Arrival – movie review


February 27, 2017  •  No Comments

It’s rare that I go to a movie and think about it the next day and then the day after that–most box office material doesn’t demand that level of engagement. Arrival did, and I’m ever so grateful to be intrigued.

Arrival movie poster

I know there was some grumbling about the authenticity of the linguistic methods used to decode the alien communications. I don’t know enough to weigh in, but the story did make me think about the minimal linguistics I took in university and how very unprepared I would be should heptapod aliens invade and the translation app on my iPhone fail to provide adequate interpretation.  Great science fiction asks these questions.

So what specifically did I like about Arrival? The characters. It’s great to see such a meaty female lead role in a sci-fi film, and to see it so well done. Amy Adams handles the many layers of her character beautifully, coming across as deeply ordinary and exceptional at once. Jeremy Renner is endearing. Both have an air of vulnerability and honesty that gave the storytelling weight. Without giving too much away, everything in the movie–the close camera work, the acting, the way the story is put together–draws the viewer into an enormously intimate relationship with the protagonists and their fates.

This is sci-fi, and there is the odd explosion and nifty effects, but this isn’t a movie for those looking for ray guns and a high body count. It’s the kind that makes you go “Waaaaaiiit just a minute” as the penny drops and everything changes.

What did I not like about Arrival? There were a couple of moments when the characters seemed unobservant one moment and capable of superhuman leaps of logic the next, but given everything the film got right, these were small issues.

The story is based on a piece of short fiction by Ted Chiang. I haven’t read it (yet), but going by the fact that the structure of the movie held together, the adaptation was well done.


The Tinder Box

Sharon Ashwood
June 12, 2016  •  No Comments

Sometimes people ask me what my favourite fairy tale was growing up. There is a lot to choose from–I read all of the fairy tale, ghost stories and myths I could get my hands on. Andrew Lang’s fairy books loomed large (The Red, Blue, Yellow etc Fairy Books) as well as the usual Grimm and other European trad stories. Tinder BoxThen there were all the Marvel and DC comics about superheroes. I didn’t differentiate much between the old stories and the new. The very best of course, was what happened when you combined fairy tales and comic books! And so my love affair with a ragged copy of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Tinder Box was born.

I don’t know why the story isn’t better known. It has all the great elements: a kidnapped princess, a clever but poor young man who saves her, and talking animals! The plot is simple–young man sets out to rescue the princess and ends up saving the day, but only through the help of three magical dogs summoned by the tinder box. The only reason he gets his hands on the box is because of his generous and helping spirit. Yes, he does his fair share of manly-man swashbuckling, but it’s the fact that he’s a good guy that wins the day. He’s somebody we feel sure will look after his princess.

There are a number of versions of this story throughout the fairy tale universe–one is a very old Welsh tale that has the hero saving ants from a fire and they later play a part in helping him along. The message of the story is clear: no matter how humble someone is, they have something to offer the world and should not be left to perish. I think that’s a tale for everyone, young and old.


What I’m Reading: Artemis Awakening

Sharon Ashwood
October 6, 2015  •  No Comments

Artemis Awakening by Jane Lindskold (Tor, 2014)

When the Empire fell, the location of the planet Artemis was lost, although legends remained to tantalize historians.  When ambitious archeologist Griffin Dane finds intriguing hints as to the location of the lost planet, he sets out alone to confirm his find.  When Dane reaches Artemis, his shuttle crashes – perhaps not by accident.  Stranded, with no discernible way to get home, he forms an uneasy alliance with the Huntress Adara and her psych-linked companion, the puma Sand Shadow.  Together they set out to find a way to get Griffin home, along the way uncovering some of the secrets that lie beneath the planet’s wilderness exterior, secrets that may lead to the recovery of weird powers far beyond what humanity now dares to dream.

My thoughts:

I’m much more of a fantasy reader than a sci-fi fan and will always opt for history over a tale about the future. The nice thing about Artemis Awakening is that I don’t have to pick. This book is about a primitive society engineered by an advanced civilization. It has space ships and telepathic animals, too, and while the “magic” might actually be science, the end result works just the same.

The writing here is technically good, as one would expect from such an experienced author. There’s plenty of conflict and character, adventure and humour. While this book is clearly the first in a longer tale, this volume has a complete story arc. There is a suggestion of romance, but it’s very much in the background and fits naturally with the personalities involved. The pacing is quiet at times but these pauses give the reader an opportunity to digest the larger questions the story poses. The book shifts to a darker tone as the plot develops which may not be to everyone’s tastes.

I haven’t read a book like this for a long time and I enjoyed it.  It’s always great when something reminds me of a genre I enjoy but have neglected for a while.  I will be looking for the next in the series.


Serial reader

Sharon Ashwood
July 22, 2009  •  No Comments

I’ve noticed that in the romance market, series have become de rigeur. I suspect this has as much to do with marketing as anything else. As with movies, if one has good box office, make a sequel and cash in. Ditto books. The system works pretty well for authors because it gives us a chance to hook a readership in a way single efforts might not.

As an author, it affects how we think about plots. It’s nice if there’s an overarching idea to drive the series, but each book has to have its own logic. And what if your readers pick them up out of order? It’s a problem if there has to be pages of explanation to catch them up before the adventure even begins. In other words, we have to be clever little pumpkins to do a good job.

For this reason, SCORCHED can be read independently of RAVENOUS. They’re sequential and related, but by no means inextricable from each other. I think most authors aim for this kind of flexibility now, especially when bookstores aren’t always stocking all the titles in a series. If it’s too hard for a reader to pick up the story part-way through, the author loses the opportunity to bring more people on board.

Speaking as a reader, I love a series I can sink my teeth into. Characters become family. Places become like old friends. I start expecting to meet my favourite heroes on the street. The books become a reliable, comfortable haven—or at least a constant source of entertainment. I’m not sure I’d want to exactly hang out in Rachel Caine’s Morganville, even though I wait with bated breath for each new instalment.

carpe

Another series I’ve loved is CT Adams and Cathy Clamp’s Thrall series. It’s original and interesting and occasionally downright scary.

tod

And then there’s C.H. Harris’s beautifully-written regency historical detective series (Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries.)

waf

Those are just a few of my favourites–there’s no shortage of great series out there. Nevertheless, do you as a reader ever feel series exhaustion? Despite an author’s best efforts to make each book stand-alone, do you ever get tired of having to figure out which one to read first, or when you kind find the first one without ordering it on-line?


So Still the Night

Sharon Ashwood
July 8, 2009  •  1 Comment

sostillthenight

Just wanted to share this great read by Kim Lenox, one of my fellow Silk and Shadows crew.

I read it and loved it. Lots of atmosphere, great characters, great worldbuilding. Late Victorian England with immortals and seriously nasty supernatural killers. Some fun archeological bits. Here’s the back copy:

Marcus Helios was a member of the Shadow Guard until one reckless act changed it all, bringing him to the edge of madness. His hope for salvation lies in a cryptic message contained within two cryptic scrolls he believes to be in the possession of an enigmatic beauty named Mina. And Mina is not about to hand over the scrolls’ secrets to a total stranger.

But someone else has designs on the mysterious relics, and on Mark: Jack the Ripper’s jilted bride. Her malevolent embrace will trap everyone within reach, and her dark plans will challenge the powers of all she is destined to destroy.