Saturday, July 28, 2012

"The Dark Night Rises" [B+]

It took a while for this film to build up a head of steam. But once it did, there was no stopping it. Every plot point and character was pushed to the limit and beyond in order to get to the labyrinthian end.

The writing and directing and acting were all decently done. The effects sequences were out of this world. On the other hand, the holding-the-entire-city-for-ransom was a bit overbaked and I've never really liked Bane as a villain. (spoiler alert) There's always somebody holding his chain.

All-in-all a very entertaining couple of hours (plus 30 minutes of filler) and a fitting conclusion to this volume of the Dark Knight saga. So, will we see Robin or Nightwing in the next installment?

The Dark Knight Rises (IMDb)

read: The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood (3 stars)

The Information: A History, a Theory, a FloodThe Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was not what I was expecting. From the description given during our book club meeting and the bits of blurb I read, I thought this would be about the flood of information coming our way via the information superhighway. And maybe it would have some thoughts on how to deal with it.

Instead, this tells the history of Information, rather than the information superhighway (although it does include a bit about how we got the latter and what it may mean). And by history, I mean back to the days before writing. It is a very long, and often interesting, tale about the evolution of writing and human thought from the earliest days to the present.

The earlier parts of the book work better than the latter. This may be partially due to being more grounded in technology that is accessible to most people: speaking, writing, telegraph, telephone. Here the sidebars are easy to access and forgive. Later on, the subjects become deeper, more theoretical and harder to follow. I found myself wishing the author would stay more focused and help me understand it better, rather than telling more anecdotes about the scholars and scientists. Even so, I found the book to be thought provoking, although not provocative.

If you ever saw the BBC television show Connections with James Burke, this will seem familiar. If you haven't see that show, but like this book, go and find the show. You will likely find it informative and entertaining.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

read: Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas (3 stars)

Redshirts: A Novel with Three CodasRedshirts: A Novel with Three Codas by John Scalzi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well, that was fun. If that sounds like faint praise, it might be. I'd been anticipating this book ever since I heard Mr. Scalzi read the prolog during his tour for Fuzzy Nation. Perhaps I pushed my expectations for it too high. Even so, it was fun.

In case you can't tell from the title, or haven't bothered to read the backcover blurb, this is a book about the phenomenon of the high mortality rate among low-ranking starship crew members during away missions. When Mr. Scalzi read the aforementioned prolog and asked the audience to guess at the title, the almost unanimous response was "Red Shirt" (if you still don't get it, watch an episode of Star Trek with the original crew).

This story is told from the viewpoint of the low ranked crew and the lengths they go to in order to avoid assignment to away missions or being stationed on decks that always seem to get opened into space during battle. What they discover about their situation and how they choose to deal with it came as a bit of surprise and a bit of a disaappointment. I'd hoped for a different direction. But decided to go along for the ride and mostly enjoyed it.

What works in this book is the fast pace and snarky, inside-joke humor. If you get a joke, you're grinning. If you don't, another is coming right up. What doesn't completely work (although I couldn't put my finger on it at first), is that same fast pace. It focuses on dialog and moving the plot along, at the expense of description and introspection. The characters are often difficult to distinguish (you have to remember their names) and scenes take place in featureless voids.

Even so, it was fun. I wish I could give it another half of a star.

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