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Sunday
Apr062014

Captain America: Winter Soldier Questions

There are roughly a million reviews of Captain America: Winter Soldier already on the internet and so it seems pointless to write a straight review. The movie was good, the action was a bit hard to see at points, but unless you hated the first Captain America you’re going to like this one.  That said it did leave open a few questions that I think are interesting.

The most interesting question to me is where this leaves the Marvel’s Agent’s of Shield show. (spoilers ahead)I knew even before seeing the movie that there would be ramifications for the show, but it wasn’t clear how big they would be. But with what appears to be the complete disassembling of SHIELD you have more issues than just the name of the TV show.  That said, I think that almost any answer, short of largely ignoring the changes, could be very positive for Agents of SHIELD. Imagine a similar show, but they’re on their own with almost no resources and forced to deal with far less reputable groups in order to keep flying.

The second question is what to do with the major new characters introduced in this movie. The Winter Soldier is clearly going to be in more movies (I heard rumors he was signed for something like 9 movies) but I actually found The Falcon a more interesting character in this movie. Of course he had considerably more to do in the movie, but beyond that I just like the character and really loved the way that Cap and him interacted because it really reminded you that above almost anything Captain America is a soldier and he relates to soldiers. That said, I sort of wish that Captain America would have spoken to the people at the VFW even if it was just to say that he understands because it really is an important point that having difficulty returning to civilian life isn’t about whether you are strong or not. Often the strongest people have the most trouble because good people should be affected by the things that happen in war.

The final question is one that Marvel is beginning to work through which is magic. For those of you don’t know Stephen Strange is the sorcerer supreme (or will be) and while the Scarlet Witch isn’t actually a witch in most stories her powers are nebulous enough that they could be and I’m ready for marvel to branch out because if Captain America the Winter Soldier convinced me of anything it is that Marvel studios don’t have to do traditional superhero stories to be interesting. 

Wednesday
Mar262014

Review: Bow Shock by Gregory Benford

Writers have a lot of ways of reminding themselves to remove excess words. Some of my favorite are kill your darlings, brevity is the soul of whit, start as close to the stories end as possible and try to leave out the parts that people skip. The reason there are so many ways to say this is that it’s one of the most difficult things there is to do, but often it is also the best thing we can do.

In the case of Bow Shock by Gregory Benford the story was good, and it might have been great if someone had taken a pair of hedge clippers to it. This is one of the most authentic feeling science fiction stories I have ever read. If I had to bet I would say that Gregory has worked in astronomy and it shows. The problem is that large parts of the story seem to have little if anything to do with the main point of the story. There are two plots going on. The first has the main character studying what he believes to be a fast moving neutron star while trying to prove what it is to improve his chances of tenure. The second part is the same astronomer interacting with his girlfriend and eventually dealing with the possibility that she might be pregnant.

I would have no problem with the second part of this story if it tied more into the first. If it even impacted his ability to do his research in a more direct way, but it really didn’t seem to even do that. In a novel this might have been fine but in a short story it made it feel far too long. I read short stories in part because I can sit down and read them in a single sitting but at 45 pages that wasn’t really possible with this story, though it could have been. It also would have allowed it to get to the surprise at the ending a bit faster.

And that leads to the other small, but largely inevitable problem with this story. It is virtually impossible to not expect there to be a revelation at the end of this story since no one really expects to read a story about a scientist who proves that a fast moving neutron star is a fast moving neutron star and then gets tenure.  But this is minor both because it is true of any science fiction story of this type and because the science and how he gets to that point really is interesting. It makes you feel like you’re watching something that might actually happen and that feeling is even more impressed upon you by the pictures that appear throughout the story of the astronomical events that he is looking at.

I really did enjoy Bow Shock by Gregory Benford and while there are flaws in it that I believe that tightening the story would improve it considerably I am open to the idea that it was important to the character and added something to the story by making you care more about the character and if this were a novel then those personal aspects would certainly add more.

 

You can read this story here.

Friday
Mar212014

Review: The Girl with the Killer Eyes by B. B. Kristopher 

I like stories about superheros. Of course like most people I generally read them in comic form, but while comics do lend themselves to the action of super heroes there is no reason they need to be in comic form and there are things you can do with a short story you can’t easily do with comics. The most notable of these is that you are closer to the main character in a prose story and in the case of The Girl with the Killer Eyes by B. B. Kristopher you really do get a feeling for the character pretty quickly.

The story begins with Jodie arriving for her first day of work. It is a government security organization that feels like the FBI except that Jodie, and the people she works with, are all superpowered, though the story tries to use other words for it. Jodie is able to shoot energy.

She ends up going out on a mission to stop some superpowered criminals who tunneled into a bank. This is the part of the story that feels the most like a comic book, with everyone using their powers together and villains that are interesting.

This isn’t a mind shattering story, but it is far more realistic than most superhero stories, including those that attempt to say they are realistic because it simply assumes that the government would take control of the situation if superhumans appeared. They might not be entirely successful but it seems inevitable that they would try.

There is a fair amount of humor, good characters and a reasonable story in The Girl with the Killer Eyes by B. B. Kristopher and while this isn’t likely to be anyone’s favorite short story it is well written and if there were more stories written about these characters I would certainly give it a chance because this is a solid, well written and fun short story.Illustrated by Ural Akyuz

 

You can read the story online here

Thursday
Mar202014

Review: Dog Soldier by Garth Nix

I don’t know if there is a generally accepted way to organize an anthology. Do you put the story that you think is best at the front or at the end, and if the first story isn’t your favorite do you pick one that is the best representation of your stories, the one with the broadest appeal or perhaps with the biggest name attached. Is it fair for me to even judge an anthology by the first story in it?  This is relevant because I just started The Best of Jim Baen’s Universe and the first story in it, Dog Soldier by Garth Nix was by no means outstanding, though it wasn’t bad either.

The story of Dog Soldier follows a military engineer who is garrisoned near an alien world with whom humans are at peace, but were recently at war. Near the beginning of the story the main character gets a package from a research and development company which is a robot that has the mind of a dog.

As you can likely surmise the soldier and the dog end up in battle and the dog proves itself worthwhile. And perhaps all of that would resonate more if I cared more about dogs. I don’t dislike them and have almost always had one in my house, but I don’t have the relationship that so many people seem to and I suspect that if I did this would be more interesting to me.

The other part of this story which is both good and bad is that it felt like part of a bigger story. There was a fair amount of detail that while interesting enough didn’t feel important for this story. The aliens themselves could have been anything as could the war history and the planets they were fighting over. What was a bit more interesting was that very few of the soldiers actually knew what a dog was which gave the main character room for growth which is often difficult in a short story, but didn’t add all that much beyond that.

So, is Dog Soldier by Garth Nix a good story? It is certainly well written and I might read other stories in this universe to learn more about subjects which seem interesting, but overall it felt like it was missing some small spark that distinguishes truly good stories and on top of that the ending made me groan. Still, if you love dogs you might enjoy this more than I did and even if you only liked it as much as I did it was still worth reading. 

Thursday
Dec192013

Nora's Song by Cecelia Holland (Dangerous Women Anthology)

Some people say that it is easier to write reviews of things you don’t care for. Perhaps that is true if it’s something that is clearly bad, but when I read a story that falls flat I tend to assume it was mostly my fault as a reader. I was distracted or missed some key point. Perhaps the symbolism went over my head. In the case of Nora’s Song by Cecelia Holland I am almost certain that I missed a lot of what was happening . Part of this I because I’m not all that versed on this part of European history. That said I didn’t really care for this story.

The biggest problem is that I shouldn’t need to know who these character are or what happened in order to enjoy this story.  This is a fault I have found in other historical fiction I have read, but it’s not entirely unreasonable to assume that people who are reading historical fiction are in general interested in history and looking up a few things about the character in the story was interesting and if you were in a history class or reading books about this time it could certainly give you a better feeling of what it might actually be like to be there rather than just dates and battles.

The other questionable point for me was the choice of viewpoint character.  I see the value in having it be a girl who cares for both her father and mother, but she doesn’t really seem central to the story that is going on. She is more interested in the friend she just made than any of the bigger context. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but in a short story I am generally interested in getting to the point which this story didn’t really seem to do.

I kept waiting for this story to get to the point and in the end it seemed to be implied what was happening rather than actually telling me because the character didn’t really know. More importantly it never really made me care what was happening to any of the characters. 

Tuesday
Dec172013

A Few Scene Notes on The Desolation of Smaug

I watched The Desolation of Smaug today and overall I really enjoyed it, but rather than a review I decided to give a few quite notes on how to improve a one of the scenes, just in case there is still room in the extended version.

For the first improvement I’ll try to pain a picture. Imagine the barrel scene, a massive CG carnival ride, and about halfway through it moves from a marginally absurd action scene to completely absurd.  At this point Bomber’s barrel bounces out of the water and begins to Ping-Pong between orcs like a pinball machine. So far we’re still in the way the movie actually went. At the end he sticks his arms and legs out of the barrel, and we cut away to the shire.

At this point you see elderly Bilbo telling the story to Frodo, who say’s something like, “There’s no way that happened. It makes no sense,” and Bilbo answers that he couldn’t see very well because he was in the water so he’s filling in the details from his imagination.

This may seem a bit jarring, but really no more so than having the movie turn into a cartoon in the middle for no real reason and this gives him a lot more room to have the comic relief and largely absurd moments. After all whether we’re to believe this really happened or not the book was meant to be written by Bilbo so we can assume he may exaggerate a bit to make things more interesting.

Other than that the only thing I might suggest if I were to be given the chance would be to trim a few minutes here and there. As someone who actually really enjoyed the beginning of An unexpected Journey and was never bored there were a few moments in this movie where things which should have been far more exciting simply went on too long. Most notably to me the scenes with Smaug. He looked great and most of the scenes were good, but there were a few too many scenes of feet hitting the ground and fire just barely missing them to the point where it started to lose its impact.

Mostly though it just needs to address the lack of physics in large parts of the movie so that I can stop asking how all the dwarfs didn’t die in situations that should have killed anyone except a cartoon character.

Monday
Dec162013

My Heart is Either Broken, by Megan Abbott (From Dangerous Women)

There are only a handful of stories I have ever read which I dislike because of how well written they are. But “My Heart is Either Broken” by Megan Abbott is one of them. I will reiterate before going on that this was a very well written story which did exactly what it set out to do and I read it in a single sitting. Even beyond that if I see anything written by Megan Abbott which doesn’t appear to be written to depress me I’ll gladly give her writing another chance because I was very drawn in. But I read to relax and recharge and this did the opposite.

The story is actually a reasonably simple one. Told from the point of view of a man who’s child disappeared while his wife was watching him. The story begins several weeks after the girl has gone missing and the suspicions have began to fall on his wife who isn’t acting how people want her to be acting.

Her husband sees the truth, that she is miserable and hiding those emotions but the press simply sees a woman who is acting as if she isn’t all that upset.  From there the natural heartbreaks occur. After the police and other people continue to try to poke holes in his wife’s story he begins to question it himself.

The specifics are important more to the tone of the story than the story itself and the tone is nearly perfect if you want to get inside the head of someone who has lost a child and is beginning to lose his wife as well. The problem is that I have very little desire to spend any time inside that person’s head.

All that said, I wouldn’t actually recommend people not read this story. In fact if you’re one of the people who is interested in every detail of the lives of people who have lost a child or any loved one and tried to decide if they are guilty from news footage you should read this because it points out better than I possibly could that everyone reacts to things differently and just because it’s strange to you doesn’t mean they are wrong or not hurting. On the other hand if you already spend too much time worrying about your kids or simply don’t want to be depressed then you can probably safely avoid “My Heart is Either Broken” because it is harder to read than most horror stories. 

Tuesday
Dec102013

Review: Some Desperado from Joe Abercrombie (From Dangerous Women)

I don’t read westerns. I have nothing against them, but I’ve never really cared, and beyond that I’ve never read anything by Joe Abercrombie, so when I picked up Some Desperado it was at a considerable disadvantage. One which was increased because it was in the anthology Dangerous Women which includes several fantasy stories making me look for the fantasy twist and in the end it simply wasn’t able to overcome those disadvantages to really engage me.

The first major issue I had with the story was the language. From the first page it uses a western style language and while it uses it well it tended to distract me. In a novel, or if I read this type of story, that would likely disappear, but in Some Desperado it distracted me and kept the story from really flowing.

Beyond that I never felt a real connection to any of the characters. I have a strong suspicion this is a prequel to a story I haven’t read and those who have will almost certainly get more out of it. But I never really understood the motivation which got Sky to commit the crime or steal from those she had committed it with. So all we have is someone trying to survive who isn’t even all that likable and seems guilty of the crime she is being hunted for. So while she is a realistic woman and well written she didn’t make me want her to win.

On an objective level I simply did not like this story and cannot recommend it. By itself it doesn’t really tell a particularly compelling or complete story and while there are a few interesting moments they never really grabbed me. This may be different if you’re a fan of Joe Abercrombie or know more of the story this is based on, but by itself it fell flat and didn’t convince me that I should seek out more of his work.

Tuesday
Oct222013

Is Castle Now a Science Fiction Series?

Castle is one of my favorite shows currently on the air, but it rarely fits onto a science fiction blog as it is a reasonably traditional detective show, albeit with a well known science fiction actor as the titular character. This week in, Time will Tell, it goes into great science fiction territory with two guest stars from science fiction shows that I have enjoyed and a plot that can easily be watched as science fiction.

The show begins as it normally does with Castle and Becket being called to a crime scene. The scene itself is a bit odd, but nothing beyond what you would expect to see on the show. The woman who was killed has been tortured and her throat slit. What is a bit odd is that there seems to be very little connection between the murderer and the woman.

Even stranger is that when the bring the main suspect in he claims to be a time traveler from the future. He is also Morgan Grimes (Joshua Gomez) from Chuck. They quickly discover that he could not have killed the woman because he was on a psychiatric hold while the crime was being committed. Then a few minutes later he disappears from the cells.

Continuing the case they discover that the man was actually looking for the victims brother, a theoretical physicist played by Tuvoc (Tim Russ). Who is also killed shortly after but the murderer seems to be looking for someone else.

Eventually they discover who he was looking for and Morgan claims that he is the inventor of an energy shield that helps with the energy wars. Of course everyone still believes that he is insane, but it’s clearly becoming a bit harder to ignore him. And they agree that they have to save the man’s life either way.

In the end the show leaves the question of whether Morgan the time traveler is insane or actually telling the truth largely open, but it drops a couple of fun clues at the end suggesting that it really could have happened.

The real point of this show isn’t the time travel of course. It’s them catching a murderer, but unlike so many shows this one knows how to have fun as well as tell a good story. It lets Nathan Fillion have fun throwing out absurd possibilities simply because they entertain him and suggests the absurd might even be true. This is also a great stand alone episode that any science fiction fan, who doesn’t hate a bit of detective work too much, could sit down and enjoy by itself.

This type of episode, along with the many Firefly nods is a large part of the reason that I watch Castle every week and while I fully understand there are plenty of people who simply don’t care for its genre of TV if you’ve ever considered watching Castle Time will Tell, which is the 5th episode of the 6th season is a fun epsode to try out.

Saturday
Jul062013

Superman: Man of Steel and Superman Vs. The Elite

I generally liked Man of Steel, though I saw some of its flaws and question a few decisions that may or may not have been flaws. That said, there has been a lot of discussion about a point at the end. That is Superman’s decision to (SPOILERS) kill Zod. And while it was interesting in the movie itself I found it even more so after watching the DC animated movie Superman vs. The Elite yesterday. This is a  movie which in many ways attacks the most basic parts of Man of Steel, and so I wanted to look at how the two different movies handle Superman. After all the subtitle of Superman vs. the Elite was world saved, humanity lost, which could have been the title for Man of Steel as well.

This will have spoilers for both Man of Steel and Superman vs the Elite and both are certainly worth watching. If you’re interested in Superman vs the Elite you can watch it instantly on Netflix. For those of you who can’t do it the basic premise of this is that there is a new team of heroes who appear. They are trying to help people, but part of the way that they are doing that is killing people. Superman’s response to this is that because they have power it is even more important that they do not stand above the law. They can’t be judge, jury and executioner simply because it would be easier because that undermines what they are trying to do.

To underscore this point Superman is fighting the atomic skull. A character I haven’t seen before, but who among other things turns people into dust. He does this almost immediately at the beginning of the movie and Superman comes in, stops him, catches him and turns him over to the police. And late in the movie, as so often happens in the comics, he escapes and kills more people. Leading to the obvious question of whether Superman should have killed him the first time and saved those lives.

And that is the basic conflict of the entire movie. The Elite are willing to kill people and even overthrow governments based on what they think is right and they ignore the rule of law in doing so. Yet the people love them because they are killing and breaking the law to protect them. They are the heroes that are so often seen in modern comics, dark, flawed, brooding with dark back stories, strange powers and all the other things that are inserted to add internal conflict. But in the end they aren’t really heroes. They just happen to be fighting on the right side.

Of course eventually the Elite decided to attack Superman because you need a major battle in a comic book movie, and the fight is reasonably good. But to me in many ways this is a fight between the Superman that has existed and the Superman of the Man of Steel. Neither is necessarily wrong and they are both heroes, but the question remains whether Superman can really be the symbol of hope and a driving force to improve humanity after he has killed someone, even if he did it for the right reasons.  After all there are things that change a person, over even a superhuman, even if they had good reasons to do it. Just ask anyone who has ever fought in a war. That is because it should hurt to kill, it should hurt to watch people suffer and it’s going to hurt a lot more for a person like Superman who has a lot of empathy and is a good person than it would for the average criminal or psychopath who don’t care about other people, and he was certainly more connected to Zod than the average soldier is to the enemy soldiers they have to kill.

So, if you’re newly interested in Superman thanks to Man of Steel, or simply want to continue to explore the concept of the morality of being a hero then you should watch Superman vs. the Elite.