Gravity— A Big Step Forward in Filmmaking

Since Gravity was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, one of our local theatres has given it a second chance on the big screen. I admit, it took a bit of insisting to get hubby to go. “What’s it about?” He asked, and when I explained it is about an astronaut who is trying to get home after a space shuttle disaster, hubby wasn’t interested. Yes, I know, it has a been there, done that plot. Having seen Apollo 13, and some lesser films, all with that same basic plot line, I did understand his lack of enthusiasm. Of course, Sandra Bullock isn’t as young as she used to be. And, once you have seen Star Trek or Star Wars, the space shuttle is just so primitive.

Many (mostly amateur) critics have listed all of the stuff that just couldn’t happen, from the lack of diapers on Bullock’s bod to the detachable helmet on the cosmonaut space suit. The lists are lengthy and many of the assertions that “it just wouldn’t happen like that” are correct. Even with all of that, I enjoyed the film. It is in (almost) real time, which is kinda cool. There are some killer f/x showing how things are in a weightless environment, and I do think that is the groundbreaking aspect of this film. It will make you believe, if only for a few moments, that you are in space, right alongside the stars (take that either way.) The dialogue is rather sparse, and sometimes just plain silly, but in real life people can say the stupidest things.

Any film that can get people talking about space exploration again is worth a look. This one does a remarkable job of making a perilous situation quite suspenseful, but with a sufficient glimmer of hope that the audience can hang on for a “happy” ending.

Perhaps it doesn’t deserve a 97% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but it does deserve a look for any who wants to see what it is like in space.

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Rogue Program by Darrell Bain

One of my favorite eBook authors is Darrell Bain, and his Savage Survival is one of his best yarns. So, when I noticed that Rogue Program was a sort of a sequel to SS I purchased it. (I linked my old review on Amazon to the previous title above, so I am not going to rehash the plot here.)

What Bain did with this one is similar to how David Weber decided to flesh out another of my favorites, wherein he took the fabulous Path of the Fury and added enough material to make a megabook, In Fury Born. Quite frankly, I never finished Weber’s rewrite, which contains a prequel. In Rogue Program, Bain does it the other way, the reader begins with a brushed up version of Savage Survival, and ends with additional material to form the sequel part.

I am not going to say that Bain ruined it, but I did have trouble finishing. Ironically, I enjoyed the opening section quite a lot, even though I had already read it. When he gets to the new material, the story keeps moving, but becomes rather boring. Scratch that; at times it is exceedingly boring, for when the survivors from SS return to earth, they more or less conquer it, and then they have to govern it. Here is my analysis of the book:

Surviving= excitement.

Conquering= some excitement.

Governing=boredom.

The price for each book is the same, so buy Rogue Program and read until you get tired of it. I’m betting most readers will give up two-thirds of the way through. I did finish, but it was a Herculean task.

Vintage—An Examination of Semantics

My son repairs and (occasionally) sells guitars and other stringed instruments. A while back, I purchased a “vintage” Harmony archtop guitar from Ebay. I only look at the “vintage—pre 1980s” section on Ebay, because most modern guitars are made of laminated something. He prefers the ones made of solid woods, and the older, the better. When my son rebuilt the guitar, he replaced the cracked pick guard with a new one that he had made, and he added new tuners, a new bridge, and a pick up system, so the guitar could be plugged into an amp. No doubt someone will enjoy it, but that is not the point of my little story.

After he finished it, I took it out to the deck to take a couple of photos, which I put on the local Craigslist, and I labeled it a “Vintage Archtop with a Pickup.” So, a day later, he gets an email from “Joe Joe” who says the guitar is no doubt a nice player, but it is an old, rebuilt guitar, but not a vintage guitar. And, a la Archie Bunker, he said “look it up.” As an English major, I was just a bit peeved.

The term “vintage” stems from winemaking. (Don’t cha love that pun?) A wine is said to be of a certain vintage, based on age and quality. That word is typically a noun. The term vintage, used as an adjective, can also mean old, and if you don’t believe me, look at Merriam Webster online.

To give him credit, Joe Joe (isn’t that a cookie at Trader Joe’s?) was right; there are collectors of vintage instruments who strive to get items from some rather undefined “golden era” and these items should have no modifications. Such instruments do exist, for a price. I think the term collectable would serve better than vintage, but, really, isn’t this just semantics?

Anyway, my son has this nifty guitar for sale, whether it be vintage, old, nice, rebuilt, or some other term.Image

Cinder— a review

Young adult fiction is the best place to look for new ideas, or old ones wearing new garb. Marissa Meyer’s Cinder is the latter, as it is a science fiction version of Cinderella. The reviews were fabulous, so I purchased the eBook version, and promptly pushed it aside. Part of me wants to dislike YA, since I skipped into the adult section at the local library while I was in the seventh grade. Instead of beginning Cinder, I read a nifty self-help book called the $10 Root Cellar: And Other Low-Cost Methods of Growing, Storing, and Using Root Vegetables (Modern Simplicity). Yeah, I know, I can’t quite believe I read that one either. But, hubby and son have been watching a bunch of YouTube vids on how to survive a time WOROL (without rule of law) and/or zombie attacks. And, I don’t know about everyone else, but if I am staying cooped up, I want something to eat!

Okay, okay, I digress. So, having learned all about burying an old fridge to store root veggies in (for that zombie apocalypse), I pulled up Cinder on my iPad. And, almost immediately, I was hooked. The character is amazing; Meyer has so skillfully drawn her, that I can just see her stuffing her grimy gloves in a back pocket. And, yes, there should be little suspense. How many times did my kids watch the Disney version of Cinderella? Not to mention my reading the Golden Books version to my daughter. She used to call the stepsisters, “the uglies.” How cute, right? So, I know the plot.

But, while Meyer’s tale is sorta/kinda true to the traditional tale, there is sufficient deviation to give the reader some suspense. And, the narrative is pretty good, but the characters just about jump off the pages. Especially Cinder, who is a cyborg with a mean stepmom, two flighty “uglies” A/K/A stepsisters, and an android or two for good measure. The queen of Luna is perhaps the best villainess I have read about this year. Maybe this decade.

Others have noted that the Oriental overtones seem to be grafted onto the story, and that is a valid criticism. But, I am not sure that the storyline would have worked at all if the characters had been more realistically Oriental. This yarn is the first in a series, and I am looking forward to revisiting Marissa Meyer’s retelling of traditional stories.

So, even if you don’t get into re-tellings of fairy tales, if you like gritty science fiction, you might just like this story. And, if you do like re-tellings, this one is very good.

Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November

I’m mostly steering clear of controversial topics on this blog, as it is very much devoted to reading and writing. The main reason I abandoned Pam’s Pages was that some of the posts were deemed controversial by family and so-called friends.

But, as a science-fiction fan, I remember wanting to see V for Vendetta, but not wanting my (then) impressionable children to see it. The film promised violence as well as controversy, as well as Star Wars veteran Natalie Portman in a main role. There were reasons the kids would want to see it, and there were reasons I did not want them there. So, I dropped the kidlets off at school, did a couple of errands, and went to a large mall on the outskirts of Atlanta to see an 11:00 am showing of the film. T’was a surreal experience, and I am not talking about the movie. There were only a couple of other patrons in a very large cinema. And, that was one of the few times I had popcorn for lunch.

Of course, V for Vendetta is a powerful film, but the intimate showing made it even more so. That gi-normous screen held my attention, and there was not so much as a cough or a crunch from a fellow patron to distract me. While I understand that the author, and then the producer, view the graphic novel/film as a reaction to overly conservative government, I see it as a cautionary tale against any sort of totalitarian regime, regardless of whether it swings to the right or the left. As a child, attending public schools in the 1960s, (yes, I am that freakin’ old) our teachers sometimes warned us about propaganda. Those educators saw it as the weapon of choice in the Soviet Union’s means of keeping communism going, and they wanted their pupils to understand the power of media under governmental control. So, from an early age, I was taught to look beyond face value at message, any message, and to search for truth. In V for Vendetta, the message may be a bit heavy handed, but any government can get out of hand, if the people do not maintain control. And, as a youngster, I had few doubts about Walter Cronkite’s version of the “news,” but quite a lot of modern day media tends to make me cringe, and that is on both sides of the American political spectrum.

What to do, then? Well, I am not advocating blowing up anything. Nor do I advocate becoming un-engaged in political discussions. However, it is necessary for people to renew their efforts to evaluate governmental policy, from the local school board to Capitol Hill, not in terms of “what do I get?” but in terms of “is this the best way to rebuild a nation that is in deep trouble?” We must do so without “fact checking” journalists and/or highly paid lobbyists. Only then will the leadership void be filled. Otherwise, historians will look back at our time as the beginning of the end of the United States.

Oh, and this would be a great day to watch V for Vendetta. Actually, any day is a good day to see it. Bring on the popcorn.

Escape from Zulaire

Image This new tale from Veronica Scott is a very good read, but it does share a lot (perhaps too much) with the last really good story by this author that I reviewed a few months back. The heroine is saved by a military trained hero, who is quite heroic, but not arrogant. The setting is far from earth, there are kids, natives, and a bit of spiritualism. There is action aplenty, and thus suspense, with sufficient romance to keep the core audience involved. That summary works for Escape from Zulaire, but it also works for the Wreck of the Nebula Dream.

I read the Kindle version, and it was in pretty good shape for a self published novel. There were only a couple of misspellings and the main character’s name was not capitalized once. Still, I have seen far worse, in books that cost more.

Both books work for me, but if I read this same plot again, I might start getting a bit frustrated. Ms. Scott, I love your writing, but change it up a bit. Please!

Cadets, a space opera entry for young adults

Cadets CoverWhile I prefer more sophisticated military science fiction, readers of all ages should enjoy Cadets, which is an entertaining read. The story follows a group of cadets, who are forced into growing up quickly when a menace from outside the solar system wipes out virtually all of the Earth’s defense force. The characters are not as complex as those readers would find in a space opera by David Weber or Elizabeth Moon, but for the intended audience, this yarn is quite good. The military strategy won’t impress adult readers, either. Still, it is suspenseful, with a bit of Independence Day style peril. A good read, with no worries for the parents.

Freebies via Amazon’s Kindle Store

I’m really amazed at how much content is available for free these days. Since e-publishing began, there has been free (or super cheap) content, but much of it was not worth the storage space on my Palm Pilot.

Now, I read eBooks on my iPad, and I usually shop the Kindle store, although I have content through the Nook service as well. Authors can publish via Kindle direct, with little cost, so some of them are listing older content, or items that contain promotional content, for free. 

My two latest reads were free downloads. One was a full length novel by Lizzy Ford, called Rebel Heart, and it was better than I would have expected for a free read. Not a great book, but I have read worse books that actually cost real money. Rebel Heart is sorta of science fiction, somewhat romantic, with a heavy dose of political thriller thrown in for good measure. The characters, especially the hero, are worth reading about, and while the plot jumps and jerks like a kid learning to drive a stick shift, there was a good amount of originality in the story-line. Many self-published books suffer from problems with grammar, spelling, or punctuation, and there are few issues with those in this book. Instead, the problems are deeper, so Rebel Heart is a 2 star book.

The second freebie was quite well written, but the focus is not what I expected. 
How to Work for Yourself: 100 Ways to Make the Time, Energy and Priorities to Start a Business, Book or Blog by Bryan Cohen is more about time management than how to begin a business, write a book, or write a blog. And, there are some heavy doses of promotional material in the introduction and conclusion, but in a free book, that is quite forgivable. Actually, I really enjoyed this short read. Cohen has some great ideas on finding more time, and some of them are novel. If you want more time for whatever projects you have in mind, this little tome might be very helpful.

Both of these books made me think that Amazon’s free offerings are actually worth a look.

Short Reviews of my Summer Reading (thus far)

I’ve read a few new (or new to me) titles, which could all be loosely grouped into the sub genre of science fiction romance. These titles were chosen because the authors are favorites of mine.

First, I read the novella “The Day Her Heart Stood Still” by Susan Grant. This yarn, originally published in a collection, is now available as a stand alone from Amazon’s Kindle Store. Grant’s early works, especially the suspense filled Contact and the light-hearted time travel novel Once a Pirate are my all time favorites by Grant. TDHHSS is just as light-hearted as the latter, but is more like Contact in subject matter. Anyway, it is the story of an astronaut’s encounter with an extra terrestrial, and since the format is short, the love story happens at a whirlwind pace. As I read it, I kept thinking it would have made a great stand alone novel. And, Grant is especially good at connecting with her readers, so she has a neat back story on the story on her website/blog.

Pauline Baird Jones is a fabulous writer, and there are a some wonderful examples of her creativity in her sequel to a sequel, Kicking Ashe. The book which began this series, The Key, is one of my favorite science fiction/romance stories. While I liked the sequel, Girl Gone Nova, I didn’t love it. Maybe it has been too long since I read those yarns, but somehow the Kicking Ashe story didn’t really work for me. However, Jones’ character development and prose is as entertaining as ever, and this story has earned great reviews and a Galaxy award over at SFR. Maybe it was just me….

Another series in this genre that I have enjoyed is by Janet Miller, and it all began with Promises to Keep, followed by the first book I read in the series, Beloved Enemy.  I seemed to have missed Beloved Traveler, but I enjoyed Beloved Stranger quite a bit. All of these books are far more romance than science fiction, but in a day and age when marriage between men and women is more and more ephemeral, the idea of mating for life is something to admire or even fantasize about. Indeed, the whole Gaian concept of “attachment” of males to females is a bit more fantasy than science fiction, but I have enjoyed the stories in this series and I do recommend them to true romantics.

I’ve read a few other items too, but nothing worthy of a review. Still, the hottest part of the summer is yet to come, so I will probably be reading rather than out sweating….

Wreck of the Nebula Dream— a review

Wreck of Nebula Dream coverDo you remember all the obstacles faced by the survivors of the Poseidon Adventure? Did you cringe at the fate of the passengers left to die on the Titanic? Did your skin crawl when reading about the “medical experiments” performed on holocaust victims? I remember those emotions, and they all come into play when reading Veronica Scott’s space opera, the Wreck of the Nebula Dream. This book is one heck of a bargain, and it lacks the usual problems associated with Amazon Digital Services as publisher. The only down side is that something like 60% of the apostrophes are turned the wrong way.

Although not a perfect story, this one is darned close. The hero is, well, heroic, but not arrogant. The heroine is a great side kick. There are kids, a bit of fantasy and magic, and some stock characters, too. The story does take a little while to get going (in media res would have helped this author) but once the disasters start happening, one thing leads to another, and the action is constant. I really liked this novel.

While it is available in print, I read the Kindle version, and I didn’t get much sleep the night I purchased it. That is not a complaint, but I think I need a nap now….