Book Review: Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

I had originally planned to delve back into some classical literature, preferably something Greek, to break out of my Roman-only shell just a tad. Unfortunately, in Tokyo, when it comes to ancient texts translated into English, the pickings be slim. Lucky for me, the good people at Kinokuniya had put shiny “New Arrival” stickers on several sci-fi selections, including Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker. Now, I’d never heard of a Boneshaker, nor a Cherie Priest, but Terry Brooks assured me this book was Priest’s breakout masterpiece on the back cover. And who am I to argue with the author of the novelization of  Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace? Some of you might be thinking: “why is he picking on Terry Brooks? leave her alone!” Well, it’s not a she. Terry Brooks is a man! A man with a woman’s name. That is not right.

So anyway, I bought Boneshaker, and I also read it. The novel takes place in 1880 in an alternate universe steampunk Seattle that is infested with zombies. Some of you may be thinking: “What?! That sounds crazy enough to be awesome!” You’d be wrong because the actual product is predictable and uninteresting. However, this would be a poor review if I left it at that, so I will grab my author’s responsibility by the horns and provide a more in-depth look at this mess of a book.

In the 1860’s the Soviets paid an inventor named Leviticus Blue tons of money to create a machine that could drill through ice in the harsh conditions of Alaska to get Yukon gold. I meant Russians, sorry. Soon, Blue told the world he was ready to test his Incredible Bone-shaking Drilling Machine. The next day the ground under the banks in Seattle (conveniently all located in the same place) began to shake and crumble, and gas seethed out of the recently dug underground tunnels. The gas turned people into zombies.  Fast forward 15 years, and downtown Seattle is surrounded by a wall, which keeps gases and zombies within. I wondered how a wall could keep gas inside, and the author explains zombie gas is heavy. That’s convenient. Naturally, the survivors living on the outskirts of the old city outside the walls blame Blue and the Boneshaker for all their misfortunes, which makes life tough for his widow and son. The son does not believe his father was evil, and sneaks back into the zombie city to try and find evidence to clear his name. His mother sneaks in after him because saving dumb shits who happen to be their sons is what mothers do best. Along the way they meet air pirates, crazy scientists, conniving Chinese people, nice Chinese people, bandits, bandits with hearts of gold, drug dealers….and zombies! That’s the basic premise of the novel.

The book is about 500 pages long, but its plot calls for maybe 80-100, so naturally the pacing is terrible. For a book about zombies and death gas there’s also very little tension. I found myself skimming through the zombie chase scenes because they weren’t scary or interesting. There’s a few plot twists sprinkled throughout; unfortunately, every single one is predictable and uninspired. The whole book hinges on the premise of history’s subjectivity, and warping of figures and the truth over time….and then at the end we find out every single thing everyone thought was true. Nothing had been warped or changed…so…ok.

The characters are all pretty boring. The son is bland, and a complete idiot to boot. The mom is a cold bitch for the first 40 pages, and then just turns hysterical for the rest of the novel. the bad guys are uninspired caricatures of stuff we’ve all seen before. All the renegades and hard boiled bandits we meet inside the city are actually nice helpful people, which works out well  for the mom and son because it keeps them from dying immediately upon entering Seattle. But it’s hard to believe for the reader. So, not one of the survivors hardened by 15 years of living with zombies and gas and evil scientists is toughened beyond helping a mom and son? Not one? I guess Priest has a pretty optimistic view of human nature.

The book also has tons of historical inaccuracies. I know that sounds stupid because we’re talking about historical fiction, but what’s the point of even setting it in 1880 Seattle if you’re going to have landmarks appear 40 years before they were built? Why not have it take place in 1905? Can’t you have a steampunk novel take place in 1905? I’m surprised they didn’t fly a steam blimp into the space needle and grab a cup of Starbucks.

I really don’t know what else to say. The book was uninteresting, and I’m finding it hard to keep writing about it. In case it wasn’t clear, I don’t recommend Boneshaker.

Movie Review: Up in the Air

About 10 hours into a 13 hour flight I had exhausted most of the palatable on-board viewing options, including 2 terrible Japanese movies and Extraordinary Measures. “I’m a scientist! I don’t care about money!” Thanks for the memories, Harrison Ford. Anyway, I was in the midst of deciding between Meet the Robinsons and an Italian comedy about a middle-aged man’s sexual escapades (which is pretty much every Italian comedy), a choice even Sophie would find herself hard-pressed to make, when Up in the Air caught my eye. I was reluctant to select it, since it looked really boring and most likely pretentious. Then I remembered that I had actually really enjoyed the last pretentious movie I saw, the criminally underappreciated Synecdoche New York (see, even the title would make a film festival panel gag). Plus, the movie did get some Oscar buzz, so I pushed play. And it was good.

George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, who fires people for other companies for a living. His job necessitates a lot of air travel; this detail is important because Ryan loves travelling. He loves accumulating miles. He loves hotel membership perks. He loves car rental membership perks. He loves airport lounges. He loves faceless and engineered processes and places. He can’t stand home, which is in Omaha (that might explain why he always wants to be away). His apartment has nothing in it but a bed and a closet. I don’t think I even saw a TV.

All of the above is a result of his personal philosophy, which he biblethumps to others during speaking seminars  at hotel venues. His speech is always the same, and is entitled “What’s in your backpack?” The main gist is that all of our possesions, friends, attachments, etc. weigh us down and prevent us from moving forward. This point of view isn’t so surprising coming from someone who spends over 300 days a year away from home. He doesn’t want to travel to see new places; he travels to avoid attachments and familiarity. Ryan can probably describe the interior of every major airport in the US. But has he ever seen the Grand Canyon? Has he gone skiing in the rockies, or seen an SEC football game?

In fact, the main conflict comes into play when a hot-shot young company employee introduces a new online firing system, all done through the computer, eliminating the need to send people all over the country, and of course, lowering overhead. Would this be “insourcing?” How will Ryan deal with spending most of the year in Omaha? In one office? Commuting back home every day? Further complicating matters is the fact Ryan meets someone special on one of his trips, someone who shares his passion for the freedom of the road, but ironically raises doubts for Ryan about the desirability of his empty backpack philosphy.

George Clooney plays Ryan as a great guy, someone you wouldn’t mind hanging out with and talking to. He’s smart, funny, knows the right things to say, etc. But what are his hobbies? What’s his favorite color? How does he feel about healthcare? We never learn much about Ryan’s past either, but seeing as how unimportant it is to him, why should we care? This may seem unfulfilling, but I much prefer the ambiguity to gratuitous flashbacks to an emotionally distant father etc. However, as the movie progresses, we get a sense there is something more to Ryan as he begins to doubt and question his road warrior liffestyle. Not in the sense we’re uncovering a buried, hidden “true self”, but that a deeper person is starting to grow within, and question the motions his shell has been performing.

The rest of the cast is good, too, especially Vera Farmiga, who plays Ryan’s love interest Alex. Like Ryan, she puts forward a friendly face and knows all the right moves and phrases. Unlike Ryan, however, there’s a lot underneath. Hint: it isn’t all good.

The film does get a little heavy-handed during the firing sequences. Wow, so firing people is a brutal, careless process that hurts lives? We’re breaking some new ground here. In some ways, this movie would have worked much better 2 years ago without the pandering for sympathy for the jobless. It’s really the only weak point of the film.

It is well directed by Ivan Reitman’s son. Can’t remember his first name….anyway, it’s much better than his previous Thank You for Smoking. Unlike the previous film, Up in the Air is not a comedy, and is more classifiable as a tragedy though there is humor in the film.

I don’t give star reviews, but I do recommend this movie. Please actively go out and try to see it. It’s one of the better movies of 2009.

Sweden isn’t for Women: A review of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Stieg Larsson’s murder/thriller series about The Girl Who Did This or That has been all the rage recently, especially in Europe, so I thought I’d see what all the fuss was about. Now, the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo novel is thick as hell and expensive in Japan, so I opted for the free downloaded movie instead. Better to waste 2 hours than 2 weeks, I always say.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a by the numbers thriller that offers nothing new, engaging, or even remotely interesting. It does feature plenty of explicit acts of sexual violence against women. So if you’re looking for a bland murder mystery punctuated by rape and incest scenes, have I got a recommendation for you.

The film features a hero and a heroine. The heroine is a tough as nails 24 year-old Goth chick with a troubled past named Lisbeth Salander. At least, I’m assuming she had a troubled past; the movie doesn’t reveal too much back story. But she has tattoos, piercings, fucks women, and makes a habit of watching men burn alive in their cars, so I’m assuming her childhood was rather traumatic. She is a master hacker with a photographic memory; both are convenient traits for the protagonist of a murder mystery. However, Lisbeth is very ably played by Noomi Rapace, who fills the character with just enough intensity to counterbalance her insecurities and weaknesses. She plays against the older, passive pussy Mikael Blomkvist, who is an investigative journalist and a boring human being. He is less ably played by Michael Nyqvist. Mikael was recently convicted of libel, and has 6 months of freedom before he has to go to jail. What does this have to do with the main story? Absolutely nothing. But it does provide nice filler for the beginning and end of the movie, and provides a nice little cash ex machina for Lisbeth to become rich at the end using her hacking abilities. Then again, if all she had to do to get rich was hack wealthy peoples’ bank accounts, why not do it sooner? Treading into spoiler territory now…

Back to the main plot, the two sleuths are brought together by the disappearance and possible murder of Harriet Vanger 40 years ago. Why are they investigating something that happened 40 years ago? That’s a good question, and one the plot never resolves satisfactorily because, honestly, everything could have been resolved 40 years ago…Anyway, Harriet is part of the super wealthy Vanger family, who own a large, rich company, and all live on an island, accessible by one bridge, and who are all shifty, shady individuals that make convenient suspects for the crime. But the limited suspect list is a mystery convention older than sand in the Sahara, so it’s hard to blame the movie for that.

They work well together, and in the course of their investigation, done mostly through Mac OS X and looking at the same 2 pictures for 90 minutes, they uncover even more murders and possible ties to antisemitism and Nazis. A Nazi bad guy?! Someone call the originality police. They also have sex. I’m not sure why. I think the director felt obligated to exploit a love interest somewhere in the movie. Although there’s also a semi-developed love interest between Mikael and an older lady on the island during the first 30 minutes for some reason…I’m not totally convinced the makers of the movie knew what they were doing. Everything builds up to a pretty standard ending, with the killer revealing his exact reasons for doing all he’s done, though in all fairness he does give us a very frank answer with “It was the sex, mainly.” He also conveniently kept pictures and names of all his victims in the room he used to kill everyone. So much in the film is so convenient! Another weakness of the film is that after the killer is discovered and defeated, the movies doesn’t end. It goes on for like another half hour, and adds in the added spice of incest into all the rape we’ve been subjected to. Come on! Just end it!

The chilly Swedish setting fits the thriller atmosphere well though, much better than the plot, unfortunately. However, the forbidding island and its frosty inhabitants feel underused, and there’s never a sense of suspense or urgency, even in scenes involving guns and chases and danger.

The movie also features several very graphic scenes of bondage and rape. They serve to highlight the film’s very feminist orientation, but unfortunately straddle the line a little too close to exploitation for my tastes. Did I mention the film’s feminist leanings? Seriously, having a penis should be a crime in Sweden.  If you’re a woman living in Sweden, get the hell out. Something bad will happen to you, or already has.

In case you haven’t noticed, I did not like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo very much, and do not recommend it. I’ll admit, I haven’t read the book, so it could conceivably be worthwhile, but the film adaptation certainly isn’t.

Movie Review: Predators

This is the logo for the Nashville Predators, in case you didn’t know.
They're a pretty good team, I hear.

I’ll be frank and say that I went into this movie with the lowest expectations.  The Predator franchise, such as it is, has produced only one good movie, and every subsequent entry in the series has failed to do a single new thing with the premise.  We never see Predator culture, we never see the day to day Predator lifestyle, we never see where Predators buy all their fishnet body stockings.  (Is there a Hot Topic on the Predator Homeworld?  These are the questions!)  We have never even learned a single Predator’s name.  All we’ve been shown in four movies is that 1) Predators hunt dangerous game, 2) Predators routinely fail and die while hunting said game.  With these two facts firmly established, we now come to the fifth Predator movie, Predators, so named (one assumes) because the producers couldn’t agree on whether this is Predator 3 or Predator 5.  How does it fare?  Does it manage to move the franchise forward in any meaningful way?  Does it validate its own existence?

No, it’s just shit.

The trailer shows a crew of “badasses” being dropped into a jungle, where they immediately figure out that they’re on an alien planet game preserve, and the Predators hunt them and kill some of them.  Which, it turns out, is the entire plot of the movie.  The whole movie is that premise.  So essentially, the movie is a remake of Predator, only the jungle is on another planet instead of another continent, and the lead is played by Adrien Brody instead of Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Oh, and instead of it being a crack team of commandoes, it’s a motley collection of soldiers, murderers, and Topher Grace.  I assume this was to raise the stakes, since the movie tries so hard to paint these people as tough and dangerous, worthy foes for the Predators, but it never works.  They argue with each other, and look scornfully at each other, and don’t work as a team; thus they come off as less intimidating as Arnold’s team in the original, which was a cohesive unit that worked together.

I would like to say more about the plot, but there really is nothing else to it.  Humans run, Predators are invisible and kill them.  The only extra plot point is that Adrien Brody wants to get off the planet, so he concocts a plan to steal the Predator starship.  I will give the movie credit on this one, though, since one of the other humans actually asks the question “Do you know how to fly an alien space ship?”  Of course, the plot quickly produces a deus ex machina to make Brody’s plan work, in the form of a captive Predator that understands English.  It felt like someone asked that question on set, and the director and writers scrambled to whitewash in an answer, rather than actually address the gaping plot hole.

The only character of any interest is Lawrence Fishburne, who is a survivor from a previous hunt.  Though he escaped the Predators, he can’t escape the planet, and has gone rather mad while trying to survive.  Seeing how he’s coped (or failed to cope) with his situation is actually engaging, and he comes off as a sympathetic character who had to go mad to keep from committing suicide….

Okay, I can’t do it.  I can’t distort Fishburne’s character to try to make him interesting.  The truth is that the character presents a very interesting idea, that of a long term survivor.  That premise is good, and the psychological ramifications of having time to process that you are being hunted for sport is really intriguing, but the truth is that the movie doesn’t do a goddamn thing with this glimmer of a good idea.  They basically use the character as a way to break up the action between the first and third act, and quickly disposes of him when it comes time to move toward the climax.  The one chance for the series to innovate, and the movie uses it as a scene transition and casts it aside when it’s time for action.

As for the action itself, it’s all garbage.  All but maybe one of the sequences is ripped straight off of Predator, so none of it is fun to watch.  There’s the scene of people shooting their guns at the empty jungle, there’s the scene of people trying to see the invisible Predator, there’s the scene of the Predator targeting people with the three red dots, there’s the scene of the one badass with a blade staying behind to try to kill the Predator or buy time (except this time it’s a Yakuza gangster who knows karate and has a katana, rather than a Native American with a big knife), there’s even the scene where the main character uses mud to disguise his heat signature.  Absolutely nothing is original, and so all of it is boring.

One final thing I want to note is that Adrien Brody is a good actor, but he cannot carry an action movie.  It may be unfair to compare him to Arnold, but the movie invites the comparison by copying the first movie so closely, so too bad.  I just couldn’t buy Adrien Brody as a stern mercenary/former military/world weary soldier/literature enthusiast (at one point he quotes Hemingway).  It doesn’t help that the movie gives him nothing to do aside from look angry and carry around a gun that weighs more than he does.  Obviously a movie this bad wouldn’t have been saved by a stronger lead actor, but trying to convince the audience that the Pianist is a badass mercenary is a battle that is uphill on an ice rink.

Now on iTunes for real

So go ahead and ignore the post below this once, since now the Impetuous Windmills Podcast is on iTunes proper.  Just go to the iTunes store, search for Impetuous Windmills, and you’ll find us quick and easy.  Subscribe, leave a good review, and enjoy our stock windmill drawing.   Or, if you don’t go in for that iTunes nonsense, you can subscribe directly to the podcast feed by clicking the RSS button on the right side of this very page.  Either way, now there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be listening to it.

Welcome to the new site

A hearty hello and welcome to our millions of fans and followers. The Impetuous Windmills have broken free from the WordPress yoke and started up our own website. I know it still looks like WordPress, but rest assured we’re just running the WP script through our own site.

More to the point, our podcasts are now directly available on iTunes, so all that rapidshare bunk is done with.  To get access, just go to iTunes and to “subscribe to podcast.” Then hit advanced settings and type in


-Ser Sagramore LeDesyrus

Well, that's actually only one windmill…