Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Book Review- Leviathan and Behemoth

The Leviathan series has loooong been overdue for me to read. I first discovered it around sometime last summer and I've had it on my reading list ever since, but seeing how distracted I am when it comes to picking the books I read, I didn't get around to it until a couple of weeks ago. Now that I finally have read it, I'm kicking myself hard in the butt for putting it off for so long. After reading the first two books in the series, I really think the Leviathan series could be the series to pave the way for steampunk novels in mainstream reading. First it was wizards, then vampires, now dystopia, and if I'm right, steampunk will be the next YA fad. Before I get ahead of myself, let me give you the definition for Steampunk. Once I tried to explain it to a friend of mine and she answered back with a blank stare, so I've pulled this definition from Wikipedia in the hopes that it will make more sense than my own words:

"Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction, alternate history, and speculative fiction...Specifically, steampunk involves an era or world where steam power is still widely used—usually the 19th century and often Victorian era Britain—that incorporates prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy. Works of steampunk often feature anachronistic technology or futuristic innovations as Victorians may have envisioned them; in other words, based on a Victorian perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, art, etc...

Other examples of steampunk contain alternative history-style presentations of "the path not taken" for such technology as lighter-than-air airships, analog computers, or such digital mechanical computers as Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace's Analytical engine."

As for Leviathan, the book takes an alternative look at World War I where the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungry) are called the "Clankers" and the Entente Powers (Britain, France, Russia, Belgium, Algeria (a colony of France), Serbia, and Japan) were the "Darwinists." Clankers were characterized by their use of mechanical war machines and weapons, such as "Walkers" which were diesel powered walking war machines you pilot from the inside. The Darwinists on the other hand used evolved, fabricated creatures, also called "beasties," as their war weapons which is what the Leviathan is; a gigantic flying whale which is also an airship that is part of the British fleet. The cool thing about the Leviathan is it's a fully working, sustainable ecosystem so it can repair itself if injured.

The book begins in 1914, and Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife have been assassinated, and the Great War is about to break loose. Prince Aleksander of Hapsburg is forced to flee from the German assassins who killed his parents. Even though Alek is not the technical heir to the throne because his father married a commoner woman, Emperor Franz Joseph I is old and has no heir so Austria may turn to Alek when he passes on. Because of this, Alek's fencing instructor Count Volger and his Master of Mechanics Otto Kloop decide to pull him out of Austria at the risk of being murdered. They escape in a Stormwalker and have Alek practice piloting it while they're on the run.

Meanwhile in Britain, a girl named Deryn Sharp is studying to join the Royal Air Navy. Deryn dreams of being able to join the academy because flying what she loves more than anything and it's what she learned from her father who died in a ballooning accident. Because women are forbidden to join the air service, Deryn must masquerade as a boy and takes on the name Dylan Sharp. When she makes it to the academy, she takes a ride in a Huxely (a mix between a jellyfish and hot air balloon) and gets blown away in a storm off to the North Sea. While floating around the air, the famous giant airship The Leviathan comes and retrieves them. On the airship, Deryn joins the crew as they receive their first mission: to transport an important scientist, Dr. Nora Barlow, and her secret package to Constantinople.

In the meantime, Alek and his men make it to their hiding place in the Swiss Alps after evading a number of attacks from Austrian and German patrols. Their hideout is a castle installed with 10 years worth of supplies that Alek's father had prepared for him in the case of an event like this. While this is going, the Leviathan is in the air after having picked up Dr. Barlow. The ship comes under attack by German planes and crashes down on to the same glacier as Alek's castle. Alek sees the crash and decides to secretly bring medical supplies to the crew. When he makes his way over the to crash-site, he sees Deryn unconscious in the snow and wakes her. He tries to bluff saying that he is a Swiss villager just being a good samaritan and bringing them medical supplies. Unconvinced, Deryn sounds the alarms and Alek is taken prisoner. Not long after being captured, Alek's men coming crashing towards the ship in the Stormwalker and a battle almost explodes between the two sides. Deryn prevents this by pushing Alek out in front the Stormwalker and holding a knife to his throat. Okay I don't want to give away the entire novel so I'll just say that that is the beginning to a beautiful friendship between our two heroes.

By the time we get into the second novel, Behemoth, The Leviathan arrives in Istanbul with the secret package that Dr. Barlow has prepared for the Sultan. Istanbul is a mosh pit of Clanker culture and Darwinst principles, creating an interesting cultural intersect. The purpose of this secret package is to serve as a gift to the Sultan in an attempt to keep the Ottoman Empire's political ties neutral after the fact that Britain created a war monster called the Behemoth for the Ottoman Empire that they fully paid for, yet Churchill ran off with it. The Sultan is cutting off Britain's supplies to Russia, hurting them in their fight against the Clankers. Now the politically charged and hostile country is being influenced by Germany who bestowed two Clanker ships to the Sultan which are installed with a Tesla cannon. A weapon which could be used to easily shoot down hydrogen ships such as the Leviathan. The Behemoth beastie weapon could easily take down these ships but the Ottoman's Kraken net prevents the Behemoth from getting into Ottoman territory. Again, I don't want to give too much away so I'll just say that the we get to see Alek and Deryn join some revolutionaries in the Ottoman Empire called the Committee of Union and Progress that involves some use of epic Clanker Walker machines.

You can't tell me that this plot synopsis doesn't intrigue you. I love the idea of linking historical events and locations with an alternative perspective, and Mr. Westerfeld does it in the most creative and innovative way. After the end of each book, Mr. Westerfeld hands us an Afterwords that goes over the historical liberties that he took. For one thing, Archduke Ferdinand did not have a son named Alekander so he is a fictional character, but you would be surprised how many things are based off of fact. My favorite was seeing the melting pot of Istanbul and its mix of Clanker machines and Darwinst culture.

Another fun things about reading this series was discovering all these war machines and monsters that came from the noggin' of Mr. Westerfeld. You might have a hard time envisioning these creatures and machines at first, but the book are dusted with rich detailed drawings by Keith Thompson to help you better see this alternative world created Mr. Westerfeld. It is totally worth buying the books just to get these incredibly ornate images. I don't usually like pictures that accompany books, but in this case, you need them to get the entire experience of Deryn and Alek's world. Just look how beautiful Mr. Thompson's artwork is below!

Coming in to reading Leviathan, I had recently come off of reading the Eon series just a few weeks before. Now if you read my review of Eon, you know it is also about a girl masquerading as a boy in some alternative ancient Eastern Asia land that heavily resembled China, and you'll know that I disagreed with Eon's (or Eona's) character. She had trouble embracing the woman in her, and when she does by the second book, she just becomes stupid girl pitting two men in her life against each other. Now Deryn on the other hand I loved. She knows how to act like a boy without losing her female identity. She embraces who she is instead of despising it like Eona. The introduction of a boy in her life also doesn't scramble with her common sense (at least not in a unhealthy way), but does provide a lot of cute moments (oh and Alek never knows that Deryn is actually a girl in the series so far). Deryn was probably one of the funnest and most interesting characters I've got to read about in a long time. I love her so-called "swagger" and fun lingo she uses (barking spiders!!!) and just her all around happy-go-lucky mentality. Deryn's character was just so well written, unique and epic, I just know that I will be comparing every book heroine I run across to her from now on.

Now typically when a novel's got both a main girl and guy character, one tends to overshadow the other. In the case of Leviathan, both Deryn and Alek get their equal share under the limelight. Both characters were also very likeable that it's almost hard to choose who you prefer (though I think I prefer Deryn a tiny bit over Alek). Alek, though he grew up a spoiled rich "barking ninny prince" (as Deryn puts it), he is incredibly thoughtful and really believes he can end the war. Alek quickly matures and grows up a lot throughout the two books and his immense kindness shows up at several moments. You will fall in love with both Alek and Deryn as you read the series, up to the point when you'll get stressed out over the thought of the two of them potentially getting separated.

Right now I am freaking out so badly over what fates Alek and Deryn hold, and the concluding novel named Golaith isn't coming out until September 20th! What the shits am I suppose to do til then!? I haven't been this excited for a book release since the last Harry Potter book. I've waited around for plenty of book releases since then, but never held anticipation like this in a while. Ahhhh, just look at the epic cover!

Honestly, even if you don't like steampunk, science fiction or anything like that, this series is a wholesome, fun way to pass the time that any reader could enjoy. I do hope this series picks up a bigger following because it deserves it waaaaaaaay more than some other shitty YA novels out there right now on trend. If you want to get away from shit-head, mentally retarded, attention seeking, "I'm good for nothing" "heroines" created by Stephanie Meyer or very underwhelming worlds with falling-to-shit writing by Suzanne Collins, try Scott Westerfeld for a change. Now my only question left for you is...do you oil your war machines, or do you feed them? Oh my god wow, I've become nerdier than ever.

Final Score- 10/10

You can also check out this cool promotional video for Leviathan here:

Also I just want to note that I'm sorry I've been so bad about writing reviews lately. I read a whole slew of books recently and I plan on getting those reviews out to you as soon as I can! Turns out I have a lot more time now to focus on my beloved blog!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Cool Sh*t!!- Brave Teaser Trailer

As a die hard Pixar fan, it kills be to say that I have no interest in seeing Cars 2. For the first time since Monsters Inc. back in 2001, I did not go see the year's newest Pixar film on opening weekend. I'm happy for Pixar that Cars 2 did well at the Box Office, but it saddens me to think that Pixar has made a blunder in their nearly perfect streak since the first Toy Story. The only way I can live with that thought it to look forward and just think about their next film they will dawn on us and hope it will jump Pixar's creative talent back to the top of animation. Brave has been a film that's been on my radar for quite some time now, and the release of its teaser trailer attached to Cars 2 was what I was more excited about this past weekend. Brave will be Pixar's first film with a female protagonist, and looks very much like a darker fairy tale story- two of my favorite things! I hope to god that Brave will be everything I fantasize it will be. The teaser trailer looks absolutely gorgeous, mythical, and much darker than Cars 2 (thank god). Here is the synopsis for Brave:

"Brave is set in the mystical Scottish Highlands, where Merida is the princess of a kingdom ruled by King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson). An unruly daughter and an accomplished archer, Merida one day defies a sacred custom of the land and inadvertently brings turmoil to the kingdom. In an attempt to set things right, Merida seeks out an eccentric old Wise Woman (Julie Walters) and is granted an ill-fated wish. Also figuring into Merida’s quest — and serving as comic relief — are the kingdom’s three lords: the enormous Lord MacGuffin (Kevin McKidd), the surly Lord Macintosh (Craig Ferguson), and the disagreeable Lord Dingwall (Robbie Coltrane)."

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Movie Review- Super 8

Screw all the fanboy haters! Screw all the haters period! I don't effing care that Super 8 is a mashup of movies we've all seen before! Do you not realize that nearly all movies nowadays are a mashup of old movies?? Have you read my blog post on "Everything is a Remix?" Check it out! Super 8 is the type of movie that reminds me of why I love film so much. A friend of mine and I caught a show Friday night and we both loved it! Now before you go and think I've fallen off the bandwagon from my ranting, let me explain if your unfamiliar with what I'm referring to. The film Super 8 which was released yesterday, is the new movie by well known producer J.J. Abrams, who in this case he's sitting in as the director, and producer Steven Spielberg. The film is basically a nostalgic homage of the Spielberg Amblin films of the 80's such as E.T. or Close Encounters. You take that, and throw in Goonies and Cloverfield into the mix and Voila! You got Super 8! Now a lot of fanboys are bitching that this is a just a mix of movies that they've seen before, but let me explain why I don't have a problem with that.

Okay so let me just give you a brief synopsis of the film. The movie centers around a group of friends in 1979 (who looked to be around 12) living in a small, quiet town in Ohio. The kids are working on a short film about zombies during summer break, but they need to film it in secret because their parents forbid them to make it. The story focuses around Joe Lamb who incidentally has a crush on a girl named Alice from school who is also helping with the film. One night during filming, a train is passing by and young director of the group, Joe's best friend Charles, yells at the group to begin shooting with the train in the background to up their production value. While filming as the training is passing by, a man driving a white truck slams into the train and reeks havoc with the kids caught right in the middle of the crash (don't worry, none of them are hurt). In the middle of the train ruckus, the kids notice there was something strange in the cargo that got out. They find run into the man who crashed into train (who for some reason survived the crash) who turns out to be their biology teacher at school. The man warns the kids not to speak of what they saw or else "they" will come and kill them and their families.

The kids then embark on a journey to uncover the truth behind what was in the cargo while strange things begin happening around town, and the air force coming in starting up some suspicious activity. As a side plot, Joe is also fighting an internal struggle trying to cope with the recent death of his mother, struggling with his estranged relationship with his father (who is also the town deputy), and pursuing a friendship with Alice who his dad forbids him to see because she is the daughter of the man he blames for his wife's death.

So where do I start with my commentary on this film? The film certainly pulled through a lot of that Spielberian feel, but also you saw the J.J. Abrams in it, plus a few others. I must say, the train wreck scene was one of the most intense action sequences I've ever seen and I almost was thinking for a second that this was a Michael Bay film. You also got a lot of Spielberg produced film The Goonies coming through while watching these kids at work. They're cute, have great chemistry together, and shine while on this crazy-ass adventure they're embarking on. I must say though, unlike the Goonies, Joe pretty much stole the majority of the spotlight instead of letting all the kids equal opportunities to shine. Alas, another film I was reminiscing upon that was neither Abrams or Spielberg was the Iron Giant by Brad Bird. I can't be the only person who thought this, especially during the scene at the end. Just watch it and you'll see what I mean.

Spielberg's magic was dusted throughout the film with his uncanny ability to transport you back to being a child again. Again, think back to E.T. For two hours on Friday night, I was a kid again- something I really needed after learning some pretty disheartening news earlier in the day. Oh and another very Spielberian quality of this film was the score. Written by probably my favorite composer (who I was wishing would eventually score an HP movie) Michael Giacchino, the music was so similar to E.T. that I thought maybe it was actually John Williams who composed it. Besides all these influences, you could still see Abram's mark written all over the film. Yes, yes there's the annoying lense flare, but you get use to it. Another were all the monster teasers (cough cough, smoke monster, cough), its got LOST written all over it! And yes, just like LOST, you pretty much don't see what the monster is til the end (so don't get annoyed). Now by the time we did see the monster (and this is the only complaint I have on the film) it seem very Cloverfield-like to me. Now Cloverfield was a Abram produced film so maybe that's just way all his monsters look, but by the time we got a close up of it, I felt like it was apart of a different movie. Now I was expecting the monster to be more, ehhh...not sure what the word is...realistic? I know this is a Sci-Fi film but the monster was a bit too science fiction for me, seeing how grounded the rest of the film was.

What drew me to this film the most, and the reason I loved it so much, was because of the kids. My friends may find this part funny, seeing how much I hate kids in real life, but stories about kids are my favorite type in film and in books. No, I don't like dumb children films about kids ouwitting adults. What I love are stories that show just how grown up a kid can be such as His Dark Materials, Ender's Game, Let The Right One In, Coraline, Spirited Away, etc. So don't be deterred from this film if you think it's a film for kids because it is about a group of kids. The main two actors in the film, Joel Courtney who plays Joe, and Elle Fanning who plays Alice, were I-N-C-R-E-D-I-B-L-E!!!! These two are young stars to keep your eye on. Both Joel and Elle were successfully able to carry out a huge range of emotions without faltering once! The two also had really good chemistry together and were super cute!

So what do you take out of my review. Yes, the film is a mashup of a lot of things we've seen before, BUT we've never seen them put together in a way like this. Screwn together, it's become something entirely on its own. I wouldn't have liked just another E.T. movie. Nowadays, I feel like we need films to be more raw and bleak, and I think Abrams was able to deliver that with Super 8. I really do think Abrams is proving himself just as good a film director as he is producer. The film critic in me tells me this film deserves an 8, but the kid in me is telling me to give it a 10. Just look at that film poster! Classic 80's movie cover right there! How can you not love it!? Stay through the credits; you get to see their short zombie film. Super cute!

Final score- 10/10

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Cool Sh*t!!- Battle of Hogwarts Documentary

As you can see, I'm trying to bask as much as possible in Harry Potter mania while I still can, because after the last movie comes out, there will be no more HP left for me to blog about. Right now things are getting a little crazy on the Harry Potter scene with a sudden surge of various Potter paraphernalia being released. I'm sure we'll be seeing more and more Potter specials all over T.V., online and in the book stores very soon. One particularly cool one I discovered the other day is a documentary that's being released in a series of eight episodes in July. This is more like a mockumentary directed by Nicholas Acosta, which features interviews from individuals 20 years later who fought and survived the Battle of Hogwarts. Here is the description on their official Facebook page.

A documentary chronicling the lives and stories of those who survived the fateful battle 20 years ago.

Check out the trailer!

On another note, a new trailer has been released for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows which features an overview of the entire franchise and opens with the first screen test of the trio. A very nostalgic trailer, which I have feeling is going to be the central theme to the films marketing campaign.

I'm sure I'll be posting more Harry Potter goodies as we get closer to July 15th. The book Dear Mr. Potter is being released July 1st, which is a compilation of letters written by Harry Potter fans, talking about how the series has impacted their lives. I look forward to reviewing this book and sharing it with all of you! Book is available for pre-order here!