Saturday 24 September 2011

Doctor Who - The God Complex

The God Complex” takes us to a surreal hotel where the corridors change lengths and rearrange themselves, and where every room holds nightmares. The Doctor, Amy, and Rory find themselves trapped in this hotel with a small group of other people, and must find a way out before the resident beast kills them all off one by one. This is writer Toby Whithouse’s third story for Doctor Who, and while it is definitely better than last year’s “Vampires of Venice”, it doesn’t reach the heights of his first script, “School Reunion”. Overall, I found “The God Complex” a bit of a mixed bag, although definitely more good than bad. It was very atmospheric with some great character work and fine performances, but there were also parts of it that just didn’t quite work for me. That said, I did enjoy it considerably more on second viewing.

The story is not particularly original, but this is not a criticism. It uses its borrowed material (from sources ranging from the myth of the Minotaur to The Shining to older Doctor Who stories like “The Horns of Nimon” and “The Curse of Fenric”; there’s even a specific reference to the Nimons) to weave a clever and original tale. Despite its horror-themed frame, it is very much a character story and focuses primarily on the Doctor and Amy, and their relationship, while also providing some great character moments for Rory, as well as a couple of the guest characters. Advance publicity focused a great deal on guest star David Walliams as the alien Gibbis, but I think the real prize for guest performance should go to Amara Karan who gives a stunning performance as Rita, the companion who could have been. SPOILERS FOLLOW

Tuesday 20 September 2011

The Harrowing

The Harrowing, by Crystal Frasier, is an adventure for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. In it, a group of ninth-level characters go in search of a missing scholar and find themselves transported to an entirely different world, one created by an ancient Varisian fortune-teller and populated by characters from the stories she told (many of those stories clearly inspired by real-world stories, most notably Alice in Wonderland). The adventure is light-hearted and contains a good mix of encounter styles. The setting is interesting and well-detailed and provides a great opportunity for players and Game Masters to get use out of the Harrow Deck published by Paizo (although owning a Harrow Deck is not required to run the adventure; a regular deck of cards can easily substitute for it). SPOILERS FOLLOW

Monday 19 September 2011

Minority Characters in Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature

For the last week, I've been following the response to this article on Rose Fox's blog, Genreville, hosted by Publishers Weekly. The article publishes an open letter from authors Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith about their attempts to find an agent for their post-apocalyptic young adult novel and how they have been asked to either make a gay character straight or drop the character from the novel entirely as a condition for the agent to represent the novel. They ask for greater representation of LGBTQ characters in YA science fiction/fantasy literature and ask readers to vote with their wallets and make it clear to agents and publishers that there is a demand for these characters.

The story has spread across the internet and numerous blogs and has engendered a lot of response, much of it initially sympathizing with Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith. Even though the authors went out of their way not to name the agency in question, rumours began flying, and the agency has come forward with a rebuttal posted on Colleen Lindsay's blog, the Swivet. In it, Joanna Stampfel-Volpe denies the accusations of Brown and Smith and says that book was rejected for other reasons. Lindsay, a known LGBTQ advocate and a self-identified queer woman, follows up the response with a statement in support of Stampfel-Volpe. Genreville has since posted a follow-up which includes an excerpt of Stampfel-Volpe's response and a further response from Brown and Sherwood reaffirming the truth of their original letter.

Naturally, this has caused all sorts of discussion across the internet with people taking one side or the other, and many others coming somewhere in the middle and thinking that this all the result of a miscommunication. Cleolinda Jones excellently summarizes the whole debate on her blog, and YA Highway has a great summary as well, so I won't go through it all here other than to say it's worth reading through.

Sunday 18 September 2011

Torchwood: Miracle Day

As Torchwood: Miracle Day was already halfway through airing when I started this blog, I decided that, instead of reviewing individual episodes, I would just wait for the series to conclude and then review the whole thing. As such, I should warn you in advance, that the following review is rather long. I have also included a much longer spoiler-free section for the benefit of those who haven’t seen it and don’t want to know the end.

When Torchwood started a few years ago, it became only the second ever official Doctor Who spin-off (the first was K-9 and Company in 1981) and the first to last beyond a single pilot episode. Created by Russell T. Davies, the man who brought back Doctor Who, and billed as a more “adult” version of its parent series, its first season was met with a lot of derision from certain segments of Doctor Who fandom. While that season was indeed variable in script quality, it had some very interesting ideas and a few interesting characters (and an utterly unlikeable character or two, such as Owen Harper), and it picked up enough viewers to gain a second season. That second season showed a huge improvement over the first. It had a better consistency of script quality, the characters were fleshed out more, and even the unlikeable characters started to become a little more likeable.

However, Torchwood’s third season was when it truly discovered itself. That year they did something completely different to previous years, and told just a single story over a five-episode miniseries, entitled Torchwood: Children of Earth. It was truly phenomenal and achieved great acclaim from both critics and the general viewing audience. When people ask me what my favourite episode of Doctor Who is, or what my favourite movie or book is, I’m generally very reluctant to give a definitive answer. While there are many things that I rank better than many others, an absolute “favourite” really depends on my mood at the time. That said, when pressed, I can put together a list of a few things that stand head and shoulders above all the rest. Torchwood: Children of Earth is on that list—not just as the best Torchwood or Doctor Who or even television show, but on my list of best anything ever (tv, movies, books, etc.). It’s simply that good. (As an aside, I should point out that, as much as I love Doctor Who, there is no other Doctor Who-related thing on that list.)

Tuesday 13 September 2011

Doctor Who - The Girl Who Waited

So, an Amy-centric episode this week. Given my general dislike of Amy, I naturally went into this episode with several reservations. However, I have to say, it was a damn good episode. Indeed, “The Girl Who Waited” has quite a bit of what I’ve been missing in Doctor Who over the past two years: real emotion, and believable character motivation. Part of the strength of this episode is that, despite what I said in my opening sentence, this is not really the Amy-centric episode it pretends to be on the surface. It’s much more a Rory-centric episode. In the end, it’s all about Rory and the decision he must make.

I’ve seen it suggested on-line that this episode could have been called, “Rory’s Choice”, to create a thematic link with last year’s “Amy’s Choice”. While I prefer “The Girl Who Waited” as a title, “Rory’s Choice” certainly does fit the overall theme of the episode, and unlike “Amy’s Choice” last year, the episode makes me actually care about his choice, and the ramifications of it. And there most certainly are ramifications, unlike “Amy’s Choice” where absolutely nothing turns out to be real. Things are very real in this episode, and it even makes me start to care about Amy by the end of it. SPOILERS FOLLOW

Thursday 8 September 2011

Inner Sea Magic

Inner Sea Magic, the latest release in the Pathfinder Campaign Setting line, takes an in-depth look at how magic is used in the Inner Sea Region of Golarion and, in turn, a bit of how that magic affects the setting. Unlike many other Campaign Setting products, Inner Sea Magic has a quite large amount of “crunch”, i.e. game mechanics information such as new rules systems, archetypes, spells, etc., instead of “fluff”, which is story and descriptive material. This makes it a product more in the style of a book like Ultimate Magic than most books in this line. However, whereas Ultimate Magic is a generic look at magic in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, Inner Sea Magic looks at magic with a very Golarion-specific spin.

In general, I really like that most Campaign Setting books are fluff-heavy, as that’s the kind of thing I most enjoy reading when learning about a game world. There’s enough crunch in the generic books that, unless it’s very specific to the setting, more is not really needed in a world book. As such, I had a few reservations going into this book. Most of those reservations, however, quickly subsided. This is not just a book with a gazillion new feats and spells that the game doesn’t really need. There are full details on variant magic styles that other Campaign Setting books have only hinted at, new class archetypes that explore these styles, an overview of prominent spellcasters across the Inner Sea, and details on the most prominent magical schools and academies. They are all things that can enrich any game set in Golarion.

Tuesday 6 September 2011

Night Terrors

This week sees a return to a stand-alone Doctor Who story with Mark Gatiss’s “Night Terrors”, which takes us to “the most frightening place in the universe: a child’s bedroom”. The story tells of a young boy who is terrified of virtually everything, and he pleads for someone to “save [him] from the monsters”. His plea reverberates psychically across time and space, and the Doctor answers to save the day because, of course, the monsters are real.

I’m not the biggest fan of Mark Gatiss’s previous work for the series. His first offering, “The Unquiet Dead”, was excellent, but “The Idiot’s Lantern” was lacklustre at best and the less said about last year’s dismal “Victory of the Daleks”, the better. Alas, “Night Terrors” falls more or less in line with “The Idiot’s Lantern”. It starts out well enough, and does a good job of setting the scene and introducing the characters, but just doesn’t deliver in the end, with a resolution that’s clearly intended to tug at the heartstrings but only ends up feeling forced and unnatural. SPOILERS FOLLOW.

Friday 2 September 2011

Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor

I thought I'd pass on a link to Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor, a blog which collects fantasy and science fiction artwork that depicts women wearing...well...reasonable outfits.

In the same vein, "Dressed to Kill" (and a number of other posts in the same series) from Megan Rosalarian Gedris pinpoints exactly what is wrong with the depiction of women in mainstream comic books (and by extension, a lot of fantasy and science fiction artwork).

Goblins of Golarion

Paizo first introduced their version of goblins in Pathfinder Adventure Path #1, and then detailed them further in Classic Monsters Revisited. I’ve always liked how they took a generic monster that had little real character to it and gave it new life. Goblins of Golarion builds on the previous works and still keeps them fresh and interesting. Some people might criticize the portrayal of goblins as too comical—they aren’t too bright, are willing to do silly things in combat like light themselves on fire or throw themselves off buildings, and run from dogs and horses—but as well as the humour, there is a serious side to the goblins as well. Goblins, for the most part, are evil creatures, and they kill and maim. The juxtaposition of the humour with the vile may not be to everyone’s taste, but I personally find it makes for far more interesting villains and sets goblins apart from the numerous other humanoid monsters in the game.

Goblins of Golarion is a bit of an unusual supplement. As I mentioned in my review of Humans of Golarion, that product is a useful, albeit not particularly exciting book. Goblins of Golarion is the reverse: a fun, interesting read, but not particularly useful to most games. More specifically, it’s not particularly useful to most players. Game Masters are likely to gain much more use out of it, but as a product that is part of the Pathfinder Player Companion line, many people will expect it to be usable by players. Of course, not every product should necessarily be usable by everyone. It makes sense that there would be some niche products. However, it’s important that people be aware that this is a niche product, as there are some players out there who feel that because something is printed, it’s their right to use it, and that’s going to annoy some GMs who don’t want monster PCs in their games. Players should be sure to check with their GMs before making use of this book.