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Archive for October, 2019


Sometimes you wish you could go back in time, to decades past where life was simpler and you could grab a magazine at the local bookstore or grocery store rack to get a fix from your favorite movies or TV series.  Back in the 1970s and 1980s sometimes that meant Starlog, Starburst, or Space Wars, Fantastic Films Magazine, or even mags aimed at the younger set, like Dynamite.  Then people like Dan Madsen came along with fan clubs that resulted in titles targeted at specific, single fandoms like The Lucasfilm Fan Club Magazine for Star Wars, and Star Trek Communicator and other titles under variants of those names.  Titan Magazines inherited management of these legacies decades ago, and is still putting out both Star Wars Insider and Star Trek Magazine, and it’s the articles from those mags that fans can “read again for the first time” as Titan launches three new compilation books, Star Wars: The Best of the Original Trilogy, Star Wars: Rogues, Scoundrels, and Bounty Hunters, and Star Trek Picard: The Classic Chronicles.

The two Star Wars books are tied to the anticipation for the release of the final chapter in the original Star Wars saga as Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker arrives in theaters in December and The Mandalorian series begins streaming in November.  And the Star Trek book is primed to get newer fans up to speed in time for the release of the Star Trek Picard television series.  If you collect the magazines, you have already read this content, but if you haven’t or you threw out your magazines over the years, this is your chance to check out Titan’s targeted looks back at these big franchises.

Vintage photographs, tie-in toys and other products, posters, interviews, and articles full of trivia are reason enough to take a look back through these books.  And those photographs include many you’ve probably not seen before–or at least haven’t seen in a long, long time.  Clocking in at 176 pages, each book has something for every fan of these franchises.  Star Wars: Rogues, Scoundrels, and Bounty Hunters is a must for anyone after lots of detail photographs of Chewbacca and your favorite bounty hunters, something from every previous Star Wars film through Solo: A Star Wars Story.  Star Trek Picard: The Classic Chronicles isn’t just about Patrick Stewart’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard, but is an overview of the entire series and films featuring the NextGen crew.  Star Wars: The Best of the Original Trilogy is perhaps the most nostalgic, with those marketing photographs and accompanying 1970s magazine style art that could have come straight out of Dynamite magazine.

Below are previews of all three books.  Catch up on the past–order these books at your local bookstore or comic book shop or from Amazon at these links: Star Wars: The Best of the Original Trilogy, Star Wars: Rogues, Scoundrels, and Bounty Hunters, and Star Trek Picard: The Classic Chronicles.

All three of these books are available now.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg

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We previewed Amazon Prime’s first trailer for the final season of The Man in the High Castle here back in February, and we had a glimpse at an opening scene from the first episode of season four.  Last year’s finale for the season, our pick for last year’s best sci-fi TV here at borg, featured a 1960s sci-fi scene with its own version of Stranger Things.  Another trailer is here, and this one finally confirms Chelah Holsdal′s bigger role as Helen Smith, wife of the new leader of the Nazis and former U.S. soldier, John Smith, played by Rufus Sewell.

With Germany’s move on the Japanese States thwarted, a revolution has gained traction out West, and viewers were left with series lead Alexa Davalos’s heroic leader Juliana seemingly understanding how to phase-travel like Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa′s Tagomi had done.  Helen and her girls have John Smith, and Himmler is taken down in an assassination attempt.  Yes, a lot was resolved, but we’re also set up for a big, brutal finale this next year, especially as Joel de la Fuente′s Inspector Kido gains more influence and power.  Who will win the battle for the World War II outcomes of all dimensions, the U.S., Japan, or Germany?  (Sounds like a game of Axis & Allies to us).

Is Helen Smith finally going to kill her husband John for letting her son die?  It seems likely Philip K. Dick would have approved all the updates and extensions to his novel in this show.  Here is the latest look at the final season of The Man in the High Castle:

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We have a cover reveal today for borg readers!  Take a look at this great cover by Brett Helquist, artist for A Series of Unfortunate Events and other great covers and picture books.  It’s for Elizabeth C. Bunce′s next book, Premeditated Myrtle, now available for pre-order here at Amazon.

As readers over the past decade at borg know, one of our frequent contributors of book and TV reviews is author Elizabeth C. Bunce, whose first novel, A Curse Dark as Gold, I feature here every October as a recommended Halloween read.  Next up for Elizabeth is Premeditated Myrtle, the first in a new mystery series in the tradition of Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Miss Fisher, Flavia De Luce, and… Quincy, M.E.  I, your humbled editor and Elizabeth’s husband, have been watching Elizabeth build her mystery series from the ground up–the second book has been written and the third and fourth mysteries are underway!  I know you’re going to love the adventures of intrepid twelve-year-old Myrtle Hardcastle and her equally intrepid cat Peony (who also made the cover if you look closely).

Myrtle has a passion for justice and a Highly Unconventional obsession with criminal science.  Armed with her father’s law books and her mum’s microscope, Myrtle studies toxicology, keeps abreast of the latest developments in crime scene analysis, and Observes her neighbors in the quiet village of Swinburne, England, in the year 1893.  When her next-door neighbor, a wealthy spinster and eccentric breeder of rare flowers, dies under Mysterious Circumstances, Myrtle seizes her chance.  With her unflappable governess, Miss Ada Judson, by her side, Myrtle takes it upon herself to prove Miss Wodehouse was murdered and find the killer, even if nobody else believes her — not even her father, the town prosecutor.

“Covers are always a surprise for the author—seeing how someone else will envision your characters,” said Elizabeth.  “My agent leaked the news that Brett Helquist might be working on Premeditated Myrtle, so I had to pretend for months that I didn’t know!  I knew his work, of course, but what really sold me were his illustrations for A Christmas Carol.  There are no ghosts in my Victorian mystery, but Brett did an amazing job capturing Myrtle’s determined energy—and even more importantly, Peony the cat!  We went back and forth on a couple of sketches for hair and clothing, but what never changed was Myrtle’s perfect expression.  The scene he chose to illustrate was one of my favorites to write, so it’s been great fun watching it come to life in full color.”

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Everyone likes Paul Rudd, right?  Rudd is the center of a new comedy-drama on Netflix that began this weekend, Living with Yourself And his fans won’t be disappointed.  The same struggling character reaching for success–but just missing it–in shows like Ant-Man, Anchorman, and Clueless is back, but this time his character is actually characters, plural, and, like Ant-Man, this show has a sci-fi twist.

In fact you could spend the 3.5 hours of the eight episode, half-hour series spotting all the sci-fi tropes picked up in the script by Timothy Greenberg (The Daily Show).  It all begins with a twist on Orson Scott Card’s short story Fat Farm (found in Isaac Asimov, George R.R. Martin, and Martin Greenberg’s collection, The Science Fiction Weight Loss Book).  In that story, a person goes to a secret clinic to lose weight, not realizing he is actually being cloned, and the “real” him shuffled off to a work farm for the rest of his life, while “new him” returns to his life slim and trim not knowing the difference.  In Living with Yourself, it’s Rudd’s character Miles who is unhappy not with his weight but his underachievement and overall dissatisfaction with himself.  A co-worker puts him onto a pricey spa that can solve his problems, which turns out to be a third-rate, pop-up cloning shop, where, unknown to clients, they get replaced with like-new clones of themselves and their old selves get suffocated and buried in the woods.  The cloning tech isn’t quite so refined so Miles experiences something like Total Recall’s schizoid embolism–instead of killing Miles’ older self, he wakes up in a shallow grave and must confront his new, cloned self.

This all plays out like another Arnold Schwarzenegger film, Twins, with old Miles left to forge ahead with his stale, unrefined DNA and new Miles “cleaned” and ready to conquer the world.  But this is just in the first half hour.  If you stay around for all eight episodes (and Rudd is fun playing two characters, so why not?), expect to catch scenes straight out of Multiplicity, Gattaca, Rachel Rising, The Last Jedi, Harry Potter, even Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, and more.  Rudd’s performance in dual roles is done so much in the actor’s laid back style that the double duty goes unnoticed, seamlessly, until the two halves confront each other in the season finale.  It’s not that kind of complex, award-winning visual effects work we saw from Tatiana Maslany as a dozen-plus characters in Orphan Black, but it doesn’t need to be.  The series hits on the classic internal struggle of man versus self, but this is first and foremost a comedy.

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Next week fans of Dungeons & Dragons will see the re-release of two Forgotten Realms adventures that started off the 5th Edition renaissance of D&D back in 2014.  Both the thinner adventure modules Hoard of the Dragon Queen and The Rise of Tiamat have been combined and repackaged into one volume, Tyranny of Dragons.  This extra-thick compilation book, the first like it in the 5th Edition, is available in a single exclusive edition with artwork by artist Hydro74–featuring what may be his best cover design yet.  The release is part of Wizards of the Coast’s celebration of five years of 5th Edition adventures.

In addition to the Forgotten Realms module Hoard of the Dragon Queen, the Tyranny of Dragons storyline has pulled in at least fifteen D&D Adventurer’s League “Expedition” tie-in adventures since 2014, when players first encountered the Cult of the Dragon and its plans to free Tiamat, the goddess of chromatic dragons, from the Nine Hells.  The storyline was continued in The Rise of Tiamat module later that year.  Don’t look for a specific errata section in this new edition–Wizards of the Coast says it has updated the adventure within by incorporating feedback to “smooth out the curve” for new players.  The two campaigns are fused into 17 chapters (as many fans wanted in the beginning), and a new appendix provides some never-before-published concept artwork.

 

The biggest feature is that all-new appendix containing 32-pages of double-page poster-worthy art showcasing scenes from the storyline, plus concept artwork, including sketches and trial pieces.  These were not previously included in prior fifth edition volumes.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

As you look at that great Paul Mann cover art for Blood Sugar, would you ever guess the following describes what is inside?  A modern-day look at the struggles of a teenager in a broken home and broken society in the vein of S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders (or any of her early books, for that matter).  It has the gritty street life from Attack the Block, Do the Right Thing, or Car Wash, the “being different” of Lucas (the film with Corey Haim) and the coming of age confusion and angst of Stephen King’s Stand By Me aka The Body and issues kids worry about like in Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.  What?

In one way Blood Sugar is the worst written novel you’ll ever read.  And in another way, it’s the kind of story that should already be optioned to become an independent film.  That “bad writing” is tricky, because the story is told in an experimental manner through the voice of a young teenager named Jody, a boy whose life is a mess and whose street sense surpasses any “book learning” he passed up in his life so far.  Author Daniel Kraus, through the voice of Jody, speaks in rambling sentences, stream of conscience thoughts, and with little punctuation and grammar (no apostrophes, etc.).  It’s distracting at first to the point a reader may just walk away, but it doesn’t take too long to realize Kraus’s characters are real if not disturbingly so.  Yes, they are a mess, but this book might be worthwhile in the hands of the right kid.  Kraus is a screenplay writer, known for his script to The Shape of Water and his young adult works.  It no doubt takes some commitment to write an entire story in this strange manner.  His novel reads like a screenplay, and it’s far more a young adult novel than anything you’ve read before in the Hard Case Crime series.  It’s not a fun read–it’s dark, and desperate, and dire–the kids have no good path ahead, and their plight is like that of the doomed kids in Bless the Beasts and Children.  But it’s one heckuva thought-provoking drama.

Jody is a funny, dumb, impressionable kid.  He hasn’t read much but he knows The Lord of the Rings movies backward and forward.  He rarely swears, instead using goofy swapped words for profanity, which drops the serious and sometimes violent nature of the content into something that should pass for a PG-13 rating, something like I would have read in eighth grade.  This is a dark story of drugs and living in a rat-infested, inner-city project, of mental health issues, bad parenting, of youth gone amok, all in that same theme–but in an updated 21st century way–as Rebel Without a Cause, or any of the books referenced above.  And everything in Jody’s life hits a turning point on Halloween.  This is not your typical crime novel.

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If you wait long enough, any and every subject from the past will find its way to the big screen.  Coming next is a look at classic slapstick Punch and Judy puppet shows in the form of the new Australian movie, Judy & Punch The first trailer for the film is out, and it looks to have all the quirks of a fringe indie festival film, with some historical elements and high production value.  It stars Mia Wasikowska (Crimson Peak, Alice in Wonderland) as Judy and Quarry and Justified’s Damon Herriman as Mr. Punch–two puppeteers trying to bring their marionette show to a strange English town.

Around since at least the 1660s, Punch and Judy shows have evolved and survived like some kind of street Shakespeare.  Ever changing to tie in the current politics or crisis of the day, the shows always feature Mr. Punch introducing the beautiful Judy, followed by antics including animal puppets like a crocodile, a dog, and a horse, and almost always a police officer or constable, a skeleton, and a baby.  The slapstick includes wrangling an unsuspecting audience, displays of showmanship, puppets dropping the baby, a horrified audience, and one or more puppet murders.

Judy & Punch is directed by first-time director Mirrah Foulkes, with production design by Josephine Ford (The Quiet Earth, War Machine, Picnic at Hanging Rock), and costumes designed by Edie Kurzer (Picnic at Hanging Rock).  Here is the trailer for Judy & Punch:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

We scuffled.  He had a gun.  So did I.  I’m alive.  He’s dead.

Twenty years before Jessica Jones, there was Ms. Tree, writer Max Allan Collins and artist Terry Beatty′s 1980s private eye with the clever homonym name.  Her husband a cop, killed by the head of a crime family, she sought her revenge and went to jail for it.  Now she’s back and the killer’s sister is looking to get her own revenge.  A private detective running her own agency, she finds her son has fallen in love with the niece of his father’s killer, the daughter of the woman who is now reaching out to her.  That’s where readers meet Ms. Tree in the first chapter of Ms. Tree: One Mean Mother, a new collection of classic stories that will bring readers unfamiliar with Ms. Tree’s exploits current as she’s embroiled in her never-ending conflict with the Muerta crime family.  The 268 pages play out like a crime TV series, like Magnum, p.i. or Simon & Simon, maybe with some Rockford Files thrown in thanks to Collins’ ever-present noir style.

Ms. Tree is her own character.  She doesn’t have the quirks and antics of progenitors like Erle Stanley Gardner’s Bertha Cool or the meticulous process of a Miss Marple or Jessica Fletcher.  But she does have the edginess we’d later see with Veronica Mars and Jessica Jones.  She’s a bit older, and because of Terry Beatty’s classic artistic style (reminiscent of Crime Does Not Pay and Dick Tracy), you may just wonder if she’s going to duck behind the curtains and emerge with a Miss Fury catsuit at some point.  Drawn by Beatty like a V.I. Warshawski era Kathleen Turner, she’s also not Jackie Brown–this woman plays by the rules, but the aura of her agency has that feel of Max Cherry’s agency in Elmore Leonard’s story.

With a style (in both writing and artwork) like Mike Grell’s Green Arrow, Collins populates his story with a variety of supporting characters like you’d find in the world of his Quarry series.  Characters like her friend on the police force Rafe Valer, and her colleague Dan Green, who has a hook for a hand in a call-out to J.J. Armes, the famous real-life detective in the 1970s (who had two hooks for hands).  The first book in this series, Ms. Tree: One Mean Mother, includes reprints of the stories Gift of Death, Drop Dead Handsome, The Family Way, Maternity Leave, and One Mean Mother, with an appendix featuring Collins discussing why Ms. Tree hasn’t made it to the small or big screen, and a related tie-in short story with a more modern take on the character (and without the pictures), Inconvenience Store.  Ms. Tree was featured in an earlier Hard Case Crime novel by Collins, Deadly Beloved.  In this volume Ms. Tree reads like it must have been the inspiration for Marge Gunderson’s storyline in Fargo, and the final seasons of In Plain Sight’s Mary Shannon.

Take a look at Beatty’s use of color, 1980s style, in these excerpts from the book:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

When you think of epic adventures, maybe first that comes to mind is J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings or George Lucas’s Star Wars.  Maybe the cinematic stories of Akira Kurosawa, like The Seven Samurai, The Hidden Fortress, and Rashomon.  Or maybe your epic adventures are more fantasy, like Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes, Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Conqueror, or historical, like Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel, C.S. Forester’s Lieutenant Hornblower, or go farther back, like Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte De’Arthur, the Maya’s Popul Vuh, the Old English Beowulf, the Old Norse Poetic Edda, or even the stories of Homer, The Iliad and The Odyssey.  What if someone wrote an equally exciting, rich adventure in the 1950s that has been read by more than 300 million readers, and you missed it, simply because it hasn’t been translated into English yet?  That would be the first English edition just released of A Hero Born, by Jin Wong, the pen name of Chinese author Louis Cha.  His novels sold more than 300 million copies internationally over the past 60 years, but the series is finally available to U.S. readers.

Two men, Skyfury Guo and Ironheart Yang, grow up together around 1200 AD.  Becoming best friends and blood brothers, they get married and have their firstborn both due at the same time.  They swear loyalty to each other, including a vow binding the futures of their family together that will survive these men, just as intruding warriors divide and even kill members of their family, leaving the friends and their families to disperse and flee.  Enter the Seven Heroes of the South (known by their enemies as the Seven Freaks of the South).  When the two friends are feared dead, this elite Magnificent Seven of sorts, a fabulous mix of warriors with every type of skill and weapon, makes a bargain with one of the revered seven Immortals, Eternal Spring Qiu Chuji.  They will separately train the offspring of the men, and in 18 years return for a showdown to see who are the better masters or shifu.  To one of the women a boy is born, named Guo Jing, and it is his story–his mythic hero’s journey–that the reader follows in this first adventure, which takes him from birth into adulthood, toward a destiny he may not be prepared for.  Guo Jing does not know his life and training is all based on a wager.  What does it take to have honor, to have character, to be a hero, and what surprises will he stumble upon on his way to meet his destiny?

Books like A Hero Born are why we have words like “epic.”  First published in Chinese in 1957, A Hero Born is the first of 12 novels in Jin Wong’s Legends of the Condor Heroes series set in the 13th century, following the life of a family in a community under the Song Empire who escaped to join Genghis Khan and his people.  It’s hard to believe the novel wasn’t written a hundred or hundreds of years earlier, or that George Lucas didn’t base his entire Star Wars saga on this story.  Anna Holmwood′s use of prose in her translation is pure artistry–A Hero Born reads seamlessly as if the novel was originally written in English.  Holmwood conveys the meanings of the hundreds of Chinese terms without seeming to explain them, weaving cultural nuances, the unique characters, the rich history of China, the Mongols, and Jin, the Taoist philosophy, and visual kung fu choreography into easy reader understanding.  The world-building will suck readers in and leave you wanting even more.  Luckily the entire series has been translated now, to be released over the next few years.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

At last a new Nancy Drew television series has arrived, but except for the odd screencap (a quick shot of Nancy Drew and The Hidden Staircase, or Nancy Drew and The Secret in the Old Attic) it has little resemblance to the novels the series is based on.  Billed as a brilliant teen detective by the studio, CW’s Nancy Drew presents a heroine that is anything but, if the rest of the series is anything like the pilot episode.  If you like disinterested young adults begrudgingly solving crimes that would be solved quicker by reasonably motivated teenage kids with half a brain, then this is your show.  This is not the smart, driven hero detective beloved by generations of readers.

The pilot reveals yet another series-long mystery set-up, instead of a mystery-of-the-week a la The X-Files.  Coincidentally the pilot introduces the same kind of body-in-a-box mystery as the far more engrossing new series, Fox’s Prodigal Son (but compelling writing and acting is pulling me back for more of that series).  It even shares the same story of a split family and parents somehow conspiring (or not) over a corpse in a trunk, while tricking the younger version of the series lead that it was all a dream.  Nancy Drew unfortunately also shares a lead character much like the brooding under-achiever in this year’s new AMC mystery series NOS4A2, a series that handled strange mystery and a confused young woman protagonist more believably.

Nancy Drew is played by 23-year-old Kennedy McCann.  Sometimes a series will cast young adults for teenage roles and make it work, but McCann just doesn’t look like a high schooler (nor do her friends).  Nancy’s boyfriend is played by Tunji Fasim, and her key circle includes diner (think Twin Peaks, Riverdale, etc.) co-workers played by Maddison Jaizani, Leah Lewis, and Alex Saxon, with Nancy’s dad played by Scott Wolf, and his lover/city detective played by Alvina August.  The mystery begins with Nancy and her co-workers present as the last to see a local socialite alive–Nancy finds her dead in the diner parking lot, and everyone is hauled downtown to get interrogated.  The backdrop shuffled in is some local lore about a teenager who committed suicide by diving off a local cliff years ago, and Nancy coming to terms with her father after her mother recently died.

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