Friday, February 27, 2015

The Passing of Leonard Nimoy

This was supposed to be a book review. Given my mood at the moment, I'm just not up to it. I know this is whining and furthermore, whining about the death of someone I have never met. I'm going to do it anyway. The deaths of celebrities are something that I usually pay no attention to, but this time it hit me. Today should be a day like all other days. It is not. Today is the day that Leonard Nimoy died. And, as someone who has dedicated his blog to ALL forms of SF/F, including movies and TV shows today is not a day I could allow to go unmarked.

My SF fandom started in a little trailer in southeastern Michigan called Americana Estates. I sat in the living room of a trailer and watched Star Trek with my dad. I watched as the Enterprise cruised around the galaxy, seemingly always on its way to Alpha Orions IV. I saw TV's first interracial kiss, even if I was over a decade late. (I wasn't born when it first came out.) I saw some of the weirdest aliens ever in my life. I laughed at the Trouble with Tribbles and I'm still more than just a little creeped out by Spock's Brain. I would sit and I would watch and, when it was over, I would run outside and get barked at by the neighbor's dog Princess or go play with some Construx or my cars. Star Trek was more than just a show to me. It was part of my childhood. As a guy named Jim McCoy, who has been known to respond when referred to as "Bones" it was bound to be, I guess.

Even more than that, the cast of ST:TOS has always been, in a weird way, like my family. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Chekov, Sulu, Uhura, Scottie, I grew up with them. I spent more time with them when I was young that anyone I actually AM related to except my parents and my sister. Oddly enough, though, for a guy whose first name is Jim, I always felt closest to the characters Spock and Dr. McCoy.

I have a head for math and science (although my degree is in history) and I wanted to be an MD when I was a child. Barring that, I was convinced I was going to be some kind of  scientist. I got out of the sciences when I got sick of being told to stop thinking and just follow the formula, but that will never change my initial affinity for these characters. McCoy's humorous sarcasm and Spock's cold, passionless logic appealed as well. Until you've been the kid who was picked on in school and wished that he couldn't feel it I guess you wouldn't understand. If you have been and you're a fan of the series, especially, you probably already do. No one who knows me would ever believe that I didn't wish for his skill with a phaser at those times either.

ST:TOS was, of course, not the last stop for Nimoy but it is, and always will be, the one he is best known for. It's the one I will always remember him for. It is the reason I took the time to write this when I've never done anything similar upon the death of a famous person ever before. That show has as much to do with who and what I am as any other pop culture influence upon my life EVER. Star Trek taught me to show respect to those in positions of authority, to never stop asking questions and to always be loyal to those who have earned it. I'll never forget those lessons.

So farewell, Leonard Nimoy. Say hi to my father for me if you see him. Although we have never actually met, I have and always shall, consider you my friend. It was your fate to Live Long and Prosper. As you boldly go where no man has gone before, know that you take a little piece of all of your fans with you. And as you leave us In Search Of a reason for this, rest assured that we will not be satisfied until we find it.

On Sunday: Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

20th Century Fox's Robocop (1987) starring Peter Weller

The story I'm about to tell you is true: Once upon a time, there was a ten year old boy named Jimbo. He lived about two miles from the borders of Detroit and a movie named Robocop came out. He was, according to his parents, too young to see the movie and so he didn't get to watch it when it first came out. As a matter of fact, it took nearly three decades for him to see it. He just finished watching it a few minutes ago. Quite frankly, he wishes he had waited another thirty years to see it.

This movie was not very good. I was quite frankly disappointed. I've been hearing for literally decades how good Robocop was. I feel like I've been lied to. Seriously. The reasons I don't like this movie are listed below and it's almost painful to type them, but I'll do the good stuff first, because that's how I roll.

The special effects for Robocop were very good considering when the movie was made. Seriously. The ED-209 was awesome. Maybe I've just been too big of a Battletech fan for too long, but I really get a kick out of the combat robot thing. (Yes, I know that Battlemechs are way different. It's a related concept though.) The concept was pretty decent, even if it could have been better executed. Some of the hair-dos were nostalgia-inducing. There were a couple of shots intended to make the city of Detroit look good. I think that pretty well covers it.

As far as what went wrong: Listen guys, I'm a big believer in including a message in fiction IF story comes first. That was not the case here. Someone clearly had an axe to grind with both law enforcement and large corporations and used this movie to do it. Think about it:

Within the first ten minutes a member of the board of Omni Consumer Products is shot down in front of the rest of the board and no one cares. The room just empties out and Dick Jones tells everyone that he never heard the ED-209. As one other character remarks, "That's life in the big city." The rest of the movie is filled with corporate machinations and the eventual murder of for providing an alternative to the ED-209 program with his Robocop initiative.

What follows is a scene showing two of the dumbest police officers ever to walk the face of the planet. Seriously. No self respecting member of law enforcement is going to knowingly go into an abandoned factory complex while outnumbered and outgunned. It just doesn't make sense. Acting in this manner is just asking to die. The only surprising part of the encounter is that one of the two officers manages to make it out alive. The we get to have even more fun at the expense of the police who are seen as going on strike because they're afraid to do their jobs.  It just gets worse from there.

Again, I have nothing against message in fiction if it's well done. This is not an example of how to do it well. This is, in fact quite the opposite. In fact, I'll leave you with a link to one of my favorite shows. It's got a leftist bent as well, but it's entertaining and actually worth watching. Bottom line: Robocop gets two out of five steaming piles of horse manure.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Paramount's World War Z starring Brad Pitt

I came to World War Z with a set of expectations. I had read the Max Brooks book and was, and still am, a huge fan. I'll admit to being a little worried because, as we've all heard before, "The book is ALWAYS better than the movie." Having watched the movie (and I had not done so for the first time until a couple of days ago) I have to wonder... Would this movie have been more satisfying if it was named something else? It's not that it was a terrible movie, as a matter of fact I enjoyed it, but throughout the film I couldn't help comparing it to the book it was uhhh... named after? based on? I wasn't sure how I should rate it here and what criteria I should use. At the end of the day, I decided that the right thing to do would be rate the movie on its own merits and not those of a completely separate work. As there was definitely enough of a world-spanning story here to stand on its own, I hope you all will not be disappointed in my choice. For the record, I watched the PG-13 edition as opposed to the Unrated Version.

World War Z starts the way a lot of zombie movies do: A quiet day at home and an average day that goes horribly awry when people start trying to eat each other. The shock that main character Jerry Lane and his family feels is well depicted, as is the complete sense of panic they all feel when the world goes crazy. Part of the "believability" of the movie occurs here, because the family is, like most American families totally unprepared for what comes next. Out there somewhere there had to have been a prepper pulling his hair out while watching this flick but, for the vast majority of the population, it just feels right.

What follows is a trip across the world to find a vaccine or a cure. It's not pretty and the route the character takes is not always well chosen but he finds a way to make things work. The journey could easily have been dragged out into infinity but it wasn't. The list of stops that he visits is short and consistent with the information that he has available. Lane is a retired UN investigator and so it makes sense that he would have the skills and abilities needed to keep himself alive while uncovering and following up on leads.

I'm going to take a second here to talk about the political content of the movie as well. This paragraph and the next will contain mild spoilers. You have been warned. There were really only two spots in the film that came across as political to me. One was when Lane went to Israel. I believe in the concept of a Jewish homeland in the State of Israel. I have since I started reading newspaper accounts of the fighting there in the nineteen-eighties and taking a semester on the History of the Arab/Israeli Conflict did nothing to change that. When Lane went there, I was rather concerned that Israel would be publicly tarred and feathered. This is, after all, Hollywood we're talking about here. I'm happy to say that it didn't happen and, if everything didn't quite work out the way Israeli leadership wanted, it was the Zombie Apocalypse.

The other moment was a bit different. At one point the Lane family ends up on a US Navy ship and, as Gerry is reluctant to go back to investigating things for the UN, Navy leadership threatens to have his family thrown off of the ship and, indeed, right out of the task force. This I found a bit hard to swallow. Granted, it is the job of military leadership to make hard choices but I can't help but feel that this was a bit of a slap in the face. I don't see the US military as being the type to use blackmail. Also, put bluntly, if the US military in general needed something investigate I don't see them sending some UN investigator to get it done.

Other than that, World War Z was pretty well done. Zombies "turned" a bit quicker than I thought they would and their thrashing while they did was a bit more pronounced than I really felt necessary but it didn't detract from the story all that much. One thing that this movie got right was when it highlighted the difficulty of scoring a headshot on a moving target. There was one major problem I had though.

I don't want to give away the ending, but I cannot figure out exactly how Lane would have come up with the deduction that he did without more information than what he had available. He made one logic jump too many. I just couldn't follow it. I saw what he saw and I saw it again when he saw it again. It still doesn't make sense to me and it did kind of throw me out of the story. The Eureka Moment turned into a WTF moment for me. That's never a good thing. That much being said, it was still a relatively decent movie even if it wasn't anything spectacular. I'm giving it three and a half out of five bite marks.

World War Z
Paramount, 2013

World War Z can be purchased here:

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Chaplain's War by Brad Torgersen

One day, I'm going to be comfortable enough with myself to admit publicly that I waited too long after downloading this book to read it. At some point, I will shamefacedly emerge from my cocoon and tell the whole world that I goofed. I'll acknowledge the fact that I goofed and ask for help from all of you in moving on. Today is not that day. Today, I will simply tell you all how much I loved this book. I may even mention that I voted for this book as Best SF Novel for the Goodreads Awards as a write-in candidate, but don't count on it. Nor will I mention that Brad is the leader of the Sad Puppy Brigade and that they have my full moral support, even if I couldn't justify the expense of paying for a con membership when I knew I wouldn't be able to go to the con. Granted, it's all true, but I'm not talking about it.

Brad Torgersen's The Chaplain's War is, paradoxically, the best SF book of the past year for the same reason that I didn't read it immediately upon downloading it:  It's about a Chaplain. Actually, Harrison Barlow, our main character is a Chaplain's Assistant.  He is a surprisingly secular Chaplain's Assistant though, and one who finds himself in a position he's not entirely comfortable with.  As a man of no faith himself, he finds himself building and maintaining a chapel at the request of the Chaplain he had previously served under. He also finds himself instructing the alien mantes in the meaning of god.

The foil for our hero is The Professor, a mantis who is basically an xeno-anthropology professor. He, along with his students have come to the human colony on the planet of Purgatory in an attempt to learn about human spirtuality. He is not at all pleased that Harrison is not able to assist him with it.

This is where Torgensen's work departs from the tradition Mil-SF hero and that's a good thing. I don't hate Mil-SF. I love Mil-SF, but I've never seen this take on it and it's awesome. John Ringo's Mike O'Neal is the type of character I would normally expect to see as a main character in this type of story. He runs a unit, kicks ass and takes names. Harrison Barlow is not an ass-kicker by any stretch of the imagination. He's actually more of a peacemaker. And therein lies the appeal to the book.

Barlow is a man of peace. He is a man who built a chapel for all because it was necessary. He is not a member of the religiously faithful, but he seems to me to be strong in his faith in his own humanity and the humanity of those around him. He helps his community maintain their sanity through some very tough times and he toils endlessly to build a peace with the mantes to save his fellow humans. To me, this was the best part of the book. I've read about hundreds, maybe thousands, of hard-charging warriors out to slay the foe. Barlow is the first I've seen of this type of a character that is not a coward, but is not truly a warrior either. Sure, there are a lot of tropes in SF/F and Torgersen does use a few

This is the part where I would ordinarily go over the flaws in the work and there have to be some, but I seem to have missed most of them. I'm sure there may have been a grammatical error somewhere, or maybe Torgersen fudged a bit on some of the math and/or tactics in a space battle but I couldn't tell you where. There really wasn't anything that threw me out of the story or really even lessened my enjoyment of it. I'm aware that this work started as a short and a novella but I haven't read either of the originals so I'm not aware of any problems that may have occurred as a result of their amalgamation and translation into a longer work. Here is the bottom line: The only thing stopping this from getting a perfect score is the fact that I don't want to give one this soon into the beginning of my blog. As a result, The Chaplain's War gets 4.99999999999999999999999999999999 out of five chapel pews.

The Chaplain's War can be purchased here:

The Chaplain's War
Brad Torgersen
Baen, 2014

On Sunday: Paramount's World War Z starring Brad Pitt

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ryk Spoor's Castaway Planet

Have you ever wanted to just chuck it all and get away from EVERYONE? Have you ever thought about what _really_ roughing it would be like? Has it ever occurred to you that being off the beaten path would be a good thing? Would you enjoy a chance to take on the whole world and everything in it with just a few of your nearest and dearest? If so, then Castaway Planet by Ryk Spoor and Erik Flint is for you.

At the beginning of the story we're treated to the rather idyllic scene of our main character Sakura Kimei and her friend Harratrer aka Whips (a genetically-engineered alien Bemmius Novus Sapiens) playing stalking games in the corridors of a colony ship. There is an lifeboat drill called. Soon after there is an accident aboard ship and that's when the action starts.

The family in the pod finds itself adrift in interstellar space. I'm not an expert here, but their method for identifying the closest star seems both well-researched and actually possible. Fortunately, is a pilot-trainee, being still a teenager, but has learned her lessons well and manages to get them onto the  planet safely. Things seem to be pretty simple at first. That is, until disaster strikes and "easy" literally sinks out of sight.

It's hard to be specific from here without spoilers, but suffice it to say that the list of challenges faced by our heroes is both long and, in many cases, unpredictable. The cast is forced in some cases to handle the predictable questions as well, things like, "Is the water potable?" and "What are we going to eat once the rations run out?" but all in all, those are subjects he could not have believably avoided. Ask any survival expert and they will tell you that the first priority in a survival situation is water. The next is food.

The equipment that the would-be colonists turns castaways bring with them is equal to the task, as are the people wielding it. It's not always obvious that either will be but this a story in the finest traditions of The Swiss Family Robinson or Robinson Crusoe. Our heroes always find a way to get through whatever fate throws at them. Whether it's building a shelter or defending themselves from the native wildlife, they manage to get through somehow.

One thing I found especially pleasing about this work is that, while it is in fact related part of the Boundary series, it is easily understandable with no prior knowledge of the previous books. This book works perfectly well as a stand-alone and was even more fun as a follow on to those of us who had read what came before. There are a few references early in the story, but none are critical to understanding what is going on and all feel like they were put there for the enjoyment of existing fans.

My only problem with this book is how incredibly tightly it's plotted. The twin facts that everyone in the family happens to be in their lifeboat both before and during the accident is both extremely fortunate and just a little too coincidental for my liking. The fact that the people in the lifeboat, mom Laura (doctor), dad Akira (biologist), sister Melody (no real occupation at age ten, but an organizational wiz), baby sister Hitomi and of course Whips (engineer) and Sakura (pilot) all happen to be in the same capsule together just when things go wrong seems a bit contrived. Granted, all of these coincidences are necessary to the plot and I really can't think of anything he could have done differently, but at the end of the day, they seemed to stretch things a bit further than I was really comfortable with.

That much being said, I really did enjoy the book and highly recommend it.
Castaway Planet is the perfect excuse to stay inside a nice warm house this winter. Also, if keeping warm is what you've got in mind, it helps to read about a family stranded in the tropics, even if it does make one a bit jealous. I'm giving this one 4.5 out of 5 colony ships.

Castaway Planet
Ryk Spoor and Eric Flint
Baen Books, 2015

On Friday: Brad Torgerson's The Chaplain's War

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Welcome to Jimbo's Awesome SFF Book and Movie Reviews.

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Welcome to my blog! As the owner of this place, I will be providing you with the finest and most awesome reviews possible. I work only in the realm of Science Fiction and Fantasy for the simple reason that SF/F is where my love lies. Don't get me wrong, I have respect for other genres but SF/F is my obsession.

I watched my first episode of Star Trek: The Original Series before I could walk. The night that Encounter at Farpoint debuted and Star Trek: The Next Generation launched is one I will never forget. The first movie I remember going to see in the actual theater was Star Wars Episode Five. I read Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert Heinlein in grade school and spent the next twenty plus years searching for it. Whether it's the giants of the field like RAH or Isaac Asimov, newer authors like John Ringo or David Weber or anything in between, I'll be happy to review it here.

And let's not forget the fantasy element of this site: Once upon a time, in the long-ago decade of The Eighties,  I saw an animated film named The Hobbit. A few years later I found the book in my junior high library. When I inquired of the librarian she assured me that yes, there are more books like this and "Have you tried the Lord of the Rings? It's what comes after this." I was in awe. I knew nothing of fantasy literature other than faerie tales. That all changed quickly and when my buddy Jeff handed me a copy of The Dragonlance Chronicles my life changed. Prior to that I had been a fan of pretty much just SF. Now I read and write fantasy fiction. Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman are a huge part of the reason for that.

Fair warning: I know this is blasphemy to many but as far as I'm concerned media tie-ins are SF/F. Halo, Star Trek and Farscape are all SF and that's just to name a few.  Let's not forget role playing games either. Shadowrun, Dungeons and Dragons and even World of Warcraft are all SF/F.  I refuse to turn my back on the most successful segment of my hobby simply because it is successful. And let's not forget one more thing:

Many superheroes are part of the genre as well. Teenagers with a mutant gene? Yup, genetics is science. The X-Men are SF. Stories about wars against giants and evil gods? Rainbow bridges to connect realms? Yup, Thor is fantasy. Star traveling beings wielding green light in the fight to defend the universe? Umm... I'm not sure if that's SF or Fantasy or some mix of the two, but The Green Lantern definitely belongs here. I could go on.

I will do my best to honor requests for reviews where practical. I am currently sans a gaming console and have an older computer and will be unable to do game reviews. I may not be able to find something that was written in nineteen-seventy. Some books I just can't get through. Seriously. I tried to read Twilight on a bet and I just couldn't do it. A hundred and forty pages in I gave it to my sister. She said she enjoyed and her oldest daughter did too. Good for them but I won't review something I haven't read and I just couldn't force myself to do it.

Updates will be on a schedule of Sunday, Wednesday, Friday and will be most likely be two to one in favor of movies, because it take less time to watch a two-hour movie than it does to read a five-hundred page book.  This may vary though, depending on what I'm reading and how fast I get through things.

Comments are welcomed. If someone decides to flame me, I'll deal with it. Flaming each other is off limits. I am putting myself out there for criticism by having this blog. Everyone else needs to be respected. Other than that have fun. Enjoy the blog. Let me know what you think. Agree/disagree, go off on a tangent. It doesn't matter as long as we all enjoy the journey together.

Up Wednesday: Ryk Spoor's Castaway Planet