MOVIE: X-Men – Dark Phoenix (2019)

X-Men: Dark Phoenix Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 113 minutes / 1.88 hours I’m all for more faithful adaptations of stories into film. However, in long-running series like the X-Men franchise, I can’t help but wonder if efforts could have been spent on different storylines instead of trying to fix past mistakes. I know the “Dark Phoenix” saga is one of the best in the X-Men series, but after X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019) tried to fill the gap of X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) created by the ret-con in X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), I can honestly say I preferred the version in The Last Stand. Up until now, I’ve been okay with the “First Class” set of prequels. They have taken an alternate history approach to lay out the lore of the X-Men, which I like. The problem with Dark Phoenix is that—after covering three decades in the last three films—the timeline finally caught up with the original trilogy. It was fun to...
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BOOK: The Point (2018)

The Point Year: 2018 Author: John Dixon Length: 320 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** With the rise in popularity of the superhero genre, it was only a matter of time before it leaked into other genres. While some genres like steampunk (like in The Esper Files) make for an interesting twist, others like military YA sci-fi are so similar as to be just one other entry in the zeitgeist. The problem with this is that other, more famous handlings of supernatural superpowers bring much more to the table than books like The Point (which doesn’t necessarily add much to either genre on the whole). As far as I could gather, there are only three or four different “types” of mutants in The Point: telekinetic, pyrokinesis, super strength, and “other” (like dream manipulation and energy storage, the latter of which was reasonably original). I suppose franchises like X-Men and One Piece, which give each of their unique characters unique superpowers and rarely (if ever)...
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BOOK: The First Five Pages (2000)

The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile Year: 2000 Author: Noah Lukeman Length: 208 pages As a writer who is looking to submit to agents soon, I was hoping The First Five Pages would give me some insight into the hook that could lead to the acceptance of my book. Additionally, as an individual who also creates and publishes short story anthologies, I hoped this book would give some useful advice for writers to keep their stories out of the rejection pile. Unfortunately, while this book is almost 20 years old, much has changed since its initial publication. Everyone has computers. Word processors and other tools are in abundance. Nobody prints out manuscripts anymore. Split into three sections and a total of 19 topics, this book doesn’t so much tell an author how to avoid rejection from agents and publishers as much as how to write. I will say from personal experience that the one topic on formatting is the...
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BOOK: The Graduate (1963)

The Graduate Year: 1963 Author: Charles Webb Length: 366 minutes / 6.10 hours If I could condense this book down to a single phrase, it would be “What?” It’s not that I didn’t understand this book, it’s more that this single word/question was used for every third line of dialogue. Not only was this incredibly annoying to read—as every character seemed to have hearing problems that required the other speaker to repeat themselves—but it just seemed to pad out an already weak plot. I have no idea how this book became so famous that it led to a much superior film adaptation, but now I know that nobody should bother reading this book because of its inspiration for the movie. Let’s talk about character motivations next. Nothing ever made any sense. Sure, there’s a bit of existential ennui involved with finishing something you excel in (school, in this case), but the actions of the main character only make sense up until a point. Once we hit...
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MOVIE: Jurassic World – Fallen Kingdom (2018)

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours While I have loved the original Jurassic Park (1993) for its ingenious special effects, taut and thrilling plot, and entertaining characters, none of the sequels have been able to live up to its high standard. Sure, all the same elements of the first film are usually present in each subsequent movie, but the magic seems to have been all used up in the first go. Each version is only a slight variation to a story that never ends well. Now in the fifth installment of this franchise, I'm a little surprised that this storyline hadn't appeared yet. Sure, we had dinosaurs making their way to the mainland in The Lost World (1997), which was probably why Jeff Goldblum had an extremely minor (and entirely unnecessary) cameo in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018) to act as a framing bookend to the film. Sadly, many of the mostly hidden weaknesses in Jurassic World (2015) came...
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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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BOOK: The Long Earth (2012)

The Long Earth Year: 2012 Author: Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter Length: 691 minutes / 11.52 hours Having read a few of Sir Terry Pratchett’s books before, I am no stranger to the randomness of his writing style. Usually, he has some character or object that just doesn’t fit in a normal narrative, but he manages to work it in with an explanation that’s both natural and makes sense. However, this only works if Pratchett has control over the entire story. Unfortunately, as is the case in The Long Earth, the randomness that Pratchett brings to the table sticks out like a sore thumb from the rest of the mostly sci-fi story. For instance, does an artificial intelligence have to be a reincarnated Tibetan motorcycle repairman? If you want to take the story seriously, probably not. In the end, this book seems to be mostly written by Stephen Baxter, with only a smattering of Pratchett’s charm thrown in occasionally for levity. I haven’t read any of...
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BOOK: Piercing the Darkness (1989)

Piercing the Darkness Year: 1989 Author: Frank Peretti Length: 1,250 minutes / 20.83 hours It’s weird how something that was done so well the first time loses all its magic during a sequel. I absolutely loved This Present Darkness, as I felt it accurately captured the invisible war of the spiritual world while also providing a gripping thriller in the human realm to keep the action moving forward. I was not impressed with the follow-up book, Piercing the Darkness. If it was a separate story with separate characters, I might have gotten into it more, but as it is, the tie-in to the first book seemed sloppy and almost unnecessary. Almost every part of This Present Darkness that I thought was amazing seemed copied into Piercing the Darkness, but without the stakes or “oomph” to make the plot even semi-interesting. I think the reason for this was that most of the subtlety was gone from the characters. It’s a little more terrifying when you learn that normal, everyday people are...
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BOOK: Farside (2013)

Farside Year: 2013 Author: Ben Bova Length: 580 minutes / 9.67 hours I had never heard of this author before picking up this audiobook to read—I just thought the title and cover looked neat—but apparently he’s been writing science fiction for a few decades now. It shows. While I’m not entirely certain that this 20th part in the “Grand Tour” series connects to any other parts written before it, Farside does stand by itself as a story. Unfortunately, the story’s not that good. It almost seems as though the “old rules” of golden-age sci-fi live on through this author, which allowed for this misogynistic piece of fiction to be written in the new millennium. Much like Fire with Fire, there seems to be some sort of checklist that authors trying to imitate the pulpy origins of sci-fi are using to create their modern works. These tired tropes need to stop. Especially the tropes that have to do with the blatant sexism. None of the sex...
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MOVIE: A Wrinkle in Time (2018)

A Wrinkle in Time Year: 2018 Rating: PG Length: 109 minutes / 1.82 hours While plenty of children's books are imaginative, no amount of CGI can cover up the fact that a faithful adaptation to the source material should be the highest priority. Unfortunately, due to the heavy Christian undertones in the original story, an anti-Christian Hollywood managed to churn out this loose adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time that doesn't do much more than waste a few hours of your time. Sure, there are hints to such important ideas as faith, but they're lost in lackluster character development that tries to "modernize" something that has been timeless for decades. Each of the sequences in this film merely seems like an excuse for gorgeous set design. If anything, the alien worlds and settings are neat to look at, but they don't do much to distract from the events that just happen without much explanation as to why, or what purpose they serve. For instance, the scene...
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BOOK: Killer Thrillers (2015)

Killer Thrillers Year: 2015 Author: Nick Thacker Length: 899 pages I was glad I picked this triad of books up for free, as I probably would have asked for my money back otherwise. Consisting of three books, The Enigma Strain (with a bonus few chapters of the next book in the series), The Atlantis Stone, and The Depths, the drastic need for an editor (or beta reader group) became apparent by the end of the collection. I’m almost a little disappointed that there were so many errors in proofreading and logic in these books since I would think they’d be cleaned up a bit from their first publications in order to be compiled together here. While I did finish these three books, I can probably blame The Enigma Strain for that fact. The first book in this collection, The Enigma Strain was a passable thriller, even if it was a little cliché and stereotypical. I was vastly more disappointed in The Atlantis Stone, which hardly...
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BOOK: Boys vs. Men – The Definition of a Man (2017)

Boys vs. Men – The Definition of a Man Year: 2017 Author: Noah N. Johnson Length: 122 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** Now, more than ever, society needs a good, hard look at what it means to be a man. For years and decades, absentee fathers have created generations of males who turn to less-reputable sources for their male role models. When I won this book as a Goodreads Giveaway, I was hopeful that it could be a resource I could recommend to “boys” who need to grow up into “men,” regardless of their age. Unfortunately, while this book addresses some of the fundamental issues of manhood, it doesn’t go nearly deep enough to hit the problems endemic with full-grown boys who should act like men. In defense of the author, this seems to be his first book, made evident by the very casual style of writing and a lack of understanding when it comes to interior formatting (all the pages were...
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BOOK: Time of Destruction (2015)

Time of Destruction Year: 2015 Author: John C. Meyer Length: 386 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE AUTHOR*** Having written a time-travel novel myself, I can understand how difficult continuity can be to ensure the story makes sense. In Time of Destruction, the continuity of events is certainly there, but it lacks in so many other areas as to make it almost unreadable. While the continuity of the timeline was well thought out, the continuity of details was not. From limiting the “time bubble” to 30 minutes of air, then allowing an antagonist to exist in the space for a full hour, to inconsistencies in the spelling of minor characters’ names (even on the same page), Time of Destruction has a good story buried deep within a mess of simple writing errata. Right from the start, the format of the book highlights the author’s lack of quality control. From the right-hand pages having the page number in the gutter margin to the right-aligned text to...
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BOOK: The Scorch Trials (2010)

The Scorch Trials Year: 2010 Author: James Dashner Length: 623 minutes / 10.38 hours As I read The Maze Runner, I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that the story was meant for a video game instead of a novel. The Scorch Trials merely confirms my suspicions. I mean, who in their right mind would acronym their organization with WICKED? While the first book in this series had a pretty straightforward goal (escape the maze), the sequel made no sense whatsoever. OK, these kids escaped the maze, but then what? The idea of traveling to the “safe haven” seemed to come so late in the plot that it almost felt like an afterthought. Concerning the characters, the main ones are still there, but so many of the ancillary minor characters are so forgettable as to be practically useless. Brenda was added into the mix merely to elicit a “love triangle” between the two love interests of the first book, but it just felt forced . . . like everything...
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MOVIE: Pirates of the Caribbean – Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours Part of me wishes that the title of this film were true. What I wouldn’t give to have these dead men not tell their tale of revenge. That being said, I had some hopes that this movie would help redeem the franchise after the lackluster On Stranger Tides (2011). After all, Javier Bardem has proven to be an effective villain in such films as No Country for Old Men (2007) and Skyfall (2012), so I thought he could help carry this movie as a solid antagonist. Unfortunately, even he could not save this sinking ship of a franchise. The main problem with Dead Men Tell No Tales is that it feels rote and uninspired. Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow feels more lucky than actually talented at pirating. Granted, that was some of his charm in the previous films, but not all of it. Add to this a...
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BOOK: Fire with Fire (2013)

Fire with Fire Year: 2013 Author: Charles E. Gannon Length: 656 pages I’m not sure which is more boring in a book: a plot that doesn’t go anywhere, or a main character who is perfect. Unfortunately, Fire with Fire has both. I’ll first start with my qualms about the plot. This story started way too late, as it didn’t get interesting until halfway through. Even when it did finally get interesting, it suddenly became bogged down in committee. Seriously? Didn’t we learn anything from the Star Wars prequels? Adding politics to a story about traveling across space merely makes it tedious. This is also not to mention how heavy and clunky the exposition is, with almost every chapter being filled with information that isn’t important, and the jumps between chapters needing way more explanation. Secondly, let’s take a look at “Mr. Perfect,” Caine Riordan. Aside from the egregious fact that the POV switched between 1st person and 3rd person within most of the paragraphs of...
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MOVIE: Hardcore Henry (2015)

Hardcore Henry Year: 2015 Rating: R Length: 96 minutes / 1.60 hours When the trailer for this movie came out, I had high hopes for this “conceptual” idea. With the increased popularity and proliferation of Virtual Reality (VR) headsets, I could see a film like this doing well in an immersive environment like VR. After all, the whole film is from the first-person Point of View (POV), so anyone wearing the VR headset would feel almost as if they were experiencing the movie from the main character’s perspective. Granted, this film was not created for VR headsets, and after seeing it, I’m kind of glad that it wasn’t. Hopefully, future filmmakers can take the lessons from this film and create better movies that could use the format to its best advantage. Up until now, the only time you’d see something in a first-person POV is in a video game. In fact, most “first-person shooters” (FPS) are “filmed” in this fashion to immerse the player in the...
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BOOK: Lost in Arcadia (2017)

Lost in Arcadia Year: 2017 Author: Sean Gandert Length: 412 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** When I first started reading Lost in Arcadia (the “A Novel” tag is unnecessary), I learned “Arcadia” was a computer program / operating system and expected the plot to be somewhat akin to Tron (1982), The Matrix (1999), or Ready Player One. Instead, this program barely features in the book, and the plot only briefly examines what an internet addiction can look like. Of the five-ish main characters, only three of them even interact with Arcadia, which I find hard to believe is a successful game from Electronic Arts, considering the plethora of bugs they usually have in their products. As a character-driven narrative, there are just too many to justify spending time with each of them. If the plot focused on the three Arcadia-linked characters, then they might have been developed and interesting. Of course, that’s if you even get that far into the book. All the characters are profane and irritating, not...
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BOOK: The End of Desire (2007)

The End of Desire Year: 2007 Author: M.R. Sellars Length: 340 pages Much like 7th Son: Descent, I picked this book up at a convention without knowing anything about it. Consequently, while this is the third book in the Miranda Trilogy, I must admit that I have not read the two prior books in the series. As such, I have tried to make my review of this book as it stands by itself, and any confusion from lack of prior knowledge is merely my fault for not having started at the beginning. Of course, after reading this book, I certainly had trouble understanding how there could have been two books before it. First off, the plot was as slow as Louisiana molasses. So many words were spent on practically meaningless interactions that didn’t add anything to the narrative. The few scenes of action were too long in coming and too short in duration. Add to this the stupidity of the characters and you can see...
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BOOK: Zero-G (2016)

Zero-G Year: 2016 Author: William Shatner Length: 353 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** William Shatner, best known for his acting in the popular sci-fi series, Star Trek, is not someone who I thought would also be a writer. Of course, after reading Zero-G, I’m still not convinced, even with the help of ghostwriter Jeff Rovin. The book had an interesting premise, but the exposition and plot were so slow and clunky that it was hard to get into it. I will say there is an appreciation of the challenges of space in this book, but it almost plays a backseat to an aged government official trying to relive his glory days (sound familiar?). If I were to re-write this book, it would have been considerably shorter, possibly even a short story. As it is, the first third of the book is almost useless, filled with detailed explanations of the characters’ backgrounds and relationships. Even the first action sequence only emphasized that the...
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BOOK: Frosted Blood (2014)

Frosted Blood Year: 2014 Author: Larry Pellitteri Length: 334 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** Three things really grabbed me with this book right from the start. First, the cover was pretty interesting, and it went well with the second item: the title. Finally, the premise given on the back of the book made me think this would be an entertaining read. Unfortunately, while these things would normally deliver, this time they did not. Despite having a few interesting concepts and ideas interspersed throughout, the execution of the plot of this book was somewhat . . . lacking. What really bothered me about this book was the plethora of plot holes present. While the story moves at a pretty good pace, often I feel it is done as a “stream of consciousness” writing style that just sweeps the inconsistencies underneath the rug and just keeps going. There were also quite a few points where, since I knew what it would take to do...
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MOVIE: Paint Your Wagon (1969)

Paint Your Wagon Year: 1969 Rating: PG-13 Length: 166 minutes / 2.77 hours My first exposure to the musical western that is Paint Your Wagon (1969) was from the 9th season clip show of The Simpsons entitled "All Singing, All Dancing." In the episode, Bart and Homer are looking forward to a shoot-'em-up western with Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin. Instead, they are shocked to find that the film is actually a musical. While the actual film itself did not contain any of the bits from The Simpsons, part of me wished it did . . . or at least an explanation as to why the title is Paint Your Wagon. Needless to say, I knew going into this film that it was going to be a musical, and I was prepared for that. One does wonder if the musical hides topics and themes that aren't really that appropriate in a non-musical setting. I'm not sure this film was comedic enough to have polygamy, greed,...
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MOVIE: The Legend of Tarzan® (2016)

The Legend of Tarzan® Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 110 minutes / 1.83 hours After watching The Legend of Tarzan®, the one unanswered question I had was, “Why was this film even made?” If this was to cash in on the plethora of live-action reinterpretations of Disney animated films, it might have held closer to that story. If this was to make a point about racism, it was making the wrong point. If this was because it’s a recognizable name with a hunky-looking protagonist, then I think they probably hit the mark. While the scenery is certainly immersive in this adaptation of an Edgar Rice Burroughs character, much of this film pulled me out of the illusion of the African jungle. Right off the bat, the “registered trademark” that appears after in the title reminds you that there is already plenty of media about Tarzan, and another movie probably doesn’t add to it. Secondly, while a star-studded cast is a good way to get audiences...
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BOOK: Practical Applications for Multiverse Theory (2016)

Practical Applications for Multiverse Theory Year: 2016 Authors: Nick Scott and Noa Gavin Length: 240 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** As someone who enjoys learning about the many interesting unknowns in our universe, the mere title of Practical Applications for Multiverse Theory  (2016) caught my attention from the get-go. The ideas of parallel universes coexisting in an invisible space next to our own is something I eventually want to cover in my own writing (tentatively titled The Slumberealm Saga). And while this book somewhat delivered on the premise of its title, it unfortunately did so through an incredible plethora of clichés. Due to the authors’ background in improv comedy, it’s clear that they merely wrote this book to capitalize on the style’s random nature. I’m not sure who the target audience for this book might be, since the main characters are high school students who use an awful lot of foul language. I would think it’s aimed at being a Young Adult (YA) comedy,...
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MOVIE: Allegiant (2016)

Allegiant Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 120 minutes / 2.0 hours For those following along at home, Allegiant is the third film based on the third book in the Divergent series. As I have made comparisons to The Hunger Games in each installment of these reviews, I will continue to not disappoint. Seems to me that the trend of splitting the last book of a literary series into two movies is annoyingly out of hand. Sure, having written the end of my own trilogies, I know there's a lot of plot and sub-plots to bring to a conclusion. I also know that much of the Divergent series didn't feel like it really did or said anything. Sure, there's the nod to some political statement or worldview that's relevant today, but honestly I want something that only the survivors of a post-apocalyptic future should have to solve. Where the previous two films in this series really excelled in their portrayal of "simulations", this film had absolutely none of...
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