Posts Tagged ‘reviews’

Cloaked in Sci-Fi

Posted: 11/06/2010 by Toby in Informative
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Did you know that there’s a science fiction book out there that borrows heavily from the story of Nephi in The Book of Mormon? It’s called Memory of Earth by Orson Scott Card. I picked it at random from the tray at the train station, where they set up a portable ‘library’ of sorts twice a week for commuters. I think it’s a great service, I’m always desperate for something to read as soon as I’ve finished a book. When I saw Orson Scott Card, I thought to myself, Ender’s Game wasn’t too bad, so I grabbed the book as the train was pulling up. I started reading it like any other scifi. Setting: distant planet called Harmony 40 million years into the future (a mind-boggling number..). Characters: refugees from earth and an AI orbiting the planet watching over everything This should be interesting.

Things are going swimmingly, the characters are unfolding, the main character, Nafai (did you catch that? I didn’t until much further in the book. But then again, you’re clued in from go; I already spilled the beans) is struggling to become a man, and decide what he wants to do with his life (he will probably become the greatest hero of the planet and get the girl, I’m thinking…), and the Oversoul, the AI in orbit, has to do something about itself because it is breaking down. So it’s decided that instead of (more…)

Book Reviews

Posted: 13/02/2010 by Toby in Informative

In my never ending search to fill up my time on the train, when not sleeping or writing, I’m in constant need of something to read.

Last week I read a pirated copy of The Pirate’s Dilemma. I got it on docstoc, but now the site seems to be having technical difficulty. I came across the book while looking for an article I had read before, many years ago, about the rise of the mini computer at NASA. The article describes the need for ‘barbarians’ to overthrow an entrenched bureaucracy, even within a highly technological organisation like NASA. In it, the term ‘node pirates’ was used to describe the new idea of using nodes within computing, in contrast to the idea of using faster and more powerful supercomputers. Those supercomputers could still only handle one calculation at a time, but with several smaller, slower computers combined into ‘nodes,’ numerous calculations could be carried out simultaneously.

I didn’t find the article, but I did find a copy of The Pirate’s Dilemma in pdf.

It was written by a former pirate radio DJ turned magazine editor turned whatever he is now. It was full of praise for hiphop and graffiti, with little mentions of people places and events that I was familiar with, through my own interest in punk music, anti-advertising, and disruptive behaviour. I couldn’t really jive with his excitement over tagging, though, and his glee over the inacessibility of ‘happy slapping‘, but I think his overall point was the same one made in the plotless wonder known as the Matrix Reloaded: that it’s about choice. Not the choice between the world or your girlfriend, but how corporations and the public choose to respond to innovation, youth culture, the fringe. He says the right answer is to compete. To me this approach feels like ‘welcoming,’ ‘copying,’ ‘promoting,’ and ‘validating’ which to me is counterintuitive because youth culture is constantly trying to stay away from acceptable, and constantly trying to do more and more shocking atrocious things.

Giving it more thought, however, I realise it’s really an if… then statement. If you wanna make lots of money selling music and clothes, then you’ll work with youth culture (punk, hiphop, pirates, hackers, etc), not against it. And not just music and clothes, everything; Ads, movies, tastes, styles, morality, all clothed in the right clothing, set to the right soundtrack, is sold to the masses as the next flashy new thing! You know it’s flashy and new because it looks and sounds like it!

I don’t think that point itself is all that new. Many companies are already trying very hard to capitalise on the next big thing. The book’s value is actually in the author’s explanations of why some companies and governments weren’t competing right, or erroneously fought against pirates, and then on the flip side, some managed to hit the right notes – the right Pied Piper notes.



Then Monday morning I drove to Springwood and took advantage of a really neat-o service for commuters: the library sets up a portable station with a small selection of books to choose from. I chose one from the sci-fi bin. The last sci-fi I remember grabbing turned out pretty good, it was called Air, all about a new technology that allowed people to access the internet directly with their brains. It didn’t spend a lot of time explaining this incredibly cool idea, instead it focused on a backwards town in the middle of nowhere in Asia or the middle East and how this new thing affected them.

The one I picked this last Monday was a bit lighter than Air, it was all about a kid who goes to the city to seek his fortune. The twist being, the city he goes to is made up almost entirely of toys and nursery rhyme characters. The name of the book: The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse.

There’s a tiny bit of bad language and a little bit of sex and vulgar discussion, but overall it’s a “hard boiled” detective story with imaginative twists and turns.

The most difficult thing about the book was visualising it. The whole novel felt very dark, like the mood of a Tim Burton movie, or the movie Moulin Rouge. While reading I’d visualise bits and pieces of stuff that I’d already seen on youtube or TV, such as the sackboys from LittleBigPlanet or the characters from the movie Robots, or bits of Daddy Warbucks’ house, and the toy repair man in Toy Story 2. Also difficult, tedious, I mean, is the way the author spends a lot of time getting the boy, the main character, named Jack, used to the idea of toys that can walk, talk, and think. It didn’t add anything because he mentions the amazement and scientific impossibility, heads full of sawdust and all that, and then offers no explanation.

The best part about it was the unexpected bits, the little phrases, the near constant alliteration, and the cute takes on old stories and how it’s woven into the city and woven into the case. There’s also a lot of meta going on in the book, the protagonists use a classic detective novel to pace the story, and foreshadow what’s going to happen next, which does, but in a novel way. The author is clearly having a lot of fun writing. It’s contagious, but not necessarily enriching. I’d rather chuckle at wit than self deprecating humor and in this case the book itself isn’t as witty as it is self-deprecating.

I’d recommend it as a novelty, but if you have something else on your list already, I suggest you read that first, you’re not really missing anything in your life if you don’t read The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse.


Heroes and CSI

Posted: 19/11/2009 by Toby in Informative
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Remember my previous post about not liking television?  Well, I think I will have to qualify that.  There are actually a couple of shows I don’t mind too much, and, even better, here in Australia, we get more than one episode at a time.

I need to complain though that here in Australia, they just move shows around whenever they feel like it. We were starting to enjoy Jonathan Ross (@wossy on Twitter), and then he just disappeared from the airwaves here.  We might look at the TV schedule and think one movie is coming on, and hello, something completely different is on.

First, Heroes, on Wednesday nights. There was one part I knew about because it had only just caused a small flurry over the internet last week when it aired in the States. There’s a scene where a girl kisses another girl and tells her she has a crush (ew! btw). I forgot to check and see if her nails were short – to see if my stereotype held out or not. And… that chick was on another show, I forget which but Sharole would know (maybe the Nanny?) as a kid. She’s also on another show that Sharole and I have watched, but we won’t say which because that would be publicly admitting bad taste.

I’m way glad they show two episodes at once, not sure how many you get over there across the pacifistic.  The pacing is a little slow, which probably means I’m sucked right into it, but let me just say I’m so glad I got to watch the first season on Netflix (which they don’t and can’t get here – going in the negative against Australia) from start to finish bam bam bam, I think I watched it during that time when Sharole and the kids were here and I was folding up shop back there, since I don’t remember feeling guilty and I don’t remember Sharole being there watching it too.

Just now I was trying to think what I liked about the show, and it occurred to me that a lot of it is about discovery, who you are, what choices you’ll make, and this theme has more potential for renewal than the X-Men themes of ‘kill mutie’ (my overt reference to ‘kill whitey’) and saving people.  Dealing with new powers, trying to decide who is bad, inner struggles, and the ongoing struggles to: 1) figure out who the baddie is 2) stop disaster from happening 3) figure out how to use powers and various combinations of all the above.

And the deaf woman! It was so cool to see sign language. I recognised her but I haven’t had time to see what else she’s been in. Her power is more complicated than telekinesis, and is directly related to the fact she’s a deaf character, but at least she’s interesting for the same reasons as listed in the previous paragraph: self discovery, trying to accept these new ‘powers’ and deciding what to do with them.

The show also makes it so obvious how important it is to have good friends around you, especially if you have superpowers. For example, we can’t help but wonder what might have happened if Sylar/Nathan had stayed in the hands of the newbie shrink at the precinct rather than escaping and getting roped into the gypsy circus version of the Manson Family.

So that’s that show, 2 hours of my life on Wednesday night.

Then there’s CSI, and this week was a crossover week, in which the story leads through CSI Miami, CSI NY, and CSI TOS. This meant 3 full hours of CSI goodness. This also meant I was a zombie this morning.

My breakfast: 1/4 of a lambington cake, 4 small 3-day old pancakes with 6 year old maple syrup drooled liberally on top. I couldn’t eat the two yellow iced donuts, please don’t ask me why.

CSI Miami was up first. They found a severed leg done by a professional who is a pawn for the ‘Zeta’s as in Catherine Zeta Jones’ syndicate. Morpheus er I mean Dr. Ray (as they annoyingly call him in Miami) calls to say he picked up what they were laying down (slap me some skin dawg) and flies there (since CSIs have unlimited budget for solving any case, such as hours and hours of time sifting through garbage) and makes stunning observations that no one on the team there had thought of, including the fact that the severed leg was a pro job. David Caruso wasn’t as annoying. Not sure why, but I didn’t notice as much of the sunglasses action, or maybe I’m just more used to him now. Sharole and I both had a good chuckle as he tried to show his Hallmark Hall of Fame side in comforting a grieving mother.

The question CSI:My-oh-my could not answer was “Who is scattering the bodies?”

Then in New York, on an unspecified bridge, a drunk driver smashes head on into a semi carrying a padded cell with a young woman in it. We don’t discover until after the teaser that the drunk driver was not the one that crossed the median, and might have actually made it to his estranged wife’s house were it not for the psychopath in the semi. Which begs the question: what kind of concrete median would fail to contain the semi, and fail to inflict any damage to the driver’s side front corner of said semi prior to contact with the inebriatedly operated sedan. This expected damage was not visible whatsoever.

Upon arriving to the scene the first thing we’re introduced to is a barrel containing a victim. Then, instead of opening the back of the truck at all (which makes me wonder where the barrel was before impact) we go with the two romantically involved CSIs who are exchanging flirty banter until they open the little door leading directly into the cab/trailer (they are the same thing on this truck), and they yell to Mac “you’re gonna want to see this” and we the audience go with Mac, and are finally shown the horribly decorated interior.  It’s discovered that there’s a connection to the severed leg in Miami, and Dr. Ray  goes to NY where he gets to ride a dirtbike through a junkyard, with a shotgun on his back. The baddie who is a vicious evil person, who doesn’t hesitate to shoot a ‘red shirt‘ cop somehow cannot shoot Ray as he bears down on him holding the handlebars.  This same dude also somehow does not decide to blow his brains out on the spot, but instead is captured and gives the semi-valuable information: “she’s gone – poof.” We also meet in NY a greedy doctor who could have been out of the movie Dirty Pretty Things, who somehow didn’t realize the black market organs that magically arrived at his door were coming from healthy innocent victims.

Last but not least, the Detective Jim Brass show, aka CSI (Las Vegas).  Seriously Brass simply gets the best lines and has fantastic delivery.  Sharole has been predicting for at least a half hour now, maybe more, that the girl Ray has been trying to rescue, whose mother has been a consistent figure in the storyline, is alive, and will be saved from a horrible fate. I won’t spoil it if you’re planning to catch it on re-runs, or on netflix, so I can’t tell you if she was right or not.

As we went to bed, Sharole and I discussed how it’s hard to tell how much of that is TV. Thankfully Sharole is past the stage where she’d be picked up and forced into prostitution, if the age and scrawniness of the girls on the show are anything to judge by, but watching a story like that it’s easy to start worrying about all the evil that is out there, not for ourselves but for our kids.

Star Trek, now with more flare!

Posted: 21/05/2009 by Toby in Informative
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This review is more for the benefit of those who have not yet experienced the gush that is currently issuing forth from movie review land. I hate to agree with everyone who says ‘they got it right’ but it’s true. The movie is super!

Mom, I’m not sure why it is PG-13, I can’t remember anything really bad, maybe a bar scene, or a swear word in there, but honestly this has to be experienced in a theater (make sure you’re not in the first 10 rows).

I’d really like to link to Wil Wheaton’s review, but it’s on a website with lots of immoral content. You might remember Mr. Wheaton when he was Wesley Crusher. Since his time as a child actor (and he still does some acting) he’s reinvented himself as a geek icon and writer, and his deeply personal style comes through, and adds some special meaning to the review. You can catch snippets of the article, and a link to the full article, on his blog, here.

It would be hard to nail down my favorite thing about the movie… First, something I didn’t enjoy, but can understand. The lens flare thing. For those who don’t know, a lens flare usually occurs when the camera lens catches a bright light at a certain angle and blurry blobs of light appear across the picture; examples here. They added a lot in post production, clearly unrelated to the actual lighting situation, and it evoked in me what it was supposed to, namely Solaris and 2001:A Space Odyssey.

My reaction to the bad guy’s ship was instantly, “awesome evil squid looking!.”

So my favorite part was the ship flying through space. It reminded me of the ONLY thing I liked about the new Superman movie (and that movie sucked big time) was the scaling and interplay of sfx objects that just seemed realistic, or rang true. And the bursts into warp were really rad, even better than the Star Wars version of ships going to light speed. And I’m not the only one comparing Star Trek to Star Wars, Wil does it, and there’s a comic that does it.

Saving the most important for last, what about the writing? I am so glad the plot contained a simple device, that is time travel, to allow it to be a story. They didn’t have to get to a specific destination, they only had to be true to the characters and let them beat the bad guy. Ok I take back some of that, in the sense that some of the characters had to get to their former status in a hurry *jimkirkforexample* but I didn’t mind too much. Time travel also allowed for the in-jokes and references to take on the flavor of a wink at the audience, and me, a member of the audience, and someone who got the jokes, I chuckled the whole way along.

So what do you say, Mom?



UPDATE: I just realized that I haven’t resolved what will probably be Mom’s main concern: William Shatner circa 1965 is not in the film, nor could he be, since he’s gotten old and somewhat less good looking. I haven’t thought of a way to overcome this, since Chris Pine’s overacting just isn’t the same without the broad shoulders properly proportionate head. See it anyway, Mom!

Call me Shaggy

Posted: 21/11/2008 by Toby in Other
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Two things did not happen last night. One thing did.

Did not happen: Haircut!! My hair grows way too fast, and now that I’m really well and truly approaching baldness, and I’m not a hell’s angel (yet) this is not good. I’m sure we will get around to it eventually, but for now, I’ve got mutton chops on the back of what used to be my neck (neck has been replaced with a tree trunk).

Did not happen: A picture of me with glasses on. I was so excited to get these glasses, and out class every other glasses wearer except perhaps Sarah Palin, but first I had to get a good shot of me wearing them. Sharole and I were planning on getting a shot during daylight hours, but that didn’t happen for about a month, so then I realized it would have to be whenever the camera was out next. That happened to be when we were photographing the kids’ costumes for Halloween. Now I have a photo, but I still haven’t posted. Thank you all for your patience, you may go to the bathroom now, but hurry back, I might have put that picture up while you were gone.

Did happen: Rented Hellboy II.  It was a pretty cool movie.  Del Toro has clearly made a style for himself recognizable by anyone.  It reminded me of the Tim Burton films through the 90’s only in the sense that you could always tell it was him.  I love the fact that in this movie money was still spent on actual props, such as the smashed car when he falls.  I thought the Krauss character had a good combination of silliness and charm and the voice for him was great.  I thought the Nuada character was very athletic, very fun to watch.  The whole plot was very easy to follow, and entertaining, with lots of little, ‘I just want to be loved,’ both literally and figuratively sprinkled throughout.  Sharole noticed Nuada’s hair, how it was pale, and yellowed at the ends. At first blush, the answer was simple: that kind of hair coloring appealed to the kind of people who like this kind of movie.  And that may well be true, but I think also it was part of the elven-nature motif, because it looks like a horse’s mane, and coloring – palomino, to be specific.

Movie Review: The Forbidden Kingdom

Posted: 16/09/2008 by Toby in Informative
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Since we don’t have any going to school pictures like everyone else, nor cute shots of the kids wearing backpacks (there is one of TJ wearing a backpack, but not to go to school), I thought, “What else can I entertain my precious readers with today?” Besides the awesome viewgraph in previous post? Seriously, you need to check it out and just marvel at the pretty colors. Supposedly it’s accurate. Seriously I think they should consider making that interactive viewgraph available all the time, I would bookmark it. Ok I bookmarked that page now, assuming the viewgraph will stay up after November.

I mean even the stat showing state population, for all 50 states right there at one’s fingertips! My sister used to make a big deal about population when we were kids. I only just now occurs to me to wonder why that was. And I don’t really have an answer.

The above is the first time I have ever digressed on this blog, and for that I apologize.

And now the movie review: (more…)

The is book good

Posted: 12/09/2008 by Toby in Funny, Informative
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When was the last time you read something that made you feel smart? Well I am still eating my latest literary meal, Tom Jones and I find myself not only grinning ear to ear, and chuckling, but congratulating myself for doing so, which causes me to feel a bit silly, and chuckle one more time.

An example of what made me chuckle, from page 119, in the Penguin Classics 1985 paperback edition: (more…)