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Tales of the Hidden World
Tales of the Hidden World
by Simon R. Green
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.70
21 used & new from $8.70

4.0 out of 5 stars I always found reality very limiting., September 21, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Simon R. Green is one of those authors who just overflows with awesome ideas -- in fact, often he will slap some of his awesome ideas into books that are otherwise unrelated.

So he does quite well in the short stories in "Tales of the Hidden World," a loose web of short stories about ghastly aliens, Droods, wizards, zombies and whatnot. Green's fertile imagination and zippy writing keep every short story entertaining and inventive, although at times I wondered if it was all meant to be in the same big messy universe that most of his books inhabit.

It begins with a bittersweet tale of the Drood Armourer, an old man reflecting on his life -- the woman he loved, the people he lost, the son who went rogue, and his feelings about the life he has led. It's a rather sad note for the collection to open on, but it's also an affectionate farewell for a character who has endured throughout the Secret Histories series.

Among the other tales: A snarky Dresden-Files-esque tale of a street wizard who polices the street at night, encountering a wacky assortment of aliens, vampires, Street Preachers and others.
*A homeless man's thoughts on the undead.
*A true story about meeting Death.
*An elderly Dorothy's last visit to Oz, and the discovery of the fantastical land's true nature.
*The hated and feared Lords and Ladies are called upon to defend Old Earth from the grotesque alien Medusae.
*"The House that stands on the border" between worlds, and what happens when it isn't properly maintained.
*Humans locked into robotic "hard suits" are sent to a dangerous jungle world, and discover it may be too deadly even for them.
*A conversation between Jesus and Satan about... well, the nature of reality.
*An investigative reporter who runs afoul of the Epicure, whose love of fine cuisine masks a horrifying secret.
*"Apocalypse Now" with an undead twist.
... and a bunch of Green's earliest works, such as some decent sword-and-sorcery, an environmental mood piece, a Soulhunter searching for the Hags, and several others.

The best description of "Tales of the Hidden World" would be a collection of odds and ends. "Question of Solace" is the only one that is explicitly tied to Green's other tales; the others seem to be mostly other kinds of short stories that floated out of his imagination, ranging from a true story to a "Wizard of Oz" fanfic to assorted standalone tales that he was inspired/challenged to write.

And short stories really work for Green's too-many-cool-ideas imagination -- he can crafts short stories all about some of these ideas (the Hags, who steal the souls of aborted babies) or weave them into a story all about how weird Soho is (a sewer-dwelling undine). His writing is snappy and snarky ("Inhumanly handsome, insufferably graceful, and almost unbearably arrogant. Not because he was a Prince, you understand, but because he was an Elf"), but he can also provide stories that are unexpectedly serious and poetic ("From Out of the Sun, Endlessly Singing").

"Tales of the Hidden World" is a nice little sampler of Green's work -- and while only one story is explicitly set in Green's usual universe, it's a fun and colorful collection of ideas, stories and early works.

After the End
After the End
by Amy Plum
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $14.66
60 used & new from $7.47

4.0 out of 5 stars Three days’ journey by dogsled, September 21, 2014
This review is from: After the End (Hardcover)
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Juneau lives in a world where most of humanity has been destroyed by the nuclear bombs of World War III. Her clan dwells in the wilds of Alaska, living off the land and avoiding the brigands who survived the apocalypse.

Except... not really.

And the discovery of lies and a not-apocalypse are only the beginning of Amy Plum's "After the End," a strange little sci-fi novel that introduces readers to a plucky action girl who finds that civilization didn't actually collapse. While the Miles sections undercut the initial tension, it's a fascinating little story that mingles sci-fantasy with a contemporary tale of corporations and technology.

When brigands attack her village and kill many of the people there, Juneau manages to escape on a dogsled. But instead of a radioactive wasteland, she finds a thriving city, cars, happy people, and all the other trappings of civilization. And slowly she comes to realize that her entire life was a deception, and that World War III not only didn't destroy the world.... but it never actually happened. The elders -- including her mentor Whit -- lied to her.

So she cuts her hair, boards her dogs, and sets out for Seattle. By chance, she encounters the one person in Seattle who is looking for her -- Miles, a troubled rich kid who was hoping to find her for his father's company. Yes, a company wants to capture her, apparently because she has a gold star in one eye, which signifies that she can Read the Yara.

Miles and Juneau each think the other is kinda crazy, but they end up on a road trip, dodging the people who are trying to capture her. Then Juneau discovers that someone she trusted has betrayed her, and the life she has known was not only a lie, but something much more sinister.

"After the End" doesn't seem like science fiction for most of its length -- most of the time it feels more like fantasy, since the Yara (a hippie-dippy version of the Force, but without telekinesis) is depicted as granting immortality and magical web-of-life powers. But Amy Plum drops hints that there may be a more scientific explanation for this unscientific phenomenon, and twists the entire story around at the grand finale.

In fact, she spends the whole book unraveling a web of lies that Juneau has to come to terms with, and it becomes pretty harrowing as the heroine struggles to deal with the nasty, cold realities of the world. Plum's writing alternates between the perspectives of Juneau and Miles, and she does a pretty good job writing in two distinct styles -- Miles is more snarky and casual, while Juneau is more formal and slightly ethereal.

However, there are some flaws. The early Miles chapters kind of undercut the OMG BIG REVEAL! of Juneau finding the city, since we already know civilization still exists. and there's a very long, rather dull chapter where Juneau hangs out with a hippie neopagan in the woods so she can learn a Life Lesson.

But both main characters are pretty good -- neither is a perfect person, and both make some nasty mistakes that disrupt the fragile trust between them. While Juneau and Miles are obviously falling in love, Plum throws some powerful obstacles in their way, some of which seem to be potential breaking points -- such as, say, Miles freaking out and calling his dad because Juneau used him as an "oracle" without his consent.

Guns, corporations and the Yara all come together in "After the End," which ends on a cliffhanger that will presumably be resolved in the next book. A solid little sci-fantasy thriller with likably flawed characters.

by Bram Stoker
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.19
73 used & new from $0.08

5.0 out of 5 stars For the dead travel fast, September 15, 2014
This review is from: Dracula (Mass Market Paperback)
"Dracula" was not the first vampire novel, nor was it Bram Stoker's first book.

But he managed to craft the ultimate vampire novel, which has spawned countless movies, spinoffs, and books that follow the blueprint of the Transylvanian count -- not to mention the vampire mythology and tropes that are still the standard to this day (despite Stephenie Meyer's best efforts). Eerie, horrifying and genuinely mysterious, "Dracula" is undoubtedly the most striking and unique vampire novel yet penned.

Real estate agent Jonathan Harker arrives in Transylvania, to arrange a London house sale to Count Dracula. But as the days go by, Harker witnesses increasingly horrific events, leading him to believe that Dracula is not actually human. His fiancee Mina arrives in Transylvania, and finds that he has been feverish. Meanwhile the count has vanished -- along with countless boxes filled with dirt.

And soon afterwards, strange things happen: a ship piloted by a dead man crashes on the shore, after a mysterious thing killed the crew. A lunatic talks about "Him" coming. And Mina's pal Lucy dies of mysterious blood loss, only to come back as an undead seductress. Dracula has arrived in England -- then the center of the Western world -- and intends to make it his own...

"Dracula" is the grandaddy of Lestat and other elegantly alluring bloodsuckers, but that isn't the sole reason why this novel is a classic. It's also incredibly atmospheric, and very well-written. Not only is it very freaky, in an ornate Victorian style, but it is also full of restrained, quiet horror and creepy eroticism. What's more, it's shaped the portrayal of vampires in movies and books, even to this day.

Despite already knowing what's going on for the first half of the book, it's actually kind of creepy to see these people whose lives are being disrupted by Dracula, but don't know about vampires. It's a bit tempting to yell "It's a vampire, you idiots!" every now and then, but you can't really blame them. Then the second half kicks in, with accented professor Van Helsing taking our heroes on a quest to save Mina from Dracula.

And along the way, while our heroes try to figure stuff out, Stoker spins up all these creepy hints of Dracula's arrival. Though he wrote in the late 19th-century manner, very verbose and a bit stuffy, his skill shines through. The book is crammed with intense, evocative language, with moments like Dracula creeping down a wall, or the dead captain found tied to the wheel. Once read, they stick in your mind throughout the book.

It's also a credit to Stoker that he keeps his characters from seeming like idiots or freaks, which they could have easily seemed like. Instead, he puts little moments of humanity in them, like Van Helsing admitting that his wife is in an asylum. Even the letters and diaries are written in different styles; for example, Seward's is restrained and analytical, while Mina's is exuberant and bright.

Even Dracula himself is an overpowering presence despite his small amount of actual screen time, and not just as a vampire -- Stoker presents him as passionate, intense, malignant, and probably the smartest person in the entire book. If Van Helsing hadn't thwarted him, he probably would have taken over the world -- not the Victorian audience's ideal ending.

Intelligent, frightening and very well-written, "Dracula" is the well-deserved godfather of all modern vampire books and movies -- and its unique villain still dwarfs the more recent undead.

Bespolitan Premium Latex Resistance Exercise Band Set (11-Piece), 48-Inch
Bespolitan Premium Latex Resistance Exercise Band Set (11-Piece), 48-Inch
Price: $16.20
3 used & new from $15.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Stretch and stretch, September 15, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
For people who don't want to deal with weights, resistance bands are pretty much the best way to get a quick workout for all the relevant muscles. "Bespolitan Premium Latex Resistance Exercise Band Set (11-Piece), 48-Inch" is a pretty good set to start upper body toning, with four variant levels of strength and two sets of clip-on handles, one of which can be used for the feet.

The four bands range from a very easy, instantly stretchy beginner's band to a thick, difficult one that all your strength may not be able to extend much. There are two pairs of handles included -- one is a pair of rigid handholds with foam coverings, and the other pair is made out of flexible, flat plastic weave. These handles are easily attached to any of the tubes, using metal clips that seem to be pretty well secured.

The second pair is apparently meant to be looped over the foot, but it can also be used as handholds for people with more sensitive/smaller hands who find the hard tubes or friction-producing foam painful to grip tightly. The flexible handles can also be attached to some solid piece of furniture if the user needs outside leverage.

The biggest problem with it is perhaps that it is rather dependent on the users being the same size. Some exercises may be more effective for tall people than for shorter ones, and very short people and/or children will have problems using them at all. It should also be noted that the set I received did NOT have the door anchor included. While I didn't actually plan to use this on a regular basis, some customers might want to, and should be warned that it may not be included.

"Bespolitan Premium Latex Resistance Exercise Band Set (11-Piece), 48-Inch" is a pretty good collection of resistance bands, and a solid way to be introduced to them... if you're tall enough, and don't mind the possible lack of a door anchor.

Emma (Everyman's Library (Cloth))
Emma (Everyman's Library (Cloth))
by Jane Austen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.14
79 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars It's such a happiness when good people get together, September 14, 2014
"Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition" is a suitable heroine for Jane Austen's lightest, frothiest novel. While "Emma" is not nearly as dramatic as Austen's other works, it is an enchanting little comedy of manners in which a young woman with the best intentions meddles in others' love lives... with only the faintest idea of how people (including herself) actually feel.

After matchmaking her governess Miss Taylor, Emma Woodhouse considers herself a natural at bringing people together. She soon becomes best buddies with Harriet, a sweet (if not very bright) young woman who is the "natural daughter of somebody." Emma becomes determined to pair Harriet with someone deserving of her (even derailing a gentleman-farmer's proposal), such as the smarmy, charming Mr. Elton. When Emma's latest attempt falls apart, she finds that getting someone OUT of love is a lot harder than getting them INTO it.

At around the same time, two people that Emma has heard about her entire life have arrived -- the charming Frank Churchill, and the reserved, remote Miss Jane Fairfax (along with rumors of a married man's interest in her). Emma begins a flirtatious friendship with Frank, but for some reason is unable to get close to Miss Fairfax. As she navigates the secrets and rumors of other people's romantic lives, she begins to realize who she has been in love with all along.

Out of all Jane Austen's books, "Emma" is the frothiest and lightest -- there aren't any major scandals, lives ruined, reputations destroyed, financial crises or sinister schemes. There's just a little intertwined circle of people living in a country village, and how one young woman tries to rearrange them in the manner that she genuinely thinks is best. Of course, in true comedy style everything goes completely wrong.

And despite the formal stuffiness of the time, Austen wrote the book in a languidly sunny style, threading it with a complex web of cleverly orchestrated rumors and romantic tangles. There's some moments of seriousness (such as Emma's rudeness to kind, silly Miss Bates), but it's also laced with some entertaining dialogue ("Silly things do cease to be silly if they are done by sensible people in an impudent way") and barbed humor (the ridiculous and obnoxious Mrs. Elton).

Modern readers tend to be unfairly squicked by the idea of Emma falling for a guy who's known her literally all her life, but Austen makes the subtle relationship between Knightley and Emma one of affectionate bickering and beautiful romantic moments ("If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. But you know what I am. You hear nothing but truth from me").

Emma is a character who is likable despite her flaws -- she's young, bright, well-meaning and assured of her own knowledge of the human heart, but also naive and sometimes snobbish. She flits around like a clumsy butterfly, but is endearing even when she screws up. Mr. Knightley is her ideal counterpoint, being enjoyably blunt and sharp-witted at all times. And there's a fairly colorful supporting cast -- Emma's neurotic but sweet dad, her kindly ex-governess, the charming Frank, the fluttery Miss Bates, and even the smarmy Mr. Elton and his bulldozing wife.

"Emma" is the most lightweight and openly comedic of all Jane Austen's novels, with a likable (if clueless) heroine and a multilayered plot full of half-hidden feelings. A lesser delight.

The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains: A Tale of Travel and Darkness with Pictures of All Kinds
The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains: A Tale of Travel and Darkness with Pictures of All Kinds
by Neil Gaiman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $13.90
90 used & new from $9.70

4.0 out of 5 stars “I see death in your past and death in your future.”, September 12, 2014
At first glance, this looks like a children's book.

But if you look at the skull in the mountainside, and the title... not so much. No, "The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains: A Tale of Travel and Darkness with Pictures of All Kinds" is one of Neil Gaiman's many short stories, here fleshed out with Eddie Campbell's odd assortment of illustrations and comics -- a dark, murky little tale of Scotland, revenge and the fantastical.

An unnamed Scottish dwarf approaches a former reaver, Callum MacInnes, to help him find a certain cave on the Misty Isle. The cave is said to be filled with gold, and only a few people can find it. The two men journey to that island and make their way to the cave -- but Callum warns his employer that the gold inside has a strange curse on it, which makes everything in life "less." But the dwarf's goal isn't mere gold -- he wants revenge, and he will do whatever it takes to get it.

Neil Gaiman is one of the greatest storytellers alive at telling us tales of dark, strange places occupied by otherworldly creatures. "The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains" is a sort of fairy tale, and it's a picture book... but it's not really the kind that you give to kids. Oh, a kid could read it, but it's a very dark, grim tale about poetic revenge, murder and a very spooky cave-dwelling creature.

This is also one of those stories that could be set in any time period or any place. Gaiman chooses the Jacobean era of Scottish history, with the dwarf's excuse that he wants the gold so he can help restore the King Over The Water. Lots of windblown heather, mist, stony cliffs and a hint of faery goings-on (the protagonist refers to his father as being "from the West," and I don't think he meant the Americas).

One of the most interesting aspects of the story is that Gaiman keeps you guessing what exactly is going on throughout the story. It's obvious that SOMETHING is unsaid between these men (especially when Callum threatens the dwarf with a knife while he's sleeping) but he

And since this is a short story instead of a full-length novella, Gaiman's work is augmented by Eddie Campbell's illustrations -- sometimes it's just a swath of color, sometimes pictures, and sometimes he even creates little graphic-novel panels.

And those pictures bring an extra splash of life to "The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains: A Tale of Travel and Darkness with Pictures of All Kinds," a powerful little story from a master storyteller. Just don't tell it to your kids before bedtime.

The Machine
The Machine
DVD ~ Toby Stephens
Price: $9.79
36 used & new from $4.81

4.0 out of 5 stars You're a machine, September 11, 2014
This review is from: The Machine (DVD)
How much of a person's brain can be replaced with technology before they are no longer human? If a machine can learn and grow, is it only a machine?

With medical and computer technology reaching forward into sci-fi territory, these are actual questions that we may one day have to ask ourselves. And they are are some of the questions that pop up in "The Machine." While the main plot is one that has been done before, it's handled with a kind of brutal delicacy, some strong direction and powerful acting by Toby Stephens and Caity Lotz.

In the not-too-distant-future (next Sunday A.D.), Britain is embroiled in a cold war with China. Scientist Vincent McCarthy (Toby Stephens) is in charge of giving cybernetic implants to brain-damaged soldiers; while they seem to become mute soon after, they regain all their physical and mental faculties. He hopes that he can use this technology on his daughter, who suffers from a debilitating neurological disorder.

Then he meets Ava (Caity Lotz), a brilliant young scientist who has created an A.I. which is almost human. With her help, Vincent begins work on a sentient android by scanning her brain into a quantum computer... and after she's unexpectedly murdered, Vincent uses her likeness and brain scan for The Machine (also played by Caity Lotz), a gynoid who is almost indistinguishable from a human.

In fact, she's a little TOO human -- she feels emotions like fear, love and remorse, and has a sense of morality that Vincent encourages. She also is capable of communicating with the cyborgs. Since the sleazy government/corporate boss Thomson (Denis Lawson) wants a mindless killing machine, he's not too pleased by this. So he demands that Vincent lobotomize away Machine's humanity.

The plot of "The Machine" is one we've seen before -- someone builds a robot who turns out to be more human than expected -- but Caradog W. James does an excellent job without being too preachy. It certainly helps that he includes some very realistic aspects to the story, such as conflicts with China and medical advances that are actually plausible (such as prosthetic limbs connected to the nervous system).

And James uses that bedrock to build a very simple yet emotionally complicated story, which slinks along in moody, tense scenes that click together by the end. The movie is rather slow at times, focusing mostly on Vincent discovering how human Machine is while Thomson tries to corrupt her. After so many quiet scenes, the gruesome and chaotic climax comes as a bit of a shock.

The movie was made for less than a million pounds, and at times it shows -- almost the entire story takes place in a military base, with some generic hallways and a big leaky airline hangar. However, the special effects are beautifully done, and James cloaks the bleak sets in shadows and bright lights, puddles of glimmering water and red, foggy alert lights.

This is also a movie that heavily relies on its actors, and both Stephens and Lotz are absolutely sublime here. Stephens plays Vincent as a prickly, worn-out man whose only enthusiasm seems to be for saving his daughter, until he encounters the pure humanity of Machine. Lotz is also quite excellent -- she plays Machine with a wide-eyed, childlike wonder at the world, which she maintains even after coming face-to-face with its horrors ("I just have to make you dead inside, like you tried to make me").

There's also a good supporting role for Pooneh Hajimohammadi, who gives an effectively silent performance as the leader of the cyborgs. And Lawson also deserves some praise for being a very plausibly despicable villain -- like the real-life military, he doesn't care about wounded veterans or innocent people. He just wants obedient super-soldiers and new ways to kill. It's all too realistic.

While the concept is not new, "The Machine" is a slow, powerful little sci-fi movie that sets itself in a chillingly plausible future world. If nothing else, watch it for Stephens and Lotz's excellent performances.

by Brenna Yovanoff
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $13.68
52 used & new from $10.21

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars “Well, this is a devilish state of affairs”, September 11, 2014
This review is from: Fiendish (Hardcover)
Of the three Merry Sisters of Fate, Brenna Yovanoff is the most enigmatic. Her books are all standalones, with odd twists on typical urban fantasy stuff -- ghosts, fairies and angels.

And "Fiendish" continues this tradition with her dark, ropy, hauntingly bloody take on Southern gothic, in a town divided by "craft" and the terrible secrets that lurk in the woods -- "fiends" and strange warped magic that threatens everyone. The biggest problem is that very little is explained, and the first third of the book feels like it had some vital chapters chopped out of the beginning, leaving it quite confusing.

For the past decade, Clementine Devore has been trapped in a cellar, with her eyes sewn shut, a trickbag at her throat, and roots growing over her body. She doesn't remember how she got there or who did this to her. Then Fisher and his gang find her, and bring her back to her skeletal Aunt Myloria... who doesn't remember that she exists. Fortunately her cousin Shiny still does, and she begins reintroducing Clementine to the world she left behind.

But that world isn't quite what it was. Her mother is dead. Her house is a ruin filled with caged animals. And something terrible happened years ago, which turned the townfolk into a ravening mob against the folk-magic "craft" families.

As Clementine tries to get used to this new town, she begins to realize that the source of the trouble may be the Hollow, a wild place of twisted magic where fiends and monstrous creatures roam. And she feels a connection to bad-boy Fisher that may be more than romance -- they're both part of a wild, uncontrollable magic that could destroy everything in the town. The reckoning is coming, and they may not be able to stop it.

The biggest problem with "Fiendish" is that it seems to start a few chapters too late. It's one of those books that simply lobs its characters and magical system at the reader without explanation or introduction -- the characters just start talking about "craft" or people we haven't seen yet, and the reader is left to frantically try to catch up. While Yovanoff weaves the explanations into the story, and eventually reveals everything by the end, it's very confusing and distracting as you try to figure out exactly what "craft" is and what it consists of.

And that distraction is even worse because it pulls you away from Yovanoff's haunting, sublimely-pretty writing ("Her smile was a fixed, blazing thing that burned through her eyes and shone in her skin like starlight"). She creates a very Appalachian kind of community, with rickety wooden houses and wild woods where teens can roam freely -- it's quite different from the shiny, sleek Southern-belle approach that most authors have when they depict the deep South.

And the magic in it is equally unique -- a gnarled, knotted, thorny kind of hoodoo magic, where blazing pale fiends wander through the twisted darkness of the Hollow. Things have to be buried in the earth to neutralize their magic, and stuff going wrong results in very strange occurrences (stone tomato!). It's a very earthy, gritty kind of magical system, and it feels less about spells and rituals than it does the force of will and nature.

Clementine takes awhile to full flower -- for the first half of the book, she seems to be just drifting along, relearning everything she once knew about her town. It doesn't help that she can't remember large chunks of her past. But she starts growing some spine after becoming involved with Fisher, a wild bad boy whose mysterious past and adventures in the Hollow make him a pariah.

And in that second half, the whole cast suddenly knits completely, where they were just sort of floating free before -- Fisher, Clementine, the fiery and opinionated Shiny, the timid abused Davenport. They develop a purpose in the story, and everything just gels.

"Fiendish" struggles in the first half, because it doesn't quite know how to exposit properly in its setup. But if you can overlook that flaw, the spellbinding magical system and gritty, realistic setting make it a genuinely haunting read.

Red vs. Blue: Season One Special Edition
Red vs. Blue: Season One Special Edition
DVD ~ Burnie Burns
18 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars It's I against I and me against you, September 11, 2014
Have you ever wanted to see a wacky sitcom based on "Halo"?

I haven't. You probably haven't either.

But we got one anyway. And in the machinima webseries "Red Vs Blue - Season One - The Blood Gulch Chronicles," we're introduced to the bumbling space marines who fight for domination of a barren canyon that nobody really cares about, on an otherwise deserted planet. Pretty much nothing actually gets accomplished (except a few accidental deaths), but it's pretty hilarious nothingness -- and it lays the groundwork for the story arcs of seasons to come.

In the future, there is some kind of vague civil war going on, and so the two sides have stationed troops at Blood Gulch Canyon -- one Blue station, and one Red station. Most of the time, the troops just hang around annoying each other. But in this case, the Red Team has just gotten a new jeep that Sarge (Matt Hullum) christens the "Warthog," as well as a new rookie called Donut. The Blues are getting a tank.

Then Donut gets confused, wanders into the Blue base and is accidentally given the flag -- which sparks off a bizarre battle between the two sides that ends up killing the de facto Blue leader Church. It's not a huge spoiler; he dies pretty early.

Blue soldier Tucker calls for reinforcements, and they get the black-armored, foul-mouthed death machine Tex... who has an odd connection to the now-ghostly Church. The on-and-off conflict between them is further complicated by the discovery of a lifelike robot, a near-death experience ("... you'd rub my neck with aloe vera?!"), lightish red armor, a teleporter, and an AI that is influencing Tex from inside her armor.

While later seasons became more plot-based, "Red Vs Blue - Season One - The Blood Gulch Chronicles" is gloriously plotless mayhem, with the occasional battle scene or wacky conflict. Most of the season falls under two basic categories:
1. Characters running around causing massive damage to themselves and others.
2. Characters hanging around having conversations completely unrelated to the war they're supposed to be fighting ("Did the fact he never talks get to you?" "I just thought he was a silent guy." "Not even that he drinks motor oil and sleeps standing up?" "I thought he was just trying to impress me").

I can only assume that the Red and Blue groups were sent to this planet so that they wouldn't be a handicap to the more competent space marines, because these guys are hilariously awful. Some are idiots (Donut, Caboose), Sarge is somewhat insane (he believes pumas are mythical), Grif is lazy and Simmons has his lips firmly planted on Sarge's behind. The most competent one of the bunch is Church, who always seems to be on the verge of snapping -- even from beyond the grave. Or the not-grave, since his teammates are too dim to bury his body.

But amidst all the chaos and wackiness ("It's not pink! It's LIGHTISH RED!"), there is a little thread of actual plot. Two characters die in remarkably tidy ways... well, three, but one of them is revived from the brink of death. And there is the whole matter of the mysterious AI that is influencing Tex -- it's not a huge part of the story, but it clearly is meant to be the beginning of an arc. And it's more serious than most of the goings-on.

"Red Vs Blue - Season One - The Blood Gulch Chronicles" is a fun way to kick off this gloriously wacky little web-series, which proves that awkward CGI animation can't trump good writing. Just remember: You can't pick up chicks in a tank.

The Comedy of Errors (Signet Classics)
The Comedy of Errors (Signet Classics)
by William Shakespeare
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $4.46
89 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars A comedy of twin-switching, September 11, 2014
Identical twins have only one purpose in movies and plays: to cause mass confusion when people mix them up.

So the mayhem is doubled in "The Comedy of Errors," which has not one but TWO sets of identical twins who are totally unaware of each other's existence. Shakespeare's adaptation of a Plautus play is basically non-stop wackiness and slapstick, without much plot besides the two Antipholuses and the two Dromios constantly being mistaken (and sometimes mistaking each other) for their twin brothers.

The Syracusan merchant Egeon is condemned to death in Ephesus for entering the city, for... some reason that's never very well explained. He can only be saved if he pays one thousand marks within one day. So he tells the Ephesian Duke his tale of woe -- his wide Aemilia gave birth to identical twin boys, on the same day a poor woman also produced identical twin boys to be their slaves. But then his wife, one baby and one slave baby were lost in a shipwreck, leaving Egeon with the other twins. Now Antipholus has gone out in search of his lost twin, accompanied by his slave Dromio.

Got that? It's pretty much the setup for the whole plot. Here's the problem: the missing twins are actually in Ephesus, and are also named Antipholus and Dromio. Even better, neither of them has any weight, scars, haircuts or fashion eccentricities that keep them from being mistaken for each other. What wackiness!

So when Dromio (Ephesus) mistakes Antipholus (Syracuse) for his master, he ends up getting his butt kicked -- and even worse, Antipholus' (Ephesus) wife Adriana mistakes Antipholus (Syracuse) for her husband and thinks he's cheating on her. But her unknown brother-in-law-mistaken-for-her-husband instead falls in love with her sister. Oh, and Dromio (Ephesus) also has a comically unattractive wife, whom Dromio (Syracuse) is desperate to get away from. Wackiness!

While she dines with his identical twin, Antipholus (Ephesus) is irritated at being locked out his house, dines with a courtesan and orders a gold chain... all of which causes even more madcap antics: arrests, accusations of theft, the Dromios getting their butts kicked again, and Adriana thinking her husband is cheating, crazy and/or possessed.

As evidenced by the summary, "The Comedy of Errors" doesn't have much actual plot. It has exactly three things going on:
A) Other people mistake one Antipholus/Dromio set for the other;
B) Either Antipholus or Dromio (either one) mistakes the other for his brother (or vice versa).
C) Either Antipholus/Dromio pair gets in trouble for something the other ones did.

So our dear Willie Shakespeare frolicks in farce, skips through slapstick and cavorts through comedy. This isn't exactly his wittiest or subtlest play he wrote (Dromio compares his sister-in-law's butt to Ireland because of the... um, peat bogs), but it shows his considerable skill at juggling a complicated plot, lots of accusations and misunderstandings, which all ultimately culminates in a massive goofy confrontation between all the characters. In fact, I'm shocked Hollywood has not adapted this yet.

A lot of the comedy comes from Shakespeare's many silly word puns, topical jokes (Nell's forehead is France, because it is "armed and reverted, making war against her heir"), and the Antipholuses constantly beating up the Dromios. There is some occasional pretty verbal wooing ("Spread o'er the silver waves thy golden hairs/And as a bed I'll take them and there lie"), but it's mostly reliant on puns and gags.

The one problem? This is one of those stories that requires the entire cast to be idiots. Admittedly there wouldn't be a plot if they WEREN'T idiots, but none of them ever make the connection of "missing identical twins" with "people claiming I did and said things I didn't do."

It's genuinely amazing that Hollywood hasn't yet adapted "The Comedy of Errors," because Shakespeare's fluffiest comedy is perfectly suited -- mistaken identities, mayhem, gags and slapstick.

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