Tuesday 20 February 2024

Movie Review: Nine Days

Directed by Edson Oda, 2020
IMDb listing

Set in a realm that monitors people on earth and chooses souls to be sent there, one of the interviewers who had a bad experience on earth sorts through new candidates. But as he deals with the death of his favourite subject and a candidate with ideas different from the others’, he starts to question the criteria upon which he makes his judgement.

This is a strange but thoughtful movie about life and death and what we got out of those experiences. It’s a reminder to be in the moment, to appreciate what you have.

The interviewer, Will, played by Winston Duke, is an interesting character. He’s clearly upset that he has to replace one of his subjects and his experience on earth was apparently negative. It’s unclear what he’s looking for in his new subject, so there’s an interesting mix of souls trying to cater to what they think he wants and being true to themselves.

Emma, played by Zazie Beetz, does a brilliant job of showing how every moment is precious - even minor, otherwise forgettable ones. That if you really LOOK around you, you’ll see the good in the world. She questions the process and gets the most out of the time allotted.

It’s a thought-provoking film that had me crying in a few scenes.

There are a lot of unexplained aspects of the film, where this takes place for example. Expect to be moved by several scenes and left unsettled by the ending.

Tuesday 13 February 2024

Reduced Attention Span

I know from posts I’ve seen online that a lot of people came out of the pandemic with a reduced attention span. I used to read for hours at a time, lost in the story. Now it sees like anytime I open a book it’s a real struggle to finish a chapter, a page, a paragraph. No matter how interesting the characters or plot, I have a hard time keeping my mind focused on what I’m doing. So many other things try to intrude. I’m reading more history books, which means I often pause to look up new information or other books being referenced to check out later. I’ve started forcing myself to sit still and read, but even then, chores, shopping lists, random thoughts intrude, making it hard to concentrate. And there’s always social media, that time sink that makes it feel like you’re connecting with the world when you’re really just becoming more and more isolated in your own private echo chamber.

I’m planning another research trip which is eating up the majority of my time. I haven’t been taking on many review requests as a result. Haven’t been reading much fiction at all. Last year I only read 28 books, 18 of which were fiction. Two of those were graphic novels, three more were Dante’s Divine Comedy (are those fiction? poetry? religious philosophy? not really sure). I keep thinking I can read on my trips, but the stress involved means I REALLY do not have the concentration required. So I’ve gravitated to watching more movies and TV shows.

I read an article recently by a professor lamenting that kids these days haven’t learned the skill of reading. That the instant gratification of social media has lowered attention spans and that schools haven’t focused on the skill that is sitting still and concentrating on a single task. I’m realizing that sitting still is a skill to be cultivated. And I think a lot of us have lost it.

I also think I need to prioritize pleasure reading more. Accomplishing tasks is great and research is wonderful, but all stress and no down time make for people who don’t handle the challenges of life very well. The world keeps telling us that we need to earn money from everything we do, that all our hobbies should be second or third jobs. I have found that when I review all the movies I watch I don’t enjoy them as much. There is real work involved in thinking critically about media. This blog started out as a way to market myself and my writing. I know how hard it is to find good media, and how hard it is to be seen, so for years this blog’s been about pointing out books and movies I thought were interesting and worth checking out.

So this blog’s been declining in terms of content. I post book reviews when I have them. I’ve got a religious book review coming soon, and a few science fiction books I’ve received advance reading copies of. This year will probably be another lean year. Hopefully I’ll have more time for leisure reading come autumn, after my trip.

I’m currently reading Cascade Failure by L. M. Sagas, and it’s very tense. I’m enjoying it a lot. And managing to read a couple of chapters before my brain tells me to get back to research.

Tuesday 6 February 2024

Shout-Out: Phoenix Rising by Ephie and Celia Risho

When a flying creature sets fire to their home, the people of Seabrook scramble. But for Amber, a twelve-year old daydreamer, it’s just the beginning. At the urging of mischievous pixies, she sets out in search for answers, only to find there’s far more going on than her sleepy village can handle. Evil wizards and their sinister plot begin to unfold before her the further she travels. What started out as a seemingly simple task quickly reveals a far greater challenge facing the entire kingdom. And time is running short. If she can’t figure it out soon enough, the entire coast will burn.

An epic coming-of-age fantasy adventure for young and old readers alike!

In “The Elementalists” fantasy books set, you will embark on an adventurous journey into a universe where ordinary teenagers discover incredible powers. Across four epic fantasy books, readers are taken into a world where magic is full of possibility, friendship is unbreakable, and courage glows in the face of challenges.

Tuesday 23 January 2024

Movie Review: Outland

Directed by Peter Hyams, 1981
IMDb listing

After being transferred to be the new head of security on a mining colony on Io, Marshal William O’Niel must decide if he wants to toe the line or bust the drug ring he uncovers.

The special effects are really good. The station looks dirty and lived in, with a claustrophobic mix of large spaces broken down into small cubicles and living quarters. It’s very much a realistic - and rather horrifying - guess at what a company town would look like. Little private space, little regard for the workers, lots of emphasis on productivity and profit for the company.

There’s a realistic 3 day transfer time from the orbiting space station and the planet, which the story uses to good effect. The tech is all so outdated watching them write emails and watch video messages is kind of painful, though it was futuristic stuff for the early 80s.

The extended final fight was entertaining. I question some of the structural integrity of the complex and the mine’s ability to continue operating after some important sections of the base were destroyed though. Oddly the massive damage to the base isn’t commented on by anyone in the film.

While it’s not the best film set in space, it was entertaining and embodies a lot of the themes later 80s films would focus on.

Tuesday 16 January 2024

TV Show Review: Severance Season 1

Created by Dan Erikson (2022)
IMDb Listing

Lumen Industries has discovered how to surgically separate the brain. Their workers have no memories of what they do on the job, and their ‘innies’ have no life outside of work.

After a co-worker suddenly leaves, Mark S. is promoted to team lead of data refinement. His first task is to help the team’s replacement, Helly, with her adjustment to severed life.

But Helly doesn’t want to work at Lumen and it’s truly bizarre office culture. And she will do whatever it takes to get out.

This is an absolutely brilliant show on Apple TV. It’s slow moving and takes its time letting you get to know the core characters and their issues. It asks some great questions about memory, work, and work-life balance. Having seen it twice now, it’s also a show that gets better upon rewatch as you can pay attention to smaller details you missed the first time around.

The story is bizarre in all the best ways. There’s so much that’s simply ODD about Lumen and the office. The show has a lot of bright lights and long white corridors. It’s also got some creative photography choices, making good use of reflections and cramped spaces. There’s a sweet office romance between 2 older men (one of whom is played by Christopher Walken). A lot of 60s inspired sets and parties. A new age guru, and more.

The season has an electrifying finale that poses a lot of new questions and deepens the mysteries around the company.

I hope the series gets all the seasons it needs to tell its story as planned.

Tuesday 9 January 2024

Book Review: Mislaid in Parts Half-Known by Seanan McGuire

After losing years of her life in the Land Where the Lost Things Go, Antsy Ricci has found her way to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. But a school filled with kids trying to find their Doors back to magical lands might not be the best place for a girl that can find anything,

This is the 9th book in the Wayward Children series and is best read in sequence. It takes place a bit before and directly after the events of Where the Drowned Girls Go and Lost in the Moment and Found. It’s worth rereading those if you don’t remember what happened.

Antsy’s an interesting character. She’s 9 years old in the body of a 16 year old, with no idea of how to act around kids her visible age. Seeing her face her past and giving real resolution to her story in Lost in the Moment and Found, was wonderful.

I loved Sumi in this story. She can be a bit much but acts like a real mother hen crossed with a real no nonsense attitude. She has some of the most insightful lines in the book.

Despite the rules of the school, a quest is at hand. As a novella it only takes a few hours to read, but has a very satisfying story arc.

If you’ve read the prior novellas in the series, this is a strong follow-up. If you haven’t, I can’t recommend the series enough.

  - a review copy of the book was provided by NetGalley -

Tuesday 26 December 2023

Books Received in December 2023

Many thanks to Kensington Books for an eARC of Escape Velocity.

Escape Velocity by Victor Manibo - I love murder mysteries in space, and this one adds in the class disparity that makes it topical. Out May 21st, 2024.

A decades-old murder looms over the glamorous clientele of a high-end space hotel . . . while an unforeseen threat percolates in the service corridors. The guests are about to experience the hospitality they deserve.

Space Habitat Altaire is the premier luxury resort in low Earth orbit, playground of the privileged and the perfect location to host reunions for the Rochford Institute. Rochford boasts only the best: the wealthiest, most promising students with the most impressive pedigrees. Complete with space walks, these lavish reunions are a prime opportunity for alumni to jockey for power with old friends and rivals—and crucially, to advance their applications to live in an exclusive Mars settlement. Earth is dying, and only the best deserve to save themselves.

Aboard the Altaire for their 25th reunion, finance magnate Ava pursues the truth about her brother’s murder during their senior year, which cast a dark shadow over their time at Rochford. Laz, ambassador and political scion, hopes to finally win Ava’s heart. Sloane, collecting secrets to conceal his family’s decline, angles for a key client. And Henry, heir to a healthcare empire, creates an unorthodox opportunity to get to Mars in a last-ditch effort to outrun a childhood secret.

While these erstwhile friends settle scores and rack up points, they fail to notice that other agendas are afoot at the Space Habitat Altaire, and their own futures aren’t the only ones at stake—“the best” will soon regret underestimating those they would leave behind on Earth.