Rebel Princess by Blair Bancroft

The title of this yarn isn’t particularly original, as it makes me think of Princess Leia, but the story doesn’t lean on Star Wars very much. As the book opens, with a war game going on, rather like Star Trek— The Wrath of Khan, I was wondering if the author was going to borrow heavily from that story, but not really. Actually, Bancroft uses lots of science fiction and fantasy elements, but this is theme and variation, then more variation. As a writer, a reader, and an occasional viewer of science fiction, I see this story as fairly original, and since there truly is “no new thing under the sun” that’s a complement.

Oh, there are some aspects of the story that I don’t like. Most of the “alien” characters have an odd apostrophe in their names. I’ve come to view that artifice as trite, as so many science fiction and fantasy writers employ it. There are times when the narrative drags a bit, and the author tends to use too many sentence fragments. Especially. At times of high emotion. Oh wow. Get it? And, at least half of the main players have two names, because some are masquerading as someone else, which can get a bit confusing. Indeed, the author has a list of terms on her website, just to explain some of what’s going on in the story. Mostly, I didn’t need that, but it was nice to take a look at them all to see if I had guessed correctly.

Still, this story has lots to like, including a heroine (Kass Kiolani) who is brave but not at all prone to throwing caution to the winds. Since she was brought up as a royal heir, she thinks everything through. The hero (Tal Rigel) is mostly heroic and a lot less cautious than Kass, but vulnerable enough to be likable. Minor characters tend to be stereotypical, but there is some character building, especially the main character’s brother, who has some interesting “gifts.” The world building is better than some novels in the romantic science fiction genre, perhaps because this is the first in a series of novels set in this universe.

As of this writing, Rebel Princess is also dirt cheap, at 99 cents or free for Amazon Prime members.

Solo— a Star Wars Story

Solo posterOur son is a big time Star Wars fan, and he initially said he planned to skip this movie. Based on the box office stats, apparently a lot of folks felt the same way. However, a friend apparently convinced him to go see it, and he came back raving about how much better it is than Star Wars Episode VIII. Last evening, hubby and I went with him to our very small local theatre to see Solo- A Star Wars Story before it closes up and leaves for cable and the Red Box.

I did like it rather a lot. The cast is really great, from a decent likeness of the main character by Alden Ehrenreich to a fabulous supporting cast with veteran actors including Woody Harrelson and Paul Bettany, as well as modern favorites such as West World star Thandie Newton and Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke. The look and feel of the film, although a bit dark, is up to Disney and Star Wars standards, too. While I thought there was too much action (if such a thing is possible in a summertime blockbuster film) all of it was top notch.

For real fans of the series, there are some pluses and minuses of course. The film does a good job of filling in the small and big pieces of the original trilogy, especially those that occurred in the original film, Star Wars: A New Hope. Example: Han Solo proudly tells Obi Wan Kenobi that the Millennium Falcon made the Kessell run in 12 parsecs. How? When? And why was that important? Solo fills in all those blanks. How did Han and Chewy meet? Again, this film supplies some answers. Overall, the script writers (father and son Kasdan and Kasdan) performed a minor miracle in getting so much into two action packed hours.

Although I’ve read that it was a marketing problem, or a saturation problem—no one knows for sure why Star Wars fans have not embraced Solo. That’s too bad, because it is in many ways very similar to the much better received Rogue One: A Star Wars Story— it fills in blanks in the original film, gives us new characters to love and hate, and is a visual spectacle with a very good musical score.

Beat the summer heat and go see Solo—A Star Wars Story soon. Very soon, because it will be moving to video in a few short weeks.

Lincoln— the film


I’m not sure why we didn’t watch it when it was new, but hubby and I were perusing a list of the best films available for streaming on Netflix, and we chose to view Steven Spielberg’s ode to the controversial president. Gosh, there’s been so much written about this man. Historians can easily demonstrate how controversial and even unpopular Abraham Lincoln was during his lifetime, but since then his stature has ridden the waves of popularity, sometimes to heroic heights and then again to be mostly forgotten.

I’ve read some of the books and articles on Lincoln, but there’s many, many more that I haven’t. Still, the film version has much to offer viewers, regardless of their prior knowledge of the civil war era leader. For the two hours plus of runtime, the film focuses on the struggle to pass the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the one which prohibits slavery, except as punishment for criminal behavior. Daniel Day-Lewis does a remarkable job of portraying the title character. Sally Field is also very good as the mercurial Mary Lincoln, and the supporting cast is peppered with famous and talented actors. When we paused the streaming version for a pantry raid, hubby and I commented that it was as if the script had been tailored to showcase some aging but remarkable players, including Tommy Lee Jones and David Spader.

Mostly, this is a really good film, but the beginning, although dramatically effective, leads a well-read viewer to question its authenticity. The soldiers who quote from Lincoln’s now famous address at Gettysburg seem so sincere, but it is quite unlikely that war weary soldiers would know by memory that speech, as it was not considered to be much good when it was delivered. History has given those words their significance.

Although I don’t remember the source of the recommendation to watch this film, I, too, endorse it. While the outcomes are not really suspenseful, the film holds the viewer’s interest. No biopic is entirely historically accurate, of course, but the spirit of truth is certainly present. Watch (or re-watch) and enjoy!

The Sound of Music (on tour)

MusicMy sister, my daughter, and I saw a musical in our local theatre venue— The Sound of Music. I remember seeing the 1965 film version as a child (and I am telling how old I am by that admission) and absolutely loving it. The performance was part of what they term their “Broadway Entertainment” series. The auditorium there seats 2000, so it is actually larger than most theatres on Broadway. The seating is a bit more comfortable, however.

I told my daughter that I was wary of not liking the stage version, but it was really good. The sets worked well, and the actress playing the Reverend Mother has one heck of a set of pipes on her! The actor portraying the captain was a very good singer, too. I do not believe anyone could do a better job of singing the part of Maria than Julie Andrews did, but the actress who performed for us did a good job.

While many of the songs from the movie were used, this touring version is actually closer to the original stage play that the film was based upon. Although my daughter was upset that they left out one of her favorites, “Confidence” the Baroness and Max sing in the stage play!

Our girls night out was great fun, from our happy hour beverages, to our meal at a hip restaurant, and the heart warming musical, with nary a naughty word, finished the evening.

Dirty Dancing— commentary

Dirty DancingSome of y’all are going to laugh, but I watched this 80s heartthrob flick for the first time this week. A local theatre is featuring the touring version of Dirty Dancing next month, so I did a bit of research on the story and was intrigued enough to look for the original film (free with my Amazon Prime account, and if your friends and family don’t have an account, now is good time to Give the Gift of Amazon Prime.)

As for Dirty Dancing, the movie, it is a period piece anyway, as it is set in the early 60s, but the cast (and Jennifer Grey’s hair) made me think 80s, regardless. The Dirty Dancing soundtrack works great, regardless of the era, especially the Oscar winning finale, [This is the] Time of Your Life. Although the story is supposed to take place in the Catskills, the movie was actually filmed near Lake Lure, North Carolina and in Mountain Lake, Virginia. Having vacationed in North Carolina and Virginia, I enjoyed the visual feast, too, but the lack of high def photography reinforced the retro feel of the film. Another facet is the “please the crowd” ending, which is entirely unrealistic, but oh, so Hollywood, at least, as it was when their business was entertainment.

Patrick Swayze is very convincing as the working class dance instructor, and Jennifer Grey gives an amazing performance as “Baby,” alternating between the shy upper class school girl and a young woman with grit and enough determination to learn the complex dance routine. The dancing is, of course, quite good, as are some of the performances by the supporting cast. While I won’t be joining those who view this as a see it over and over again cult classic, I really did enjoy it.

I haven’t decided to buy tickets to the live action version (not yet, anyway) but I am glad I spent an evening seeing this now iconic film. And, gosh I love the music.

What’s it about? A non-review of La La Land.

La La LandThe other evening, I told hubby that I wanted to see La La Land on HBO Go. Like many men, he is a direct, compartmental thinker, and he wanted a succinct description, like a phrase. Complex sentences and paragraphs are too much after a hard day at the office, so I said, “It’s a musical.” And he said, “What kind?” Based on the tone as well as the question, I was getting the drift that he didn’t want to try this one, so I said something like, “We’ll talk about it later.”

Today, weary of grading essays, I turned our sorta smart TV to HBOGo and found La La Land. Before the end of the opening number, a sort of modern fantasy about singing and dancing in traffic, I was already glad that I decided to forgo explaining the film to my husband. He is just not gonna go for this sort of film.

That’s not to say it is bad, for it certainly isn’t. But, this clever film is not going to be pigeon holed into a category, although HBO places it under “romance.” The film pays homage to Hollywood in particular and the entertainment industry more generally, and the characters certainly are passionate about their craft, but they struggle to pave a path to personal success. Work gets in the way of their relationship, but there are some seriously romantic scenes in this film. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have both moved up a few notches in my estimation, based solely on the way they conveyed emotion through song and dance and just looking at the camera.

As I was searching for an answer to “What sort of movie (or musical) is it?” I read several reviews. The one at RogerEbert.com comes the closest to explaining it, and I don’t want to spoil it or plagiarize, so I will merely provide the link. However, should hubby ask again, which I rather doubt, I have my answer: “It’s a different sort of musical.” Yep, it isn’t peculiar, nor avant gardé, nor off-beat. It is just different.

From a Distant Star— quick review and commentary

From a Distant StarThere are many themes in science fiction, and the one about an alien who is trapped on earth entering a host body isn’t exactly a new plot line. However, in this young adult novel, Karen McQuestion taps into the “kids dealing with big stuff” storyline that seems to be popular right now. (Think “Stranger Things” on Netflix or even Stephen King’s, IT! on the big screen.) Anyway, I didn’t find it difficult at all to get into this book and stay with it until the end. The main characters, Emma and her cancer stricken boyfriend Lucas, are believable, engaging, and their exploits are entertaining. Emma is particularly well drawn, and she is the point of view character for most of the novel.

I’m not a big fan of young adult fiction, but I genuinely believe that the most creative stories these days are found in that genre. Publishers, large and small, are not prone to take any chances with fiction intended for adult audiences, but they are more open to new authors and new ideas in YA fiction. This has been true for quite a while, and this trend plays out on the big screen. The Harry Potter novels were quite successfully adapted to film, as were the Hunger Games novels. The Divergent Series is another YA science fiction series that made it to the big screen. Even Twilight and its sequels begat movies.

Probably From a Distant Star won’t be the basis for a Hollywood block buster, but it would make a dandy film for the folks over at the SyFy channel. In the mean time, readers can find it in various formats, from $4.49 for the Kindle ebook to $10.95 in hard cover.

Amazon Prime

I suppose that internet users are all aware of the benefits of Amazon Prime. For quite a while, I just enjoyed the quick and often discounted shipping. But, the video offerings have improved vastly, and I certainly use that feature often. Amazon has both original content as well as plenty of television and movie offerings. Sometimes I listen to Amazon music, and I am especially fond of the “channels” feature that lets me choose a style of music based on favorite artists. Another benefit that I’ve mentioned here from time to time is the “Kindle First” offerings— free books that are available prior to release on the Kindle platform. I’ve read quite a few of those (and reviewed them here from time to time.) Recently, I’ve taken advantage of the free periodicals, such as Family Handyman.

My publishing career is intertwined with Amazon, as my current books (Trinity on Tylos and The Gift Horse) are mostly available via Amazon’s Kindle store, but even if that were not the case, I’d still have to acknowledge that Amazon’s Prime program is value added for online shoppers, television cord cutters, and eBook readers. If you want to know more about Amazon Prime, use the link to explore it via a free trial.

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Stranger in a Strange Land— another item from my “Keeper” shelf

Stranger CoverAs a youngster, I loved science fiction. From being a little kid watching Fireball XL5: The Complete Series on television to reading the novels of Robert Heinlein while in school, to seeing the original Star Wars: A New Hope at the cinema while in college (gosh, I’m old, right?) I really loved sci-fi. Actually, I still do, but this is a blast from the past post, so here goes.

Heinlein, now considered one of the “grand masters” of classic science fiction, wrote young adult novels and short stories for a number of years. However, his groundbreaking and movie inspiring Starship Troopers is considered a turning point into adult fiction because this novel begins his exploration of themes that appeal to a more mature audience, including libertarian politics. Perhaps modern readers wouldn’t realize it, but the powered body armor in Starship Troopers was one of those prescient inventions that makes reading and watching science fiction so important to the development of technology.

Stranger in a Strange Land (Remembering Tomorrow)was published a couple of years after Troopers, and while less “realistic” the novel takes some giant leaps into thematic explorations. The novel deals with the life of one Valentine Michael Smith, the first human born on Mars, and because he was orphaned he was reared by the natives of that planet, and later brought back to earth as a young adult human who knows absolutely nothing about his home planet or its inhabitants, hence the title. This situation is a fabulous set up for what science fiction does best: explore what makes humanity work (or not.) I used to read this novel annually, and I have never tired of it, because there are so many themes. Indeed, while doing a master’s degree in English, I wrote a pretty decent term paper on the topic of how Heinlein uses the world savior theme in the novel, and didn’t get thrown out of my fairly conservative program.

The characters in Stranger are often larger than life, but Jubal Harshaw, lawyer, doctor, and homespun philosopher (as well as the voice of the author) is my favorite. His employees and associates included Anne, a “fair witness” which is sort of a human version of a body cam, as she only reports what is seen. As in many Heinlein works, there are any number of gems, but even people who haven’t read Stranger may use the invented word “grok” which is a Martian term for being one with someone or something, in such a way that it is fully understood or appreciated.

Modern science fiction has split into many sub-genres, but Stranger in a Strange Land pre-dates that, and in a good way. Grand Master Robert Heinlein was not restricted to hard science or the softer “social” aspects of the genre, although he uses both hard and softer themes to challenge societal norms. Indeed, this novel broke new ground when first published, and it is just as thoughtful and thought provoking today. Certainly, it deserves a read, but it is so complex that it almost needs a Cliff Notes commentary but not quite yet. Despite its age, it is still in print, so go get a copy!

Count the flags!

FlagWe had an interesting discussion about celebrating America’s Independence Day, and the  ways to celebrate are as diverse as the country itself. Most of the towns around here offer some sort of fireworks, usually preceded by live music, and people bring lawn chairs and visit for a while. When our kids were kids, we usually visited the one in the town where we lived. Currently, we live out in the country, so we don’t usually bother.

Hubby wants to watch a movie, preferably Independence Day Resurgence(Bluray+DVD+Digital HD). We loved the original ID4 movie, but somehow we missed seeing the sequel. Despite its mediocre reviews, I imagine that we’ll be looking for that one in a couple of days.

In my work as an adjunct instructor, I work with students from lots of differing situations, but some of the most interesting are immigrants to our country. Many of them are just so appreciative for the opportunities that Americans have. I remember one gentleman, originally from Romania, who came over a couple of decades back, beginning with nothing but some work ethic. At first he made his living doing odd jobs. He worked his way into owning his own construction business, and he and his wife raised their family through hard work and savvy real estate deals. At our college, he was working on his HVAC (that’s heating and air-conditioning) certification, as he wanted to open an HVAC business so he could scale back doing difficult construction work as he aged. Being a very smart business man, he said that in the south making money on repairing air conditioning was a sure thing! One day at the end of our class, he spend probably half an hour, telling all of us about what a wonderful country we were living in, because he could never do all that he was doing in the economically and socially constricted country of his birth. It was quite refreshing. Sometimes, caught up in the polarized morass of modern media, Americans forget just how wonderful our country is, and how it differs from others.

When I mentioned that it can be difficult teaching young children about our country, one  mother of youngsters mentioned that when they are driving in the car, her kids count flags. Regardless of the destination, they look for the red, white, and blue symbol of our great country. That, too, is a great way to begin celebrating the good ol’ US of A.

Happy American Independence Day, y’all.