Star Trek: Discovery (first impressions) – OR: I really hate Michael Burnham

I grew up on Star Trek TNG.  I was, in fact, one of ‘those’ trekkies, with the encyclopedias and the model Enterprise, and even every single one of the extended universe books.  I would rush home from school every day and wait for it to begin at 4PM.  And then I would despair when the syndicated episodes ran out and it would start over at season 1 episode 1 again and I’d have to wait until the channel caught back up to presently airing episodes.  Ahhhh, the late 80s/early 90s.  And now we have the internet!  What a savage and primitive world this used to be.

As most people are probably aware, the world of Trek has been languishing of late, and so did my interest.  I was happy to leave nostalgia back in the 90s with TNG and not worry about reviving it.  I don’t think I even saw an episode of Enterprise before it got canned.   So I hadn’t even really heard about Discovery, except maybe in passing.  I paid no attention to the hype, or the trailers.  I had zero awareness or expectations for it.

Then we ran out of TV to binge and wandered into The Orville.  If you’re not aware of The Orville, it is Seth MacFarlane’s love letter to Star Trek TNG, which basically means TNG with dick and fart jokes.  Here’s your bonus review: I actually really enjoy The Orville, but god damn is it awkward, ahahahahahaha.  It doesn’t know what to do with itself.  I saw one review/comment that said ‘Basically, it’s a perfect show, except for the part where it is a Seth MacFarlane show.’  Right in the bullseye.  The show tackles deep and interesting plot lines and tries to develop its characters and world in ways that are, dare I say it, TNG-esque.  It pulls you in and hits you with nostalgia that reminds you why you liked TNG.  And then it remembers that it is a Seth MacFarlane show and shoehorns an awkward fart joke into the mix and it falls over itself.  Now, I am ALL FOR a show that is literally TNG with dick and fart jokes, but c’mon guys, you gotta have better delivery than that to make this work.  I will continue to enjoy The Orville and facepalm at its horrible awkward delivery until its inevitable cancellation :(

So, anyway, we exhausted the current run of Orville episodes and found ourselves wanting more Star Trek.  Rather than binging through TNG again, which was my first inclination, we decided to check out Discovery.  It’s new, it’s fresh, it’s Star Trek, and we’re out of shit to watch.  Why not!

In case you are wondering why not, I will explain to you why not.  Full disclosure: at the time of writing, only four episodes of Star Trek Discovery have aired, and two of them are the pilot which kinda don’t even count as episodes.  I am intrigued to see where this goes and will continue to watch, but I am not optimistic.  The best case scenario would be if I can come back to this after the season is finished and lauuugghhhhh. We’ll see!

I’m also breaking rules by logging this under “movies” but since bitching about writing is my MO, you’re just going to have to deal with it. Read more of this post

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Infoquake

Infoquake (Jump 225 , #1)Infoquake by David Louis Edelman

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I’m going to abandon this one, which is unfortunate because I was excited about the premise. It’s a sci-fi setting with a corporate board room twist which is unique enough that I really wanted to see it play out.

It starts off feeling a lot like Neal Stephenson which was a very good sign. There isn’t a lot of over-explanation of concepts which was another very good sign. You’re dumped into the world and the characters react to the world and its unique concepts as if it’s completely normal, which is great, because for them it IS. None of the concepts are difficult to understand, you orient quickly, and it’s interesting to watch the subtleties of the world unfold.

Then you meet Natch, who spends his entire introduction being a prick to everyone. And you think to yourself “Aha, this is probably the villain of the story. A shades-of-grey nuanced antagonist, perhaps?” But then the book does its damnedest to make you sympathize with him, and completely fails on all counts. You also spend a fair amount of time with one of his female underlings who has thoughts like “I hate him so much. I wish I wasn’t so attracted to him!” And you think to yourself “………..”

To be fair, I bailed on it before the conclusion, but I couldn’t give a single solitary shit about any of the characters. I was interested in their world, but I didn’t care about them, I didn’t care what they were doing, and I finally went a couple weeks with the book sitting untouched in my bag and then went “Welp. I may as well read something else.” It wasn’t the setting at all—I was really interested in the corporate angle, even though it means it’s a slower pace than your typical sci-fi might be—but there was simply no one to root for and the characters felt forced.

It’s too bad because it’s a relatively unique approach to a plot and I’d like to see it thrive, but it really needs strong, relateable, characters to carry it. Instead, we have a jackass CEO that I’d like to see shot out of a cannon, while his underlings talk about how much they despise him but also how brilliant and amazing he is. Blurgh.

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.

Drifter’s Alliance (Book 3)

Drifters' Alliance, Book 3Drifters’ Alliance, Book 3 by Elle Casey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m a little disappointed in Book 3. The ideas are still really solid and very engaging, but the book feels rushed and lacking polish. It needed to mature and develop a bit more to really hit the sweet spot.

We’re still following the ‘episodic’ formula, but this time it barely even felt like an episode. A few more ideas were introduced, nothing new was really resolved, and it ends on an unsatisfying cliffhanger. The action is fantastic, and the characters are amusing, but the ‘rushed’ feeling persists through everything from the lack of resolution to the slapstick comedy sequences. Chapters end in bizarre places, cutting sequences in half sometimes. The jokes even sometimes trip over themselves by repeating themselves or explaining themselves to you, almost as if it got a quick editing brush-over and something was left behind that was meant to be excised. It all could have benefitted from a bit more care and attention.

I still love the story, and the characters, and the universe, and I would like to know what happens… but at 5 bucks a pop, I’d be tempted to sit back and wait to see if an anthologized version is released that combines them all once they’re done. It’s almost a shame to read them now if they might get polished into a real blockbuster later.

Drifter’s Alliance (Book 2)

Drifters' Alliance, Book 2Drifters’ Alliance, Book 2 by Elle Casey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Still enjoyable, but definitely not quite as solid as the first one. One of the things that really appealed to me about Cass was her balance. She was winging it and doing a good job of hiding how terrified she was inside. When shit went sideways your asshole clenched right along with her and you breathed a sigh of relief as she pulled it off and got out. In Book 2, she’s becoming a bit too in-control. We’re learning more about her training and now every time we need to know something, she’s studied it. When we need to do something, she’s been trained in it. Everything that happens to them seems to revolve around her past. It’s too convenient. The characters are a bit too slapstick, too. The humour is starting to feel forced, and I get the sense that the book was written fairly quickly and not polished as much as it should have been to tone down those burrs.

Still enjoying the series, but at 5 bucks a pop I really want them to have a BIT more meat to them.

Drifter’s Alliance (Book 1)

Drifters' Alliance (Book 1)Drifters’ Alliance by Elle Casey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A quick, light read that I binged in a couple of hours. It’s far too short, feeling more like a pilot episode to a TV series, which is somewhat appropriate as fans of shows like Firefly will feel right at home with a cast of misfit ship crewmembers who have been thrust together and bumble their way through misadventures. It does leave you feeling like the story is just beginning, though, which is a little unsatisfying.

Despite the brevity and lack of depth, I really enjoyed it. The writing is simple and crisp. I was a little worried in the first chapter when some of the descriptions were a little heavy-handed, but it quickly becomes primarily dialogue with lots of humour. There were tense moments with plenty of suspense that kept you hanging, and there was just enough exposition and worldbuilding to keep you intrigued and interested in the backstory of the universe without being either too much of an infodump or leaving things vague and confusing. Almost a perfect balance of information, actually. You get a sense of the world and the characters within it, and they all react in ways that feel genuine.

I’m impressed by the characters so far, but I tend to bias that direction. The main character is great. She’s a teenager, and she thinks like one. She’s constantly battling internal uncertainty and insecurity while putting on a show for everyone around her. It’s wonderfully insightful character building. The rest of the crew are animated and vivid characters with some real chemistry. I’m curious to see where the series will lead.

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.

Stealing Light

Stealing Light (The Shoal Sequence, #1)Stealing Light by Gary Gibson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I feel like I should really like this book. It’s a space opera with daring smugglers and firefights and alien species and mysterious technology and plenty of action, and the main character is a no-nonsense female pilot. Or… at least she should be no-nonsense but somehow a lot of nonsense keeps getting mixed in. I really try not to be feminist about these things, but I’m really put off by how frequently she’s described naked, or how often her anus is mentioned. I mean… we really needed that much detail to get the point across? In chapter three I wrote a note in my book saying “Wait… is she fucking her ship now?” and a few paragraphs later it was like “Yup. She’s fucking her ship.” Literally fucking it. It takes human form and fucks her. Yeah.

There’s a LOT of potential here, actually. The character is a “machine head” with implants in her brain that give her all sorts of (overly described and leaned upon for plot devices) tech abilities and information, but the implants are sufficiently balanced by having some significant downsides: they’ve previously allowed the bearers to become controlled and commit heinous crimes. The implants are actually illegal now because of the exploitation potential, but they offer huge benefits, especially to a pilot like our main character. So there are huge benefits, but not to the Mary Sue level because there are also huge risks. No one really trusts a machine head, so she’s a loner who’s also dealing with the traumas and consequences of the implants, and suddenly it makes a bit of sense that she might become ‘involved’ with her ship since that’s her only companion. Right? Right??

… except every other male she encounters seems to end up fucking her too. Sigh. And, now that I think about it, I’m not sure there are any other female characters of note for her to encounter.

Yeah, I dunno.

I found the first few chapters of the book were far too heavy on exposition (laying out every detail of the technology and world without really giving me any reason to give a single shit about the characters who had all clustered together to talk about it), but the action scenes have been decent enough and I am reasonably interested enough to see what happens. I keep going despite the vague distaste I keep feeling as I plow through descriptions. I feel like this would be way up there on my list of must-reads if it weren’t for this greasy feeling that the book is more self-indulgent than it needs to be for plot purposes.

The characters spend the entire book flip flopping between emotions with no logical transitions. They’re badass in one paragraph, weeping and cowering in the next. Then they’re yelling and screaming at each other, and fucking in the next. It’s disjointed and the poor writing doesn’t do it any favours, with lots of perspective shifts and occasional lapses in tense. But despite all that, the second half of the book was decent, despite a very awkward sex scene that is initiated by the dialogue “I can tell by the way you have your hand on my dick.” They were almost in the midst of growing as characters before they did that, too. Alas.

Give this to a ruthless editor who can cut all the bullshit out of it, and hand it off to an effects team, and I bet it would make a really decent (but probably cheesy) movie. As a book, it’s pretty meh, although I am sufficiently curious to see how the plot wraps up across sequels. Curious enough to put up with more random sex and forced descriptions of nudity? Eeeehhh, maybe later.

Darwin’s Children

Darwin's Children (Darwin's Radio #2)Darwin’s Children by Greg Bear
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is pure emotion.

I don’t actually know how I feel about it. There are parts of it that are probably some of my most favourite scenes I have ever read, and I highlighted a whole bunch of shit just because I really really liked the way it was written. And there are a bunch of parts that made me squint my eyes and scratch disapprovingly at my chin. I spent a whole day reading this book practically non-stop and felt like I was loving every minute of it, until I got to the end, where I stepped back and looked at it as a whole and thought to myself “……. I’m not sure that I liked that.”

But that’s a Greg Bear novel for me, I suppose. It happens every time.

The first book was exhaustively researched and it was a comfortable stretch to believe that the things proposed could happen. This book does not feel quite as tight. The first book spent a lot of time etching out every minute detail, and this one seems to spend a lot of time skimming over those. I’m quite willing to suspend belief for the sake of plot, especially when creating a new species, but learning and behaviour is my pet field of study and I feel like there are some huge holes in the development of the society of the children. Not to mention the religious element that was introduced. It almost feels like the first book was meant to be hard scientific fact and then he wanted the second book to come at it from the other angle to provide contrast, which is a nice idea in theory, but the way it is presented just doesn’t jive with me. I put comments in several places saying “I hope this is explained a little bit better later…” and then I had a moment of hope when Kaye gets all the scans done, but nope, that was just a distraction too, as if it’s trying to explain that there is no explanation so just get over it. It’s like we go from hard facts and figures to watching the book wave its hands spookily and then conclude with “A God did it.” (Well. Maybe. Because that’s not confirmed either.) Unsatisfying.

The time skips are especially bad. I’d be reading almost breathlessly, racing ahead to get to an anticipated point where two plotlines would collide and I could see the result, annnnnnnnddd *poof* 3 years later. That thing happened during those three years and it was cool but we’re past that now and won’t waste any time describing it, thanks. It happened every time and it made me so mad every time.

I have to say, I love the way the characters interact in this book. The characters feel so robustly human to me, full of emotions and flaws and character traits, and I loved them. But they spent a lot of time on superficial interactions and leave the bulk of the plot development behind the scenes to be discussed in hindsight while they go about their superficial interactions. I’m not sure how I feel about that. And apart from the main family (Kaye, Mitch, Stella), no one else gets a lot of development.  They have their template personality and that’s about it.  At times there are characters used from previous books that might have been thrown in purely so that there would be a backstory already in place and there would be no need to add further development.  It led to a lot of cardboard supporting cast.  There are even some characters who felt abandoned. Where are the rest of their stories? Such as:
Minor spoiler:
We skipped entirely over the bit with Stella and Will. Will exists in like, four scenes in this entire book? We start to get to know him and then *poof* 3 years later. Welp, nevermind that now.

I am so exquisitely torn about the main character too. I loved Kaye. I loved the interactions between Mitch and Kaye. I must have been in the right emotional (hormonal??) state of mind for it because I was more invested in their relationship than I was in the fate of the children, most of the time. I highlighted so many of their scenes together because they felt so real. The scene where Mitch finally snaps and Kaye recognizes how unfair she’s been:

“Kaye stood beside the bed and watched Mitch, eyes wide. Her chest felt wrapped in steel bands. She was as frightened as if she had just missed driving them all off a cliff.”

That moment when you emerge from your own misery and realize with a shock that it affects other people too and you’ve been a huge selfish ass about it. That is real.

But then, I don’t know. She struck me as a near Mary-Sue at first. It’s almost textbook – gifted genius girl who doesn’t recognize how good she is and everyone is in awe of her and everyone wants to fall in love with her oh my. But then she displays real, palpable flaws and it dispels the Mary-Sue threat. I found her to be a realistic depiction of an emotional (and at times irrational) female, but at other times she would drop down into a sort of “This is a female being written by a man” template and I’d find it disappointing purely because it was such a contrast to some of her other scenes.  It’s like she has transitions where she grows as a character and changes her behaviour, and then transitions where suddenly she’s just acting sort of different and it seems odd. And then she finds God or something, I don’t fucking know. It felt like a character departure at several points, in this book and the last.
Ending spoiler:
And then I was pissed at the ending. Seriously pissed. I think that means that my ultimate judgement of her is that I like her? I got the impression that the ending was supposed to be hopeful but I guess I’m just not religious enough for that because no, fuck you, give her more time with her family, you fuck. They’ve been through enough!  I think I’m angry at how unnecessary that was.  The injustice of it.  If that was the goal then bra-fucking-vo.

I don’t think I could read this again, but I think I’m going to be thinking of the characters over the next few days.

Darwin’s Radio

Darwin's Radio (Darwin's Radio #1)Darwin’s Radio by Greg Bear

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am thoroughly impressed with the depth of research displayed in this book. I’ve got an undergrad biology degree, and I got an A in the genetics parts of things, but I ultimately spent more time studying other things and went in different directions after graduation and got pretty rusty on the viruses and chromosomes front. I’m pretty sure the author knows more about it than I do right now. That is a lot of god damn research for something that is dangerously susceptible to making you look silly within a decade (or, fuck, a year if you’re unlucky). And it’s holding its own.

That said, I’m sure if I actually studied viruses and chromosomes this book would have a lot of bits that would annoy the fuck out of me. And since I did study viruses and chromosomes at one point, I didn’t mind slogging through the absolute tons of detail provided about how they work and the proposed systems at play. Someone else might not.

I really like Greg Bear’s books, but I always seem to have this issue where I start reading them, get absolutely fucking hooked and can’t put them down, and then the ending leaves me with a slightly disgusted look on my face and I feel let down and don’t want to bother reading any more of his books. Until next time I’m craving a very good book and then I’ll pick one up, get absolutely fucking hooked, and…

Darwin’s Radio did not have the same effect on me. It was less extreme on both fronts, actually. I was less hooked than usual, and the ending didn’t annoy me as much. But, perhaps that is because this book has no ending. This book has a sequel. Presumably THAT book contains the ending because this one certainly did not. I remain interested enough to pick up the sequel, quite possibly even start it right now! But there was a shift somewhere in the middle of the book that made me think to myself “Oh, here we go again.” It got away from the facts and figures and started moving into the ‘what happens now’ which might account for that, and there were a lot of really good emotional scenes that I enjoyed, but it felt like reading a different book at times. Suddenly characters that I really admired started acting a bit differently and I started to like them less. I got more ambivalent about what would happen to them. I did not like that change and it makes me apprehensive about the sequel. I want to read about the characters I liked in the beginning, not these new ones they are turning into. I don’t just mean the speciation events, either.

The Kings of Eternity

The Kings of EternityThe Kings of Eternity by Eric Brown

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I almost gave up on this book several times.  It’s fairly short, but I was a full 25% of the way into it before anything happened.  I was just done with it.  I didn’t particularly like the character, it kept jumping back and forth between two time periods and my lack of interest in the character made it difficult to follow (in one time period there is a girlfriend named Carla and in the other there is one named Caroline, and I’m bad with names so I kept getting them crossed with each other which made his seeming 180 degree reactions toward them very confusing), but worst of all the language in the book was almost pretentious to read.  I had heard the term ‘purple prose’ before and I even remember looking it up once and thinking “aha, that is the name for that” but then forgetting again.  This book is purple prose.  I don’t think I will forget the meaning of it again, after this.  There is even a section in the book that I highlighted where a character reads out a section of writing from the main character’s books (who is also an author, naturally) and criticizes it for being “Interesting, if a little overwritten.”  That is this book.  I was about to give up on it and went back to the blurb on it to remember why I had even loaded it on my kindle in the first place, and went “Oh.  Hmm.  That does sound interesting.  Maybe I’ll keep going for a little more…”

Then I got to 25% and things happened and I was like “ahh, finally, the reason I loaded this.” and once I was into it even the over-writing started to feel more like Jules Verne than simply trying too hard, which may have been what they were going for.  And then at 40% I was like “holy shit this is pretty good actually.”  And by the end I was like “Eeeh, that was flawed, but these characters are cropping up in random thoughts throughout the day so I guess it’s pretty good.”  3.5 stars.

The premise, in case you’re reading this because you haven’t gotten 25% of the way into it yet and want to know if there’s a point to continuing, is that a reclusive author and his three friends stumble upon an anomaly in the woods which turns out to be a gate to an alien planet.  They have an encounter with an alien creature, save him, and are rewarded with some gifts in return.  One of those gifts is the gift of immortality (more or less) via what is not explained as but is almost certainly some form of nano-medical-technology.  Now they must deal with the fact that they will outlive everyone else.  But there’s more… they can give one dose to one other person each.  Who do they give it to?  How will they conceal their non-aging properties?  Use of the technology is forbidden… what will they do when the aliens come looking for them as lawbreakers?

There were a lot of things that I picked up on and I wasn’t sure if they were intentional or not.  A lot of things are repeated.  In a lot of cases it seems like it could be an attempt to signal something significant, but in other cases I was genuinely not sure if the author just forgot they had done that already.  For example, the author in the book writes a story about a reclusive author living in Greece who is finally charmed by a woman and brought out of his solitude.  Guess what happens to the character!  In exactly the same town as the book he wrote!  That can’t just be a coincidence.  But then certain descriptive phrases were used repetitively, like the one about heat hitting their skin like a physical blow.  It’s actually a plot point in the book that the author is accused of plagiarism because he accidentally re-uses phrases from books he penned under different names.  Are these repetitive phrases some sort of nod to that or just a mistake of editing?  Would there be a point to adding a nod to that??  I’m not sure.  It went over my head if there is one.

And I noticed an odd tendency to over-explain things, but only the things that really didn’t need any explanation whatsoever.  To make it even more irritating, when something actually needed explaining, it would be glossed over.  But if you ever wondered how an object got from one end of the room to the other, hoo boy nothing was left to imagination!  Except then sometimes it wouldn’t be explained and suddenly it was glaringly obvious that an object that had previously been described as on that side of the room was being picked up by a character on this side of it.  Ironically, the breaks in continuity wouldn’t have been an issue at all if it weren’t for the anal over-description of everything else.  There were times when I was absolutely positive I could see the author re-reading the scene and then going “Crap, what if someone asks about this,” and adding a bunch of extraneous descriptive text to head off any pedantic questions, then forgetting that it impacted a scene later on.

Minor ending spoilers:
I was actually surprised it worked out the way it did because it spent so much time building up to the ending that I was expecting it to be a twist, because it was just too obvious and the character had everything worked out and naturally life would throw him one last curveball and punch him in the gut or something because that’s how these things work.  But then… nope just the obvious happy ending.  Disney-esque, even.  Satisfying, though.

Much bigger ending spoilers: Read more of this post

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.

Predestination

I will sum up this movie in three words:

What the fuuuuccckkkk.

I’m pretty sure I don’t want to say anything more than that, other than the fact that I recommend checking it out.

Also: You probably shouldn’t watch it while drunk.  Fair warning.

Can I just say too: I had no idea who Sarah Snook was before this movie and damn.  Good job.

Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow opens with what is essentially D-Day on Normandy beach, except with Aliens and Mechs.  If you read that and didn’t immediately decide you’d like to see this movie, you can probably just move along to another review now, or go watch a romantic comedy or something.

The premise behind Edge of Tomorrow is that a fairly cowardly man got drafted into the military and managed to slip out of having to do any of that icky combat stuff by using his marketing skills to aid the recruiting efforts.  He’s finally drafted for a big push against the enemy, attempts to weasel out of it, and gets branded as a deserter and busted down to a private on the front line.  He’s pretty much instantly killed, but not before he gets soaked in the blood of one of the aliens. So imagine his surprise when he wakes up at the start of the same day, unscathed, and has to live it all over again.  It turns out the aliens have the ability to reset time in order to perfect their tactics, and now that he’s absorbed some of their blood, he can too.

That actually sounds pretty corny, but it’s done really well.  Cage is a character full of flaws that he irons out with (lots and lots of) practice.  The day repetition isn’t tedious or annoying – I was pretty worried it would be too repetitive but they mix it up enough to keep it fresh.  There’s also a lot of really well placed humour, particularly when portraying some of the trial and error processes that go into his character development.  Some of the other characters could have stood for a bit more developing, but they’re written serviceably enough that it still passes.  The backstory/worldbuilding is good without overstaying its welcome, and they did a good job of establishing an appropriate character and then dropping him into an environment where the viewer can “learn” along with him as a means of exposition.

I have to say this: The CGI was distractingly good.  We kept interrupting scenes to ask each other “So how do you think they did that?  Is that pure CGI or some practical effects or…?”  The aliens look awesome, the mech suits are seamless, it’s all wonderful.

If you hate fun I’m sure you could nitpick all sorts of flaws out of the plot (like how everyone who is “cool” somehow manages to discard their helmets, which is where all the aiming apparatus is supposedly housed…), but it was coherent enough (even WITH time-travel elements!) that it was enjoyable.  Thumbs up.

Bonus review:  the new WordPress editor interface is awful and I hate it.  It doesn’t solve any problems and the oversimplification results in bunches of new problems.  Thumbs down :P

The Zero Theorem

My husband said “Hey we should watch this movie, Zero Theorem”.  I looked at the IMDB blurb and found this:

“A computer hacker whose goal is to discover the reason for human existence continually finds his work interrupted thanks to the Management; namely, they send a teenager and lusty love interest to distract him.”

hahahaha oh my god this is going to be so bad.

Long story short: It didn’t suck.  I actually quite enjoyed it, and it also validates the existence of my “surprisingly not shitty” tag.  It was bizarre but eminently enjoyable.  I feel like you might need to be drunk to really get the most out of it, though; at any rate you probably shouldn’t try to understand it while sober.

I glanced at some reviews and now I’m confused about all these people complaining that it wasn’t funny enough.  Did they see the name Terry Gilliam and just assume it would be a Monty Python comedy?  It has quirky comedic moments but it is not a comedy, people.  What the hell.  Complaints about the movie being confusing – valid (but not necessarily unwelcome… I liked the convoluted fucked-up-ness of the plot), complaints about the philosophy of the movie being unfulfilling – valid (if you give a shit, which I didn’t), complaints about the movie being “listless” – … valid, sure.  It felt a little flat sometimes, but that sort of complemented the main character I thought.  Complaints about it not being funny enough?  Go away.

It’s a quirky, bizarre, … whimsical?  sure whimsical… journey and it’s decently entertaining enough to spend an hour or so with.

Transcendence

The IMDB blurb for Transcendence was this:

“A scientist’s drive for artificial intelligence, takes on dangerous implications when his consciousness is uploaded into one such program.”

Misplaced comma aside (grr), it sounded like a perfect set-up for an awful movie.  But… Morgan Freeman?!?  He never makes bad movies!  Okay fine we will risk it.  I mean, it’s a sci-fi-ish movie so of course we will risk it.

After we were done, my husband’s review was “I liked that movie, but I can’t think about it or I’ll get angry.”  I should probably just leave that here as my review, too.

It was really much better than I thought it would be, probably because I had pretty low expectations.  There are a lot of stories that are sorta-kinda similar that if you liked those, you’ll probably at least sort of enjoy this too.  Parts of it reminded me of Terminator, maybe RoboCop (with significantly less exploding shit, mind you, and the exploding shit was kind of the point of those movies)… other parts reminded me of Blood Music (novel by Greg Bear)… the Replicators from SG-1 (and every other “grey goo” themed sci-fi story in existence)… there was at least one other popular entertainment media item I thought of while we were watching and now I can’t remember it so… that one too.  It was an interesting story that provided some interesting questions and made you wonder which direction they would take it in the end.

Of course, every direction they could have taken it was pretty predictable, because it’s all been done before.  I’m not sure it’s actually possible to do something innovative with this sort of storyline anymore.  It was more of a “Is the twist going to be THIS, or is it going to be THIS…” sort of thing, which is enjoyable in its own way but… meh.  It’s the sort of thing where if you tried to do something really innovative and shocking it would just be so ridiculously cheesy that it would ruin the whole story.  So the best bet is to try to approach the philosophical questions in a novel manner, and it sort of dropped the ball there.  A lot of the really interesting questions that could have been asked were drowned out by a focus on the Good/Evil aspects.  No real subtleties were explored, which left it feeling hollow and predictable.  Unfortunate.

And there were some big-ass plot holes that you really shouldn’t think about.  Seriously, don’t think about it or you’ll hate this movie.

I don’t think there’s an easy way for me to do spoiler tags if I’m not hosting the blog myself, so warning: potential spoilers ahead that will make you hate this movie:

There was so much focus on the “Is it really him?  Is it just an AI trying to take over and not really him at all?  It’s building a superhuman army!!” aspects that they completely missed exploring the “Would you take clean water, extended/potentially eternal life, no sickness, superhuman strength at the expense of your free will and privacy?” aspect.  What’s odd is they introduce those aspects, and then completely ignore them to follow the “omg an army, get the bombs” route.  I suppose bombs could be one way of saying “no I would not give up my free will”, but it’s not presented that way at all.

[bigger spoiler – seriously] How the hell does it get airborne.  I’m not disputing that it would create the technology, but it’s not explained at all, and it presents so many problems.  How the fuck are you going to do anything about an airborne nanobot invasion.  It’s like the world’s worst virus at that point (a la: Blood Music).  Shit doesn’t need to be networked anymore for it to spread because it is airborne.  Okay so maybe it’s short range airborne but y’know, throw a bone and mention that.

And somewhat related – one of my husband’s biggest complaints (before he stopped thinking about it so that he wouldn’t hate the movie): “My computer doesn’t fucking explode when I unplug it from the network.”  Why do they stop functioning when disconnected from the core?  The nanobots seriously can’t carry out repairs unless they’re on the internet?  That seems like a design flaw he probably should have considered, huh.

And if nothing works if it’s not online, how the fuck do they get into the garden if it’s covered in shields.  Even if you want to claim he pre-planted some nanobots or whatever in there, how would he have gotten her through the shield.  Explain shit, damn you.  I think it’s shoehorned in for an attempt at ambiguity in the name of ~thought provoking~ and it’s not good.

Bullets poisoned with radiation.  hahahaha.

Okay I’m going to stop thinking about it now, while I still like it.

Snowpiercer

What an absolutely ludicrous plot.  Why was it so enjoyable…

I feel like I was actively trying to dislike it, and I kept forgetting why I was trying to dislike it.  I had a laundry list of criticisms and I can barely remember them all the next day.

Here’s the premise:  Global warming is out of control, so someone develops a way to slow it down.  We release shit into the atmosphere and it results in dropping Earth into a deep ice age.  Oops.

Everything living dies, except for a lucky group of people who happened to be on a really large train called the Snowpiercer that traverses the world precisely once per year (or maybe they re-engineered the length of years based on one traversal, I wasn’t entirely clear…).  There was a bit of explanation about the train but not nearly enough to explain how a world-traversing train was engineered to cross oceans and run perpetually with absolutely no external maintenance (of the train OR tracks…) in an atmosphere that is cold enough to completely freeze someone’s arm in 7 minutes… but apparently it runs happily for the next 18 years.  The people on the train develop a dystopian caste system based on their original tickets, with those in first class living in luxury and those in the tail section living in squalor.  First class regularly comes back to the tail to steal children and generally be dicks about everything.  The tail section get pissed and plan an uprising.

There’s a lot of really well done stuff in this movie.  The atmosphere is great, the acting is great, even the premise is interesting despite hurting your brain if you think about it too much.  It’s mostly the brain-hurting that drags the movie down – there are too many things that are convenient or casually brushed over because they cannot possibly be explained.  We’re presuming this train was already in motion before the world ended, right… because that’s how they survived.  It’s got aquarium ceiling-ed cars.   Like, okay so maybe it’s supposed to be super luxurious so they designed a train with that’s entirely an aquarium for both walls and ceiling in 2014, but… no.  I just can’t.  Where did they get the materials to build and maintain this shit?  Where did these translator things come from if the world ended?  Why do they only use the translator things half of the time yet still understand each other?!?? It’s in that uncomfortable sci-fi area where they want to be cool and unique, but it’s not a fantastical enough environment to pull it off comfortably and you need to turn your brain off to enjoy it.  But once you do that, it’s great.  Certainly above Elysium, at any rate.

The Knife of Never Letting Go

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking, #1)The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So difficult to rate. I really really enjoyed this book, but there were some flaws that marred the experience. If partial marks were allowed I’d probably end up dipping into 1/2s and maybe 3/4s, but as it is I will just start at 5 stars for being amazing, and drop it to 4 for having unfortunate flaws.

The language was not one of those flaws, although it could have been. The book uses “cleetus speak” to show that the characters are uneducated. The dialects aren’t slathered all over everything and, unlike the Dust Lands books, characters had unique “accents” as the characters moved from place to place. I could actually tell characters apart as they spoke. I enjoyed it, even. (And they use quotation marks! How novel!) It did still annoy me when words were misspelled when it made no sense to do so. e.g. words ending in -tion would be spelled “-shun”. Why. It is pronounced the same, so it doesn’t even contribute to an accent. It’s a minor annoyance and I got over it, though.

It’s such an interesting premise. Todd was born on this planet, but he’s actually part of a colony who landed here and soon discovered that something on the planet is causing them to hear each other’s thoughts. The plot is a bit sparse to begin with – Todd is going about his life, and then shit goes down and he needs to flee his hometown. He’s just as confused about it as we are, and the readers learn about the story while he figures it out. It’s like a blend of old time farmland settings and sci-fi genres, and it works. The worldbuilding is good and keeps you wanting to know more.

I have some issues with the second part of that, though. It relies heavily on a “hook” that I dislike – not telling the reader anything, even if the protagonist learns something. It’s mostly handled well, but then there are parts of the book where it cuts to Todd’s reaction as someone explains something really really important to him. No one explains any of it to us, the readers, and it’s such a transparent hook to make you keep reading. It works, mind you, but I resent every moment of it. You can handle it more gracefully than that guys, come on. It’s jarring and transparent. ESPECIALLY when you’re trying to pull off first person present tense. It was shockingly sloppy compared to a lot of the rest of the writing.

There’s a bit of really obvious telling instead of showing, too, which was also really odd given how well most of the book was constructed. In pretty much the first chapter Todd is thinking about how the year has 13 months in it, and I was all “aha, these are not typical Earth years.” Many many many chapters later Viola painstakingly lays out how the years are a different length here. Seriously? Did you forget that shit was in chapter one or did you think “omg the years are a different length why” would be a mystery for the whole book and it better be cleared up?

The characters were fantastic. They were real. They had human thoughts and made human mistakes. They reacted to each other in human ways. Each character was distinct. Even the dog had an appropriately dog-styled personality. Most of the writing was sort of stream-of-consciousness choppy style, which made a lot of sense in the context of all thoughts being audible, and it was used effectively to bring the character’s reactions to life. I enjoyed it, although it was a bit overdone in areas.

I loved almost every interaction between characters in this book, except for the villains. All this effort was poured into the main characters to make them believable and human, and then it came time to write the villains and they slapped some comically evil paint onto some cardboard and propped it up. Their motivations are weak and cliche (“I will ruulllleee the wooorrrlllddd” yeah yeah we’ve heard it before). The protagonists “kill” the main antagonist like 4 or 5 times and oops he just keeps popping back up! No explanation as to how he didn’t die, just vivid descriptions of the visible damage from the wounds they inflicted last time (and a conspicuous lack of descriptions of a terminator-style endoskeleton, because I was getting pretty certain that’s the only way to survive all this shit by the end).  And then the reveal of how Todd is supposed to transition to manhood.

I just don’t buy it. It’s too flimsy. Enjoyable I suppose, but flimsy.

A bit of an aside, I suppose… one thing I noticed in this book is that it used the word “effing” copiously. It was amusing in a number of ways, mirroring a teenager trying to toe the line and test their boundaries. But then it would say something like “(but I don’t say “effing” I say the real word this time)”. Just fucking say fucking. I thought it was so the book could be properly marketed to a younger audience without having to worry about any scary words being included that would make parents angry or saddle it with a profanity warning, but then Viola lets a proper “fucking” slip and Todd reacts to it. … we have no need to self-censor then, do we? So why so much self-censorship? Baffling.

Bitching completed. I really liked this book. Flaws aside, the writing was powerful and well crafted, the characters were fantastic and believable, and the world is interesting and unique. The villains kinda suck but maybe it will come into its own later on and flesh out the plot a bit. I can kinda relate even if it doesn’t… I often come up with characters I really like and then have no ideas for good situations to get them into.

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Childhood’s End

Childhood's EndChildhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is hard to write a review for. I don’t know if it’s because I was only able to read snippets on lunch breaks for the last few months or what, but it’s just not grabbing me. This is my first Clarke novel I believe, and don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed his writing, but something about the story just isn’t clicking. It’s like there’s too much premise and not enough plot, and I’m already halfway through.

It’s too bad because I thought I would really enjoy it. Maybe I will try it again when I have more time.

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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.

Blood Music

Blood MusicBlood Music by Greg Bear
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have now read two books by Greg Bear, and they both went the same way. They started out good and kept me interested, cranked it up to amazing in the middle and gave me eyestrain, and then became a big pile of facepalm at the end which made me drop my ranking.

The book starts out with what I felt was a very familiar sort of story: a scientist injects himself with modified cells and begins to experience beneficial effects like advanced healing, heightened senses, youthful energy, yadda yadda. I actually went on a short pilgrimage to try to figure out when this style of story was first used, but with this book coming out in 1985 it might actually have been one of the first. But that was kind of moot because a few chapters later the story had changed completely.

It moved from there into a pandemic story, and then into full blown post-apocalyptic descriptions. My favourite kinds of books are stuff involving science, medicine, pandemics, post-apocalyptic wastelands… this book had it all for me so maybe I was a bit biased, but my god it was so good.

Then I got to the end and… nngh. I don’t know. It just totally lost me. Everything I know about quantum physics comes from entertainment media and likely not accurate at all, but it was a little eyerolling for me even taking it from an entertainment perspective. There were long pages full of completely unnecessary reminiscing, which I guess was supposed to mean more to me but I just didn’t care about the characters enough to give a shit. Then there was a long section where the characters argued about the plausibility of what was happening, which almost came across as the author providing a laundry list of all the things that were wrong with it, as if to preempt the inevitable pedantic naysayers.

But the first 3/4 or so of the book was absolutely worth my time. I’m trying to decide if I should take on another Greg Bear book next. I’m pretty sure I did this exact same thing last time… I was halfway through the book and thinking “holy shit I’m going to read every single thing this guy has written”, then I got to the end and went “….” and moved on to something else. Hrm.

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The Quiet Earth

Sometimes I go on movie binges, looking up lists of recommendations and accumulating a pile of “to watch” movies that look interesting.  And then we don’t get around to watching them for 6 months and I can’t remember if I picked this up because it was Halloween so it’s going to be a cheesy slasher movie, or if it was supposed to be a comedy, or what.  I pulled “The Quiet Earth” out of the pile tonight and went “1985???  Must be sci-fi…” because we tend to avoid anything made pre-2000 unless it either looks really good, or is sci-fi, since we’ve watched every single other good sci-fi movie that exists (and usually for sci-fi we haven’t seen, pre-2000 ends up being not good… but we keep trying.)
The Quiet Earth was good.  It was bizarre, but good.

The movie opened, surprisingly enough, with a penis.  I immediately said “Well, this must be European…” because I don’t think North America acknowledged the existence of penises in the 80s, and they most certainly didn’t show them dangling and bobbing around like this movie was.  Then the guy got into a vehicle (he put clothes on first), and the steering wheel was on the wrong side, so I said “Aha.  I told you.”  Then he spoke and I said “… it’s not England.”  My amazing powers of deduction were correct – the movie is actually from New Zealand, which probably also explains why we hadn’t seen it before.

It was actually a post-apocalyptic style movie, with the whole first bit being this guy wandering around exploring abandoned locations and trying to figure out what the fuck happened.  The opening of 28 Days Later is quite possibly our favourite movie sequence of all time (the whole first half of the movie is our favourite movie.  We turn it off when they get to the soldiers, though.) and it was quite reminiscent of that, so I really enjoyed it.  Nothing like a big mysterious exodus of people to put you on edge.

Then he started going a bit nuts, cabin-fever-The-Shining style, which was also fantastic.

Then it goes downhill a little bit (does EVERY “end of the world” scenario need a fucking love triangle?  Ugh), but it’s still not bad.  It was almost bad, but it had enough “wtf” to save itself from the bad.

The whole movie was quite engaging, as long as you don’t try to figure out what the fuck happened when they actually start trying to explain what happened.  Most of it at least makes some logical sense in that you can put the pieces together and go “Okay, this is not plausible but at least I can follow it and see what they were going for”, but the science behind a network of energy circling the globe that airplanes can tap into so that they never need to refuel… maybe it made some sense in the 80s, but nowadays it’s probably best to just smile and nod.  The ending is a pretty good “what” moment – it’s a decent wrap for the movie but it’s not going to answer any questions for you – and a quote from the director says “it’s intentionally ambiguous” which is usually code for “we couldn’t come up with an ending that didn’t ruin the movie, so we left it ambiguous so you can write your own”.  I’m glad they didn’t try to explain it, really.  When I was looking for info about the movie, I found it on a list of “shock endings”.  The definition of that must have changed since 1985 because I wouldn’t say it was shocking… but it was certainly interesting.  It’s one of those endings where you’re like “Okay, I think this is what happened.” and then you google it and marvel at how many theories the internet can actually generate… there’s not enough information for some of these theories, people.

It’s a really decent addition to my post-apocalyptic library, as well as the “quantum physics mindfuck” library (right alongside “Primer”, although the levels of “wtf” are a mere glimmer next to that movie, jesus), and I would recommend checking it out.

Elysium

Since it’s so new, I will endeavour to keep this spoiler free… honestly there isn’t much to spoil, but I’ll try anyway.
Sci-Fi movie!!!!  Usually we’re pretty cheap and wait for DVDs, but we loved District 9, and the previews for Elysium looked so good that we went and saw it at the theatre.  It’s not even 3D and we saw it at the theatre!

Elysium was simultaneously really good, and also disappointing. As is typical, my bitching revolves around the writing – the movie was disappointing because it could have been really good, but the writing was just sloppy enough to be distracting in how easily it could have been fixed, god damn it.  I suspect they read the screenplay and were like “Well, we have Matt Damon and Exoskeleton suits, no one will notice.”  I noticed >:(

The premise is that Earth is fucked and super populated and polluted and all those wonderful things we can see in our future right now, so all the rich people built a space station called Elysium and moved there to live in idyllic mansions surrounded by palm trees and swimming pools.

And this is where it starts to fall flat, because the worldbuilding ends there.  All it would have taken is a few more lines of dialogue to tie everything together with a throw-away explanation or two, but instead they leave ambiguous plot ends flapping around and the audience wondering “so… why is that?”.

Elysium residents have access to Med Bays which scan your body and instantly heal each and every thing wrong with it, from split ends in your hair to cancer in your blood cells (how did they design this technology and not solve any of the other problems lying around?  *shrug*).  There was a line somewhere that suggested people are living 200+ years so they also presumably extend your life and keep you young and beautiful forever.  Every single house on Elysium has one of these med bays, and it takes a whole, like, two minutes to cure every single ailment known to man.  For some reason, even though every single house has a med bay and they also have dozens of EMS ships filled with dozens of med bays which are all run by robots so there isn’t even any manpower cost in running them, Elysium refuses to let anyone on Earth use a med bay unless they are promoted to the rank of Elysium Citizen, even pushing it to the degree of needing special identification coded into your DNA before the med bay will activate.

The character development of every single person on Earth is something like this:  “I am sick and will die if I don’t go to Elysium and use a med bay – Therefore I must go to Elysium no matter what the cost.”
The character development of every single person on Elysium is split between “Ew people from Earth are gross” and “I will take over the world.”
That’s as deep as character development gets in this movie.

Unsurprisingly, desperate people are attacking Elysium all the time trying to get to a med bay, which results in things like Elysium launching missiles at them and blowing them all to shit.  Just put a fucking med bay on Earth, and the attacks stop.  WHY IS THIS SO HARD FOR YOU TO FIGURE OUT??  Jesus.  There is absolutely no worldbuilding development that explains why they’re so stingy with their plentiful med bays, other than “Ew Earth people are gross” (not that you need to touch them or see them if you leave a fucking automated med bay on Earth, mind you… and in fact you would see less of them because they wouldn’t keep trying to come to your station to use your med bays), and “We need a reason for Matt Damon to go to Elysium” (undoubtedly the true reason).  It’s so sloppy that it was distracting for the entire movie.
Are they withholding med bays because………. Of limited resources? (Unlikely when there’s a million med bays lying around and people use them for face lifts… but plausible that they want to withhold those resources for their greedy facelifts?  But they don’t explain what they run on or how they work, so…)
Maybe the life extension benefits are too costly when the world is already packed? (plausible, but again, you think they could have mentioned that.  They’re already sequestered on their little space station, why do they care if the Earth stays crowded and fucked)
Because they’re huge elitist dicks? (This seems to be the only explanation, but there are so many other reasons to just throw a token med bay ship down there, like, NOT BEING ATTACKED ALL THE FUCKING TIME).
It feels like it would have worked a lot better if it were a truly alien race living up there on a spaceship with their super crazy technology we can’t understand, enslaving humans to build their robots, but hey they can cure diseases so let’s try to get to those med bays!  … but no, they’re humans, and they’re dicks with no really well explained reason for being so.  Yes, humans are dicks to lower classes of humans, that is well established.  But THE MED BAYS ARE FULLY AUTOMATED.  If only the med bays took fully trained personnel to run, oh look!  A reason to not have them on Earth!  But nooo.  No explanation provided.
I would have been happy with a bad explanation, like any exposition where they were all “Oh no don’t let them use our med bays because we are comically evil and if they use this the med bays will no longer be special and I want to feel special for having one”, but it doesn’t even give us that.

Slightly less distracting is the plot device that requires Matt Damon to use his brain as a flash drive, which makes absolutely no sense, but conveniently makes it so they can’t just solve the problem by shooting him because they need his brain data and it’s not retrievable if he dies.  (Incidentally – this is probably a good reason why a brain is not a good flash drive.  Among other things, which also happen.)

The rest of the movie is people in exosuits brutally punching each other, which was pretty cool… but it’s got some pretty terrible timing because I think everyone will find it pretty lacklustre coming on the heels of Pacific Rim.  Every fight scene I was distracted by the amount of shaky cam they used to cover up the CGI, and I kept thinking again how impressive it was that Pacific Rim didn’t do that.  If I’m thinking about other movies during your action scenes, there might be improvements to be made.

Oh and don’t forget the obligatory contribution of “We are the bad guys so we are going to threaten to rape the pretty girl” scenes.  Don’t forget those!

I’ve done a lot of bitching, so it’s important to point out that I did enjoy the movie, but almost all of the problems I’ve pointed out could be so easily solved with just a little bit of attention to detail.  It’s really kind of a shame.

Oh and then, of course, there’s the fact that everyone on Earth speaks English and Spanish, while everyone on Elysium speaks English and French.  I am deliberately not going to touch the potential allegories going on this movie (because you see, the English/French have good health care and a beautiful clean place to live above the dirty polluted English/Spanish people, so clearly it is a representation of how everyone wishes they lived in Canada.) (arguing about the allorgies is kind of the point of a movie like this I suppose, but you should probably have decent writing before moving to that stage >:( ), but I do want to mention that Jodie Foster has the most irritating accent going on in this movie… I think it was supposed to be French?  I don’t even know, it kind of faded in and out and was really weird and distracting.  Everyone’s accents were distracting. I think it was intentional to show some sort of melting pot society going on, but I can’t say for sure… and if I can’t say for sure, then something has probably gone wrong in the writing/directing department.  It was either an intentional attempt to show something that was a teeny bit too subtle for me because I was so distracted by all the rest of the sloppy writing, or it was just sloppily handled.

At this point it is probably distracting to think about how many times I have used the word distracting, so that’s probably the focal point of this review – there were too many sloppy distracting things going on, and just a little bit of polish could have really cleaned it up.

God, I hope Gravity doesn’t suck.

The Swapper

And now for an impulse indie purchase: The Swapper.  I knew nothing of this game when I bought it.  That is why Steam exists – to make us drop a couple of coffees worth of money on random games.  I saw someone recommend it as “An atmospheric Sci-Fi Puzzle game with claymation graphics” and I was like “Sold!”

It’s a really good game and I absolutely recommend it.  The premise is that you are exploring a space station that seems to have come under some duress.  The puzzle part of the game comes when you discover a device that lets you clone yourself, and choose to swap to the new clone body or not (hence: The Swapper).  All the clones follow the same keyboard commands, so you can be “controlling” up to 5 of yourself at once, strategically placing them to walk where you want them to walk in order to depress switches, or get you to a new platform or whatever.

The atmosphere is excellent.  It’s got that perfect mix of creepy abandoned space station, claustrophobia, and a sense of wonder and reveal to keep it from being too oppressive.  The graphics are pretty neat too and give it a little something extra that deserves a mention.  Some love was definitely poured into the design of the game.

You uncover bits of the story by accessing computer terminals and listening to creepy recordings (keep subtitles on – some of them are pretty hard to hear).  As a bonus, you wander past alien artifacts which were brought on board, and start to learn a bit about those as well. I haven’t gotten very far in the story and I’m quite interested in what will be revealed.

Sadly, I’m not sure how much of it I will be able to reveal.  See, I kinda suck at twitchy platformy games, and I quickly ran into some twitchy puzzles involving swapping to bodies at just the right moment as they fall through space.  You can prevent yourself from dying by creating a clone close to the ground and swapping to it before you splat, or even climb high shafts by continually creating clones and swapping to them, leaving your old body to plummet to the ground as you gain a few more inches toward your goal (no morality problems here!  Nope!).  I was able to do these things, but… it was stressful.  And this is near the beginning of the game, so I can only IMAGINE the horrible and frustrating puzzles I’ll need to use it on later in the game.  I don’t think I’m going to be able to complete it :(.  Fortunately dying only sends you back to the last save point, which is usually a beam of light right inside the door of the room.  Unfortunately, I suuuccckkkk at this.

But you.  You do not suck at twitchy platformy games the way I do.  You should buy this game.  It’s got some unique ideas, the graphics are an experiment gone correctly, and there is a lot of love poured into it.  It deserves a look.

Selected Stories of Philip K Dick

Selected Stories of Philip K. DickSelected Stories of Philip K. Dick by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Absolutely amazing. I’ve always meant to read some of his stuff, so a book full of short stories seemed perfect. It contains most of the stories which have been adapted into movies I’ve seen, so it was great to see the source material.

I found it fascinating from a psychology perspective too. I had heard that Dick may have been schizophrenic, and I can absolutely see where that comes from, now. So many of the stories involve paranoia, warping of reality, or a complete disbelief in reality. That he is able to tackle those themes on such a deep level and still construct fascinating stories all around it shows how much skill he had.

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