A Sniper’s War

Up for some pro-Russian propaganda? I got a flick for you. Be warned, though. It’s half cool, half head-slapper.

A Sniper’s War presents the story of Deki, a Serbian who enlists in the Russian backed “Ukrainian Separatist” movement that sprung up in the district between Ukraine proper and Russia proper during the big NATO-Russia standoff. He wanted to show his gratitude to Russia by shooting the NATO types that ruined the best country on earth – his beloved Albania. It’s a message film with an odd mix of messages. Part pro-Russia, part pro-Communist, and part pro-Orthodox Church.

Military types would know better than me about this stuff, but it purports to be a glimpse into the ways that low-heat wars are fought these days. Deki carpools to the front line in the morning to take up his position as a forward element in support of the other Separatist troops.  It’s a war film that features the kind of camaraderie you’d expect and lacks all of the usual globohomo posturing and clumsy anti-Christian messaging.

The heart of the film is an interesting character study of a man who leaves his family and country to strike a blow against a larger foe. The faux-documentary style adds a level of intensity to the story that helps mitigate the production’s relatively low budget.  In an interesting note, we never actually see Deki’s nemesis – we only read words he posts on social media to taunt Deki.  Which meets my level of expectation for modern warfare and makes him even more ominous than if we knew that he’s only evil because his Dad abused him as a kid.

The downside of the faux-documentary style comes in the form of the technical gaffes.  I’m no soldier, but even I know snipers don’t stick the barrel of their rifle six inches outside of the window to look for a shot…in the middle of a sniper duel. Come on, guys, even Nolan’s Joker knew that. To compound the error, Deki returns to the blind where he barely survived a hit by a dum-dum bullet to continue the duel from the same spot where he was shot. And earlier in the film Deki calls out exactly that kind of thing as a rookie mistake. It breaks the tension considerably when the filmmakers break their own rules like that.

In the end, though, it isn’t the setting that matters, it’s the characters.  And even though Deki is a filthy commie, he makes for a fine protagonist.  It’s not a great film by any stretch, but it’s a damn sight more interesting than most of the fare Hollywood squats out these days.

It’s also free on Amazon Prime at the moment.  On a related note, I won’t be watching the end of the Dirk Gently show after all.  It left free viewing, and I’m not about to pay to directly anything from BBC America.  I’m paying for free shipping.  A free peek at Dirk Gently might be a nice bonus, but it’s not something I’d use money for that could be better spent buying literally anything.

Edit:  Never mind.  I’m an idiot.

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Corrosion: Just A Taste

The first 80 minutes are free, but they tell a complete story from start to finish.  Reading this audio book the first time was a real pleasure – I’d already bought and read it before the call came down – and I like to think that my reading adds a little something to the tale.  There are a number of subtle threads woven through the entire book that I was able to bring out a little bit more in the reading,  A few of them I only noticed in my second read through!  There are probably other subtle winks and nods that went over my head.

The drama of this book’s release made it seem like a gimmick book.  Regardless of whether it was a gimmick that inspired Kalsi to put this book to ink, the results are anything but.  A surprisingly sophisticated look at the slow devolution of complex systems, and man’s ability to survive and adapt in the face of civilizational collapse, there are lessons to be learned here that go well beyond a well-deserved poke in a blowhard author’s eye.  Don’t let the impetus fool you – this book is the real deal.

Give it a listen, and you’ll see.

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New Look Audio

The Audio Page here at the House Of Jon needed some attention.  Changes in the Castalia House sales process, and the publication of three new audiobooks in the Quantum Mortis Universe, made it necessary to do some quality control.  That’s a mighty fine looking shelf if I do say so myself.


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Ember War, Issue #3

The third installment of Richard Fox’s “Ember War Saga”, adapted for comics by Jon Del Arroz and Jethro Morales, dropped for backers earlier this week, and the fun factor continues to ramp up.

One minor complaint about this issue is the lack of a splash page with a couple of “the story so far” summary sentences to help reorient readers returning to the saga after several weeks hiatus.  The action picks up right where it left off, and within two pages the reader experiences enough, “oh right, that’s a thing,” moments, to detract from the experience.  Admittedly, the bulk of the issue is a pair of fetch quests running in parallel, so it isn’t that hard to figure out.

Once the noggin’ gets joggin’ though, this issue brings a high fast ball by featuring non-stop action with only a last page exposition dump wherein humanity’s savior (kind of) explains the backstory shown in the last issue, this time to the last dregs of humanity.  It’s a fast read, packed with action and some fun stunts for the characters, including just a touch of pathos.

It’s clear now that we’re dealing with a Battlestar Galactica situation in which an alien AI sought to feed Earth a few “cheat codes” so that we wouldn’t be caught entirely flat-footed by the approaching genocidal Xaros.  That only comes after our plucky heroes race through an empty world and get involved in a running battle with a host of drones left behind by the Xaros after they wiped humanity off the planet.  The action proceeds into space and we get a little taste of ship-to-ship combat in there for good measure.

Now that we’ve spent more time in this universe, the action makes more sense, the stakes have been raised higher than ever, and as a result we have a lot more incentive to root for Team Humanity.

The art continues to serve the story well with a nice, clutter-free style.  Clean lines and smooth transitions make it an easy read.  The mech that appears in a few panels shows some awkward positioning, but my limited eye for artwork can’t tell if that was intentional to help illustrate the massive scale or just awkward posing.  So that’s all I can say about that.

As mentioned last time, this comic title features a welcome break from the usual cape comics that dominate the store shelves.  If you’ve a love for mil-sf and want a good story without the heavy time-investment of another epic saga of ten novels, then you can’t do much better than Ember Wars.  You can grab your own copies at IGG.

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Long Overdue Thoughts on “Right Ho, Jeeves”

The comic omnibuses shown to the left represent the big splurge for my Christmas presents to myself.  A full review of Gun Ghoul will have to wait – the first issue in the collection piqued my interest but I’ve had a hard time picking it up since early January.  I just need a little more time.  Right Ho, Jeeves, on the other hand, came to me at the perfect time.

Adapted from the novels of Wodehouse, the story follows Bertie Wooster, an affable fellow who just wants to live his lower-upper class life in peace.  That prospect is complicated by the need to please the aunt who funds his lifestyle, and who summons him to her husband’s estate to enlist his aid in prying money out of her husband’s tight grasp.  The cast of goofballs creates a string of misunderstandings and botched plots that would rival any network sitcom.  The gags are delivered in a stately lower-upper class setting with enough dry wit among the slapstick gags to create a deceptively dignified read.

Reading Right Ho, Jeeves reminded me of my childhood.  Not because I was raised in an English manorial estate filled with colorful characters, mind you.  Rather, because it felt like reading a copy of Mad Magazine.

Stay with me here, Wodehouse as Mad Magazine makes more sense that you might think.

Me and my brothers thought we had to smuggle copies of Mad Magazine into the house because whenever the bright and obnoxious covers caught our eye on the supermarket shelf, Mom turned us down with a gentle, “That’s not appropriate for you.”  Our illicit readings proved her both right and wrong.  The kitchen-sink approach Mad takes to humor meant that the booger jokes and slapstick and puns rubbed elbows with references to adult themes such as Hollywood celebrity gossip, the last gasps of seventies culture, and the (then topical) Reaganomics.  While not damaging to a child’s psyche, most adult references whooshed over our heads like facts zipping past the notice of the crew at CNN.

What they did provide was a glimpse into a broader and more mature world waiting for us on the other side of puberty.  Reading Wodehouse presents the same sort of feeling, but looking backwards at once was and what might still be again, if America can get its act together and make some unpleasant changes in our immivasion and economic policies.

The art for Right Ho, Jeeves also evokes a strong sense of nostalgia for a time when comics were a medium of information exchange not entirely given over to children.  The smooth work and dignified cartoonish style used by Gary Kwapitz makes a perfect match for the same balance that Wodehouse brings to the line between dignified and adult humor laced with outright buffoonery.  The colors as well, warm and rich, never tilt too far into the realm of “sepia tinged nostaligia farming”, and instead provide a sense of immediacy that never lets the reader forget he is reading the tales of a bygone era.

Bringing this work to market is an incredible achievement.  Fantastically entertaining and enormously fun, we don’t yet live in a world where Right Ho, Jeeves can develop the popularity and accolades that it deserves.  Too fun for the snooty types that think books discussed on NPR are the height of culture and too mature for the eternal children that flock to Marvel movies, this book has a limited niche that would cause any mainstream editor to swoon at the risks.  It’s too much fish for one and too much fowl for the other.

Which isn’t to say that there isn’t market for it.  Hell, Frazier ran for twelve seasons, and it had the same feeling as Right Ho, JeevesIt’s merely to say that mainstream entertainment refuses to acknowledge the hordes of adults who grew up reading bootleg copies of Mad Magazine by flashlight under the covers, and who learned to appreciate that sometimes sophisticated humor can be delivered by smacking a heavy cream pie right into a blowhard’s fat face.

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The Lego Movie: A Cynical Hot Take

The Lego Movie: The Retroactively Named The First Part is a fine movie. With the sequel, The Lego Movie2 : The Second Part out in theaters now, it seemed the opportune moment to raise an issue with the underlying message of the original film.  For those that haven’t seen it yet, the underlying message is that DAD GETS NOTHING!

You should probably stop reading right now because of spoilers and self-admitted man-babyisms.

The third act of The Lego Movie breaks the third-and-a-half wall.  It doesn’t break the fourth wall and admit it’s really a movie, instead it reveals that the Lego movie so far is actually the play time of a real-world kid who just wants to play with Dad’s basement full of toys.  By the end, Dad realizes that having his own interests and wanting a place to escape from the sometimes overwhelming demands of fatherhood makes him a selfish and horrible person.  Through the magic of Legos he learns that when it comes to the pressures of modern life, there is no escape.

If he builds a club where he can relax with like-minded men, they’ll be outlawed.  If he seeks retreat in new books, they’ll be forced to carry messages about the evils he and his kind hath wrought on the world*.  Not a single television show, not even sports, will be allowed to reflect his interests if they don’t also cater to interests directly opposed to his existence.  The one room in the house where he can shut down his racing thoughts and focus on the slow and careful construction and engineering, the detailed thought and planning that goes into the lavish spread that he built over decades, even that he will not be allowed.  He must sacrifice the time and planning and meticulous attention to detail to serve others.


Not so heart warming when you think about it like that, is it?

If you do see the sequel, note well the state of the once-glorious utopia built by Dad.  Note what happens when you don’t give him a little space and defer to his wisdom.  Consider also how the results of the DAD GETS NOTHING approach to a basement full of Legos translates to our society as a whole.

Did the writers of these films slip one past the Narrative Censors, or did they just deliver more right than they bargained for?

*Yes, we still have indy publishing and books written pre-1980, but you get the point.


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Castalia Reviews: Honor Flight

Today I’ve got a review up for a nice little indy gem of a sci-fi book called Honor Flight.  Head on over and check it out if you’d like to know what a decent version of Old Man’s War looks like.

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Current Mood: Holistic Burgers

Under increasing pressure on the home front, Team Mollison re-upped Hulu for a few months. Their primary motivation was catching up on “Bob’s Burgers” – probably the best family show on TV right now.  The show is filled with fully realized characters who grow in depth with each passing episode.

Bob may not be the smartest cookie, and he may not be a great businessman, but he is a great father.  Long suffering and big hearted, he’s a good man, struggling to care for his family, and in so doing he serves as a role model for fathers – a strong contrast to the usual sort selfish incompetent stock character seen in most sitcoms.

More surprising still is the character of his wife, Linda.  She is loving and kind, but far from perfect.  Headstrong and quirky and fun, her enthusiasm for life actually results in her making frequent mistakes that can only be rectified by her husband.  That’s a storyline unheard of in our enlightened times, and because of it, she has some of the most memorable lines in the show.

The youngest child, Louise, is wise beyond her years and verges on a Mary Sue, except that her own eccentricities result in weaknesses that flesh her out and create internal conflicts of her own.  Gene, the middle child, verges on playing the village idiot role given his obliviousness and bumbling incompetence at pretty much everything he does save for music.  The annoyance that might arise from his clownish nature is tempered by the raw enthusiasm and good nature.  He really likes liking things, and in a world filled with cynics, it’s refreshing to see that kind of optimism.

The oldest, Tina, provides a counterpoint to her brash siblings with a sweet and timid nature.  At first blush, her uncertain steps from childhood into adulthood are ridiculous.  But they reflect a young woman’s uncertainty and misapprehensions and are written with such deftness and compassion that the viewer understands and empathizes with her, even as they laugh at her often self-imposed travails.  Hey, we’ve all been there, Tina.  We know how it goes.

While much too busy for the sort of binge watching that goes on in my house, I’ve been snared by the writing.  At times the gags in Bob’s Burgers rivals early Simpsons for their earnestness and cleverness.  Best of all, most of the humor in this show features the warmth and wry wit of flyover country rather than the hard edged sarcasm that dominates the coastal traditions.  Heck, the mere presence of a nuclear family that loves and cares for each other separates this show from the pack.

If you’re up for some light-hearted fun that won’t insult you and that reflects the normal and typical American family life, you should give the Belchers a shot.

On the more dramatic end of the spectrum, I’ve been experiencing Dirk Gently’s Holisitic Detective Agency.  It’s too early for me to give a recommend just yet.  As a BBC show it’s plagued with all of the usual issues.  Tiny women single handedly beating up hordes of bulky and well trained men.  A Dirk Gently who ladles the ‘quirky genius’ schtick on way too heavy at the outset.  A shadowy government military cabal we’re supposed to fear despite being shown as utterly incompetent.  It’s definitely a flawed work.

On the other hand, it has Elijah Wood in a dramatic role that uses his charisma and raw talent to incredible effect.  One of the kung-fu waif/stronk female characters manages her feats by way of an what amounts to a superpower level of luck.  Dirk, after being introduced as, “Remember Tenant’s Doctor Who?  I’m him turned up to 11!” settles down in fairly short order.  The cabal is revealed to be not so much incompetent as outclassed.  Perhaps I’m making excuses

The premise of the show revolves around the mystery of a murdered billionaire and the disappearance of his young daughter a few days before his death.  We follow Elijah Wood’s character who serves as the real heart of the show.  All he wants is to care for his sister, who suffers from a mental illness that keeps her shut in and requires expensive medications to function.  Thrown into the middle of the mystery, he slips into a shadow world populated by cults, possible aliens, police as confused by the strange events as he is, and the military cabal.

Overall, it’s a mixed bag, but you might find it worth a shot if you like convoluted sci-fi and conspiraciana, and you can stomach and look past the BBC’s typically excessive bullshit tax.  Once I finish the series, I’ll have a clearer picture of whether Dirk Gently deserves your time or not.  For now, it’s worth a shot.

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Happy President’s Day

Together we can turn Mount Rushmore into Mount Rushmost

I don’t trust the plan.  I trust the God Emperor.  But I trust God first and foremost, and so I celebrated this Presidents’ Day with a Rosary and request that Our Lady watch over him and guide him through the dangerous waters in which he swims.  There is truth to the social media refrain, common among the blackpill types, that “We aren’t voting our way out of this mess.”  We won’t be cleaning up this mess by ballot box alone, no.  It’s going to take a return to our Christian values, and that’s going to take a lot of prayer.  If you’ve been neglecting the most important front in the culture war, today’s a good day to get started.  Say a prayer for POTUS, and one for our nation, under God.

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Begun, The Ember Wars Have

 The talented team-up of Jon Del Arroz and Richard Fox has born its first fruits.  Those of us smart enough to back the crowdfund for the comic adaptation of The Ember War saga have received the initial offering.

It lives up to the hype.

The full run of 120 pages aren’t slated for release until April, but backers recently received the 24-page Issue #1 which lays the groundwork for the coming interstellar conflagration.  Set sixty years in the future, humanity continues to do what humanity does – they fight.  The tools have changed, thanks to Marc Ibarra and his mysterious benefactor, but the law of scarcity and supply and demand still apply.  Which leaves the door open for conflict ranging from espionage of the corporate and governmental varieties, and big damn space battles as well.

The action opens with the infiltration of a mining colony that went dark and the search for survivors, then moves on to the broader shoot-em-up of fleet battles in space, and delivers a short vignette that hints at big doings afoot in the Earth’s galactic neighborhood, and finally ends with a terrible realization that echoes the great hook at the heart of Battlestar Galactica.

There’s a lot to pack into the first issue, and if it seems heavy on the plot set-ups and light on the resolutions, that’s likely because we’ve got another 96 pages worth of comic to get through.  The characterizations are a little thin, but again that has more to do with pacing for the long haul than any oversight on the writers’ part.  With such limited space to work with, the writers make heavy use of the time saving device of tropes and blank slate characters just waiting to be fully fleshed out later.  They do provide just enough meat to hold interest and make this reader want to learn more about who they are and what they face.

The art?  I’m not an art critic.  It works.  Jethro Morales’ aesthetic has enough detail to please the eye, without overwhelming the story with visuals for the sake of visuals.  The colors are vibrant, the lettering seamless, and everything fits together well.  One nice aspect of the artwork that jumps out even to my inexperienced eye is the dynamic layout.  Check out this scan of a few pages.  Note how often Jethro uses insets in splash pages or eschews rectangular frames.  That helps add to the visual appeal and drives the action forward.  It breaks things up and keeps you on your toes.

Finally, it’s worth noting that straight ahead sci-fi tales are woefully under-represented in the pages of comics.  The decision to bring a story like this – for those who care, it’s too early to tell if we’re looking at space opera or military SF – to the page represents a bold choice, and for my money it’s one that paid off in spades.  The cape genre has had over fifty years of domination and they’ve built and deconstructed and rebuilt those stories so often there just isn’t a whole lot of blood left in the super-stones.  The Ember War represents exactly the kind of diversity that mainstream comics lack – a diversity of genres and ideas.  It feels fresh and new in a way that no super-hero story can these days.

More so than any other comic that I’ve back, save perhaps only Alt*Hero: Q, this is one comic that has left me eager to get my mitts on the next issue.

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