The 5th Wave

We watched The 5th Wave last night.  I recalled being mildly interested in it from the previews, but then when I saw the ratings it had garnered I quickly quashed any sort of optimism.  I was still curious though, and we were also mildly drunk, so it seemed like a good time to see what was up.

Rather than create a formal review of this movie, I think it will be more appropriate to transcribe the intoxicated messages I sent to my friend while watching it.  Enjoy.

[Warning: Spoilers.  But you shouldn’t care because this will be more entertaining than the movie.]

————————————-

We are watching the fifth wave which has a whopping 5.2 on IMDb.
So far not bad but she just used her cell phone and typed y o u and it autocorrected to “u”

>:( One star.

Husband asked for a space marine movie before we picked this.
Me: “They’re basically space marines but they’re children is all.”
Him: “Not very good space marines. Also they’re not in space.”
Me: “But they’re fighting aliens!”
Him: “It’s really not the same.”

Female protagonist has been helped/captured by hunky male now. She just did the lip thing that suggests she wants to fuck him. Odds of hunky male being an alien??!?

Husband and I are laying bets on his alienness now

He’s is totes an alien and she’s going to fall in love with him and be horrified by herself and then come around. Book it
(AFTERMATH SPOILERS: I was wrong.  It actually kinda happens the other way around which makes even less goddamn sense)

Husband doesn’t think he’s an alien because he hid her from alien drones. That was the whole point to make her trust him YOU FOOL

Female protagonist shows loving nurturing side while proclaiming “I’m not TOUGH, okay??!?”.  Meanwhile second female character (only other one in movie) is being super badass and beating up all the males and training them to use weapons because she’s a girl but also super badass you see

He is lovingly tending to her wounds. Boning imminent.

Oh man I didn’t even get to hit send before they started shoving tongue down each other’s throats

He’s gonna be an alien he totally is

Husband: “I’m giving this movie a lot more credit than you are. He’s not an alien. They just want you to THINK he’s an alien.”
Me: “There’s a reason this movie has such low ratings.”

“I guess you were right. He’s an alien.”

I WIN.

It was pretty obvious because this is LITERALLY Twilight with aliens now

Female protagonist: “Did you really believe that??!?”
Alien love interest: “I did. But then I saw you.”

*Hurk*

Holy shit this has lost so many stars in like the last 20 seconds

Badass girl is now saving “still badass but deliberately not as badass to still show her feminine side” girl

Yeah.  That was awful.

Nova War

Nova War (The Shoal Sequence, #2)Nova War by Gary Gibson

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I wrote about my distaste for the first book in the series, which had SO MUCH potential but was completely overpowered by sloppy writing and self-indulgent gratuitous eroticism. Dakota Merrick has all the parts in play to be a strong, intriguing character with a lot of depth… but she wastes it by spending the first book fucking everyone (including her ship). Other reviews suggest the series gets stronger as it goes, so I popped open the second one to see how the writing evolves.

It opens with the same problem the first one had: huge exposition dumps from characters I haven’t really been given much of a chance to give a single shit about. The underlying plot points really have some power to them, but it feels like such a slog to care about any of the characters.

We finally get back to Dakota, who finds herself in prison. She’s naked, of course, with plenty of mentions about her breasts, and she immediately notes how her pubic hair has been shaved. This does not look like a promising indication that the writing will be any less indulgent. Sure enough, when she is finally reunited with her boy toy (who, I noted, is also naked but he’s such a flat character that he isn’t even graced with a physical description) the first thing they do is fuck. Even though she’s been starving herself and is so weak she’s barely coherent. Priorities!

Let me be clear: I’m not prudish, and I will happily read explicit content in books, as long as there is a REASON for it. There is no reason for all of the gratuitous sexuality in these books. It’s self-indulgent and distracting, and the worst part is (as I said in my review of the first book) it could fairly easily have been modulated to actually have a point. Dakota Merrick could be a really interesting female protagonist, because she’s been ostracized and traumatized and has difficulty connecting to people. Building a trust relationship with Corso could be a REALLY powerful sequence. But, instead, she prances around naked and fucks everything with a cock at every opportunity (real cocks or artificial ones, it doesn’t matter to her!). It’s pretty clearly biased, too. We become intimately familiar with Dakota’s naked body, breasts, pubic region, anus… but there is barely any time wasted describing Lucas Corso. Who wants to read about him anyway, right? It’s all about the boobies and pubic hair! And, naturally, the males she fucks think it’s the best sex they’ve ever had. Even the main enemy is like “You know what, I kind of like her, despite trying to kill her.” I wonder how long it will take before she fucks him too, despite the fact that he’s a fish in a floating bubble. (He does have tentacles that extend outside of it! Hmmmmm…)

I skimmed through roughly 30% of the book and found the characters were still acting inconsistently (one moment they’re badass, the next they’re weeping and cowering) and just gave up before getting out of the prison sequences. It’s really a shame because the plot is interesting and the action is fast paced, but the characters ruin it for me. As I said with the first book, though: give it to an editor who will slash all the bullshit out of it and an effects team who will bring the action to life and we’ll have a decent (possibly cheesy) movie that I will happily watch.

Late Nights on Air

Late Nights on AirLate Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I greatly disliked this book at first, but it ended strong enough that I tacked an extra star onto it, almost out of pity. I ENJOYED reading it (mostly), but it annoyed me enough that it really should only have 3 stars. But then a sentence would float past and I would think “That was a really good sentence. I enjoyed that.” and then I would lament not having it on my kindle to highlight in order to go back and look at those sentences again later. There were enough of those moments that I do not regret offering the 4th star.

This book was far too in love with its setting. I’ve been to Yellowknife and hiked around a bit in the summer, so I enjoyed reading the descriptions, but I’ve always had this stubborn notion that books should have a setting and a plot, and it kept letting me down on the second part.

There was no plot for the first half of the book. It was all setting. Setting that characters talked to each other in, but each of the characters had the exact same voice (the voice of the author, I imagine), and I had to keep checking the names in the sentences to figure out who was saying what. The characters have backstories that are all painstakingly laid out for you in the first 100 pages of the novel in an awful display of telling instead of showing, but their personalities fail to come through until the very end. I could tell them apart by name, but they did not convey any of their personality through dialogue. I hated every single one of them except Gwen for a full 2/3s of the novel, and never really did warm up to anyone else by the end.

I did not care for the writing at all for most of the book. It was fragmented and rambling, constantly bringing up little threads of plot that abruptly end or just get dropped into nothing. I was continually annoyed by flowery descriptive moments where the writing dropped into an almost pretentious tone. I’ve never been a big poetry fan, and a lot of the descriptive passages twigged the same dislike in me that poetry does. And then the incredibly annoying habit of ending a section with something like “They didn’t know it yet, but this would be important later.” Stop telling me things. ESPECIALLY stop telling me things you haven’t even gotten around to writing yet. SHOW me things.

But then there were the good moments. A turn of phrase that strikes you as particularly beautiful or apt, or a character moment that makes you nod. The characters, for all their flat dialogue, were REAL. I loved that they all had flaws and behaved realistically. Some of the interactions were things I could really identify with, such as when Gwen is flabbergasted at being accused of being too proud or arrogant about her skills, when (to her own perception) she was barely stumbling along and hanging in there. It’s so true.

But at its heart, the book feels like a sappy romance, because that’s all there is for plot. This character is in love with that character but shouldn’t be. That character is in love with this character but doesn’t know it yet (but hey at least they will in the future! Look the author says so right here at the end of this paragraph.) Those characters are in love but it was never meant to be. Or was it? That’s really the entire plot. I was intrigued by the jacket cover description of a trek through the barrens, but it takes you 200 pages to even start talking about that trek, and then it’s over long before the book ends. I feel like the jacket should be sued for false advertising, but to be fair, what else would you advertise as a plot?

The barrens trek was by far my favourite part of the book because the characters finally had a purpose and a goal beyond just interacting with each other, and suddenly all the descriptions and character interactions held so much more meaning. That’s when the extra star got tacked on. If only the first 2/3rds of the book had been edited down a bit to have more direction, I might have enjoyed it that much more.

Parallels

We clicked on “Parallels” almost entirely at random, with only Netflix’s flawed prediction algorithm to guide us. Our decision process went something like: “It’s sci-fi, it involves parallel Earths, eh why not.”

The description for the movie literally says “follows a band of people across parallel Earths” and it is named “Parallels”  so imagine my confusion when the movie seemed to spend the first third of its run-time bringing the characters to the realization that, hey, this might be a parallel earth, guys.  Like, fuck the exposition was so fucking slow my god.  This is one of those movies where you’re yelling at the TV because it’s not well written. First we have the obligatory scene where all the characters meet up, but they all know each other, but oops the audience doesn’t know them so let’s throw in some bullshit reason that they all need to explain to each other who they are, just to bring the audience into the loop.  *dust hands* problem solved!  Okay now we know who the characters are, even if that was awkward as fuck.  NOW let’s spend 45 minutes having them figure out the basic plot of the movie.  Good job team!  We only need to fill like, 20 more minutes and we’re done!

I often find the emails I send while in a drunken rage while watching a movie are the best indication of how much I enjoyed the movie. This is literally the email I sent to my friend while watching it:
“The premise of the movie is that they are travelling to other versions of Earth, and then they encounter some graffiti describing alternate earths. Then they accidentally travel to an alternate earth and THEN.  THEN they spend 15 minutes figuring out amongst themselves that this might be an alternate earth.  GOOD JOB GUYS.”

Then I sent this one:
“The rebel loner guy is named “Ronin”.  At least it’s not “Cypher Raige” I guess.”

Then we ran into “obligatory hot Asian chick” and it was facepalms all around.  But, ironically, the plot started getting better after that.

BUT not better enough.  JUST as we got to the part where it was actually getting interesting and telling us something we didn’t know from the god damn movie description, it…………………… ended.

My husband said “That wasn’t a movie, that was a TV series.  You read it wrong when you clicked on it.”  and I said “No, it was DEFINITELY a movie.”  “No, that was DEFINITELY a TV series and you should find the next episode.”

So I did what any reasonable person would do, and I Googled it.  He wasn’t wrong!

Parallels was created as a television pilot, but Fox Digital Studios morphed it into a stand-alone movie”

Mother. Fucking. Fox. Studios.

And then I found this one:
Parallels is a 2015 American science-fiction adventure film and possible pilot”
Which is like… hahahahaha ‘possible pilot’ INDEED.

Anyway.  Long story short: do not waste your time.  It’s only barely interesting as a premise, and you can learn everything you need to know from the description.  If it does make it to full blown TV status it’s probably going to suck anyway.  There are a large number of bad movies on Netflix that I endorse because the monthly fee removes all of the guilt you may incur from having watched it… but they should excise this shit from it immediately.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist (First Impressions)

First impressions is all I ever do now because I never finish games anymore… but anyway

I am a huuuuggggeeeeee old-school Splinter Cell fan.  I got into Splinter Cell and the original Thief games around the same time back in the early 2000’s, and suddenly realized that the stealth genre was made for me.  I think the SC games were the first “shooter” games I ever actually finished.  The first time I realized you could actually shoot out light bulbs with your silenced pistol was like holy shit this is the greatest thing ever oh my god.  I mean sure you have water arrows to douse torches in Thief so it’s not like it’s even an original concept, but dude, I just shot out the bulb on that guy’s front porch holy shit.  I dunno, I guess the water arrows pretty much exist for only that one purpose, where the light bulb thing almost felt like emergent gameplay at the time (even though it’s totally not).  It felt like I really had some control over how to get from one end of a room to another, and shooting a light bulb was just one clever option amid a myriad of not-necessarily-scripted options.  In Thief I always tended to club and hide all the guards, but Splinter Cell was 100% hanging out near the ceiling in a dark corner while an unsuspecting guard wanders through, oblivious to my shadowy presence.  Yessss.  Of course, it also meant I’d spend 8 hours trying to make it through a single mission without anyone spotting me, which was rather time consuming…

I played the shit out of the original, I played the shit out of Pandora Tomorrow, I played the shit out of Chaos Theory… and then they did that crazy thing with Double Agent where they released two versions of it and the PC version was the “bad” version, which left me paralyzed because I didn’t want the bad version, but I didn’t want to play it on a fucking console either…  sooooo I ended up not playing it.  I bought it on Steam a million years later but never did play it (damn you, Steam).  Then Conviction came out and that was just a clusterfuck of “You don’t stealth anymore you just kill everyone now” and I was like “what”.  (I bought that on sale too but also didn’t play it. Fucking Steam, man).  Then I heard Blacklist was a return to the stealth roots of the originals, so I bought it when it came up as a daily sale (Steam >:(  *shake fist*) and actually played it, this time.

The good:
It does feel like old school Splinter Cell.  I’m even ruining my life all over again by resetting it over and over again trying to not be seen.  The AI seems really impressive so far, which is either good or bad depending on how patient you are (stupid observant guards >:( ).  The controls are great.  It feels really solid, and there’s the occasional “No don’t run out from cover now you idiot” moment, but I can usually attribute that to me hitting the wrong key instead of some asshole context-based control fuck up.  (Have I mentioned I fucking hate the move to context based everything?  It greatly displeases me to have a button suddenly change its function because I took one step too many).  I was initially annoyed by the inclusion of a fly-out menu for my gadgets, but it’s got proper keyboard integration and it’s not getting in my way.  This is probably aided by me never actually using anything because I stealth past and then reset if I fuck up, so… as long as it works for me, I guess!  So far the controls feel fluid and I’m enjoying creeping around, and that’s all that really matters.

The bad:
The story.  Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.  I mean, it’s Tom Clancy.  And it’s not like SC really had sparkling writing before, but… it’s so bad.  Soooooo bad.  Also they’ve decided to cling to Sam Fisher as the protagonist, despite making him 20 years younger (as opposed to introducing a new 20-years-younger protagonist to carry the torch), which kind of invalidates the character.  He’s not actually 20 years younger – he’s still supposed to be past retirement age – he just looks and sounds 20 years younger and in the prime of his physical condition and not at all old and tired and past retirement age.  It’s dumb and they made a bad decision.  That alone drops it below the calibre of the originals, and that’s before I even started reading about some of the drama behind the switch in actors… I’m not sure I even want to know more.  The excuse of “We need someone who matches the build to do motion captures” really loses a lot of punch when you start wondering why motion capture effects the voice acting (especially since I don’t think the facial animations are really all that impressive and I doubt we would notice the difference in facial capture as much as we notice the loss of Michael Ironside…)…  but mostly I dislike the direction it takes the character.  He had a lot of heart as a grizzled veteran with a gravelly voice.  Now he’s just another “Commander Shepherd” generic 25 year old looking guy, oh but don’t worry he’s actually still old and grizzled.  See, grey hairs! …  Maybe I should just pretend nothing happened and go obliviously enjoy the gameplay (while skipping the story bits because it’s so bad).  New Sam is nowhere near as appealing as old Sam, and I even vaguely dislike him.  I don’t think that’s due to nostalgia, I think it’s because the character is a shallow, boring, action-figure shell.  It wasn’t exactly a deep character before so it doesn’t take much to lose everything.  A shame.  Fortunately the story is really bad so I have no desire to listen to his character interact with the other characters and I can just skip through the dialogue.  That… shouldn’t be a bonus.

But the gameplay is good enough to keep playing…. so far. I’ve heard rumors it gets more forced combat-y later which makes me frown, and it definitely seems to assume you’re just going to shoot everyone, so they missed the mark by a little bit despite the best intentions of the few designers who knew what they were doing.

I’m going to go shoot some fucking light bulbs.

Watch Dogs (First Impressions)

This is a verrrryyyyy early first impression.  I played the tutorial crap and did the first mission, then drove around and collected some check-in points.  But first impressions are the most important, right?!?

We got Watch Dogs for “free” with a new video card, which is convenient because I really really dislike Ubisoft and their disdain for PC gamers, so it meant I could try it at release instead of stubbornly refusing to give Ubisoft any money until it was dirt cheap on Steam.  (The greatest tragedy of the gaming world is that Ubisoft has the Anno franchise… alas).

I somehow managed to avoid the uPlay fiasco because I downloaded it (something I was apparently lucky to be able to do), immediately turned off cloud saving, then went into offline mode.  I did that because I hate uPlay and it fucks everything up far too often for me to trust it.  Well guess what!  It fucked everything up for everyone who stayed online.  I was able to go offline and play relatively unhindered, but it sucks for anyone who actually wanted to try the multiplayer invasion PvP stuff.  Of course, every time I boot it up, it whines at me about how I should really go online because I’m really missing out!  Ugh, uPlay.

But anyway.  Bitching about uPlay is low hanging fruit.  Instead, I will bitch about the game.

One positive thing I will say about Watch Dogs is that the enforced tutorial was NOT onerous.  It did have the little popup tooltips telling you what buttons to press to make shit do shit, but it didn’t get totally in your face and force you to stop, or prevent you from playing with your abilities until it had painstakingly explained the controls to you (despite the controls being exactly the fucking same as every other game, because if they weren’t exactly the fucking same as every other game, you would be doing it wrong.)  Of course, it’s able to get away with it by not giving you any abilities to start!  But that is an acceptable compromise.  I did dislike how it sort of dictated where my first skill point should go, though.

The opening mission was decently interesting, and it really didn’t explain much to you at all.  Some people might even find it confusing, but I enjoyed it.  I’m getting sick of having every game handhold you through the opening minutes.  However I do feel like it needed a bit more exposition, if only to help the player bond with the main character a bit more.  You’re sort of dumped into this guy, you have no idea who he is except you may have an idea that he’s a hacker if you’ve heard anything about the game before, and you’re sort of scrambling around trying to figure out why he’s doing what he’s doing.  Why you are doing what you are doing.  We’re hacking a stadium to escape because… uh… we’re stealing money?  We hate these guys?  I’ve already forgotten why he was even in there and I was just playing it last night.  It’s the same sort of problem books run into when they give you no reason to root for the protagonist.  Why do we care?  He knows why he’s doing what he’s doing but we’re sort of tagging along in a clueless haze, trusting that we will also care about his success once we know the whole story.  The problem lies in keeping the reader/player interested long enough to become invested in the story… but I guess when you’ve got a 60 dollar initial investment into it you might be more motivated to plow on.

Once you’re out of there it dumps you into the world and you are free to dick around, or move on with the story.  I dicked around a bit, realized I had no idea what I was doing (I’m stopping crimes?  So wait, am I a badass hacker thief or some sort of Spiderman do-gooder who also occasionally steals cars and robs ATMs?), then moved on to the story hoping it would all become clearer.

It sort of became clearer… but it also became a lot whinier.  We’re clearly meant to empathize with this guy, but it’s so heavy handed that I think I made an “ngh” noise out loud.  The line: “*dramatic pause* But now I’m afraid of the silence.” was so… you’re just trying way too fucking hard here, jesus.  Instead of empathizing I actually started to actively dislike him.

My biggest complaint (so far) is with the controls.  I enjoyed the opening mission because it was very Splinter Cell-ish – hiding around corners, using gadgets to distract or incapacitate guards so you could advance without anyone detecting you – and my only complaint was that everything was done with the same gadget, which just had different contexts.  I was sort of hoping that would improve as the game went on, but instead I just unlocked more contexts for my gadget.  There are craftable doodads which might alleviate the problem, but I disliked how they’re all stuck on a god damn flyout wheel and feel very awkward to swap between.  I hate flyout wheels.  I have lots and lots and lots of keys on my keyboard.  I want to use them to make switching items quick and efficient.  I want to select which button does which skill so that I can place my most used items exactly where I want to access them.  Fuck your flyout wheel.

But mostly I hate the camera.  First, an aside – I dislike how everything is enforced third person nowadays.  At least give me the option of first person if I want it.  I prefer not having a third of my screen be taken up by my avatar.  The character movement is really awkward and clumsy.  I’m not sure if I can articulate it better than that… it just feels like it’s imprecise.  I turn the character around and he kind of wobbles and flails and then I have to fine tune the direction I want him to go in.  I think it’s related to the mouselook camera not picking up diagonals properly with the WASD movement, because it’s designed for a control stick instead of mouselook and they didn’t bother to optimize it for mouselook.  Instead of turning gracefully, he does an about-face when you try to turn with a key, probably because it’s directly translating your keypress into a flat-out controller stick movement instead of having proper keyboard control.

The camera as a whole just feels floaty and awful.  The reason I hate controlling cameras with controllers is because it feels floaty and imprecise, where a mouse can move a camera with speed and precision.  I have a high DPI mouse and just a tiny amount of movement can swing a camera around for a quick scan of an area, but also instantly stop on a target in the middle if I spot something interesting.  I like having that level of control.  But even with the settings at maximum, the camera in this game feels like I’m using a controller, i.e. floaty and awful.  It’s not so bad that I won’t get used to it, but it’s annoying knowing that it’s deliberately awful because it’s designed for a controller, and they didn’t bother to optimize their mouse option.  I HAVE a controller for my PC and I did try it that way, but the camera is just as awful, which makes sense because the whole reason I dislike it is because I hate controlling cameras with controllers.  My husband tried the Mouse/Keyboard route then opted for the controller, but is disliking it as well.  His comment was “My favourite open world games are ones with great movement, and this game has the worst controls.”

Once you get out into the world you realize it’s not Splinter Cell, it’s Assassin’s Creed with GTA cars.  They’ve even got “parkour” challenges, which is another fad I’m hoping will stop polluting games soon.  It makes sense in AssCreed.  It doesn’t even make sense for a hacker vigilante to be a ninja wall runner.  Of course, I tried climbing some walls and he huffed it up the side of a box like he was a 40 year old man with arthritis, so maybe it does make sense.

The camera continued to betray me out in the open world, and I actually came across something I really dislike about contextualized commands.  I was doing a mission where I was chasing someone down, and I tried to use my gadget to gadget his ass.  Just as I went to hit the button, the cursor popped over to a camera nearby instead of the target I was trying to aim at.  I didn’t notice in time and hacked the camera instead, which made my dude slam to a halt and changed my view to look through the camera as the perpetrator ran the fuck away from me.  Sigh.  Having buttons change their function in the middle of delicate maneuvers really does make it feel like an AssCreed game.

And there is camera bobbing while running.  >:(
No headaches yet though, so I will refrain from ranting.  For now.

I’ll play some more this weekend, possibly while drunk, and see if it starts to suck me in.  I’m not sure how optimistic I am though, given that my husband isn’t too impressed either.  His short and sweet review is:  “Feels like a game designed by a committee.”

—-

[edit] Okay I played a bit more and the gameplay is improving as I adjust to the still shitty controls (mouse sensitivity cranked up helped movement a lot but the flyout wheel is still intolerable and I’m going to neglect my craftable items because of it…), but the characters and writing hasn’t picked up yet.  I’m hearing it starts out slow and gets better so fingers crossed.  I really hate this guy, though.  ugh.  So far the only character I like is his asshole psychopath friend.

It feels like they tried to pull all the most popular gameplay parts of GTA and  Assassins Creed (open world, cars, exploding shit, theft, parkour, a plethora of collectables and unlockables to find in your spare time), and slapped the dramatic overtones of The Last of Us on top, presuming that would somehow make it even more successful.  It’s kind of like dumping the wrong condiments into a recipe and assuming that it’s a good condiment that worked in someone else’s recipe so it will make the dish better by default.  It’s really not working.

[Edit again] The entire point of a stealth game is that you have the option of solving scenarios with clever stealth mechanics instead of just running in with guns blazing (although ideally you could just do that too).  So why is it that I am constantly pushed into a mandatory gunfight scenario in this game.  I just did a mission where I successfully snuck past every guard and got the objective without detection, only to have my buddy go “Hey look there’s lots of Fixers coming sucks to be you!” and suddenly I’m shooting 30 guys and a helicopter, despite being completely undetected up to that point.  It was so scripted that it even reset the gun I was holding once I walked past the checkpoint.  This makes me irrationally angry and I don’t even want to bother with this shit.

Divergent

Divergent (Divergent, #1)Divergent by Veronica Roth

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’m a big fan of dystopian fiction, survival fiction, to some extent military fiction, and I loved The Hunger Games which Divergent gets a lot of crap for copying. I actually saw the trailer for the movie (which I wasn’t really interested in, to be honest) and saw the magical words “based on the best selling novel” and was like “hmm. I should look that one up.” Even if it was just a cash-in ripoff of the success of Hunger Games, I should probably still enjoy it right?

I’m going to put a bottom line up front here: teen and “tweens” will love this book. For the rest of us, it’s just too god damn dumbed down to extract any real entertainment out of. I may have rolled my eyes here and there during Hunger Games, but I never felt like it was actively insulting my intelligence. Divergent… oh my god I felt like I was losing IQ at points.

One of the things I love the most about dystopian fiction is the worldbuilding. What is this world? Why is it dystopian? How did it get this way? Was there a purpose behind making it this way? How are the people coping with their circumstances?
Divergent has almost no worldbuilding. This is the first book in a trilogy (another glaring sign of cashing in… does it need to be a trilogy or are we just hoping to sell 3x the books?) but even if the rest of the series builds the most amazing world, it’s TOO LATE. That shit needs to go in book one, people. The civilization is broken into several factions, and it never explains why. Why do we have these factions? Why were they formed? What is the purpose? There’s a sniff here and there that, hey, maybe there IS actually a plot reason for these factions and it’s not just all pulled out of an ass, but the book doesn’t bother to explain anything to you until a couple of snippets near the end. The main character even explicitly states that she never paid attention in history, to give us a convenient out for not explaining anything.

Speaking of which, the book is in first person present tense, which is a point of view that I loathe. I hated it in Hunger Games and it’s one of the few things I feel really limited the ability to tell the story of that series. In a surprise twist, the POV is probably one of the things that didn’t irritate me about Divergent. I didn’t detect any sloppy mixed tense, and it was effectively used to ramp up the action scenes without losing too many opportunities to advance the plot due to the awkwardness of needing the main character to be present to show the reader every single development.

The problem is, it was probably effective because this book has no god damn plot to advance. The entire plot is “Tris switches factions and goes through hazing rituals for 400 pages”. Then there’s actually a bit of plot in the 10 pages of a war at the end, which is supposed to get you to buy in to the rest of the series. There’s no real background, no worldbuilding, and no real character development either. It’s just Tris going through ordeal after ordeal and trying to survive to make it to the next one, with no clear indication as to why. And also heavy allusions to High School social bullshit (with very one-dimensional bullies), to make sure the kids can relate to her.

The character development was a real issue. We see each and every thought Tris has, and she becomes more and more unlikeable with each one. She comes from the selfless faction, so she’s constantly beating herself over the head with how selfish she’s being now that she’s in a new faction and if she was back home she’d be doing all these selfless acts instead and prostrating herself in front of everyone instead of trying to advance herself. When I say constantly, I mean constantly. She does not shut up about it. Just shut up. Augh. But then she has dizzying bi-polar flips to completely different personalities. She’s flipping between self-loathing to angst to spite to psychopathic rage and then right back to self-loathing (and then incredulousness when she scores first place in everything. How could this be when she’s so bad at stuff?!?). And she’s as thick as molasses in winter, unless the situation dictates that she out-smart everyone by being super clever all of a sudden. Then she will be super clever and amaze everyone. Then she will wonder why everyone is so amazed because she’s so awful at everything how could be they be impressed!??

At one point she asks a stupid question about what’s going on and the reply is “I can’t wait until you finally catch on”. I wrote a note next to it saying “Me too.”  If you ever find yourself reading a book and the main character says “I open my mouth to object, but I can’t.  He’s right.”, and you find yourself yelling “OF COURSE HE IS RIGHT YOU STUPID BITCH”, the character might not be well written.

The characters are all one-dimensional and feel unnatural because they only display character traits when it is necessary to advance the scene (whether or not it makes ANY GOD DAMN SENSE based on past scenes involving that character.  Al?  What the fuck was that, besides a transparent attempt at subverting the expected to elicit shock). The book attempts to use the same “hook” the Maze Runner did of trying to not tell the reader anything about what’s going on, in the hopes it keeps you curious enough to keep reading to find out. What that means is, Tris flips between being completely oblivious and missing the obvious when they want to tell the reader something without “telling” Tris… and asking very pointed and clever questions to try to get to the heart of things, only to be told “I’ll explain later.” It’s infuriating, and it feels completely contrived from start to finish.

And then there’s the romance. The rating of this book plummeted so much during those pages, let me tell you. Before that it was a mediocre but at least sort of interesting attempt at a story that I could see the younger readers really enjoying. The romance heated up and it became porn for 12 year olds. Oh they’ll love it, because it’s perfectly and very pointedly targetted at that age where they’re desperate to know anything about sex and this is a likely parentally-approved route to reading about it (no sex takes place oh goodness no they just cuddle and kiss no sex nope). But it suffers from the same character development flaws as the rest of the book. These characters are not acting naturally, they’re acting in a way that is carefully designed to appeal to a younger audience. Add to that Tris’s ABSOLUTELY INFURIATING obliviousness every single time her boyfriend is on screen (gosh they kissed last night and now he’s ignoring her at breakfast how could this be she thought he loved her he must actually hate her she wants to cry this is so awful because there couldn’t possibly be any other explanation for him not wanting to reveal to everyone in the military compound that they’re in love since you know he’s kind of the leader of the group and boy I don’t see any problems with this news getting out do you? Nope he must hate her now well fine then she hates him too. Oh wait he was acting that way to hide that fact that he loves her because if everyone else found out they might think there was bias going on oh my god he’s soooooo smart she loves him so much for being so smart ~*~dreamy sigh~*~)
… okay I got carried away but ugh. ugh. I don’t even care if this is an accurate portrayal of how teens think. It was tedious.

It gets a lot of crap for copying Hunger Games, but I actually didn’t feel it was much of a rip-off for most of the story… but at the end it veered down a path which is dangerously close to copying plot points word for word. I’m not sure what I think of that, and I’m not sure I will bother delving into book two to find out how Divergent (heh heh heh) it is, because I cannot stand the thought of sitting through another book of Tris’s tortured thoughts and self-flagellation over her lover boy.

In short (yes I know it’s too late for short): I feel like it’s a carefully engineered attempt at cashing in on popular-genre-of-the-week. It doesn’t feel genuine to me. This book was not written to entertain, it was written to sell. It’s unfortunate.

[edit] Now having finished reading, I read some more stuff on the internet and it seems like the author is actually quite young.  I could be wrong about it being deliberately written to appeal to a juvenile audience… it might just be working out that way due to the age of the author.  I bet if young adult dystopia wasn’t “the thing” right now, though, no publisher would have come within a mile of it, much less the movie deals.  But thanks to genre-of-the-week they were all over it like ants in a pop can on a hot day…

The Purge

I saw the previews for this movie and immediately scoffed at the premise.  I suppose it’s an interesting thought exercise but as a movie plot… Ennnh.

We were looking for some good Halloween type movies and it turns out we may have seen every not shitty horror movie.  While I was deliberating over whether to risk a movie where a murderous bigfoot terrorizes a town, or the ghost of a shark terrorizes some fishermen, The Purge popped up in the list of horror movies and we decided we may as well see just how bad it is.

It was surprisingly not shitty.  For most of the movie, anyway.  The premise was just as shitty as it seemed like it would be, but they got past it pretty quickly and got right down to the suspense.

The suspense part was good. I actually really enjoyed the way it was shot and the tension was palpable at several points in the movie, which is all I really ask from a horror thriller.  Well that’s not true I also ask that it not be so stupid that I can’t stop laughing the whole time, and it surprised me there too.  The preview clips made it seem like the “purgers” were trying to get into the house kind of at random, but in reality the plot had some plausible explanations for all of it.

In case you didn’t have the opportunity to laugh at the premise if this movie yet, it is set in the future when the United States of America has decided that the best way to solve its issues with violence is to give everyone a period of 12 hours once a year where they can commit any crime they want and just get it out of their system.  Hate your boss? Just wait until the purge and then murder them!  This solution is so very effective that violence no longer exists.
The main character of the movie is a guy who has become rich selling security systems to people who want to lock themselves away safely for 12 hours once a year. Because somehow there aren’t more people taking advantage of that extremely obvious cash cow.

The purge begins and this guy’s young son sees a man running down the street begging for someone to help him.  The son decides to help him, disarming the system and letting the guy into the house. The guy is not only black, but also wearing dog tags to indicate he is a veteran, just to ensure the symbolism is obvious.  They did earn a few points from me for only showing the dog tags in every scene, and not having a character blatantly and repeatedly point it out.

The people participating in the purge are not pleased with this decision and give the family an ultimatum – turn the guy over to be purged, or you die too.

This is when we learn the security systems this guy sells are a very expensive equivalent to The Club. It’s a visual deterrent where they move on to a juicier target, unless they actually want to enter the house, in which case all they need to do is spend about 5 minutes attempting to break in.  Also there is a disturbing lack of copious amounts of guns which could mow down any assholes standing on your lawn while you remain safe inside.  That probably would have been the first feature I asked for when defending against a night of free-for-all murdering, even if I planned to never use it.  They proceed to spend a large amount of time creeping around inside the house and fighting, and it was pretty good for a tense thriller type movie.

Then the ending happened and I discovered why it has such a low rating.  Why.  Ugh.  The premise is so fucking stupid, all you needed to do was spit it out as a setup and then ignore it. Noooo you had to go try to make some kind of social statement. A terrible, stupid social statement.

Sigh.

It was okay but don’t expect any thought provoking social commentary, whatever their original intentions were.

Turbo

We’ve been taking a lot of sinus decongestants and I kinda wanted to do something completely effortless… so I watched some animated movies!  I haven’t really been keeping up with the animation scene, but today I watched two relatively recent ones: Turbo and Despicable Me 2.

Despicable Me lived up to its predecessor in that it had supervillains hatching ridiculous plots, crazy ray guns and gadgets, and low IQ minions.  All the humour was spot-on, and the plot was dumb, but enjoyable mostly because the timing of the writing was excellent.

Turbo was terrible.

The interesting thing about that is that it follows a very familiar “underdog” formula.  A down on it’s luck [blank] falls on hard times and decides to follow its dream of [blank], making new friends and learning valuable moral lessons along the way.  In this case the [blank]s are “snail” and “win the Indy 500”.

I am going to paste this quote out of Wikipedia (without checking to see if it’s properly sourced or anything first. I’m living dangerously!):
“For me, it was less about trying to make a racing movie and more about finding an underdog that I could really latch onto. I think that a snail is inherently an underdog. It’s smashed, eaten by people, the butt of slow jokes around the world. It just seemed loaded with obstacles. Obviously, the opposite of slow is fast, and that’s where racing came into the picture.”

That’s it.  That’s the extent of the writing in this movie.  “People like underdogs.  Snails are slow, and fast is the opposite of slow – let’s have a snail win the Indy 500!”  Usually the writing in these things is clever enough to hide the formula a little bit, but in this case the movie is like “eh, he gets splashed with nitrous oxide and that lets him move at 230mph.  The kids won’t realize how dumb that is, don’t worry.”  It also installed LED lights that leave a trail behind him, his eyes are headlamps, there are blinkers in his butt, a stereo he turns on by banging his eyes together, and an alarm he can’t figure out how to turn off.

It was really dumb, and this is immediately after I praised a movie which contains yellow minions wielding fart guns. It’s all about suspension of disbelief, man.  Of course a supervillain is going to have yellow minions and they’re going to create fart guns!  It’s a natural step in the progression!  Dumping a snail in nitrous is only going to result in a dead snail.  You could at least say it’s some sort of super experimental thing someone was working on in order to create a super car, but they just couldn’t get it working until whoops, a snail fell in and it looks like the formula only works when combined with living tissue!  See, I’ve already written a better movie, and it’s still really stupid.

This is all completely ignoring the fact that once he gains super magic racing powers and sets a world speed record, he is no longer the god damn underdog.

It wasn’t even just that, though.  All of the characters were terribly written, which is probably tied directly to the fact that no real worldbuilding occurs.  The snail colony at the beginning is full of non-characters who do nothing but belittle Turbo for having a hobby.  The only purpose for any of it seems to be to set up a transparent “never give up on your dreams” morality lesson (and maybe hopefully a “don’t bully people like those dicks are doing” lesson), except that in this case the dream is fulfilled by somehow gaining magic powers, which is maybe not the best lesson for the little ones.  The “working at the plant” joke was something that they clearly thought was pretty clever (evidenced by the long pause and camera pull-out to reveal the plant.  ho ho ho it’s a literal plant, get it?), but it was hollow because they didn’t spend any time doing any worldbuilding in the garden.  You realize why worldbuilding is so threadbare when you realize the movie is split between three different locations, none of which are lingered in long enough for any building to occur.  Just as we start to figure out who these characters in the garden are, everything is whisked off to a new location and we lose track of them.  The “racing snails” are hastily introduced about halfway through the movie, not developed whatsoever, then go with Turbo to the race and proceed to do absolutely nothing important or even interesting (my god how did they get Samuel L. Jackson in on this?).  The only character that has any development at all is probably the driver that Turbo idolizes, and that’s only because he turns into the villain so he’s there throughout all of these locations.  Then we have Turbo’s brother who spends the entire movie being negative as shit and completely unproductive (he witnesses his brother moving at 230mph and still does nothing but whine about what a waste of time it is to try to do anything with it), making you want to punch him in the face. Then he makes a crazy about-face at the very very end, just when everything seems bleakest.  Man oh man I did not see that twist coming.  I still want to punch him in the face.

You know what would have helped immensely?  Just cut the whole garden from the plot.  Start at the mini-mall with the racing snails as a diversion in the back.  Suddenly Turbo has a reason to be into NASCAR, he has a reason to want to be faster, it doesn’t take an amazing amount of serendipity for him to be randomly picked up by some guy who happens to race snails, we have more time to develop the supporting cast…. dunking him in Nitrous is still really stupid but the rest of the movie would at least support it better.

There’s a big difference between a plot that’s written to appeal to children, and a plot that’s dumped out because kids won’t notice the difference.  Your kids might like this movie… in fact they probably will like it.  But there are so many cleverly written movies nowadays that appeal to children, teach them things (without being sappy as shit), AND contain humour that still appeals to adults… that’s the standard that movies should be trying to reach.  Turbo is just an unfortunate cash-in attempt.

After Earth

We saw the previews for this way back when and said “Hey, that looks like it will be good!”.  Then it came out and it was universally mocked, almost immediately.  And we said “Sweet, we can wait for DvD then!”  The only question left in my mind was “Is it ACTUALLY bad, or is it bad because everyone hates Jaden Smith?”

Now I have watched it.  The answer is: This movie is completely irredeemable.

“After Earth” is the story of Gary Stu, and his son, Gary Stu.  It is one of the most remarkable displays of bad writing that I have seen in a while.  Will Smith’s character (fuck if I remember his name [edit] I looked it up.  It’s “Cypher Raige”.  AHAHAHAHAHAHAHahahahahahaha…[/edit]) is a badass soldier (the best soldier of all soldiers, of course) who is so fucking badass that he feels absolutely no fear, which allows him to “ghost” past the fearsome “Ursa” creatures which track humankind solely by the pheremones we release when scared.  He is so badass that he doesn’t even bother to kill them with fancy ray guns or even pedestrian physical bullet weapons, despite this being the future.  No, he kills them with dual bladed swords.  You can pause to vomit now, if you want.

His son has been working super hard to be the most badass of rangers just like dear old dad, but naturally he hasn’t been able to make the cut (this is a smoke-screen, so you don’t suspect that he is also the most Gary Stu of all Gary Stus.  He is, though.  It’s pretty fucking obvious.  He even has the tragic childhood to go with it)  Some touchy feely shit happens where Dad is all cold and unfeeling to his disappointing son (oh but you can see how much he loves him but cannot display it.  You can pause to vomit again now), and then we finally get on with the fucking movie and they get on a spaceship.

Gary Stu (the older one.  The one we aren’t supposed to expect to be worthless) uses his spidey sense to detect space phenomena that almost certainly doesn’t exist, and goes and warns the pilots who disregard his warnings because they didn’t get the memo that this guy is perfect and knows everything.  Oops, he was right, and the ship explodes and summarily crashes (this is what I mean by Gary Stu, man.  It couldn’t just be that shit happens and the ship fucking crashes, oh no, it has to be mr super fucking soldier who notices the danger while all the oblivious plebeians fumble around uselessly.  He doesn’t even do anything useful after noticing it which makes it ENTIRELY EXTRANEOUS that he is the one who notices.  Fuck).
The two Gary Stus are the only survivors.  Because that’s how good they are.

Conveniently, older Gary Stu is injured and cannot go and just do everything himself, so he sends younger Gary Stu off to save their lives.  He’s guiding every step of the way on the intercom though (which also lets him see everything occurring from multiple camera angles that are in no way attached to his son’s suit, because it’s the future I guess.  A future where they use fucking melee weapons.) and also pauses to emotionlessly belittle his son’s every actions because that will make his son better at stuff (then zoom in on his face to show that he’s actually having emotions he just won’t show them because that would be a weakness you see).

Oh my god it was intolerable… made worse by the fact that absolutely nothing unpredictable happens in this movie.  You’ve read this far – take a wild fucking guess at what happens.  Guess what, you’re right!  It’s actually directed by M. Night Shymalan who is known for his (usually terrible) twist endings.  The twist in this movie is that there is no twist!  He got me pretty good with that one.

The movie is also a grand display of telling instead of showing.  There’s a big (and completely fucking pointless ARRRGHH) scene where little Gary Stu realizes he has broken a couple of his inhalers, which are essential for breathing in EARTH’S ATMOSPHERE (no explanation of why Earth has changed that much, or why it’s primordial now despite that being absolutely not the path a planet ages on…) so he lies about it because he is afraid daddy will call off his mission due to his inevitable death.  Big Gary Stu, however, is perfect, so he looks at the biomedical readouts and can tell little Gary Stu is lying.  Then he calls off the mission because of little Gary Stu’s inevitable death.  Which makes no fucking sense because they’re both going to die anyway if the mission fails.  But amazingly enough that’s not even the reason I started typing this.  Big Gary Stu runs a computer simulation of how to reach the tail section of the ship (the goal of the mission) and it pops up and lists off how many inhalers are needed.  Little Gary Stu has 2 left.  The computer pops up and shows a route that will use 4 inhalers, and one that will use just under 2 inhalers.  There is a short pause and then it pops up and points out the shorter route, and blinks “ONLY SURVIVABLE ROUTE” over and over.  I’m so glad it pointed that out because I almost didn’t understand what the scene was trying to convey.

The entire movie is just scene after scene of Gary Stu-ness, telling instead of showing, bad science, and whiny scenes that are probably supposed to be dramatic and emotional but are just fucking annoying, oh my god shut the fuck up.  The 4 it has on IMDB is too generous, and that’s when considering ONLY the movie, not even delving into the rabbit hole of Scientology tie-ins I spotted on Wikipedia (which may or may not be reaching.  It seemed like pretty generic bad movie writing to me)…
God, it’s even generous before considering the awful acting.  I think Jaden out-acted Will in this movie, but we’re talking about a subterranean bar, here.

Ugh.  Ugh.  At least Red Dawn is entertaining to make fun of.  This has too much whining to even make a good drunken movie night movie.

Pacific Rim

TL;DR: I lost count of how many times my eyes rolled, but then giant robots started punching giant monsters and it was awesome.

I’m not sure what I expected when I went into this movie.  I knew it was about giant robots fighting monsters and the fights were supposed to be awesome and didn’t rely on cheap tricks like shaky cam to obscure the action.  That’s exactly what I got!  But it was pretty obvious that 99.99% of their budget went into CGI and cinematography, and possibly 0.000000001% went into the writing. The premise alone got some huge eye rolls, before the characters even started talking!  Then, dear god, the characters started talking…

But let’s be honest here.  You did not go to this movie to see deep character development.  You went to see this movie to see giant robots punching the fuck out of some monsters with rocket fists and hokey samurai swords made out of chainsaw chains, and it totally knocks it out of the park for that!  Which is why it is somewhat unfortunate that it spends so much time on what were apparently supposed to be deep character development moments on characters that have no dimensions.  Every single character in this movie is a cliche cut from cardboard.

The middle of the movie dragged because there were no robots punching things.  Instead we spent a lot of time exploring the feelings and emotions of characters who are all Mary Sue incarnate.  Every single one of them.  Every single one of them.  I don’t know what the record is for number of Mary Sues in a single story, but man.  Everyone in this story has super special talents making them the best at everything, and a tortured past to make them sympathetic (when you’re not rolling your eyes at them, I guess).  Even the fucking robot is a Mary Sue (because it’s analog.  And can I just say: Ahahahahahahaahahahahahaha…).  Everyone is a Mary Sue except the guy who is a dick for no reason.  That guy is a dick.  Except he’s not even a good dick, because we already have a one dimensional evil enemy in the giant fucking monsters who want to take over the world.  So why have this guy being all dickish up in the face of the protagonist?  I don’t even know, because it didn’t even pay off in the end.  Instead they shoehorned in some sort of emotional father-son plot arc out of nowhere.  Make up your mind!

But then robots punched things.  And they punched the fuck out of things.  The CGI is fantastic, the 3D was pretty god damn good (although if I wanted to be all nitpicky I could point out that I was distracted by it a few times, so it was not the best 3D I have seen so far.  So there.)  The only flaw with the robots punching things aspect is that they did not punch things for long enough.  Why did we waste all this screen time on a ridiculous romance story, anyway?  Punch things, dammit!

Pacific Rim is an excellent movie for watching robots punch the everliving fuck out of things.  It is also excellent for making fun of bad writing.  So it’s kind of win/win I guess.

Also: May I point out that it was a terrible mistake to hire Ellen McLain to be GlaDOS as the background computer, and then only have her make one tiny not very insulting jab at someone.  Use your resources properly, people!

Lockout

Lockout was a rare gem, in that it was a “science fiction” movie that we had not seen before.  I mean specifically my husband and I, because I’m pretty sure we’ve seen every single sci-fi movie that exists, so we jump on every sci-fi-ish movie that staggers out of the box office, even when they suck.  And boy do some most of them suck.

It’s actually kind of hard to tell that Lockout is sci-fi.  It is set in a prison colony that is orbiting the Earth.  The vast majority of the movie is spent inside the colony where absolutely nothing resembles space and everyone uses conventional tools like pipes to hit each other over the head, instead of futuristic laser guns or whatever.  You could alter a small handful of scenes and drop the sci-fi label from it entirely, so it was disappointing in that aspect.

The plot was so thin that I’m not entirely certain I can explain it to you other than “they go to a prison in space and blow shit up”.  That’s just about all you need to know to understand this movie.  It opens with a thing happening and a guy trying to clear his name but the guy who can clear his name is in the prison colony, and meanwhile a completely separate event happens where the president’s daughter goes to the prison colony and proceeds to not make a single good decision for the entire movie, resulting in every single prisoner getting out of stasis and wanting to rape her.  Naturally the president wants his daughter back and who cares about the other hostages, but hey if we storm in there they will almost certainly rape and then kill her, so we better do this covertly by using the guy who has an ulterior motive for wanting to go to the prison colony!  Also this guy is amazing at every single thing he does, is the only character in the entire movie who does anything correctly, and he may as well be superman because he is a pretty terribly written “Gary Stu” style character.

My god, the writing for that character.  The entire movie he attempts to be funny. Every single line – EVERY SINGLE LINE that this guy says is an attempt at a witty one-liner.  Some of them are amusing; I chuckled a lot in the beginning.  It very quickly became obvious that the writers were trying way way too hard.  They tried so hard that they began throwing in self-referential jokes where the other characters start making fun of his one-liners.  When you are writing characters that are making fun of you for writing badly, you should probably step back and reconsider whether you can write less badly instead.

They blow shit up.  Much shit blows up.  If you want exploding shit you will probably enjoy this movie.  I didn’t dislike it enough to give it an “I don’t like it” tag, but the bad writing was just too much for me to give it a like tag.  One thing I noticed while shit was exploding, though… a lot of the action scenes are artificially sped up and intentionally jerky to obscure what’s going on.  The speediness annoyed me and added to the whole “wow look at how fast this guy moves he’s so amazing” bullshit that I was already annoyed with, but then the arbitrary dropping of frames to hide actions just made me suspicious that a lot of corners might have been cut.  The exploding shit is all this movie has going for it, so it didn’t bode well.

I already mentioned the bad decisions on the part of the characters, but seriously.  Does she do anything right?  I think it was intended that we see her as some sort of badass independent-minded and intelligent chick who can take care of herself in the end, but, no.  You got off the fucking escape pod, meaning you completely wasted the fucking escape pod (not to mention all the time it took to escort your ass TO the escape pod) and now no one gets to use it, and all you accomplished by doing that is getting every single other hostage killed and also you got in the way of mister Gary Stu here who clearly does not need any help because he is perfect.  That was probably some kind of spoiler but it’s okay because you’re only watching this for the exploding shit anyway.

So there is your checklist:  Exploding shit – check.  Terribly written characters that will make you want to vomit or stab your eye out in frustration – check.  Snappy one liners that will probably amuse you (especially while drunk!) but get kind of wearisome by the end – check.  Sci-fi… uhh kinda not really but if you close your eyes you can pretend it’s sci-fi.  If the list corresponds to your “things I like in movies”, you should check out Lockout.

Tunnels

Tunnels (Tunnels, #1)Tunnels by Roderick Gordon

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

So much to say about this book.

Quick synopsis: Will Burrows is the son of an archaeologist who likes to dig excavation tunnels (Burrows. GET IT??) around town and uncover artifacts for his museum. His father has had the credit for several “big” finds stolen from him, so when he stumbles on something important, he becomes secretive and withdrawn. Eventually, he disappears. Will takes it upon himself to find out what has happened.

It sounds promising, doesn’t it? And to some degree it is – the environments are intricately detailed and a decent sense of claustrophobic wonder is conveyed throughout. It didn’t quite reach the “Indiana Jones” level of swashbuckling archaeology I was sort of hoping for, but it was interesting enough to keep the pages turning.
Unfortunately it was also bad enough to keep me writing snarky notes.

I’m not quite sure where the line is between “Amateur” writing and “Lazy” writing. I often run into this problem with young adult books, and I can never tell if the authors themselves are actually inexperienced with writing and finding their way, or if they’re like “the kids who will be reading this haven’t read enough yet to recognize how lazy this is” while taking shortcuts to get things done faster.

The very first thing I started bitching about in my notes were similes. The book starts off with a fair amount of description, and for some reason it seems like it was impossible to describe an object or action without coming up with some sort of simile to throw at it. I did a search: The word “Like” appears in this book 344 times. We can probably assume some of those are not similes, but the phrase “It was as if” also appears 186 times. Fortunately it stops drowning in similes towards the end – it felt like the writing was trying much too hard to be “fancy”, but once the plot got rolling it forgot all about trying to show off and focused more on actually describing what was happening, and it was much better for it.

The second major problem is that the book doesn’t seem to know what its point is. It is full of so much filler that you never actually resolve anything that happens.  In some places it even describes the same things repeatedly, back to back in each paragraph (“he has big fingers.  He has sausage fingers.  He has fat fingers.”  WE GET IT.) that it makes me wonder if they were revised, but then not edited to remove the duplicates. The search for Will’s father takes a back seat early on and isn’t really revitalized until the final chapter. It turns out it’s the start of a series, so perhaps that was intentional… but the sheer amount of wasted space in this book would make me question if it’s just a “milking” move to try to sell more books, which just annoys me. You could have fit a lot more plot into this book, but instead it is full of similes, like a pinata full of IOU coupons… (look look I am using a simile!)

I don’t have a good “spoiler tag” solution yet so I should probably mention that I bitch about plot points from here on out.  If you intend to read this book, it will either ruin or enhance your reading experience – You decide!

The plot that IS there feels a lot like “bullied kid escapist fantasy”. The main character has albinism which makes him get picked on at school, and his family is highly dysfunctional. The ONLY scenes involving his mother hammer home over and over and over and over that she is mentally ill, and yet this has absolutely no bearing on the story as a whole except to further hammer home how sick she is when she fails to do anything about anything (like… her husband vanishing). His sister is apparently left to run the entire household (quite efficiently!) at the ripe old age of twelve, is incredibly bitchy, and seems to have OCD to a disturbing degree, especially considering the context of the family unit. But hey that’s okay because she’s actually not from his family at all because he’s actually from this super special colony underground (see he’s an albino, and people underground don’t get much light…) so really he DOESN’T belong to this fucked up family at all!  And she was placed there to spy on him! … which feels like it was written up against a wall and then brainstormed a bit going “hmmmm what’s the most shocking and unexpected thing that can happen right now. Oh, I know!” except it is unexpected because it makes so little sense. For that matter, Will’s age doesn’t seem quite right either. He’s supposedly 14 which makes a bit more sense than 12, but all of the characters act a bit too mature for their prospective age ranges, and I think it would have made more sense to make them all older. But perhaps that would have placed the characters out of the age group they were hoping would identify with them. Hrm.

By the way, in a completely arbitrary filler scene that serves no other purpose, they also beat the shit out of the bullies with their super special underground cat-dog, which makes the bullies cry and run away.  What bullied kid doesn’t have that fantasy, right?

I’m not done bitching about characters! I still need to bitch about motivations! The bad guys in the book (which encompasses the entire fucking cast except for like, two people I think) are all assholes. What is it about living underground that makes you a colossal asshole? Do they need more vitamin D? But it’s not just that they’re assholes, it’s that they’re moustache-twirling assholes. They are purely evil for the sake of being evil. When Rebecca shows back up in her evil role, they even go to great lengths to describe how her hair has been super greased and slicked back, like some sort of Bond villain. There are some vague references to “we don’t like topsiders because they will reveal our civilization” and that is the whole of the motivations for all of these people.  Apparently that gives you license to flat out persecute and torture people, gloating the whole time. It appears to be an entire underground race of empathy-less totalitarian jerks. The vast majority of characters behave in such an unbelievable fashion that it feels like watching a B movie full of bad actors who are hideously over-acting their parts. The non-asshole characters were largely unsympathetic too, because they spend the entire book whining, so I found there was no one I could really latch onto. You root for Will because the narrative is locked onto him, and there’s really nothing else to do.

So I ask again: What was the point of this book? Did the dysfunction of his family serve some sort of purpose? Was that making a point? What is the underground population supposed to represent? They’re not even sympathetic in any fashion, and the characters gleefully slaughter them during their escape attempts. We never even find his father, so what was the point of going down there and getting caught in the first place?

I suspect the point is to get people to read the next book… but if it comes to an amazing culmination later in the series, I’m afraid it failed to convince me to continue on and discover it.

View all my reviews

Red Dawn (2012)

I’m trying to think of how to review this in a way that isn’t just pages of laughing.  It’s tough.

It’s probably important to point out that I have not seen the original movie.  After watching this I DID go read a synopsis, and they actually butchered the premise less than I expected!  This kind of ridiculous premise made more sense in the ’80s, I guess.  I could tell just from reading the synopsis that the original was a better movie, ridiculousness and all.

North Korea has decided to invade Spokane because… reasons.  At least THAT part is reasonably realistic – no one knows what the fuck they’re doing or what their motivations are other than “rar we defeat America rar”.  The least realistic part is that they bother to occupy Spokane.

The movie opens by introducing us to Alpha Male who is a soldier fresh back from Iraq and he’s all badass and shit and is good at combat and hardened and whatever other descriptors you would like.  We establish his manliness with a bar scene and then there is a country-wide power outage (the radios still work to relay this news.  I guess it could be a satellite radio though) and he wakes up to soldiers parachuting into his residential street.
First of all: ahahahaha the CGI in this scene.  I don’t usually complain about shit like that but it felt like someone had taken an image of a single parachute, copy/pasted it 800 times, and placed it in a looping animation to make them appear to be moving.  Then had some planes flying in front of them (think about it.).  If I had more ambition I would attempt to recreate it in gif form.Second of all: It sure is important to send thousands of soldiers to secure this residential neighborhood in Spokane.  Good thing they have such deep reserves of trained military men that they can spare for this.  Also they have lots of vehicles and tanks that materialize on the ground in well placed blockades, despite not seeing any air drops of them or anything like that.  God damn they’re organized!  You’re probably just fucked, America.
[UPDATE] I noticed I’ve been getting a lot of search hits for search terms like “why are they using American vehicles in Red Dawn 2012”.  I was not nerdy enough to notice this about the movie, but I can still answer it for you: Because it’s not a very good movie.
Alternatively, they bought the vehicles from America and then never bothered to ship them back home before invading, which also explains why we never see them being air-dropped!  All problems now solved, the plot makes total sense now.  You’re welcome.[/UPDATE]

The residential invasion was slightly explained by them finding and seizing the Mayor, so you can suspend some disbelief and think ‘okay they were targetting the mayor’.  The mayor of… Spokane…

Alpha Male immediately springs into battle readiness mode and herds a group of mewling teenagers off to their cabin outside of town.  He does this by using the most amazing 1980’s truck ever which battering-rams its way through several military vehicles and smashes shit and kills people and gets shot and keeps on ticking, losing a mere headlight in the process.  They just don’t make them like they used to.  They later get this truck stuck in a mud puddle (despite having EIGHT FUCKING PEOPLE to push it) and abandon it and I will never forgive them.

The whole next part of the movie goes something like this:
Alpha Male takes control of the situation and uses his combat knowledge to guide everyone to safety and lead them in a resistance movement.
Subordinate Male rebels against Alpha Male and refuses to do what he says, placing the entire group at risk.
Alpha Male berates Subordinate Male for not listening and takes control again, using his combat knowledge to guide everyone to safety and lead them.
Subordinate Male rebels against Alpha Male and refuses to do what he says, placing the entire group at risk.
(rinse repeat)
(rinse repeat)
Subordinate Male vomits at thought of doing violence.  Alpha Male supports him during this difficult time in his life.
Alpha Male trains Subordinate Males in combat and they bond or something I don’t even know, I think they needed to fill some screen time.
Subordinate Males are now all hardened combat veterans.  Elapsed time: three days or so?  That’s enough time, right?  Sure it is.
Alpha Male gives inspiring speech about war and how when you’re invading somewhere it’s just a place, but this is our home.  Irony goes completely over his head.

Then the resistance part of the movie commences, where the ragtag group of teenagers manage to defeat the evil army (who, I will remind you, were able to invade and set up organized vehicle blockades before anyone managed to get out of bed in this town) with clever weapons like skateboards and holes in the ground.  The leader becomes angrier with them and the rest of the country is inspired by reports about them and apparently bothers to fight back as a result, because they certainly wouldn’t have that idea on their own.

Oh and don’t forget the scene where they find themselves in a Subway, demand they hand over all their bread (to which the employee says “What kind would you like?” and they list off the entire menu) and toppings, and then have a lovely scene where they talk about how good Subway is as they eat it.  I’m sure that endorsement was entirely sincere and no extra money changed hands at all.

See, I read the synopsis for the original and I see them getting a lot of help from outside sources at points.  They meet up with soldiers from other areas who are involved in their own struggles and who compare notes.  The war as a backdrop is fleshed out and it’s clear the country as a whole is struggling, but fighting.  Not in this movie.  They take the reins and inspire an entire country with a couple of pilfered explosives (I would also like to point out they stole these explosives by… walking uninhibited into a garage containing military vehicles and just taking them out of the back seat).  The invasion seems a bit better explained in the original, too.  In this movie it’s like “whoops they invaded and now they are here, let’s get em!”  Late in the movie they get a report on how the attack went down simultaneously in a number of areas, but that’s the extent of it.  No real plans revealed, no motivations, just “they wanted to attack so they dropped paratroopers and non-nuclear tactical strikes”.  Even the parts of the movie which are retained are badly done – like [spoilers – because you care] in the original, under threat of torture, one of the members is forced to swallow a tracking device and rejoin the group.  When he is discovered as having betrayed them, they turn on him.  In the remake?  The tracking device is sneakily injected into one of the members, and when it is discovered he bravely volunteers to abandon the group and lead the bad guys away.  I don’t think a single person actually makes a fucking mistake in this movie.  Even when things go wrong it wasn’t THEIR fault.  Does anyone even have a character flaw in this movie? Except for the prick at the beginning who betrays them and steals all their food and then runs off to join the leadership of the invading army in a bid to get ahead.  At least he had some decent motivations!  But they get revenge pretty early on, making his whole role in the movie last about 10 minutes of screen time with an unsatisfying arc.

And probably the most revealing is the difference between the endings.  In the original, it’s basically implied that the fight continues and the group’s efforts were not in vain, but it’s not exactly a happy fluffy “yay we win” ending.  In this movie… things go wrong so it’s not all sparkles and rainbows, but the end is all set up as a pumped up “we are inspired and KICKING ASS over here FUCK YOU INVADERS” with heavy overtones of success.  The same ironic speech about “when you invade, it’s just a place” is given, and it still goes over everyone’s head.

I just don’t get it.  Why are remakes always so much worse than the originals?  Updating special effects is one thing (and this movie didn’t even really do that well… I’m willing to bet lovingly crafted special effects from the ’80s were better than shitty CGI from today!) Why haven’t we figured out that trying to “improve” an original by altering its basic elements will likely destroy all the parts that made the original good?

Omnitopia Dawn

Omnitopia Dawn (Omnitopia, #1)Omnitopia Dawn by Diane Duane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

That was certainly a story! I’m not really sure what to say about it.

The book is about a MMORPG that is on a level past what we see today. People actually log into it as a virtual reality, and within the world there are little sub worlds of different themes and game types. In many ways it’s like the internet itself with various web pages, except the pages are worlds where people take on roles. Most of the ones described are your typical fantasy tropes with orcs and elves and swords, but it passes through historical scenarios and even one called “Million Monkeys” which is entirely text based, where people are attempting to improve on Shakespeare.

The story spends less time talking about the game worlds and more time talking about *creating* the game worlds. Someone who has no interest in MMO style games and no understanding or interest in computer programming will probably not enjoy this book. Someone who knows a LOT about computer programming might find it annoying, because it uses a made-up futuristic language which falls into a lot of “ooooooh it’s the fuuuutttuuurrreee” traps and does a lot of unlikely things that a pedant will be annoyed by, like having a glowing sword that physically leads your programmer to any potential bugs in the system (which would be frikkin cool, but I’d like to see how that would work…). It also attempts to portray hacking attempts as in-game battles which really didn’t work for me, but at least the battles were interestingly portrayed, if a little far-fetched. If you are someone who likes MMO style games and either have enough knowledge of the workings of programming, or at least the ability to enjoy sci-fi movies where you don’t think too hard about how things were accomplished, you will probably really enjoy this book.

I found the writing style to be very vivid, to the degree that I could easily imagine this being a very good movie. The special effects paint themselves out for you. I also appreciated that the book knew when not to take itself too seriously, while never becoming too silly. There is some quality writing skill on display in this book.

I do have some writing critiques, though:

The story itself is quite slow to get going, and in the end it leaves you wondering how much else could have been included if it had been properly paced. It felt like the author was so excited to describe the world to you that they forgot to get the plot rolling until halfway through, and then they didn’t have a whole lot of time left. Fortunately, everything is described really well, so I really only noticed it when I thought about it too hard. Still, it could have been improved. As it is, it’s almost as if the plot is the fact that the game world exists, and then it goes “Oh and uh, then they fight.” The fight is set up throughout the book, but it feels a little shallow.

There also seemed to be a lot of exposition on things that didn’t really matter in the end. We spend a lot of time with Rik and his microcosm, and it was really cool to see how the worlds are built, and the subplot with his wife coming around and becoming involved was all cool… but what was the point? (view spoiler)[His world crashes because of the bug with the CO (hide spoiler)] … sooo was the the entire reason for this character? Because nothing else really important happened, there…
And then the bit at the start with the statue honouring the character/player who discovered how to travel to other worlds. That left me a little confused because it seemed like it was introducing something really important that would be vital to the story. Does it mean the world is actually linking to something outside of code??? Are there other gateways that will be discovered??? Are they going to discover it in this book??? …nope, we’re just never going to mention it again. So, was the gate placed there by the programmers as an in-game event and that character was just the first lucky one to discover it, or… I feel like I’m missing something and I’m not sure that it’s entirely my fault.

Chekov’s gun: “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the second act you should fire it. Otherwise, don’t put it there.”
This book is a veritable armory of Chekov’s guns that are never fired and have no immediate purpose. Since this is a series, perhaps they will be important later… but I feel like I spent a lot of time reading about things that ultimately didn’t matter, which makes me feel like I wasted time trying to get to the plot. Books should not leave their readers feeling like they wasted time :/

Secondly, the characters are entirely too black and white. The worldbuilding is amazing, but the character development borders on cartoonish. The good guy is sooooooo good and everyone loves him and he is so humble and caring and gosh isn’t he great? And the bad guy is sooooo bad that he is just a bastion of evilness and bitterness and spite and you half expect the next scene to be him in a big chair stroking his fluffy white cat. There is no human motivation behind either of these characters, and it leaves them feeling artificial. The best characters are shades of grey. Their motivations are clear and relate-able, even if you don’t agree with them. The good guy here is a CEO who apparently has such pure and altruistic motivations for his company that he has managed to create a blockbuster company and become the seventh richest man in the world without ever having a selfish thought for himself or his profit margins. Everyone loves him unconditionally (except the bad guys of course. But they’re just jealous…) Humans do not work this way. It just usually doesn’t happen. Companies who are entirely too altruistic go broke because they don’t plan things properly, but this guy just doesn’t make those kinds of mistakes. Even when he fucks up, it all works out in the end. When he farts, it smells like roses, and everyone thinks it’s hilarious. Meanwhile, bad CEO is so consumed by thoughts of revenge that he’s willing to put his entire (currently successful, just not *as* successful…) company on the line just to get back at good CEO. Bad CEO’s company probably wouldn’t be as successful as it is with such single-minded logic behind it. I feel like it all should have been fleshed out just a little bit more…

Not that I didn’t enjoy the characters, I just feel that giving them more human motivations would deepen the story without losing anything. It felt like biased character development, where it was too risky to give the characters flaws or sympathetic points, lest we didn’t view them in the intended way. But the result is somewhat artificial…

Those points aside, I really enjoyed this book. The story was unique in that I haven’t read a whole lot of books about MMOs like this (maybe they exist and I’ve just missed them somehow, but I found it refreshingly unique anyway), but the ending was fairly predictable too (especially since the characters pretty much *can’t* deviate from their stereotypes). It didn’t stop me from blowing through it in two days. You know it’s a good book when you get on your exercise bike and then notice an hour and a half later that your butt went numb.

View all my reviews

Earth Abides

Earth AbidesEarth Abides by George R. Stewart

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Final Word: A resounding “meh”. The first part was boring, the second part was stocked with characters I hated, or characters with no personality (which I hated), who all made dumbass, arrogant decisions that made me hate them… and the third part was just fine, but not quite enough to redeem everything else. The third part is *almost* the book that I WANTED to read, showing humanity solving problems and adapting to the changes in the world. Instead, the entire book focuses on a bunch of ungrateful whiners who refuse to get off their ass and do anything, and somehow succeed anyway thanks to amazing engineering. Seriously, I think my city has more technical problems with things that *are* maintained than these guys have over the course of 50 years with things that are completely and utterly forgotten about. It would have been nice if they were at least shown trying to maintain things. Then they would have at least been problem solving something… instead, things break over the course of like, a decade, and then they’re all “gee what happened!” Well doesn’t this suck now we have to do stuff fuck this.[the entire reservoir leaks dry over the course of like, a decade, and then they’re all “gee what happened to the water!” Well doesn’t this suck now we have to pack buckets fuck this. (hide spoiler)]

I wish I could give it 1.5. Starring it “I didn’t like it” would be accurate, but I think it deserves a bit more than 1 star, if only because it’s interesting to see a precursor to the more modern day post-apocalyptic stories.

The rest of my review follows, which was pieced together as I went.

—-
I’m half way through now but I’m going to start writing my review anyway.

I was pretty excited to read this book. I love post apocalyptic stuff, I love survival stuff, and I even like “The World Without Us” stuff. This fits the bill perfectly!

The disaster happens and Ish wanders around until he realizes that serious shit went down, and then he has a moment where he’s like “Well, I like to observe things. I’m going to observe this!”

And that is pretty much the first half of the book. It plods along as he drives from place to place and observes what happens when things aren’t maintained. Some of it is interesting, but we now have books that do a much better job of it (like, “The World Without Us”…). There is literally no other plot. I kept waiting for something to happen, but the most interesting thing was the discovery of Princess, and even that was described in an outsider-style “Hmm this dog’s behaviour suggests…” sort of way.

There was never a point where he was really in any sort of danger, or anything tense happened. He panicked about driving through a desert and starts stockpiling backup plans, lest something go wrong… and then just as he gets started doing that he goes “Well fuck it, I should be dead anyway” and so much for that.

And then he goes home. End the first half of the book.

The second half has some interactions with actual characters, but perhaps that is a generous description of them because there hasn’t been any building of personality. I just finished “The Quick Years” and they certainly were quick. It was practically a bullet point list of 15 years worth of happenings which read like “This happened. Then this person showed up. Then babies were born. Then this person died. Then this happened.”
There were some opportunities for interesting things in those years, like the plagues of rats and grasshoppers, the various illnesses they dealt with, what to do if someone was injured… but instead it was more stand-offish observation narration which completely fails to get the reader involved emotionally. I was more emotionally invested in the grasshopper plague described in Little House on the Prairie than I was in this book’s description of the decimation of possibly the only garden on the entire planet.

The characters are continually spared of anything interesting. The rest of the city crumbles around them but oh hey, they found someone who’s a carpenter so their houses weren’t touched, even by earthquakes. They just observe everything else happening, never really getting involved themselves. There is no survival in this post apocalyptic world (They even have a never ending supply of canned food and medicine, thanks to being in a city), other than the occasional offhanded mentions of “This character that was introduced a sentence or two ago and never had an opportunity to gain a personality has died. Gosh look how dangerous things are!” (Hmm I wonder if they were wearing red shirts…)

Perhaps it is to this book’s credit that I am still interested despite that, but I feel like it could be so much more.

Starting in on the second half now. This review may be updated if things change!
—-

In the second half, things start to break down and everyone spends their time whining about it, refusing to do anything about it, or whining about how everyone refuses to do anything about it. (While also refusing to actually do anything about it because, well, no one else is so why should I!)

I really dislike arrogance, and that is one of the best words to describe the majority of these characters. Ish is arrogant about how much smarter he is than everyone else and laments how there will be no smart people left when he dies. Yet he doesn’t particularly want to encourage anyone else to use his precious libraries, either. “His ego was not above being pleased with the belief that he was a demi-god. Was this a way to treat a demi-god?” fuuuccck you. Whenever he starts ranting about how no one will think of the future, everyone interrupts him with ironic clapping. Arrogance. Splashes of good old fashioned misogyny and prejudice (appropriate for the time I suppose) mixed in for flavour too, whenever they declare how inferior women are or how the dim witted shouldn’t be breeding.

Maybe it’s a deliberate anti-humanity statement, in which case it’s effective because none of the characters are likable and I am rooting for them all to hurry up and die so the Earth can cover their corpses in Kudzu or something.


Annnd done. Whew! Part three was better, mostly because everyone I disliked was dead, and Ish was too senile to be an arrogant ass. He still managed a bit, though. The outcomes were more believable and it was nice to see some of humanity not portrayed as dipshit elitists. It’s unfortunate I had to wade through the rest of it to get here, though.

The final part of the book, after the next generation takes over and becomes a hunter gatherer society, is the book I would have WANTED to read. Unfortunately it’s a footnote tacked onto the end of the story of the group of whiny assholes who sat around eating canned food and bitching that they have to dig outhouse pits and take care of the girl who has a mental deficiency. Disappointing, although I do have to admit I am impressed that Stewart portrayed the subtle changes in mannerisms and tribal behaviours in a realistic manner, given when the book was written.

View all my reviews