Friday, July 30, 2010

read: The God Engines

The God EnginesThe God Engines by John Scalzi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This novella appears to be very different from the novels, such as Old Man's War, for which Mr. Scalzi is better known. Indeed, he warns us that it is dark fantasy, rather than science fiction. I found it to be a bit of both. And, in a way, it's not really that different from his other books after all.

The first part of the book does a good job of getting us into the world, a world where faith is central to not only life, but even the operation of starships. It also introduced us to the captain of the starship, an honorable man, and his ship's priest, a perhaps not so honorable man. The latter part of the book follows them on a special mission where they must again grudgingly work together. It is here where both their faith and honor are tested and the truth about it all is revealed.

What starts out as a story with the feel of science fiction with an overlay of dark fantasy becomes a rather shocking bit of horror. Be warned that there is violence and sex and an unflattering view of religion. But it's really not as bad as that makes it sound. And the writing is whip smart.

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Monday, July 26, 2010

"Toy Story 3" [A]

I might as well chime in and say how great this movie is. Seeing as how I'm the last person in the world to see it, it continues to rack up millions of dollars in box office, and has a 99% 'fresh' rating on Rotten Tomatoes (!), there isn't much that I can add. I laughed. I cried. I had a lot of fun for 103 minutes. And I didn't bother seeing it in 3D.

Toy Story 3 (IMDb)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

"Inception" [A-]

Well the big question that everyone needs to talk about with this movie is one that I won't write about or even hint at beyond what I just wrote because it would spoil the film for the three people that haven't yet seen it. Inception gets an 'A' for it's original ideas and clever writing, amazing direction, production values, and editing, and for the top notch cast and acting. It is indeed the thinking person's action movie. However, that's also where I have to mark it down a little.

Why all the action? Is this what happens in most people's dreams? Car chases and shootem-ups? That seems to be the implication, because it keeps happening over and over again. At least the director didn't completely fall into the action movie trap. The sequences are truly thrilling and interesting and are tied together into a genuine story with a genuine climax and payoff. I concur that this is the must see film of the summer.

Inception (IMDb)

Friday, July 23, 2010

read: Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands

Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands (P.S.)Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands by Michael Chabon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've only read one other book by Michael Chabon (The Yiddish Policemen's Union), but I will definitely be reading more. And I'll probably be revisiting this one.

He's won a Pulitzer prize, but he has a unique way of crossing from that supposedly more literary world into the realms of what is usually referred to as 'genre' (mysteries, science fiction, comics, and pulp). This collection of essays, as the title suggests, provides a sort of map between his two worlds. They are eloquent ruminations on not only his own life and background and work, but also the works of others (his insights into Cormac McArthy's The Road by themselves make this book worth investigating).

This volume is definitely (as others have pointed out), a 'defense of genre fiction'.

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read: Twilight

Twilight (Twilight, #1)Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I gave it a shot. I had to see what the fuss was about. I suppose if there weren't plenty of other (not necessarily even better) books waiting to be read, I might even have finished this. But I don't see the point. I gave up after 115 pages.

I know how it turns out. I don't like the first-person narrator's voice. Nothing happens for pages at a time, except brooding. In fact, I'm over 100 pages into the 500 page monstrosity and Bella has just now been told about the Cullens being vampires. That's 100 pages of teenage whining, angst, and anxiety before a real issue arises and it's still presented as something to brood about, rather than take action.

I can deal with a book that's slow. It took at least 100 pages for The Windup Girl to really click for me. But I could tell that something big was truly brewing in those 100 pages.

It's not all bad. Otherwise, I would have only given it 1 star. The actual prose is pretty passable. The characters and settings are fairly well drawn. They're just buried under tons of nothing. There just not enough to engage me. Moving on.

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Monday, July 19, 2010

"Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief" [B+]

I was surprised by how much I liked this movie. It had very mixed reviews from critics and was not a big hit at the box office. The issue with the critics is probably that it's a genre film. The box office may have only to do with marketing, because there's really nothing here that Harry Potter didn't have:
  • Popular source material (book series)? Check (OK maybe not as popular)
  • Appealing young stars? Check
  • Bankable stars in supporting roles? Check
  • Action and adventure? Check
  • Chris Columbus directing? Check (he did the first two Potter films)
Some of the problem may have also been timing. Percy Jackson came out while there was a lot of buzz about another movie about Zeus and Olympus Clash of the Titans. Too bad, because Percy Jackson seems to be the better film. By bringing the story into modern time and making it more accessible and less obscure, the story is quite fun and the directing moves it along with alacrity. The visual effects are effective support for the story, rather than the focus of the story.

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (IMDb)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

read: Sandstorm

SandstormSandstorm by James Rollins

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sandstorm started out in London with a literal bang and ended with a storm of supposedly epic proportions in an ancient desert city. But by the time it did, I didn't care anymore. All I saw was a swirly world of sand, glass, and static electricity populated by cardboard characters. The good ones would probably survive and the bad ones wouldn't and so what. What happened in between was pedestrian and predictable thriller fare with too many guns and action and not enough thrill.

Anti-matter? Bucky balls? Parthenogenesis? Underground cities? It all adds up to too much to suspend disbelief. More like 'Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls' than 'Raiders of the Lost Ark', if you want an Indiana Jones comparison (and Rollins apparently does, naming one character 'Omaha' and having another repeatedly calling him 'Indiana').

The characters never really clicked for me, although the settings were pretty vivid. The plot started unraveling for for me when the big puzzle turned into a simple map to a city that wasn't lost, but sealed. If you intentionally hide a city, why do you leave a map to it? And if you do, why do you make it a puzzle? In the end, there was absolutely no point for anyone to go there, anyway.

Which is pretty much how I felt.

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Personal note: The most remarkable thing about this book is that it was the first book-length fiction I read (and finished) on my electronic book reader, a Barnes & Noble nook.

Friday, July 2, 2010

read: The Windup Girl

The Windup GirlThe Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think the only reason it took me over a month to read this book is that it kept putting me to sleep. That doesn't mean it's not good (although I waffled about that toward the beginning). I think it's just because I read it at bedtime and it's not exactly action-packed. In fact, it's quite sedate. So after three or four pages, my eyelids kept slamming shut, even though I wanted to continue reading.

It's a haunting story of a city, Bangkok, in a future suffering from the sins of the present. Rising oceans threaten to flood it. Genetically engineered food and animals haven't worked out quite exactly as they were intended. Fossil fuels are no longer plentiful and cheap. All of these are presented in ways that require little suspension of disbelief. Only a sense of wonder.

The characters and setting kept me turning pages. They are compelling and vivid, with genuine goals and obstacles. Driving the plot are true mysteries, believable villains, and unexpected twists. This is by no means a happy story, on any level. But it is one worth reading.

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