Friday, December 29, 2006

"The Complete Sixth and Seventh Seasons"

With the arrival of "Columbo - The Complete Sixth and Seventh Seasons" the DVD release of the original Columbo shows is complete. I'm glad they're here and like with all the previous seasons' releases I've bought them as soon as they were in the store. However, as with all the previous seasons' collections I'm equally dissappointed with the overall quality of the productions that Universal has put forward.

First off let me say that the picture quality of the DVDs is alright. They're clean and precise but that's not where my problems lie. For such a seminal show with a great cast of faded stars and up and comers and some of the best writers and directors in the history of tv, there's just nothing going on here but a straight presentation of the shows and some episodes of the utterly atrocious "Mrs. Columbo" with the nascent Cpt. Janeway, Kate Mulgrew.

Alright, I admit it. I've been spoiled by DVDs including documentaries and great commentaries. I've been spoiled by the inclusions of outtakes, screen tests and all sorts of video goodies. So what if I've been spoiled, I don't think it's too much to ask for a little something extra.

William Link's still alive. Does he refuse to talk about his most famous creation? I've heard enough interviews with Peter Falk to know he won't stop talking about the show. Would it have been so hard to get something on film? I wonder what Patrick McGoohan has to say about his involvement in the show as actor and director. what about Bruce Kirby or Dennis Dugan? What of the rest of the surviving cast of regulars?

Don't get me wrong, if you have any liking for "Columbo" pick up the DVD sets. You can't go wrong if you want to have something you can put on and always get a kick out of watching. Falk's like something crazed Italian leprechaun in most episodes and there was a real effort to create an array of villains from the detestable (ex. Jack Cassidy always, Louis Jordan) to the sympathetic (ex. Ruth Gordon and Donald Pleasance) and nifty plots and clues. So buy them and watch them and once in awhile imagine how much more Universal could've given us to waste away some more of our lives' with.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

"Polyphemus" - Michael Shea

 "Polyphemus" is a 1987 collection of horror shorts by Michael Shea. I guess he's better known for his Nift the Lean books (which I have still to read), but he does a have a fine little batch of other stuff to his credit.

This past October, comedian Patton Oswalt listed a favorite horror story each day of the month. I found out about it from Stevie D. and was pleased to discover he had a love for the real foundational authors of the genre (Machen, Lovecraft, James, etc.) as well as good modern ones. One of the stories he listed was "The Autopsy" by Michael Shea in the above named collection. I found it cheap on Amazon and had it within days.

The story was fun and bloody. It involves aliens, Appalachian mines and lots of gore. It's the higlight of a book of equally fun and bloody delights. It's the sort of stuff you used to be able to find each year in the late and terribly lamented Karl Edward Wagner's Year's Best Horror antholgies or still find in Stephen Jones' Best New Horror antholgies.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

"The Thousandfold Thought" - R. Scott Bakker

 "The Thousandfold Thought" is the concluding volume of R. Scott Bakker's "The Prince of Nothing" trilogy.   The Holy War called in the first volume is tempered by blood and fire and arrives at its destination.  Numerous plots and machinations reach fruition and tens of thousands die.   The book is nothing if not vast in its intentions.

Bakker has serious things going on.  He has undertaken an intriguing study of all the things I described in the previous entry. This is good stuff.

The Prince of Nothing has the epic scale of Tolkien and the viciouness of Glen Cook. Bakker has created something worth the investment of time. When I see the shelves of crappy D&D franchise books and know that kids buying them aren't reading Bakker, Cook or P.C. Hodgell (more on her some other time) or a stack of other talented writers I feel woozy. It's just depressing.

The Warrior Prophet - R. Scott Bakker

"The Warrior Prophet" is the sequel to "The Darkness That Comes Before" and left me gasping for breath.   Sure there are a few talky sections where Bakker's status as a philosophy PhD candidate shines through but they're worth working through.   His characters possess complex and believable psychologies and act based on them.   They don't act like plot puppets you might find in a Terry Brooks' story.

Alongside the conversations are huge battles, assassinations and overwhelming displays of magic power.   These are described in often beautiful prose and with a sense of true potency.   One school of wizards have to summon the likenesses of great dragon heads in order to bathe their opponents with flames.  There is an ancient evil disguised as a small black bird with a pale human face.   The feeling for a world of empires built atop the bones of long lost greater empires equals Tolkien's portrayal of that abyss of time and back story.   Bakker has created some spectacular examples of genre writing.
The book is a fascinating exploration of faith, tradition, reason and power set in an original but still recognizable fantasy setting.   Without aping the psuedo-North European tropes of too much fantasy Bakker still manages to work his story into a tapestry with clear elements of the Crusades, Byzantium and the Arabic Caliphate as threads.   The resultant world feels both original and familiar.

"The Warrior Prophet" follows the Holy War called in "The Darkness That Comes Before" as it lumbers south towards the Holy City of Shimeh.   Numerous forces, all with different agendas, most in conflict with everyone else's, begin taking over events and turning the Holy War into something no one predicts.

Bakker is an intriguing new writer and if you have any interest in what epic fantasy has the potential to be then you really need to check these books out.

Friday, December 15, 2006

"The Darkness That Comes Before" - R. Scott Bakker

"The Darkness That Comes Before" is the first volume of a mere three volume fantasy trilogy by Canadian R. Scott Bakker. I discovered its existence during my recent hunt for non-crappy and non-standard fantasy books (see the earlier post on "Shaman's Crossing"). I read a few very cool interviews with Bakker and his defense of epic Tolkien level plotting and traditional fantasy so I decided to give the man's books a shot.
This is definitely one of the best and more original fantasy books I've encountered in some time. The world is more Mediterranean and Middle Eastern in its appearance than European. There is a tremendous feel for the world's history, cultures and languages. There are also no kitchen boys who are really heirs to some throne or brave sword maidens or even witty dwarves. There are wizards who are all considered heretics, there are truly horrific barbarians, devout religious men who range from humbly so to fanatically so. There are conniving emperors and plotting hierophants. The whores don't have hearts of gold and some men are simply cowards.
I don't really want to give any plot away. There's ancient evil as well as present day venality. A crusade is called to recapture long lost holy lands from the heretics and secret monastic orders re-enter the world for goals that are inscrutable.
This is a series that I look forward to finishing with tremendous relish. I keep getting the Games of Thrones stuff pushed at me and I'll probably go at it at one point, but I can't help it, it doesn't look like it holds anything to this in originality or overall originality.