BOOK: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (2014)

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet Year: 2014 Author: Becky Chambers Length: 863 minutes / 14.38 hours One of the biggest qualms I have with a lot of modern science fiction is that it’s not nearly imaginative enough. I believe most of this stems from the fact that modern sci-fi authors were influenced by franchises like Star Trek and Star Wars, where even the aliens are basically humanoids with different skin color. In The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, author Becky Chambers takes a great leap forward for sci-fi by exploring what it would be like to work on a spaceship with a variety of different species. Needless to say, there are plenty of “cultural” adaptations that one would need to make in such a situation. Unfortunately, because the characters are so interesting, the main plot takes a back seat for the majority of the book. Instead, the reader is treated to a series of almost “episodic” moments between the crew that act as excellent exposition,...
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MOVIE: Interstellar (2014)

Interstellar Year: 2014 Rating: PG-13 Length: 169 minutes / 2.82 hours The first time I saw this film, I was speechless. I knew what to expect from Christopher Nolan, who had been steadily increasing his repertoire for almost two decades. Each of his films outdid the last and built on the already mind-blowing pieces that have gone before them. From The Following (1998) to Memento (2000) to The Prestige (2006) to Inception (2010), I wondered how he could outdo himself with his first foray into hard science fiction. Needless to say, I was impressed by Interstellar (2014) and Nolan’s ability to bring the theoretical and incredible ideas of interstellar travel into an entirely plausible setup. As was the case with his previous films, Nolan manages to bring together almost disjointed moments into a cyclical narrative. Much like Memento, I wanted to sit down and watch the whole thing again immediately after viewing it for the first time, so that I could catch all the little things that lead to the major reveal at the end. Even...
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BOOK: Sourdough (2017)

Sourdough Year: 2017 Author: Robin Sloan Length: 259 pages Much like Armada to Ready Player One or Artemis to The Martian, I looked forward to reading Robin Sloan’s follow-up to Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore. Unfortunately, much like the follow-up books by Ernest Cline and Andy Weir, respectively, I wasn’t entirely satisfied with Sloan’s Sourdough. I will give credit that Sloan’s quirky and charming style is still in high form here, it’s more that there wasn’t much of a central conflict that would have led to a satisfying ending. It’s almost like too many plotlines got into the mix, and it muddled everything up to the point where it would be too difficult to follow each to their logical conclusion. Cline has video game references. Weir has accurate, hard sci-fi. If there’s one thing Sloan does well, it’s the fusion of analog and digital. From Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore, it was the appreciation of the printed book in the era of Google searches. In Sourdough, Sloan explores the future of food—which is perhaps the most analog of...
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MOVIE: Alpha (2018)

Alpha Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 96 minutes / 1.60 hours I’m not sure what surprises me more about this movie: that nobody had made a film about the domestication of the wolf or that anyone needed to make that film at all. Consequently, Alpha (2018) seems a little unnecessary and highly predictable as the “hero’s journey” plays out. The trailer doesn’t leave much for the imagination, as a lot of the events in this film don’t have any significant twists that the astute viewer wouldn’t see coming. And maybe I’m biased because I’d be more of a cat person than a dog person—despite being allergic to both. Visually, though, Alpha does provide some fantastic shots of wilderness that one can only find in places like Canada and Iceland. Plenty of the flat silhouette shots of characters traversing huge distances and the stylized slow-motion events made this movie feel a bit like 300 (2006), which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The real trouble is that it takes these characters so long...
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BOOK: The Way of Kings (2010)

The Way of Kings Year: 2010 Author: Brandon Sanderson Length: 1258 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** I’ve only recently started reading Brandon Sanderson’s books, but I’ve liked what I’ve read so far. I started out with Warbreaker, which was a relatively light fantasy novel when compared to the hefty tome that is The Way of Kings. While I loved the moderate pace that Warbreaker moved at, I instinctually knew that most “high fantasy” books are usually bogged down with exposition and world-building. The Way of Kings is certainly a “high fantasy,” which makes me wonder if perhaps Sanderson tried to do too much in this first volume of his newest series. The Way of Kings follows about three main storylines but could have potentially gotten away with two of them, even if the one that could be easily cut—the Soulcaster theft storyline—had some of my favorite characters in it. I could also see the plotline being pared down to the one following Kaladin (who appears in each of the...
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BOOK: The Currents of Space (1952)

The Currents of Space Year: 1952 Author: Isaac Asimov Length: 475 minutes / 7.92 hours For the first time, it seems that I’m reading a series backward. Of course, it was also written a bit backward, which explains why I’m going about it this way. While Pebble in the Sky was the first book in this series, it actually comes at the end of the narrative. A year later, Isaac Asimov would write the prequel, The Stars, Like Dust, which was then followed by a book that fit between the two. The Currents of Space is that book. Fortunately, there isn’t much tying this book to Pebble in the Sky, other than the universal setting for the events to take place. It is encouraging that Asimov’s writing was able to improve in two short years between his first ever novel and this follow-on prequel. The Currents of Space has a distinct main character, apparent conflict, and well-timed plot revelations. The focus of this book helps to describe a somewhat interesting and thrilling scenario,...
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MOVIE: Ocean’s Eight (2018)

Ocean’s Eight Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 110 minutes / 1.83 hours As the gender-swapped spin-off of a remake, Ocean’s Eight (2018) feels convoluted merely based on its heritage. While I love the Ocean’s Eleven (2001) remake, I was curious to see what would make Ocean’s Eight something that would distinctly empower women (which I’m assuming was the point). In the end, it seems like Ocean’s Eight merely highlights the 72% wage disparity when compared to Ocean’s Eleven since most of the tropes and clichés almost felt like they were pandering to the very audience they were trying to lift up. While I will praise Ocean’s Eight for its ability to be a passable heist film, both with main and “twist” heists, that’s mostly where my adoration ends. Sure, I get the need to move the setting to New York to better align with fashion and other women’s interests, and part of Sandra Bullock’s character introduction after being released from prison was fun, but there were so many problems with the plot and characters that I’m still...
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MOVIE: Solo – A Star Wars Story (2018)

Solo: A Star Wars Story Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 135 minutes / 2.25 hours Most superhero franchises start with an origin story. Sure, sometimes the franchise gets to this foundational plot after its first set of films (a la X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)), but these movies are usually pretty rare. Unfortunately, they’re also hampered by the source material that preceded them. While not necessarily “prequels,” these films need to fit within the canon of the franchise while also telling a story that expands the canon as well. Star Wars is not a superhero franchise, but it has its fair share of prequels and origin stories. Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) is the first to focus on a specific character, though. With Han Solo being such an iconic and fan-favorite character, there was plenty to pull from to expand out his backstory. Unfortunately, most people will only recognize Harrison Ford as the “true” Han Solo, and this film gives them some ammunition for that. Sure, Alden Ehrenreich does a...
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BOOK: Bobbie Mendoza Saves the World (Again) (2018)

Bobbie Mendoza Saves the World (Again) Year: 2018 Author: Michael Fry & Bradley Jackson Length: 272 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** As can be implied from the title, Bobbie Mendoza Saves the World (Again) is the follow-up to an earlier appearance of the titular character in The Naughty List. One does not need to have read The Naughty List to understand what happened to Bobbie since this book does a pretty good—if not too thorough—re-telling of the events of the first book that would eventually lead her to save the world (again). While I’m sure the previous book was focused on Christmas-related shenanigans, this book opens up the potential for weird, random, and bizarre via the same inter-dimensional portals used previously. I will say that I was impressed with this book’s ability to seamlessly intertwine verbal narrative with accompanying pictures. It’s not quite a picture-book, but it’s also not a chapter book either. It’s a hybrid of the two. While I’m assuming the illustrations will be a...
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BOOK: The Long War (2013)

The Long War Year: 2013 Author: Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter Length: 828 minutes / 13.80 hours You think with an inciting incident as extreme as the one at the end of The Long Earth, the follow-on book, The Long War, would be an exciting series of battles. If you thought that, you’d be wrong. Instead, authors Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter take the Speaker for the Dead route by aging the main character of the first book by at least a decade and throwing in heavy doses of non-human racism (speciesism?). For a book that has “war” in the title, there isn’t much war at all. This is disappointing for many reasons. Sure, there’s still plenty of neat science fiction ideas presented here, but The Long War exhibits the same problems that were present in The Long Earth. First and foremost, the wit and humor of Terry Pratchett is hardly to be seen in this book, only occasionally popping up to add levity to a situation. Secondly, there’s so much exposition that...
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