Friday, 29 July 2016

Movie Review: Ragnarok (aka Gåten Ragnarok)

Directed by: Mikkel Brænne Sandemose (2013)

Pros: excellent special effects, interesting characters, neat premise, no gore

Cons: not much action, small cast lessened tension

Sigurt Svendsen is a Norwegian archaeologist with some unconventional ideas.  When his partner makes an astounding discovery they assemble a small group to check out an ancient Viking site of power. 

I give kudos to this film for having two tag along kids I actually liked.  Yes, Ragnhild is moody and pissed at her dad, but the film establishes good reasons for this that felt realistic and pitiable.  Sigurt makes mistakes but is trying to be a good father even as he feeds his obsession with Vikings.  Elisabeth was simply awesome.

While the special effects were few, they were really well done.  The creature, when you finally see it, looks great and moves realistically.

Given the small cast, there wasn’t as much tension with regards to who would survive the journey, but I thought they solved a few problems creatively.  I also liked the explanation of what the creature is.  It was one of those ideas that sounds obvious after it’s stated, but doesn’t occur to you before hand.

I enjoyed this.  It’s a fun gore free time waster horror flick. 

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Shout-Out: The Dark Side by Anthony O’Neill

In this dark and gripping sci-fi noir, an exiled police detective arrives at a lunar penal colony just as a psychotic android begins a murderous odyssey across the far side of the moon. 
Purgatory is the lawless moon colony of eccentric billionaire, Fletcher Brass: a mecca for war criminals, murderers, sex fiends, and adventurous tourists. You can’t find better drugs, cheaper plastic surgery, or a more ominous travel advisory anywhere in the universe. But trouble is brewing in Brass’s black-market heaven. When an exiled cop arrives in this wild new frontier, he immediately finds himself investigating a string of ruthless assassinations in which Brass himself—and his equally ambitious daughter—are the chief suspects. 
Meanwhile, two-thousand kilometers away, an amnesiac android, Leonardo Black, rampages across the lunar surface. Programmed with only the notorious “Brass Code”—a compendium of corporate laws that would make Ayn Rand blush—Black has only one goal in mind: to find Purgatory and conquer it.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Video: Great Minds

SciShow has a series called Great Minds where they talk about people in the past who came up with some amazing ideas.  Some of the people covered are Nicola Tesla, Marie Curie, and Filippo Brunelleschi.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Book Review: The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord

Pros: interesting characters, fascinating cultures

Cons: didn’t emotionally connect with the characters, ending felt anti-climactic

Four groups of humanoids developed on different worlds.  Many outcasts of those worlds found a home on Cygnus Beta.  When the Sadiri homeworld becomes inhabitable, killing most of the species with it, a group of the survivors head to Cygnus Beta, where they try to find genetically compatible mates from the various settlements.

I really liked all of the characters. Delarua, as predominant narrator, is a lot of fun, and her observations of the nigh emotionless Sidari and their hints of emotional expression are wonderful.  This is her story, and so her family shows up a time or two, an along with them, some person and psychological problems she faces.  Dllenahkh is also great, quite unique, and I enjoyed the ‘will they, won’t they’ aspect of their relationship.  I also liked that the supporting cast included a character who identified as gender-neutral.

Which is good, because while there is a plot, the book is really character driven.

The different cultures they encounter at the settlements were fascinating, especially the Seelie court.  The author did an excellent job of making each one sound unique in terms of government, customs, etc.

While I enjoyed the subtle - very subtle - romance, I didn’t feel particularly invested in the characters emotionally.  So for me the ending seemed to fizzle out.  The two main climactic style events didn’t come with a feeling of satisfaction when they were resolved, both because of that absence of emotional connection and because they were so drawn out that any tension was gone well before the resolutions.

It was a fun, fairly quick read, with some interesting aliens, and cultures, and characters.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Star Wars on Super 8!

My dad had an old 8mm camera with which he took quite a lot of home movies.  Over the past few weeks I've been digitizing them.

I figured, since I was doing this anyway, I might as well do my husband's home movies too.  While my family stuck with the soundless films until the 80s when we got a camcorder, my husband's family upgraded to Super 8, which does sound.  And in addition to family movies, they also had these gems:  

Those are official Super 8 releases of Star Wars (in black and white) and Superman the Movie. Unfortunately, whatever chemical they used on the film to 'preserve' it, leached the blues out, so when you watch them now they're very red tinged.  They're also between 15 and 20 minutes each.

Since I can't post the video for copyright reasons, here are the scenes that make up the Super 8 cut of Star Wars (I can do Superman later if people are interested).

There's a still shot of the title (no exposition crawl), followed by Luke and Obi Wan talking about Luke's father and seeing Leia's message on R2D2.  The scene jumps to the Death Star where Luke and Leia meet up with Han and Chewie, before getting on the Millennium Falcon. There's a cut where Ben dies (that is, you see them walking across the floor immediately followed by Leia saying 'he's gone' and Han telling Luke to shoot the door - no lightsaber battle between Ben and Vader).  They leave the Death Star and have the tie fighter battle.  Leia hugs Chewie and The End comes up on the screen.

The ending was so abrupt I almost started laughing.  This cut wouldn't make any sense to someone who didn't watch the theatrical release.  It's not even a 'best of' cut, as they removed Alderaan being blown up and didn't have the cantina scene or anything from the last third of the film. 

Ain't history wonderful? 

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Shout-Out: Voyagers

It's nice to see more middle grade science fiction coming out.  Hooking kids on reading when they're young is important if we want a robust future SF/F readership.  This is a series of 6 books, each written by a different author.

The first book Project Alpha, came out last year:

The entire future of our planet will soon be in the hands of four kids. Sure, they’ll be the best in the world . . . but can they save the world?

Earth is about to go dark. Without a new power source, life as we know it will be toast. A global competition is under way to determine who will join the secret mission that might just save us all. The Voyagers will venture to the far reaches of space, farther than anyone’s ever gone before, and they must be prepared to face anything.


But first the Voyagers team needs to be chosen. Project Alpha is a competition of physical challenges, mental puzzles, and political alliances. The battle is fierce, and only four will make the cut...

The last book, The Seventh Element, was released earlier this month.

In addition to books, the series has an interactive website with a quiz, several games, bonus content, and more.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Book Review: False Hearts by Laura Lam

Pros: great characters, interesting mystery, unique

Cons: a little predictable

Tila and Taema are conjoined twins who grew up in Mana’s Hearth, a cult where meditation and lucid dreaming were an important part of their religious service.  They escaped at 16, and were surgically separated.  Ten years later, Tila arrives at Taema’s apartment, accused of murder.  To clear her sister, Taema must go undercover with the San Francisco Police Department and infiltrate the Ratel, the criminal organization that’s creating a new drug that, when perfected, will allow them to watch and influence dreams.

The book starts with an acknowledgments section, which mentions some of the research the author did into conjoined twins and cults, in order to get the details right.  The book is fascinating and the research shows in the conflicted feelings the twins have regarding their upbringing, their former beliefs, how they interact with each other and outsiders, etc.  The protagonists are wonderfully complex and I loved learning more about them.  I really liked Nazarin, Taema’s undercover partner, as well. 

The story takes a number of twists and turns as the mystery unfolds.  The main story is Taema going undercover, but the narrative switches to Tila writing about how they left Mana’s Hearth.  I did find that as time went on a few of the twists became predictable, but I really enjoyed watching the characters reactions to the various revelations.

It did surprise me that no one considered that Taema’s scar would be on the opposite side from Tila’s when they were made to look alike.  For the most part this wouldn’t be an issue, but there is one scene where that should have come up and given her identity away.  [ETA: I got a tweet from the author explaining that due to the amount of reconstructive surgery the girls needed, the scars are on the same side.]

The subject matter’s pretty dark so but it’s an enjoyable book, and I whipped through it in a weekend, wanting to find out what happens next.  So if you’re looking for a mystery with some unique elements, give this a try.