Friday, 25 January 2013

The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

Lowdown: A detective, a murder mystery, and a world whose civilization is about to end through an incoming asteroid.
Review:
Crime detective stories are a rarity for me, mainly due to that perceived Agatha Christie syndrome: that feeling that I never had the chance to identify the killer based on the information the author has been gracing me with. The Last Policeman offered an edge that seems worthy of me giving it the read despite it being a detective story. It features more than your ordinary murder mystery.
The recently promoted Detective Palace is sent to write off an obvious suicide case in a world filled with similarly staged suicides. What everybody around automatically deduces to be an open and shut case stinks in our detective’s eyes. He decides, against all advice, to start investigating the matter as a suspected murder case. Oh, there is a catch too: Henry lives in a modern day USA that, like the rest of the world, is about to be wiped out by an asteroid that came out of nowhere to devastate human civilization as we know it.
As our detective struggles on through one lie after the other in his investigations, the world around him falls apart. Motivation for anything is understandably lacking when the world comes with an expiry date, thus Palace’s biggest challenge is not the investigation itself but rather the post apocalypse settings of the pre apocalypse he’s in. Ultimately, the question that’s asked is what’s the point? Is the investigation worth its admission price?
The Last Policeman delivers on several fronts. Its crime mystery element is superb, with multiple well developed characters so well woven together that even the distractions are interesting. Between the investigation, the personal issues and the world coming apart, the whole affair reads and feels like film noir. The setting is modern, the premises is heavily science fictional, but the package is unmistakably film noir.
Then there are the philosophical questions raised by The Last Policeman. The question of what’s the point of it all is an old one, but revisiting it in this time limited world created by the book sheds new light (or rather, new shadows) on the equation. After all, we are all Detective Palaces. We are all on this earth for a limited time, and ultimately everything we do will be undone, so what is the point? What reason do we have to do the things we do and to make an effort? I will gave you Detective Palace’s answer, even if it is not explicitly stated in the book: because doing the right thing matters.
Simple. Beautiful.
Overall: More than a bit of a morbid read but rewarding nevertheless, The Last Policeman manages to make 4 out of 5 stars.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Tangled

Lowdown: Disney’s take on the Rapunzel fairy tale.
Review:
I’ll be honest with you: I don’t think I ever read or heard the full Rapunzel story. Like most fairy tales of yonder, though, it has familiar themes: a princess in distress; horror elements befitting an era in human evolution where death lurked behind every corner; but also a happy ending (at least in its contemporary version). I would say the ground is ripe for Disney to undertake the story through one of its animation films. Obviously, they listened to me retrospectively and released exactly such a film, Tangled, back in 2010.
By now I am no fan of the newer Disney animation films. However, Tangled received positive reviews from credible sources. Besides, and more importantly, it features the Chuck himself (Zachary Levi) in a leading voice acting role. It seemed worth checking out on.
Our heroine for an hour and a half is Rapunzel (Mandy Moore), a princess stolen from her parents by an evil witch (Donna Murphy) who sought to hold her indefinitely so as to enjoy the benefit of Rapunzel’s magic hair. Hair that’s as long as War and Peace and keeps our witch young (but not sexy; she is a baddie, after all). Rapunzel is thus held at a reclusive tower somewhere near the end of the world, growing up to believe the world around her is dangerous and the safety of her tower is better. She never goes outside.
A girl does have her yearnings, though (funny to see how Disney avoids the mentioning of sex). Those yearnings find an address through Flynn (Levi), a cunning thief that stumbles upon the tower through his misadventures. For Rapunzel he’s willing to step down from his usual selfish self and step into a dream fulfilment role revolving around taking the young lady outside. Not that easy with step mom in da house, though.
What else do we have here, now that we’ve covered the story part? We have very human like animals (a chameleon and a horse, to be precise); they don’t talk this time around. We also have our heroes bursting into the occasional song. So yeah, if you wanted to hear what Chuck’s singing voice is like, look no further than Tangled. Don’t rush, though: none of the songs are even remotely inspiring. It’s all that bland formula I have come to expect from the lesser Disney films.
Other than that, there is not much to Tangled, really. Zachary Levi sounds very Chuck like, virtually recreating his TV role (the joys of being type cast?). Yet as far as I am concerned this is the most interesting thing Tangled has to offer. Where other reviewers raved, I’m left with a “meh”.
P.S. At a more philosophical level, I have to add that people’s fixation with the whole prince/princess concept is not only outdated, it’s ridiculous.
Overall: I cannot say I suffered watching Tangled. We saw it on a 38 degree day, and on such a day where any extra movement feels like the end of the world a film like Tangled can be enjoyable. Alas, I ask for more from my movies. 2 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Mass Effect: Retribution

Lowdown: Cerberus experimentation with Reaper implants on a human subject proves disastrous.
Review:
Mass Effect: Retribution is the third Mass Effect novel out of four released thus far. It is also the last to be written by Drew Karpyshyn and the last to be accepted by fans. (The fourth book, which I might try for my amusement, is rumoured to be a total disaster.) Released in 2010, Retribution is set past the escapades of the Mass Effect 2 game and thus sets the scene up for Mass Effect 3; it is also the first of the series’ books to make direct references to one Commander Shepard (albeit by last name only).
A sequel to Revelation and Ascension, Retribution unites us back with the formers’ heroes: Kahlee Sanders, the scientist who is always capable under fire; her old love interest, David Anderson; and her former enemy now awkwardly turned into some sort of a love interest, Paul Grayson. Grayson is the pivot around whom the world turns: working as a mercenary for Aria T’Loak on Omega, he is traced by Cerberus who retrieve him with the aid of their best assassin, Kai Lang. Grayson arrives at the hands of the Illusive Man at the wrong time, with the latter looking for human candidates to experiment with Reaper technology on. These experiments turn Grayson into something completely different (and much more powerful than anything human like that the Mass Effect 3 game throws at you; either the book or the game loses credibility there).
The catch is that just before his capture, Grayson sends piles of Cerberus secrets to Sanders. Together with Anderson, she establishes an alliance with the Turians to fight Cerberus back and retrieve Grayson. The plot thickens in rather unconvincing manners through Grayson now being much more than meets the eye.
In my money, while Retribution is not a bad book – it is quite an entertaining read – it is also the weakest of Karpyshyn’s novel trio. The problem with it is the lack of anything but the core adventure story; flavor and depth are missing to a degree that creates an otherwise uninspiring read. Add that to the various continuity issues with Mass Effect 3, and you get a lesser book to go with this series of great video games.
Overall: An adventure story to spice up a good game with and not much more. At 2.5 out of 5 stars, Retribution is for the keen fan alone.