Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Movie Review: Avengers 2: Age of Ultron

Avengers 2 opened last week to a lot of expectations and fanfare - another marquee release from the Marvel Comics that brought back together the earth's superheroes ( discounting Thor from Asgard!) for another last-stand - this time against a megalomaniacal borderline psychotic super-bot called Ultron. Joss Whedon is in fine touch again - giving us yet another supercharged frenetically paced blockbuster entertainer that we all had been yearning for. Avengers-2 has got so much to ground to cover - introduce us back to the all-star ranks of superheroes who would never get along with each other, throw in new characters, whip out a plot-line involving a genocidal robot out to cleanse the world and of course crunch in the never-ending action set pieces chucking them one after the other at us - that there's hardly room to breath. Seriously.

The opening sequence of Avengers 2 is mind-blowing. No compare to anything I've ever seen before - our mighty superhero bunch is trying to retrieve Loki's Sceptre - by storming a fortress, the last bastion of Hydra. The choreographed stunt scenes are absolutely dream-quality good. And the camera pans in on each of our favorite superhero mouthing whip-smart quips and then executing the perfectly timed stunt, taking out armored tanks, machine-gun toting infantry soldiers, moving in perfect coordination. It's a remarkable piece of cinematography and it sets the bar for the entire movie. Very very high.

The Age of Ultron basically boils over from when Tony Stark reviews the intriguing powers radiating off from the Scepter they recovered - and then uses his mad genius to create an artificial intelligence robot named Ultron - that would be the ultimate defense against any more alien powers out from outer space. "A suit of armor around the world". But as things are wont to go, they spiral out of control superfast with the AI waking up disoriented and in desperate need to "topple" his step-father's genius.

Now Ultron - who doesn't really fit into our imagined stereotype of a killer-bot - actually is a force of dark humor. Voiced to perfection by James Spader ( I had such a hard time not to be picturing the "Black List Reddington" when Ultron was mouthing his smart quips laced with philosophical banter)
Ultron nevertheless has a world-destruction mission and our superheroes are hard-pressed to match his gallows-humor and acerbic wit - going up against his creator Tony "I-will-still-quip-without-blinking-my-eyes-in-a-single-breath" Stark toe-to-toe on the dialogs. Got to hand it to Whedon, he really writes razor-sharp repartee for every clever line.

Now with so much start-power on screen, naturally something had to give, right? I really cannot pinpoint my finger on what though. Whedon gives ample screen time to all our A-list superheroes - and on top of that, brings in two more pretty interesting addition to the bunch. The Scarlet Witch (Beautiful Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron-Taylor Johnson who gets to quip, "You really didnt see that coming, huh) - aptly described as "She's weird, He's fast." In addition to this, Whedon actually has the Avengers take a break at an isolated farm-house just to regroup and strategize thier next hit against the Ultron - at flinty Hawk-Eye's family barn. Allowing the reluctant love-story between Black Widow Natasha ( A pregnant Scarlett Johansson looking different in each frame when she shot for this!) and Dr. Banner fighting his own guilt-demons to slowly flourish. Hawkeye who has been pretty much relegated to shooting aliens with a bow and arrow in the last outing actually gets a human touch, much needed and a saving grace to the bunch - who are so focused on just killing aliens or mouthing smart one-liners that it seemed to get a wee-bit wearisome.

Oh a word about the Green Monster. Damn, the fight sequence between Hulk and Iron-man in the streets of Africa was brilliantly shot. We get to see Veronica and the Iron Legion in action. But then again, nothing matches the frantic energy and dream-neat choreography of the intro-scene.

The action flits across the globe - New York to Africa to East Europe. Each place serving as the demolition derby for the fireworks between Ultron's clones and the Avengers. The CGI fireworks, civilians caught in the cross-fire, a heart-rending moment where Natasha kisses Banner only to push him down a ravine, the War-Machine (Don Cheadle - blink and miss!) getting to gleefully spray the bot-minions, a soulful  stirring speech by Paul Bettany's new character ( Psst! yeah!) that acts as the climactic backdrop capturing an all-encompassing theme of the movie around humanity's future - all of this yet again proves Joss Whedon's golden touch. I don't know about fatigue - but herding all these guys into one frame and doing it so wonderfully well without letting us feel weary - is one helluva job.

Why should you watch Avengers-2? It is the complete summer blockbuster package. Get together once more to watch your favorite superheroes take on a mad machine with homicidal insecurities who quips even better than Iron-man. It is oodles of fun, tonnes of blistering non-stop action and it's got super-cool superheroes. Including new ones who can warp your brains and run faster than light. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Guest Post: "Not so Black and White" by C.S.Sealey

When Patrick at Momentum Books, Australia got in touch with me to review C S Sealey's debut - Equilibrium, a serialized high-fantasy book in the tradition of David Eddings or Brandon Sanderson, I got super excited about this chance to dive into this fascinating new world that C S Sealey has built up - and will be exposing us to in the next six installments coming out. 

Here Carmel talks about her love for this wonderful genre and what her perspectives are on worldbuilding - especially as wrought in this new exciting series. 

Reading fantasy is a hobby that millions around the world take pleasure in for a whole range of different reasons—to travel, learn, remember, forget, laugh, cry, feel terror, discover, imagine, fall in love, be blown away, dream… However, beneath each of these reasons is the same universal idea—escapism.

The one thing I and many other readers of fantasy crave more than anything else is the ability to be transported through time and space to another world, to meet impossible characters, see impossible things and rejoice when our protagonist overcomes his adversary or feel the heart-wrenching pain when he fails. The realm of fantasy knows no boundaries. Here, animals can speak, people can change their shape, corpses can rise from the dead, dragons can rule the skies and powerful sorcerers can conquer the world.

However, in Equilibrium, I tried to do away with the traditional idea of black-and-white good versus evil, replacing it with the more complex concept of a wide spectrum of greys. Every character is capable of acts of great heroism but also of great evil, given the circumstance or mental state. Equilibrium is a six-part fantasy epic set in a world not entirely dissimilar to our own mediaeval past. One empire is set against another in a generations-old struggle for territory and dominance—neither willing to bend the knee. Here, the stage is set for a classic battle of good against evil. However, I have endeavoured for this fight to be not quite as clear-cut as it might appear on the surface.

During the writing process, I decided that my heroes and villains should be harder to distinguish from each other than, say, hobbits and disembodied flaming eyeballs, or school boys and black-robed, snake-wearing zombie wizards. I wanted to shape all my characters equally, giving each of them their own deep, believable backstories, motivations and consciences. None of my characters are outright evil and none are flawlessly good.

Did I decide this from the outset? No. But when movie after movie and book after book crossed my path where the villain was two-dimensional and was evil simply as an excuse for the equally as bland hero to exist, I decided that my characters deserved something bigger and better. What does my villain really want? Why does he feel it necessary to do certain things? What happened in his life to make him feel and think this way? What, if anything, makes him morally worse than his opposite? What would he do if the roles were reversed? Is it simply the use of point of view that is dictating the roles in the story, rather than the acts of the characters themselves?

Answering these questions shaped Equilibrium in many ways, expanding the narration from what was just one or two “hero” points of view to a whole suite of characters on both sides of the war and from all walks of life. Using this technique, I was able to demonstrate that an act of mercy could be seen as a kindness or weakness; an assassination was devastating for some and a moment of joy for others; and the fall of an empire was doom for one nation and the end of oppression for another.

In Equilibrium, you can decide who is the more righteous, who has the greater claim and who is the more deserving of victory. In this, perhaps there is no right or wrong answer. As Shakespeare once said; There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so. And when the two empires meet on the field of battle, only the victor will write the history.

About the Book

The Spirits' ancient equilibrium is brought into being when the twelfth mage is finally found. But Angora is unlike those who have come before her and she refuses to blindly accept her fate.
The Ayons have mysteriously retreated from a far-reaching southern offensive, ordered back by their newly crowned king.
In the aftermath of this battle, Angora is washed up on the shore of a foreign land, bruised and battered, determined to keep her past a secret from all. Rescued from slavers, yet immediately falling prey to others, she is thrust into a war not her own.
Proclaimed one of twelve legendary mages, Angora is charged with protecting the innocent with magic beyond her imagination.
But a dark future awaits her and her friends as the Ayon threat begins to swell once more in the north.

Sounds like a crackler huh? I can't wait to find out.  Read more about the book here.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

PROMO BLITZ: Dark Sun, Bright Moon by Oliver Sparrow

Dark Sun, Bright Moon by Oliver Sparrow was published in July 2014 - and is available for sale on Amazon in both paperback and ebook.

If your interests veer in the direction of historical fiction - tinged with ancient magic/fantasy, then you should give this one a try. What piqued my curiosity was the reference to the Andean civilization and history as was shaped four hundred years before the Spanish conquistadors came by. I was lucky enough to be gifted a copy and will soon be devouring this fascinating tale.

About the Book

“Dark Sun, Bright Moon describes people isolated in the Andes, without the least notion of outsiders. They evolve an understanding of the universe that is complementary to our own but a great deal wider. The book explores events of a thousand years ago, events which fit with what we know of the region's history,” says Sparrow.

In the Andes of a thousand years ago, the Huari empire is sick. Its communities are being eaten from within by a plague, a contagion that is not of the body but of something far deeper, a plague that has taken their collective spirit. Rooting out this parasite is a task that is laid upon Q’ilyasisa, a young woman from an obscure little village on the forgotten borders of the Huari empire.
This impossible mission is imposed on her by a vast mind, a sentience that has ambitions to shape all human life. Her response to this entails confrontations on sacrificial pyramids, long journeys through the Amazonian jungle and the establishment of not just one but two new empires. Her legacy shapes future Andean civilization for the next four hundred years, until the arrival of the Spanish.

Dark Sun, Bright Moon takes the reader on a fascinating adventure that includes human sacrifice, communities eaten from within, a vast mind blazing under the mud of Lake Titicaca, and the rise and fall of empires cruel and kind.

About the Author

Oliver Sparrow was born in the Bahamas, raised in Africa and educated at Oxford to post-doctorate level, as a biologist with a strong line in computer science. He spent the majority of his working life with Shell, the oil company, which took him into the Peruvian jungle for the first time. He was a director at the Royal Institute for International Affairs, Chatham House for five years. He has started numerous companies, one of them in Peru, which mines for gold. This organisation funded a program of photographing the more accessible parts of Peru, and the results can be seen at Oliver knows modern Peru very well, and has visited all of the physical sites that are described in his book Dark Sun, Bright Moon.

Below is an excerpt from the book as well:

Chapter 1: A Small Sacrifice at Pachacamac
A priest knelt before her, a feather from his head-dress tickling her face. His musky odour of old incense and stale blood was rank, even here on the windy summit of the pyramid. Four other priests held her body tipped slightly forwards, and the pressure that this put on her tired old joints hurt far more than the fine, cold bite of the knife at her neck. Quick blood ran thick down her chin and splashed into the waiting bowl. Then the flow weakened, the strength went out of her and she died, content.

Seven elderly pilgrims had set out for Pachacamac, following their familiar river down to the coast and then trudging North through the desert sands. Two of the very oldest of them needed to be carried in litters, but most were able to walk with no more than a stick to help them in the sand. Lesser members of the community had been delegated to carry what was necessary. These would return home. The elderly would not.

The better-regarded families of the town were expected to die as was proper, sacrificed at the Pachacamac shrine for the betterment of the community. Such was to be their last contribution of ayni, of the reciprocity that assured communal harmony and health. It was also their guarantee of a smooth return to the community's soul, to the deep, impersonal structure from which they had sprung at birth.The Pachacamac complex appeared to them quite suddenly from amongst the coastal dunes. They paused to marvel at its mountain range of pyramids, its teeming myriad of ancient and holy shrines.Over the millennia, one particular pyramid had come to process all of the pilgrims who came from their valley. They were duly welcomed, and guards resplendent in bronze and shining leather took them safely to its precinct.They had been expected. The priests were kind, welcoming them with food and drink, helping the infirm, leading them all by easy stages up to the second-but-last tier in their great, ancient pyramid. The full extent of the meandering ancient shrine unveiled itself like a revelation as they climbed. Then, as whatever had been mixed with their meal took its effect, they were wrapped up snug in blankets and set to doze in the late evening sun, propped together against the warm, rough walls of the mud-brick pyramid. Their dreams were vivid, extraordinary, full of weight and meaning.

The group was woken before dawn, all of them muzzily happy, shriven of all their past cares, benignly numb. Reassuring priests helped them gently up the stairs to the very top tier. In the predawn light, the stepped pyramids of Pachacamac stood sacred and aloof in an ocean of mist.Each pilgrim approached their death with confidence. A quick little discomfort would take them back to the very heart of the community from which they had been born. They had been separated from it by the act of birth, each sudden individual scattered about like little seed potatoes. Now, ripe and fruitful, they were about to return home, safely gathered back into the community store. It was to be a completion, a circle fully joined. Hundreds of conch horns brayed out across Pachacamac as the dawn sun glittered over the distant mountains. Seven elderly lives drained silently away as the mist below turned pink.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Official Teaser #2

Woohoooo!!! The Force is still strong. And don't miss the last few seconds of the teaser..Christmas can't come sooner!!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A New Age Fairy-Tale: The Singular & Extraordinary Tale of Mirror & Goliath

The Singular and Extraordinary tale of Mirror and Goliath with the intriguing tag-line: The peculiar Adventures of John Loveheart, ESQ - from Angry Robot is Ishbelle Bee’s spectacular debut in the speculative fiction world. Just like the peculiar title, the novel itself is a riotous splash of many a familiar fairy tale liberally wrangled with a dash of macabre horror, set during the fag-end of the Victorian Era – An 1880’s London rife with the East-end murders, missing children and magic like blood-red poppies floating in the air. It’s a sort of the author’s love paean to this genre: Bee, the author who loves Victorian Top Hats and Cake Tents incorporates both these elements and a lot more from her favourite era into the novel- beautifully entwining them into a tight little fairy tale of her own. By parts lyrical and scary, it’s a gem of a novel that stands apart from other titles in today’s world. Kudos to Angry Robot for having backed up and brought out this game-changer to us.

The Lord of the Underworld, Death, shape-shifting guardians, soul-thieving monsters, demons who eat children, vexed Scotland Yard detectives, a mysterious and alluring “damsel in distress” heroine and her even more mysterious “sort of” suitor who dabbles in the most outrageous of fashions (ladybirds adorning bright coloured shirts!) – The story of Mirror and her guardian Goliath features all this and much more. The story is spelt out through many different POVs (Some first person, some in third person) and is not a linear unspooling of events – rather it criss-crosses across time and flits across places – From England to Egypt to the Underworld and beyond - knitting individual sections of the story to finally unleash that final masterpiece – like tiny pieces of a rather large unsolved puzzle falling into place.

So a little about the fairy tale then. Mirror is a young girl who alights back in England after having sailed from Egypt – along with her guardian, a huge hairy bearded fellow by the comely name of Goliath Honey-Flower. Goliath is looking to “exorcise” an unwanted spirit from inside Mirror and he goes from one shady place in London to another – meeting phoney (“psychic as a dead haddock”) psychic mediums to tarot-card readers – finally meeting a genuine spirit-talker in Mrs. Pigwittle who arranges for a séance meeting – that includes a motley set of mismatched individuals. Including the aforesaid, John Loveheart. (Bright lemon coloured hair sticking up as if electrocuted and waistcoat embroidered in red hearts!)
The story zigzags from here on – where we switch POVs – seesawing from one head to the other and characters get introduced at zany speed one after the other. It could get confusing if you aren’t paying attention. As Bee takes us back in time to Mirror’s past – the incident with the Grandfather who has stolen a special clock from a certain somebody and then goes mad – hearing voices coming from inside the clock.

It’s a bit like downing gulps of the green fairy and jumping from one hallucination to the other. The bizarre fairy tales – that are actually the back stories to both Mirror and John – blend and mesh with each other, crossing paths and twisting reality into some dark chocolate pretzel. Sometimes I got lost but the extremely wondrous prose of Ishbelle kept me hooked on. And of course, the feeling at the back of my head that this was building up to be something seriously wonderful and intriguing. We come across Mr. Fingers, the adoptive parent of John – who is actually the Lord of the Underworld. A vile fellow twisted by his greed and ambition. Deep into the story – where the lines between reality and fairy tale cross each other and disappear, we meet tons of interesting characters: Aunt Eva – lazy as a cat, beautiful as fire and mad as the buzzing of bees, John’s brother – the wicked & mad Tumbletee (Oh the play on Jack the Ripper was simply brilliant!), Sergeant Detective Percival White and his constable and lots more. Each leave an indelible mark on the reader.

But asked to pick a favourite, I think mine would be Goliath. The good-natured extremely loving detective-turned guardian angel for Mirror. His desire to protect his ward and all the follow-up actions that leads to the adventures detailed in this tale has that touch of nobility and goodness. Unsullied by anything worldly. Like pure gold. Mirror forms the perfect “foil” to spin out the fairy tales behind her origin – but apart from being a mouthpiece or POV, I simply didn’t engage with her. Her counter-point in the whole story, Loveheart however, is a much more sympathetic character whom we grow to know and love as the story unfolded.

But as we hurtle towards end of this visually stunning tale – replete with bizarre imagery and mind-boggling mystical acts of magic – one story after the other seemingly not related and yet forming individual pieces of the larger beautiful tapestry – we bemoan the end of something strange and beautiful that you cannot really describe.

Reading this book has been like that. At times vexing and highly confusing, the singular and extraordinary tale of Mirror & Goliath is a stunning kaleidoscope of fairy tales. And I must warn you that it’s not a straightforward retelling. But a very dark twisted re-imagination of some tales we’ve heard and a lot many that we have not. Arresting and eminently readable, this book marks a brilliant beginning to Ishbelle Bee’s writing. I won’t be surprised if some of the big names of Hollywood buy the movie rights to this one. ‘Coz this is the stuff that blurs the line between dreams, reality and fairy tales. And is spun in such an authoritative manner that you cannot help but believe. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Echoes of Another World: Writing Contest in tribute to Terry Pratchett

The Good Folks at Inkitt are calling for submissions for their April Writing Contest. So get those pencils sharpened and the ink pots filled up - and get writing !!

Spring into another world in April: free sci-fi/fantasy contest in honor of Terry Pratchett!

Inkitt is a free writing platform where authors can get creative and watch their stories grow, and they’re opening their third writing contest for entries this spring. Inkitt is a place for
writers and readers to collaborate, trading feedback and ideas to improve their work. In the
long run, Inkitt’s goal is to help writers get the exposure they deserve and the publishing deals
they want without worrying about the impediments and unfairness of traditional printing and
self- publishing.

Writing Contest - Echo of Another World
Inkitt's April contest is focusing on the sci-fi/fantasy genre. The theme is "Echo of Another
World." In honor the late great Terry Pratchett, they want stories that will take you to another
world the way his novels did: bring you to outer space, to an enchanted castle, to a forest filled
with fairies – anything with fantastical or science-fictiony leanings goes!

Submission Details
All fiction up to 15,000 words is eligible for entry. Novel excerpts are encouraged; fanfiction is
not. The contest begins on April 7th and will close on May 5th . It's free to enter , and you'll
retain all rights to any work submitted. Collect the most community votes to be bumped into
the top 10% of entries, from which the Inkitt staff will choose the winners.

Winners will receive Amazon gift cards ($40, $30 and $20). The first place winner will also
get five printed copies of their story, with a custom cover created by Inkitt’s designer!

Got fantasy in your fingertips, sci-fi on the mind? Enter the competition now at and do the Discworld proud!

Contest URL                                  Twitter Handle                                 Hashtag
www.         @Inkitt                                              #AnotherWorld

So if you have had that story about zombies/underdog hero/badass vigilante heroine/< anything remotely fantasy or sci-fi> kicking around in your head, pleading to be let out, this is your chance! Good Luck to all !!

World After ( Penryn & End of Days # 2) by Susan Ee

A few weeks back, I had stumbled onto the post-apocalyptic YA series, Penry and the End of Days written by Susan Ee - a lot of hype around the "explosive" conclusion End of Days, Book-3 coming out next month.

I actually LOVED book-one ( AngelFall) and was looking forward to diving back into this fascinating struggle between Humans and Angels - and of course the hesitant but surely budding "relationship" between Raffe ( fallen angel, greek god extraordinaire) and Penryn ( the heroine ). Well, of course this was a second book in a series and so I had to keep my expectations curbed in, I knew that.

Sadly - inspite of knowing this in advance, the second book failed to live up to the expectations, especially coming on the heels of such a soaring refreshingly original first volume  YA-dystopian story - Susan completely misses the mark. And it's frustrating because there are so many ways she could have expanded her world and the plot. It's this immense potential squandered that grates on the nerves.

The novelty about the world has worn off. So that wasn't going to hold our interest - unless Susan was willing to take us to some new "Angel" lands with interesting backstories. We are familiar with the scheming Angels, the "Hellions", the battered resistance - somethings got us intrigued at the end of book-one. Like Why are the Angels here on Earth, hell-bent of wrecking havoc? What is Raffe's backstory? What's the deal with Penryn's Mother?

Second book answers these questions to a good degree. But not satisfyingly enough for me to be clamoring for book-three already. The narrative energies dip big time - And the main reason for this is the author's dogged determination to stick to the older storyline. Penryn is still coming to terms with what Paige has become - and before she can settle and accept, Paige drags herself off to ...basically disappear again. So its again Penryn versus the World - in search of her sister. But sadly in this edition, there is no Raffe. A character who brought out the best in our protagonist, Penryn is only brought three-fourths of the book. And that too - in a totally wasted manner ( when it comes to story-telling and driving the plot forwards..sigh!)

Penryn mucks around with the Resistance, brooding and sulking over what Paige has become. And when she disappears a second time around, Penryn makes some uninspiring friends - who lend nothing of thier charaters in driving the plot forward. That was one of my biggest complains.

Obi - the leader of the resistance is a cardboard-cutout who isn't utilized. Dum-Dee the twins practically have nothing to do but do boyish grins and dream about mud-fights. Mother opens up a little more but is still unconvincing. Raffe comes in too late to save the sagging plotline. Paige and Beliel who could have been interesting are neglected. And Penryn - is left high and dry, day-dreaming and reliving book-one through the eyes of her newly acquired Angel- sword, who she wonderfully names "Pooky Bear". Sigh!

It's a disappointing book and even the last climactic reveal ( that is supposed to be astounding ) doesn't help the book. A classic case of where the second book doesn't add anything to the story and is not even a bridge to the climax and opener. I am in two minds whether I should even be trying to read The End of Days.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Cover Reveal: Hunter's Kind by Rebecca Levine ( Hollow Gods # 2 )

So Smiler's Fair was a revelation for me last year and I even nominated this book to be among my best reads for 2014. It has been a tour-de-force in terms of establishing itself as a first-volume fantasy where everything - be it the multitude of characters, the enticing brilliantly realized world set against the backdrop of a nomadic circus group, the frenetic action or the effortless plotting - everything was absolutely spot-on.

Reading the first book in this quartet that explores the "reawakening" of Moon-God, Yron into this world is like being sucker-punched without any warning - It was that good.

So when the good folks at Hodder & Stoughton announced that the Cover for Hunter's Kind ( Part-2 in the Hollow Gods Series ) is out, it was kind of a big deal for me. And knowing that I will get back in touch with Krish and the rest of the folks from Smiler's Fair soon...has got me 'CHUFFED' Shivering with the anticipation is an understatement!

Here's the absolutely bewitching cover-image by talented Tim McDonagh!

Krish once believed himself but a humble goatherd, but now knows he’s the son of the king of Ashanesland – and the moon god reborn, as foretold. Now, with his allies Dae Hyo and the mage Olufemi by his side, Krish has begun to sieze control of Ashanesland… and receive the worship he is due.

But Kirsh has many enemies, including Sang Ki, the bastard lord, who has discovered the key to Krish’s overthow in the distant Moon Forest. There lives a girl named Cwen, a disciple of the god known only as the Hunter. And she has made it her life’s mission to seek out Krish and destroy him.

If Krish has any hope of defeating his enemies, he must travel to the forbidden Mirror Town and unlock the secrets of its powerful magic. And the price of his victory may be much greater than the consequences of his defeat.

Hunter's Kind - the snarling wolf, the Moon-God reincarnated and all the other crazy characters from this spell-binding series are coming to you - again. On July 2nd !!