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Flcl Collection [Blu-ray] [Import]
Flcl Collection [Blu-ray] [Import]
Offered by Rarewaves-CA
Price: CDN$ 29.20
11 used & new from CDN$ 29.19

5.0 out of 5 stars Your head is empty!, May 7 2015
Anime can be pretty weird -- just look at series like "Paranoia Agent" and "Boogiepop Phantom." Really weird, sometimes impossible to totally understand.

But for sheer strangeness and kookiness, the winner has got to be "Fooly Cooly (FLCL)." Even as it pokes fun at typical anime, it tells the surrealist story of a very odd coming-of-age, complete with strange plots, oddball characters, and robots sprouting out of a young boy's head.

Naota is a young boy living what he sees as an oppressively dull existance, in a quiet city dominated by the Medical Mechanica building. The closest thing to excitement is fending off the advances of his brother's troubled girlfriend Mamimi.

Then sudenly a girl on a Vespa runs him over, resuscitates him with a smooch, and then bashes him over the head with a bass guitar. That evening, Naota finds that instead of a bump, he has a horn growing out of his head, and no idea what it is or how to get rid of it.

Despite his efforts to avoid her, Naoto's kooky father has hired the crazy Vespa girl, Haruko, as a housekeeper. To make matters worse, his "horn" turns out to be a robot and a giant mechanical hand -- springing out of a channel in his head. And you thought YOU had problems.

The five episodes that follow don't get any more normal, as Naota must deal with the Mayor's daughter getting his strange power, cat ears, more robots, baseball, bombs, the Pirate King Atomsk, seaweed eyebrows, and the interplanetary Medical Mechanica which may or may not be intent on galactic domination. It all clashes in the final episode.

For newbies, "FLCL" is probably the WORST anime to start with. It's a parodic mishmash of anime in-jokes -- giant robots, fanservice, boy falls for kooky abusive alien girl -- and a storyline that is bizarre to the point where you may not be able to understand what's going on. But oh, is it a fun ride.

As if the plot weren't hyperactive enough, the animation is exaggerated and crazy, full of distorted faces and wild robot battles. Lots of action and overdramatic dialogue ("OH NO.... OOOOOOOOO... an American GIRLFRIEND!"). As if it weren't funny enough, the director sprinkles in homages to other shows, ranging from other anime to "South Park."

And the characters are as bizarre as the story itself. Naoto starts off as a typical bored preteen, but slowly gains confidence and guts as he gets immersed in the weirdness. Haruko is a completely off-the-wall kook who is apparently an alien. And there's a bunch of other weird characters -- troubled pyromaniacs, wistful robots, preteen pervs, and a guy from Interstellar Immigration.

"FLCL" is perhaps the strangest anime in existance. It's also enough to blow the top off of your head, with the strange characters and wildly surrealist plot. Fooly Cooly!


No Title Available

4.0 out of 5 stars The girl in the bloody thriller, May 7 2015
Authors who are only published posthumously rarely get the attention they deserve', or any attention at all. Fortunately, such is not the case with the late Stieg Larsson's bestselling Millennium trilogy -- it starts off slow, and soon winds itself into a tight knot of tautly-written thriller and mystery elements. It's raw, bleak, intensely disturbing noir.

In "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo," take-no-prisoners journalist Mikael Blomkvist has just lost his reputation, his savings and his freedom (hello, jail sentence!) after a nasty libel suit from an executive named Wennerström.

Then he's unexpectedly contacted by aged industrialist Henrik Vanger, to discover what happened to the guy's grandniece. He's offering evidence on Wennerström, so Mikael has no choice but to accept -- and as he investigates the sinister Vanger family, he joins forces with Lisbeth Salander, an eccentric, abused computer hacker. And as Mikael unearths the clues to Harriet's disappearance, he also finds some skeletons long kept buried.

"The Girl Who Played With Fire" finds Mikael investigating sex trafficking in his own country, and young girls who are sold into it. Unknown to him, Lisbeth is keeping very close tabs on his work -- especially since she was abused as a child, and now plots revenge on the sex traffickers. But when she's accused of murder and ends up on the run, Mikael must discover what lies at the core of these crimes...

"The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets' Nest" takes place directly after the second book. Lisbeth has been shot in the head, her malevolent dad Zalachenko is in the same hospital, and some nasty government forces want her locked away, as she was as a child. Her only hope lies in Mikael, who must unravel a government conspiracy formed around the young hacker...

Finally, "On Stieg Larsson" is a solid accompaniment to this trilogy -- it's a nonfiction book that compiles four essays about him along with his email exchanges with his editor. Reading his own viewpoints on his characters and books really shines a spotlight on different facets of their stories, and why he wrote them the way he did.

Larsson's books are a unique blend of old and new -- he takes the usual mystery/thriller tropes (locked room mystery, government conspiracies) and enfolds it in a ruthless, blistering look at modern Swedish society and sexual aggression. It's a dark, dangerous, unfair world where the truth is quashed, powerful forces conspire against individuals, and women are treated horribly -- usually shown via the eccentric, punky "girl with the dragon tattoo."

His prose is rather bleak and often quite gritty, and a certain brand of understated passion shines through -- the kind that feels the need to express itself even though it takes place in fiction. And while most of the first book focuses in Mikael, in the second and third Larssen's style splits in half -- one half is the more staid, ordinary perspective of Mikael and others, and the other half is the wild nihilism of Lisbeth ("If death was the black emptiness from which she had just woken up, then death was nothing to worry about. She would hardly notice the difference").

Mikael and Salander make an intriguing odd couple. He starts world-weary and demoralized that he seems to care about nothing, but regains his passion for the truth; the only downside is that he's a bit Marty Stuish, since all women seem to adore him. And Salander is a mass of hurts and quirks -- she's a vibrant, wild genius who lashes out at those who hurt women, and has been constantly tortured by those around her since childhood (even as an adult, she's forced to have a legal guardian).

Take your average thriller/mysteries, smother them in disillusioned, morally-bankrupt noir... and you'll have something like the Millennium Trilogy. A hard read, but worth the journey.


Case Closed, Vol. 35
Case Closed, Vol. 35
by Gosho Aoyama
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.85
29 used & new from CDN$ 4.48

3.0 out of 5 stars Cases closing, May 7 2015
This review is from: Case Closed, Vol. 35 (Paperback)
Theatrical murders, serial killers and a haunted apartment building all take center stage in "Case Closed Volume 35." This mystery manga series is still chugging away doggedly, but this particular volume has some big road bumps -- especially since one of the mysteries has a painfully anticlimactic, rushed ending.

Rachel's fever dream takes her back to a past case that Jimmy solved in New York -- an actor in a popular stage show was murdered ONSTAGE, and all four of the suspects were his lovers. And even after Jimmy unraveled the truth, Rachel had a shocking encounter with a murderer.

Then Richard is called to deal with an apartment building said to be haunted by the ghost of a girl murdered nearby. Of course, Conan knows that the only one haunting this place is her murderer. And when Mitch wanders off into the woods on a mysterious errand, Conan and his friends go off to find him... only to find that a serial killer is loose in the woods.

Finally, Harley, Conan and their respective love interests get to spend some quality time on a tropical beach, where the boys mostly laze around predicting what bathing suits girls are wearing. But of course, a body turns up soon.

"Case Closed" is a series that mostly runs along on a steady, entertaining stream, with the occasional high or low thrown in. "Case Closed Volume 35" contains one of the lows, sadly -- the whole story about searching for Mitch in the woods has a solid start, a creepy buildup... and an ending that just makes you slap your head and go, "What was all the fuss about?"

Fortunately, the other stories are pretty solid, standard "Case Closed" fare -- clever tricks used by the murderers, deceptions, plenty of motives, and a story that is cut off at a cliffhanger at the end so readers will scrabble for the next book. And some clues are dropped about one of the mysterious figures we've seen in passing, albeit looking a bit different.

We also get to see Jimmy doing his brilliant detective schtick back before he became Conan, and it's kind of nice to see him openly revealing the clues without having to hide behind someone else. And Anita seems to be gradually loosening up and becoming more normal... much to her horror.

"Case Closed Volume 35" has one story that flames out and burns like a lump of pizza cheese on the bottom of the oven, but fortunately the other stories are pretty solid fare. And as usual, it leaves you wanting what's next.


Avengers : L'ère d'Ultron [3D Blu-ray + Blu-ray + HD numérique] (Bilingual)
Avengers : L'ère d'Ultron [3D Blu-ray + Blu-ray + HD numérique] (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Robert Downey Jr.
Price: CDN$ 29.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars If you step out that door, you're an Avenger (spoilers), May 5 2015
The Avengers came together to save the Earth from being conquered. Now there's a new threat to the Earth that wants to tear them apart before it destroys the world.

And throughout "The Avengers: Age of Ultron," there is the feeling that the fragile bonds holding the team together are unraveling, and that this is one overwhelming threat they might not be able to take down. Joss Whedon fills the second Avengers movie with plenty of delightfully snarky dialogue ("Stark is a sickness!" "Aw, junior, you're gonna break your old man's heart") and rich character development, but at times it does feel a bit top-heavy in the action department.

After the team reclaims Loki's scepter from HYDRA, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) has a (not) brilliant idea: use the scepter to create an artificial intelligence for worldwide "peace in our time," and don't tell anyone on the team except the reluctant Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo). The AI -- called Ultron (James Spader) -- does eventually come to life, but it's not the benevolent peacekeeper Tony envisioned. It's a cynical, hostile creation that bears more than a passing resemblance to Tony himself, and has a very twisted view of how to bring about world peace. It also has a personal hatred for the Avengers.

In mere hours, Ultron has loaded himself onto the Internet, and begun manufacturing bodies for himself using an old HYDRA lab. He's also acquired pair of minions -- young twins Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) -- who have been given superpowers by HYDRA.

And since Wanda has the ability to warp minds -- including the Hulk's, causing him to rampage through an African city -- the Avengers soon find their resolve shaken, and their global reputation in tatters. Since Ultron has unlimited bodies, and is creating a new invincible cyborg one, the Avengers have no idea how they can stop him. Their only hope is to unleash an unknown new power on the world -- and if they fail, the price will be the extinction of the human race.

"Age of Ultron" had some pretty big shoes to fill, since the first "Avengers" movie was profitable, well-written and both funny and wrenching. And it doesn't quite have the same narrative cleanness and smoothness as the first movie, partly because it works across the world, darting around from the coldly sterile CERN to a dusty South African city to a wild, frenetic battle involving a flying semi-trailer truck. If anything, it's even more action-packed than the first -- the battle that ends the FIRST ACT is bigger and more explosive than what most action movies can muster.

Fortunately, Whedon keeps this from being a mindless explosionfest by sometimes slowing the story down, exploring the characters' scars and traumas during the quieter moments. Lots of humor is woven into the otherwise grim story ("Don't take any from my pile!"), along with some deliciously snarky dialogue ("What's the vibranium for?" "I'm glad you asked that, because I wanted to take this time to explain my evil plan..."). Despite the bleakness of the overall story, he brings some heart and warmth into the seemingly hopeless, chaotic clash with Ultron.

The problem? That would be Natasha, whose main plot thread in this movie is to angst a bit, flirt with Bruce, and be captured by the villain so her love interest can rescue her. It feels like Whedon doesn't want to write any female character who isn't a Wounded Superpowered Teen Girl (such as Wanda) so he simply went with the laziest, most sexist route.

And it's a shame, because most of the other characters are fleshed out well. Wanda's ability to shoot thready red energy into people's heads and manipulate their minds leads to the team doubting not only their unity, but their own selves -- Bruce retreats into his shell after a brief Hulk rampage, Tony's obsession with safety ramps into overdrive, and even the confident Thor is rattled by a terrible vision that... well, won't really be resolved in this movie. And while Olsen and Taylor-Johnson's characters aren't explored too deeply, one wrenching scene explores the root of their rage and resentment.

And of course, there's Ultron. James Spader gives a glorious performance as the titular AI; Ultron comes across as a warped, genocidal version of Tony himself. He's smart, obsessed with upgrading himself, often goes on rambling tangents ("Humans make... small humans..."), but with a core of rage behind it all.

Whedon stumbles badly with the characterization of Black Widow, but otherwise "The Avengers: Age of Ultron" is a powerful, well-written action epic -- wild, funny and wrenching in turn. And of course, the groundwork is laid for future adventures...


Avempartha
Avempartha
by Michael James Sullivan
Edition: Paperback
13 used & new from CDN$ 15.81

4.0 out of 5 stars The tower in the river, April 30 2015
This review is from: Avempartha (Paperback)
Royce and Hadrian saved a king and princess, freed an ancient wizard and exposed a terrible conspiracy to usurp a country. Frankly, that's more than can be expected of any pair of legendary thieves.

But they end up in the thick of things again in "Avempartha," where a seemingly simple mission pits them against an unkillable monster and the increasingly dark machinations of the Novron Church. It's not quite as epic in scale as Michael J. Sullivan's first book, but it adds more depth -- and more enemies -- to his fantasy world, as well as laying the groundwork for some truly nasty complications in the future.

Royce and Hadrian are approached by Thrace, a young girl from the village of Dahlgren, which is being ravaged by an unseen monster. Even though she can't pay them very much, they're interested in the problem because she was sent by a "Mr Haddon," aka the wizard Esrahaddon, whom they haven't seen since they freed him from his nine-hundred-year imprisonment. When the thieves arrive in Dahlgren, they find a broken community haunted by the deaths of loved ones, including Thrace's grief-stricken, very stubborn father.

Esrahaddon soon reveals that the monster is a Gilarabrywn, an unkillable magic creature left over from long-ago wars with the elves. The only way to destroy it is a magic sword INSIDE the tower. Which is on a cliff. Surrounded by a very deep river. With no way in.

But more complications arise when the Novron Church sends representatives to oversee a strange contest -- the person who successfully slays the Gilarabrywn will be considered the Heir of Novron. Of course, it's all a scheme to put a puppet emperor on the throne, under the control of the church. Royce and Hadrian are more concerned about getting the only thing that can slay the monster, which turns out to be a bit more complicated than they expected....

"Avempartha" is built on the foundation of "The Crown Conspiracy" -- while the assassination plot has been foiled, there are still shadowy people who want to manipulate whole countries. The Novron Church is conspiring to create a new empire under their control, the elves are preparing to invade (and nobody knows or cares about it), and old magics are wearing away and causing massive problems. And even though they aren't trying, Royce and Hadrian end up right in the thick of things AGAIN.

It's a sign of Sullivan's skill that he manages to create a story that feels both epic and intimate -- "Avempartha" is basically a story about two guys trying to kill a not-dragon, but it has all these plot threads that stretch across whole kingdoms. And he imbues it with a sense of history, as Esrahaddon laments that a land that once thrived on culture, technology and magic has fallen into stolid ignorance and primitivism. It gives the feeling of a once-great civilization that has decayed, and its history is mostly forgotten.

The story moves somewhat slowly, unwinding slowly as the final clash between the Gilarabrywn and the Riyria guys approaches, and more and more people turn up to cause trouble. Sullivan's prose is robust and well-detailed without being overpowering, and he manages to convey the ethereal majesty of the elves without being too stereotypical about it. And despite the seriousness of the situation, he weaves in some quirky humor (a dramatic heroic confrontation between a knight and the Gilarabrywn... ends with the knight getting anticlimactically flattened).

Problems? The villagers are rather nondescript as a whole, and none of them seem to have basic common sense like "to avoid monsters, everyone gather together." And Thrace is a bit twee and annoying compared to the smart, no-nonsense Arista.

Royce and Hadrian are much the same as they were before -- Hadrian is a swordsman with Leet Skillz and a massive soft spot, and Royce is a mysterious, cynical thief -- but Sullivan hints that they are a lot more than they appear to be. And Esrahaddon gets to take center stage as the wise, inscrutable wizard who has been robbed of most of his power due to the loss of his hands, as well as his ability to feed himself. He plucks at the heartstrings when he grieves for the beautiful civilization that he'll never see again, but it's also clear that he can be incredibly manipulative.

The epic story that began in "Crown Conspiracy" moves to a new arena in "Avempartha," laying the groundwork for more trouble, more political strife, and possibly an invasion or two. On to book three!


Tokyo Ravens - Season 1, Part 1 [Blu-ray + DVD]
Tokyo Ravens - Season 1, Part 1 [Blu-ray + DVD]
DVD ~ Caitlin Glass
Price: CDN$ 49.97
15 used & new from CDN$ 49.97

3.0 out of 5 stars I want you to be an omnyo mage!, April 30 2015
Onmyōdō was a form of yin-yang magic/natural science that was practiced in Japan for many centuries -- think Druids, but with more Taoism.

It also hasn't been practiced in a few hundred years. But in the world of "Tokyo Ravens: Season 1, Part 1," it has endured into the twenty-first century and is a recognized, state-supported way of dealing with big disgusting monsters and the occasional world war. The first half of this anime series is a pretty spotty affair -- it has likable characters and is both epic and spellbinding when it deals with actual onmyoji stuff... but for some reason, there is a lot of high school drivel crammed in there too.

Harutora Tsuchimikado is part of one of Japan's oldest and most respected onmyo families, despite a "Great Disaster" caused by a spell gone wrong by the legendary Yakou Tsuchimikado. Despite this heritage, Harutora has no supernatural abilities, and absolutely no ambition. He just wants to hang out and enjoy his final high school year with his friends Touji and Hokuto... until a rogue onmyoji appears in town, and Hokuto is brutally killed. Even weirder: she turns out to be a magical shikigami being controlled by an unknown mage.

Enraged, Harutora asks his awkward cousin Natsume to make him her familiar, which will give him supernatural powers and allow him to get revenge for Hokuto. Despite Harutora's inexperience and Natsume's ineptitude, they manage to save the day... but now Harutora and Touji have to go to Tokyo to attend an elite academy for onmyo mages.

Harutora soon finds that not flunking is the least of his problems -- adorable but overzealous familiars, hostile classmates, and having to hide Natsume's gender. Yes, Natsume is pretending to be a boy for.... some reason, which causes the obvious hijinks (especially with dorm mothers obsessed with pretty teen boys getting it on). Unfortunately, they soon encounter the darker side of this magical world -- a fanatical cult of Yakou worshippers, Touji's inner monster, and a supernatural threat that could level the city.

The biggest problem with "Tokyo Ravens" is that it can't make up its mind what it wants to be. It wants to be a lightweight high-school comedy, but it also wants to be a twisted, action-packed urban fantasy series about ancient magic. So it swings like a pendulum between wacky hijinks (Misunderstandings! Romantic tension! Arguments! Hiding in love hotels! Field trips!) and explosive battles between monsters and mages. And there's no real transition between these two kinds of stories.

And frankly, the school stuff is pretty awful -- a giant mass of school/comedy cliches, with gags that you can see coming a mile away (oh noes! People think Harutora is gay because Natsume pretends to be a boy! WACKY!). The show hits its stride when it sticks to the darker magical stuff, which is kept tightly intertwined with the character development. For instance, a running subplot is that Touji has an evil oni that feeds on his dark thoughts and threatens to turn him into a monster, which is triggered by the magical chaos running rampant in Tokyo. And of course, Natsume is being stalked by mad-eyed cultists who will kill anyone who gets in their way.

The action scenes are the meat of it, despite some painfully obvious CGI models (that spider-demon is just painful to watch) -- lots of explosive colorful energy, swords and the occasional dragon. And the government agency that uses onmyo mages is a pretty interesting one -- being on the "good" side doesn't mean that some of them aren't deranged and/or nasty.

One of the series' stronger points is Harutora -- despite being kind of dim (it literally takes him ten episodes to figure out who Hokuto really was, despite the OBVIOUS HINTS), he's depicted as a slackerish, good-hearted guy who just kind of goes with the flow and doesn't take anything too seriously unless pushed. It's also a bit rare to see an anime action hero who is actually the coolest-headed person in the cast.

And they do a good job developing most of the supporting characters, such as the seemingly too-cool-to-emote Touji, who has an ugly dark side at war with his altruistic impulses, or the feisty and rather loud Kyoko. The problem is Natsume -- not only is she one of those romantic interests who whines, blushes and has tantrums all the time, but she is revealed to have been secretly stalking Harutora for YEARS. Presumably this is supposed to be because she has never had any friends, but she still seems creepy and passive-aggressive.

"Tokyo Ravens Season 1 Part 1" is at its best when it focuses on the omnyo magic instead of the school hijinks -- and its biggest handicap is the wild swinging between these two genres. It's a fun show, but it could have been a lot more.


Legion and The Emperor's Soul
Legion and The Emperor's Soul
by Brandon Sanderson
Edition: Paperback
18 used & new from CDN$ 4.06

5.0 out of 5 stars Invisible friends and faux Emperors, April 30 2015
It seems that Brandon Sanderson is a font of creative ideas. When he isn't churning out books for multiple series -- both in and out of his multiverse Cosmere -- he's writing numerous short stories and novellas.

And two of the best examples are compiled here: "Legion," about a man with many imaginary friends who complicate his life and "The Emperor's Soul," a Hugo-award-winning novel about the extreme efforts to keep an empire from collapsing into chaos. This shows the range of his artistic talents, as one story is set in the same fictional world (though a different part of it) as his debut novel "Elantris," and one is a fast-paced little thriller set in our own world.

Stephen Leeds is known as "Legion": he has several "aspects" that he hallucinates, each with valuable skills and knowledge that allow him to do almost anything. One is a deductive genius, one is an elite soldier, one is a linguist, and so on. While technically crazy (and of great interest to the medical community), Stephen is able to use his aspects to make a comfortable life for himself doing rather unusual things.

For instance, a woman named Monica approaches him with a very odd mission: find a scientist named Balubal Razon, who has somehow developed a camera that can see back in time. Now he's gone to Jerusalem to find out if Jesus Christ truly existed (although how he would know where Jesus was is at any exact point in time never really explained. Maybe he just planned to walk around and photograph everywhere). So Stephen, Monica and the various aspects set out for Israel. But soon they find that locating Razon isn't their only problem, because a dangerous terrorist group also wants his camera.

Then in "The Emperor's Soul," the expert Forger Shai is in prison, awaiting execution by the Rose Empire, when she's offered a chance to earn her freedom. The Emperor has been assassinated, and while they were able to fix his body, his mind is now gone. His advisors have bought some time by claiming that he's grieving for his wife, but that will only last ninety days. They need Shai to do something terrible: Forge a new soul for the Emperor.

Not only is this act considered an abomination, but it's incredibly difficult because forging ANYTHING requires extensive, intimate knowledge. Shai has no choice, so she begins learning everything she can in order to create a soulstamp for the Emperor -- which is no easy task, since she has to know what kind of person he truly was. But the hardest task may be planning her escape, especially since she's now enmeshed in a deadly political scheme.

Brandon Sanderson is a master of the doorstopper fantasy epic, but "Legion" and "The Emperor's Soul" prove that he's just as good in shorter works -- these are compact, rich stories that aren't as complicated as his usual fare, but have ingenious ideas at their core. In one story, we have a man whose odd schizophrenia has manifested itself with many different "imaginary people," and in the other we have a magic system that can turn any item/person into what it MIGHT have been, by reweaving reality.

With these premises, Sanderson comes up with two very different stories, both rife with political intrigue (terrorists, a malevolent usurper) and presents them very differently -- "Legion" is more of an action thriller with guns and explosions and a magical camera, whereas "Emperor's Soul" is more of a small, subtle story that rarely leaves Shai's room. It still has action (martial arts and some particularly grotesque sorcery), but the focus is mostly on the magic that Sanderson has dreamed up, and the ways it works.

And he creates some very unique, likable characters as well -- Stephen is a guy who is constantly surrounded by his "aspects" and all their various quirks and eccentricities, but who finds it difficult (due to the talking-to-the-imaginary-friends stuff) to deal with ordinary life. And Shai is a truly likable heroine -- she's clever, tricky and knows plenty about human psychology, but she also has a kind heart. Her appreciation for the art of Forgery, and in making things better through it, has some intriguing implications for the new Emperor.

One high fantasy, one urban fantasy. One a globe-trotting thriller, one an intimate exploration of magic. "Legion" and "The Emperor's Soul" show that Brandon Sanderson is capable of a pretty wide range of fantasy/sci-fi stories, and the Hugo Award is just the icing on the cake.


Perfect State (Kindle Single)
Perfect State (Kindle Single)
Price: CDN$ 0.99

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Soft music. Dim lights., April 6 2015
Once you've successfully taken over the world, and have everything you could ever dream of... what next?

That seems to be the problem for Kai, an immortal divinely-appointed emperor who has fallen into kind of a rut. The sci-fi/fantasy novella "Perfect State" shows off Brandon Sanderson's knack for creating epic fantasy backdrops for very human characters, and poking some gentle fun at them along the way. And despite the horrifying concept behind the Liveborn, it's an interesting little side-story that begs for more expansion.

Fifty years ago, Kairominas successfully took over his State of Alornia and made himself the godlike emperor, with all the perks -- he's immortal, wealthy, and has the power of Lancing to effortlessly alter the world around him. He spent hundreds of years having epic adventures, and now has the whole world in the palm of his hand. And... he's in a rut. The only thing that livens up his life of peak world-dominating tedium is the fact that he has a nemesis.

It also turns out quickly that this is actually an elaborate simulation overseen by the Wode (whoever they are), and Kai has spent his whole life as a brain in a tank with his own personal Matrix. He and "Liveborn" people like him can also hack into each other's States if they want. Now the Wode have sent him a new assignment: A DATE. With a woman. Who has own her State to rule. But though the date starts off well, Kai soon discovers that not everything about it is as it seems.

It takes a little while to get past the central idea of "Perfect State," namely the fact that the main character has been in the Matri since he was a fetus. Which is horrifying. Really, really horrifying. Admittedly Sanderson adds a twist to the old Descartian brain-in-a-vat concept by making the brains completely aware where and what they are, and living out lives of actual danger and achievement within their little States. It's kind of horrifying, but try to get past it intellectually.

In effect, "Perfect State" is about a man who has been surrounded by artificiality to the point where he barely recognizes the difference (emotionally, anyway) between "reality" and his State. It's like the ultimate stereotypical gamer geek, taken to the most madcap extreme.

And this gives Sanderson the opportunity to subtly blur the question of what reality is and isn't. Are the Machineborn capable of being as real as the Liveborn? Is a false reality where you have lived your life, fought, struggled and been endangered just as real as the "real" world? Or do you have to defy the "set" life and forge your own path for it to be "real"? No, Sanderson doesn't turn the story into a soapbox. Instead, it's about how the experience of connecting with another person causes Kai to slowly emerge from his little isolated world.

Sanderson also writes this in a rather tongue-in-cheek manner, with lots of clever meta jokes about the States ("Have you discovered the lost continent yet?" "There's no such thing." "Of course there is. There's always a lost continent"). And he gives a real sense of texture to the different States, which could make you almost believe that a person could live a satisfying life there. After all, Kai has Machineborn friends who seem to have some artificial intelligence, and "dying" in his State will kill him for real.

But he also creates a melancholy undercurrent to Kai's journey, as he comes to realize how isolated he truly is, and how a life lived in artificial surroundings isn't enough. There's a bittersweetness to his story, and it leaves you wanting to know what's going to happen in the future.

"Perfect State" is another little peek into the many-faceted imagination of Brandon Sanderson -- this time with thought-provoking, well-developed worlds within worlds. Smart, sleek and fast-moving.


Harcos Labs Zombie Jerky Teriyaki
Harcos Labs Zombie Jerky Teriyaki
Offered by UrbanInspirations
Price: CDN$ 42.57
5 used & new from CDN$ 39.28

5.0 out of 5 stars A superior kind of zombie flesh, April 6 2015
Zombie jerky is the best kind of jerky. I mean, sure, there are kinds of jerky that are more delicious than the dried flesh of the mindless undead. But let's face it -- zombies crave the brains of the living, so there's a certain poetic justice to eating them as jerky.

I mean, sure, there are some unfortunate problems. It has an odd chemical aftertaste, often there's some green fuzzy mold on it, and about 40% of the polled customers admitted that they had developed rotting sores and a slight craving for brains. But no other kind of jerky gives you that amazing radioactive thrill as you eat it. Does turkey jerky cause your eyes to glow in the dark like convulsing jellyfish? No it doesn't!

So considering how awesome it is, it's a relief that Harcos Labs is creating zombie jerky that has been approved by the FDA and held up to industry standards. No longer will people have to catch and butcher their own zombies before making jerky out of them, a hazardous and time-consuming activity. And it tastes amazing -- that faint hint of nuclear waste is overlaid by a subtle smokiness, and the taste of the more rotted parts has been masked by that teriyaki flavor.

Even better, Harcos Labs is taking the health of its customers into consideration when making zombie jerky. They are not using zombies that have been stuffed in cages, surrounded by their own filth, and fed inferior, hormone-riddled food. These are free range zombies who are only fed the finest of hormone-free brains. And yes, they have a rabbi at the slaughterhouse, so this zombie jerky is completely kosher.

"Harcos Labs Zombie Jerky Teriyaki" is a little expensive compared to making your own, but the quality cannot be denied. And it's definitely safer than having to hunt down your own zombies for that delicious post-apocalyptic-survivor taste.


Lifeforce [Blu-ray] [Import]
Lifeforce [Blu-ray] [Import]
Price: CDN$ 28.45
20 used & new from CDN$ 17.49

2.0 out of 5 stars You're one of us. You always have been (mild spoilers), April 6 2015
Have you ever seen a movie that starts out well, but later completely falls apart? It's a disappointing experience, and the better the beginning is, the more disappointing the inevitable crumble becomes.

And "Lifeforce" is possibly the most extreme example of that -- it begins as a haunting, artistic sci-fi movie with a beautiful score and stunning special effects. But once the action is transferred to Earth, the movie begins a slow, subtle descent into outright silliness that grows more intense with every passing scene. Hamtastic acting, massive plot holes and even the once-lovely special effects grow more bizarre as it winds to its jaw-droppingly bad conclusion.

A space shuttle with a joint US/UK crew has been sent to investigate Halley's Comet, under the command of Colonel Thomas Wolfe Carlsen (Steve Railsback). But they promptly stumble across a vast alien spaceship hidden in that comet, which is filled with dead batlike creatures and three humanoids in suspended animation. When the shuttle returns to Earth, everyone on board is dead except for the three suspended humanoids... who turn out to be life force vampires.

The female (who is naked and the director never lets you forget it) promptly sucks the life-force out of some poor guy, who temporarily resurrects himself by sucking the life from someone else. If these newly-made vampires don't feed regularly, they shrivel up and explode. The Space Girl (seriously, that is what they call her) also apparently can float around and possess people... usually more sexy women, but occasionally Patrick Stewart.

The only one with a vague idea of what is going on is Carlsen, who was found in an escape pod in Texas, and who seems to have a psychic link to Space Girl. So of course, he is humanity's best hope for thwarting the space vampires before all of London is turned into a playground of alien-infected zombies. Did I mention there were zombies?

"Lifeforce" is almost a hypnotic experience, because most movies don't descend so steadily or completely into wretchedness. The opening scenes of the movie are some of the most spellbinding sci-fi exploration that has ever been put in a film, with exquisite matte paintings and hauntingly rich atmosphere. These scenes are probably the best work director Toby Hooper -- who directed "Poltergeist" just a few years before -- has ever done.

And yet... as soon as the action moves down to Earth, EVERYTHING deteriorates. It's like the movie was written and directed in one-off shifts by people who never actually conversed with one another. There are plot holes the size of the alien spacecraft (that's over a hundred and fifty miles, if you don't know) and massive continuity errors that stagger the entire storyline.

For instance, consider the infected humans. Initially, they are turned into dried-out mummies that return to normal (mentally and physically) by sucking the life force out of hapless humans. Unless fed, they will return to their mummified state and EXPLODE. That is... until the final act of the movie, when suddenly they become masses of telepathic rage zombies with oozing sores, who can be killed by a gunshot to any part of their anatomy. Why does this happen? Never explained.

Hooper tries desperately to tie together this sagging, hole-riddled mess with lots of nudity (but only from the FEMALE alien, never the males!), and the sight of Carlsen racing around the British countryside in an effort to interrogate the Space Girl (ugh, that name). But by the movie's grand finale, it's deteriorated into a mass of sleazy, weird, unexplained cheez involving columns of blue energy, zombies, a big sword, and the weirdest sex scene you'll ever see.

That slow descent into silliness also applies to Railsbeck, who starts off pretty subtle and normal, but slowly descends into ham worthy of Christmas dinner ("WHERE ARE YOOOOOOU? WHERE'S YOUR BOODDDDYY?"). It doesn't help that his character makes no sense, since he is often stated to be one of the space vampires himself... but this is never explained or shown at all. It's just a cop-out explanation for why he has a plot-convenient psychic link with the Space Girl.

Speaking of the Space Girl, aka French actress Mathilda May, her acting is negligible at best, but she clearly was cast for her more tangible talents. Two of them. And since those are very nice, I suppose she works well. Patrick Stewart is wasted as a character who mostly lip-syncs and screams, but Peter Firth gives a very good performance as the cynical, no-nonsense SAS guy who has to drag the screaming, melting-down Carlsen around.

"Lifeforce" isn't merely a bad movie -- it's a disappointing one, starting out with beauty and mystery and ending up a silly mass of boobs, zombies and hammy acting. If there's ever a movie that desperately needed a rewrite and remake, it's this one.


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