/2011 to 09/26/2011.  Please, United States entrants only.  The following is a list of how you can enter the giveaway and increase your chances of winning:

+1 entry:  Comment on this post and include your email address (required to enter)
+3 entries:  Become a follower, or tell me if you are a follower
+3 entries each:  Start following me on Twitter or on Goodreads, or tell me if you already do
+1 entry each:  Link to this post in a tweet, blog post, blog sidebar, Facebook, etc.  Be sure to include a link to your content in your comment.

Good luck everyone!

First Impressions and Book Trailer: The Strain, by Del Toro and Hogan

In a world where romantic and suave vampires are the norm, it is quite refreshing (from a horror blogger's point of view anyway) to come across a book that features terrifying and ruthless undead.  Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan promise to deliver that with their novel The Strain.  

A mix between CSI and Dracula, The Strain is shaping up to be a great read.  It has mystery, a compelling protagonist, and a slew of horrible blood thirsty monsters marauding New York City.  Expect a review soon, and until then, watch these great videos, including two book trailers!

A word of caution:  Some of the movies have a bit of strong language.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Movie Reviews: The War of the Worlds (1953 and 2005)

We have already looked at The War of the Worlds novel and the radio broadcast.  Today, I'd like to share with you two movies based on the novel.  One was made in 1953 and the other was made in 2005.  Both of these movies were loosely based on the novel in that they take the events that occur in the novel but follow different characters during those events.  Also, they events take place in different areas.

Title:  The War of the Worlds
Year:  1953
Director:  Byron Haskin
Genre:  Science Fiction
Rating:  3 out of 5 heat rays

This was the first film adaptation of H.G. Wells' novel.  Dr. Clayton Forrester befriends Sylvia Van Buren at the site of the first Martian landing, and we follow them during the assault on the Earth.

This movie feels a lot different from the novel.  The novel focused more on the individual during the alien invasion.  However, Dr. Forrester spends a lot of time talking to government officials and generals in the field.  This gives the movie a much heavier feel.

There are a few parts of the book that I wish the movie incorporated.  The first has to do with the Martians using human blood as food.  This fact paints them in a much more terrifying light.  There is something much more foreboding about humanity being captured and held prisoner as a food source compared to simply being destroyed.  The second point that I missed was the focus on the hysteria that the citizens of the world feel when the planet is invaded.  The only time the movie mentions this is in a small montage, which is disappointing since it was a big part of the novel.

Finally, I need to talk about the special effects.  I'm sure they looked amazing back in the 50's, and there is nothing wrong with old school scifi.  However, the limitations of technology unfortunately altered points of the story.  For instance, instead of large tripods, the aliens ride around in what look like spaceships.  I imagine this is because moving legs would have been to hard to animate.

In all, The War of the Worlds may not be the best movie, but it definitely has a certain charm about it.  Check out the trailer!


Year:  2005
Director:  Steven Spielberg
Genre:  Science Fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5 lightning bolts

In 2005, another film was made based on H.G. Wells' classic.  Dock worker Ray Ferrier struggles to protect his two children as the aliens invade New York.

Spielberg took many more liberties with the story than the 1953 movie did.  First of all, the term "Martian" is never mentioned in the movie, and in fact Spielberg said that his aliens didn't even come from Mars.  Instead, they come from a place much more far away and malevolent.

Also, instead of the aliens crash landing on our planet because of the fact that the habitat on their planet was inconducive to life (as in the book), we quickly learn that the tripods were buried under the Earth - possibly millions of years ago.  This makes the motives of the aliens feel much more sinister.  Instead of fighting to survive in a new environment, they are taking back what they believed to be theirs all along using as much force as necessary.

One of the things that I loved most about the movie is the focus on the individuals and the mass hysteria that the invasion caused.  Instead of a famous scientists being the main protagonist (as in the 1953 version), we follow the journey of a middle class guy and his two kids.  They are forced to fight for their lives against the aliens and the humans.  And yes, the threat from their fellow man is just as real as the extraterrestrials.  What would happen if someone had the only working car in the country?  Or if there was only so much space on a ferry that was leaving an alien infested area?  When people's lives are threatened, there is no telling what they will do.

If you are a fan of Wells' novel, then I think you will enjoy this movie.  It is similar enough to appease die-hard fans, and fresh enough to feel new and exciting.  Check out the preview!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Spotlight: The War of the Worlds Broadcast of 1938

The year was 1938 - 40 years after H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds was originally published.  On the evening of October 30th, families tuned into their radio programs just in time to hear of a horrible alien invasion taking place in New Jersey and New York City...  At least that's what many listeners thought.  In reality, what they were listening to was simply a dramatization based on The War of the Worlds.

In the 1930's, CBS had been regularly airing a theatrical radio show called Mercury Theatre on the Air.  One of the masterminds behind this radio show was actor Orson Wells.  Every week, Wells and his company of actors would put on shows for their radio listeners.  On that October evening, Wells decided to put on a show based on The War of the Worlds.  It begins with an introduction taken from the novel, and is presented as a series of news broadcasts in which a Martian invasion occurs in New Jersey.

Many of the families listening to the broadcast, however, were confused and thought that the invasion was actually happening and that they were listening to actual news broadcasts.  This confusion was due to a few different factors.  The first is that Wells' show only mentioned the fact that it was fiction three times throughout the hour-long broadcast:  once at the very beginning, once 40 minutes in, and once at the end.  So anyone that missed the beginning of the show would have had no idea of its true nature.  This was compounded due to the fact that many people missed the first 10-12 minutes of the show because they were listening to another show that was airing concurrently on ABC.  By the time that they changed the dial to CBS, they were lost.

Listen to the entire broadcast!!!

Although many events have not been confirmed, there were supposedly many cases of fear and hysteria on the part of the ignorant listeners.  People could swear that they smelled the poisonous gas that the Martians were spreading across the country.  Some people were terrified to leave their homes, while others swarmed to the site of the supposed Martian landing.  There is also a story that a group of armed individuals shot at a water tower, thinking that it was a Martian tripod.  The New York Times published an article describing the chaos and fallout:

After the night of the radio broadcast, the public became irate.  They believed that Orson Wells intentionally deceived the listeners.  Neither CBS nor Mercury Theater on the Air were officially punished, and the entire fiasco served to propel Orson Wells to fame.

Orson Wells' reaction to the supposed hysteria his show caused...

I hope you enjoyed this look into one of the greatest "hoaxes" in history!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Book Review - The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells

Title:  The War of the Worlds
Author:  H.G. Wells
Genre:  Science Fiction
Rating:  5 out of 5 tripods

The War of the Worlds is one of the most evocative science fiction novels of all time.  It is also one of H.G. Wells' most popular works.

The War of the Worlds takes place in England in the late 1800s.  It describes a series of events in which intelligent beings from Mars come to Earth.  Their technology and weapons far outclass our own, and all they have on their minds is complete and utter domination of the human race.  They do not want to destroy our world:  rather, they want to take it over and use us as food.  Reduced to nothing more than glorified cattle, man kind is tasked with the most difficult objective yet:  to stay alive in the face of overwhelming odds.

This novel is written in the first perspective, from the view of an educated writer of philosophy.  I have said it in other reviews, but I am a big fan of the first-person view in science fiction and horror novels.  The fact that the reader is limited in their knowledge to what the narrator knows greatly increases the suspense.  There are two points in the novel in which this scheme changes, however.  Instead of the narrator describing his journey, he talks about the journey of his brother in London.  Although these sections are just as enjoyable, ping-ponging between characters decreases the immersion one feels when reading the book.

One of the most interesting aspects of The War of the Worlds is the way in which the Martians are described, and the manner with which they take over the world.  The aliens are not depicted as an all-knowing and all-powerful race.  On the contrary, they have evolved to be the most dominant species on Mars, a planet with a completely different set of environmental obstacles than Earth.  For example, the gravity on Mars is only a third of that on Earth, so the Martians are sluggish on our planet - their breathing shallow and labored.  However, they compensate for their weak physical stature with their technology.

And that is where War of the Worlds comes into its own as a depiction of a terrifying scenario.  The aliens erect gigantic metallic tripods, capable of razing entire cities.  They unleash a devastating "heat ray" on humans, which instantly turns them into a blazing corpse.  Finally, they shoot canisters of dense, poisonous black smoke, which kills anyone unlucky enough to breathe it in.  What is most horrifying is that the Martians use humans as food - collecting our blood and transfusing into their veins for sustenance.

The reaction of the humans in Wells' vision is also very interesting.  At first, people are curious about the extra-terrestrials.  Then, they become defensive and attempt to destroy them with force.  When force proves useless, all of humanity erupts into a mass hysteria - people flee, loots stores, and trample their neighbors underneath carriages and trains.  The War of the Worlds is more than just a silly science fiction book about aliens.  It is a kind of thought experiment about how Earth would react to such an event.

This brings us to the conclusion of the book, and although I will not spoil anything, I must admit that the ending has always seemed a bit like a cop-out to me.  It is as if Wells wrote himself into a corner, and without any other options, he elects to take the easy way out in order to supply us with a satisfying conclusion.

The War of the Worlds is one of the most entertaining science fiction novels that I have read in a long time!

5 out of 5 tripods!