Category Archives: Cool stuff

Festivus Book Pimping: Wayfarer’s series by Becky Chambers

On the second day of Festivus, your pimpus brought to you, a sci-fi trilogy that… something-something… something… Festivus! (Look, the idea was there, the execution just sucked. Like real bad.)

Right then. My reading for pleasure this year, while mostly fantasy and grimdark, was interrupted by some sci-fi. I’m not a huge reader of sci-fi, especially ‘hard’ sci-fi, but I picked up the first book in the Wayfarer’s series by Becky Chambers’ on the recommendation of a friend. And I was hooked. Bought the second and third pretty damn quickly.

Waxing lyrical about all of the stories would make this post super long, so I’ll keep to the blurbs for books two and three and wax lyrical about the first.

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is the first in the series, and is probably my favourite of the three. It was described to me as: ‘a hug in book form’ – and they weren’t wrong. Set off-world, and taking place mostly on a ship that is somewhat sentient, this book captures all that is right with character-driven storytelling that leaves you feeling… hugged by its end. It’s a story about friendship, at its core, about what we’ll do for those we love. It’s about love and acceptance, hope and freedom and goodness. It about discovering who you are in a universe so big it makes you feel small… but in the ‘smallness’ is where you find a truth, your essential truth. Like a hug. In book form.

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

Here’s the blurb:

When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn’t expecting much. The ship, which has seen better days, offers her everything she could possibly want: a small, quiet spot to call home for a while, adventure in far-off corners of the galaxy, and distance from her troubled past.

But Rosemary gets more than she bargained for with the Wayfarer. The crew is a mishmash of species and personalities, from Sissix, the friendly reptillian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the constantly sparring engineers who keep the ship running. Life on board is chaotic, but more or less peaceful – exactly what Rosemary wants.

Until the crew are offered the job of a lifetime: the chance to build a hyperspace tunnel to a distant planet. They’ll earn enough money to live comfortably for years… if they survive the long trip through war-torn interstellar space without endangering any of the fragile alliances that keep the galaxy peaceful.

But Rosemary isn’t the only person on board with secrets to hide, and the crew will soon discover that space may be vast, but spaceships are very small indeed.

The second book, A Closed and Common Orbit, picks up not long after the end of book one, and follows the ‘ship’ as she navigates a body and world that should never have been hers, about finding your place in that world, your… fit – without limits.

a-closed-and-common-orbit-by-becky-chambers

Blurb below:

Lovelace was once merely a ship’s artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in a new body, following a total system shut-down and reboot, she has to start over in a synthetic body, in a world where her kind are illegal. She’s never felt so alone.

But she’s not alone, not really. Pepper, one of the engineers who risked life and limb to reinstall Lovelace, is determined to help her adjust to her new world. Because Pepper knows a thing or two about starting over.

Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that, huge as the galaxy may be, it’s anything but empty.

And we round it off with Record of a Spaceborn Few, while tenuously linked to the first, book three gives us more universe-building and greater understanding of the consequences of Earth and what happened, the consequences of decisions we make, and how we always long for a home. It shows the good, the bad, the ugly, and the resilient. The characters in this, like the first, drive this story, and the ending is superb.

Record of a Spaceborn Few

Blurb incoming:

Hundreds of years ago, the last humans on Earth boarded the Exodus Fleet in search of a new home among the stars. After centuries spent wandering empty space, their descendants were eventually accepted by the well-established species that govern the Milky Way.

But that was long ago. Today, the Exodus Fleet is a living relic, the birthplace of many, yet a place few outsiders have ever visited. While the Exodans take great pride in their original community and traditions, their culture has been influenced by others beyond their bulkheads. As many Exodans leave for alien cities or terrestrial colonies, those who remain are left to ponder their own lives and futures: What is the purpose of a ship that has reached its destination? Why remain in space when there are habitable worlds available to live? What is the price of sustaining their carefully balanced way of life—and is it worth saving at all?

A young apprentice, a lifelong spacer with young children, a planet-raised traveler, an alien academic, a caretaker for the dead, and an Archivist whose mission is to ensure no one’s story is forgotten, wrestle with these profound universal questions. The answers may seem small on the galactic scale, but to these individuals, it could mean everything.

 

I could go on and on about this series, and just how good it is. I’m currently reading Becky Chambers’ latest novella, To Be Taught if Fortunate, and I’m really digging this too. It has the same heart as the trilogy, and I’ve a feeling, this will be a book that ‘hugs’ as well. So I guess this is four books you could be gifting!

To Be Taught

Recommended for those who enjoy sci-fi, space operas, character-driven stories, and books that make you smile long after you’ve finished reading. Like I said, a book hug.

Festivus Book Pimping: Blood of Heirs/Legacy of Ghosts by Alicia Wanstall-Burke

And so, as this year draws toward its end, we once again move into that most sacred of sacred times… Festivus of the Pimping of the Books! Praise be!

Ahem.

I’ll just… moving right along…

We all know that books make the best Christmas presents, so for the next twenty-four days, right up until Santa breaks into your house and eats your food, I’ll be dropping book recommendations of those I’ve read and/or worked on this year that would be most excellent gifts for loved ones and friends and colleagues and that weird relative we all seem to have. (If you are the weird relative, I tip my hat to you!)

Right, let’s get this party started with a double-shot of fantasy for the Festivus Pimping: Blood of Heirs and Legacy of Ghosts by Alicia Wanstall-Burke. Yep, there are two books now released in The Coraidic Sagas, the latter of which was released just yesterday (Nov. 30), so you get to sink your teeth into books one and two in a relatively short period.

But let’s delve a little deeper into each.

Blood of Heirs is a current finalist in the Self-Publishing Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO) competition. For those unaware of the comp, click here for info. Making the finals for SPFBO is a hell of an achievement — top ten of three hundred books submitted. And it well deserves the accolades. It’s a darker fantasy, with magic and monsters and mayhem all set to the backdrop of Australian-inspired lands and fauna. We follow two protagonists, Lidan and Ranoth, two polar opposites but both fighting battles that could change not only them, but their respective worlds.

bloodofheirs

Here’s the blurb:

Lidan Tolak is the fiercest of her father’s daughters; more than capable of one day leading her clan. But caught between her warring parents, Lidan’s world begins to unravel when another of her father’s wives falls pregnant. Before she has time to consider the threat of a brother, a bloody swathe is cut through the heart of the clan and Lidan must fight, not only to prove her worth, but simply to survive.

Ranoth Olseta wants nothing more than to be a worthy successor to his father’s throne. When his home is threatened by the aggressive Woaden Empire, Ran becomes his city’s saviour, but powers within him are revealed by the enemy and he is condemned to death. Confused and betrayed, Ran is forced to flee his homeland, vowing to reclaim what he has lost, even if it kills him.

Facing an unknown future, and battling forces both familiar and foreign, can Lidan and Ran overcome the odds threatening to drag them into inescapable darkness?

The sequel, Legacy of Ghosts, takes place four years after the end of book one, and ramps up the tension and action and magic. There’s a whole lot weighing on the decision both Lidan and Ran make, the consequences of which are brutal and unforgiving.

Legacy-of-Ghosts-cover.jpg

 

Here’s the blurb:

Four years have passed since Lidan’s world was ripped apart, and time is running out to change her father’s mind about the succession before the bargain with her mother expires. Torn between what she wants and what she knows is right, she is faced with an impossible choice; will her brother live, or will he die?

Within the walls of the Hidden Keep, Ranoth holds his secrets close as he tries to harness his wild magic. But when life in the Keep descends into chaos, he is cast once more into the outside world, forced upon a southward path toward unknown lands and untold danger.

With Ran set on seeking justice and revenge, and Lidan fighting to find her feet and follow her heart, journeys will converge, and the ghosts of a past thought long dead will rise.

I enjoyed the absolute shit out both of these books and can’t wait for the third in the series. And, full disclosure, I worked with Alicia on Legacy of Ghosts, but hand on heart (yes, I have one) you won’t be disappointed with the beauty of the prose nor the depth of the character’s she’s created.

Recommended for lovers of fantasy, dark fantasy, grimdark, horror, character-driven stories, unique worldbuilding and monsters. Hell, those monsters

So, I didn’t win a thing…

And that’s okay. It’s better than okay. It’s pretty damn awesome. It’s career-goal, achievement-unlocked awesome!

It’s been about two weeks since the Aurealis Awards were announced, and while my short story, Child of the Emptyness (Grimdark Magazine), was a finalist in the fantasy short story category, it didn’t get over the line. That honour went to one of the best humans I know, J. Ashley Smith for his tale: The Further Shore.

For those who don’t know, the Aurealis Awards are the premier literary awards for genre fiction in Australia. With the amount of talent on these shores, becoming a finalist is a massive undertaking and I count this as a hell of a win. To be included in this shortlisting was a welcome surprise, and I was chuffed to be on the ticket with one of my closest ‘people’ – the wonderfully crazy Alan Baxter – plus the other amazing authors putting out stellar work not only in this category but all categories.

That’s not to say I wouldn’t have loved the win – we all want to win, we’d all like awards and trophies and that acknowledgement of the work we put into musings. But small steps are forward momentum, and forward momentum is good momentum. Next step in career goal – Aurealis win.

bloody pen

Child of the Emptyness has an unusual origin – it was born from rage. Too often I was seeing female characters in battle situations being the only ones who cried or were horrified by the sight of blood (note for dude-bros: blood isn’t foreign to us, we see it every month for goddamn years), and I was done. From that rage Nyrra was born in all her blood-wearing, human-sacrificing, don’t-fuck-with-me glory. Is she empathetic? Maybe not, but she was never really drawn that way. She’s unapologetically herself. That’s what I like about her.

When I subbed this story to Grimdark Magazine, I was hopeful of a shortlisting, then chuffed to bits with an acceptance. The Aurealis finalist berth was the icing on a very cool cake, and while I couldn’t quite land the ‘cherry’ (yep, I see it), all told, it’s been pretty sweet.

There are people I need to thank that helped me get there. Adrian Collins of Grimdark Magazine for selecting and having faith in my story, and Mike Myers for his excellent editorial touch. And Devin Madson whose constant kicks up the bum to get the story written and her deft insight brought Nyrra fully into the light.

So while I didn’t win a thing, I won so very much. This finalist nod came at a time when I was seriously doubting my ability to tell a good story, a worthy story. We all have those moments. Sometimes they’re fleeting while other times those moments burrow deep, latching talons to bone and tainting your storyteller-marrow. It’s a world of shit, that feeling, but I’ll take the days where the talons aren’t as sharp, where the ‘I can do this’ voice drowns out the ‘no you can’t’.

And for those of you who also didn’t win a thing, I feel you. Keep writing, keep honing your craft, keep making magic – it’s the best gig in the world.

Awards and Such Things

So a thing happened last week. My story, Child of the Emptyness (Grimdark Magazine #17), made the shortlist for the Aurealis Awards in the ‘Best Fantasy Short Story’ category. To say I’m stunned is an understatement. To say I’m chuffed to bits – also understatement.

Apart from the awesomeness that is being shortlisted, what makes this doubly, or even triply special is the amount of friends I find myself amongst – two of which are ‘my people’ (yes, it’s a thing, we all have them, I wrote about it). It’s a bit of a convoluted web this one, as I find myself sharing the fantasy story nod with one of my closest of people, Alan Baxter, who also got a nod in the ‘Best Fantasy Novel’ category, which also contains another of my closest of people (and bestie), Devin Madson.

Oh, but it doesn’t stop there! Also please find drinking buddy and he of the best-laugh-ever, J Ashley Smith in the Fantasy Short category. Add in the most wonderful Sam Hawke in the Fantasy Novel shortlist and… how the hell are you supposed to choose?  Huh? Huh?

And there are so many more: Joanne Anderton, Kaaron Warren, Rivqa Rafael, Maria Lewis, Shauna O’Meara, Kylie Chan… I couldn’t be more pleased for these wonderful people and amazing authors. The breadth of talent in this list is incredible to see – Aussie fiction is a deep, rich pool of unique voices that deserve to be read.

Make Good Art

But I want to make a shout-out to those who didn’t make the list. That’s right, you there, who sits down and makes word-babies every day (or every week, or whenever you can), you’re a goddamn star. To those who have the writer-imposteritis shouting in the ear yet still create worlds that are as vivid as the one in which we live – keep creating! To those who hope their tales will get the nod for which they so wish, then wonder what they need to do when their name doesn’t appear – I see you, I hear you, I feel you… I am you. We’ve all been there. Don’t give up. Because that character that’s whispering in your ear, urging you to tell their story may just be the tale those judges need. And if not? Well, you’ve created. You’ve put yourself out in the world, given joy to those who read it, and you should be damn well proud.

You got this.

Not Dead, I Just Look That Way

Seriously, I’m not. Though it may appear that way considering the lack of posts these last few months. The lead-up to Christmas is one of my busiest times when it comes to work, so it’s been head down, bum up, and loooong hours in the editing chair.

But fear not, good readers! Things are about to change!

The tradition of Festivus Book Pimping is upon us! Can I get a book-a-lujah! (It’s a thing, work with me here.) For those unfamiliar with the tradition, every few days in the lead up to Christmas, I will be pimping a book I’ve read and/or worked on this year that I believe deserves to be wrapped in shiny paper and gifted to a loved one, friend, colleague… or even Secret Santa that baby. Hell, want to give an author friend a present? Gift their book to someone — two turtle doves and all that.

As you know, books are the best gifts (fight me), but it can sometimes be a little overwhelming knowing which books to choose for someone (or someones). Enter, Festivus Book Pimping! Each pimping will come with a mini-review and recommendation, plus a link to where you can purchase — be it print or ebook.

As Stephen King said, “Books are uniquely portable magic.” The man’s not wrong, and what better gift to give someone, than magic.

Stay tuned…
book magic

 

 

Con Magic

It’s been four days since Supanova Sydney packed up, and I’m sufficiently recovered to write a little somethin’-somethin’ on why conventions are not just fun but necessary. When I was a kid, there was no real gathering place to get your geek on. Sure, there were comic book stores a-plenty, but most didn’t want you hanging around all day after you’d spent your meagre pocket-money on the latest edition of Wonder Woman, Batman or The Tomb of Dracula and the like.

Relegated to the back carpark of the local council while we read and traded and talked all things comics as we skateboarded, it was the closest thing to a ‘con’ we had. And we revelled in it. Halloween wasn’t a thing when I was kid, so the opportunity to ‘cosplay’ was rare to non-existent.

Fast forward more years than I care to admit, and the culture is celebrated in all its glory – it’s a wondrous thing, filled with joy and excitement and acceptance. Yes, there are still issues with misogyny and inclusion and consent, but overall my con experiences have been positive (I’m aware this is not the case for all).

While the last few years I’ve been herding cats… sorry, my kids and their mates through conventions such as Supanova and ComicCon, this year I was on the other side of the Supanova table helping kick-arse author Devin Madson hawk her book-wares, and specifically her new book We Ride the Storm. As you can see by the table display below, the artwork is amazing (book covers matter, kids!), and the stories within are just brilliant.

devin table

The great thing about being on the other side of the table – apart from being surrounded by amazing artists (which we were) – is chatting with people about their love of books, of stories, of the art of writing and how much the tales they read and the characters they discover are very much a part of them. As someone who has a passion for both writing and editing, seeing that same passion in readers, of those who want to be writers, is an incredible thing to be a part of. No back carparks for these folks, they are out and proud in the geekdom, and it lifts the soul.

Cons allow writers to indulge in our love of all things books, to reunite with ‘our people’, and I even managed to scarper over to Alan Baxter’s table and pick up the promised books (The Book Club, Manifest Recall, and Hidden City), all signed, of course. And got to side-eye Raymond E Feist who was sitting next to Al – the line for Feist’s signature is definitely something to aspire to!

I also picked up issue #1 of Melbournian artist and writer, Mark Sheard’s, new comic The Flower of Rhode, plus a set of six funky coasters he’d made – of course I need funky coasters to rest my coffee mugs on. And I watched on as he created new characters for the next issue of his comic. The man has talent to spare.

Yet it’s the fans, those who love everything about books and comics and gaming and movies, of art and artists and the incredible creations found in Artists Alley that make the cons what they are – they’re the heart of fandom, who make creators keep creating.

We met kids scouring local author tables looking for their next read, we spoke to book lovers and voracious readers, and chatted to an ex-MMA fighter who proudly showed the dress he’d sewn for his daughter (in two days!) and was specifically looking to buy from Australian indie writers as a way of support – he was an awesome human.

We saw Deadpools and Doctors, Wonder Women and Wonder Men, Jedis and Stormtroopers and all manner of Darths. There was anime and My Little Pony, Aliens and Ripleys and Lara Crofts, superheroes and villains and a horde of Vikings that truly took it to another level. Everywhere you looked was another amazing outfit, another intricate piece painstakingly hand-made. Not once did I see a kid turned away from wanting their photo taken with a character, not once did I see someone mocked for their attire – it was a delight.

But I think it was best summed up by a grandmother I was chatting to while we both waited on our caffeine fix, and who was attending her first con with her grandchildren. Her eyes sparkled as she looked around at everything, her lips spreading wider in smile as her gaze lit upon the elaborately hand-made cosplay of ‘Big Daddy’ from Bioshock.

“It’s magic,” she said, her whisper filled with wonder. “In a world sorely lacking it.”

She’s not wrong.

Festivus Book Pimping: In Shadows We Fall by Devin Madson

It’s time! Festivus Book Pimping for 2017 is here! Damn right I’m excited. This is where I get to pimp the books I’ve enjoyed this past year, give you some recommendations, and hopefully have you fine folk make an author very Festivusy (so a word) by buying their book. It’s a win-win! Or… a win-win-win, perhaps.

Kicking the Pimping of the Books of the Fesitvus off is In Shadows We Fall by Devin Madson. This book is a novella-length prequel to Madson’s Vengeance Trilogy (pimped here), there are no spoilers for those who have read the trilogy, and you don’t need to have read VT to enjoy this tale. And enjoy it you will.

Madson has a knack for creating characters that are not only well-rounded but also on the grey side. While this book skirts the boundaries of full-on grimdark, it so beautifully dips it toes into the genre that if you’re a fan of stories that blur the lines between light and dark then this tale is definitely one you should pick up.

Set in a pseudo-feudal-Japanese world, the Kisian empire is on the brink of war, held together by fragile threads. Nothing is ever what it seems in Madson’s books, and she doesn’t disappoint here. The language is beautiful, the rituals and ceremonies befitting when gods sit on thrones. The Eastern-flavour of this universe is refreshing, and the setting and imagery comes to life on the pages.

Blurb:

You will die. Your children will die. The empire will burn,

Empress Li is out of favour at court. Foreign-born and past her prime, she is to be set aside. But she won’t go quietly. With nothing left to lose, Li will do anything to stop Emperor Lan signing a secret alliance that could tear the empire apart. Yet when her life is threatened, old mistakes come back to haunt her and only a three-year-old boy can change the course of history.

With everything at stake, could an innocent child be the best assassin.

Shadows

 

And you can’t go past that cover. This is original artwork created for In Shadows We Fall, and artist John Anthony Di Giovanni has produced a thing of beauty that captures the essence of Empress Li. There’s always something special about covers that contain original artwork, and Madson’s cover is why.

On a Goodreads scale, I give In Shadows We Fall five stars.

Recommended for readers of fantasy, dark fantasy, political intrigue, stabby-stabby, killer magic systems.

You can read In Shadows We Fall free if you sign up to Madson’s newsletter (an ebook copy of the story will be sent to you).  You can also purchase ebook and print from the website here, or you can purchase from Amazon or wherever you buy your reading.

Cover art: John Anthony Di Giovanni

Cover design: Shawn King

FESTIVUS BOOK PIMPING COMING SOON

Yes, folks, we’re edging toward that time of year. If you’re like me, the idea of heading into those outside places with those outside people and running the gauntlet of shoppers as I try to find gifts, brings not so much Christmas cheer, but Christmas jeer. Or beer. Yeah, beer would be good.

Aaanywho, for those of you who are readers, or know readers, or love readers, or can’t think of a present for a family member, a friend, a work colleague, or even your drunk Uncle Dave, fear not! From December 1, I will be reviving Festivus Book Pimping. 

As the name suggests, I will be pimping books I’ve read* and those I’ve worked on, and giving a small breakdown of what each entails, and who they’d suit. Be warned, though, if it’s romance you’re after… well, at least you’ll get to see some great covers.

Books are amazing gifts. They ignite the imagination, they can take you to different worlds, and have you live different lives. And as a present, there’s not much better than that. Except kittens. And puppies.**

All right, buckle up mofos, Festivus Book Pimping will be landing soon!

book imagination

* This is not a call out for reviews or ‘read my work!’ ‒ stay classy, people.

** Kittens and puppies are for life, not just Christmas ‒ don’t be that asshat.

The stories that keep on giving

Writers will tell you nothing much beats publication – be it a short, novella or novel. Signing that contract, getting paid (yes, you should be paid for your work), and having your story out in the world is like crack.

But what happens to those babies once they’ve flown the nest and found new homes? After a given time, well those babies come back. Most will stay filed away, but never underestimate their chance to fly off again and find new homes, new readers.

Reprint markets. Oh, they are wonderful things. One of my babies has found a new home with Digital Fiction Publishing League. Unlike children (real, human-like ones) there are a few stories of mine that are favourites, and The Whims of my Enemy is one of them. It’s a brutal story, unforgiving to all the characters within, but more so with the main protagonist. Hers is a torturous ride, filled with violence and weighed against the desperate need to survive, and what that survival may cost.

Killing it Softly 2

It seemed a good fit for Killing It Softly 2: a fiction anthology of short stories (the best of women in horror). It’s quite the title, and the editors at DFPL were not only kind enough to accept ‘Whims’ but made it the lead story in the antho, which I was extremely chuffed with. There are some fantastic authors I’m sharing the pages with, and it’s one hell of a tome. Thirty-eight stories that run the gamut of all things horror.

Here’s the blurb:

The first ‘Killing It Softly’ was just the tip of the iceberg…

Beneath the icy depths of this next installment, you’ll be plunged into a world where 38 female horror writers give you a glimpse of their inner-demons, unleashing the hell-fire they suppress in the ‘real’ world. It will disturb you to discover what really lurks inside their minds, because many of these stories delve into pain that can only be experienced by women—leaving you unhinged as you curl up with them during their darkest hour.

Post-partum depression, hording, anorexia, and mental health will be brought to light when viewed through the shadowy perspective of cognitive deception.

Sci-fi, romance, steam-punk, and fantasy intertwine with horror to deliver unsettling, chilling stories; traditional tales of witches, zombies, werewolves, and vampires will be told in twisted new ways that will shock, unnerve, and even repulse you…and within these pages, sometimes new monsters will arise from the ashes.

You may even discover that women can not only write good horror…but in some cases, can do it better.
So if you’re of a mind, and looking for some killer short stories to while away the hours, then check out Killing It Softly 2 ­‒ there’s a little horror out there for everyone.

And for you writers out there, remember there is more than one life to the stories you’ve sent out into the world. Let those babies fly again!

Movie Review – Kong: Skull Island

Yeah, yeah, I know. I’ve never previously reviewed a movie, but… KONG! Seriously. KONG! It’s been a while since I’ve been this excited over a movie, and when that final trailer dropped… oh, it’s a thing of beauty. It does everything a trailer should. Are you excited yet? You should be.

I’ll be the first to say it: I’m no aficionado when it comes to movies. I know what I like and what I don’t, and that pretty much covers it. As a writer and editor, it’s sometimes hard to remove those hats when screen-watching (and my husband hates that I can predict dialogue – ‘stop ruining movies for me!’). So there’s always that small part of me that worries over my excitement for seeing something and the possibility the trailer is the best part of what I’m about to see.

Not so here. Sure, there are small issues with plot, and the under-development of Tom Hiddleston’s character (ex-SAS soldier now tracker, James Conrad), and the over-act that now seems to be Samuel L Jackson’s (Preston Packard) go to, but Kong: Skull Island (Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros) hits all the right marks for a ‘monsterverse’ movie.

The studio was kind enough to release on my birthday, so off hubby and I went to the first showing. Yep, mid-morning, and we were the youngest people in the audience. No kidding. And just a very cool aside, when in the bathroom after the movie, one of the older ladies was waxing lyrical about how she’d seen every Kong movie on the big screen since she was a kid, and she’d loved this one. Now that is a fan of epic proportions, and puts a smile on my face every time I think of it. Be this Nanna!

Kong Skull Island.jpg

SPOILER WARNING. LIKE HUGE, KING-KONG SIZE SPOILER WARNING. READ ON AT YOUR OWN SPOILERY RISK.

Set in 1973 at the tail-end of the Vietnam War, this is a Kong origin story that will no doubt spawn future ‘Kong vs…’ movies. (Note: stay for the after-credits end-scene). And while some may boo-hoo this, I’m all for a re-emergence, re-imagining of the creature-feature universe. Done well, of course, but I’m fully aware you don’t always get what you want.

There’s no doubt the director/writers/producers wanted a particular feel for Kong: Skull Island, and there are clear cinematography-elements that draw on that ‘Apocalypse Now’ atmosphere (with the killer score to go with it), as well as the many Vietnam War movies of my youth (and for me, that’s never a bad thing) – the camaraderie of the soldiers is reminiscent of such, and works well.

There are factions within the crew sent to Skull Island: scientists, military, government agents, and a war correspondent (Brie Larson’s ‘Mason Weaver), each with their own agenda. Although to be fair, the soldiers just want go home, way before Kong makes his entrance. And it’s a hell of an entrance. Kong swats the helos out of the air with ease, a nod to the original Kong swatting planes from his spot atop the Empire State Building.

Now spread thin on the ground, each party must find their way to the exfil spot on the other side of the island, and battle monsters along the way. Yeah, it’s a pretty standard plot/theme for monster-military madness, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is anywhere near ‘standard’. The monsters, giants by any standard, and terrifyingly monstrous, definitely make this a survival of the fittest scenario. The fight and action scenes are jarring and gruesome and a hell of a lot of fun.

And that’s the thing with this movie, it knows what it is and it doesn’t take itself seriously. John C Reilly’s character (Captain Hank Marlow) provides the ‘comic relief’, but has more depth than you’d expect – his is a backstory that’s explored, where Hiddleston’s character is more hinted at than evolved (coulda done more with just a little, but I’ll give that a pass if it’s indulged in future movies). Reilly’s character top and tails this story – beginning with him being shot-down in WWII to his return to civilisation and the family he left behind. So in a way, you could say this is Marlow’s story, and he tells it well. Kong’s backstory is given via Reilly and the native inhabitants of the island (the Iwi people), who do not speak. Not really okay with that as it would have provided more depth.

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The one real issue I did have (as did my husband) was Jackson’s portrayal of Preston Packard. That shit needed to be underplayed, not overacted. Subtlety and nuance would have done the trick here – villain the writers may have wanted him to be, avenger for the deaths of his men a great motivator, but Jackson cocked it up (I’m looking at you, director and script-writers).

As with every Kong movie, there’s the female protagonist (I won’t say lead, as she’s not), and making Larson a war-correspondent/photographer gives her more play in the arena of death she’s used to seeing (but this in no way passes the Bechdel Test— Larson and the female scientist [Tian Jing’s ‘San’] barely speak two words to each other), and can hold her own in a firefight.

Oh, and monsters, there are aplenty! From Skull Crawlers awoken from the caverns beneath the ground (and their link to the demise of Kong’s family, and a grudge that ain’t going away any time soon), to a giant Kraken-like creature, big mofo of a spider, cannibal birds, giant bats, and the ever adorable moss-covered ox.

There’s a lot to like about this movie, and some things that could have been done better, but overall I loved it. It’s my kind of movie. A perfect storm of monsters, military, mayhem, and a killer score.

As my husband said, it’s not going to win an Academy Award, but it was a helluva lot of fun.

My rating: 8/10. You’ll want to see this on the big screen, and it’s definitely a movie I’ll be adding to my home collection.

Oh, and for readers out there, writer Tim Lebbon has written the movie novelisation of Kong: Skull Island. I’ve pre-ordered mine – you should too.