Figure 1 - Storybundle covers
Figure 1 – Storybundle covers

Like eBooks? (Especially SF/F DRM-free and really bargain-priced eBooks?) Boy, have I got a bargoon for you! Lisa Mason, author of Summer of Love and several other books, has curated a new Storybundle just chock-full of great genre writing!

Why a Storybundle instead of a Bookbundle? Well, look at it this way: with stories you get to experience an author’s (or a group of authors’) unique looks at life in a variety of ways over the same time span you’d spend reading a single book. Yes, there is something to be said for reading a novel—or even a series of novels featuring the same protagonist(s) and/or location—but the point of stories vs. novels is that they’re all different (usually) and you can have so many different kinds of enjoyment from them! Harry Harrison, in his introduction to SF: Authors’ Choice 4 (Putnam 1974), says in part that “…authors are an individualistic, withdrawn, outgoing, quiet, noisy, unthinking, intellectualizing  bunch of people….” and that means for every four stories you read, you will read four different styles, themes, locations, protagonists, and so on. (Probably true even if all four are by the same author!)

In this bundle, Lisa has brought together “…more than [just] stories, we’ve got multi-award winning and award nominated story collections. The authors have assembled their short fiction written over a decade—sometimes over two or three decades—of their careers. Stories published in wide-ranging and diverse magazines and anthologies, many which may be difficult to find now, some of which may have gone out of print. The authors have done the hard work of gathering up these amazing stories and all you, the reader, need to do is enjoy!” Here’s the cool part: you pay what you want (more or less). If you pay the “regular” price of $5, you get the following three selections/collections:

The Green Leopard Plague by Walter Jon Williams
•  Collected Stories by Lewis Shiner
Errantry: Strange Stories by Elizabeth Hand
And if you pay more than the bonus price of just $12, you get all three of those titles, plus five more:
Women Up to No Good by Pat Murphy
Strange Ladies: 7 Stories by Lisa Mason
Six Stories by Kathe Koja
What I Didn’t See: Stories by Karen Fowler
Wild Things by C.C. Finlay

And here’s another great thing: your contribution goes to charity, and you can designate a charity to receive part of it. This collection is ONLY available till June 2! Get some now!

Figure 2- 10 Cloverfield Lane poster
Figure 2- 10 Cloverfield Lane poster

Let’s see a show of hands: who remembers an “alien invasion/found footage” movie a few years ago called Cloverfield? It was pretty cool, right? And we all waited for the rumoured sequel… and waited… and waited. But the sequel never arrived. Well, now we have a sequel, but somehow it’s not really a sequel. For one thing, it’s almost entirely unconnected to the first movie; secondly, it’s not a “found footage” movie. This one engenders almost the same feeling of dread and paranoia, but in a totally different way. (Director Dan Trachtenberg has said, I believe, that this film is a “blood relative” to Cloverfield.)

Mary Elizabeth Winstead stars as Michelle, who is escaping a bad relationship. We see her frantically packing a bag, and leaving her keys and engagment ring on a counter in an apartment. Later, she takes a phone call from “Ben” (voice of Bradley Cooper), who implores her to come back and who says that running away is not the solution to an argument. She cuts him off without speaking. Later, in the night, she fills her car at a gas station, looking warily at a pickup at another pump. There is an accident, and the world spins crazily, and she blacks out. She awakes to find herself connected to an I.V. on her left side, and a brace on her right thigh and knee which is handcuffed to a pipe in what appears to be a room made of cement blocks. We also find out that Michelle is not your shrinking violet type young woman; while she is alone she pulls out the IV and uses the IV stand to pull her phone closer to herself. There is no signal. She comes to find out that Howard, played by John Goodman, has “rescued” her from her accident; she is locked in a shelter under his farmhouse with Howard and a local, Emmett, played by John Gallegher, Jr., who helped Howard build the shelter. Howard explains that he has seen all this coming for years; he was in the Navy for 17 years (something to do with aviation), and as soon as the attack was announced, he headed for his shelter. Attack? Yes, he explains, the world has been attacked by aliens, who have pretty much destroyed the outside world with a gas that kills every animal, but thanks to his air filtration system, they are prepared to wait as long as two years for the air to clear. Emmet was there and pleaded to be let in; she was fortunate that on his way to the shelter, Howard saw her accident and stopped.

As evidence of the gas, Howard takes her to a window in his “airlock” and lets her see his pigs, which appear to have died horribly in their sty. Of course, Michelle isn’t buying any of this. She thinks Howard has taken her prisoner for reasons of his own; she immediately starts scheming to escape what she views as her underground prison, rather than a shelter for some mythical alien invasion. There are clues scattered throughout the film about Howard; the way he always wears a pistol and behaves as a complete autocrat; also little things like his 17-year Naval career—who gets out of the Navy 3 years short of a full 20?—and other things. I won’t throw any real spoilers here, because the rest of the movie is a cat-and-mouse game between Howard and Michelle (who later manages to win Emmet to her cause), who wants to escape and alert the authorities. Both my wife, the Beautiful and Talented Lynne Taylor Fahnestalk, and I enjoyed this movie. It has an activist female protagonist, a plausible villain, an interesting scenario and several shocks and surprises. I’d give it a definite A- (minus). Or maybe a B+.

Figure 3 - Battle Planet (2008)
Figure 3 – Battle Planet (2008)

And now we come to the real B (or maybe B-) movie: Battle Planet. Apparently a Sci-Fi (now SyFy) movie—I wouldn’t know, as we turned off our cable and besides, in Canada we don’t get SyFy, or Sci-Fi or Skiffy or whatever it calls itself. You know, that wrestling channel. Anyway, this movie has a reasonable budget for a low-budget SF movie; enough for some halfway decent sets and equipment and makeup. And as you can see by Figure 3, it stars Zack Ward. All through this movie I kept telling my wife “We know that guy, dang it! It’ll come to me!” (But it didn’t; I had to look him up on IMDB. If you’ve seen the cult classic A Christmas Story, about Ralphie and the Red Ryder BB gun, you’d know him too: Zack Ward, in his first-ever movie role, played Scut Farkus, the kid in the coonskin cap. He doesn’t look a whole lot different here; just older.

Ward plays Jordan Strider, an officer in the New Alliance Special Forces, who is sent on a mission to the Terra 149, a mostly deserted planet in the “neutral zone” (I swear this is true) to capture a rogue officer. He is given a special suit which, when activated, will enable him to live independent of outside conditions… at one point the suit’s AI tells him that theoretically, someone wearing the suit can live “the rest of their natural life” in it. He’s supposedly given this mission because of the way he accomplished his last one; he was promoted to captain as well. He’s accompanied by a couple of regular officers; but right off the bat the mission goes to hell. The ship he’s riding in gets shot down and he’s forced to walk the many kilometres to his target zone. Plus the suit is a complete pain in the ass and is constantly refusing to do things Strider’s way.

Figure 4 - Monica May as Jun'hee
Figure 4 – Monica May as Jun’hee

Along the way he meets rogue officer Jun’hee (Monica May), a lizard-like female Special Forces officer who has deserted and gone to live on the planet by herself. There are also indigenous peoples, vaguely human, who come in occasionally and act as spoilers, btw. And a very short opportunist named Panhandler (Kevin Thompson, whom you may remember as one of the “toys” in Blade Runner—“Home again, home again, jiggety-jig. Good evening, J.F.!”) Those three are the only really competent actors in the movie. The storyline isn’t too bad—I’ve seen a lot worse, and there’s a good twist in the movie which I won’t spoil for you now (just remember that missions aren’t always what they tell you they are), but some of the dialogue is ludicrous. But all in all, if you have an hour and a half or so to waste, I can think of worse ways of wasting the time. All in all, I found myself kind of enjoying it. (I definitely liked it better than Bats v Supes, below!) Give it a shot if you can find it, and let me know what you think.

Figure 5 - Batman v Superman Poster
Figure 5 – Batman v Superman Poster

Last words: I just had the opportunity to compare Zack Snyder’s Batman v. Superman and Anthony & Joe Russo’s Captain America: Civil War. As far as I’m concerned, there is absolutely no comparison; Marvel wins it hands down. I may go into it more in a later column, but I’m not sure the Snyder movie deserves a whole column’s worth of verbiage. Both movies are based on (roughly) the same idea: are superheroes to be held accountable for collateral damage when they take on a super-foe; and if so, how are they to be held accountable? (And another side is, how is each franchise going to quickly introduce a bunch of secondary characters and get them onscreen, however briefly, so they can be used in an upcoming movie?)

So here’s each movie in a nutshell *MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD*: the DC movie has the Kryptonian fight, from Man of Steel, causing thousands of Metropolis casualties when Superduperman (Henry Cavill) fights Zod (Michael Shannon) and his cohorts in Metropolis. Some of those casualties are employees of Wayne Enterprises, and Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) (egged on without his knowledge by Lex Luthor [Jesse Eisenberg], and haunted by the death of his parents) decides that, since Supes could “destroy the world’s population on a whim” it’s necessary to kill him before he does that (and it’s gonna happen, because Bruce is having dreams about a world where Supes is in charge, and he’s zapping people he doesn’t like with heat vision). Bruce says that if there’s even a 1% chance that could happen we have to be proactive and take Supes out. Fortunately, Kryptonite has been discovered and it even disintegrates dead Kryptonians (funny, that’s never happened in the comics during the approximately sixty years I’ve been reading Superman comics off and on), so Bruce/Batman steals a big chunk of K from Luthor and makes a Kryptonite gas and spear for the express purpose of knocking off the Big Guy.

There are subplots, like Luthor going nuts and gaining access to Kryptonian technology; kidnapping Clark’s mom (Diane Lane) as well as Lois Lane (Amy Adams); and reviving General Zod’s corpse as The Abomination, but the main plot point is the big fight that again destroys city blocks (this time on an abandoned island in the middle of the East River) but doesn’t kill a whole lot of people, so it’s a Good Fight for the Right Reasons. Big special effects, lots of heat vision, explosions and stuff like that there; introduction of new characters (Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, Jason Momoa as Aquaman, and Ezra Miller as The Flash, for example, even though all but Wonder Woman get seconds of screen time). But the movie isn’t even self-consistent, which I won’t go into here, as it would take too long, and quite frankly I found it bloated, bombastic and boring. And not particularly well acted, either.

Figure 6 - Captain America Civil War Poster
Figure 6 – Captain America Civil War Poster

The Marvel movie, by way of contrast, at least tries to solve the problems of collateral damage with diplomacy at first; rather than attempting to rein in the Avengers by violence (as if they could, come on, now!), 117 governments sign an accord that the Avengers must be reined in and be told where and when they can fight rather than being autonomous. Captain America (Chris Evans) and The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) disagree with Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), who thinks the Avengers need to be reined in; Stark is backed up by Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and The Vision (Paul Bettany), not to mention War Machine (Don Cheadle). Thor and the Hulk are off doing who knows what, and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is retired—and Tony and Pepper Potts are “taking a break” from each other. Also introduced are T’Challa, the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman—who reminds me of a young Chiwetel Ejiofor), Peggy Carter’s niece Sharon (Emily VanCamp) and a new Spiderman (Tom Holland), plus Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) join the Cap side. “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan)and the Scarlet Witch are at the centre of this particular controversy, as she has accidentally killed a delegation from Wakanda (where the Black Panther is from) and he has been framed for an explosion at the UN in Geneva. (Bucky is also the Winter Soldier, if you’ve forgotten the second Captain America movie; and it seems his conditioning is subject to being reactivated by the right Russian words and phrases.) The writing, acting, effects and choreography here are superb, in my opinion. And don’t worry, all these names are only confusing on paper; you have no problem keeping them straight onscreen. I did enjoy Marisa Tomei’s short stint as Peter Parker’s Aunt May—a decidedly younger and sexier Aunt May (at least according to Tony Stark) than we’ve seen before. Of course, both movies are holding the “good guys” responsible for all the damage, and neglecting the fact that without them, the collateral damage might have been tens, hundreds, or thousands of times as bad! Your mileage may vary, but I’d say skip the DC movie and go see the Marvel one at least once!

If you feel like it, please comment on this week’s column. If you haven’t already registered—it’s free, and just takes a moment—go ahead and register, then comment here, or comment on my Facebook page, or in the several Facebook groups where I publish a link to this column. Your comments, pro or con, are all welcome; and don’t feel you have to agree with me, either. My opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owners, editors, publishers or other bloggers. See you next week!

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