jeriendhal: (Default)
Just some quick, slightly spoilery reviews on three novels by Ryk E. Spoor that I’ve been delaying writing while I Dealt With Things.

Spheres of Influence: The second book in Spoor’s Grand Central Arena series finds our heroine Ariane Austin facing with an enemy she is ill equipped to deal with, government bureaucrats. This book expands on the GCA universe quite a bit, showing the reaction back in Earth’s solar system as humanity finds itself in a first contact situation with the Arena’s many races, which range from hostile to nominally friendly, but all with their own agendas. We also get more details on the Hyperion Project, which produced the series’ literally designated antihero Dr. Marc Duquesne. In this novel we’re also introduced to Sun WuKong, another of Hyperion’s attempts to recreate the heroes of literature and other media, plus one Hyperion’s great failures, Maryanne Suzanna. Yes, “Mary Sue”. Designed to fit that stereotype and… er… less than happy about it.

Actually Suzanna is one of few weaknesses of the book. She’s built up as a major threat by Duquesne and other characters, but when we finally meet her she basically says “Hi” and heads off again. Admittedly this can be put off as Middle Book syndrome, but it was a little disappointing.

Ignoring that, SoI is a pretty fun book, keeping with series’ dedication to high adventure, high stakes, and Sensawunda. I’m looking forward to finally reading the next one.

Phoenix Ascendant: The third and likely final book in Spoor’s Balanced Sword trilogy, sees Kyri Vantage, last true Justiciar of the dying god of Justice and Vengeance, returning to her homeland with her friends to finally clean house of the remaining false Justiciars and defeat the forces evil that threaten to destroy the world.

With one caveat, I’ll say that I enjoyed the book and was satisfied with the ending, since it keeps with the trilogy’s philosophy of forgiveness towards truly repentant enemies. Unfortunately that caveat has to do with the final battle against the true power behind all of Kyri’s enemies, the evil shapeshifting god, Virigar.

Yep, same Virigar from Spoor’s early novel Paradigms Lost, whom Jason Wood nearly took out with a bucket of silver nitrate.

I suppose my problem was that I was listening to this as an audiobook rather than reading it. Throughout the trilogy Spoor made it clear the nominally AD&D based world owed a lot to such anime as DragonBall Z and Saint Seiya, so when the final battle with Virigar begins, it lasts at least five chapters that I recall, with many twists and turns and changes in the tide of battle. Unfortunately as it went on, I was less amazed than shouting “Oh, come ON!” as our heroes lost all of their previous Genre Savvy knowledge and assumed at least three or four times that surely he had to be dead this time. Suffice to say a fight against someone with instantaneous healing abilities and a tendency to gloat gets really, really annoying as it goes on, especially since I couldn’t skim pages.

That said, if you’re into those sort of tremendous battles I suppose you might find it fun, and aside from that the rest of the book was really good.

Boundary: Written with Eric Flint, this novel follows a disparate team of people, coming together to investigate evidence of the remains of an advanced alien base hidden on Mars’ moon Phobos, which is connected to a bizarre fossil find in the American Southwest.

Ugh. This one just left me cold. Nominally it’s a hard science fiction novel, and some bits such as the deciphering of the Bemmy language were well done, but none of the characters grabbed me and the endless Tom Clancy-ish infodumps were tedious to get through.
jeriendhal: (Wazagan)
In this direct sequel to "Penric's MIssion", Sorcerer Divine of the Bastard's order Penric kin Jurald is still on the road with General Arisaydia and the general's sister Nikys, continuing their journey to the safety of the Duke of Orbas' court, after escaping from Cedonian agents who wanted to complete the job of betrayal that had led Arisydia's blinding and Pen subsequent healing of his wounds.

A stopover in a town more than a little reminiscent of Shakespeare's Verona leads to Penric borrowing the skills, and the fashion sense, of one of the ten women his demon Desdemona holds in her memories, in order to give himself and his two charges a good disguise for their end run to the border...

Review: This story, while still tense, is considerably more lighthearted than the fraught circumstances of "Penric's Mission." The Shakespearean reference to Romeo and Juliet early on might hint it's a tragedy in the making, but the circumstances of romance and gender confusion owe more to "As You Like It" and "Twelfth Night". Penric and Nikys' mutual attraction continues, and also continues to be unresolved alas, leaving the story at a bit of cliffhanger at the end despite safety finally being found.

Overall though it's a good read, with Bujold's usual fine touch with characters, dialog and plot, all serving each other in mutual support, much like Desdemona, Penric, and Nikys' support of each other.

Recommended
jeriendhal: (Muppets)
Okay, quick first impression of No Man's Sky. After some stumbling I've more or less figured out the crafting and resource gathering system. Plotwise there isn't one, beyond "Head to the center of the galaxy." This is a game that takes a lot of pride in not providing more than a few vague breadcrumbs on how to reach that goal however.

Aesthetically it does achieve its primary goal of being really, REALLY pretty, though the impression is more of "70's Concept Album" rather than "70's Science Fiction Novel".

Overall it seems fun so far. We'll see if it holds up as I continue playing. I'll see if I cant livestream a bit as I continue to play
jeriendhal: (Wazagan)
Summary: Four years after the events of Penric’s Demon, Penric, Temple Sorcerer of the Bastard, has grown from a somewhat directionless youth to a dedicated servant of the White God. With aid of his demon, Desdemona, he’s advanced in his studies and has settled into a comfortable existence serving the Princess-Archdevine of Martensbridge. This grows slightly less comfortable when he’s assigned to aid Senior Locator Oswyl, agent of the Father of Winter, who is on the hunt for a man who is both a suspected murderer, and a shaman, dedicated to the old ways of magic that existed in the world before the Five Gods became ascendant.

Review: It’s a measure of Bujold’s considerable talent at writing characters that a story so dedicated to people listening to each other can still be compelling. Penric appears amiable, but he’s got a mind sharp as a tack. Oswyl starts as a somewhat harried investigator, but he takes pains to point out that he’s searching for a suspected murderer. He’s on the hunt, but not blind to the truth.

Meanwhile, Inglis, the suspect in question, is less a desperate murderer than just plain desperate, appalled at his own actions and searching for solution. He’s a shaman, but as much a scholar as Penric, previously using his abilities to try and rediscover ancient shamanistic methods of healing, in order to record and reproduce them (a lovely nod to scientific investigation, typical of Bujold even in her fantasy series)

When they all finally come together, the solution to the conundrum presented relies not on violence but on listening, something which Penric excels at, and on Inglis regaining his shaman’s balance.

Readers of the previous Penric novella might be disappointed that there isn’t more interaction between Pen and Des this time around, but on the other hand the narrative opens up to multiple viewpoints, allowing readers to get an “outside” view of Penric from Oswyl and Inglis, which I found more satisfying.

As always, Bujold delivers a lovely story with characters you’d like to spend an evening with. Here’s hoping this won’t be the last Pen and Des tale in the Five Gods universe.

Highly Recommended.
jeriendhal: (Wazagan)
Breaking the Chains of Gravity: The Story of Spaceflight Before NASA, Amy Shira Teitel

Exactly what it says on the tin, this book follows the paths of various spaceflight pioneers from the 1920’s through WWII and the early 50’s to just prior to the formation of NASA out of the NACA. The concentration of the book is on European scientists and inventors, focusing on Wehner von Braun, who gets a fairly sympathetic portrayal. The author’s narrative pushes the point that the use of slave labor in the construction of the V2 rockets was a decision of Nazi higher ups, not van Braun, who knew that a vehicle that requires such precise machining as a rocket would turn out as badly as it did when built by starving prisoners.

One odd absence is much on Robert Goddard, though his story has been told extensively in other books. We do get a good look at the American rocket plane program in compensation, and a warts and all gaze at the political maneuvering that went around the United States’ first satellite launch.

Recommended if you’re a real rocket enthusiast.


Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie

The book that caused much hand wringing by critics of the Hugo awards recently. Which once I listened to it rather confused me. Honestly, it’s a bog standard space opera with the remnant of a warship’s AI trying to topple the rotten core of an ancient, belligerent, and increasingly corrupt empire. The only thing really ‘progressive’ about it is the odd gender confusion of the narrator, who describes everyone with female pronouns unless corrected. But on those terms it’s well written and engaging.

Recommended.


Bryony and Roses, “T. Kingfisher”

Bryony is the daughter of an impoverished and recently deceased merchant who finds herself trapped in the enchanted mansion of a cursed, bestial noble when she gets lost in the woods during a snowstorm. Which would sound very familiar, except that her name is Bryony, not Beauty, and the Beast is in desperate need of a gardener first, and True Love second.

A short novel published under Ursula Vernon’s adult publication non-de-plume, this look at the classic fairy tale combines her usual wry humor with a gimlet eye on the usual tropes of fantasy. That said it’s a considerably darker tale than her earlier Nine Goblins, given the truths Bryony finds when she discovers that she’s not the first visitor the Beast has kept.

Recommended, unless you’re really offended by Vernon’s opinion on mint herbs.
jeriendhal: (Dies!)
I have come to praise, Bujold, not to bury her.

Okay, almost every sci-fi fan loves Lois McMaster Bujold, but with a publishing history going back thirty years there's going to be some clunkers even in her bibliography. And I'll admit some of her books just didn't grab me. In publishing order, not order of annoyance, here are the ones that you'd have to pay me to re-read at this point (and I'm no James Nicoll, so it's unlikely to happen).


1. Shards of Honor: Yeah, this is the entry point to the Vorkosiverse. Yes, this introduces Aral and Cordelia. Yes, it's a good character study. But Lois's famous skill at tight plotting has yet to develop. The initial trek of Aral and Cordelia from the burned out remains of her survey camp back to his regaining his command is enjoyable, but then it switches to an episodic series of events as Cordelia becomes a hero, falls from grace, and then flees to Barrayar, Further, Beta Colony is portrayed as a questionably democratic dystopia, with Soviet style psychotherapy, in sharp contrast to it's distant idealized portrayal in later books.

2. The Warriors Apprentice: Again, this is probably a controversial choice, given it's Miles' introduction to the series. But again the plotting is crap, Miles is notably unsympathetic as his Wacky Scheme snowballs into torture/murder and he lies his way into command, and Bothari is killed abruptly and without much lead up.

3. Ethan of Athos: Actually there isn't that much wrong with this book, but it's problematical in the series given the 25-year old time bomb of Ethan introducing the telepath gene to Athos' population, and Barrayar also gaining it for study. Niether of which have really been followed up since, in a series well known for distantly placed Chekhov's Guns. Also the Cetas are notably underdeveloped compared to later in the series. I could read it again if I wanted to without much pain. I just don't want to.

4. Mirror Dance: Or more accurately, the first third of Mirror Dance. It's not that it isn't well written, it's just too painful watch as Mark self-destructs, Miles dies, and there's the squicky bit with Mark and the female clone. I usually skip ahead to Mark starting on his eating disorder and go from there.

5. Komarr: Again, nothing actually bad here, but the painfully rendered relationship between Tien and Ekaterine is too difficult to re-read, especially given it's there mostly to establish that Tien needs to die.

Hmm, if Tien hadn't died, and Ekaterine had just divorced the bastard, A Civil Campaign would have been a very different book.

6. Diplomatic Immunity: After the comic heights of ACC, this is a severe letdown. If it had been done from both Miles and Ekaterine's points of view it might have been better, especially in the rushed denouement, but it wasn't, so we have an ending where Stuff Happens that has to be explained to Miles in a painful infodump.

7. Cryoburn: Ugh. There would have been a fasciniating book here if Aral had died earlier, and Miles, Ekaterine and Cordelia had to deal with the immediate fallout. Instead we get a shock ending after following Miles in a bog standard, not terribly interesting sci-fi plot. Probably the low point of the series so far.

8. The Hallowed Hunt: If this had been a standalone novel from a different author it might have been a minor classic. But as it was it, it was the third book in the Five Gods universe, which abandoned the characters from Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls for a nearly completely different setting, and a pair of leads who honestly don't have much chemistry together.

Comments? Commiserations? Brickbats?
jeriendhal: (Marty Greycoat)
Summary: Three years after the death of her beloved husband, Aral Vorkosigan, Sergyar's Vicerine Countess Betan Survey Capt. (ret.) Cordelia Vorkosigan is finally emerging from her fog of grief to begin her life again for the third time. At 76 she's middle-aged for a Galactic, and serving Barrayar for the rest of her life isn't in her plans, but raising a new branch of her family is. Possibly two, with a little help.

Three years after the death of his beloved lover, Aral Vorkosigan, Sergyar Chief of Operations Admiral Oliver Jole is finally emerging from his fog of grief, to find himself facing an extraordinary gift. The chance to start a family, using the preserved DNA of Aral and donated eggs from Cordelia. But he soon faces a choice between personal and professional happiness, and he can only choose one.

Review behind cut )
jeriendhal: (Wazagan)

Screen Crawl: It was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Audience: And thirty years since the last movie.

George Lucas: Hey!

Audience: You know what we mean.

SCENE: A small desert village in no way resembling Mei Lai at all.

Max von Sydow: Here's a plot Macguffin to carry around through the movie. (hands him a USB drive)

Poe: I can't believe they got you for a ten minute cameo.

Sydow: At least I'm going to die with more dignity than Christopher Lee.

SCENE: The Emp... ahem, the New Order lands in the village, including Emo Sith and the World's Worst Stormtrooper. Poe is captured. His loyal droid Beach Ball-1 runs away with the plans for the Dea... AHEM, Luke's mailing address.

Kylo Ren: Kill 'em all.

Finn fails to kill anything.

Captain Phasma: What do you call a Stormtrooper who doesn't hit anything?

Finn: Um, kickin' it Old School?

Phasma: Point.

SCENE: Kylo tortures Poe.

Poe: I won't talk!

Thirty Seconds Later:

Kylo: He talked.

Lt. Flunky: Good going, sir.

Kylo: Thanks. Send troopers down to find Beach Ball and try not to let them trip over any Bantha Pudu.

Lt. Flunky: Don't worry, the Holiday Special tapes are on the other side of the planet.

SCENE: Finn helps Poe escape and start a fine bromance in a two-seater TIE fighter.

Audience: He's wearing Poe's jacket. That makes any Finn/Poe stories Canon! Canon we say!

Haters: He's a black Stormtrooper. There are no black Stormtroopers!

Finn: Yeah, well this black Stormtrooper sez different. And I can shoot straight when I want to so STFU!

SCENE: Back on Not Tatooine, we're introduced to Rey, who's life sucks.

Rey: Seriously. At least Anakin and Luke had loving parents/guardians and a decent roof over their heads.

SCENE: Rey rescues BB-1 and beats... er, meets Finn.

Finn: Given the number of times I get the crap beaten out of me in this movie, it doesn't make me look like much of hero.

Rey: Don't be so hard on yourself, you're a Stormtrooper who survives to the end of the film. That's friggin' epic.

Finn: (beams).

SCENE: The new order bombs the crap out of Rey's even crappier village. Finn, Rey, and Beach Ball steal the only ship available, which just happens to be the Millennium Falcon.

Audience: Epic flying is Epic. Also totally not crying over seeing the Falcon again.

Haters: But she's a gurl who's never flown in space before.

Luke: (dopeslap) And who blew up the Death Star the first time he went up in a space fighter?

Haters: But she' a g--, ack!

Luke: (force chokes).

SCENE: Emo Sith is Emo.

Kylo: Hey, lots of people angst about whether they're evil enough to their dead grandpa's helmet!

SCENE: Han and Chewie pull Rey and Co. over.

Rey: So you found the ship you'd been looking thirty years for just after we steal it?

Han: Don't worry, they'll explain it in the tie-in novels.

SCENE: One unnecessary CGI action sequence later, they all end up at Short Guinan's bar.

Rey: I didn't think there was this much green in the galaxy. (QUOTE!)

(Editorial: And little Sensawunda character bits like that is what separates Star Wars from your average Stuff Blowing Up CGI fest).

SCENE: Rey touches Vader/Luke's saber. Visions Occur.

Rey: Eww! Do not want!

Short Guinan: Take it anyway.

Rey: No! (runs away)

Short Guinan: Okay, Finn. You take it.

Finn: 'kay.

SCENE: The New Order shows up and tears the bar down. Chewie is wounded, Rey is captured, Finn has a totally cool lightsaber/tonfa fight with a random Stormtrooper.

Finn: And I get my ass kicked again.

Han: Quit whining, Junior and patch up the Wookie.

(Chewie proves to be a very poor patient.)

Finn: Please don't kill me while I'm trying to help you.

Chewie: Rwaarghawwww!

SCENE: Kylo tortures Rey.

Kylo: Give the coordinates to the Rebel B..... er, Luke Skywalker.

Rey: Take off that mask first.

Kylo: 'kay.

Rey: Snerk!

Kylo: What?

Rey: Hehehehe!

Kylo: What are you laughing at? Why are you laughing?!

Rey: Bwahahahahaha! You're the Evil Sith Lord of this movie? Seriously?

Kylo: Quit laughing! I am totally a Sith Lord!

Rey: You look like a backup singer for The Cure! How much time do you spend feathering your hair?

Kylo: Shut up! Just shut up! You're as bad as my Uncle Chewie! “Son, I don't use as much hair care products as you do! Why can't you learn to use a bowcaster like a real man instead of that ridiculous over sized lightsaber ?” I am totally EPICALLY EVIL!

Rey: (Sniggers her way through the rest of the torture.)

Scene: Han and Co. land at the Reb.... Resistance Base.

Finn: Why is even called The Resistance? Wouldn't the legitimate government of the Republic WANT to keep the remains of the Empire from attacking them?

General Organa (formerly Princess Leia): It's in the tie-in novel.

Han: Hi, Honey. No hard feelings for me wandering off?

Organa: Sigh, I'm used it.

(C3PO butts in to totally kill the moment)

Han: And he's still alive because...?

Organa: The fans wanted to see him. Also, who do you think ripped his original arm off?

Han: I dunno. I haven't read the tie-in novel yet.

Haters: Boy, Carrie Fisher sure got ol-, HURK!

Organa: (force chokes). I aged as much as Harrison Ford, dipweed, and that was done snorting a lot more recreational and prescription chemicals, so at this point A) Nothing else can possibly kill me, and B) I Am Not Putting Up With Your Shit. Clear?

Haters: Whimpers. Yes, ma'am...

SCENE: Rey, who can't possibly be related to Luke because even Emo Jedi wouldn't be stupid enough to leave her alone on a crappy desert planet, mind controls Stormtrooper JB 007 to escape her cell.

(Seriously, that was David Craig under that suit. Geek.)

Rey: Unchain me from this chair.

JB 007: 'kay.

Rey: And leave the cell door open.

JB 007: 'kay.

Rey: Oh, yeah, and drop your gun.

JB 007: 'kay.

Rey: And write down your phone number.

JB 007: It's the future, we don't have paper.

Rey: Curses!

(she escapes).

Kylo: Crap. I would have caught her first if I hadn't stopped to buff my helmet. And by “buffing my helmet” I mean...

Audience: Ewwwwww!

Kylo: Being even more emo.

Audience: Oh.

SCENE: Finn totally lies to get on the team to rescue Rey and blow up the Not A Death Star.

(But first, hugs!)

Poe: Totally a Bro Hug.

Finn: Yeah, totally.

(beat)

Audience: You're both lying, aren't you?

Poe: Yes.

Finn: Yep.

Audience: We knew the “cute boyfriend” line couldn't be a slip....

SCENE: Han, Chewie and Finn land on Not A Death Star to blow up the shield generators.

Han: Seriously, how many refs to the Original Trilogy are we going to stick in here? The only thing you haven't done is kill Rey's mentor fig... Aww, shit.

SCENE: They run into Rey, capture Captain Phabulous, and then things go south....

Han: Ben, your mom and I are kinda disappointed in you.

Kylo: Geez, I'm sorry, Dad.

Han: Really?

Kylo: No.

(He kills Han. Rey and Finn scream “No!” Chewie's reaction is.... predictable.)

Chewie: I changed your diapers, you Emo little shit! Uncle Chewie is very ANGRY with you!

(He shoots Kylo in the side, justifying Rey and Finn not getting their heads cut off for the next fight scene.)

SCENE: Poe and Black Squadron take out the Exhaust Port. Rey and Finn fight with Kylo. Finn gets his ass handed to him again. Chewie disappears to set up the rescue at the end.

Kylo: I am totally a Dark Sith L... Um, Rey, you look a scary there.

Rey: Dark Side this, jackass!

(she leaves him with a nice Emo scar over his face before the planet breaks apart, separating them. Then Chewie comes to the rescue.)

Peter Mayhew: I'm 71 years old and wearing fifty pounds of yak hair, and it's totally worth it.

SCENE: Everyone gets back to the Resistance Base and cheers. Except Organa.

Organa: It would have been worth it if we could have found the rest of the....

(R2D2 wakes up and provides the rest of the map)

Organa: R2, you trolling little shit.

SCENE: Rey, Chewie and R2 fly to Planet Irish Coast to find Luke. She holds his dad's lightsaber out for him to take.

Mark Hamill: And I get paid a half million bucks to look soulfully into the camera. I love Hollywood economics!

THE END!

jeriendhal: (Wazagan)
With the e-arc release of [livejournal.com profile] seawasp's next Phoenix book, it was time I got off my ass and review the last one. :)

* * *

Summary: Kyri Vantage, sole remaining true Justiciar of the god Myrionar, having driven out the false Justiciars from her home nation, sets out help her friend the exiled prince of Skysand Tobimar and his Intelligent Toad companion Poplock, to find the vanished homeland of the young prince and end his quest and exile.

To their surprise, they find it rather easily based on previously gathered clues. To their greater surprise, it's a veritable paradise surrounded by a jungle of deadly magic-mutated creatures. But despite the warm welcome they receive, there are snakes waiting below the surface. Snakes that have been waiting for a Prince of Skysand to return for a long time.


Review: I liked this story a bit better than the first novel Phoenix Rising. The previous book was very much in Epic Fantasy mode, full of travel to distant and exotic lands, with a large cast of characters. All well and good, but the piling on of details (particularly the stuff about the stranded Earth kids) got a little difficult to swallow after a bit. This time around Kyri and company have to deal with a single nation-state and the mysteries within it, which allows for a more focused plot and a somewhat smaller cast. [1]

All in all it's good fun, continuing an ongoing theme of forgiving one's enemies and the power of Good Feels Good to turn one's soul on the path of Light. Though I'll admit there were a couple of characters willing to dump a thousands of years old plan really quickly once Kyri showed up. [2]

Also there's a Kaiju. Because Ryk.

Recommended.


[1] Which fortunately also leaves out this universe's resident Mysterious Wizard ™, whom I grew to loathe in the previous book.

[2] It was rather odd that no commented (IRCC) on Kyri's rather unusual hair coloring. Then again, given some of the weirdness to be found in Zarathan, it might simply not have be worth mentioning. :)
jeriendhal: (Wazagan)
...and I'm still in the Tutorial basically. Liking it so far though.

Some thoughts and spoilers behind the cut )
jeriendhal: (Wazagan)
Read the sample chapters online, but I'm going to avoid the e-arc for now. I prefer to read my Bujold in dead tree format the first time through.

Thoughts and Spoilers behind the cut text )
jeriendhal: (Muppets)
Just got back from seeing The Martian with [livejournal.com profile] jvowles. Excellent adaptation of the book. Some changes at the very climax due to Rule of Drama with astronauts doing very stupid non-astronaut things, but much of the book was preserved, especially the funnier lines (including cleverly edited versions of Mark's many, many "fucks" to keep it PG-13)

Overall very clever and celebratory of NASA in it's Can Do mode when overcoming multiple problems. Excellent film.
jeriendhal: (Wazagan)
Summary: Arriving on Earth to deploy a virus to kill on the inhabitants and ready it for colonization, General Bill Trius of the planet Hondo immediately gives up his mission upon discovering the concept of music. Eight years later he’s happily married with a daughter, and practicing folk music on the side, when a Hondoian assassin finally shows up to kill Trius and finish the job. Fortunately Kevin, the assassin in question, is 1) Not very good at his job, and 2) Just as susceptible to the Power of Music as Trius was. Together they form up a folk music duo, and cleverly disguising themselves as folk musicians only pretending to be aliens, bring music and happiness to the world (or at least certain neighborhoods on Long Island).

Too bad Planet Hondo still wants to destroy the Earth. Will General Trius and Kevin be able to stop the next assassin? Will Kevin realize trying to date the cop attempting to arrest him won’t end well? Will Trius’s marriage survive Kevin’s antics?

Review: Well, yes, since the point of the movie is to provide a showcase for Nils d'Aulaire (General Trius) and Jay Klaitz’s (The Mighty Kevin) real life folk music comedy duo “Future Folk”. The plot tends to be somewhat, er, intermittent, as it’s placed between musical numbers the pair play. Nevertheless despite being musicians first and actors second, both of them carry themselves well, with Klaitz proving very adept in his role as a bumbling assassin with a crush on a female police officer. [1] D’Aulaire is more the straight man, but he manages to put some real acting chops on display, particularly in a scene where the plot has put a strain on his marriage, and he explains very gently to his daughter that even though Mommy and Daddy might be angry with each other right now, they would never be angry with her, and nothing that’s happening is her fault at all.

In general is it weren’t for single fist fight (between Trius and a Guy In A Rubber Suit) and some mild swear words, this would be a PG comedy. As it is, it’s mostly lighthearted, and a chance to hear some good banjo pickin’.

[1] Which I’ll admit slides into Stalker With a Crush territory when Kevin uses a stun rifle to paralyze her in her house so he can sing a love song in Spanish to her. Admittedly it’s played for comedy, he’s otherwise utterly non-threatening, and her upset about the whole situation never rises above “mild irritation”, but it’s a bit creepy and potentially triggery.

Recommended.

Available on Region One DVD and Netflix.
jeriendhal: (Wazagan)
Phoenix Rising, Ryk Spoor

Summary: In this sprawling fantasy novel by [livejournal.com profile] seawasp, young noblewoman Kyri Vantage must take on dark forces as she investigates and seeks justice for her murdered family, enlisting the aid of a variety of unusual allies.

Review: This is Ryk Spoor's big arsed, doorstop sized fantasy series, which very deliberately combines Western fantasy with a generous helping from Japanese anime and manga (there's even a group of armored knights that bare more than a passing resemblance to the cast of Saint Seiya crossed with Gatchaman). Mostly it's a lot of fun, with a strong female lead and great action. I do have some problems with a couple of secondary characters, one of whom is a major crossover from his other series Digital Knight, which might confuse people not familiar with the series. And there's an immortal wizardly mentor character whose deliberate cloak of mysteriousness is just damned annoying (though to Ryk's credit, most of the other characters don't like him either. But aside from those nits it's great fun.

Recommended.
jeriendhal: (Sporfle)
6. Warrior of the Lost World (501): “MEGAWEAPON! MEGAWEAPON! MEGAWEAPON!” – In which our “hero” drives a motorbike across the green, lush, post-apocalyptic wasteland, abandons the girl at a critical moment, whines about wearing a jumpsuit, and is out acted by a dump truck mounted with spikes and a flamethrower (the Megaweapon). You have to feel sorry for poor Persis Khambata and Donald Pleasance for being reduced to acting in this dreck. But it’s perfect fodder for Joel and the bots.

7. The Creeping Terror (606): A shag carpet rampages its way across a small town. Notable for giving Mike and the bots a lot of room to riff, since almost the entire movie is narrated, because the original filmmaker couldn’t afford to loop the dialog.

8. Invasion of the Neptune Men (819): “They blew up the Hitler Building!” – While it doesn’t quite beat Manos as one of the worst movies MST3K ever riffed, it’s certainly one of the ones Best Brains hated the most, mostly for using footage from actual WWII bombings in a kids movie. Laughable, ineffective aliens. A hero that doesn’t actually do much. Free range kids with Level 5 security clearance. Just terrible from start to finish, with plenty of material to riff.

9. Space Mutiny (820): “Oh, God! She’s presenting like a mandrill!” – If there’s one flaw to MST3k’s treatment of this movie, it’s them completely missing the fact that all the special effects were “borrowed” from the original Battlestar Galactica. Otherwise it’s a hilarious space adventure, with a supposedly 20 something love interest very obviously in her late 30’s (and wearing incredibly sexist Space Clothes tm on top of that), the interior of a brick factory passing for a spaceship, and such lovely continuity goofs like a character who was killed on screen showing up back at her console in the very next scene.

10. The Pumaman (903): “It’s S&M Day at the Field Museum!” – Pity poor Donald Pleasance, who has the bad luck to appear twice on MST3K (though at least he does better than Peter Graves and Lee Van Cleef). Whiny college professor is granted the all the powers of a pyuma, er puma through an ancient Aztec belt apparently borrowed from the WWE. Fortunately his Aztec sidekick is vastly more competent than he is, and gets most of the work done.
jeriendhal: (Sporfle)
In no particular order, these are my favorite episodes of Mystery Science Theater. It shouldn't be much surprise that they lean towards the sci-fi end of the scale. As a preference, I like episodes with enough action to actually be slightly engaging, though of course still worthy of Joel/Mike and the bot's derision.


1. The Lost Continent (208) "Rock Climbing, Joel" - OK, my first pick isn't quite so hot on the action part. The "Rock Climbing" sequence is infamous for the terrible amount of padding involved. But it was the first episode I ever saw, on the TV set in my sister's house during a visit to North Carolina. I think I came in just as Mike Nelson, playing Hugh Beaumont, Horseman of the Apocalypse, was apologizing to Joel and the bots for wanting to destroy the Earth. From that point I basically kept laughing and didn't stop for an hour and a half.

2. The Cave Dwellers (301) "Use the handrails. I invented them for a reason." - Cheap Conan knockoff featuring Miles O'Keefe sailing through the air on a hanglider wearing a fur diaper. Villains with Fu Manchu mustaches wearing cardboard armor. The female lead doing nothing except looking comely while wearing a hubcap. Credit sequence completely unrelated to actual movie. Just ridiculous from start to finish.

3. It Conquered the World (311) "It learned too late that Mankind was a feeling creature..." Classic Roger Corman with what's actually a reasonably scary premise, a decent script, competent acting by veterans Peter Graves, Lee Van Cleef and Corman regular Beverly Garland. All spoiled by a ludicrous monster shaped like a turnip...

4. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (321) "No one wll ever know that Santa Claus has been kidnapped by Martians!" "Do you realize what you just said?" - The first of two Mst3K's Christmas episodes. An utterly awful children's movie with cheap sets, terrible f/x, worse acting, and a "Wacky!" comic relief character you want to just punch in the face. Only Joel and the bots make it survivable.

5. Hercules Unchained (408): "I LOVE being a guy! Yeah!" Steve Reeves in a toga as myth's mightiest, but certainly not brightest, hero. Joel and Bot's first sword and sandal movie, but by no means their last.
jeriendhal: (Wazagan)
Summary: Penric, a young, very much lower lording, is on his way to be dutifully married when his wedding day is turned upside down. Finding a dying sorceress of the Bastard's Order by the side of the road, he's unexpectedly infested with the demon she carried when she passes. So the wedding is off, Penric has a demon carrying the lives of ten women (plus a lioness and a mare) in his head, and he's got a very uncertain future ahead of him.

Well, at least his no-longer-bride-to-be gave him a nice cheese wheel as a going away present.


Review: I think the best way to describe this story is "Amiable". It's a self-published novella that Lois points out is the longest such thing she's ever written. That said there's less plot in it than say "Borders of Infinity", "The Mountains of Mourning", or "Labyrinth". It's actually a sly commentary about the two halves that make up a marriage (it's no coincidence Pen got his demon on his supposed wedding day), not a great pile of storm and thunder. Much of the bulk of the story is just Penric talking to the demon, which he names "Desdemona" out of discomfort of the idea of just calling it "Demon" as it had been in its previous ten lives. There's a very minor conflict at the end, but it's dealt with handily by Pen and Des, and has the feel of being tacked on just because Lois figured she needed something to actually threaten Penric before the story finished.

Honestly, as a Bujold story it's minor at best. But it's a pleasant read to help pass an hour or two, and there's quite a bit of worldbuilding (as Lois is wont to do) about how the Bastard's Order uses sorcerers and their demons, which would be useful for anyone writing Five Gods 'Verse fanfics.
jeriendhal: (Muppets)
Summary: The magical land of Oz has fallen, destroyed by two evil wizards who escaped their punishments inflicted on them by Princess Ozma, combining forces in an uneasy alliance to conquer all. Only the sky kingdom of King Iris Mirabillis, Lord of Rainbows, remains free. And from there he sends his daughter, Polychrome Glory, to the Mortal World to find the champion they need to free the Land of Oz.

What they get is Erik Medon, an asthmatic, overweight fan of L. Frank Baum's famous series, who just found his dreams have come true. And is willing to fight for those dreams even at the cost of his own life.


Review: Okay, this book is unabashed wish fulfillment by Ryk Spoor. It's a Portal Fantasy with a stereotypical fannish geek who gets to live out an adventure in the Magical Land of Oz (at least the portions that are out of copyright). Nevertheless it's well-written wish fulfillment. Erik is painfully aware of his limitations as a Hero, even though he gets a fair set of Mighty Thews (not to mention 20-20 eyesight) after a year of intense training up in the Rainbow Kingdom. And Oz is not entirely the happy-go-lucky land of adventure from the books. Wisely, Spoor makes the assumption that Baum simplified and softened the retelling of Dorothy and her companion's adventures when he published them. This allows Spoor to attach more complex motivations and characterizations to both the heroes and villains in his tale, and enriches the narrative.

If I have an objection to this story, it's that Ozma had to be very deliberately and specifically Nerfed to allow Erik his moment to shine at the end. But “Ozma wakes up and makes everything instantly better” doesn't work in a modern narrative, so I'll give Spoor a pass on that one, and the active female characters are strong enough to make up for the loss.

The final battle does get marvelously loony though, as Erik uses his knowledge of sci-fi, fantasy and Japanese anime to fight the villians. It reminded me strongly of Jim Hine's Libromancer books, and that's not a bad thing.

Strongly Recommended.
jeriendhal: (Wazagan)
Summary: Tony proceeds to f*ck up world peace. Again.

Review: As a second installment, it's not as GoshWow as the first Avengers film, but it's a reasonable use of two hours.

spoilery random observations under cut )

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