Netflix Fun, July Edition

As always, little snippets of reviews from stuff I saw on Netflix or Amazon or Vudu or whatever, which didn’t do enough to get me to write up a whole big blog about each of them.

Timer
Cute premise: in the near future, technology will be available to let you know when you’re going to meet the person you’re destined to spend the rest of your life with. The movie follows a cute Emma Caufield— easily recognizable from her Buffy days, though the character is far different—as she goes from hopeful, waiting for her timer to wind down, to by the end done with the whole deal. Yes, it’s a comedy.
First off, let me say that due to my only listening to independent music—except for Rush—I hardly ever hear any songs I know playing in movies. But then, Meiko really doesn’t qualify as independent anymore, does she? All to say that there’s a perfectly placed snippet of her Piano Song at the beginning.
More to the point, the movie is surprisingly sweet, and funnier than expected. And the reason I watched it in the first place—Michelle Borth—can always be counted on to bring the Bohemian, even when in a hospital in Afghanistan, as she did in one of her series. Emma Caulfield carries what’s really a light frothy movie, though the dramatic and emotional parts are also well done.
Here’s the thing: that’s what I thought about it the first time I saw it, a few years ago. In fact, I gave it a 4.5/5. But now I watched it again and felt completely different about it. I did notice some things that escaped my view the first time, like the hilarious Matchmaker Patty; I would hate that woman in real life, but I love her here. And all the people in the credits have timers too, producers and everyone! That was really funny. And a fantastic line I missed the first time, or simply didn’t remember it: “My eggs! They can hear you!”
But then we come to the one thing I don’t like about this movie: as funny as Michelle Borth can be—“Tell me what you did or I’m gonna pee on your bed!”—everything Emma Caufield has to do is so cringeworthy, far into butt monkey range. Even from the start there’s so much awkward, and it’s just too painful to watch.
So yeah, I liked it a lot more the first time, and if I were to combine the scores I’d now call it a:
6/10

Particle Fever
Ever wonder how a massive supercollider is made, then used? Find out in this movie.
The first visage that caught my attention came right away, as during construction of CERN they’re lowering a huge piece—five stories tall, if I heard that right—that is surprisingly in the shape of the Millennium Falcon. But despite how long it took to build the Hadron, that’s not the main point of this film. Mostly it follows some physicists, both on the ground there in Switzerland and around the US, as they eagerly await the start-up and then the results while trying to explain to the audience exactly what’s going on and what they hope to see.
Though the scientists interviewed throughout are pretty good communicators, giving great lectures, most of it still goes over my head. There was one eye-opening explanation of how important the experiments are, how it might even be the end of physics if they get it wrong. Then there’s Monica screaming, “We rocked!” She’s my fave. But the best line had to be “Jumping from failure to failure with undiminished enthusiasm is the secret to success.” And funniest moment was during the interview while driving: “And I missed my exit.” Or else the baby screaming while everyone was listening to what they’ve all been waiting for. But something that also needs to be mentioned is just how painful that rap was. . .
Some of the CGI is hokey, others are pretty cool. The graphic showing the Higgs at the middle of the wheel is the best explanation I’ve seen so far. There’s also a bit of theater at certain points, like when they tried so hard to make “first beam” so dramatic. And near the end, so much cheering and even Beethoven’s 9th for numbers changing on a screen—just seems funny. Would have liked to see how the reporters reacted to this, because for me it woulda been anticlimactic.
Totally expected Dr. Higgs to get emotional, but that was also the most touching moment. And then it ends with a shoutout to one of my favorite movies, Cave of Forgotten Dreams!
8/10

Thor 2: Dark World
As I’ve stated before, I’m not much for the superhero genre. If I’m watching one of these it’s usually because there’s an actress I like—in this case two—or it’s something that I simply can’t pass up, like Wonder Woman. So I try not to get too wrapped up in reviewing these, but in the end can’t help it.
Though Thor has appeared in The Avengers, and showed quite a bit at the end of the first movie, it’s here where you see how much the character has matured. He actually laughs when he’s teased now. There’s a little bit of character development to Sif as well, but Jane. . . not so much. Darcy is Darcy, but that’s okay, that’s what she’s there for. It’s Selvig who changes the most, but not in a good way, although I’m sure the actor enjoyed running around in his underwear.
As always in these kinds of movies, there’s too much speechifying by the bad guys. Around halfway through I thought, “Now I see why Loki’s in this: comic relief!” More fool I. Certainly not sorry about what happened to him—Selvig speaks for me—or what we thought happened to him, anyway.
As you might expect, I watched this for Natalie Portman, and she did not disappoint. There are some moments in here that prove she’s underrated on her comedic side. Jane has sequestered herself in labs—or chasing tornados—for so long she doesn’t seem to know how to act around strangers, mostly to hilarious results. Her excitement at going through the Bifrost leads her to give Heimdall a totally informal “Hi!” which is a great harbinger to when she does the same later to the Queen. . . who by the way is her lover’s mom, but she’s too nervously excited to realize it in that moment. But her best line is probably “I like the way you. . . explain things.”
I also love Kat Dennings, who just like on her TV series doesn’t seem to be acting at all, simply being her usual snarky real-life persona. She actually has great chemistry with Hemsworth, the best example being when she asks him “How’s space?” so he can laconic, “Space is fine.” His best moment, though, is likely when, after a great pause, he throws out, “So. . . who’s Richard?” followed by Jane’s exasperated “Really?”
Hair color change and an accent can do wonders; how many recognized “Chuck” as Fandral? If anyone saw Zach Levi in the short he did for The Adventures of Basil and Moebius, he’s got the exact same accent and character here.
The one thing I genuinely loved is the music. Appropriate heroic themes, even for those spoiled by John Williams; the horns in particular were pretty tasty. The one thing I most disliked was how dark it was, in this case more literally than spiritually or psychologically. Ultimately that’s the fault of the director, but you wonder if the cinematographer ever said anything. Best scenery was during the end battle in London, as well as the boat/ship chase.
Most of all, though, the bad guy wasn’t that interesting, and the plot was all over the place. Didn’t like it as much as the first.
5/10

Star Trek: Beyond
The second reboot film was so disappointing I skipped going to this when it was in the theaters; that’s the first time that’s ever happened to me with Star Trek. So my expectations were pretty low going into this.
As usual nowadays, Kirk gets to be a total butt monkey at the start, though in this case it gives him a chance to be angsty. The part where we see Sulu meeting up with his husband and kid was nicely done in that it wasn’t a big deal, just here it is and moving on. But more than anything it hurt to see Anton.
Another part I’ve always disliked is seeing all the dead when the Enterprise is blown up—literally. Too much showing of bodies floating off into space. It does seem to be a staple of these movies, going all the way back to Wrath of Khan, but this is one way all the series, and their lower budgets, have it better. And what’s the deal with yet another Enterprise biting the dust? Seems like the name is bad luck!
Random thoughts:
I lived for the moment I could hear Spock say “horseshit.” I can die happy now.
No way Kirk could be beamed while on the motorcycle at full speed.Gimme a break. It’s one thing for Chekov to have done a difficult beam in an earlier movie, but remember that here they were using 100-year-old transporters.
My fave character was Jaylah. “Do not break my music!” And her taking the captain’s chair, reportedly adlibbed, was classic. And at the end when she says “Aye’ to Scotty. Love that she’s going to Starfleet Academy, where she won’t be anything like Kirk, I’m sure; hope she breaks the demerits record.
Best unexpected visual: Chekov tapping his foot to the “classical” music.
Kirk says he couldn’t do anything without Spock, but no thanks for Bones? He was the pilot who saved his ass!
Shohreh Aghdashloo always brings it; she’s the coolest commodore ever.
That photo of the original crew: awww. . .
Idris did his best with a villain that though appropriately motivated didn’t really hit as a classic bad guy. I suppose allowances have to be made for a script that was hastily rewritten.
As always I stay for the credits, and noticed that the actors are listed alphabetically, with Cho first. That’s lovely.
While I have no complaints about the music—soundtrack, I mean; not the choice for destruction—I have to say the sound effects were more memorable. They spent a lot of money and time on that space station, but some of that CGI budget might have been better served during the battle inside the crushed Enterprise, which simply came out too dark. But other than that it was a pretty enjoyable movie that would have done well as a two-part episode on one of the series.
7/10

Iron Man
Completely forgettable. I wrote two notes, and one of them said Gwynnth has never looked better than in that blue dress at Disney Hall.

Iron Man 2
More of the same. Only reason I watched it was because I thought that was ScarJo’s best look and wanted to see it in all its undiminshed glory.

Star Wars: Rogue 1
Like I mentioned about Star Trek above, this is the first Star Wars movie I did not go see in the theater; glad I didn’t.
Rather than dole out the exposition in small chunks, there were too many places and too many people at the start. Despite the great idea of placing it right before the start of the original movie, the writing is mostly unoriginal, as were most of the plot points. The best line had to be the “samurai” getting a bag placed over his head. “Are you kidding me? I’m blind!” And while I don’t have anything bad to say about the acting—other than Forest Whitaker overdoing things, to my shock—it’s telling that the most memorable is Wash. . . I mean, Alan Tudyk playing a robot.
They tried to make a big moment out of the Vader unreveal, but it was. . . underwhelming. But easily the worst scene was the attack in the rain, with the characters being completely stupid, especially Jyn yelling out “Dad!” You had a character with street smarts galore and you have her do something like this? The whole scene was one idiotic choice after another; it felt like the writers simply wanted to get this over with and move the movie along.
Another thing I didn’t like about that scene was the darkness, although part of it was no doubt due to the rain. But that was more than made up for by the location at the end, Scarif, especially the establishing shots from above. Maybe I prefer the Seychelles a little more, but you certainly can’t go wrong with filming in the Maldives, and I doubt any of the actors complained about it, other than the long trip. What’s weird is that according to the credits they also filmed in Wadi Rum in Jordan, and I’d just been there a few months ago. Not that deserts look all that different from each other, and since the King of Jordan once appeared on an episode of Star Trek: Voyager. . .
Can’t say I noticed the music at all. That’s not a bad thing, but really, what can you say about the first Star Wars movie not scored by John Williams?
The whole thing felt rushed, despite the slow pace at the beginning. They took some time to give her a backstory, but since it ended up in the plot—i.e., her father—it doesn’t really count. About halfway through, my thought was “It’s okay, but glad I didn’t pay to see this in the theater.” At that point I was calling it between a 5 and 6/10, keeping in mind that I gave Force Awakens a 7 and enjoyed it a lot more. Then the battle in the rain happened. . .
Some critics, and even the composer, have written about this movie having a lot of heart, but I frankly didn’t feel it. Maybe in the Imperial traitor who brought the message to Jyn, but that’s it.
4/10

;o)

Paramount Plaques

7 of Fine! Jeri Ryan was here!

7 of Fine! Jeri Ryan was here!

Every Star Trek except DS9, plus NCIS: Los Angeles.

Every Star Trek except DS9, plus NCIS: Los Angeles.

I shoulda checked if that anachronism still worked or was just a prop. . .

I shoulda checked if that anachronism still worked or was just a prop. . .

Star Trek movies are Pretty in Pink

Star Trek movies are Pretty in Pink

Katherine Heigl was here! So was Terry Farrell!

Katherine Heigl was here! So was Terry Farrell!

Facebook Memories reminded me that it’s been a year since my visit to the set of NCIS: Los Angeles. Walking around the lot doesn’t make for many great shots, with almost everything inside the stages, so I had to make fun by shooting the historical plaques that mentioned shows I loved, or at least actresses I enjoyed looking at.

 

;o)

Book Reviews: Spain, Emojis, and Star Trek

Lao Tzu
We make a vessel from a limp of clay; it is the empty space within the vessel that makes it useful.

A Darker Sky
In the first of a new mystery series, a woman on the run from a stalker goes to a yoga retreat and is killed after a hookup. The amateur detective in this case is the editor of the Scandinavian weekly, soon assisted by a former cop now working for the embassy.
This is one of those stories that takes place in two timelines, the present and an incident from the past, though the way it was first written made me think it happened earlier that day rather than years ago. At this point I guessed the killer. . . though I admit I changed my mind a few times between then and the reveal. While not sympathizing with the killer, gotta admit I wasn’t devastated when the final victim got his. And despite not going into detail, the settings were well done. I’ve been to these Spanish islands and I don’t remember them being big enough for all these places, but then I wasn’t there very long. I certainly had no idea so many Scandinavians lived there.
There were some early clues that didn’t seem like clues at all, making me wonder why they were included; the most dramatic of them was the minister having sex with the male masseuse. By the end I realized this led to some really good twists when it came to suspects. . . so good, in fact, that it made me wanna go back to read previous stuff from these authors.
4/5

How to Speak Emoji
This author rewrote Moby Dick with just emojis, so he’s the right person to do this book. This seems more impressive than the Peter Rabbit edition of hieroglyphs, but then it’s a lot easier to make an emoji of a whale.
This book starts with a dictionary, from the most simple onward. But by the time you get to the phrasebook and idioms it seems like more work than it’s worth. The pickup lines are the worst I’ve ever heard. . . wait, I’ve never heard a good one. Never mind. Insults, on the other hand, I can get behind. (That’s what she said.) The proverbs are fairly funny, reminding me of a similarly-themed book I had for Latin. Even better were lyrics, though I don’t know if anyone who likes Love Is a Battlefield will figure out that emoji chain. Eye of the Tiger, on the other hand. . .
But it’s the movies and TV shows section that’s the funniest, particularly Fight Club. Breaking Bad is novel-sized!
I’d imagine most people use emojis to emphasize what they’d written; this book is mostly about substituting for words completely. It’s fun for a while, but I wonder how many people would actually use it. . . well, I suppose if you cut and paste. . .
3.5/5

Lone Wolf
A tiny redheaded veterinarian in Montana falls for a rancher while treating an injured eagle. If only life was that simple. Sigh.
It doesn’t matter where you set a romance novel, or what kind of fantasy character you put into it (in this case a wolf shifter, of which there’ve been a lot lately); in the end you know there can only be one outcome, regardless of how many obstacles are randomly thrown at them. What I did find amusing was how in this story’s universe shifters are known and accepted.
The prose quickly left me bored. Every other paragraph talks about how much she wants him; I didn’t understand her any more than him. He’s of course an alpha who tries really hard not to fall for her, for one of the few reasons ever used in these kinds of books.
This had possibilities–different settings and circumstances that gave it a chance–but those were thrown away to make it generic, so that by the end it was nothing special.
3/5

Boarding the Enterprise
A few months ago I read a book about Star Wars that was a retread trotted out because of the new movie. Now with the 50th anniversary of Star Trek the same thing is done here, with a book written ten years ago for the 40th anniversary.
Basically this is a collection of articles, much like a fanzine in the early days. There’s a piece on some classic sci-fi stories that were adapted to Star Trek, and I agree with the author when he wondered how great it would have been had others been done, especially Sir Arthur C. Clarke’s The Star. But then you get another chapter that was simply author bios. C’mon.
One chapter that started out interesting was a discussion about how the Prime Directive, while a good idea, probably wasn’t, but even that succumbed to overthinking. Possibly the best entry was a funny one that reminded me of an Asimov short story, a report on Earth done by an alien. I love this part: “crew members being flung from their seats by various impacts on several occasions, and the resources to install improvised seat belts were clearly available; we must conclude that either seat belts were unknown, or there were reasons not to install them that outweighed the obvious benefits.” The conclusions are hilarious.
Another great line: “It’s not some utopian dream of peaceful cooperation that has prompted the Federation, but the perceived need for defense— the Federation serves the same purpose as a street gang.” There’s a fantastic argument for why the most trustworthy officer on board is Scotty, but this pretty much exemplifies the few good aspects of this book: “It’s easy to find faults, but without Star Trek, I would never have become an astronomer.”
Unfortunately there’s more that doesn’t work than does: it’s much better than the Star Wars one, but that’s not saying much.
2.5/5

;o)

Book Reviews: More Graphic Novels Edition

Marthe Trolycurtin
Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.

Malice in Ovenland, Vol. 1
Schoolgirl in NYC has to stay home and do chores over vacation while all her friends go do fun stuff. As if that wasn’t bad enough, she has to put up with her mom’s organic food—even has to trek to water the garden—and then her mom goes away; is it legal to leave a kid that young alone? But she perseveres and does as told, getting everything done until the last item: clean the oven. A creature steals her earring and it’s all Alice in Wonderland, greasy style, from there.
There are some great lines in here, like “Now I know how a French fry feels.” There’s a poem called “The Day the Grease Stopped Flowing.” I knew organic food was bad for you! The Ovenland crest has crossed spatulas under a plate of bacon. . . I want one.
“Ahem!” Never seen a ghost beg for attention.
The protagonist talks out loud rather than thinking it—that’s a bit annoying, but thankfully corrected midway. The “Lily Ma’am” thing pops out every once in a while and it always makes me chuckle. She somehow manages to turn a giant roach into a puppy. There’s even a reference to Pizza Rat.
Don’t really buy the ending; maybe she likes the food now, but the chores?
6 pages of bonus art, including a cover that would have been better than the one they used. Never thought I would say this sentence, but there’s a cover of Lily “riding the roach,” and no, that’s not a euphemism.
All in all, fun enough for kids, though maybe too gross for the younger ones.
3.5/5

Black Jack Ketchum
After a historical lesson about the central figure, who was indeed a real-life person, things turn weird—yeah, the thing with the snow—and science-fictionly, part Brisco County and part Sledge Hammer.
I love how the guy at the poker table is completely blasé with shots being fired all around him. Even more I love his sidekick, even if she doesn’t talk; taciturn plays well here. There’s one panel that squicked me out much more than I could have ever imagined, when he was cleaning the gun.
When the stoic poker table guy finally gives his name, it explains a lot of things; particularly enjoyed the inclusion of that famous story. So we add Twilight Zone to the reference mix, and possibly Twin Peaks.
Each chapter, or issue, starts off with more of the historical stuff until we find out his fate in real life, so there’s a lot of shifting. Even then there’s still the fantasy to play out. Things go sideways—first literally, then storywise; the metaphysics of it all hurt my head. There’s a musical interlude, for no reason other to show bad lyrics. Then there’s the ultimate in dual realities, leading to a deus ex machina from the last shoutout, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
If you search for photo of the real Black Jack, you’ll find this version is drawn true to life. There’s a gorgeous also-true-to-life panel of Monument Valley which alone is worth the expenditure.
At the end there’s 10 pages of bonus materials in the form of sketches, with the finished product sometimes intertwined.
This can be intriguing, as long as you don’t take it as seriously as it takes itself. But who was the girl? Why was she there?
3.5/5

Alice in Wonderland: Special Collector’s Manga
Only a month ago I read a complete Wonderland/Looking Glass graphic novel done as faithfully as can possibly be expected. This one didn’t figure to be at all the same, not with Tim Burton’s name on it. If you’ve seen the Burton movie, you know this already, but for others, no matter what the title, this is not the same story; it’s more of a direct sequel than Looking Glass.
I’m reading this in digital form, but there’s a warning right at the beginning that tells the reader you’re doing it wrong. Since it’s manga, it’s done in Japanese writing style; in other words, it starts at what most of us call the end. The funny thing is it jokes not to start here: “You don’t want to spoil the fun and start with the end, do you?” It’s Alice in Wonderland, what spoilers are left?
But I went to the back and found a lot of prologue, with an older teenage Alice being married off to a boring lord. It takes almost 20 pages for the real story to start, which it does with a bang; for once the fall, or rather the landing, hurts. Again, if you’ve seen the movie all this isn’t a surprise, but if you haven’t, it’s a completely new story, which will either fascinate or enrage you.
She’s awfully calm next to the giant cat, but then she keeps telling herself it’s just a dream; good luck with that.
The book ends before the story’s over, but by then I was okay with it. Didn’t really like the story, but that’s the fault of those who wrote the movie. . . not because it’s so different, it’s just not as interesting as the original. The artwork is black and white, sketchlike, and at times difficult to make out; similar with some of the lettering, especially in the Jabberwocky flashback.
2/5

Star Trek: Starfleet Academy
*This is from the reboot universe, as you can tell from the faces*
This starts with Spock breaking up with Uhura; I still don’t get them being together, but whatever. She tries to get through it by unscrambling a faint signal from out-there-somewheres, but then it moves to three years later, where there’s a new Vulcan female, who looks quite fetching in the short skirt and knee-high black boots that appears to be the uniform at the Academy. And she has green eyes.
The tacked-on plot that moves the action along is the Centennial Games, celebrating 100 years of the Academy. It’s mostly a scavenger hunt against teams from other worlds, like New Vulcan. (You remember in the movie old Vulcan was destroyed, right?) One of T’laan’s teammates is an Andorian, who is much more of a jerk than the Tellurite. Rounding out the team is an alien Captain Obvious—“I am scared for the simulated away team”—and a bubbly Latina redhead who had to be my favorite character. “Bye bye, ship.” Grace definitely grew on me. T’laan is also quite likeable—eventually—especially for a Vulcan.
At first I thought the Centennial Games went on for years! It is definitely NOT made clear that the storylines take place at different times. “Time quicksand” is a fascinating concept, at least to a non-physicist. Possibly the best line is, “Vel smells pie!” And it really is too bad the Vulcan didn’t join the guys on their “road trip to the southern metropolis of Los Angeles.”
As for the art, you’ll have to quickly get used to the bright colors. Uhura is drawn perfectly, but though I recognize Kirk he’s got kind of a token white guy look.
This is easily the best Star Trek graphic novel I’ve seen.
4.5/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Star Trek/Green Lantern and Sherlock Holmes Graphics

“Promise me you’ll always make me laugh.”
“That sounds like a marriage proposal.”
She threw her arms around my neck. “See? Exactly what I mean!”

The Courier
A bike messenger in a futuristic West Coast city. . . sound familiar already? Yep. But luckily it goes off in a different direction than Dark Angel and Heinlein’s Friday. For one thing, Kris Ballard hides her girl-ness. For another, while she’s doing well, she’s not a kick-ass fighting machine; she’s winging it and barely surviving, which makes it more exciting as everyone underestimates her. So even though the premise is the same, the execution isn’t.
As one would expect, the plot centers on something she’s delivering, and when things go wonky everyone’s after her. About halfway through the story comes into focus, involving much more than just futuristic Earth, and of course corporate shenanigans, not so much espionage as infighting between factions of one up and coming company who wants to play with the big boys. There’s also an anti-corp group involved, I suppose you can call them the Resistance.
There wasn’t anything great about the writing, but I did like the main character, as well as the world-building. The idea of one vast city stretching from San Diego to Los Angeles has been mentioned before, but what’s new here is levels, with the lowest being the poorer sections, where people can go their entire lives without ever seeing the sun. As for Kris, she’s feisty yet vulnerable when no one else is around to see. It’s hard for her to trust anyone, considering her family history, but as you get to know her she’s thoroughly likeable and you end up rooting for her.
4/5

Sherlock Holmes: The Seven-Per-Cent Solution
This is most likely the most famous non-Doyle Sherlock story, now brought to you in graphic novel form.
An old Watson is telling a Sherlock story many years after to Miss Dobson, who likes being called charming. Everyone in the story has died—except for Watson—so he can tell it now.
It’s claimed that Watson made up 2 of the canon stories, about Holmes’ death and return, having to do with Moriarty. He gets Sherlock to go to Vienna so Freud can cure him of his cocaine addiction, so they’re in the right place at the right time to prevent, or at least postpone, the first world war.
I find myself enjoying this bare-bones version more than the original novel; Meyer always liked going overboard with the clichés. And there’s a few pieces from the movie that were not in the book, but the reader doesn’t need to know anything about those versions to get the full gist of this. As for the artwork, the drawing of Holmes seems to be based on Rathborne or Brett, certainly not Cumberbatch. And Watson also looks like the older versions, more stout than Freeman’s slight figure. The graphics are more brightly colored than I expected for this kind of story, but it works perfectly. Definitely a must for Sherlock fans, and good enough for those who aren’t.
4/5

Star Trek/Green Lantern: The Spectrum War
Some catastrophe happens in the Green Lantern universe, sending those characters into the Star Trek universe, where they again fight their evil nemesis with the help of the Enterprise crew. That’s the best I can tell you, as I’m not at all familiar with the Green Lantern stories.
All the Star Trek characters are drawn remarkably similar to their real-life counterparts; I know that’s how it’s supposed to be, but even more so here. Even non-regulars like General Chang look exactly right, and thankfully he’s not spouting hammy Shakespeare when he shows up.
The plot was a bit difficult to get through, as this is really a Green Lantern story set in the Star Trek universe, though there are a few moments that would not have happened anywhere else, especially the outcome of the final battle.
Here’s a twist that I’ll bet no one thought they would ever hear: Vulcan zombies!
4/5

The Adventures of Basil and Moebius Volume 3
A British dandy who fancies himself the next Indiana Jones and a former SAS guy are forced to serve an ancient alien by going around the world collecting artifacts for him, though they don’t know why he wants them. The story starts in Hong Kong but goes off to many other places, including London, before the final showdown in Crete. Both the Mossad and a secret cult are after them, with no one knowing the endgame, as you would expect.
I love that it’s the old Chinese professor who comes up with the perfect word everyone’s groping for to describe Basil’s mom: “Cougar?” There are other female characters more appropriate to this kind of story, particularly Sophi, who’s a wannabe Lara Croft, especially in the way she dresses. Isabella the assassin babe is actually more fun, and exquisitely drawn, until she meets her untimely death in a most gruesome way; I hate when that happens, and even more that Basil didn’t try to help her.
The one thing that could have been done better was the exposition, which happened in the form of clunky info drops. There isn’t much opportunity in individual comic books to tell the whole story, but there’s room for improvement.
Extra credit: if you go to their website you can see a short film about these characters, with Zach Levi from Chuck playing Moebius!
3.5/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Sci-Fi, Mystery, and Teen Girls

“That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me!”
“That doesn’t speak well for your husband.”

Miasma
A Star Trek novella taking place somewhen after the third movie, it features the Enterprise ferrying diplomats to a meeting—old plot—and investigating a mysterious transmission, sending a shuttle with Spock in charge—old plot—to check things out. It’s even the same shuttle, Galileo; thankfully the similarity to the old Original series episode is noted in-universe.
Other than updating how Spock has progressed as a leader from the first time the Galileo crashed—it does that a lot—there’s really not much here. Redshirts die, Spock tries to keep the rest of them and McCoy alive. That part is very similar to the original episode as well; it also reminds me of one of the better books of the possibly thousands of Star Trek expanded universe novels, Uhura’s Song. The most intriguing notion here is having Spock and Saavik be telepathically linked because of their rumored Pon Farr on the Genesis planet, but that’s really the only new thing I saw. Even the diplomats whining that they’re going to be late is recycled.
I want to say that the similarities to previous plots are part of the 50th Anniversary thing, but the author mentions he came up with this story when he was pitching Voyager. I’m sure I would have liked it a whole lot better if I didn’t have this overwhelming feeling of having seen it all before.
3/5

This Long Vigil
A lone watchman on a generation ship is coming to the end of his run. He’ll go back into stasis and someone else will be awake for a while, but he’ll never be “alive” again. And there’s the problem: having experienced real life, how can he go back to “sleep” knowing he’s never going to feel it again?
Dan the AI bore some similarities to HAL 9000—yes, I just saw 2001 yet again—so I was a little worried toward the end, but thankfully it didn’t go in that direction. Most people on this ship are born, live in stasis, and die all without a moment of consciousness, which simply sounds horrible, but they don’t know any better. . . or anything at all, really. Having to pick his successor no doubt made things worse, though considering how lonely it must be—the ship even makes the babies!—it’s surprising he doesn’t go crazy, and actually makes his final choice all the more inevitable.
I’m thankful the author chose to keep this short; others might have bloated it, but this was all he needed to tell the story.
4/5

Dark Web
Snow plow driver up in the frozen reaches of New York state finds a dead kid on the road. From there we flashback to the family moving from Florida to that snowy locale before launching into the police investigation.
The cop investigating the murder is a mess; seems like no mystery these days is complete without a damaged sleuth. Also like most investigators in literature today, he spends most of his time chasing the wrong guy. Even when he’s right it’s by accident, because he was thinking something else when he latched onto the suspect. The best part for me was, after getting used to instant results on television—especially from Penelope Garcia on Criminal Minds—how the book shows the reality of computer forensics, where it may take as long as toxicology to find out anything useful.
I felt like this is more convoluted than it needed to be. There’s a subplot for the snow plow driver and the cop—possibly from a different book—that didn’t really figure in the story. Couldn’t help but think I should have enjoyed this more.
3/5

The Teen Girl’s Survival Guide
Not sure a guy my age has any business reviewing a book aimed toward teenaged girls, but I felt that there might be stuff in here that could apply to older women who’d missed this boat, as well as men. I was right.
The first part is all about knowing yourself, and once you do, leaving your comfort zone. After that it becomes about communication, which is really the gist of this book. Basically college-aged girls tell their life experiences to make it easier for the younger ones reading this. After each there’s a section on what can be learned from those stories, which comes off a little preachy and too much like a textbook as it basically summarizes what’s been said.
Best quote: “If you give them a chance, lots of kids will give you help if you ask for it. And when you reach out for help, it gives them a chance to be the “expert,” and who doesn’t like that?” And the best advice: Being a good friend is the key to social success. It’s tough not to say that these things are rather obvious, because a lot of people, especially teenaged girls, aren’t that introspective. But at the very least it has some sections that help cut through the drama, showing that not everything is as bad as a fragile mind might make it out to be.
3.5/5

Bonus
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
(Movie, not novelization—that’s still to come)
JJ Abrams is clearly better suited for Star Wars than Star Trek. Took me about three minutes to fall in love with Rey. Special kudos to the FX people; I had no idea that Maz was completely CGI.
3.5/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Texas Island, Sci-fi Sex, East German Life

It’s okay that I thought “You’re a thirty thirty girl” when she told me it was her 30th birthday, but didn’t say it out loud. . . right?

Destined for Trouble
An FBI analyst—no one believes her when she says she’s not an agent and doesn’t carry a gun—goes through a breakup and decides to come home to a Texas island to rest and rethink life; good luck with that, considering her mom, an ex, and the requisite crazy girl from high school.
A local restaurateur is poisoned at her welcome-home party, but it isn’t till the reading of the will that things go crazy. The man leaves the restaurant to his favorite worker, who happens to be the main character’s bestie; the widow is furious, so motive, anyone? Not to these idiot hillbilly cops like the chief, who seems to be descended from a long line of such all the way back to Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing. The deputy chief happens to be the aforementioned ex, the one cop who might be on her side, but as usual he wants her to keep her nose out of it. So of course she never tells him about the other suspects she’s uncovered. . . sheesh!
At what I thought was the ending I made a note: “Gotta say I’m a bit disappointed,” only to find there was one more twist left, which made things a little better, but it was kinda too little too late.
3/5

Star Trek Sex
Okay, that’s an intriguing enough title, especially for Trekkies. Yes, let’s enjoy an analysis of all the times Kirk, and once in a while the other crewmembers, enjoyed some happy bed time with fellow humans and/or aliens.
Sadly, that’s not close to what happens here. Instead we get a very lazy writer who figures he can sell this just from the title, which unhappily might be true.
Basically it’s a small list of episodes which feature some sort of physical coming together—and not always that—which allows him to pontificate on some tiny barely-related issue. Some of these are a stretch: mentioning that tribbles are born pregnant might fit in a very general sense, but come on.
The worst part is how uneven it is. Far too many episodes are completely ignored, the most egregious being “Shore Leave,” which was most likely the genesis of the Next Generation’s holodeck. Kirk rekindled a romance there, even if she wasn’t completely real, and McCoy was big-time flirting with a yeoman, so why isn’t this in the book? And speaking of those left out, what about Miramanee, Kirk’s only real relationship? She was pregnant when she got killed, so. . . yeah! How ‘bout the crazy Shakespearian actress?
He goes on to mention some actresses and characters from the other series, and while it took him long enough to get to Dax, he made absolutely no mention of 7 of 9. Huh?
The author must love cars; in a book entitled Star Trek Sex he includes a chapter on sexiest starships.
This was really disappointing. I would advise fans to stay away.
1/5

One More Chance
For most of the book I enjoyed both the writing and the characters, especially main heroine Ashley; I could see her as the type of girl I’d have a crush on in high school. She’s almost raped by the football hero cliché, only to be saved by the brooding musician hero cliché, who then makes a great impression on her taciturn dad until he finds out the guy’s name, at which point she is never to see him again.
By the time we get to the second half, fifteen years later, two more clichés of romance novels—misunderstandings and psycho chicks—have reared their ugly, heavily-made-up faces.
For me the best laugh was the auction scene that had the brothers discussing Disney princesses—although the whole thing started with Jessica Rabbit—but after Gabe pontificates on Elsa I felt outraged that Merida wasn’t included.
On the other hand, the worst moment came right out of the Writing Romances formula: everything is great, the happy couple is together. . . and then the writer makes circumstances that fuck everything up with another girl innocently where she shouldn’t be. WHY? WHY? Because it’s in the formula. And maybe the book wouldn’t have been long enough otherwise. That dropped my rating of a novel that features really good writing but less so on plot.
3/5

Wall Flower
Wow, was this ever difficult to read! And not just because I’m not a Hegel fan.
According to the translator, “She presents herself as a flower on the (Berlin) Wall. . .”  So there’s your title. A woman from West Berlin finds herself on the wrong side of the wall when it goes up and has to live in the DDR. For all those readers who grew up on the west side of the world, so to speak, this is where we all say, “Damn, that sucks. Too bad.” But she doesn’t quite see it that way.
At the start she’s a kid with a huge imagination for games, learning piano without having one around while she deals with a brutal father and apathetic mother, who tricks her into being in the east sector when the wall goes up, so she can no longer be with her singer grandmother in the west. She escapes so deeply into the music she goes crazy, so her parents say. After her release from the psych ward she won’t go back to her family, so she wanders around doing odd jobs; in the GDR it was apparently illegal to be homeless or jobless. Though she works nights at a light bulb factory, and takes a job at a butcher’s because she loves meat, she makes more money by being a thief.
When the rebellion inside her peters out she manages to get into the University of Liepzig to study philosophy, where I had a good laugh to find she liked the same stuff in symbolic logic that I did. Eventually she learns to play the system: when she sees the more pages written the better, she double spaces and makes more chapters. When she notices they count how many books you borrow from the library—the more the better—she takes suitcases of books home and earns the reputation she wants. Using her low blood pressure as an excuse, she pretends to faint and gets out of military training. She even marries a gay friend for a year, which worked out well for both of them; then they got divorced, and she marries the guy she’s been living with.
More importantly, she learned how to make people leave her alone. But by the end you can see that she learned to play the game at the cost of her soul. This comes into stark relief with her third marriage, an upright citizen who comes from a famous family, though she didn’t know that—or even met them!—before the wedding. She forces herself to become the dutiful politically correct wife, but eventually she realizes, “I had tried out the cynic’s way of life and could not endure it. . . ultimately I understood that I could not outwit the circumstances, even using the cunning of reason.” Yep, that’s how she thinks, and writes.
There’s a lot of funny quotes in her descriptions of the people around her and even herself. About her third husband she says, “His political standpoint did not matter to me, so long as he did not force it on me.” Of herself she mentions, “The role of political ‘dummy’ had its advantages.” In a moment of very dark humor she calls the Stasi the “Institute for Opinion Research.” And as for the people she was forced to hang around with, “The majority of socialist intellectuals found it distasteful that East Germans desired bananas, shower gel, and cars and not the complete works of Nietzsche or Trotsky.” Also “The great majority of East German intellectuals have totally disappeared, and hardly anyone misses them.” And as for the country itself, “For me East Germany had become a place to which, in the future, I wanted to return after my trips to the West in order to write in peace.”
She does have an interesting take on the Communist collapse: after saying that artists and writers had a lot of the same privileges as the politicians, she adds that the citizens were okay with that, because they loved their artists. “Only once they demanded for themselves what the artists had long been allowed. . . that the privileges be open to everyone equally, did the GDR collapse.”
And of course there can’t be a book on the Communist world without some mention of Pablo Neruda, who is introduced to her by her lover during her third husband; yep, girl got around. Even for an autobiographical piece, this just feels so self-indulgent; when I look back, I can’t help but think I should have enjoyed this more. There were too many philosophical ramblings, and judgments she made from them, that I didn’t understand, mostly because despite all this writing I couldn’t really get inside her head. Even the translator in his intro was kinda rambling.
3/5

;o)