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Archive for the 'Reviews' Category

Review: Variable Star

Posted in Reviews on November 27th, 2006

The concept is quite intriguing: a book imagined by Robert Heinlein and written years after his death from the original notes by Spider Robinson, arguably RH’s spiritual successor in the halls of Sci-Fi-dom.

It is a good book, an enjoyable read – I had to ration myself for fear of finishing it too quickly. The characterization is there, the plot is solid, the dialog is well written and carries well throughout the book. All the earmarks of a bestseller.

Then why am I disappointed?

Very simply: Spider has written this book before.

Okay, I’ll cut the guy a little slack. Having written some 32 or so previous books, one can expect that certain things will carry forward from previous books. I was just bummed that so many things carried forward in this one.

The main character has many similarities with Jake Stonebender of the Calahan’s series – and Jake is an extension of Spider himself. The plot is very reminiscent of Starseed if you look at the broad picture. Zen Buddhism plays a big part, as in most of Spider’s work. When it gets right down to it, the only things that are missing from the Robinson canon of plot elements is a mention of “Running, Jumping, Standing Still” and a sexy fat chick.

It was a very good book – but I kept getting the feeling that I had read it before. C’mon Spider, let’s see something new.

Review: Happy Feet

Posted in Reviews on November 19th, 2006

Tolerant, in her infinite sweetness,took me, The Pookster and her niece out to see Happy Feet, the animated adventure of a dancing Emperor penguin.

This is a good movie, and those of you with kids should take them to see it. The family will have a good time, and it is worth the money to see it on a big screen with good sound, as there is copious singing.

There is also a thick handful of social commentary, as any good fable should have. The worst part, however, has to be Nicole Kidman’s voice. A sad case of casting there.

Spoilers follow.

Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Urban Shaman By C. E. Murphy

Posted in Reviews on April 18th, 2006

A couple weeks ago, I stopped by the library to pick up Tolerant and I was wandering through the shelves when she grabs a book at random and hands it to me. Right there on the cover is the usual plug, this time from Jim Butcher, author of the bestselling series The Dresden Files:

“A swift pace, a good mystery, a likeable protagonist, magic, danger – URBAN SHAMAN has them in spades.”

Okay, I’d never heard of Jim Butcher, but he writes a good plug. Two things kept the book in my hands: One, Tolerant had randomly grabbed a book with “shaman” in the title, and I have always given a little credence to the old idea of randomly flipping through pages in a book for answers to life’s harder questions. Kind of like an instant Tarot reading – go ahead, try it sometime. The second is that I was also in a *shrug* “Why not?” kind of mood.

The World’s Best Girl Friend proves her worth yet again, as she handed me a gem. Butcher was right, this is a really good book.

Our protagonist was born Siobhan Walkingstick, daughter of an Irish mother and Cherokee father, but she calls herself Joanne Walker. Really, who wants to go through high school with a first name no one can pronounce and a last name like Walkingstick? As a single, twenty-something Seattle Police motor-pool mechanic, life is fairly ordinary. All that changes, of course, when she spots a woman running for her life from what looks to be a pack of dogs staright into the path of a knife-weilding Bad Guy parked in a church lot.

From a landing plane.

From there, she gets tangled up in a series of murders, the Wild Hunt, and coming to grips with the idea that the world isn’t the same as it was last week. With the help of a 73-year-old intrepid cabby of unusual talents and Seattle’s only cross-dressing detective, she may just survive the week – if she can catch some sleep.

Okay, there are a couple things that really make you stretch your belief, but Murphy does it in a way that you don’t really notice it. Like any good mystery novel, it’s written from the protagonist’s POV, and Walker spends most of her time wondering “what the hell?” just as much as you do.

The most annoying cliche about the whole thing is that Walkingstick’s Totem appears to be Coyote. This has been a bit overdone in the genre, but I suppose it makes sense – who better to walk you through the process of having your world-view turned inside-out than the Trickster?

The second-most annoying part is that Murphy has Walker visualizing her early steps into shamanic power as working on a car – it makes sense to ground the young shaman into something she can understand and visualize, yes, but I get the feeling that Murphy doesn’t really understand cars very much. For instance, this gifted young mechanic drives a muscle car – a classic Mustang. Correct, I can see that. But it’s an automatic? No.

Yes, I’m picking at nits here. Deal with it.

Nevertheless, a darned good read indeed, and I’m looking forward to digging up anything else Murphy has written.

C.S.I. – “Pirates of the Third Reich” Episode #615

Posted in Reviews on February 9th, 2006

Ok, it’s not often that I will review (maybe critique is a better word) a TV episode, but this one goes to great lengths to make people want to talk about it. I’ll start with the good bits…

Lady Heather rocks mightily.
Yes, we knew that already, but in this episode she gets to be the woman I think every girl wants to be: she is intelligent, strong, and at least one step ahead of the whole crew, including Grissom. More on this at the end.

One of the darker plots this series has come up with, and has some additional twists I didn’t expect – like Brass being the one to come up with a line that stumped a lot of people. “Starved, shaved and numbered…what does this remind you of?” I thought he was referring to a past episode, and I’m guessing there’s a bunch of folks out there who didn’t realize until later in the show he was actually thinking of a Nazi camp.

Now for some of the bad.
Anyone reading this has the ability to discover that “Highway 55” doesn’t enter Nevada, and Sparks is outside of Reno – an 8 hour drive from ‘Vegas. (Maybe 6 hours for Katherine and Sara, I’m guessing that they drive fast.) C’mon, guys, we expect you to use real road and place names as much as possible, but let’s make them realistic, ok?

Brass has known Lady Heather for some time now, and he didn’t think to put a tail on her? You know a person with her drive, personal connection to the crime and mental ability is going to poke their nose into the investigation and possibly do something not quite legal. (Hell, I would). Brass should have put an officer or two on her as soon as she left the station the first time.

We’ll finish the same way the show did, with one of the best parts: Lady Heather tracks down the bastard that killed her daughter just like we thought she would. Does she kill him? No. She straps his ass to the hood of a car and goes after him with her whip. No easy death here, this fucktard needs to suffer.

Moral? Never fuck with the daughter of a dominatrix.

Reviews: Lord of War and Transporter 2

Posted in Reviews on January 22nd, 2006

We decided to stay in with a couple of movies over the weekend, and chose Lord of War and Transporter 2. I’ll list them in the order we watched them.

Transporter 2
We had been warned ahead of time that while the movie was good, there are some seriously painful parts. They were right.

The plot isn’t bad for an action movie, although it’s finer points needed more work. Of course, we know what the basic plot is going to be when we go into it: The Transporter takes a job to move something, gets involved somehow more than he wanted to, and ends up kicking everyone’s ass. This they do, and well.

The rough parts come with the why the bad guys do what they do – aside from normal bad guy stupidity.

The really painful parts come with the action sequences. Most moviegoers are willing to suspend disbelief for a while, but this film asks us to simply shut our brain off and watch the pretty pictures at a couple of points.

In all, I give it 2 1/2 paws out of five.

Lord of War
This is not a happy movie. One of the first sequences follows the life of an AK-47 round (from the bullet’s POV) through manufacturing, delivery, dissemination and eventually to the end of it’s life – in the forehead of what appears to be a 14-yr-old African boy.

It doesn’t lighten up much from this for the rest of the movie.

I get the feeling Cage took this project to in some way make up for a couple of the cheesier roles he’s taken recently. National Treasure was pure Disney, and I’m not sure Ghost Rider is going to turn out very well. So, he takes the role of one Yuri Orlov and tells you how this character turned from potential restaraunteur into an arms dealer.

Cage does a very good job of making you like and identify with Yuri, who is not in any way a good man. He provides the means for nations to lay waste to their neighbors in exchange for cash, drugs, contraband and lives. Through all of this, you still like him.

Not exactly a date movie, but well-made and worth watching. I give it 3 1/2 paws out of 5.

Book Report: At All Costs

Posted in Reviews on December 18th, 2005

David Weber started a series of books many years ago based on the life and career of one Honor Harrington, in what later become known as the “Honorverse”. The title character starts out as a Captain in the Royal Manticoran Navy, and the series itself is best described as “hard military sci-fi”.

Thankfully, the author takes pains to understand that not all of his readers may truly appreciate the extent of his math skills, and puts the hardest part of the science in easily spotted paragraphs that can be basically ignored, allowing the reader to concentrate on the story elements and character interaction.

In what appears to be the final book of the series, At All Costs centers on the events following the Republic of Haven’s resumption of the war between itself and the Manticoran Alliance. Haven begins to suspect that they have been manipulated by one of their own politicians into resuming the war, and are desperately trying to find a way out of it while at the same time persuing the conflict.

Meanwhile, back on Manticore, they’ve managed to kick the High Ridge government out and are working towards putting another kick-ass fleet together – with Admiral Honor Harrington at the helm, of course.

Considering the vast distances involved in this sort of interstellar conflict, there is ample time for a few sub-plots to crop up or carry over from previous installments. This book also references events that have taken place in other ‘sidebar’ books, so if you haven’t read every book out in the “Honorverse”, you may have to muddle along in some parts. It doesn’t really affect the total book, but it does leave you wondering on occasion. As another good point, Baen Books included another CD with the rest of the series. So if you don’t mind reading on your computer, you can go back and catch up on any books you missed.

Other points, both good and bad (and spoiler warning): Read the rest of this entry »

An Eve with the Orchestra

Posted in Reviews on December 5th, 2005

I’ve been a little remiss in not posting this sooner, but I’ve been a trifle busy.

Last Wednesday, the WBGF once again proved her greatness by getting us tickets to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra show for the third year running.

In previous years, we have been seated both stage-left and -right, but this year she decided we needed to see the show from down in the floor seats, which was tremendously cool. It’s actually the closest I have ever been to the stage at a large show. I didn’t think it would really make all that much of a difference, since there isn’t a difference in the sound really, but it was great to actually be able to see their faces for once.

As always, the show rocked mightily. How could it not? Where else are you going to hear Bethoven, Liszt and other greats performed not only by a truly good orchestra, but by a heavy-metal band, with fireballs blasting away like a war zone?

The show may be the same album every year, but they keep adding other elements to keep the folks coming back. Take Anna Phoebe, the string maestro for example: the first year I saw the show, she was not your mild-mannered violinist, often roaming around the stage as she got into particular bits. The second year, she took a more dominant stance, seeming more a member of the rock band than the symphony. This year, she was a full-on rock goddess, with all the attitude of an axe-slinging metal-head – never mind that her ‘axe’ is a vibrant pink electric violin.

They ended the show with both Angus and Anna running through the crowd and onto a cherry-picker, where they were hoisted 20 feet into the air during “Christmas Eve in Sarejevo” – neither one of them missed a note.

Speaking of axe-work, Angus Clark has been taking pages from Al Pitrelli’s style by incorporating more elements of other great players into the live show. Now I’m not talking about lifting sections of work from other players; I mean they have learned to play the style of guys like Eddie Van Halen, Jimmy Page, and I think even a little Satriani. This is hard to do, folks. Any good technical guitarist can play another man’s work, but to play an original piece as if the other man’s fingers were on the frets takes talent. What I would love to hear them do next time is expand John Lee Middleton’s bass part – the show only has a few places where his work stands out from the rest.

I really can go on and on about these artists, but I’ll try and move along here.

Vocals: I don’t have the words, so I’ll use the words of Tommy Farese (a damn good singer himself): “Michael Lanning is the most Soulful White man on the planet.” Guy LeMonnier is a joy to the ears, and I wish he had a larger part in the show. Jill Gioia has the largest voice ever packed into so small a person, and Kristin Gorman can hit notes so perfectly it’s amazing – all while bouncing around the stage the same way Angus and Anna do.

TSO also has the blessing of having not one, but TWO of the best keyboard players in the world: Jane Mangini and Carmine Giglio. The dueling they do before “Christmas Liszt” is phenomenal. It’s truly a shame that touring is too hard on pianos; I’d love to hear them on a couple of full Grands. Since the piano is really a percussion instrument, I’ll segue here into John O. Reilly’s drum work – outstanding. As one man, he does what takes most orchestras 4 individual musicians.

Okay, I think I’ve praised them all enough, now for the bitching: When do we get another tour?!? Yes, we love the Christmas show – but we all know you guys have more than one album. Get it out on the road already!!


Posted in Reviews on October 2nd, 2005

I was planning to review Serenity here, but there’s no real need – several thousand others already have.

This movie is, in my humble opinion, the best movie to hit the screen since I don’t know when.

It has layers of plot. It has quality acting by the truckload. I laughed, I cried, I got pissed off…and by D.o.C., I hope they do something more with this, whether on small screen or large. Nathan Fillion gets his revenge, in spades.

Now for a small spoiler. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Mr. and Mrs. Smith

Posted in Reviews on July 5th, 2005

Or should I say belated review? It’s been a couple weeks since The Girlfriend and I went to see this.

For those that don’t mind a love story as long as there is some blood, gunfire and explosions, this is the movie for you. All I can tell you about the plot is that Mr. and Mrs. Smith are both assassins – but they work for rival agencies. Neither knows what the other truly does for a living, having both bought the other’s cover story when they met several years ago.

You can guess that this leads to some sticky situations. For example, one of Mrs. Smith’s assignments requires her to be a dominatrix as a cover, and she has to sneak out of the house in full leather gear, kill the mark and then go to a dinner party at the neighbor’s house. Everything goes well, with the exception that she forgot to take off her sexy fishnet stockings before changing into her pale little frumpy dress.

The acting may not be spectacular considering that Brad Pitt essentially plays himself, but you won’t be disappointed either. Looking through the IMDb listing for the movie, there are apparently some gun geeks out there with far too much time on their hands, but I assure you, the slight inconsistencies don’t interfere with the film for the rest of us.

All in all, a damn good flick with several lines that I’m sure will make it into this year’s vernacular.

“Honey, are you dead yet?” – Jane Smith

Review: Batman Begins

Posted in Media, Reviews on June 16th, 2005

Lucky bastard that I am, the Girlfriend took me out to see the new Batman movie last night, and we had a very good time (aside from spending $10 on a soda and popcorn. Sheesh!)

The first thing I thought about the movie was “where are the opening credits?” The movie has none – it simply begins, with a young Bruce Wayne (about 9 or so) chasing his friend Rachel around the greenhouse a few minutes before he falls into the old well.

Like any remake of an old idea, this movie puts Bats into a more modern world than what he originally came into. Gotham is, as always, Gotham, in the way that it should be. (I was pretty disappointed with the portrayal of the city in the earlier films.) The writers do an excellent job of telling us why Gotham is Gotham while the cinematographer is showing us what it is – and it is a truly polarized city, with the rich on one side and the poor on the other. A glittering monorail plies the skies forty feet above the ground – because at ground level is where all the streetscum live, and nobody wants to see that.

Spoiler Alert Read the rest of this entry »