TV Mini-Reviews: Lucifer, X-Files, The Magicians

2016 so far is shaping up to be pretty awesome for us genre fans across a variety of platforms, but it’s especially seeing a resurgence on television. In this past week, we’ve seen the debut of no less than three shows. The question is, which, if any are worth watching? Here are my quick takes:

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Lucifer gets bored, moves to LA, and becomes a homicide detective (or technically outside consultant). It’s about as stupid as it sounds, complete with a “hey wait a minute, my charms aren’t working on this lady cop,” side-story. And yet…it works. By not taking itself too seriously, the show actually manages to be fun to watch, so long as you toss any need for realism straight out of the window. My biggest question around this show is whether there’s going to be enough depth to make you want to keep watching. Still, I think it’s definitely Worth a Look, unless you’re a fan of the source comic and wanted a more faithful adaptation. From my understanding, the similarities between the two (at least in the episodes that critics were allowed to screen) is pretty shallow at best.

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A brief history of my history with the X-Files: I watched the first six or seasons fairly faithfully. In 1999, I started attending college and I didn’t have ready access to a TV (let alone a VCR). By the start of the seventh season, X-Files was neck-deep in its mythology and watching on a weekly basis was more or less a must if you wanted to make heads or tails of anything going on that wasn’t related to a monster of a week and over the course of that seventh season, I stopped watching it. I remember seeing the first film, but not the second. So I was a fan, but maybe not a full on X-Phile. So from that perspective, here are my thoughts:

Those who didn’t watch the previous series at some point before now can probably Skip It. The info dump in the first episode to get you caught up with the basics can’t make you appreciate the chemistry and deep relationship between Mulder and Scully, the joy of seeing Skinner (and how it seems that you wouldn’t have noticed his aging if it weren’t for the fact that he has a salt-and-pepper beard now), and the sheer WTF of seeing Cigarette Smoking Man alive even though he was unquestionably dead at the series finale. On top of that, the concept which really was fresh when the show first debuted, now just feels kind of campy and there are so many real-life versions of Mulder online now that the character feels old-hat. I just don’t think that there’s enough here if you don’t have nostalgia to carry you.

For fans and X-Philes though, it’s definitely Worth a Look. And hey, at six episodes (two of which have already aired) it’s at least a short commitment.

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I think this is going to be the most divisive show on this list. Those who really loved the books will probably be disappointed by it. Though some changes (the college being more of a post-grad thing now) are relatively meaningless, they did start combining elements of the first two books and those looking for a more pure adaptation of the first novel might be bummed about it.

As for me, I wanted to give it a shot despite that I didn’t love the first book (I can’t stand Quentin) and didn’t finish the second. I don’t know that the series did enough differently, however, to win me over. Quentin is less obnoxious than he is in the books, but I still wouldn’t go so far as to call him likable. The classmates are all broad sketches of characters. The show looks decent for Syfy, but still has some cheesy effects. It does do the overall darker tone quite well, and I do think a lot of the changes are for the better to help move things along. I’ll give it another week, I guess and it’s probably one of the three shows that I liked the least. This might be an instance where being completely new to the series might actually be to your benefit. I’m going to call this a Worth a Look if only because I think your mileage may vary greatly with this show.

I don’t think any of the three series are home runs, but none are so terrible that it isn’t at least giving them a shot either. Try ’em out, and see what you think!

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DNF – Kingfisher – Patricia McKillip

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Summary:

Game Review: Final Fantasy X Remaster

So over the holidays I received a Playstation 4 for Christmas. So of course, what’s the first game I play? A remaster of a game first released in 2001 that I played back on the Playstation 2, of course! And since it fits into that whole fantasy niche, I thought I’d take a look at it here. This review only covers Final Fantasy X, I’ll do a separate write-up for X-2.

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Graphics:

Graphics are a mixed bag, but not for the reason you might think. On the one hand, the game really has been given a face lift, and considering the age of the game, it looks quite nice. You’ll never mistake it for current gen, but it’s nice. The cut-scenes were re-rendered and in some parts look absolutely amazing. But the same cut-scenes can also be jarring, especially when you have ten seconds of the new render book-ended by the in-game engine graphics. I found it to be distracting not only for the huge difference in graphic quality, but because why bother having clips that are that short? Did those five seconds really need to be redone?

That said, this is a nitpick. The game looked great in 2001 and looks even better now. Considering its age and that this isn’t a remake, it looks fantastic.

Gameplay:

This game is Linear, and that isn’t a mistype. For as much grief as XIII was given about being linear, FFX was even more so – at least XIII eventually opened up. Before the 80% mark of this game, there are exactly two things you can do that are not the main story line. One: you can play blitzball. Blitzball is a mini-game that is necessary to get Wakka his overdrives (think special abilities) and his ultimate weapon. It was so despised by the fanbase that in FFX-2, it is 100% optional. Thankfully, unless you’re going to do endgame tough-than-the-final-boss monster fighting, you can completely and safely ignore the game beyond the one game you are compelled to play. Two: you can dodge lightening. If you successfully dodge 200 times, in a row, without saving you can get a component Lulu’s ultimate weapon. If you value your sanity, you save this for endgame anyway so you can get some No Encounter gear. But that is it. There is absolutely nothing else to do til towards the very end of the game that isn’t in the main story. And even then, the sidequests that are present once the game opens up either serve to a) get your characters their ultimate weapons or b) fight super tough monsters because you can. Again, there is nothing story-driven, though you do get a few small snippets of scenes if you complete certain tasks. If you predominantly play JRPG this isn’t entirely new (and really, none of the games in this series save the MMOs have been all that open) but if you mostly play western RPGs it might bother, so take that into consideration.

Difficulty wise, it’s just right. Remember to level all your party members (at least til end game when you really whittle your party down to Tidus, Auron and Yuna quite easily, especially if you get the latter two’s ultimate weapons and theirs are the easiest), try not to Flee that often during normal game progression and be prepared to grind once a while before tough bosses and you’ll be just fine. Of course, end game content (Monster Arena, Dark Aeons and the Omega Ruins) are an exception and those are a bitch, but those are also 100% optional and by the time you’re ready to take those on, you’ll find that you’ve basically broken the end game and the final few bosses should go down without a fight.

Finally, FFX is know for the Sphere Grid system. In this re-release it comes in “normal” and “expert.” Normal is what shipped with the U.S. version and expert shipped everywhere else. I’d say that if you’ve never played before, you might want to stick with normal. You can screw yourself up by not sending characters down their respective paths if you don’t know what you’re doing as each character  was set up to naturally serve a certain role. That said, playing with the expert grid is fun and you can give yourself a few advantages if you do know what you’re doing. It’s your call, just be prepared to grind if you find that you’ve screwed yourself up so you can get back on track.

The Story:

I’ve always loved the story of FFX and I think it holds up well. It’s a tale of faith, shattered faith, hope and sacrifice. The love story is subtle, but it is touching. I’ll be honest, even though I knew what was coming, and even though some of the scenes that surrounded it were 100% cheesy, I was emotionally invested in it enough to cry when all was said and done. It just worked.

That being said, I really do wish that the game could have been more open. Throughout the course of the story the characters learn things that more or less destroy everything they knew about their religion. And in order to stop it all, they have to commit acts that at the start of the game they’d considered blasphemous and would have refused to even entertain. By this point in the story though, it pretty much gets dealt with a scratch of the head and a character basically saying “Welp, I never thought I’d do this, but let’s do it.” I’d love to have had a chance to explore it further in side-quests because you really could get deep if you’d wanted to. On the other hand, I’m okay with it. Tidus isn’t religious and as he reminds us, this is his story so such explorations would have been odd. Still, I’d love to see a Final Fantasy game go there one day.

Value:

Two games. 80+ hours each. $40 (or less!). I don’t have to tell you that it’s a steal, do I?

Verdict:

FFX was one of the most lauded games of the PS2 era and it holds up remarkably well. If you’ve never played it before, it’s well worth picking it up and giving it a chance. If you have, it holds up well and is well worth a replay, especially if you haven’t played it since it’s PS2 debut. Buy It.

White Cat (The Curse Workers #1) – Holly Black

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Summary:

The first installment in The Curse Workers series from New York Times bestselling author Holly Black: “Urban fantasy, con story—whatever you call it, read it” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review).

Cassel comes from a family of con artists and grifters, all of them curse workers but him. On top of that, Cassel is plagued by guilt that he killed his best friend, Lila, years ago.

When Cassel begins to have strange dreams about a white cat and people around him are losing their memories, he starts to wonder what really happened to Lila, and what that means about his actions. In Cassel’s search for answers about Lila and himself, he realizes that his brothers have been conning him for years, and that the final piece in their quest for power is about to fall into place. Cassel has other ideas. He’s going to create an even more elaborate trap and, with Lila’s help, con a bunch of magic using conmen.

This “beautifully realized dark fantasy…with prose that moves from stark simplicity to almost surreal intensity in a moment” (Publishers Weekly, starred review) is rife with the unexpected. “Readers will be hooked” (Booklist) on White Cat.

Review:

The back cover of this book has the following New York Times quote: “A noir thriller.”

It is the single best summation of what exactly this book is. Oh, it has aspects of urban fantasy, but it honestly more feels like a thriller with hints of magical realism than a full on fantasy.

For all the talk of curse working in this book, you practically never see it. This is a book of relationships: Cassel and his brothers. Cassel and his grandfather. Cassel and his classmates. It’s about how he interacts with them and how it all starts to change as he uncovers truths about his past. It’s very good. It’s very atmospheric. It’s very grounded.

It barely feels like fantasy at all.

It doesn’t need more fantasy than it has, but it also means that those that might really enjoy this book could easily pass it up because of the label, and that’s just not fair to the book.

That being said, the fantastic underpinnings are rather interesting: a certain aspect of the population of the world can “work.” They can change your luck, your emotions, your memories, or even your body. Its one of the systems that almost works on a karmic level: kill someone, kill part of yourself. Alter someone’s memory, lose part of your own. It’s neat and it’s neat watching the consequences play through.

All told, this is a great little thriller and it’s quite enjoyable watching Cassel put all the pieces together. It just happens to have a bit of fantasy added for spice.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now

Manners & Mutiny (Finish School #4) -Gail Carriger

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Summary:

If one must flirt…flirt with danger.

Lessons in the art of espionage aboard Mademoiselle Geraldine’s floating dirigible have become tedious without Sophronia’s sweet sootie Soap nearby. She would much rather be using her skills to thwart the dastardly Picklemen, yet her concerns about their wicked intentions are ignored, and now she’s not sure whom to trust. What does the brusque werewolf dewan know? On whose side is the ever-stylish vampire Lord Akeldama? Only one thing is certain: a large-scale plot is under way, and when it comes to fruition, Sophronia must be ready to save her friends, her school, and all of London from disaster—in decidedly dramatic fashion, of course.

What will become of our proper young heroine when she puts her years of training to the test? Find out in this highly anticipated and thrilling conclusion to the New York Times bestselling Finishing School series!

Review:

Finishing this series is bittersweet. Without a question, I enjoyed one last romp with Sophronia. Without a question, I was ready for this to be the last romp and I’m not necessarily sad to see the series end.

Sophronia went full on Bond in this book and while fun, it cause me to side-eye the book a book: I enjoyed the social scenes much more, but I suppose it makes sense that this book was so action heavy: it was the last one and the dastardly plan of the Pickleman had to come to fruition.  Thankfully, the action wasn’t the sole focus. There were nice scenes between our heroine and Soap and I admire Carriger sticking to her guns about keeping them together, even while admitting that it was going to be an uphill battle.

Finally, all of Carriger’s stylistic hallmarks are here. I didn’t find them as annoying as I did in Prudence, which I attribute to having a greater emotional investment in the characters. That said, it doesn’t really make me want to give it another shot because there is an inherent level of absurdity in some of the narration and it’s just beyond what I’m willing to accept.

Ultimately, I’m still done with Carriger, but I am glad that I read – and finished – this series because I had fun, and if someone was going to give her a go for the first time, this would be where I’d suggest starting.

Verdict: Buy It – a fun end to a fun series.

Available Now.

The Rogue Retrieval

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Summary:

Sleight of hand…in another land.

Stage magician Quinn Bradley has one dream: to headline his own show on the Vegas Strip. And with talent scouts in the audience wowed by his latest performance, he knows he’s about to make the big-time. What he doesn’t expect is an offer to go on a quest to a place where magic is all too real.

That’s how he finds himself in Alissia, a world connected to ours by a secret portal owned by a powerful corporation. He’s after an employee who has gone rogue, and that’s the least of his problems. Alissia has true magicians…and the penalty for impersonating one is death. In a world where even a twelve-year-old could beat Quinn in a swordfight, it’s only a matter of time until the tricks up his sleeves run out.

Scientist and blogger Dan Koboldt weaves wonder, humor, and heart into his debut novel, The Rogue Retrieval. Fans of Terry Brooks and Terry Pratchett will find this a thrilling read.

Review:

You know, I think might be the favorite book that I’ve read from the Harper Voyager Impulse line. When I was trying to think of negatives about this book, about the worst thing I could thing of was “it doesn’t exactly break any new ground,” but that isn’t necessarily even a bad thing, if done well.

And honestly, it was.

The book knew exactly what it was: a story of contemporary, tech-forward humans traveling to a world that’s medieval in its technology to try and retrieve one of their own that went to this world and decided to not come back. And what’s impressive is that while you can figure out where the story is going in terms of their assignment, the story as a whole doesn’t go where you’d expect it to at all. It was a pleasant surprise. When you combine it with the likable characters, it makes for a fun, if basic read with an intriguing set-up for a possible sequel. All told, if you like the set up, pick this up. At $2.99, you can’t go wrong giving it a chance.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: January 19