Today I'm starting a new segment in which I give a synopsis of this week's Doctor Who for those who missed it. Spoiler alert!
In tonight's episode "Into the Dalek," the Doctor saves an outer space soldier named Journey Blue from dying. He takes her back to her ship Aristotle to find it was a medical vessel but has now been militarized to battle the Daleks. The commander takes the Doctor to see the one remaining patient, and he finds it's a Dalek. However, the prisoner gives a surprising declaration: "Daleks must be destroyed." Somehow this one has realized the rest of its kind is evil. Intrigued, the Doctor and Clara, along with several soldiers including Journey, shrink themselves down and go inside its head, whereupon the Doctor names it Rusty. Rusty explains that even after many years of Dalek destruction, it witnessed the birth of a star and realized life would always prevail. The Doctor, excited about finally finding a good Dalek, proceeds to repair Rusty's radiation leak. Unfortunately, this causes Rusty to go back to normal, and it breaks free of its confinement and starts killing everyone on board the Aristotle.
In order to help the others escape, one of the soldiers named Gretchen sacrifices herself and ends up meeting Missy, the mysterious woman from the season premier. Meanwhile, the Doctor laments that all Daleks are irreversibly evil. However, Clara convinces him otherwise. She believes that Rusty has the potential to be good, and together they journey to its brain to retrieve its suppressed memories and remind it of what it has lost. They succeed, but Rusty looks inside the Doctor's mind and sees his hatred for the Daleks, which it then adopts. Once again convinced that all Daleks are evil, Rusty helps them fight off a Dalek boarding party which arrived when it sent a signal after being repaired by the Doctor. The Daleks are defeated, but the Doctor doesn't consider it a victory; it was achieved through hatred and not goodness. They go to leave, and Journey asks to accompany them on their journey. But the Doctor is through with soldiers after this experience, and refuses.
Afterwards, the Doctor and Clara discuss the question he posed earlier: "Am I a good man?" She replies she doesn't know, but he wants to be, and that's what matters.
I feel this week's episode is solid. It's always enjoyable when the Daleks come to visit, and we got a little more insight into their nature. Peter Capaldi continues to impress as the new Doctor and I think he's going to do repeat. Also, the continuing mystery of Missy is keeping me intrigued, and I can't wait to see where they're going with this.
Saturday, August 30, 2014
Friday, August 29, 2014
This week I decided to review Bones of Empire by William Dietz The main character of the story is Jak Cato, a genetically engineered empath created by the Uman Empire, which is inspired by the Roman Empire based on its titles and what we see of its sports--though I have no clue why the H in Human was removed-- able to detect disguised shapeshifters by sensing their minds. The book begins with Cato helping to fend off an assassination attempt against his patron on the imperial capital world of Corin. Soon afterwards, Cato attends an Emperor’s Day parade, but when he sees the Emperor, he’s shocked to realize that the supposed Emperor is actually a Sagathi, a species of alien shapeshifters, named Verafti whom Cato thought he had killed. Soon the race to prove that the Emperor is an imposter while evading Verafti’s attempts to kill Cato is on. Eventually Verafti flees and Cato, who knows that Verafti would have hated every minute he spent as Emperor, and his allies are left trying to discover the Sagathi’s goals. Eventually it is revealed that he had been searching imperial records for signs of other Sagathi that had escaped their quarantined homeworld. More specifically, Verafti is searching for a female named Demeni whom he had fallen in love with. The trail leads to Therat, a small world recently handed over to the neighboring Vord Empire. After convincing the Vord of the danger even one Sagathi on the loose can pose, Cato receives permission to lead a team to the world to hut the Sagathi down but once there he finds himself caught in the struggle between the Vord Government and an Uman resistance movement while being targeted by cultists who believe that Demeni is a goddess.
I give the book an 7 out of 10. It was a very interesting story over all, though it was more of a science fiction detective story whereas I was expecting a military scifi story. Still, what you saw of the Uman and Vord cultures was interesting, though you learn very little about Sagathi society. The ending was mostly happy but somewhat bittersweet. Still, while I didn’t really dislike the book and will read any sequels, they won’t be the top priority of my to read list unless it’s a dry period for books I like. It wasn’t bad but it just didn’t excite me enough to make buying any follow-ups a higher priority than books in several other ongoing novel series.
Saturday, August 23, 2014
Friday, August 22, 2014
This week I decided to review Theirs Not to Reason Why: Hardship by Jean Johnson. When the book begins, Ia, who becomes known to history as Bloody Mary has just destroyed her ship and arrived on the planet Dabin which is being invaded by the Salik, a race which view most sentient species as a convenient food source. Ia, who has the ability to see every possible future, knows that she only has a limited amount of time to arrange the defeat of the Salik force on Dabin before the Salik blockade of the world is broken and she and her command must leave to carry out the next phase of her plan to prevent the Milky Way galaxy and its inhabitants from being wiped out in a few centuries. Unfortunately the general in command of the Terran Army forces on Dabin refuses to corporate with the battle plans she gives him despite knowing that she can see the future, and orders the units flanking the position of her encampment to hold position no matter what while a Salik strike force attacks Ia’s unit driving it into a long retreat. Afterwards Ia discovers that the general is being influenced by one of the Feyori, energy beings who view the entire galaxy as their game board and its inhabitants as little more then game pieces, that oppose the Feyori faction allied with her. She confronts the Feyori on the Timeplains and makes it clear that they can no longer be neutral regarding her--they will either help her or be destroyed by her.
I give the book a 6 out of 10. The book is significantly shorter than any other in the series so far and suffers for it in my opinion. Namely there is a distinct shortage of battle sequences. The entire book is told from Ia’s prospective. While this can work well in a war story where the character is involved in the frontline action here Ia spends most of her time strategizing rather than fighting or leading from the front. I do enjoy some strategic planning in stories but I still feel that the story would have been better served if more of the period she spent at the forefront of the fighting had been shown in detail or if it had shown more of the battles against the Salik from the prospective of the soldiers fighting the battles with less of the book spent watching versions of Ia from multiple points in time powwowing to relay all of the data and messages she needs to send in order to prevent the fall of Dabin and the later possible destruction of the galaxy or engaged in similar activities.
Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Recently I was made aware of a very cool Kickstarter project: Under the Dog. This anime comes to us from an uber-talented group of people who brought us such awesomeness as Evangelion, Ghost in the Shell and Fire Emblem: Awakening. I immediately became a backer for it, and I urge all of you to do the same.
So what is Under the Dog? The Kickstarter page describes it as "An anime science fiction thriller that will explore what it means to live and die well, testing the limits of all we hold dear."
Here is the synopsis, pretty much copied and pasted from the page:
The year is 2025 in the city of Tokyo Bayside Special District, five years following the devastation wrought by a specially enhanced groups of terrorists at the 2020 Summer Olympics. Out of the ashes of that desolation, the UN formed a special covert branch headquartered in Tokyo Bay solely purposed with searching out and eliminating the forces responsible for the attack along with anyone even bearing a remote resemblance to them.
As a cover, the International School for Boys and Girls was established for the ongoing covert operation of discovering and recruiting gifted high school students, each with their own special abilities, and to coerce them in the service of an elite death squad. These troops are tasked with ferreting out and exterminating all individuals with powers like their own.
There is no choosing sides for these recruits and failure is not an option. Failure on the field assures not only their own, but also their loved ones' deaths. In order to assure compliance, each agent’s dearest loved ones have been secretly outfitted with a micro cranial bomb and all agent's actions and speech are closely monitored and recorded through a battle chip embedded in their brain. In the event the UN commanding officer determines an agent falls out of protocol, their loved ones immediately suffer the consequences.
So you take a little Ghost in the Shell, a little Gunslinger Girl, some X-Men, some Suicide Squad and toss them in a blender. Out pops Under the Dog. There's a lot more information at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1300298569/under-the-dog. Go check it out.
Monday, August 18, 2014
A while back I reviewed Mike Reeves-McMillan’s charming fantasy novel Hope and the Clever Man. He recently sent me the sequel, Hope and the Patient Man, for me to review, so here we go.
The story picks up not too long after the first book. Hope and her boyfriend Patient have gotten to know each other very well. Unfortunately, she feels no desire for him. This has to do with the curse she placed on her former beau Faithful (who was anything but) that he couldn’t get it up unless he stayed true to his name. She removed it, but there was magical splash-back, rendering her somewhat asexual. The situation has not improved, and her condition is actually deteriorating to the point where she can’t focus on her job or academic pursuits. She has the opportunity to become the youngest ever senior mage at the academy, but her chances look slim unless she finds a cure. Therefore, she and Patient seek out a mindhealer named Lily who is basically a magic-minded sex therapist. Lily has the couple engage in a series of increasingly intimate exercises to get Hope’s brain and libido back on track.
Meanwhile, a wealthy socialite named Industry of Rosewell (AKA “Rosie”) comes to work at the lab. She takes a liking to Dignified the clever man, but doesn’t know how to proceed. Hope and best friend Briar take Rosie under their wing and give her a makeover. Rosie and Dignified then hit it off and things are looking good for them. However, the mounting pressure on Hope to carry out her work for both the Realmgold and the academy is taking its toll, and she doesn’t know how much longer she can last. Not only that, but she must deal with the stunning secret of her birth and her mother’s disdain for her. Is there a happy ending for her and Patient?
I like this series because it takes a very different approach to standard fantasy fare. Reeves McMilan has worked hard to make this feel like a real world with a rich history and customs. It also has real problems; there is no great world-threatening villain, and the evils it does have are fought with debates and legal action rather than swords and sorcery. It’s certainly not for everyone; if you want your fantasy to be action-packed and intense, you should look elsewhere. But for those willing to give this series a chance, you’ll find your investment well rewarded.
Sunday, August 17, 2014
Friday, August 15, 2014
This week I decided to review Star Wars: Kenobi by John Jackson Miller. The story opens with Obi-Wan stopping at a small cantina on Tatooine seeking directions to the Lars homestead and getting caught in a fight with a group of thugs. After delivering baby Luke to his new family he discovers a small cantina and shop owned by a woman named Anileen--both shop and owner becoming key parts of the story--before setting out to find a new place to live. Meanwhile A’Yark, a Tuskan war leader organizes and leads raids on farmers near where Anileen’s store is, seeking to restore the Tuskans to what they were before the devastating blow inflicted of them by Anakin Skywalker years before, during the events of Attack of the Clones. Kenobi also helps rescue Anileen and her daughter Kallie from the desert, but when he wields the Force during the rescue he is observed by A’Yark who believes that it is Anileen wielding the magic and makes the shop owner a priority target. Throughout the story Kenobi struggles with a possible attachment to Anileen, and her possible feelings for him along with guilt over his role in what he believes was the death of Anakin Skywalker and the transformation of the Galactic Republic into the Galactic Empire, plus the fact that whenever he visits Anileen’s shop, the only shop convenient to where he lives, things seem to go very wrong. He eventually discovers a conspiracy to intensify the conflict between the Tuskans and settlers and must deal with the chief conspirator’s efforts to turn the locals against him while trying to forge a peace between the two groups. The efforts eventually lead to a clash between the Tuskans, farmers, and a group of thugs working for Jabba the Hutt that are seeking to collect on an overdue loan.
I give this book a 9 out of 10. The overall plot is well written and I love the humor sequences scattered throughout the story. The story is also believable enough. While there are no space battles in the book they would have been completely out of place in this story and the ground battle and brawl sequences are well written. The story does a great job exploring Obi-Wan Kenobi’s mindset in the period just after Revenge of the Sith and I find the chief antagonist’s fate both appropriate and amusingly ironic. The ending is somewhat bittersweet but not depressing.
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Saturday, August 9, 2014
After a twenty-year absence, the Ninja Turtles are back on the big screen in live-action form. I'm here to tell fans young and old if it's worth your time.
The story should be familiar to Turtles fans. New York City is being terrorized by a crime syndicate called the Foot Clan. Reporter April O'Neal (Megan Fox) thinks she's found the story of the year in their crimes. But she gets in over her head when they take her and others hostage in the subway. Fortunately, four mysterious vigilantes take out the baddies and save her. She pursues them and learns their shocking secret: they're teenage mutant turtles who are also ninjas! There's born leader Donatello (Johnny Knoxville??), hot-head Raphael (Alan Ritchson), nerdy Donatello (Jeremy Howard) and, of course, party animal Michelangelo (Noel Fisher). Oh, and we can't forget about their rat sensei Splinter (Tony Shalhoub). April realizes these are the very same animals she used to have as pets while they were being experimented on by industrialist Eric Sacks (William Fichtner). She befriends them, but soon becomes a target from the Foot Clan's leader, the evil Shredder (Tohoru Masamune). This isn't the same impotent villain from the old cartoon; this guy's got his own samurai Iron Man suit and he's looking to make some turtle soup with his many blades. After he attacks the sewers and delivers what could very well be a mortal wound to Splinter, it's up to the turtles, April and her friend Vern (Will Arnett) to save the day. Can they stop Shredder from killing scores of innocent people in his bid for control of New York.
At this moment, I'd like to give you a disclaimer: I've been a Ninja Turtles fan from the very beginning, by which I mean their beginning. I followed their exploits in the 80s with great zeal and I acquired every piece of memorabilia I possibly could. I had the action figures, the vehicles, the clothes, the plastic weapons, the sewer play set, the coloring books, the stickers found in fruit pies, the videogames--hell, I even got the cereal even though I wasn't too crazy about the taste (it was Ninja Turtles, dammit!). This was truly a franchise brimming with imagination. Therefore, I must confess this review may be colored by nostalgia.
Nevertheless, I feel this reboot is pretty good. It stays remarkably faithful to the source material; the turtles look like their figures, their various personalities are correct, and in true Turtles fashion, the plot never takes itself too seriously. Sure, it isn't Citizen Kane, but it's not supposed to be. It's supposed to be a movie to please Ninja Turtles fans, and in that respect, it succeeds. By now, every person on the planet knows whether or not they like the Turtles. If you do, hurry up and go see this movie.
I just hope they add more characters to the sequel. This film doesn't have Krang, Bebop, Rocksteady, or any of the other zillion Turtles characters, and there is certainly a wealth of source material to be tapped.
Friday, August 8, 2014
This week I decided to review Vicky Peterwald: Target by Mike Shepherd. The book starts with the title character’s return from an exploration mission gone horribly wrong which was depicted in one of the earlier Kris Longknife books. Vicky is the only survivor from the contingent her father’s empire sent with the fleet, but returning safely from facing alien hordes is only the beginning of her problems. She soon finds herself heading home while dodging assassins at every turn as her stepmother tries to eliminate the only person standing between Vicky’s unborn half-sibling and being the heir to the Imperial throne. In the process Vicky allies with a conspiracy within her father’s navy which is doing its best to combat the efforts of her stepmother’s family to seize power. But even once she reaches her homeworld and the Imperial palace, the attacks on her continue and in the end she is forced to flee, hiding in the coffin of a General killed during interrogation by her stepmother’s security force. Eventually Vicky and her pilot steal a yacht and use it reach a world which owes both the navy and her favors, and a base from which she can prepare a counterattack against her Stepmother’s forces which will soon have their own fleet if not stopped. Along the way they see many worlds reduced to the brink of starvation by her stepmother’s plot which add new problems to the list of things Vicky and her allies need to deal with.
I give the book a 8 out of 10. I was entertaining but there are a few point that I feel the author went overboard on empathizing. Also while the small skirmishes present in the book were fun, the author writes much better space battles than he does ground combat and all of the fighting in this book was fending off assassins and kidnappers. However, the implications that the evil stepmother is building her own navy give me much higher hopes for the later books in the series. And in the book’s favor I enjoyed most of the political scheming and maneuvering though I’m still hoping that the seemingly inevitable civil war starts soon.
Saturday, August 2, 2014
Today we have the new Marvel movie starring Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana: Guardians of the Galaxy. I'm here to tell you if you should go see it.
The story takes place far from Earth. Peter Quill, AKA Starlord (Pratt), a charismatic criminal, is exploring an ancient ruin when he finds a mysterious orb. Suddenly, armed strangers show up and accost him. He manages to fight them off and make his escape with the orb. He has no idea what it is, but it seems valuable so he arranges to sell it for a very high price.
Meanwhile, the Kree empire signs a peace treaty with their longtime enemies the Xandar (fans of the comics may recall the Kree are also longtime enemies of the Skrulls). This does not sit well with Kree warrior Ronan (Lee Pace). He hates the Xandar with a passion and, working with Thanos (Josh Brolin, according to IMDB, though he's uncredited here), he schemes to obtain the orb to wipe them out once and for all. Ronan sends Thanos' adopted daughter Gamora (Saldana) to get it from Quill on the Xandar homeworld, but aliens Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and his servant Groot (Vin Diesel) intervene because they want the bounty on Quill's head. Xandar authorities get involved, and the foursome find themselves in prison where they meet muscleman Drax the Destroyer (WWE's Dave Bautista) who has his own score to settle with Ronan. Quickly realizing they need to work together, they hatch a plan to escape and safeguard the orb. Unfortunately, Drax's thirst for vengeance gets the best of him, and he makes a move that could doom billions of people. Can these guys (and girl) get on the same page before Ronan carries out his genocide?
The Guardians of the Galaxy are a motley crew of very capable yet very dysfunctional heroes who threaten one another more than they threaten the bad guys. Sound familiar? Yep, they're basically The Avengers in space. If you liked that movie, you'll like this one. If not, it will do nothing to change your mind. It is refreshing to leave Earth and explore Marvel's rich universe of aliens and the Infinity Gems, Ronan is a cool villain (visually at least) and the rampant humor kept me chuckling throughout, but it's nothing you haven't seen before. There are predictable fights and predictable chases, and you probably already know whether or not you like these things. The film remains entertaining from start to finish, and I look forward to the already-announced sequel. However, I'm much more looking forward to the next Avengers.
"Do not call me a thesaurus!"
Friday, August 1, 2014
This week I decided to review Flinx Transcendent by Alan Dean Foster. The book opens with Flinx and his companion Pip on the homeworld of the predatory AAnn species, trying to evade detection and find a clue to help them stop an ancient force which is destroying everything in its path and accelerating towards the Milky Way. Flinx is eventually discovered by the son of a high ranking AAnn official after his AI-driven starship is forced to flee and must convince the young AAnn’s friends and later the AAnn leadership that the threat Flinx is seeking to combat is real. Then Flinx has to race to save his beloved from a cult that believes the coming destruction of the Milky Way is God’s will, followed by a hunt for an ancient weapon which Flinx hopes can destroy the threat to the galaxy. And when that weapon fails, the race is on to reactivate an ancient defense system designed for just this threat while Flinx’s companions fight off more cultists and Flinx’s insane half sister, who doesn’t care if the galaxy dies as long as she can kill her brother.
I give this book a 6.5 out of 10. The writing was OK; there just wasn’t anything particularly gripping in it. For the final book of a series that’s older than I am, I expected a lot more excitement, especially given that I’ve read many of the author’s other works and know that he can do much, much better than this. Also, I find it odd that this is labelled as the final Flinx and Pip adventure when Pip barely does anything. Many of the times Pip is mentioned at all is because Flinx is hoping Pip doesn’t pick a fight.