Category Archives: Sci-Fi Literature

Movie Review: Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is the sequel to the 2012 movie, The Hunger Games. Both movies are based on the books of the same name written by Suzanne Collins. I’ve never read the books, but I’ve seen both movies. The movies star Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen the defiant and victorious young woman from district twelve of the dystopian society of Panem. In the prior movie, Katniss and Peeta Mellark are thrown into the Hunger Games, a competition between a group of young men and women selected from the various districts. The competition is brutal to the point of death: only one individual is allowed to survive each completion. The last movie ended with Katniss and Peeta, under the guise of a romantic attachment to each other, becoming the first pair of individuals to survive the Games.

 

The second movie begins where the other one left off. Katniss and Peeta must make the rounds as Victors. They visit each of the districts together to spout a few “profound” words about duty and honor and what-have-you. Stuff to placate the masses. But things are changing. The two young “lovers” were only spared because they threatened to commit suicide in defiance of the tyranny of the Games. That defiance is being picked up in the districts outside the Capitol. Now, the scent of revolution is in the air. And the rebels have chosen their symbol: Katniss, whether she likes it or not. Seeing the up-spiral in unrest and the growing popularity of Katniss, President Snow (played by Donald Sutherland), the leader of the Capitol, decides that all the Victors are a threat. So, he “changes the rules.” Now, on the 75th anniversary of the Hunger Games, a new competition (he claims it is the third) is called for: the Quarter Quell. This is a competition in which only Victors play. The rules are the same as before: only one can survive. Is Katniss strong enough and courageous enough to survive the Quarter Quell? Find out in Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

 

Strengths: the acting in the movie was fine, the storyline was good, there were no serious logical flaws that I could see. And the special effects were excellent and well-used. They didn’t go overboard on the special effects, and that is a resounding plus. Weaknesses: I thought the character of Katniss was a little bit whiny. Maybe it was just me. But she seemed a little bit hopeless about the whole living under a tyrannical dictator the whole time. And then there was the unrest, and she was trying to quell it. Basically, I kind of thought that her whiny-ness would interfere with her whole becoming the symbol of the revolution bit. Maybe it was done better in the book, but on the screen something was lacking.

 

Anyway, I’ll still give Hunger Games: Catching Fire a solid four stars out of five.

Book Review: The Rithmatist (Brandon Sanderson)

The Rithmatist is a nearly four hundred page young adult novel by Brandon Sanderson. I guess it’s kind of a steampunk/fantasy hybrid (although I’m not really sure—I don’t read steampunk at all). Anyway, it seems to be a story of a parallel Earth where the technology has evolved to the point where everything is based on gears. Further, there is a discipline of magic known as Rithmatics. Rithmatics is an art that is based on drawing circles, lines, and characters on the ground to summon up mystical barriers, and small two-dimensional beings called chalklings, and using such to combat an enemy. It’s quite intricate and rather interesting.

 

Anyway, the story is focused on Joel, a young student at the school of learning known as Armedia. Armedia is one of the eight schools in the United Isles (a parallel of the United States and North America) where Rithmatics is taught and studied. Joel is a precocious young man totally enthralled by and enchanted with Rithmatics. He knows more about Rithmatics than any other non-Rithmatist, and probably even some Rithmatist students. Unfortunately, he is not a Rithmatist: only a select few are chosen, and Joel missed his chance.

 

Shortly into the story, Joel is delivering a message to one of the Rithmatic professors (Professor Fitch). As fate would have it, a new professor, Professor Nalizar, interrupts the class to challenge Fitch for his position. Unprepared and somewhat flustered, Fitch loses the confrontation. He surrenders his place in class and is reduced in rank. Shortly thereafter, Rithmatic students begin disappearing from off-campus. Is Nalizar involved? The timing is curious, and Joel is suspicious, if for no reason than that he does not like Nalizar at all. Anyway, the principal assigns Fitch to investigate, and Joel to assist. Hopefully, together they can unravel the mystery and not fall prey to the mysterious Scribbler, the perpetrator of the heinous crimes.

 

Strengths: The writing is excellent, the plotline enjoyable, and the magic system involved and interesting. The characters are well-developed and likeable. And the resolution was well-crafted and not easily foreseen. Weaknesses: to be honest, I can’t think of any serious weaknesses. With Sanderson there’s usually some kind of humor that just seems forced, but not in this book. For some reason, I wasn’t 100% engaged in the book, but I was engaged. Whatever it was lacking, I can’t quite put my finger on.

 

Anyway, I’ll give The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson four and a half stars out of five.

Movie Review: Thor: The Darkworld (2013) (4 Stars)

Chris Hemsworth reprises his role as Thor in Thor: The Dark World. Although I never reviewed it for this blog (the blog didn’t exist at the time), I saw the original Thor movie when it came out; it was okay, maybe three and half stars or so. I definitely think this second movie is an improvement over the first. It stars Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman (as Jane Foster), Anthony Hopkins (as Odin), and Tom Hiddleston (as Loki). Loki has become one of my favorite characters of the franchise. Tom Hiddleston does a remarkable job at bringing the character to life.

 

Anyway, the story begins with a sort-of prologue that sets the stage. Millenia ago, the Dark Elves existed in a reality before this universe. Then, this universe came into being (how, the movie doesn’t tell us). The Dark Elves, being creatures of darkness, hated the light and this universe it had produced, so their king, Malekith, decided to destroy it with the power of the aether, a dark force of boundless energy. Fortunately, for us, the Asgardians, led by Odin’s father, stopped it. They stole the aether from the Dark Elves and, after destroying the Dark Elf army, buried it where it would hopefully never be found. Fast forward to the modern day and planet Earth. Jane Foster, in the midst of studying a scientific anomaly, is pulled into the place where the Aether resides. Of course, it winds up being absorbed by her body. Now that it has been released, somewhere in far off space, Malekith is revived and he renews his plot to destroy the universe with the remnants of his Dark Elf army. All he needs for ultimate victory is the Aether, which is contained in Jane Foster’s body. Once again, Thor must rise to the challenge and confront unspeakable evil to save us all from doom.

 

Strengths: I’ve already mentioned that I love Loki. Tom Hiddleston does a wonderful job. Chris Hemsworth did a great job, too. As did Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman. The story was engaging and interesting. The special effects were superb. There were a number of well-timed humorous lines. Weaknesses: this is a minor one, but I feel inclined to point  it out: they kind of took a shot at America in one so-called “clever line” which I didn’t appreciate, although I’m sure some people will. The ending was a bit confusing. I’m still not sure how Thor defeated Malekith, or rather, why things he did worked the way they did. Finally, and this is the most important weakness, I really don’t like mixing the science fiction with the Norse mythology. I mean, really, a sci-fi adventure where Dark Elves are the bad guys? I hear elf, dark or otherwise, and I think Tolkien or D&D or whatever. Also, the science in the science fiction was bad and confusing. I still don’t know what the Nine Realms are. Are they nine planets? Nine solar systems? Nine Galaxies? You get a view of them at the end and they look like planets … so in the entire universe, there are only nine planets that are habitable? Add to that all the gravimetric and other scientific-sounding gobblydegook, and it gets an F in basic science. But it’s based on a Marvel Comic, so I suppose you really can’t hold that last bit against them much.

 

Anyway, I’ll give Thor: The Darkworld four stars out of five.

Book Review: King of Thorns (Mark Lawrence)

King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence continues telling the story of Jorg Ancrath that the book Prince of Thorns began. You can read my review of Prince of Thorns here. Anyway, King of Thorns starts some four years later. Jorg is now eighteen and is king of his captured kingdom, Renar. As the story begins, his castle is about to be besieged by an army led by the Prince of Arrow, a well-regarded, “well-meaning” conqueror who wishes to bring order and stability to the hundred kingdoms. He’s brought an overwhelming force to accomplish the task: 20,000 troops to defeat Jorg’s 1000 behind castle walls.

 

The entire book consists of the story of that day and a series of flashbacks to important events that occurred in Jorg’s life that impinge on the present … most of these happening when he was fourteen (after he’d won himself that castle from his uncle). The central theme of the book revolves around a magical box that Jorg keeps at his side at all times. Part of him wants to open the box, and part of him knows he shouldn’t. That box holds a piece of his memories—a group of memories so horrific and painful he had a wizard take them from him and place them in the box, because he, Jorg Ancrath, could not deal with the horror of them. What memory does the box contain? What secret is so terrible it threatens to destroy a young man like Jorg Ancrath, a young man who has seen and committed more atrocities than most men experience in their entire lives? The only way to truly answer those questions is for Jorg to open the box and regain his memories. But, as it was at his order that the memories were incarcerated in the first place, is that really a wise decision? Once done, it cannot be undone. Much like Pandora …

 

Strengths: the writing was excellent, the story creative, and the plot engaging. I normally prefer to have “good” characters to root for, but Jorg is fun in his own way and is starting to grow on me. Besides, it looks like Mr. Lawrence is using Jorg’s basically evil side to show growth and change in the character as he matures into someone a little less cruel and ruthless. We’ll see where it goes. Weaknesses: other than the evil nature of Jorg (which I mentioned in my previous review), the only weakness I can think of is the large number of Brothers in Jorg’s company. I really can’t keep any of them (or very few of them) straight. It’s too confusing.

 

Anyway, I’ll give Mark Lawrence’s King of Thorns four and a half stars out of five.

Old Movie Review: Pacific Rim (2013)

Pacific Rim is the latest film directed by Guillermo Del Toro who is known for other fantastical movies like Pan’s Labyrinth and the Hellboy series. Pacific Rim is a sci-fi story set in the not-too-distant future. It tells the story of a time when the Earth is being besieged by gargantuan creatures from another dimension called Kaijus. Of the actors involved in the film, the only one I recognized was Ron Perlman who had a minor, supporting role. All the others were new faces to me.

 

Anyway, the story begins with an introductory preamble that describes the first assault on planet Earth by the first Kaiju. One lone creature destroys three cities and nearly exhausts the U.S. military. But it was dead and defeated, and life moved on. Then, six months later, another appeared. And another after that. Realizing that more drastic measures must be taken, the countries of the globe unite to build a series of weapons to use against the Kaijus: massive robots called Jaegers that stand as tall as buildings and required but two people to pilot through a neural link. The main character, Raleigh Beckett, played by Charlie Hunnam, is one of the first Jaeger pilots. He is teamed up with his brother, Yancy, and they are sent out to destroy an impending Kaiju. In the ensuing battle, Raleigh’s brother is killed, leaving him devastated and barely able to destroy the horrid creature. Once the battle is over, he leaves the service and begins a life in construction. Someone has devised a new method of defense: an enormous coastal wall will be built to protect humanity from the Kaijus in the sea. Then, his old commander, Stacker Pentecost (played by Idris Elba), comes looking for him with an opportunity to get back in the action. Can Raleigh overcome the trauma of his brother’s death and once again rise to the occasion? You’ll have to watch the movie to find out.

 

Strengths: the acting was good, the storyline was engaging, and the special effects were superb. I recall no logical loopholes nor do I remember any other kind of glaring flaw. It was a good smash-em-up movie. Basically, if you like watching humongous creatures getting in fistfights in the middle of cities, you’ll like this movie because there was plenty of that. But there was also a decent storyline about handling personal difficulties and overcoming trauma. Weaknesses: I can think of no huge weaknesses, although there were one or two quotes that came direct from Star Wars. That said, it was an enjoyable movie, just not fantastic. It lacked something. Maybe I’m just outgrowing smash-em-up movies.

 

Overall, I’ll give Pacific Rim three and a half stars out of five.

Fantasy Literature: World Building: On Scope (part II)

Dealing with multiple worlds for world building is usually more the purview of science fiction than it is the purview of fantasy literature. It is almost a given in any science fiction novel that several different planets will be visited. Each one of these worlds must be built to make the novel an enjoyable read. It is rarer to deal with more than one planet in fantasy literature, unless it is a kind of split-off parallel world existing in the same space as ours as a kind of fairy land. Usually, in fantasy literature, there is no need for multiple worlds (planets) in different locations in space, particularly since transportation between such worlds becomes problematic. One must normally rely on magic to get from planet A to planet B. And once you do that, it is difficult to see how planet B will be understood as anything but a split-off parallel world much like the aforementioned fairy land. As a result of that, fantasy world building is usually limited to one planet and multiple dimensions, because in an odd sort of way, different dimensions actually seem closer to us than different planets—at least from the point of view of fantasy literature.

 

Still, for every rule there is an exception. A previous commenter on this blog pointed out to me that Brandon Sanderson is setting all his novels in the same universe. Each world he writes about exists in the same dimension. He even has a character, a story-teller/bard/what-have-you by the name of Hoid who shows up in each one of his books. I don’t know where he’s going with that, but it is kind of cool. Particularly since he deals with religious themes, with gods ruling humans, sometimes dying, and evil always on the rise. I suspect Hoid is an agent of, or perhaps even the avatar of, the one Supreme Being of the whole cosmos. A kind of god’s God. But that is Brandon Sanderson, and he’s the first writer I’ve heard of to connect his novels in such a way. And it is worth pointing out that as far as each individual fantasy novel is concerned (so far), it takes place only on the world in which it is set. So far, none of his The Way of Kings characters intermix with his Mistborn characters or anything like that. At least, not yet. Although Sanderson’s idea connects all his work into a single inter-related body, it can only take him so far. He might write well and fast, but the universe is an awfully big place with billions of galaxies, let alone who knows how many planets. Although his idea is original, clever, and genuinely really cool, he can only carry it through so far. There is just too much out there to encapsulate his vision fully. Maybe he’ll write about a dozen or two dozen worlds in his career. Two dozen worlds does not a universe make. The scope is just too vast to be manageable. Still, Sanderson is a brilliant writer and he may pull it off in ways I can’t foresee.

 

If you take anything away from this post, it should be the importance of scope. World building, be it a single world, multiple dimensions, or even an entire universe, is always a limited project. The real world parallels to it are always far more vast and complicated than the writer’s ultimate accomplishment. As I said, there’s just too much there to fully encapsulate. The trick is to give enough to give an impression of completeness without overwhelming the reader.

Fantasy Literature: World Building: On Scope (part I)

Well, it’s time for another post on world building in fantasy literature. The concern today is scope. What are you going to build? A fantasy world? A fantasy universe? Or an entire fantasy multiverse?

 

Back in the day, when I played AD&D a lot more, Gary Gygax introduced me to that neat little word: “multiverse.” Apparently, the word was coined by William James in 1895, so it’s not Gygax’s personal baby. Still, that one word sums up what I want to talk about today. We all know what the universe is: look into space and it’s that thing that goes on and on. But are there other universes? Or planes of reality? Is there a Hell or a Heaven? Or anything in between? The present science of real-life Earth can only verify the existence of the one universe we experience. But in a fantasy world, one in which you have embarked on a quest of world building, there may very well be a vast and complicated multiverse consisting of many different planes of reality. The different planes can intrude in the story in a variety of ways. One, they can be just present as a kind of back drop for the story, referenced only in myths and conversation. That is how Hell and Heaven and Limbo (or their respective parallels) and similar such things are normally dealt with throughout much of a typical work in fantasy literature. Occasionally, though, characters may actually physically find their way into said planes. At such a point, world building for said places must commence.

 

But this raises a question: How much world building should the author do? Or better yet: How much world building can an author do? Let’s begin with a fantasy world. They are usually (though not always) conceived to be parallels of our own; i.e. some kind of planet spinning away in space, but a planet on which magic works. It is the author’s responsibility to develop that world and make it an intriguing place for the reader. It should never be said that world building a single fantasy world is somehow too limiting. If you recognize that an entire world parallels in scope all that there is on our world, you will understand that a single world can easily produce enough material to keep authors and readers fascinated for years to come. Just consider the huge variety that exists on planet Earth. There are seven continents. There are hundreds of nations and a plethora of cultures. The environment is rich in detail and full of surprises. If you add in the hallmark characteristics of fantasy literature—a magic system, strange and wonderful creatures, and what-have-you—you will have created a milieu of astounding proportions. Something that can (and has) provided material for innumerable writers involved with world building. One world is plenty. By itself, Earth proves it. As do such fantasy worlds created by gaming companies like say, The Forgotten Realms or Krynn. Such places have provided endless hours of entertainment and have never grown stale.

 

However, just because there is no need to include another world or plane, doesn’t mean the author doing the world building shouldn’t include such. But those developments are for my next post on the subject.

Infinity Blade: Redemption (Brandon Sanderson)

Infinity Blade: Redemption is the second Infinity Blade novella written by Brandon Sanderson. From what I can tell, the novellas are being written in tandem with the computer apps, of which there are three: Infinity Blade I, Infinity Blade II, and Infinity Blade III. I have Infinity Blade I for my Apple Ipad. I’ve played it a few times, but have never completed it. It’s an interesting approach: having interspersed novellas to cover background story material between the release of each version of the app. It does have one drawback, though: I, as a reader, do not get a full story or even succession of stories out it. The first Infinity Blade novella covers material in between apps I and II. This second novella covers material between apps II and III. That was kind of annoying going in, because I had become somewhat invested in the characters and to start reading without having played app II was somewhat disorienting. Still, it was a fun novella. Unfortunately, the series will be completed by app III. So, the cliffhanger ending that I got at the end of this novella will have to suffice for me as I have no intention of playing the app.

 

Anyway, this novella continues the story of Siris and Isa in their quest to defeat the evil God-King and free the people of his land. That was the original quest, anyway, but by this stage in the game things have changed a bit: Siris finds himself imprisoned with the God King. They are locked in a perpetual struggle in a chamber neither one can escape; they take turns (not by agreement though) killing each other, until finally, Isa manages to set them free. Now, Siris finds his quest transformed. It was the famous Worker of Secrets whom Siris sought out as a potential ally against the God-King who imprisoned the two Deathless, leaving them to their hellish struggle against one another. Now, two years later, Siris must seek him out again, but not as ally, instead as foe. This novella details that quest, a quest that may find him making alliance with that Deathless he was once sworn to destroy: the God-King himself.

 

Strengths: It was written by Brandon Sanderson, so it’s got to be good! Well, it is. The characters were well fleshed out and believable. The pacing was great. The twists were good. And there was more backstory dropped in to explain how the world in question (apparently Earth) came to be the way it was. There were also hints dropped to tie the series to the ancient Egyptian gods. All in all it was a blast. Weaknesses: well, you are missing a good chunk of story if you are not playing the Infinity Blade apps (like me). It’s kind of annoying actually. And it certainly detracted from my enjoyment. If I had known that going in, I probably would never have even read the first novella. I would have skipped it: I’m not much into computer games, anymore.

 

Anyway, I’ll give Brandon Sanderson’s Infinity Blade: Redemption four and a half stars out of five if you are playing the games; otherwise, that is too much of a handicap and it warrants only three and a half stars out of five.

Movie Review: Gravity (2013)

Gravity is a film starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, two pretty big names for an hour and half jaunt through Near Space. Clooney plays the experienced astronaut Matt Kowalski, while Sandra Bullock plays newbie astronaut Ryan Stone. Together, they are the only survivors of a Space Shuttle disaster.

 

Let’s back up a bit: the film begins with Matt and Ryan (chuckle, chuckle) on mission working on the Hubble telescope which is docked in the shuttle in orbit. They shortly receive word that the Russians have shot down one of their own satellites. The reason is unclear, but it may have been a derelict spy satellite or something similar. At first, the debris path poses no threat and the mission can continue as planned. However, that soon changes. The debris begins colliding with and destroying other satellites starting a chain reaction of destruction in Space. And that is not a good thing. Minutes later, a field of debris slams into the shuttle, destroying it and all the crew except Matt and Ryan (chuckle, chuckle) and also severing all contact with Mission Control. What follows is an intense journey from one location in orbit to the next, as the two astronauts desperately look for a way back to Earth. First, after being sent spinning off into Space, they must return to the shuttle. Then, the International Space Station. And next, a Chinese Space Station. At each stop, they must overcome obstacles and challenges in their desperate bid to get home. Will they make it? Check out the film and see.

 

Strengths: well, the acting was strong; it had two seasoned professionals in Clooney and Bullock and virtually no one else to detract from it. It’s hard to maintain a story with such a small cast, but they managed it well. The special effects were excellent. I have to wonder how they manage the floating in space bit without actually going there. Is it just filmed in a big swimming pool? I don’t know. The story was fairly compelling, and even touching at points. Weaknesses: although my friends really liked this movie, for some reason I can’t endorse it wholeheartedly. It was lacking something, but I don’t know what. Although it was an original storyline; something I wouldn’t have expected to come from Hollywood these days. That said, I did enjoy how the characters shared my names (chuckle chuckle).

 

Anyway, I’ll give Gravity three and a half stars out of five.

Movie Review: Riddick: Rule the Dark

Riddick: Rule the Dark is the third installment in the series of movies chronicling the adventures of outlaw and fugitive Richard Riddick played by Vin Diesel. The movie begins a short while after the last ended. It provides a brief flashback to fill in missing details. Apparently, Riddick has been betrayed as Lord Marshal of the Necromongers and left stranded on a desolate planet full of vicious creatures.

 

The first half hour or so just follows Riddick and his struggles to survive on this hostile world. Then he finds an old mercenary outpost and sends a distress beacon. The beacon summons two different ships, both bent on capturing or killing Riddick. But Riddick, being the ultra-alpha male, just starts picking them off one at a time. After he’s killed three, he approaches the mercenaries to try to work out a deal because he knows a rain storm is coming and with it, a horde of nasty monsters that come out in the bad weather. His deal with the mercs turns sour, and, amazingly, Riddick is captured. When he comes to, the mercenaries begin to interrogate him. But then, the rain storm hits and with it come the nasty critters. The mercenaries decide they need Riddick’s help to face these formidable creatures. Together, can they brave the horrors this world has in store for them and Rule the Dark?

 

Strengths: this movie was a testosterone filled action movie. The things they had Riddick do were, more or less, impossible, but it was still cool. I mean, he starts the movie with a broken leg, which he fixes by wrenching back into place. Seriously? Still, it was cool watching Riddick repeatedly outsmarting and taking out the mercs one at a time, and then kicking butt against the monsters. Weaknesses: well, as I suggested above, I think they made Riddick too superhuman, too awesome. It took, I think, three horse-strength tranquilizers to take him down. Again, that’s a bit much if you are going for “realism.” Finally, there is some nudity in the movie (that’s not necessarily a weakness, just a viewer warning—of course, it is rated R, but there is a shot of full frontal nudity). Anyway, on the whole, I think this movie ranks about as well as the first (Pitch Black). My favorite in the series so far is #2: The Chronicles of Riddick.

 

Overall, I’ll give Riddick: Rule the Dark three and a half out of five stars.