Thursday, October 29, 2009

ZOMBIES IN SPAAAAAACE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Well it happened, with the rash of zombie sightings in recent years from Shaun of the Dead to Zombieland, it was only a matter of time for Star Wars to get in on the action. Star Wars: Death Troopers, by Joe Schreiber is a new offering for the Star Wars universe. Set in a nebulous point just prior to New Hope, the novel is takes place on the prison barge Purge making its way to the edges of known space.

The novel itself has the basic tropes of the horror/zombie genre. The few remaining survivors: Jareth Sartoris, the captain of the guard with a sadistic streak for inter-group conflict. Kale and Trig Longo, small time con-men, grifters, brothers for the family/emotional investment; with the doctor, Zahara Cody to help them all understand what is going on. The creatures are of course all blood thirsty cannibalistic fiends.

The book is pretty descent for a shared world piece of fiction, but it misses some opportunities. Sartoris is a claustrophobic sadist, who has been in space too long; he kills the father of the two boys just prior to start of the novel. We spend some time with this character setting him up, but when his redemption moment comes it passes in a blink, having no substance. The reader shrugs and says: ‘oh well’. For the investment of back story on the guy he spends little time on stage, or is that impactful to the overall tale.

There is little investment to be had in the main players because of the introduction of cannon characters that I will not name for spoiler purposes. Once introduced, I half-expected that they would be the only ones to survive. So I unconsciously disconnected from the other characters, which was unsatisfying because there was investment with their back stories at the outset.

I know Star Wars is a commodity, just like any other, but something that put a hitch in my enjoyment of the book was the same as the distractions I had with Patterns of Force, both books were written to drive video games. Death Troopers seemed written to slide directly into the advertisement at the back of the book for Star Wars Galaxies, a multiplayer computer game.

I picked up Death Troopers sight unseen. I was not sure what to expect beyond a horror style adventure on a derelict Star Destroyer, I did not know if it would something along the lines of Alien or even Predator, but zombie plague caught me sideways. I think I never expected Star Wars to venture into the flesh eating horror of George Romero.

I love Star Wars. I was there in '77 and on, after all the original Star Wars trilogy was THEE Saturday Serial, and with comparatively the same kind of budget that Flash Gordon had back in the 30's and 40's! The book was a fun one to read. The core characters added to the Star Wars feel of the book, which to a fan is cool. In Schreiber's defense one didn't spend so much time with them that it was meant to short change the characters that were supposed to be the focus. For me they did. The Star Wars universe has been expanded to encompass so many more heroes than those that were present at the Battle of Yavin that their introduction was not necessary.

Schreiber is a good writer, and did well with the Star Wars material, balancing it against the zombie lore added to it. A blaster does nasty things to zombie flesh! The book, except for the most hardcore of fans with disposable income, is not worth the hardcover price tag. Its light for a hardcover novel, with about 220 pages, I figure roughly 70,000 words, with a preview of another Star Wars novel as filler.

Now Darth Vader versus a horde of flesh eating zombies….oh yeah, I would pay good money to read that! This is not one I would come back to later to read if I had the time for such things. To sum up though: if you are a Romero fan and a Star Wars geek, you will like this book!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Frakenstein: The Monster, the Myth, the Legend

For Halloween, my favorite holiday, I decided I would watch some of the classic monster movies that Universal put out in the 30s’ and 40s’. I love these old horror movies and one of the best is Frankenstein. It was released in 1931, starring Colin Clive as Victor Frankenstein and the immortal Boris Karloff as the MONSTER; based on Mary Shelly’s book and the play by Peggy Webling.
Now I can do a whole series of posts on Frankenstein and his monster, whose name incidentally was Adam, after the first man: just something for that Trivial Pursuit game. But I want to focus on the film, so just a quick contextual review. Mary Shelly wrote Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, first published in 1818. The tale is one of vengeance perpetrated by the monster for his very creation and the suffering he endured at the hands of his creator and humanity at large. The tale does not focus on the creation but rather the effect of such creation. Personally, I found the monster in the actual novel too whiny to be sympathetic.
The movie is fun Saturday matinee stuff, I remember this film as a little kid when the Saturday afternoon creature feature would come on T.V.—thanks for the therapy Mom! This, among others scared me as a kid. I know this seems almost laughable today with films like Saw, or the current faire on the Sci Fi channel. But that’s the point; this film was scary without gore, or huge special effect. The studio warned people that it would be shocking! Women actually fainted in the theater. It was atmospheric and creepy with haunting sets; filmed in black and white as all good horror movies should be.
This film built tension from the start: with Victor’s obsession to create life; lying in wait for a body to be placed in the ground so they could dig it up fresh. The hunch back Fritz cutting down a hanged criminal, but that corpse being useless because the neck had been snapped. (Note: Fritz was played by Dwight Frye, who also played Renfield in Dracula and Wilmer Cook in the Maltese Falcon) The cut scene showing the concerns of his friends and fiancĂ© adds depth and a grounding element to the tale.
Then there is Fritz destroying the “normal brain” and taking the “abnormal brain”, the audience knowing that this is the brain that shall govern the creature being created. Later in the film when the monster encounters the young girl playing by the water side we know what is going to happen. The child’s death is only hinted at; the impact is later during Frankenstein’s wedding party when the grieving father carries his daughter in among the revelers.
The underlying complexity of the creature comes forth when the audience witnesses the abuse it endures at the hands of the sadistic Fritz. We also witness Victor viewing his creation as a mere experiment rather than a sentient being; a view shared by Dr. Waldman (played by Edward Van Sloan who was Van Helsing in 1931’s Dracula). Waldman intends to destroy the monster by dissection but is killed himself by the creature. The monster is sympathetic, you feel sorry for the poor creature; more so, in my opinion, than the book. One sees the creature trapped and dying and feels saddened by that death.
The climax is pure horror gold with the villagers chasing the monster with baying hounds, torches, and pitch forks. The creator and monster locked in a struggle at the end, with the creator pitched from the top a burning windmill. Then the creature is trapped for an ambiguous death scene that will allow it to appear in a multitude of sequels.
The movie is a classic for reason; there is a well woven plot, tension, and story. It may seem quaint by today’s standards, but that is part of that classic nature. It holds up because it is a compelling tale. It has spawned so many more interpretations over the years from comic books, Young Frankenstein, and a very good book series by Dean Koontz and Kevin J. Anderson in which the first book even mentions the burning windmill. The story was started by Shelly, but Karloff gave it life.
See: for more on this wonderful actor.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Black Jack Justice! Justice Served Cold!

This is a radio style pulp detective story. The mp3 can be found on Decoder Ring Theater. This is a fun radio show because the characters Justice and his partner Trixie Dixon both speak in the first person to tell the story, so one gets the perspective of the hard boiled detective and his partner's with all her 40's moxy!

The two voice actors: Christopher Lamont and Andrea Lyons were fun. Justice is the hard boiled dick of the Chandler/Marlowe model; cynical and moral at the same time. Trixie had the clipped sharp edge of the strong female lead of the period. The exchange between the two was great, fast and witty.


Justice: "You ready?"

Trixie: "I have the Berretta in my handbag and a .38 strapped to my inner thigh if that's what you mean."

Justice: "No, but thanks for the mental pin-up."

Unfortunately the client sounded like she was reading her lines directly from the script and the character's story was way too flowery in its prose. I mean exactly like she was just reading off the script. Once her exposition scene was done though it improved immensely and it flowed more naturally.

The imagery that was woven into the rest of narrative was seamless with a good smattering of hardboiled slang to make me laugh out loud. Not because it was corny but because it was so invocative of what the character's point was. Great stuff!

I was happy to come across this website because I love the old radio shows with Sherlock Holmes, The Shadow, and others through out the years. I look forward to trolling through the rest of the site and I will be listening to the rest of the Jack Justice series!

The rest of the website looks good; pretty basic, simply, easy to troll through. So I will be spending some time here. They have paypal donation and subscription buttons to help defray the cost of running the site. But they offer their content for free. So give it a listen.