Sunday, January 30, 2011

Review: The Force Unleashed by Sean Williams

All in all, there must be literally hundreds (if not thousands), of reviews for The Force Unleashed floating around in the universe since its inception into the world. As a precaution, I have read almost none of them. HorrorScope has always taken its roots in literature – and that is how I approached The Force Unleashed. As a novel written by a South Australian who has been given the opportunity to delve into an elaborate mythology almost unparalleled in its pervasive appeal to the world.

That said, there can be no denying what we are dealing with here: although my awareness of the video-game it’s based upon (I’m a rare Gamer) was haphazard at best, the storyline of Star Wars Episode 3.5 had, of course, trickled into my awareness over time. How could it not? For it seems there is an intrinsic Star Wars fanboy adoration lurking within the psyche of any person who holds speculative fiction close to their heart. And for those of us who ignore the first two prequels as though they did not occur, an invitation to step into the window of the Dark Times is an invitation not to be ignored. For this is apocalyptical Star Wars; a Star Wars where most childhood fancies have been thrown away and a more serious milieu has engulfed the galaxy far, far away.

And through that window lies the story of Darth Vader’s secret Sith apprentice Starkiller and his whistle stop tours to find and squash the last rudiment fragments of the Jedi pocketed throughout the galaxy. Accompanying him on his journey are his droid PROXY and adept female pilot Juno Eclipse. Both have tender and amnesiac pasts full of betrayal and both are mentally warring within their awareness in relation to duties they perform in the service of the Empire. For gaming fans, I’m sure there is a veritable trove of information pertaining to a character like Juno’s plight … but this adaptation itself is replete with enough empathy where our main characters are concerned.  

Ensconced in the Rouge Shadow, the unlikely pair world skip from the festering droid wastelands of Raxus Prime to the lush forests of Felucia and other worlds, encountering hostile natives and inhospitable terrain in order to extinguish the Jedi. Of course, what we have here is very much what is on offer in a video game … but I found myself warming to it. This is non-stop battle and unrelenting action; descriptive graphics spewing from the page in Sean’s deft voice that give rise to an utterly immersive world that will make you blink twice when lifting your head from the page. This is no Disney-esque outing; the Dark Side invades everything here, showing the inner workings of a Sith mind that was denied to us in the prequels.

If the book reinforces anything, it is that Sean Williams is a truly gifted writer. As a person who currently lives without deadlines, I cannot imagine the insurmountable pressure involved to bring another's vision to life, make it coherent, and please a population of people that is without equal in it’s passion for the images. The Force Unleashed is a book that even manages to resonate on an emotional level with a belter of a finale, so I was dubious when hearing that a sequel has been produced.

But knowing that it’s come from the pen of Sean, a reader shouldn’t be discouraged to take another step back into the world of the Dark Times.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Review: The Last Deep Breath by Tom Piccirilli

Another prolific writer whose talents have managed to slip under the radar, Tom Piccirilli is a four time Bram Stoker winner with over twenty novels to his credit and a slew of shorter tales that range the gamut of mystery, thriller, horror, erotica and science fiction. A heavy-hitter in the horror clique, his name has clout – so I was excited to finally delve into his take on the novella form with Tasmaniac Publications The Last Deep Breath.

Even from the illustration and from Tom’s reputation I pieced together this is a kind film-noir frolic and that’s exactly what is on offer. The story follows Grey, a washed out drifter with no clear idea or centralized compass on where he wants to be - he only knows that he must find his foster sister before the excesses of the world kill her. After both of them escaped the tortuous embrace of abusive foster parents, their crimes have seen them go in different directions … and his sister only desires reconciliation when death is just around the corner. After another vanishing act he follows her again – this time into the bustling heart of Hollywood. Soon he is seduced into a dirty world of scummy agents, fading movie stars and half-baked leads.

The first thing that jumped out at me is the prose: Tom’s style is immediately accessible and I’ve always been partial to writers who are not afraid to lay on heavy doses of metaphor. It was a little gyrating at the beginning to be sucked into a hard-boiled world set in the present day (let’s face it, most of us are conditioned to see this world through black and white sepia mirroring the styles of a bygone era). But this knee-jerk reaction is probably caused by not having read far and wide enough in the genre. Having never tackled a tome by Elmore Leonard, unfortunately this reviewer’s familiarity with the genus extended no further than films like Get Shorty with the locale setting of Mulholland Drive

Like other Tasmaniac titles, this one is short and slips by with the speed of our protagonist Grey experiencing a chemical high. There are cool vintage cars, porn stars and pimps; there are movie stars and murders. And underlying all of it is the mystique and allure of what it is to come to Hollywood for the first time. Also, it wouldn’t be a Tasmaniac edition if it didn’t have a lengthy and very entertaining foreword - this time by Patrick Lussier.

To top it off there is a bonus short Between the Dark and Daylight, a completely original and funny romp whose idea might have been spawned by the real life ‘balloon boy’ saga that dominated headlines some time back. Although comical, it’s still skewed with the penchant for violence.

As with my previous review for Within his Reach, it seems Tasmaniac have already sold out of this limited edition. But don’t let that deter you. Head on over to their web presence and grab another of their glossy little novellas before they too suffer the same fate.