21 July 2014

Five author rap battles that need to happen - an Epic Rap Battles of History wishlist


For those of you who don't know, Epic Rap Battles of History is a YouTube channel that pits famous people from history and fictional characters head-to-head in a rap battle, including well-known authors like Dr. Seuss vs. William Shakespeare and Stephen King vs. Edgar Allen Poe.

There's still a pretty big gap in the literary department, so here is an Epic Rap Battles of History author wishlist.

J.K. Rowling vs. George R.R. Martin

Both George R.R. Martin and J.K. Rowling have had runaway success with the adaptations of their novels into TV and film respectively.

Plus, both authors are (in)famous for killing off characters that we as readers have grown to love. It'll be an epic stand off between the two.

Neil Gaiman vs. H.P. Lovecraft

Neil Gaiman and H.P. Lovecraft are both masters of the strange. While Gaiman's tales take a more whimsical route than the horror-filled Lovecraft, both have a penchant for weirdness that would show well in a rap battle.

Whatever Lovecraft's rap would be, I hope that he would manage to fit in "Ia! Ia! Cthulu Fthgen!" in there somewhere.

George Orwell vs. Aldous Huxley

This one is a tad obvious, but it's an important one nonetheless. Both considered masters of classical science-fiction - George Orwell taking the route that humanity needed pain to control us; Aldous Huxley believed that it would be humanity's desire for pleasure and distraction that would be our ruin.

The opposing views on similar themes would be an excellent setting for a battle.

J.R.R. Tolkien vs. Robert Jordan 

(with back-up from Christopher Tolkien vs. Brandon Sanderson)

Two heavyweights in the fantasy genre, and both had their legacies continued after their passing. Christopher Tolkien took up the mantle and published the rest of J.R.R. Tolkien's stories, and Brandon Sanderson finished the Wheel of Time series based on Robert Jordan's notes.

With heavy hitters such as these, it's going to get messy.

Terry Pratchett vs. Douglas Adams

The classic sci-fi vs. fantasy battle. The twist is that both authors are known for their humour and their satire, which would make any rap battle between the two hilarious.

Rincewind vs. Arthur Dent, Samuel Vimes vs. Marvin the Paranoid Android, Nanny Ogg vs. Zaphod Beeblebrox - there's a good counterpoint within each author's creation that lends itself to a battle that would leave the audience in stitches.

Here are a few suggestions from you guys:

Who would you choose to go head-to-head in an author rap battle? Let me know in the comments!

About Jamie
Jamie Gibbs is a life-long geek and leans towards anything with sorcery, dragons or obscure pop culture references.
You can follow him on at @mithrilwisdom for a daily dose of fanboy discourse.

18 July 2014

How To Train Your Dragon 2 [movie review]

How To Train Your Dragon 2
Director: Dean DeBlois
Screenplay: Dean DeBlois
Starring: Jay Baruchel, Cate Blanchett, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera
Studio: Dreamworks Animation
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Running Time: 102 minutes
Released: June 2013

How To Train Your Dragon 2 picks up about five years after the events of the original movie. The once bumbling Hiccup is now 'the pride of Berk' and has earned the respect of his village (and acceptance of his father).

With Vikings now on the backs of dragons, the world suddenly gets bigger, and a new threat looms. An old enemy, hell bent on conquest, makes himself known, and it's up to Hiccup and the gang to save their people - and their dragons - from defeat.

With a five year gap between films, the kids from the first Dragon movie have grown up a little. Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is more sure of himself, yet still has some of the awkward charm that made him so likable in the first movie.

Snotlout (Jonah Hill) and Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) are both fighting for the affections of Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig) - who remains as single-minded and obnoxious as ever.

Stoick (Gerard Butler) has softened quite a bit since we last saw him, which is a surprise. What we see in very brief glimpses in the first movie is mostly present in Dragon 2, though there are scenes when his stubbornness and an edge of darkness creep in to remind us that this is a hard man with a hard life.

The people of Berk are up against Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou), whose voice and attitude are intimidating and frenzied, making for a great villain.

The world is gorgeous, as I mentioned in my review of The Art of How to Train Your Dragon 2. With exploration comes the opportunity for more variety in dragons and landscape, and all of these are done beautifully.

My only gripes with the movie were that Valka (Cate Blanchett)'s voice was all over the place - her accent shifted from Scandanavian to Scottish to Irish and even a little American at times. This might have been to emphasise that she had spent two decades away from other humans and had explored the world in that time, but it was confusing and a little off-putting.

There was also a wasted potential plot point regarding Toothless as being the last of his kind. This was mentioned often enough that I began to think it foreshadowed a future plot point, but nothing came of it. Maybe in the next movie.

How To Train Your Dragon 2 is a delightful movie that is every bit as beautiful  and fun to watch as the original. If you're a fan of the original Dragon, or of dragons in general, then definitely go see this.

Want more dragons?
The Art of How to Train your Dragon 2 - book review
How To Train Your Dragon - movie review
In which I hunt dragons
The top four dragons in fantasy

About Jamie
Jamie Gibbs is a life-long geek and leans towards anything with sorcery, dragons or obscure pop culture references.
You can follow him on at @mithrilwisdom for a daily dose of fanboy discourse.

15 July 2014

Take Back the Skies - Lucy Saxon [book review]


Take Back the Skies 
Written by Lucy Saxon
Published by Bloomsbury
Paperback - 384 pages
Published 3rd June 2014
Review copy given by publisher

I'm in a hurry. Give me the jist

Take Back the Skies has interesting world-building and potential for more, but suffers from a lack of conflict and a stop-start pacing that may leave some readers bored.

In A Nutshell

Catherine 'Cat' Hunter grows tired of her privileged life and controlling father, and so leaves home to stow away on the airship Stormdancer. There the crew befriend and accept her, but Cat soon discovers that the aristocracy in which she'd been brought up is at the head of a global conspiracy.

What Worked

Saxon's world is quite unique and stands alone among its peers. The main islands of the world, separated by near-impenetrable storm barriers, make for an interesting dynamic between cultures and politics.

The crew of the Stormdancer are a mixed bunch but with well-developed characters that shared a bond that hinted at a deeper back story. The interplay between Cat and Fox was believable for two teens sharing the same space.

I enjoyed the cloak-and-dagger aspects of the story most of all. The sneaking and infiltrating scenes were a good way to add tension to the narrative, especially when Cat and Fox's emotions become entangled in the events.

What Didn't Work

Ultimately, the plot had very little conflict to keep readers interested. You'd get a flash of potential conflict in the odd scene here and there, but it was over too quickly to have that much of an impact on the reader. You never feel that the characters are in any real danger.

There were also pacing issues with the story that gave it a stop-start motion. There would be a few scenes of 'down-time' that were solely dedicated to Cat and Fox's developing relationship and characterisation, which mired the pace. 

There were also some elements that felt anachronistic to the feel of the world. With the airships and clockwork mechas used in the story, there's a definite steampunk vibe. However, some parts towards the end of the book feel like they'd be perfectly at home in a modern espionage or sci-fi story - things like "scientists wearing lab-coats" give the scenes a modern feel that felt out of place.

In Short

Overall, I think this series has potential. I'm interested in the world and in the supporting cast, who could go on to have more adventures. The pacing issues and lack of conflict would make me wary about continuing with the series.

Would I Recommend It?

If you were a YA reader and wanted a light touch of steampunk in your reading, then give Take Back the Skies a shot. If you're a more seasoned steampunk reader, I'd probably give this one a miss.

About Jamie
Jamie Gibbs is a life-long geek and leans towards anything with sorcery, dragons or obscure pop culture references.
You can follow him on at @mithrilwisdom for a daily dose of fanboy discourse.