Capsule Reviews: Heather Watches TV!

Guest blogger Heather Thayer has been checking out the new batch of science fiction and fantasy shows. Here’s her mini-revues for Lucifer, Colony, The Magicians, You Me and The Apocalypse, and The X-Files.

 

Lucifer, Fox, Monday Nights

This show is a hoot. Lucifer, yes THAT Lucifer, has gotten bored of hanging out in Hell, so he decides to take a vacation in LA, masquerading as a nightclub owner. He makes no effort to conceal who he is – a cop asks him how he could get shot and not be hurt he looks quizzically at the cop and says, “Did you not understand who I am? I’m immortal.” Later when she sees him get shot point blank, she asks again, and he’s all like, “what about IM-MORT-TAL don’t you get?” In the first episode a friend of his gets killed and Lucifer decides to help investigate. If this seems incongruous, remember that part of the Devil’s job is to punish sinners, and since he isn’t in Hell to do it after the guilty person dies, he figures he can do the job early while they are still alive. The character is funny and charming and naughty and is helpful in interrogations since people feel compelled to tell him their deepest desires. Then, in the blink of an eye, he is all scary avenging angel BECAUSE HE IS. It isn’t a deep show, but it is a fun romp.

 

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Colony, USA Network, Thursday Nights

 

This is my new favorite show. Set in Los Angeles in a near future in which the Earth (or at least California) has been invaded by aliens. Many people died or were separated when the Visitors arrived. The human survivors of the Arrival live in smallish enclaves separated by enormous walls and policed by collaborators and drones. Our main characters, Will and Katie Bowman and their family, are trying to keep their heads down, struggling to survive. The show deals with issues of survival under unimaginable circumstances. Is it better to collaborate if it means survival of your family, or is it better to resist, even if resistance is futile? I’m not going to say more, because watching these issues unfold is what makes this show great.

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The Magicians, SyFy, Monday Nights

 

Based on books by Lev Grossman, this series focuses on Brakebills University, an institute of higher learning for magicians. I’ve read one of the books – a later one that takes place after Brakebills — and I recall it as an enjoyable light fantasy. Unfortunately, the show is not capturing that spirit. The fundamental problem with the show is that this is a character-driven show, but none of the characters is particularly likeable. The show seems determined to portray the worst of each of the characters, with the result that they all come across as pouty whiners, with the exception of Quentin, one of our main characters, who comes across as an incompetent boob AND a pouty whiner. And why is everyone smoking? I wanted to like this show, but I can’t stand any of these people and want to slap them all.

Carrie’s note: I haven’t watched the show, but my recollection of the books is that all of them were very cynical and all of them very intentionally feature incredibly unlikeable characters – the series is a subversion of stories like Narnia and Harry Potter, right down to all of the characters being incredibly dysfunctional. The books are well-written, sharp, imaginative, and fresh, but ugh those people!

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You, Me and the Apocalypse, NBC, Thursday Nights

 

This is a comedy about the end of the world. The show opens with the end – an asteroid hurtling into the atmosphere (covered by CNN, of course) – and centers on some people huddled in a bunker, watching it all on tv. The show follows these folks in the last days, after the end of the world was announced. I want to like this show, I really do. The problem is that it just isn’t that funny. The tone keeps slipping into deadly earnestness and attempted heartwarming vignettes, interspersed with one-liners that could have been funny if the tone were lighter, but as it is they fall flat. The show can’t seems to decide whether it is a touching tale of people doing their best as Judgment Day approaches or whether it is a broad comedy about the ridiculousness of the End Times. It clearly wants to be the latter, but it keeps injecting the former, which throws the whole thing off. Maybe it will improve, more likely it will get cancelled.

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X-Files, Fox, Monday Nights

 

Oh Chris Carter, what are we to do with you? What a waste of an eagerly anticipated reboot. I was hoping for six tightly constructed episodes with a compelling story arc that would bring us up to date with these characters that we love. I haven’t seen the final episode yet, but so far, the three earlier episodes written and directed by Mr. Carter are nonsensical mysticism with a heavy-handed dose of “the corporations are all out to get us” conspiracy theory mushed in. There is no defining thread that links the episodes – giving us stand alone episodes that sink or swim based on their own strengths or weaknesses. So far, all the episodes written by Mr. Carter sink like stone, and we’re glad to see them go.

 

The two episodes not written by Mr Carter swim. The stunning third episode “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” had me laughing and smiling and thinking and laughing and smiling again. It is an exuberant deconstruction of every monster story ever told and a delightful revisiting of the Mulder/Scully dynamic. The fourth episode, “Home Again” is a touching exploration of loss. Go ahead and watch those episodes and skip the others.

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Carrie’s note: You can see more of my X-Files thoughts on Smart Bitches, Trashy BooksCan’t someone lock Chris Carter and George Lucas in a room somewhere and say, “Look guys, thanks for creating this thing, now NEVER TOUCH IT AGAIN?

Further Thoughts:

 

Carrie has written on The Shannara Chronicles. I agree with her completely. Other than Manu Bennett the actors were chosen for their ability to be pretty, not for their ability to act. Painful.

 

I wrote an earlier review of The Expanse. Having now watched the entire first season I have to give it a grudging thumbs up. The story became quite compelling as it went on. However, I recommend binge-watching as it is very difficult to follow week to week. If you haven’t read the books, expect to be lost from time to time, but it started drawing me in at the end.

 

I can’t wait for April and the return of 12 Monkeys (SyFy) and Orphan Black (BBC America). Squee!

 

War Stories Anthology Available for Pre-order!

cover of War StoriesTechnically, this is not a review.  I’m not reviewing War Stories due to a whopping conflict of interest – I’m currently writing the introduction for editor Jaym Gates’s next anthology, Genius Loci.  You’ll be hearing more about Genius Loci once the Kickstarter page is up and running.

So, this is not a review, but it is a shameless plug.  War Stories features some amazing authors, including Joe Haldeman, Ken Liu, Linda Nagata, and many others.  The anthology uses science fiction to examine war on many levels – how it impacts us at home, in our psyche, and on the battlefield.  The table of contents is divided into the following sections:

Part 1: Wartime Systems

Part 2: Combat

Part 3: Armored Force

Part 4: Aftermath

War Stories is currently available for preorder at Apex Publications.  Check it out!

Mini Review: Parasite, by Mira Grant

Grant_Parasite-HCJust for the record, no one could possibly convince me to read a futuristic horror novel about the tapeworm zombie apocalypse except for the Mira Grant, author of the Newsflesh Trilogy.  NO ONE.  Second of all, this book ends on a major cliffhanger.  I just…I can’t take the stress.  Now I have to wait MONTHS to find out if we are all going to die because of tapeworm zombies!  Aaaargh!

In case the caps lock wasn’t enough to tip you off, I loved Parasite and it scared the bejeebers out of me.  Here’s the basic plot:  In the year 2027, a company named SymboGen has virtually eliminated all diseases and allergies by means of a simple treatment.  People who become hosts for the bioengineered “Intestinal Bodyguard” live medically charmed lives.  But the parasites begin to take over their hosts, causing them to behave in a zombie-like state.

This book was exciting and horrifying and thought-provoking.  I cared about Sally, the protagonist, even when I was annoyed by her.  By setting the story in the very near future, and by never forgetting the mundane, Mira Grant makes the danger feel like an immediate threat.  I admired the fact that her characters have to do things like eat and sleep and deal with Bay Area traffic.  The book was firmly grounded and that increased the level of dread.  The level of science seems good overall.  Mira Grant did a ton of research to write the book, and it shows.  And I deeply appreciated a general absence of gore.  Grant seems aware that we, the readers, are grossed out by the mere concept of the story, so she doesn’t have to gross us out more with gore or with explicit tapeworm disgusting-ness.  When there is gore, it’s effective, because of the overall level of restraint.

You can find my full-length review at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

Mini Review: Charming, by Elliott James

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Charming is – well.  It’s charming – sexy, funny, and engaging.  This urban fantasy introduces us to John Charming, who is a former Knight Templar gone rogue.  John is sexy, snarky, smart, a good fighter, and he loves strong, capable, smart women.  For once, you can judge this book by its cover.  If find the cover […]

Mini Review: Hero, by Alethea Kontis

Hero-Final-Cover-687x1024Alethea Kontis came by last week with a video talk about the fairy tale “Petronella“.  Her own book, Hero, came out on October 1.  Hero is a creative, fun, touching fairy tale with great imagery and fascinating characters.  My full-length review of Hero is up today at Smart Bitches Trashy Books, so go check it out – or just skip the review and read Hero!

Mini Review: The Stolen Luck

stolen luck coverThe Stolen Luck is a gorgeous book that takes a difficult topic and treats it with sensitivity and care to create a beautiful romance with not a trace of squick.  James’ family has benefitted for years from an Elven talisman called “The Luck”.  When it is stolen, James wins an elven slave in a card game and promises to free the slave if the slave will guide James into the Elven realms to retrieve The Luck.  James deeply abhors slavery, and he promises himself that he will treat the slave, whose name is Loren, well.  But honorable though James may be, the taint of slavery makes it impossible for James and Loren to trust one another.

One thing I liked about this book is that it didn’t take the shortcut of showing that slavery is bad because slaves are mistreated, although it is established that they often are.  James doesn’t mistreat Loren – and guess what.  Slavery?  STILL BAD.  The master/slave relationship is not eroticized or glorified.  As long as Loren is a slave, neither he nor James can be happy – Loren, because he lives at the whim of another, and James, because he has violated his dearest principals.

The romance works because the couple is given time to get to know one another well, time to interact with a variety of people and in a variety of situations.  It also works because both parties change and grow.  I read this book with a great deal of trepidation but it left me with good book sigh.  A full length review is at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

Mini Review: The Golem and the Jinni

cover of Golem and JinniThe Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker is a beautiful and remarkable piece of historical fantasy.  Set in New York City in the early 1900’s, the book follows the lives of a golem named Chava and a jinni named Ahmad as they try to adjust to life among humans.  Chava has lost her master, and without a master, she is overwhelmed by the needs and wishes of those around her.  Ahmad is bound to a wizard, but he doesn’t know who the wizard is, or how to free himself.  While Chava struggles with a crushing sense of obligation towards others, Ahmad has no sense of empathy and no understanding of how his actions affect others.  He does what he wants, when he wants.  For the most part, these two characters face New York separately, but when they finally meet, they are able to help each other reach a tenuous sense of balance between responsibility and freedom.

I loved this book for its rich sense of culture and of place.  Wecker is equally adept at describing daily life in a busy bakery and life in a glass castle in the desert.  I loved the language and the characters and the feeling of being in another world.  The fantasy elements are subtle enough that I think people who don’t normally enjoy fantasy will love this for the historical fiction.  At the same time, these elements are rich enough that people who aren’t crazy about historical fiction will like it for the fantasy.  There is a love story, though it develops slowly and carefully – in fact, for most of the book, I didn’t think the romance would happen at all.  This is a book I can’t stop thinking about.  You can find my full-length review at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

Mini Review: Sky Riders, By Fae Sutherland

Cover of Sky RidersSky Riders is a science fiction/Western m/m/ romance novel.  It resembles the TV show Firefly in many respects – the mash-up of Western and Science Fiction genres, the theme of always being in morally gray territory and always being on the edge of both the law and financial solvency, and the theme of creating a family.  Sky Riders has a lot of action and dialogue, and I kept thinking that it would make a great web series.  The romance had parts that worked for me and parts that didn’t.  I didn’t like the macho stuff that the two protagonists go through in their relationship, but I did like the way they grew as a couple, and the fact that they accept each other for who they are.  By the end of the book, they recognize each other’s strengths, weakness, and flaws, and embrace them, which I found moving.  You can find my full-length review at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

Here’s the thing I found most refreshing about Sky Riders:  nobody cared about the genders or races or ethnicities of the two protagonists.  In this particular science fiction setting, there are all kinds of social, legal, and economic issues that affect the main couple, but racism and homophobia are not among them (at least, not based on the content of Sky Riders, which is the first book in a series).

June is Gay Pride Month, and it was a pleasure to celebrate it by picturing a world in which people’s relationships are judged by how well they treat each other and how much love they share as opposed to the appearance and function of their genitalia.  I also celebrate the science fiction stories that have used dystopian futures to illustrate the horrors of discrimination in all its forms.  Science Fiction presents us with thousands of possible futures and says, “You have the power to pick one of these for your own (or for your descendants).  You can have a world in which there is more love or you can have a world in which there is more fear.  Which do you choose?”

Mini Review: Her Sky Cowboy, by Beth Ciotta

Cover of Her Sky CowboyHer Sky Cowboy is a fun steampunk romance that takes as many crazy elements as possible and throws them all together.  It’s hard to get emotionally invested in the book, because the characters, while they have many merits, are pretty much stock characters.  Still, it’s a fun ride.  If you are a steampunk fan, you’ll get a kick out of this book.  If you’re not a steampunk fan, you won’t find much in the way of depth or emotional content to hold your interest.  It’s the first in a trilogy.

Not sure if it’s for you?  Here’s a partial list of some of the elements in the book:

  • Airships
  • Time travelling hippies
  • Victorians
  • Janis Joplin singing “Piece of my Heart” on a zeppelin
  • A mechanical Pegasus
  • Pirates

A full-length review is available at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

Mini Review: Deep Deception, by Cathy Pegau

Cover of Deep DeceptionDeep Deception is another excellent science fiction romance from the ever-reliable Cathy Pegau.  This is a f/f love story with action, intrigue, and a strong sense of place.  Pegau’s last book, Caught in Amber, took place in a city and most of it was set at a glitzy mansion.  Deep Deception is set primarily in a rural mining town, and you can almost feel the grime.  As compensation, you can also almost taste the miner’s garlic bread, and I must say that the sex scenes are quite well-written (*ahem*).  The book has strong, interesting female characters and a compelling plot.  It works fine as a stand-alone.  In fact, I suspect it works better as a stand alone, because the main characters were supporting characters in Caught In Amber, and they were much more in touch with their feelings here than I would have expected from their appearances in Caught.

In short, this book is imaginative, romantic, suspenseful, and sexy, and Pegau is now an auto-buy author for me.  You can find my full-length review at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.  The full-length review was published while this book was available for pre-order.  It has since been released by Carina Press.  Enjoy!

Mini Review: Glamour in Glass, by Mary Robinette Kowal

12160890Glamour in Glass was nominated for a Nebula Award in the category of best novel (the winner was 2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson).   This book is the second in a series that imagines Regency England as a place where people can cast illusions (glamour).  The use of fantasy here is clever and subtle, because the use of illusions is the only change, and yet adding that element allows all sorts of adventure and explorations of class and gender to occur.  Glamour in Glass involves more adventure then its predecessor, Shades of Milk and Honey, but retains a certain Jane Austen quality in its heroine, who is capable of brave derring-do but really wants to live a proper and normal life.  This is a fun read for fans of historical fiction and works just fine as a stand-alone.  A full-length review can be found at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

Mini Review: Ironskin, by Tina Connolly

Ironskin was nominated for a Nebula Award in the Best Novel category, and it’s easy to see why (the winner was 2312).  This incredibly poignant, passionate and inventive fantasy take on Jane Eyre is set in a world in which England has just barely won a war against the fey.

The world-building is fantastic (pun intended) and the characters shine.  Jane is a wonderful character who shares the original Jane Eyre’s strong sense of ethics, self respect, and passion.  The only flaw in the book is that the romance between Jane and her brooding employer is under-developed.  As long as you are reading this as a fantasy about an amazing woman, as opposed to a romance where the love story takes center stage, you will love the book.  My full-length review is at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

Mini Review: Cards and Caravans, by Cindy Spencer Pape

Cards and Caravans CoverCards and Caravans is the fifth book in the Gaslight Chronicles series by Cindy Spencer Pape.  This fun but uneven romance series combines Victorian steampunk with magic and the paranormal.  The books are published online by Carina Press.  I loved Pape’s book Kilts and Kraken, but found the follow-up, Moonlight and Mechanicals, to be disappointing.  Cards and Caravans falls somewhere in between, and the whole book feels like a placeholder in the series.  Having said that, it was a pleasant book to read, with engaging characters.  There’s a surprising lack of tension or suspense in the book so it might be just the light read you need during a stressful or fatiguing time.

I had no problem jumping into the series with Kilts and Kraken.  It was a strong stand-alone and I still recommend it.  However, I’m not sure how much you’d get out of Cards and Caravans without having read at least a couple of the other books, especially Moonlight and Mechanicals.  You can find my full-length review of Cards and Caravans at: Smart Bitches Trashy Books.  And for the book I truly enjoyed, my full-length review of Kilts and Kraken is at this link.  Enjoy!

Mini Review: Scarlet, by Marissa Meyer

Scarlet is Book Two of the Lunar Chronicles Series.  This series, while not strictly a romance series, is a high-quality romance-friendly crossover, and its inventive steampunk/science fiction twists on fairy tales make it a must-read for genre fans.  I enjoyed the world-building and the twists on fairy tales.  I do recommend that readers read the first book, Cinder, before reading Scarlet.  Cinder is the book that sets events in motion, and frankly, I think is a stronger book overall, although both books are compelling.  For a full length review of Scarlet, check me out at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

Mini Review: Jenna Starborn, by Sharon Shinn

One of my favorite books is Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë.  By “favorite”, I mean I have a copy wrapped up in plastic on top of the can opener in my earthquake/alien invasion/zombie apocalypse kit in case I have to rebuild civilization.  So any adaptation of Jane is going to have to work hard to make me happy.  Jenna is a very inventive take on Jane Eyre.  By far its strongest feature was the carefully developed society and culture. Sharon Shinn creates a culture which is completely distinct from that of Victorian England, but which still imposes many of the same limitation on Jenna that Jane experiences in Jane Eyre.  The book’s biggest flaw is that Jenna, while admirable, is simply not sufficiently fiery, layered, or interesting enough to fill in for Jane.

For a full length review, check out my entry over at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.  You can also find my Jane Eyre TV and film adaptation round-up over there.  Toby Stephens, call me!

Jenna Starborn book cover

Jenna Starborn