Fourteen years since its initial publication, Across the Nightingale Floor is a calm, measured book. It's the kind of fantasy unconcerned with frenetic plotting and frequent action, preferring to channel its energy into developing compelling characters, multifaceted politics and a sprawling world inspired by the real feudal Japan. Though it's been a beloved Australian classic for the better part of two decades, I'm only now experiencing Lian Hearn's Tales of the Otori for the first time. This is thanks in part to the recent re-release of Hearn's series in gorgeous new covers, but also because the prequel series, The Tale of Shikanoko, set three hundred years before Otori, begins in March 2016. So before seeing where everything begins in the fictional world, it's good to go back to the beginning in the real one.

The Three Countries are ruled by the Clans. After escaping the destruction of his village and the murder of his family, the young boy Tomasu is rescued by the eccentric Shigeru of Clan Otori. Giving the boy the new name Takeo, Shigeru trains him as his eventual successor after discovering Takeo has the abilities of the Tribe, a collective of possibly superpowered warriors who live in secret. While Takeo learns the ways of the Force the Otori from Shigeru, young princess Kaede becomes betrothed to Shigeru as part of a peace agreement between two Clans. Upon meeting Takeo, both he and Kaede become enamoured, and must deal with their star-crossed love as the impending union threatens to tear them - and the Clans - apart.

Despite the layered description above, Across the Nightingale Floor is a relatively sedate book for most of its pagecount. There's a gradual pace that doesn't get too frantic, allowing readers to luxuriate in the lovingly-rendered world Hearn has created. Japanese aficionados will recognise a lot of the cultural background amongst the fantasy elements, making it both a familiar and excitingly new place to visit. Hearn's description of the setting and the characters is well thought-out and executed with a prose that is as accessible as it is expressive. It falls down a little at times when a scene that should take a paragraph is described in a sentence; a character kills another, wipes off his blade and calls for help in literally the space of a few words. Not that there needs to be Robert Jordan-levels of purple prose, but a little more dwelling on moments like that would give them a bit more weight.

What's very clear about Nightingale is that's a foundational book, setting up ideas and themes that will be explored in more detail through the following four books. The world assumes our knowledge of elements that haven't been adequately explained; aspects like the true significance of the Tribe, the animosity between some of the Clans and, in one spoilerrific case, the motivation of a main character who quite suddenly becomes ambiguously villainous, are things that aren't really fleshed out enough. I suspect a lot of this will be explored in detail later, given how long some of the later books are, and it's apparent Hearn's put a lot of time into fully building her feudal Japan-inspired world for the long narrative haul. It also helps that our protagonists, Takeo and Kaede, are well-layered enough that I wanted to see them explore this world further.

Some might be turned off by the book eschewing a rushed pace, and the lack of substantial action scenes until the third act also doesn't give us much of a chance to explore the actual magic aspect of the series. But again, I feel like Hearn's set us up to see more of this depth in the following novels. There's nothing wrong with having a book that's the first part of a longer story rather than a story unto itself, but it makes it hard to judge whether some of the book's lacking qualities are ones that will be addressed further down the line, or if they're endemic only to this volume.

On its own, Across the Nightingale Floor is a patient, tantalising story that is a great debut for Hearn's beloved series; despite fourteen years, the book doesn't feel even slightly dated. The ending left me genuinely excited for Book 2, and it's made me all the more curious for Hearn's The Tale of Shikanoko prequel in March. Definitely worth checking out.

- Chris




Across the Nightingale Floor and the rest of the Tales of the Otori series are available in bookstores now.
Review copy kindly supplied to Geek of Oz by Hachette Australia.
It's getting to the point where I almost can't write reviews about Brandon Sanderson's work anymore. Even the slightly riskier of his recent narrative ventures - like the experimental Legion: Skin Deep - end up paying rich dividends, to say nothing of his thoroughly entertaining doorstopper material in The Stormlight Archive. There's only so many ways a reviewer can praise an author's work before it almost becomes a find-and-replace with the newer book's title on the old review.

Like with last year's Shadows of Self, we've been spoiled with yet another exciting, layered, thought-provoking and just plain fun entry in the Mistborn series. The Bands of Mourning picks up six months after Shadows, with Wax still reeling from the last book's devastating emotional gut punch. He's yanked from his attempted convalescence by the kandra, who've discovered the possible whereabouts of the most powerful weapon in Mistborn history - the titular Bands of Mourning. A leftover from the Lord Ruler's reign in the original Mistborn trilogy, the Bands have the power to give every single Allomancy power to whomever puts them on. It seems Mr Suit, criminal mastermind and Wax's erstwhile uncle, is after the Bands too; since it would be a very bad thing if Suit got hold of these Weapons of Metallic Destruction, Wax and co. set off to stop him.

Were I to search for criticism in what is otherwise a truly excellent narrative sojourn, I'd say that the latter-day Mistborn books are getting slightly formulaic. Not in the manner of, say, The Dresden Files or a few of the Discworld novels, but it's becoming a little more noticeable. Both of the previous Mistborn western novels, The Alloy of Law and Shadows of Self, begin with an initial call to adventure, follow a standard three-act structure, have surprising reveals at key points of the book, and end with one big and a few small sequel hooks. The Bands of Mourning is no exception to that structure, following the template of its predecessors to a tee.

The enjoyment of the story stems less from following similar beats to the first two books, and more from the reveals and character pairings that Sanderson messes around with. Bands' big strength is in the exploration of its female protagonists; sisters Steris and Marasi get the bulk of the fleshing out this time around, with Steris in particular proving to have some remarkable hidden depths. Another point in Bands' favour is just how funny it is, with a lot of comedy gold coming from interesting character pairings like wannabe-buddy-cops Wayne and Marasi.

Where Shadows was more of a CSI meets Clint Eastwood western, Bands seems to combine the politics of the Star Wars prequels with the action-adventure of Indiana Jones. Wax and his buddies leave the city of Elendel early on, allowing Sanderson to flex his worldbuilding muscles by taking us to the waterfall city of New Seran and the harsh, cold climes of the southern reaches. There's much more of a swashbuckling tone to the story compared to the brewing civil war/inner turmoil of Shadows, which contributes to the fun factor.

That, really, is the word that once again sums up The Bands of Mourning as a whole: fun. It's just a really nice, thrilling jaunt across the world of Scadrial, with some great character development and one hell of a sequel hook on the very last page (long-term Mistborn readers will probably, as I did, start shouting, screaming and bemoaning the wait for the follow-up book, The Lost Metal).

I'm really going to need to find a new rubric to grade Sanderson's books by now, since they're just that damn good. Maybe I need a separate review section that ranks him out of 10 Sandersons? In that case, consider The Band of Mourning an 8/10 Sandersons; as good as Shadows of Self, not quite as good as The Alloy of Law. But in terms of its comparison to other books of the genre, Bands stands, as most Sanderson work does, head and shoulders above the competition.

- Chris



The Bands of Mourning is available in bookstores now.

Review copy kindly supplied to Geek of Oz by Hachette Australia.


So it's been a little while....

Due to the busyness of the Christmas/ New year period plus some poorly timed technical difficulties It's been far too long between podcasts. But hey we're back now, ready to delight your ears for another year with our bullshit-laced pop-culture  ramblings.

This episode we talk about our favourite things from last year and look forward to all the read/watch/play fun 2016 has to offer. We recorded this episode mid-January so although it might be a bit dated we had a whole lot of fun recording it and wanted to share it with you all.  

Enjoy!

-Christof


                                      Get it from Podomatic here

                                            Get it from Itunes here




Check out the trailer for SCARE CAMPAIGN, the upcoming horror feature from the Cairnes brothers (100 BLOODY ACRES). The film stars Olivia DeJonge (The Visit), Meegan Warner (Turn), Ian Meadows (The Moodys) and Josh Quong Tart (Underbelly) as well as legendary Australian actor Sigrid Thornton (Sea Change).

Popular TV prank show, SCARE CAMPAIGN, has been entertaining audiences for the last five years with its mix of old school scares and hidden camera fun. But as we enter a new age of online TV, the producers find themselves up against a hard-edged web series which makes their show look decidedly quaint. It's time to up the ante, but will the team go too far this time, and are they about to prank the wrong guy?

'Careful Who You Prank'

You can catch SCARE CAMPAIGN at the following screenings:

  • Dendy Cinemas, Newtown – 14th February (anti-Valentines showing)
  • Dendy Cinemas, Canberra – 14th February (anti-Valentines showing)
  • Mayday Hills Lunatic Asylum, Beechworth – 12th March 
  • Adelaide Gaol, Adelaide – 17th March 
  • Gold Coast Film Festival, Gold Coast - early April

- Stu

Ever wondered what the world would be like if James Bond was played by Elvis Presley? Yeah, I hadn’t either, but that’s the premise behind Licensed To Thrill at The Vanguard, Newtown. Ex-KGB operative Natalia has infiltrated America and is hot on the trail of the hunk of burning love himself … and mayhem ensues. The show is part burlesque, part cabaret and part, er, I’m not entirely sure. The humour struck a refreshing note with its cheeky-bordering-on-bawdy style which earnt a few of those ‘I know I shouldn’t be laughing at this’ reactions from the crowd. Yeah, it’s a bit of a throwback to yesteryear vaudeville, but it feels good to laugh at the irreverence of it all.

The musical numbers include hits from legends such as Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones and of course The King himself; but there’s also some newer hits that people will recognise immediately. It’s the type of music that’s damn near impossible not to sing along to. The vocal stylings were only matched by their dancing counterparts who seemed to take great joy mixing with the audience and sprinkling the room with a hint of titillation.

My only few complaints were that the production design was minimal, the sound quality was a tad off and the overall story of the show needed some slight tweaking; but let’s be honest: you turn up for the big songs and excellent dancers, not the storyline and set decorations.

Keep an eye out for the show’s return to Newtown sometime early this year. The Vanguard is the perfect venue for a production like this: it offers such an intimate experience, allowing the performers to move with ease throughout the seating area, involving the audience in all the fun. For the lovers of big hits that we all know the words to, this is worth catching upon its return.

- Stu

Christmas. You know, that time of year when they blast the same three carols at every shopping center you step into, and you find yourself trapped in the homewares section of Myer for three hours trying to find the perfect floral teacup for an auntie you have never met? To me that's Christmas.

It's a stressful, expensive and frustrating time of year. However, much to my Scrooge-like dismay, the other folks here at Geek of Oz don't feel the same way, instead associating the occasion with such things as great food, presents and *shudder* happiness.

If, like me, you need a little extra help getting into the holiday spirit there's no better way than watching a few festive flicks. So for your reading pleasure (or in my case displeasure) we thought we would put together a list of some of our favorite Chritsmas movies.

Plus as a little Christmas treat we have a couple of suggestions by Geek of Oz creator Ryan Huff (It's a Christmas miracle!). Enjoy!

-Christof a.k.a The Grinch of Oz

Our TOP 10 Christmas Movies


The Santa Clause:

A seminal 90s Christmas classic, Tim Allen inherits Santa's job after the North Pole's favoured son falls off his roof. As hilarious as it is heartfelt, the film may have aged in some places but remains genuinely charming. Also, the first sequel wasn't bad (the second sequel, not so much).











The Ref:

Everyone's favourite Arsehole, Dennis Leary, plays a thief who botches a job at Christmas, and then tries to avoid the cops by taking hostage a couple on Christmas Eve. The couple (played by Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis) are in the middle of marriage breakdown and we're just their way back from a counselling session. It's the dark comedic opposite to those family gathering Christmas type films and really lets Spacey and Davis go all out with off the chain dark humour and Leary stuck in the middle. - Billy



Home Alone:

Oh boy where to start? The fact this film always makes me want a cheese pizza and a coke or maybe that i never looked at paint cans the same after watching poor Joe Pesci cop a gallon of off white to the face, but no, the reason I love this film is simply Macaulay Culkin. I was 9 when I first saw it and immediately thought Culkin was the coolest kid ever. 



Watching him stick it to the completely inept Wet Bandits made me happier than hiding a blow torch behind a door or tar and feathering a baddie. It’s no surprise Home Alone was a box-office juggernaut, it oozes christmas at every turn and is laced with that particular John Hughes magic. Macaulay Culkin may not have had the longest acting career, but at least he gave us a few precious gems. - Stu




National Lampoons - Christmas Vacation:

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation has been a must watch Christmas film in my household since I can remember. It was played every Christmas Eve, my father and I sitting on the couch cackling to the Griswolds while eating a festive doner kebab (with homous, taboulie, garlic sauce). Little did I realise that this film shows a very real aspect of the Laymans Christmas. There're money troubles, awkward family confrontations, but most importantly the realisation that your family, while you may not be able to choose them, will always be there and will always love you unconditionally. Although the same may not be said after they effectively poo in your front yard. Now as a father myself I realise that I have become Clark Griswold. All I want is for my family to enjoy this period of the year more than any other, whether that be through the overuse of Christmas lights or surprises under the perfect Christmas tree.  - Ryan




The Muppet Christmas Carol:

Oh, come on. There is no way you *haven't* seen this. Of course you've seen Kermit, Gonzo, Miss Piggy and all the rest act out Charles Dickens' classic tale, alongside Michael Caine as Ebeneezer Scrooge. If you honestly haven't, you should reassess what you're doing with your day (or just, y'know, watch it). - Chris










Kiss Kiss Bang Bang:

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is set around the Christmas period, as is the case with most Shane Black films. It sees Robert Downey Jr playing the role of a bumbling thief who after trying to steal toys as a Christmas gift for relatives, manages to involve himself in solving the mystery of the twin suicide of his childhood sweetheart, played by Michelle Monaghan. Throw in Val Kilmer as gay P.I. Perry van Shrike and this twisted-noir-action-comedy is an amazing piece of cinema. This is also the role that reinvented Robert Downey Jr's career. - Billy







Bad Santa:


Nothing screams the holidays like a washed-up drunken-fraudster violating just about every aspect of decent society. Billy Bob Thornton is awfully comfortable as the loveable scoundrel with a heart of gold; but there’s zero complaints from me since he’s so damn good at it.  The only real downside to the film is being reminded just how funny Bernie Mac and John Ritter were, two comedic geniuses the likes of whom we don’t seem to see of late. Sure this film is highly offensive and not suitable for just about anyone, but it’s tonnes of fun as it grabs Christmas by its jingle bells and has a jolly old time.  - Stu




Elf:

Another more recent Christmas tradition of mine is to watch Elf, by the director of Iron Man, Jon Favreau. Like many other Wil Ferrell movies, Elf is incredibly quotable and while it highlights the ridiculousness of the silly season, it also encapsulates the feeling that I get during Christmas time wherein I basically turn into a child again. I am very much like Buddy the Elf at this time of year, bursting with Christmas spirit I can't stop smiling. Smiling is my favourite.  - Ryan








Die Hard:

Die Hard is one of the best Action films ever made, but to me it's also a great Christmas flick! Bruce Willis plays NYPD Detective John McClane who heads to L.A, where his estranged wife works, in an attempt to win her back. Things turn for the worse when terrorists led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) take over the building where she works. I know a lot of people are 50/50 about if it is a Christmas flick or not, but this Christmas-set action thriller is essentially about reuniting an estranged family against all odds, and what is more Christmas than that? - Billy



Well it’s that time of year again. With 2015 in its death throes I thought I would look back on some of my favorite comics from the year that was. As you will notice from my selections this year I decided to save my money and stay away from the the world breaking Convergence and Secret Wars events thrown by the big two, and instead focus on some of the great creator-owned series that launched.


This is by no means a definitive list, but rather a selection of comics that stood out to me for their quality, depth or simply because they brought some new ideas to the table.  


Sex Criminals Volume Two
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Chip Zdarsky


Volume Two of the wonderfully weird Sex Criminals not only upped the ante in terms of dirty jokes, smutty puns and hilarious background gags (and who could forget that amazing dildo fight) it also continued it’s candidly honest exploration of sex and relationships. Where Volume One portrayed what it’s like to find someone who you connect with emotionally and sexually, Volume Two looked at what happens once the honeymoon phase is over. As always, Fraction refuses to pull his punches, leading to some of the most touching and genuinely moving graphic storytelling I have read all year.



Material Volume One
Writer: Ales Kot
Artist: Will Tempest
Letterer: Clayton Cowles


So it’s no secret I love Ales Kot. In an industry somewhat averse to change and moving forward with the times, he continues to push the envelope and is never afraid to tackle issues of gender, sexuality and race in an industry currently dominated by straight, white males. Material is everything that is great about Kot’s writing in its most pure form. It’s topical, cryptic and most of all highly engaged with the world around it. To say anything more would spoil the confounding and delightfully challenging experience that is reading it for yourself.


We Can Never Go Home
Writers: Matthew Rosenberg and Patrick Kindlow
Artists: Josh Hood and Brian Level
Colourists: Amanda Scurti and Tyler Boss
Letterers: Jim Campbell and David C. Hopkins


This thrill-a-minute story about two teenage runaways, one of whom has super powers, is everything you loved about the X-Men before all that grubby continuity got in the way. What started off as an impulse buy quickly became one of my favorite reads of the year. You can check out my full review here.





Death Vigil Volume One
Writer/ Artist: Stiepan Sejic


Who would have thought a story about a group of immortal heroes defending the world of the living against Cthulhu-like horrors would turn out to be one of the funnest and funniest reads of the year?  Seijic manages to turn a convoluted premise into a highly heartwarming and engaging romp through his great character work and strong sense of comedic timing. His gorgeous digitally-painted art and sharp quippy dialogue make every page a delight to read and the series makes for a much needed boon to Top Cow’s often dated brand of urban fantasy.



Fables 150 (Volume 22)
Writer: Bill Willingham
Artists: Mark Buckingham (pencils), Steve Leialoha (inks), Andrew Popey (inks), Dan green (inks) and Jose marzan jr. (inks)
Colourist: Lee Loughridge
Letterer: Todd Klein

In early 2014 I made the financial misstep of buying the first trade of Fables and have been fiendishly collecting and devouring the series ever since, much to the disdain of my wallet. What started as a refreshing noir twist on childhood fairy tales quickly evolved into a sprawling and epic fantasy series that managed to hold my attention for all 150 issues, even if it did wane a little during the great Fables crossover. But just as all good things must, in 2015 Fables came to an end. Instead of giving us a conventional 20 page issue to see the series off, Willingham instead treated us to a full graphic novel that not only tied up the main conflict between Rose Red and Snow White but also allowed us to say goodbye to some of the comic's more obscure characters. Fables 150 really was a happily ever after ending for a highly successful and iconic creator-owned series.

-Christof