Saturday, September 29, 2012

Book review: Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld is the first in a four-volume series (also Pretties, Specials and Extras) of YA teenage dystopian novels.  Set in the future - our future, after a bacterium destroys all Earth's oil and decimates our economies and society in general - the current society has changed quite a lot.  Things are recycled, animals are no longer eaten, energy is self-sustaining and no longer petroleum-based, there are hoverboards and hovercars, and body image issues govern pretty much everything: at age sixteen, everyone undergoes a full-body plastic surgery procedure that homogenizes their appearance and makes them "pretty."  Before the surgery, you're an Ugly.  You live in a dorm with other Uglies, you're called by ugly names and you count down the days until you can be made pretty.

Pretties have all the fun.  After the surgery, it's nothing but parties and nice clothes and drinking fancy drinks. No worries, no cares in the world.  There are additional surgeries as people age, moving them to "middle Pretties," the conscientious grown-up stage, for example, and you can get elective surgeries to change your appearance even more, but the initial prettifying is not optional.  Tally Youngblood, Uglies heroine, can't wait to be made pretty.  Her BFF Peris is a month older than she, and so got his surgery before she did and subsequently abandoned her to his new life.  Tally is lonely and unhappy, hating the way she looks.  One night, after spying on the pretties, Tally meets another Ugly, Shay.  Shay is smart, irreverent and fun - and happy with her own face.  She doesn't want the surgery - something Tally can scarcely comprehend - and tells her new friend that she doesn't have to have it.  They can run away, into the forest surrounding the civilized city, and meet up with other people who have chosen to remain ugly.  Just days before her birthday surgery, Shay disappears into the wild, leaving Tally an encoded message on how to find her.  Tally doesn't know what to do - all her life she's only ever wanted to be pretty - and then, suddenly, the decision is not hers to make: the authorities pick her up and tell her that if she doesn't track down Shay and lead them to this rebel Ugly community, she will never be allowed the surgery and will remain ugly forever.  Tally heads into the woods where the world opens up to her in ways she never could have imagined.

I read a lot of books and I know what great YA fantasy fiction is.  Uglies is not great.  The premise is fascinating (because you do realize that "uglies" really just look like you and me but they've been conditioned to hate that) but the execution is just not there.  The characters are superficially developed and the writing just isn't that eloquent, like it's been dumbed down.  You don't have to dumb down YA fiction: The Hunger Games series, Coraline and The Graveyard Book, the Flora Segunda books, the Chaos Walking series, etc., etc., are all wonderful YA books with sophisticated writing.  But maybe it just takes Westerfeld a little while to hit his stride - maybe the next books are better, which is why I don't know what to do about this series.  I didn't love Uglies but I'm intrigued to see what happens to Tally next.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Recap: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles S2E22 "Born to Run"

Sarah sits in an interrogation chamber, wearing an orange prison jumpsuit and a stubborn expression.  A smug, slick FBI agent does his best to threaten her with Miles Dyson's murder, the bank vault explosion, the fire-fight at Weaver's house and Savannah's kidnapping. He tries to get her to give something up about John but Sarah is resolute: "John is dead."  The FBI guy tells her to think about it.

Hiding out at a motel, John is nervous, pacing.  Cameron tells her that they are safe.  She also tells him that she won't let him try to break Sarah out.  What he wants right now, though, is a computer to research shielded nuclear power sources - "Like mine?" asks Cameron - to see if being around them all the time might have given his mom cancer.  Meanwhile, the T-888 is alive and well and patching itself up.  And over at John Henry's lab, Mr. Murch is playing D&D with the A.I.  Weaver interrupts them and asks Murch how long it would take to disassemble the lab in case John Henry gets attacked again.  Murch thinks that would be a bad idea: any changes to the current hardware and software would change John Henry - he exists only in this exact set-up.

Ellison goes to visit Sarah, swearing to her that the cops followed him to the theater, that he wasn't in on it.  Sarah is still a little cranky about it all, understandably so.  He encourages her to tell the FBI the truth, the actual truth about the rise of the machines.  She reminds him that the last time she tried that she ended up in a psych ward.  She asks him where Savannah is and he tells her she's back with her mother.  "She's not safe," mutters Sarah.  Then she shouts "She's not safe!" directly into the CCTV cameras where the FBI guy is watching.  Also watching: John Henry, who has tapped into the feeds.

Sarah has asked to see a priest.  A specific priest, in fact - the one in whose church the Connors took refuge when Cameron was glitching in S1.  The priest is not sure why Sarah wanted to see him again.  She asks him if he believes in the devil, the actual devil.  She says that she believes that someone or something wants this world to burn.  He tells her that he has desperately been trying to understand what happened that day in the church.  Sarah says she'll explain it to him, and then she'll ask him to do something for her.

When Ellison returns to John Henry's lab, he is displeased to find the A.I. and Weaver watching Sarah on the CCTV feed.  Weaver tells him that she wants to meet John Connor since (1) he was at her house when Savannah was attacked, (2) his mother thinks he's a messiah and (3) he and his "cyber-companion" are somehow connected to John Henry.  Ellison protests that he doesn't know how to reach John.  "Well, I do," smirks Weaver.

The T-888 goes to a gun store and buys more guns.

Back at the motel, John asks Cameron how much weight Sarah has lost.  "She was healthy before you showed up," he complains.  Cameron says that her sensors would tell her if her core was leaking.  "But things do go wrong with you, don't they?" John points out.  They are interrupted by a phone call: it's the Mexican priest.  Sometime later, a dark-haired girl picks up a package from the priest's confessional.  When she walks out of the church, Ellison follows her.  She isn't Cameron because they're being sneaky, not showing her face.  Then there is a knock on the motel door.  When Cameron opens it, it's the silent, dark-haired Latina bad-ass from S1.  She has brought passports for John and Cameron.  She has also brought a message on Sarah's behalf: "Leave this place, do not think of her, do not come for her, leave."  And Cameron is to make sure John does.  When she gets up to go, she tells John, "We lose everybody we love." Cameron pipes up, "Hasta luego!"

After the girl has gone, Cameron checks out the window, remarking, "That's interesting."  Then she goes out and drags Ellison back inside.  He tells them that Weaver wants to meet them, that Sarah was going to meet with her.  He says that Weaver has a question for Cameron: "'Will you join us?' Do you know what that means?"  Cameron is all, no, please leave, Mr. Ellison, and I won't ask you again.  When Ellison has gone, John looks closely at his terminator and asks if Ellison upset her.  Cameron: "You said it yourself, John, I'm just a machine."

That night, FBI guy tries a different tack with Sarah: "I believe you.  I believe in time travel and killer robots and the end of the world ... I've had 38 phone calls from people who've met John Baum and Sarah Baum ... I want to help you and your son - help me do that."  Sarah: "My son is dead."  Well, it was worth a shot, I guess.

The T-888 breaks into the garage under Weaver's building and shoots the security guard.  Then, when Weaver herself has appeared to investigate, it tries shooting her.  It's puzzled when that doesn't work.  Weaver spikes the terminator and electrocutes it, and then brings its chip to John Henry.  Unfortunately, the chip is coated with a compound that renders it useless once extracted.  When Ellison then shows up to work, Weaver tells him that she is disappointed in the Connors' response to her overture.

John wakes up with a start because Cameron is sitting there, staring at him.  She tells him that he needs to understand how her hardware and software work.  She was designed to kill humans and even though she's been reprogrammed, deep down she still wants to.  "I need to show you something," she says, taking off her shirt, then her bra.  She lies down on the bed, on her back, instructing a bemused John to climb on top of her.  She pulls out a knife and tells him where to slice in, because if she's damaged, they should know about it.  The camera angle is close up, focused on their faces, John's hands and Cameron's body out of the shot, making this all look like sex.  John reaches inside.  "What does it feel like?" Cameron asks him.  "It's cold," he replies, shakily, "That's good, right?"  Cameron: "That's good.  It's time to go."

The Mexican priest gets a phone call.  The voice on the other end sounds like Cameron.  The priest then goes back to see Sarah with a message: "She's coming."  Out in the prison, Cameron strides through the hallways, shotgun in hand.  Officers fire on her, shredding her clothes and her face, but she moves on, unstoppable.  John Henry watches from his lab and, unbidden, opens the locks.  All the locks: all the prisoners, male and female, burst free.  By the time Cameron finds Sarah, she (Cameron) looks like hell.  They get out and jump in the car John is driving.  Sarah snaps, "I sent you a message." John: "Bad John Connor - so ground me."  Sarah wants to know how bad off Cameron is because it's time to go see Catherine Weaver.

Hilariously, Sarah and John cool their heels in the lobby for a while.  This gives John the chance to ask his mom if she's sick.  Ellison arrives before she can answer.  As they ride the elevator up to Weaver's offices, Cameron batters her way into John Henry's lab.  They look consideringly at each other.  John Henry asks, "Will you join us?"  Cameron pulls out her knife and closes the door.

Weaver takes over the meeting immediately: We have a common enemy against whom we cannot fight via conventional means.  She means Skynet.  Ellison breaks in with a WTF as an drone comes smashing its way in through the window behind Weaver.  She snaps, "Get down!" and morphs into a shiny metal shield, protecting the three humans from incineration.  "Run!" she growls, and they do.  She catches up with them in the stairway and tells them to go to the lab.  Sarah: "They're trying to kill my son."  Weaver: "No, they're trying to kill mine.  Your son may save the world but he can't do it without my son."

Down in the lab, John Henry is gone and Cameron's chassis is there, defunct, chip removed.  John is frantic, saying he's got to get her back.  Weaver checks the remaining computers and flips a few switches.  When John demands to know where John Henry is, she smiles and says, "Not where, but when."  John and Sarah gape as they see the Turk computer in the tangle of hardware.  Weaver looks at Ellison, "Are you coming, Mr. Ellison? To fetch John Henry?" Ellison stutters no, and she shrugs, "Then would you pick Savannah up after gymnastics then?"  The blue sparking time travel bubble begins to grow around Weaver and John and Cameron's body.  Sarah backs away from it, saying she can't go.  John pleads with her to come with him - I love you - but she won't do it.  "I'll stop it," she promises, and the lights flash and John and Weaver are gone.

They reappear in the future, in the tunnels, John naked and Weaver clad in clothes of her own devising.  John finds a coat and puts it on, and they start to wander the tunnels.  When a patrol finds them, Weaver disappears and the soldiers question John grimly.  After a couple tense moments, John is thrilled and overjoyed to see Derek, who of course doesn't know him - nobody yet knows the name "John Connor" as this is where that all begins.  To make this reunion even sweeter, Derek's brother, Kyle, John's father, walks up and it's his coat that John has appropriated.  And then, finally, walking up behind Kyle is Cameron, pretty and smiling - and I think she's still human at this point.  John's eyes go soft and he's speechless when he sees her.

And back behind them in the tunnel, as the time travel flash echoes and reverberates, Sarah's voice: "I love you too."

Thus endeth Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.  It finished strong, after I was about to lose hope in the Riley era, and I actually wouldn't have minded to see where the story would have gone from there.  Guess we'll never know.

Previously on T:TSCC

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Recap: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles S2E21 "Adam Raised a Cain"

Sarah stands at the edge of a potters' field, looking out over the unnamed graves from the year 1984.  Derek joins her and she admits that she doesn't know which grave is Kyle's.  He tries to chide her for ditching him to go to Charlie's but she retorts that she really just doesn't trust him much right now, what with all the Jessie-secrets he's been keeping.  John walks up, rejoining them after the escape from the lighthouse.  He shows them a phone he found on the dead bad guy: there's a picture of Savannah on it.  John remembers her from the shrink's office - she must be important somehow.

Savannah, meanwhile, is at school and gets in trouble for chatting on the computer with John Henry during class. The teacher calls Weaver in to express her worry that Savannah may be being stalked by a predator.  Weaver promises to talk to her daughter.  She does so out at recess, asking Savannah why she was chatting with John Henry.  The little girl was teaching him a song that her daddy used to sing with her.  Weaver says that maybe she could sing it with her instead.  Savannah rolls her eyes: "You can't sing!"  Which is funny because of the whole Shirley Manson thing.  Weaver tells Savannah that she shouldn't chat with John Henry during class, plus she shouldn't tell anyone about John Henry either.

Blah blah blah - Ellison and John Henry talk at the lab.  Boring, except for the part where John Henry wants to figure out what the proto-Skynet A.I. is up to.

After school, Savannah is at home with her nanny.  John Henry calls her while she's doing her homework; she puts him on a headset so she can talk and work on math problems at the same time.  In the background, a yellow delivery van pulls up out front.  John Henry is watching on the security monitors as the delivery guy, a T-888, goes to the front door and shoots the nanny in the head.  As the T-888 stalks through the house, John Henry tells Savannah how to hide.  When the machine moves to another part of the house, John Henry sends Savannah down to the garage, making a point to avoid the dead nanny in the foyer.  Unfortunately, when Savannah gets to the garage, the headset is out of range of the phone she left in the living room and she can't hear her friend anymore.

The T-888 comes down the stairs to the garage.  Savannah hears him and runs around behind the car - right into John's arms.  Sarah and Cameron come up behind the T-888.  Cameron engages it while John, Sarah and the little girl run for it.  They make it outside, but Derek is still in the house, searching.  He rounds a corner and comes right up against the T-888, which promptly shoots him in the face.  Damn.  That was abrupt.  Cameron fights the T-888 again and throws it off the deck into a ravine.  The Connors go back through the house and find poor Derek's body.  John is in shock; Sarah has the presence of mind to take Derek's phone out of his pocket.  She tells her crew to keep moving, as they can hear the security company's approaching sirens.

Back at Weaver's office, a detective tells Weaver and Ellison that Savannah has been taken, the whole security team is dead and they found an unidentified dead body in the living room (Derek).  The detective questions Ellison pretty closely and says they should talk to Savannah's friends.  So after the police leave, Ellison goes downstairs to talk with John Henry, who asks him why he stopped looking for Sarah Connor - who is right up there on the security footage, clearly not dead.  Ellison confuses the A.I. by asking him to keep all this a secret from Weaver, saying that their best chance to get Savannah back is for Ellison to handle it himself.

The Connor gang goes to ground in an old warehouse.  Sarah gets a call from Ellison - John Henry procured her phone number for him - who asks if Savannah is safe.  He tells her that she's on the security tapes but at this point he's the only one who's seen them.  Sarah agrees to meet with him.  At their meeting, she tells him that it isn't safe for anyone, Savannah, Weaver, him - Derek's dead, Charlie's dead.  She's keeping the little girl safe and wants to meet with Weaver.  Ellison doesn't like that idea but finally agrees to try to set something up.  Sarah reminds him that she told her to stay out of this.  Ellison: I tried - everywhere I turn, there you are.

John, rallying from his grief over Derek, talks with Savannah who remembers him from Dr. Sherman's office. As they talk, she tells him about John Henry, her friend who lives in the basement of her mommy's office and has a cord in the back of his head.  John: Do other people talk to John Henry?  Savannah: Mr. Ellison does because he works for my mommy and is teaching John Henry stuff.  John, hoarsely: What kind of stuff?

Weaver is annoyed when John Henry says he can't access the security footage from the attack on her home. When Ellison gets back, he tells her that Sarah wants to meet with her.  Weaver is all, I have to stay her to protect John Henry.  Ellison is outraged: JOHN HENRY?!!?  Weaver says that Savannah's survival, Ellison's survival, may someday depend on John Henry's survival, and that's why she's so focused on the A.I.  She agrees to meet with Sarah.  Down in the building lobby, the detective corners Ellison and starts insinuating that he's involved in Savannah's kidnapping: they've identified Derek, you see, and know that he used to be Ellison's case.

When Sarah and Cameron get back to the garage, John tells them about John Henry.  Sarah's like, I destroyed that chip.  Cameron: You destroyed A chip.  John doesn't think it's Cromartie, but probably something worse like Skynet.  Cameron remarks that she should have killed Ellison.  Sarah, seeing Savannah listening to them, says strongly that no one is getting killed.  Ellison calls Sarah and tells her that Weaver will meet with her but she's got to hand over the girl first.

Weaver goes to the basement lab and scolds John Henry for lying to her about the security footage at Ellison's behest.  He reminds her that he's lying to Ellison about her being a Terminator.  Weaver's like, well, yes, you could tell Mr. Ellison about that ... but it wouldn't be very healthy for Mr. Ellison.  Back at the warehouse, John apologizes to Cameron for ditching.  Cameron replies that Sarah ditched them because she was intending on ditching John with Charlie.  John: WTF?  Cameron: She found that lump in her breast (John: it was a transmitter) and she's lost a bunch of weight recently.  John's expression is all, fabulous, I just lost my uncle and now my mom has cancer.

The Connor gang goes to a movie theater to hand Savannah over.  Ellison comes in, tells Sarah that he'll be in touch to arrange the meeting.  Sarah leaves the darkened theater ahead of John and Cameron.  As she goes outside, she finds dozens of cops waiting for her, guns drawn.  To create a diversion and let John get away, she fights with some cops and gets a beating for her trouble.  John and Cameron slip out the back, but not before Cameron has to pull a murderous John off Ellison, who bewilderedly swears that he didn't know about the cops.  John doesn't believe him.  Outside, as Sarah is manhandled into the police car, the T-888 watches from the gathering crowd.

We end with a musical montage, as John Henry and Savannah sit in his lab, singing the song that she taught him:  Savannah is reunited with her "mother;" Sarah is marched into police HQ in front of television cameras; John and Cameron watch it all on the evening news, John gritting his teeth; Derek's ashes are buried under a 2009 marker in the potters' field.  R.I.P., Derek.  You were very brave but not nearly shirtless enough.

Previously on T:TSCC / next time on T:TSCC

Monday, September 17, 2012

Since I'm falling down on the recapping job, go read Feed

I thought I'd have finished T:TSCC by now, but then we went camping last weekend and this evening just got away from me with the three loads of laundry to get the old campfire smoke smell out of all our fleece and wool socks (temperature in the mountains upon waking was 36 F - brrrrr!).  So there's a slim chance I'll finish it up for you this week, and a slightly less slim chance that I'll get one episode up at least.  But in the meantime, whilst camping I plowed through the second book in Mira Grant's Newsflesh trilogy, Deadline, and just started the last book, Blackout, today at lunch.  Seriously, go read these zombie novels.  I love them.  They're really, really good.  I mean, it helps if you fancy horror at all, of course.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Recap: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles S2E20 "To the Lighthouse"

It's the homestretch, folks - the action should start taking off now.  But first, quite a lot of talking.

Sarah, showing more cleavage than she usually does, pauses in the midst of finishing her packing to give us a dreary voice-over about her time in the South American jungle when John was but a wee lad.  Flashback: Sarah and John, tromping around in the jungle, with guns.  They make camp, Sarah telling John that this is a game they're playing.  But he knows better, calling it "training."  Later, when he's asleep, Sarah sneaks off to watch him from afar, to see how he takes care of himself, without her.  She dozes off and when she wakes up with a start, he's gone, nowhere to be seen.  She calls for him and he sneaks around behind her, surprising her.  Clearly the boy can take care of himself.

Back in the now, the house is all packed up.  The plan is to meet up at their new safe house, out in the desert.  Sarah and John are to head there directly; Derek and Cameron head to the weapons storage locker to clean it out.  Over at John Henry's lab, he's playing action figures with Savannah when something happens, a glitch running through the servers, shutting them down momentarily.  When they come back up, John Henry is different, scary, another consciousness seemingly running through him.  He grabs Savannah's arm, hurting her.  She shrieks and runs away.  Moments later, Mr. Murch, the techie, races into the lab and hits the kill switch, shutting everything - including John Henry - down.  Weaver and Ellison stand in the doorway, concerned.  Murch explains that John Henry has been hacked, infected with a malware code.

In the Connor SUV, John is annoyed when the radio won't tune in - some kind of interference.  When he notices that his mom misses their exit, she explains that they're taking a detour: to a cottage near a lighthouse.  Sarah walks right in to the cottage, disarming the alarm.  A fat yellow lab comes out of the back of the cottage to greet them - John is definitely a dog person! Aw.  He asks his mom: What is this place?  And then Charlie walks in, answering that question.  Sarah found him this cottage after his wife died.  Over at the storage locker, Derek is a little testy with Cameron, snapping at her when she brings Jessie up.  As they talk, he realizes that Cameron knew Jessie back in the future.  Cameron explains: "I met her once."  Derek: "She never told me that."  Cameron:  "It seems she didn't tell you a lot of things."

John and Charlie catch up, clearly happy to see each other.  Charlie is less happy to see Sarah and lets her know exactly that when John goes to the car to fetch his tools.  Sarah: "I won't be here long."  Charlie: "No, you won't."  While John and Charlie work on Charlie's boat, John opens up a little about Riley, which is what Sarah was hoping for all along.  Then, when he's done talking about his feelings, John asks Charlie how he's got the beach rigged.  Explosives, Charlie explains, hard-wired to a switch on the dock, enough to give him about sixty seconds to get down to his boat in the event any more T-888s come after him.

That night, after John has gone to sleep, Sarah corners Charlie in the kitchen.  They talk a little about old times, then she takes his hand and presses it to her right breast.  At first he thinks she's coming onto him ... and then he feels the lump that she found there a couple days ago.  "Oh, Sarah," he says, voice cracking.  "It's my fate," she says quietly, "There's nothing I can do."  Charlie pulls her into a hug.

Weaver tells Murch to start the A.I. back up, but keep him off the internet.  When he does, the computer basically moans and laments, "All alone - why have you abandoned me?"  They figure that John Henry is so used to having such an incredible input of data that when he was pulled off it, it was like dying slowly.  Murch says that they need to hook the A.I. back up to the internet immediately so it doesn't starve.  Ellison isn't sure this is a good idea, what with the recent malware infection, but Weaver insists.  They bring John Henry back up and he immediately tells Ellison that he now knows what it feels like to be alone, to die and to come back.  He also tells them that "there is another - another one like me."

Now things start to pick up.  The next day, Sarah goes to the doctor for an ultrasound.  The lump isn't cancer after all: it's a cystic mass that has formed around a tiny wire, a transmitter that was injected into her when she was kidnapped during that dream episode.  Out in the hallway, a bad guy approaches, dressed like a water delivery guy.  Other bad guys follow Derek and Cameron; another one walks towards the lighthouse.  Sarah grabs a couple of cardiac paddles and slaps them on her breast, shorting out the transmitter and knocking herself temporarily unconscious.  Derek's truck gets a blowout and while Cameron changes the tire, Derek notices a skulking van and goes to check it out.  The bad guys Taser him and drive off with him in the van.  Cameron gives chase but can't catch them.  She does note the license plate.  At the lighthouse, the alarm sirens go off.  John and Charlie grab guns and run for the dock.  John unties the boat while Charlie covers him, flipping the switch for the beach explosives.  Back at the hospital, Sarah takes out the guy stalking her and grabs his gun, heading back to Charlie's.

John Henry tells Weaver and Ellison that the other A.I. has installed a worm in nearly all the world's computers (uh-oh, sounds like Skynet's making its move), trying to find him.  John Henry says that his own code is closely related to the other A.I.'s code.  Weaver asks what the other A.I. wants.  John Henry: "What we all want - to survive."

Cameron has tracked the van to a warehouse.  She marches right in and is immediately doused with a bucket of water, then electrocuted, shorting out her chip.  The bad guy gets instructions on how to remove her chip from his phone - Bad Guy: "Where'd you get this diagram?  Your brother?  You don't say." - but her doesn't move quickly enough and she comes back online and snaps his neck.  She frees Derek and, when he just gapes at her, says, "You're welcome."  Derek: "Why'd you come after me?"  Cameron:  "You know the location of the safe house."

When Sarah gets back to the lighthouse, the cottage window are shattered, the poor sweet lab has been killed, the bad guy is blown to bits on the beach.  She runs down to the dock and sees that the boat is gone - John has gotten away.  She also sees poor dead Charlie, shot three times in the chest, floating face-up in the water.  She almost cries for him.

Previously on T:TSCC / next time on T:TSCC

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Book review: Feed by Mira Grant

I just finished Feed by Mira Grant ... and ooh, did I like it!  In the year 2014, researchers cured the common cold by developing a virus to combat the cold virus.  They cured cancer the same way, by developing a new virus.  Unfortunately, someone got the brilliant idea to spread these two miracle cures wholesale across the globe - and when that happened, the two viruses mutated, infected everyone on the planet and everything on the planet, and brought the recently dead back to life, thus ushering in the zombie apocalypse.  Twenty-six years later, the world is still up and running, only having lost around 13% of the global population outright, with uber-strict quarantine and security controls in place.  But there is food and power and civilization - in fact, the U.S. is gearing up for its latest presidential election.

Sibling blogger-reporters, Georgia and Shaun Mason, have just landed a plum assignment: press corps to the front-running Republican candidate, Senator Peter Ryman from Wisconsin, a young and hip enough politician to realize that he must attract young voters and young voters get their news online.  The Masons know that this is their ticket to sky-high ratings and they have the skill and experience to do the job right: George, who administers their site, is a "Newsie," all about the facts; her brother Shaun is one of the world's top "Irwins," the adventure-loving vloggers who like nothing more than to find something dead and poke it with a stick (a la Steve Irwin); and rounding out their team is Buffy Meissonier, an extremely talented techie and purple-poetry writing "Fictional."  This team is exactly who Ryman wants on his side.  But as the campaign wears on, and strange zombie outbreaks keep popping up around the Ryman camp, George and Shaun uncover a conspiracy that they never imagined.

I thought Feed was fantastic: smart, funny, sarcastic, well-plotted, fast-paced and not repulsively gruesome for a zombie book.  Author Grant has clearly done a ton of research, into online news media, political campaigns, virology and, most importantly, how to stay alive during a zombie apocalypse.  The world she has crafted has plenty of callbacks to current zombie canon as well as some clever new inventions.  In George and Shaun's world, George Romero is a national hero; like many other girls of her generation, Georgia was named after him.  Like The Walking Dead, SPOILER everyone on the planet carries the infection and so everyone who dies rises back up a zombie, unless they get eaten or get their brains crunched first.  Unlike TWD, however, there are zombie animals - horses, dogs, giraffes, anything larger than 40 lbs. - so people are pretty much vegetarians since (1) cows are too dangerous to raise anymore and (2) who wants to eat steak swarming with unamplified viruses?

I don't want to give up any more of the book's secrets since it's so much fun.  The characters ring true, the dialogue is well done.  There is humor and outrage and heartbreak.  And zombies - don't let's forget the zombies.  Feed is the first volume of a trilogy: Deadline is the second and I can't wait to start in on it.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Recap: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles S2E19 "Today Is the Day Part 2"

John sits in the car with Derek, who says how sorry he is about Riley.  John asks his uncle how long he thinks he could survive against Cameron, face to face with no weapons, if she wanted to kill him.  Derek: "No weapons? You already know the answer to that, John.  If she wants me dead, I'm dead."  John sighs and says he wants to talk about Derek's future.  Meanwhile, Jessie goes for a swim at the local Y (doesn't look like a hotel pool), thus allowing her to continue the submarine flashbacks outlined in the prior recap.  By the way, there are a LOT of submarine flashbacks in this episode - since I did them all last time, this should be a short recap.

When John goes home, he expects Sarah (who is hardly in this episode, but slightly moreso than Cameron) to scold him for taking the risk of going to the morgue.  No, says Sarah, I meant that you should have to remember Riley like that.  She asks if he got what he needed there and he says yes, then looks up at Cameron lurking in the doorway and tells her he's sorry he doubted her.

Back at John Henry's lab, the A.I. has gotten into painting D&D figurines as a way to hone his/its fine motor skills.  Ellison helps with the painting and John Henry asks if this means the two of them are friends.  Ellison doesn't have an answer for that.  Later, after Ellison has gone home, Weaver stops by, noting that John Henry convinced Ellison to leave the body up and running for the evening instead of shutting him/it down.  John Henry says that he's found some interesting things hidden in the corporate while he was doing inventory, like resignation letters and transfer orders and moving bonuses, all undated, for all the members of the Babylon project (which is him) - including Ellison who seems to be moving to Copenhagen.  John Henry says, "Mr. Ellison is our friend.  Are you going to kill him?  Human life is sacred."  Weaver: "We have to be prepared for any contingency ... humans will disappoint you."

Later, Sarah questions Cameron: Have you ever thought about why you are here with us right now?  John sent you away from him in the future - why didn't he want you around?  Sarah, stop messing with the toaster's head.

When Jessie returns to her hotel room, John is there waiting for her, gun drawn.  There's a lot of talking, mostly by John, about how humans are irreplaceable, how Derek loves Jessie and how John and Jessie are all he has, how Riley used to make small mistakes in the things she said which tipped him off that she might not be who she said she was.  So he started following her and discovered Jessie, and figured out her plan.  He throws her duffel bag at her feet and tells her to go, go now.  "If I have to live with this," he says bitterly, "So do you."  Jessie asks if her plan would have worked, would have made him divorce himself from Cameron.  John says no.  Jessie: "Well, it's a damn shame.  It's a damn waste."

Derek is lying in wait for her outside.  He knows how she's betrayed him and he pulls out his gun (not a euphemism).  "I don't even know you," he says, voice shaking slightly, "I don't know who you are.  You're not my Jessie - you never were."  She's crying.  Derek says, "John Connor said to let you go.  I'm not John Connor."  Jessie drops her bag and sprints away.  Derek raises his gun, finger tightening on the trigger.  Then the scene cuts to Derek walking into Jessie's hotel room where John is still pacing.  John asks Derek what the future people think of him.  Derek says that not everyone agrees with what John does, and not everyone loves him, but he leads them and they - "we" - follow, humanity rising or falling on John's shoulders.  "But we're always watching."  John: "For me to make a mistake?"  Derek: "For you to be human."  John asks if Derek killed Jessie and his uncle replies, "John Connor let her go."  But his eyes are a little teary so we don't actually know if he pulled the trigger or not.  I think yes.

That night, Sarah, John and Cameron sit on the couch, watching t.v. or maybe staring into the fireplace.  John is sitting noticeably closer to Cameron and Sarah looks a little forlorn.  But then he breaks down, finally crying, and leans into his mother, sobbing in her arms.  Cameron just sits there, unmoved and unmoving, because when you come right down to it, she's still a machine.

Previously on T:TSCC / next time on T:TSCC

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Recap: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles S2E18 "Today Is the Day Part 1"

Note:  This episode was just called "Today Is the Day" and the next episode, "Part 2," was "The Last Voyage of the Jimmy Carter."  They changed it on the DVD because, I guess, "TLVotJC" was kinda of dumb.  Gotta agree with them there.

In these two episodes, we get to see exactly why Jessie hates the machines so much via flashbacks to her past, which are actually in the future.  In a nutshell, because this is the Sarah Connor Chronicles, not the Jessie Whatshername Chronicles: Jessie used to be second in command on a rebel submarine (the USS Jimmy Carter), serving under a T-888 captain, Queeg.  She trusted Queeg, "he's a good bloke," despite Derek telling her that no, he's not a bloke, and no, he can't be trusted.  Captain Queeg has mad sub-handling skillz but he's also got secret orders: to pick up a package for John Connor himself.  When they get to the pick-up location, the package is handed over by a T-888 and two metal-only Terminators.  The package contains one of those liquid metal Terminators which gets loose (and freaks the shit out of the submarine crew as they have apparently never seen one of these before), morphs into a crew member and starts racking up a body count.  When Queeg refuses to back down on his order to deliver the "package" to John Connor, Jessie shoots him in the chip and scuttles the sub after loading her remaining crew onto the escape pod.  The liquid metal Terminator manages to escape too.  And that's why Jessie really, really, really hates the machines.  (BTW, all the flashbacks are spread out over both episodes but I don't see the point in dragging it out any further so you're getting it all in Part 1.)

In the non-Jessie-flashback storyline, Sarah has decided that it's time to move again.  "Seems like about time," snarks John, heading out to the garage to tell Cameron to hide all those Terminator spare parts she's got lying around.  Meanwhile, after dumping Riley's body somewhere, Jessie goes to a bar and picks a fight with four Navy aviators, thus giving her an excuse for all the cuts and bruises Riley gave her.

Sarah learns about Riley's body being found, fished out of the river by the police.  She tells John as gently as she can, but she assumes that Cameron is the one who killed the girl.  John's first thought is that Cameron did it too.  He asks her about it and she says that she didn't do it.  He reminds her that she's lied to him before.  Cameron says yes, but she's not lying now.  John struggles mightily to keep it together.

Derek has to bail Jessie out of jail and is rather displeased about it, what with being a fugitive and all.  He frets when she won't tell him why she picked a fight with those guys.  As he bandages her hands, he gets a call from Sarah, letting him know about Riley.  He too assumes that Cameron did it, but he gets a little suspicious when Jessie tells him, adamantly, that it is not for him to kill the machine - John has to do it for himself.

Savannah Weaver wants her mother to play hide and seek with her but Catherine counsels patience instead and blows her off.  The poor little girl starts to wander around the office and, like magic, doors open in front of her, hallways light up for her, leading her down to the basement lab where John Henry waits.  It is all Very Creepy.  John Henry just wants to play, though.  Some time later, Weaver shows up in Ellison's office to tell him that Savannah is missing somewhere in the building.  They go to see John Henry, because he knows everything that happens in the complex.  He knows where the girl is but he wants them to play a game with him first: he'll think of something, they'll try to guess, and if they get it right he'll give them a clue as to Savannah's whereabouts.  Ellison is outraged that the computer would keep a secret like this from them but Weaver, terribly, creepily, is eager to play the game, fascinated with how the A.I. is growing.  Ellison gets angrier and more frustrated, both with the computer and with his boss.  They finally guess enough correctly to figure out that Savannah is hiding in the helicopter up on the roof.  It is horrible how Weaver beams with pride at John Henry but is so cold to her "daughter."  Afterwards, Ellison returns to John Henry's lab to more calmly express his displeasure with the A.I.'s secret-keeping.  John Henry tries to understand what he/it did wrong.

While packing for the move, Sarah comes across John and Cameron's stash of Terminator parts.  She's COMPLETELY pissed, about the parts, about what happened to Riley.  John tells her that he believes that Cameron didn't do it and he's going to figure out who did.  First, he goes to Riley's foster home, playing dumb in front of the foster dad, until Cameron calls the house, using Riley's voice, so the foster parents won't worry about her absence.  She breaks from the plan, however, and asks to speak to John on the phone, including telling him that she/Riley loves him, which freaks him out to no end.  Afterwards, he tells her to piss off for a while: he's got somewhere to go and he's going alone.

When Cameron gets back to the house, she finds Sarah burning up all the spare Terminator parts.  Sarah tells her that she had considered waiting for her with Derek's sniper rifle and thus wiping out 50% of her problems with one shot.  But she didn't because John would be so upset.  Cameron's like, yes, this is all about John - we're all a threat to him: Skynet, you, me.  Everything he cares about makes him vulnerable and the only way for him to be safe is for him to be alone.  Sarah: "What kind of life is that?"  Cameron: "John's life, someday."

Poor John, meanwhile, has broken into the morgue and found Riley's body.  Steeling himself (and Thomas Dekker is doing great work here in these episodes), he looks at her injuries, particularly noting the damage done to her hands and fingertips, which are pretty much shredded.  He tells her that he's sorry but he still doesn't cry.  (He does, however, appear to be leaving fingerprints all over the morgue drawers - hope this doesn't bite him in the ass later.)

... To be continued!

Previously on T:TSCC / next time on T:TSCC

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Book review: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Having had A Discovery of Witches recommended to me by both NPR and a friend at work, I had high hopes.  I would say that my hopes were completely dashed, but I was less than completely impressed.  Yes, this is a witches-and-vampires modern day fantasy.  But I have read enough sci-fi/fantasy to know that there are great books in the genre.  I'm not going with great for this one.

Our heroine, Diana Bishop, is a professor of history, taking some time at Oxford to do research for her latest book.  She's also a witch, from a long line of witches, although she doesn't actively practice witchcraft and tries to suppress her abilities.  When she calls a certain book out of the depths of the Bodleian Library, it's not what she thinks it is: it's an ensorcelled book, lost for centuries and reawakened just for her.  Diana is not the only one who can sense the power of the book, however, and soon Oxford is crawling with other witches, demons and vampires, all trying to get their hands on the volume.  Diana meets one vampire in particular, Matthew Clairmont, who is particularly drawn to her. She tries to resist his bloodsucking charms to no avail and soon they are caught up together, trying to find the book again after it disappears back into the library and trying to protect Diana from her re-emerging powers.

The plot is interesting enough - I liked all the history, and the second book in the series gets even more historical as Diana and Matthew travel back in time to the Middle Ages - but I wasn't crazy about the writing.  This is Harkness's first novel (she herself a professor of history at USC) and I felt as though she got bogged down in spots, going on for far too long about the food and wine the characters were consuming, for example.  Also, I didn't like how most of the book is told in the first-person, with Diana as narrator, except for several chapters where it switched to third-person, from Matthew's point of view.  Pick a POV, please.

A Discovery of Witches is a little like Twilight for smart people: better written, no teenage-angst but plenty of forbidden love, discussion of scholarly-type works ... for crying out loud, the first third is set in Oxford University - you can't get much smarter than that.  That's the theory, anyway.