Monday, March 30, 2009
Cowboy Bebop is an anime, or Japanese animation, and the animation style is quite good. Everything, from characters to backgrounds to vehicles is done with a lot of care and attention to detail. I wish as much care was done with American animation, but that’s irrelevant to this review. More important than animation detail and style is that much of the silliness present in anime is not here. In this story type, it’s great, considering the seriousness of the plot itself.
The world that Cowboy Bebop depicts is quite interesting. It’s a melting pot of a variety of cultures. There are some things that are unquestionably Arabic, then Asian, then English or American, but is also combined with unquestionably futuristic technologies. That the story takes place on Mars in less than a century is somewhat questionable, particularly given the backgrounds and scenery of the movie, but it’s a minor point, and may well be explained in the television series that this was based upon.
The plot, on the main part, is quite full of action, as you might expect with a group of bounty hunters, but isn’t too unintelligent, either, which is appreciated. Although some of the ideas aren’t overly original, it’s done differently enough to make the movie interesting in that regard. Although there are some plot aspects in the movie which don’t quite make sense when examined too closely, for the most part, they aren’t too large or too numerous, and I will be getting to the exceptions later.
What really annoyed me about this movie, though, was the presence of the young girl and her super-intelligent dog. The girl switches between being extremely silly and frivolous in a way that only anime will attempt, and suddenly act quite serious, intelligent, and grown-up. I know that children can act quite silly at times, and extremely silly children are a staple of anime, but she is far too much to put up with in a movie with such a serious theme. But my complaints about the girl are nothing in comparison to the dog. The dog can apparently analyse complex strategy games better than it’s human players, recognise individuals on a computer screen from poorly-drawn pictures, pick up and track a single scent in an entire city, and other such sillinesses that makes him the most unrealistically-portrayed dog I have ever encountered in any story. I include Tintin’s dog, Snowy, in this statement. And the fact that only the girl understands the dog… No, the movie would have been far better off without the two.
So, “Cowboy Bebop” is a movie with a decent plot and decent ideas, and is animated quite well, but plot coincidences and some extremely poor characters and let it down badly. 3.5/5.
The first thing that I will say is that I enjoyed reading “Anansi Boys”. It’s got an original central idea – what if the traditional gods were alive today? How would they act? How would they influence the world in which we live? The writing is decent, and I enjoyed the occasional attempt at humour, too – it’s not a comedy by any means, but does raise a smile or two.
My enjoyment of the book expressed, there are more than a few problems with this book, which do spoil my enjoyment greatly. While the first book in the series, “American Gods” utilised a plethora of gods from a variety of mythologies, and looked at the effects they had on society as a whole, this book mainly concentrates on one god, his two sons, and a few individuals whom are acquainted with the god in question. Occasionally, another god might pop up to help progress the story, but there is quite a lack of gods at work. In fact, the story feels somewhat, well, pedestrian. With all of the things that a god might get up to in today’s society, Gaiman has his going on a nightclub crawl, charming women, and doing other similar mundane acts. Surely a god or demi-god would come up with some better ideas, especially a trickster god?
Another problem is that the book is riddled with coincidences, all of which are required to progress the book forward. In particular, the convergence of all of the main characters on a small island through a variety of different reasons needs a great deal more explanation than what was given, and strains credulity, but there are many other coincidences that were introduced. Yes, you could probably resolve one or two coincidences with some hand-waving, saying “Gods are at work, you know, don’t question it at all.” However, the coincidences are never explained, nor examined, not even an attempt to distract the reader with a theological question regarding the coincidences, which would have been somewhat appropriate given the storyline. They just happen, and we are meant to believe this. Or perhaps gloss over it.
“Anansi boys” is an enjoyable book, but it’s a disappointment in quite a few ways, and doesn’t bear a close examination afterwards. It’s an interesting and entertaining idea, certainly, and the writing enjoyable enough, but huge coincidences and a failure to realise the potential of the central concept does detract from the story greatly. 3/5.
Firefly is about Malcolm Reynolds, the captain of the starship Serenity. With the assistance of the crew, Reynolds undertakes a variety of jobs, some legal, some less so, in order to keep the ship running, fuelled, and the crew are paid a percentage of the takings.
All of that sounds pedestrian enough – it’s definitely not the first time that I have seen the rogue spaceship captain idea used in a story before. Whedon, however, manages to take this story to a variety of settings, and makes it all fit within the universe he creates for Firefly. So, one story might be a story taken from the wild-west, the next a medical mystery, a heist story, a horror, or a space opera. All of these stories fit into the universe that Whedon has devised, one of uneven technology and social power, beneath the shell of a newly-formed alliance covering all of the colonised worlds, with some people less welcoming of this intrusion than others. All of these shows help progress the overall storyline forward, and all of these are consistent with what we know about the universe that this is set in from other stories. Although it sounds like it shouldn’t work at all, it definitely does.
The cast of characters in this show is excellent, and the acting equally good. They are all actual characters, not mere vessels to propel a story forward. In fact, part of the story is the relationships between the crew members, but the story is not annoyingly angst-ridden, either. To single any particular character out is more a question of the characters whom I enjoyed the most, rather than whom was the most proficient actor.
A particularly important point that often gets missed in the SF television that I have watched previously is consistency, and the stories are actually written with this consideration in mind. Science doesn’t get ignored here for the sake of story; in fact, science plays an integral part of the story. Technologies that were part of the story in one episode make a reappearance in a future episode. It’s small points like this that elevate this series far above other SF television shows that I have watched before this. Without spoiling any episode, the spacecraft even breaks down in one episode. No one sabotages it, no one neglects maintenance or leaves their toolbox in there to break it, or any other equally outlandish explanation like that; the spacecraft just breaks down because stuff breaks down. I’m sure anyone whom has sat on the side of the road, smoke billowing from their car engine would appreciate that episode.
Probably the only criticism of this series that I could make is that it does not feel complete. Part of the story for some characters is missing. There are a few questions surrounding the character of the Shepherd that are never explained satisfactorily, for example, and there are quite a few questions surrounding the character River, particularly questions that arise from the last episode. There are some minor plot points that aren’t tied up. However, since there is only a single series, as far as I am aware, I don’t get these questions answered. I have watched the movie “Serenity” earlier this year, before I began the 42 Challenge, and will watch it again soon to see if I appreciate it more having watched the television series. Regardless of the movie based upon the subject material of the series, “Firefly” feels like it should have been concluded in a second series, at the very least. It definitely does not detract from how much I enjoyed this series, but needs to be noted for a balanced and fair review.
Incompleteness aside, Firefly is an excellent television series. I won’t single out any particular show in the series to watch over another, because it has a progressive storyline, and you’ll get the most out of the series should you watch the series in the order it was aired. The storylines are extremely varied, yet conform quite well to the larger storyline of the series. The characters and their actors are great. The series is logically and scientifically consistent. It all looks quite good, too. I have some minor problems with the lack of closure of the series, but it’s a minor complaint against all that I enjoyed about this series. 5/5.
“Ratchet and Clank” is about a mechanic, Ratchet, who finds a robot, Clank, while scavenging from a crash site for parts for his near-completed spaceship. Clank warns Ratchet that the galaxy is in danger from Supreme Executive Chairman Drek, whom is constructing a new world for his race out of several planets other planets that are, unfortunately, currently inhabited. Together, they set out to find Captain Qwark, a hero they believe capable of stopping Drek.
Although the plot is enjoyable enough, it’s not really the reason you would play it. The twists in the game are somewhat predictable, mainly there to help extend the game out to something approaching a reasonable length. The story is fairly pedestrian. The characters are not well-fleshed out, nor is it overly intelligent. However, the humour of the game does negate some of these problems quite a bit. It’s a fairly silly sort of humour, but quite funny all of the same – you wouldn’t mind children watching, and they would laugh if they were, but you would have a chuckle from it, too. The story is really a reason to give you a bunch of different planets to explore, and on that count, succeeds.
The main reason to play Ratchet and Clank is the game-play. “Ratchet and Clank” is the lovechild of the platformer and shooter genres, and takes the best parts of both for the game. The platformer aspect provides some quite good puzzles to nut out, and solving the puzzles provides you with some gadget for your collection or a gold bolt for your troubles. The gadgets used to pass obstacles provide some good mini-games – the hacker has you lining up tiny laser beams to open locked doors, while the hydro-displacer allows you to drain and fill tanks to allow you to solve problems, and the grind-rail boots has you sliding along twisted rails, and dodging mines and trains in order to reach the end of the course.
The shooter aspect of the game breaks up the exploration and platform-jumping by giving you a lot of enemies to tackle, and a variety of weapons to deal with them. Pistols, bombs, mines, flamethrowers, are just a few examples of weapons to use. There’s also some standout weapons, too – an electric coil gun, a guided missile launcher, a morphing ray which turns all of your enemies into chickens, and the RYNO – your very own handheld missile silo. Most of these weapons, particularly the RYNO and the upgraded versions of these weapons, cost quite a few bolts, so you will be playing for a while to save up enough to purchase these weapons.
Fortunately, in order to help you accumulate bolts, when you complete the game (which takes about twenty hours the first time through), you get the option of repeating the game again, taking with you all of the weapons that you own. In the new play-through, you get the chance to purchase upgraded weapons, earn more money than you did the first time through, and get any weapons or items you may have missed. Although this is quite good in theory, there are two problems with this. The first is that your enemies do not become more powerful in the second run-through than the first, which means that upgrading your weapons makes this much easier than the original run-through, and in your first and subsequent play-throughs you can easily take out most enemies with the wrench, which doesn’t really encourage you to use the variety of weapons on offer. In fact, using the wrench helps you save money more quickly.
The controls of the game are decent, but aren’t quite as good as those of future games. Strafing (moving left to right while facing in a single direction) is far harder than it needs to be, and you cannot strafe and use a weapon at the same time. Quickly selecting weapons is not consistent; sometimes it picks the weapon at the top of your quick-select wheel, other times it picks your previous weapon. Gadgets aren’t automatically selected when it is obvious that you want to use them; instead you have to get them from your quick select wheel or the menu. There are a few other minor niggles such as these that are fixed in future incantations which are missed, but don’t overly detract from the gameplay.
As for the graphics, they are quite ordinary, even by the PS2’s standards. Surfaces are not done well at all, and this is not good enough when the game encourages exploration for hidden items and the like. This becomes quite obvious when you are trying to find an elusive gold bolt, or start using your guided missile. The missile tends to fly through some surfaces, particularly in places where you cannot access on foot. There’s the occasional minor graphical glitch. And items that are meant to be circles are shaped like polygons with edges that could cut. Although these complaints do not disrupt the game at all, they do need to be mentioned because they do detract from the quality somewhat.
In short, “Ratchet and Clank” is a decent game, as long as you don’t mind your SF being humorous and somewhat less than rigorous in its logic or technology. The gameplay is quite fun, although the controls are not as good as they can be, and the graphics are definitely not the best available on the PS2. It can be quite difficult at times, and features some interesting weapons and gadgets to use, and to do everything in the game will take about forty hours or so. For those that are interested in this style of game, I would recommend the second or third entry in the series, as most of my complaints regarding this game are dealt with in the sequels (except logic and consistency, but that’s really a minor complaint). That said, even though I did enjoyed the later entries of the series more, the first entry in the “Ratchet and Clank” series is still worth a look. 3.5/5.
The fact that they are on a ship is not immediately obvious to many of those whom inhabit it, but is for those reading the book, and is explicitly stated quite early on, so I haven’t spoiled the book for those whom have not read it. There are a few surprises about the world the characters in “Non-Stop” reside, but I found that I had actually guessed much of the ending two-thirds of the way through the book, which was something of a disappointment considering that I think it was meant to be a surprise twist.
The social ideals that the tribe and its member support – a philosophy supporting selfishness and greed, and scorning altruism, makes for an interesting read. And although the characters aren’t the most well-fleshed out characters I’ve ever encountered, let alone characters for a SF novel, their interesting shared belief system makes up for this deficiency, by making them all less than idealised characters.
Apart from the end twist that was too easy to figure out, my main complaint is that there are several coincidences in the book that I cannot credit, all of which were required to progress the plot of the story forward. To go into them would spoil major plot aspects, but I could not suspend my disbelief in order to allow these coincidences to work.
It’s a good book, certainly, but not a great book. It’s an adventure through unknown areas with a few interesting ideas thrown in, but some fairly large coincidences, characters that are not well-developed, and being able to predict the ending meant that it wasn’t quite the book it could have been. 3.5/5.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
Saturday, March 28, 2009
The full review of the book is posted at my blog.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Saturday, March 21, 2009
It's hard to even think about writing this, a review for the last episode of the show I've grown to love. It's hard to imagine no more Friday nights with Adama and Roslin and Starbuck and Apollo. It's hard to conceive of the idea that there are no more stories to tell about these characters I care about so much.
But I have to say, this was the ending I had wished for these characters, but never thought I would ever get to see.
Once again, the flashbacks were beautiful, and continued to bring depth to people we thought we knew, backwards and forwards. Kara and Lee's scenes together were funny, and uncomfortable, and explained so much about the weird/close relationship they've always had. Laura's choosing to return to life after so much tragedy mirrored her choice, this season, to return to service when the colony needed her as President. Adama and Tigh together, celebrating the retirement that wasn't to be, showed exactly why those two men loved the Old Bucket so much.
The rescue of Hera was heart-pounding, stomach-wrenching action that BSG does so well. It was the Galactica on her last mission, the last hurrah, and, as Adama said, she didn't fail them. I was so happy to see Boomer ultimately redeem herself, while still taking responsibility for what she had done "I made a choice today. I think it will be my last one."
And, of course, there was Earth. Kara knew how to find it after all, and watching Adama fly the last raptor out of the Galactica was heartbreaking. Each character got their own moment of goodbye, from Sam leading the fleet into the sun, to Kara disappearing into thin air. Laura and Bill were together at her end, and the fact that she actually got to live to see Earth was beautiful. Helo and Athena walking with Hera, fighting over who would get to teach her to hunt. And Gaius and Caprica, staking out their claim, and Gaius knowing "a little something about farming." And Lee. Solid, responsible, live-for-others Lee. Finally able to be free to live for himself.
It was the ending I had hoped for, but didn't think I would ever get to see. It was beautiful, and heartbreaking, and enough.
"What do you hear, Starbuck?"
"Nothing but the rain."
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Firstly, apologies in advance to everyone whom has not read Discworld or does not enjoy it the way I do, but as Discworld is Pratchett's main body of work, and concerns itself with the same idea that "Strata" does (a flat earth, and what it is like to live there), so it inevitably leads to a comparison between the two.
"Strata" is the story of Kin Arad, a planetary engineer, a job that has her constructing planets for a living, false fossils included. She is then informed of the existence of a flat earth, which, as a planetary engineer, she wishes to investigate. Instigate an adventure to the Discworld, and then an exploration of it.
For those whom have read Discworld, enjoyed it, and expect something in a similar vein here, reading this is something of a dissapointment. It doesn't have the incisive satire of Discworld, much of it's humour, or the writing skill Pratchett displayed in his earlier Discworld books, for that matter. Occasionally, I saw glimmerings of Pratchett's future writing skills here, but I can't enjoy this in the same way that I enjoy Discworld.
For everyone else besides myself who is not addicted to Discworld, I should do something of a proper review of the book. The first part of the story comes off as little more than a poorly-written adventure in space. The characters are not well-fleshed out, the journey in reaching the Discworld is not mentally challenging, or even that exciting. However, upon reaching the Discworld, the story is somewhat more interesting. Although the inhabitants believe that the Discworld is magical, everything is actually explainable by the technologies that the crew are surrounded by in their life. The workings of the actual Discworld itself, from the stars to volcanoes is quite interesting, and the final revelation almost makes "Strata" a worthwhile read. But not quite.
I can only recommend this to fans of Pratchett's writing, and say that you will enjoy this the most if you don't expect to read a science-fiction-flavoured Discworld. 2/5.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
I had watched "Starship Troopers" quite a while ago, before I was deep into the science fiction genre. I had enjoyed the film, and decided to watch it again to see how it held up. I remembered the explicit violence and the excellent special effects, and these did not dissapoint. The spaceships, the planets, and the plethora of insects look excellent, the violence was explicit, like the other Verhoeven films that I have seen (Robocop and Total Recall, both of which are quite enjoyable as SF-action movies, but not overly unintelligent, either.).
However, I had not been able to appreciate the undercurrent of satire of facism and military government at the time, and this elevates it above most recent SF films released today. There are scenes like a legless man saying: "serving in the infantry made me the man I am today". Or a trial that has the judge immediately declaring the defendant guilty, and the execution advertised straight afterwards. It's scenes like this that make the movie far more than merely a dumb science-fiction flavoured action movie, which is much appreciated.
So, "Starship Troopers" is an enjoyable SF-action movie with an undercurrent of satire. Recommended. 5/5.
The movie has a somewhat decent premise, as disaster films go - at least it isn't about an asteroid hurtling towards earth. But there are so many things wrong with the movie that a half-decent premise cannot save it. It has numerous logical problems. The scientific inaccuracies are glaring and spoil the movie. It is riddled with disaster movie cliches. And, if you can ignore all of that (I cannot), then you have to contend with sub-par acting, but perhaps the actors are badly serviced by the poorly-written script. Either way, it ends up feeling the same for the viewer.
I could give some examples that exemplify each of these problems, but I don't see any point. I've wasted enough time on this movie already, and I'd be spoiling the only possible enjoyment you might derive from this movie - pointing out the myriad of ways in how bad the film is. 1/5.
7. Timeline - A book by the superb Michael Crichton in which he explores time travel and the consequences of a company's attempts to send people back through history using the theory of quantum physics!
8. Battlestar Galactica Series 4 - the final five are revealed and the Galactica approaches the end of it's journey.
9. Only Human - A Tom Holt book in which the errant son of God accidentally presses the wrong buttons on the mainframe monitoring heaven, hell and everything in between, resulting in all sorts of incidents involving machines, humans, animals and demons. A classic Tom Holt story.
10. City of Ember - A lost city underground starts to crumble and it is up to a few to find the way out to the world above.
11. Babylon A.D. - Vin Diesel escorting a girl from Russia to America. A bit confusing in places.
12. Journey to the Centre of the Earth - Brendan Fraser searches for his missing brother with the aid of his nephew and a predictably beautiful mountain guide. They discover a wonderful and fantastic world at the centre of the Earth. Great family adventure.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
This episode is the epitome of why I love this show. It's nearly the last episode - there are, almost literally, a TON of loose ends to tie up. And BSG gives us a flashback episode. An episode in which we get to watch, with delight and sadness, as some of our favorite characters live their lives when the war was unimaginable.
Gaius Baltar, starting his relationship with a beautiful, mysterious blonde lady. Kara Thrace, meeting her fiance, Zach Adama's brother Lee for the the first time. Laura Roslin, throwing a baby shower for her sister. We see their joy, and the sorrow, back when life wasn't about hiding, or fighting, or surviving.
Of course, it's not just flashbacks - we also see the end of the Galactica - techs tearing the ship down, politicians wrangling over which parts go where. We see Baltar once again trying to thrust himself into the spotlight. We see Starbuck desperately trying to figure out what Hera's drawings mean. And we see Adama decide to lead the Galactica on one last, desperate mission.
He marks a line, and asks those who want to go with him to move to one side. It's a suicide mission, he says, most likely a one way trip. If he doesn't have enough volunteers, he will go himself - he will go to find, and rescue, a little girl who has been abducted. And so this, then, will be Galactica's final mission.
We know she won't survive - she may not even make it there. We know many of the characters we have grown to love also will most likely die. And yet, it seems fitting - Adama and Roslin, Starbuck and Apollo, Helo and Athena, Caprica and Tigh, joining together in one last battle, to try to save Hera, who is the future of both their races.
And so, we've come to the end. So say we all.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
"Texas Bake Sale" by Charles Coleman Finlay is set about 100 years in the future at a time when the United States no longer exists. The Marines are trying to get money, supplies and recruits to stay in operation.
Read the review on my blog
Although it's an alien encounter novel, and the premise is pretty much identical to the millions of alien encounter stories you've read/watched before, Mary Doria Russel manages to do several things to make this a cut above the stereotypical alien-encounter story, which deserve a mention.
The first aspect that is done somewhat differently is the two-eras aspect of the novel. One on hand, there is a sense of tension created that I probably would not have felt if I were simply reading one of many "people encounter aliens" stories that have been done so often before. Having Emelio explain what is occuring afterwards also clears up what would otherwise be quite confusing to read otherwise - his explanations of the likely motivations of the aliens, or what actually occured, take away any confusion that might exist. However, the main aspect of the dual-timeline aspect is that you want to see why Sandoz turned out the way he did, and yes, the novel is worth reading for these revelations alone.
On the other hand, the dual-storyline aspect occasionally comes off as disjointed, as the second part has Emelio relating his story with little regard to chronology, which does create a bit of a headache trying to sort the story out properly. I'll chalk it up as a plus for the book, but I think Russell could have dealt with this better.
If it were not obvious from the main character being a priest, Russell adds a religious aspect to the first-encounter idea, that is not considered as often, and has some interesting observations about religion and how an encounter with aliens might affect us in a religious sense. This was quite interesting, particularly the ending revelations about the new society that leads to Emelio losing his faith in God. It is only when you find these out that you see all the hints that were left there that might lead to such a conclusion, but were looked over when you first read the book.
Also quite interesting is the society Russell creates for the aliens in question. The aliens are humanoid, in that they are bipedal and have forearms for the manipulation of tools and the like, but their society and ideas are quite alien to ours - the way they behave and interact, the way they talk, their social systems.
However, the book does come off in several ways that make it seem like many other "land on an alien planet and find the inhabitant" stories. The planning for the mission, voyaging to the planet, landing and making initial forays on the planet feature problems similar to what many authors have previously dealt with. Russell does write about this well and quite convincingly, but you've seen it before and also have the T-shirt.
While the book occasionally comes off as following a set formula, on the whole, Russel has created an interesting alien-encounter book, with quite a few religious overtones, and a writing style and methodology that makes "The Sparrow" well worth reading. 4/5.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
There are quite a few good things to say about this television series. Firstly, "Children of Dune" is, overall, a faithful adaptation of the two original works. Sure, there are one or two additions and edits, and several omissions, but it's quite obvious that the people making this movie stuck to the book quite closely. The special effects are good - not as impressive as in most SF movies released today, but they get the job done credibly. The sandworms are an exception, as they look extremely good. Obviously, the show's creators know their fans. The acting for the series is average - not particularly good or particularly bad, it gets the job done, and no more. I make that a pass.
All is not well in Duneverse, though. The costumes looked cheap at times, which does not make sense for the family whom rule the richest planet in the galaxy. The addition of kidnapping a sandworm and having it survive off-planet does not make sense; no sandworm is supposed to survive off Dune, all other deserts are too wet. Leto's transformation looks quite ho-hum, which is a let-down - he is supposed to be turning into a humanoid embodiment of shai-hulud, or something to that effect, after all. Any newcomer is going to have some difficulty understanding the plot, if they get it at all. But my main complaint is that the show felt somewhat... well, rushed, at times. It's an odd thing to say for a television movie, because the length usually means that the subject matter can be fully covered. But the speed in which the two books must be covered means that some of the supporting ideas of the second and third novel, not central to the plot, were not conveyed as well as I would have hoped.
On the whole, "Frank Herbert's Children of Dune" looks fairly good, with the occasional exception, is a reasonably faithful adaptation, even if it feels somewhat rushed occasionally, but doesn't quite convey the intellectual depth of the second and third Dune novels. 3.5/5.
Monday, March 9, 2009
Announcing the second season of the IT'S THE END OF THE WORLD (AS WE KNOW IT) Reading Challenge. I've changed up a few things, but at its heart it remains the same.
Name: It's The End Of The World II
Host: Me, Becky (of Becky's Book Reviews)
Dates: March 10, 2009 - October 9, 2009
Books Required: at least four
Sign up for the challenge at Becky's Book Reviews.
I should like this novel, because I am interested in the type of novel this book attempts to be. I'm interested in science fiction, and I'm interested in philosophy. Both together usually work for me. But this novel fails in so many regards that I cannot enjoy it at all.
Firstly, since this is a SF challenge, and I am claiming it to be an SF novel, I should consider this aspect first. Simply put, "Atlas Shrugged" is not a good SF novel at all. Although there are some new technologies, such as Reardon Metal or the instrument used for Project X, much of the technology, and the thinking behind it, is firmly set in what would be available to use in 1957. As for the society depicted, you can only be interested in what is happening if you buy into Rand's philosophy, and I don't.
And that leads quite nicely to a discussion about the philosophy in the book. As a philosophical vehicle, Rand's novel fails. Yes, the book expresses her philosophy quite clearly (the numerous tirades by Rand's favoured characters ensures this), but Rand never manages to convince the reader that her philosophy is a tenable one. Rand's philosophy, from what I understand, is that big business and capitalism is good, governments and socialism are bad, everyone's simply greedy at heart, and this greed is good.
Disregarding the fact that Rand never manages to refute more than a strawman version of socialism, Rand still fails to answer some quite basic questions that would arise in the idealised situation that occurs at the end of the novel, where her philosophy triumphs. How does a society without any form of government system manage with crime or environmental problems, for example? What safeguards are put in place to protect consumers against monopolies raising the price of necessities? These are questions that naturally arise from this philosophy, and for Rand to not to answer them in twelve hundred pages is simply not good enough in this novel.
But a book review is not the place to debate Rand's philosophy; it is sufficient to say that if you do not buy into her philosophy, you really won't be enjoying this book. And I don't think too many people buy into Rand's simplistic philosophical and economic view, but I'm always open to alternative opinions.
As a general fiction novel, this book fails. Rand's characters are not characters at all, but vessels created merely to espouse her philosophical ideas for several pages (up to sixty pages for one speech, believe it or not), or to create strawmen which her favoured characters knock down with the ease of knocking down, well, er... strawmen. If the characters do not do either of these things, they advance the story forward in order to get to Rand's next speech about the virtue of capitalism or big business, or to a tragic situation which would only occur in the socialistic society Rand depicts, and would never have occured if capitalism had the reins on society. And since Rand only really has two types of characters in her novel, with only their gender and name to change between them, it's quite easy to find yourself skimming over Rand's rants.
The plot of the novel, about a woman trying to keep a railroad company afloat while the world slowly crashes, is serviceable when you don't think too hard about Rand's philosophies, and while Rand's writing style is also serviceable, is not enough to sustain the reader, either.
And twelve hundred pages was not necessary. You have been warned. 1/5.
In short, you aren’t going to watch this movie for the plot, because you know it already; only the details need to be filled in. It’s one of the only real criticisms of the movie that I can give, and not one that is entirely fair to place at the foot of this movie, but I’ll do it anyway. It’s not that the movie’s plotline is clichéd. The book was one of the original invasion novels, and formed the template for a slew of imitators, and the movie seems to do a reasonably faithful adaptation, excepting the setting change (this is from someone whom has not read the book). It’s the repetition of these ideas makes the ideas featured in the movie clichéd, even if the book originally wasn’t.
The other criticism is that the movie doesn’t really have much in the way of outstanding acting, either – it’s average at best. Sylvia deserves a special mention for the wrong reasons – she goes into hysterics when the men are calm and collected far too often for my liking. Not my idea of good acting by any means.
So, after you take away the plot and the acting from this movie, all you are left with are the special effects. Thankfully, they are quite decent even by today’s standards (it won an Oscar for them, apparently) – the death rays of the Martians, the mechanical craft they fly in, the battles between the Martians and Earth’s military forces are all reasonably credible. There’s one or two spots where the special effects are not as good, but this is the exception, not the rule.
So, although the plot is quite good, you know it already. The acting ranges between average and sub-par, and the special effects are good. Not bad, but certainly not numbered among the more memorable older SF movies, either. 3/5.
The story is not merely about Truman finding out about the reality of his situation, though (the situation Truman is in is made quite clear to the viewer early in the movie, particularly when part of the plot of the movie is about the influence that the show exerts on it’s viewers) but Truman actually having to escape from the set that is his life, and having to overcome the obstacles that the director instigates to prevent Truman from escaping.
The idea of unknowingly being in a reality television show is an excellent idea for a movie, (the escape from it enjoyable but not as good) and prefaces the concerns of reality television quite well (since the movie was made in 1998, and reality television shows like Big Brother were only beginning to come into public attention at this time). It’s also interesting to see how “The Truman Show” was filmed, with some of the shots in the movie used would be what we as a viewer would see actually viewing “The Truman Show” were this real life. It’s a good filming technique for this movie, and I would have liked to have seen more of the movie filmed in this manner.
One of my criticisms of the movie is that I would like to have learnt more about the technology and the society of the world Truman is depicted to live in, compared to the world outside. What does Truman’s world know about television and video technologies, for example? Are there books or movies that aren’t available in Truman’s fake world, apart from those about Truman himself? It’s obvious that the technology outside is quite different to that of the present point in time, but how different it is to the world that Truman inhabits is not shown, and I think that the movie would have been more interesting had this been considered and discussed.
In spite of the lack of world-building for Truman’s contrived world, “The Truman Show” is quite an interesting movie, and worth viewing, particularly if you liked Dickian-themed stories. 4/5.
Saturday, March 7, 2009
Episode 16 - Deadlock
Baltar is back, trying to regain his hold on his "flock". And Head6 is back!! Yay! Baltar is always way more entertaining when he's talking to the woman noone else can see. I love watching his brilliant idea of feeding the masses implode, and then his even BRILLIANTER idea to get Bigger Guns. Go Gaius!
I was honestly shocked that Galen voted to leave the fleet. What?? He's just made chief again, he obviously loves the Galactica, and now he wants to abandon her? Tory just irritates me. I liked the choice to return Ellen to her conniving ways - showing that her personality was not totally a product of Cavil's manipulation.
Of course, the scene stealer this week was Tigh, begging his son to live. "Just let me feel it and I'll fill the Gods-damned room." Watching Adama and Tigh cry together over the losses of their sons was truly heartwrenching.
Episode 17 - Someone to Watch Over Me
Finally, the long-awaited Starbuck episode...
Kara and the mysterious piano player, dissecting Kara's lonely life. Encouraging her to play the piano again, slowly talking her into it, and then the song she picks out ends up being - - - The Watchtower?? Holy crap, THAT is what's been going through her head her whole life? Her dad was totally a cylon.
And Boomer - Oh, Boomer. You had the chance to redeem yourself, and you threw it away. Stealing Hera, probably taking her back to Cavil, telling Chief, "No matter what happens, I love you" - I knew the show would make some characters unredeemable, but I didn't want Boomer to be one of them.
I think this might be the end for Chief - he finally allows himself to connect with Boomer again, entering into her projections, and then she does this. And he realizes he was involved in Hera's kidnapping. This might send him over the edge.
Episode 18 - Islanded in a Stream of Stars
LOVED seeing Baltar the scientist again, searching for answers to Kara's life. Of course, then he has to screw it up by outing her as a dead girl. Loved Lee's response - "I don't care. All that matters is right now." Unfortunately for Lee, Kara will never get over Her Sam.
Helo's brief minutes were heartbreaking. Knowing Athena will probably never forgive him. Desperately wanting to go find his daughter, knowing it will most likely be a suicide mission, but unable to bear the life left to him on the ship.
Boomer and Hera on the way to the (SUPER CREEPY) new Cylon ship had an interesting dynamic. Hera finally figured out Boomer isn't her mom, and is none to happy about it. Boomer at first irritated, and then slowly giving in, eventually in tears when she is separated from the little girl. Possibly a chance at redemption?
Anders has officially become a hybrid. "There's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza..." No kidding, Sam. I'm expecting he and Kara to hole up in the room, start hearing the music, and miraculously jump to their new home. Right??
And, of course, Laura and Bill, smoking a joint in the sick bay. Bill deciding to let the Galactica go - let her go out with a bang. He can see his two girls slipping away from him, and while it kills him inside, he decided to give the Galactica the goodbye she deserves. I am not going to be able to stand it when they say goodbye to her. How can I care this much about a ship??
I can see the ways in which the show is saying goodbye, and I don't think I'm ready. All I want is a happy ending, but that isn't what BSG does. How do you prepare to say goodbye to your friends?
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
As such, the plotline is pretty much lifted from Star Wars Episode IV, with a few alterations - Princess Vespa has been kidnapped by Dark Helmet, and Lone Star has to rescue her, enticed by the offer of a reward. Dark Helmet wants Vespa as a bargaining chip; he needs Vespa’s father to open up the planet so that he can steal their resources. No, you aren’t going to be having deep intellectual discussions with other people on the internet about the plot of this movie.
It’s quite obvious that the main reason why anyone would watch this movie is for the humour. The movie doesn’t have any original ideas, an original plot, or decent acting, for that matter. In fact, I think that the actors might have acted like hams for their roles somewhat, if they are not naturally that bad. Or they are good actors doing what little they can for such poor characterisation; any of these options end up the same for those sitting through the movie. Thankfully, there are some very good laughs here to help take your focus away from this – travelling at ridiculous speed (even faster than light speed!), repeated merchandising jokes, the campervan spacecraft, the Star Trek matter transporter joke, and quite a few others. Too often for my liking though, it descends into silliness that is without humour: Dark Helmet playing with his dolls, for example, Pizza The Hut (you can figure out the joke from the name, and it is as humourless as it sounds), or silly names like Yoghurt and Barf.
The main problem with this movie, though, is that it buys into some of the worst stuff of the original Star Wars movie without even questioning the internal logic of these ideas – the satire simply does not cut far enough into the movie. I did enjoy Star Wars Episode IV, although I didn’t think it worthy of being ranked as one of the best SF movies of all time. But the spoof of the movie does not question some of the sillier ideas of the movie – it completely buys into the “one planet, one climate” idea, for example, the Luke Skywalker farmer-to-Jedi Knight story is not questioned at all (in fact, there’s no Skywalker equivalent in “Spaceballs”), and the internal logic of the force is barely questioned, except to make a merchandising joke.
To sum up, you’ll get some laughs from Spaceballs – it is quite funny. But the rest of the movie is offendingly sub-par, and some of the more questionable aspects of Star Wars Episode IV are barely questioned, which I don’t think is good enough for amounts to a satire of a single movie. 2/5.
As with all Terminator movies, particularly the second and third, the series itself is full of logic problems that you shouldn’t pay too close attention to in case the façade falls away. No character needs hair dye or coloured contact lenses to disguise themselves when they relocate, or when they decide to undertake a task which is both dangerous and illegal, for example. I could go on, but it’s pretty obvious that this is not the most consistent or logical of shows. The show would be better if this was considered more carefully, but there are so many other things to like about this show that this is not a huge concern for me.
The series is set after the second Terminator movie, and the pilot of the episode explains the chronology of the story, including that the show negates the third movie entirely. This is much appreciated; I enjoyed the first movie both as an SF movie and an action movie, I enjoyed the second movie as an action movie, but didn’t really enjoy the third movie at in either regard.
The acting in the show is really good, and worth discussing. Summer Glau plays the role of Cameron, the terminator sent back to protect John, extremely well. When she has to fight, she looks extremely capable in her role, and you actually believe that her personality is that of a well-honed combat robot. In social situations, she adds a touch of humour to the show which is quite hard to explain. It might be seen with Cameron making brutally honest comments, mimicking a person and making the person copied look foolish without a pretence of self-dignity, or any other number of things. Summer Glau is really a standout, and the best character in the show.
As for the rest of the characters, Lena Headey as Sarah Connor is done well; her character is pretty much identical to that of Sarah Connor from Terminator 2. She’s the tough and capable lady who always puts her son’s safety first, and is trying to meld him into a military commander. Brian Green works quite well as Derek, and is introduced in the middle of the season. He is a human soldier from the future, hating all machines, whether they are allies or not, and has few moral scruples in achieving his goals. FBI Agent James Ellison is a serviceable character, and mainly provides the “outsider looking in” to give some perspective as to what the authorities think is actually happening, and to help explain what the Terminator was actually up to in the previous scenes.
Probably the only character that I have misgivings about right now is Thomas Dekker, as John Connor, surprisingly enough. He’s fifteen, and for a show that is meant to be about John Connor rising up to become a military leader, only has a minor role through the current show for the most part, and is either guarded by Cameron or offering what little support he can to more experienced warriors around him, occasionally doing things like computer hacking and the like. I know that he is only a teenager, and not yet ready to be a military commander, but his character does not really excite me in any way at this stage in the television series. Surely the son of Sarah Connor is better than this? I hope that he improves in the next season.
For someone interested in the series, I would recommend you take a look at the episode called “Pilot”, which is the first show in the series. It gives you a fairly good idea about what the rest of the series would be like, in terms of plotlines, acting and storylines (although several plotlines are revealed later, obviously). And since this series has a progressive storyline, and each new episode depends on that of the prior show, it’s hard to jump in the middle of the season and really understand what exactly is going on.
Here’s a quick summary of the episodes within the television series, which contains spoilers.
“Pilot” – we meet Cameron, a terminator sent back to save John, and Cameron takes them into a bank vault which has had a time machine built inside, taking them forward to 2007, which removes the third movie from the Terminator chronology. FBI Agent James Ellison is on the case to solve the mystery that Sarah Connor poses.
“Gnothi Seauton” – the terminator from the pilot needs to rebuild itself, leaving a grisly trail behind it for Ellison to follow. Sarah, Cameron and John need fake identification, and this will cost a lot of money.
“The Turk” – Andy, who originally worked for Cyberdine, is working on building a robot called “The Turk.”, which might become Skynet in the future. John and Cameron settle into school.
“Heavy Metal” – there is a plan to reconstruct terminators with a stolen shipment of a particular metal alloy, and Connor decides to stop this from happening. Connor is actually an interesting character in this show, doing several things of his own initiative.
“Queen’s Gambit” – Andy’s computer is in a chess competition to win against other computers, and the winner gets a military contract. After the chess competition, and the events that follow, Sarah finds a man, Derek, whom happens to be John’s uncle. Derek is being tracked by a Terminator.
“Dungeons and Dragons”- Derek has been rescued, and is being operated on at home in order to save him from his wounds. There’s a few scenes from the future (Derek’s flashbacks) which are actually not as exciting as you would expect, but we find out that the future has already been changed because Derek encountered Andy in the future, whom he killed in this timeline. Cameron has to completely dispose of the Terminator they killed.
“The Demon Hand” – the group need to find the missing hand of the Terminator, otherwise the Terminator might rebuild itself. FBI Agent James Ellison goes for a visit to Dr. Peter Silberman (mental health psychiatrist of Terminator 2 fame), whom has become a convert to Sarah Connor's futuristic visions.
“Vick’s Chip” – Derek has a computer chip from the disposed Terminator which needs to be examined in order to find out more about the activities of the Terminator that was chasing Derek. FBI Agent Ellison is on the trail of the Terminator.
“What He Beheld” – The chess computer that Andy built is for sale, and the group need to obtain this through any method possible. Ellison finds out where the missing Terminator might be, and sends a tactical response team after it. The show ends on something of a cliff-hanger, and is wide open for the next entry in the series.
All up, “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” is quite an exciting show, with good special effects, action scenes, and good acting. It also manages to add some new and interesting ideas to the Terminator franchise without destroying the mythology of the Terminator universe created in the first two movies - just don’t expect too much in the way of logic in the show. Start with the “Pilot” episode, and if you enjoy that episode, I think you will enjoy the rest of the shows. 4.5/5.
Monday, March 2, 2009
I read Gould’s novel Jumper earlier this year, and was quite impressed with it. There was a broad range of ideas regarding teleporting, a well-portrayed character with great character development, and a lot of good plot ideas regarding teleporting. Having enjoyed the first book so much, I knew I had to see what the sequel “Reflex”, was like.
In “Reflex”, our hero, Davey, gets kidnapped by a shadowy organisation that wants him to do some nefarious deeds for them, and have set up a system that prevents him from being able to teleport. While this occurs, Davey’s wife Millie finds out that she actually has teleporting powers.
It’s not a boring read, but to be blunt, it is no where near as good as the original novel. There’s the occasional idea in there, but it seems a lot less intelligent and varied than what the original novel was. I can’t ignore the huge coincidence of Millie finding out that she can teleport just as Davey disappears. And while I liked Millie as a character in the original book, here she simply comes off as a woman that will sacrifice her career in order to go and rescue Davey and have his kids, because she is worried about her biological clock ticking away.
That’s enough said about this book. 1.5/5.
Sunday, March 1, 2009
Great Opener! The Stargate on planet Tegalus is in a museum and just as the guide is doing his boring, memorized schpiel, the gate goes Whooooosh!! and the tourists aren't sure whether to snap pictures or run for their lives! The unexpected activation ends up causing a civil war , with Daniel caught in the middle, and a religious fanatic takes over the government and thus, the Stargate. I thought it was cool that Danel speaks Goa'uld to communicate with Teal'c and..you knew this was coming...save the day.
Rating: 3 of 5 I like SG1 but this episode really shows how SG1 so often goes into an unsuspecting world, causes problems, and then just leaves the inhabitants to clean up the mess. I don't call that heroic.
#22 The X Files Season 6, Episode 8 , "The Rain King"
A small town in Kansas is besieged by extreme weather. An obnoxious, alcoholic yokel (you know, the Townie Jock from high school, the guy who is now bald and pot-bellied but still thinks he's All That), shows up at drought-parched farms and makes it rain. The result being that he prospers while everyone else barely ekes out a living, and naturally the mayor calls Scully and Mulder. A cow literally falls through the ceiling of Mulder's motel room, and our favorite feds crash a hilarious 70's-style high school reunion before..naturally....saving the day.
Rating: 4 of 5
#23 Dark Angel, Season 2 Episode 1, "Designate This"
Rumors of Max's death were slightly exaggerated. She's out, and looking for revenge. Nana Visitor is so deliciously evil but unfortunately, doesn't make it through this episode. Her loss is more than made up for by Jensen Ackles (a.k.a. Dean Winchester, mrrrrrowwwwwr!!! without a shirt on, no less!!) and the talented andvery very tall Kevin Durand as Joshua the Dog-Faced Boy. I didn't recognize Mr. Durand, but he was that scary paramilitary guy Keemy from Lost. Totally unrecognizable with the canine makeup job and shaggy wig.
Rating: 4.5 of 5...not perfect because I think their plot device of using a retrovirus to keep Max and Logan from touching is kinda contrived and cheesy
#24 Dark Angel, Season 2 Episode 2, "Bag 'Em"
Max is out to rescue all the manticore escapees because she feels responsible for letting them loose (which she is). Viewer discretion advised if, like me, you have a hard time watching little kids get shot ...the baddies are that sort of bad here. The new Evil Head Honcho is called White. He's evil, all right, but I miss Nana Visitor!
Rating: 4 of 5
Having only had poor experiences with tie-in novels prior to this, (thank you, Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert) I wasn’t expecting much from this book. So I was pleasantly surprised to find this was actually quite a good novel. Deckard, fled Los Angeles a year ago with Rachael, a replicant - or a robots that look human. Deckard has been brought back forcefully for a new job. Apparently, there’s a replicant to retire, and he is the man for the job, but there is one difference – Deckard is working on behalf of the Tyrell Corporation this time instead of the police. Although the “Deckard working for Tyrell” plotline sounds like it would never have occurred in the original movie, the explanation underpinning it is convincing enough that I can’t criticise the book for this aspect. Apparently, the novel ties into the movie based upon an inconsistency – there is a sixth replicant to retire, not the five as the original movie stated. I am not familiar enough with “Blade Runner” to say whether this factoid used to insinuate the novel into the movie’s mythology occurs or not, so I’ll put this issue to the side and defer to someone else’s judgement here.
What I liked most about “Blade Runner 2” is that Jeter, for the most part, manages do what I would expect that a movie tie-in would be able to do, and then exceeds my expectations. As expected, the movie’s characters and setting are shoe-horned into a new plot that continues on with the original story. Less expected is that the novel also includes the same theme of philosophical questions about reality and what is real and what is fake, which comes across as quite Dickian, but Jeter is giving us new variations on the questions, continuing on from where the book and movie finished off.
I also enjoyed Jeter’s additions to the world of “Blade Runner”, which I felt fit in quite well with the movie’s mythology. One example is that Replicants can be stored cryogenically which delays their expiry date. The explanation behind this is quite convincing, and uses information from the movie to provide reasoning behind this idea. Or the comparisons between Nazi Germany and the Blade Runners, as one example, and coming up with a convincing explanation for the origin of Blade Runners, and what their name is derived from. There are quite a few other additions in the book, but these are all important plot aspects, and I don’t want to spoil the book for those whom have not yet read it.
All is not well in the world of the Blade Runner, though. The first is that the feel of the story doesn’t play out the same as the movie. It changes from an intelligent noir detective story to an intelligent action story – Jeter didn’t slavishly uphold the story-telling style of the film, and whether that works for you or not is a matter of personal preference. The second problem is that “Blade Runner 2” is quite an open-ended story. It ends extremely well, but the story ending is left wide open as a blatant attempt to entice the reader to get the next book.
So, although the story might not feel quite like the Blade Runner movie, or like Dick’s novel, it’s intelligent in the same vein as the original novel, and “Blade Runner 2” manages to do all that a fan of the movie or the book would expect of a tie-in, while also being a worthwhile read in it’s own right. I’ll definitely be reading the next entry in this series. 4.5/5.