MOVIE: Frozen (2013)

Frozen Year: 2013 Rating: PG Length: 102 minutes / 1.7 hours It's hard to deny the worldwide phenomenon that is this movie. While I'm sure parents now twitch any time "Let it Go" comes on, the fact of the matter is many factors led to the success of this film. Starting in the mid-2000's, Disney saw they had a problem and set about trying to fix it. By rehauling how they told stories, and how they approached the characters in these stories, they soon were back on top of the animation industry (while Pixar continues to be content pumping out Cars sequels). Stunning visuals can only get you so far in a Disney movie, and Frozen (2013) certainly takes the cake when it comes to visualizing snow and ice through computers. What makes Frozen work as a story is its complexity. No one character is completely good or completely bad, each having their faults and limitations, as well as their good intentions and personal desires. This...
Read More

BOOK: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1965)

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress Year: 1965 Author: Robert A. Heinlein Length: 852 minutes / 14.2 hours Certainly well ahead of his time, Robert A. Heinlein remains one of the definitive writers of the science fiction genre, even today. In The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Heinlein covers such topics as artificial intelligence, extraterrestrial colonization, and interplanetary warfare. Even today, most of these subjects are accurately depicted in the narrative, even if some of the technology has advanced past where it was thought to be in 1965. Part of me is almost jealous at Heinlein’s ingenious use of Earth’s gravity well, and I know any attempt I might make to replicate the idea will merely seem derivative in comparison. As is the case with some of his other works, Heinlein makes many socio-political statements via his writing. His stance on taxes, revolutions, and independent governing bodies is a critical section of the plot in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and I can certainly...
Read More

MOVIE: Trainspotting (1996)

Trainspotting Year: 1996 Rating: R Length: 94 minutes / 1.56 hours As someone who has never done drugs, I have no way to know what the experience of being high on heroin or cocaine is like. Fortunately, I don't have to do these drugs to get an understanding of the sensation. In the early years of film, most movies about drugs were usually cautionary tales (as was the case for Reefer Madness (1936)). By the "free-loving" decades of the 1960's and 1970's, drugs were more acceptable but often were seen in a comedic context (a la "Cheech & Chong"). The societal excess of the 1980's and 1990's beget an epedemic of harder drugs like heroin and cocaine. Consequently, we started to see more films that would glamorize drug use, but would still show the consequences of extended use of these harder drugs. Perhaps the most famous film that fits in this category is the hard-to-watch Requiem for a Dream (2000), which really played up the "consequences" part. A few...
Read More

BOOK: A Boy and His Bot (2011)

A Boy and His Bot Year: 2011 Author: Daniel H. Wilson Length: 280 minutes / 4.67 hours Daniel H. Wilson knows how to write about robots. From How to Survive a Robot Uprising to Robopocalypse, he has taken the same material and re-packaged it in different forms. The tongue-in-cheek “guide” of How to Survive a Robot Uprising was more entertaining than the journal-entry styled Robopocalypse, but mostly because of its humor. In A Boy and His Bot, Wilson takes his knowledge of robots and wraps it in a children’s fantasy book. Somehow, this method worked better than the two books I’ve already mentioned, leaving me entertained and educated, but with a sincerity of story that was heartwarming. Taking cues from works like The Wizard of Oz, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Alice in Wonderland, A Boy and His Bot immerses the reader in a world entirely comprised of robots. Via the stranger-in-a-strange-land approach, this book explores the many characteristics and traits that make robots different from humans. Often, these quirky characters have a lesson about robotics embedded within...
Read More

BOOK: How to Survive a Robot Uprising (2005)

How to Survive a Robot Uprising Year: 2005 Author: Daniel H. Wilson Length: 186 minutes / 3.1 hours As a precursor to Robopocalypse, How to Survive a Robot Uprising: Tips on Defending Yourself Against the Coming Rebellion takes a humorous approach to educating the reader about the capabilities and limitations of today’s robots. Similar in style to Where’s My Jetpack?: A Guide to the Amazing Science Fiction Future That Never Arrived, How to Survive a Robot Uprising uses the humor of preparing for the end of the world to poke fun at the limited possibility that we’d eventually be destroyed by the robots we use to make our lives comfortable today. With my background in robotics (my Master’s Degree was in Mechanical Engineering with a focus on Robotics and Design), I quickly realized how Daniel H. Wilson was writing this “guide.” Robots are powerful and useful machines, many of which can perform actions much more efficiently and accurately than humans can, thus leading to our swift and inexorable demise. However, by...
Read More

BOOK: The Null Prophecy (2017)

The Null Prophecy Year: 2017 Author: Michael Guillen Length: 424 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** As far as “end of the world” books go, this one is a new take on the apocalypse genre. From my knowledge of space weather and its effects on our world, I can say that aspects of this book are entirely plausible. That being said, I have minimal knowledge of the quantum vacuum, so I have merely chalked the plot points surrounding it to magical hand-waving to get the story to go where it needs to. While I would have enjoyed an apocalyptic story that didn’t blame humans for their own destruction, The Null Prophecy only met me half-way. What often comes across as “preachy,” the occasional mentions of green energy doing more harm than good do bring up an interesting point: in our race to solve the fossil fuel crisis, have we considered all the consequences of these newer energy-producing methods? When it comes to advancing the technological...
Read More

MOVIE: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Beauty and the Beast Year: 2017 Rating: PG Length: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours When it comes to the Disney live-action remakes, there are a few things to consider. While some plots are drastically different from their originals, like in Maleficent (2014), others gained plots that were light or non-existent, like in The Jungle Book (2016). When it comes to adapting Beauty and the Beast (1991), the fact that it received a nomination for the Best Picture Oscar speaks volumes of the story that already existed. Consequently, little has changed with the general thrust of the live-action remake, but it added many details that helped to round out the plot. Not only was Belle’s (Emma Watson) past explained a little better, but the turning point in her relationship with Beast (Dan Stevens) was much more natural than it was in its predecessor. I will also admit that the ending, while still the same outcome, carried a much larger emotional impact (something closer to that of...
Read More

BOOK: Thing Explainer (2015)

Thing Explainer Year: 2015 Author: Randall Munroe Length: 64 pages Growing up in the 1990’s, one of the defining books that helped me understand the world around me was David Macaulay’s The Way Things Work. Using “cartoonish” drawings of plenty of everyday (and not so everyday) machines, I gained plenty of useful knowledge that probably led me to eventually earn my Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering in 2009. While Macaulay’s illustrations were straight forward enough that they didn’t need explanations, some concepts around today certainly need some words to help gain an understanding of the way things work. Enter Randall Munroe, famed “xkcd” webcomic author and an all around smart guy. In late 2012, he published a comic that described each of the systems in NASA’s Saturn V rocket with simple words. Described as “U.S. Space Team’s Up Goer Five,” the concept of using shorter, more common words to explain complicated concepts came to its full fruition in Thing Explainer. Using the thousand most common words, Munroe...
Read More

BOOK: Android Karenina (2010)

Android Karenina Year: 2010 Author: Ben H. Winters and Leo Tolstoy Length: 541 pages Despite struggling through both Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, I was pleased to find the most lengthy of these “monster classics,” Android Karenina, was a fast and engaging read. If anything, it proves to me that I can’t grasp Jane Austen’s writing style nearly as smoothly as I can Leo Tolstoy’s. Part of the ease of reading Android Karenina probably came from knowing the original plot ahead of time a little better than I did for Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. And yet, the real reason is more visceral than that. What Android Karenina’s predecessors attempted was to take two vastly different genres and mash them together in the hope that the combination would interest readers. Where Android Karenina succeeds where the others have failed is that the addition of the steampunk/science fiction genre enhances the story. Adding zombies or sea monsters...
Read More

MOVIE: Aliens (1986)

Aliens Year: 1986 Rating: R Length: 137 minutes / 2.28 hours While I’m sure a Ridley Scott sequel to his smash-hit, Alien (1979), would be fantastic by any stretch of the imagination, the choice to go with similarly-successful James Cameron in the director’s seat helped to keep the franchise from becoming too stale. Of course, with a sequel appearing seven years after the original, Alien had plenty of time to rest on its laurels before the follow-on film came along. Watching Aliens (1986) with the knowledge of James Cameron’s other work, it soon becomes apparent that this movie is all his own. After all, if I told you there’s a James Cameron film about space marines invading an alien world to eliminate an alien threat, many of you would think I’m referring to Avatar (2009) and not Aliens (1986). In the original Alien, much of the focus of the film is on survival, let alone how to defeat such an unstoppable creature. For Aliens, the...
Read More