BOOK: In Ashes Born (2015)

In Ashes Born Year: 2015 Author: Nathan Lowell Length: 310 pages As someone who enjoyed the core Golden Age of the Solar Clipper series, parts of it seemed rushed in order to focus on the rise of Ishmael Wang to the penultimate title of “Owner.” Along the way, there were characters and sub-plots that I would have loved to see more of but woefully had to settle with focusing almost entirely on Ishmael’s story. From his time at the Academy to whatever happened with his first marriage, I think these moments not contained in the wrappings of ship life would have added a few moments of reprieve between the exciting world of Solar Clippers. In Ashes Born manages to quench my thirst for more stories set in this universe. It also manages to pull together many of the interesting characters over the core 6-book series and place them on track to have perhaps the most exciting adventure yet. Similar to how Ender’s Game pulled disparate characters together for a final battle...
Read More

MOVIE: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs Year: 2018 Rating: R Length: 133 minutes / 2.21 hours The Coen Brothers have a curiously innate ability to be able to create stories that can one moment be comedic and laugh-out-loud funny before taking a dark turn into tragic territory. While their latest work, the Netflix film, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018), looks like it would trend more toward comedy, it basically spends most of its time in the realm of violence and tragedy. Now don’t get me wrong: this doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie. In fact, once the first few “comedic” pieces conclude, the movie really gets into some fantastic stories. Arranged as a series of six vignettes, the main star of The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is the setting. Filmed on location in a variety of western locales, the beauty of the scenery is on full display in each of the six stories (even if in lesser amounts in the last piece). The cinematography is superb, only barely outperformed...
Read More

BOOK: Here and Now and Then (2019)

Here and Now and Then Year: 2019 Author: Mike Chen Length: 336 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** I’ve always found time travel to be an intriguing plot device. There are plenty of rules that come along with this phenomenon, but they can be somewhat flexible based on the situation that demands it. In Here and Now and Then (which is a brilliant title, by the way), the “rules” about time travel are reasonably strict, even if there’s a fair amount of hand-waving to explain away any changes made to the timeline. While this leads to a perfectly suitable ending, there were certainly a few alternative endings that I would have liked to have seen as well. Set in two time periods over 100 years apart, the main plotline follows Quinoa “Kin” Stewart, a time traveler from the future who was stuck in the past with no hope of returning home. Taking some advice from comedian Mitch Hedberg, “If you find yourself lost in the woods…build...
Read More

BOOK: The Green Ember (2014)

The Green Ember Year: 2014 Author: S.D. Smith Length: 368 pages On the other end of the spectrum of “fantasy rabbit” stories from Watership Down, we have The Green Ember, the first in a series that probably could have been written without the animal trappings and still been a good story. Where Watership Down had very rabbit-like characters interacting with the human world, The Green Ember has very person-like characters interacting with an animal world. Occasionally, the attributes that make the rabbits unique were used—especially in the battle sequences—but there were often moments when I forgot that these characters were rabbits. I felt the cuteness of rabbits, and the scariness of wolves and hawks, help reach a younger audience without directly confronting them with the realities of the scary world around them. After all, if it was people vs. people in this book, then the intended audience might miss out on some of the important morals and lessons contained therein. Having a clearly evil force...
Read More

MOVIE: Forrest Gump (1994)

Forrest Gump Year: 1994 Rating: PG-13 Length: 142 minutes / 2.36 hours For the longest time, I had only seen pieces of Forrest Gump (1994). After watching it in fits and starts, I finally sat down and watched the whole thing in one go probably ten years ago. Upon re-watching this Best Picture-winner, I realized how it has maintained its cultural appeal for so long. After all, it’s not necessarily a story about a slow southern boy; it’s the story of history and the story of America. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its faults, but they’re relatively minor compared to the impact of the rest of the film. What’s perhaps the most impressive part of Forrest Gump is the visual effects. From digitally inserting the titular character into archival footage to removing a Vietnam War soldier’s legs, even knowing these computer-aided elements are there doesn’t hinder how real they look. Although, being able to match the visual tone and style of several decades was equally as impressive....
Read More

MOVIE: First Man (2018)

First Man Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 141 minutes / 2.35 hours I’ll admit: I’m already a fan of Damien Chazelle. I’m not sure if it’s because he’s only a few months older than I am, or if it’s how I can personally relate to the subjects of his films. I understand the obsession he covered in Whiplash (2014). I can relate to the dreams of creative individuals he brought to light in La La Land (2016). Now, Chazelle has used his filmmaking talent to cover another topic I have a great interest in: space. First Man (2018) feels like a film that’s been waiting for the right director to come along, and Damien Chazelle hit it out of the park. Lying somewhere between The Right Stuff (1983) and Apollo 13 (1995), with a little bit of Interstellar (2014) thrown in as well for style, First Man does a fantastic job of showing how dangerous the missions that landed us on the moon really were. There seemed to be an adherence to realism in this film that helped to...
Read More

MOVIE: The Accountant (2016)

The Accountant Year: 2016 Rating: R Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours When this movie came out a few years ago, I missed watching it because it seemed like just another generic action-spy film. Sure, the main character might be smart, leading to his professional “skills” (in more than one realm), but the trailers never really hinted at the reason for this attention to detail. Having now seen it, The Accountant takes an interesting approach to the action-spy genre while also including a number of twists that were as satisfying to figure out ahead of time as they were to see revealed on the screen. I will say that the plot of The Accountant was sometimes confusing, but only because I felt like they glossed over some plot holes and leaps in logic. Even if I was asking myself, “Hey, what about . . . ?” I didn’t have much time to dwell on it. The somewhat frenetic pacing of the movie helped to push the plot forward to...
Read More

BOOK: The Descendants (2007)

The Descendants Year: 2007 Author: Kaui Hart Hemmings Length: 550 minutes / 9.17 hours On paper, the plot of The Descendants almost sounds like a bad soap opera. A man who has the deciding vote that could mean wealth for him and his extended family is dealing with an unfaithful wife who is in a life-threatening coma. The execution of this plot, however, brings so much humanity to the forefront that I wouldn’t be surprised if any of these events were real. While I loved the movie adaptation of this book, the first-person narrative of the book helped add so much more depth to the story. It’s difficult to get into the main character’s head when there’s no internal monologue like in the movie. Of course, with such realistic and vulnerable characters, there were bound to be a few that I didn’t like. Ironically enough, I hated the comatose wife. Sure, her husband was probably a bit of a workaholic, but he always meant well and was...
Read More

BOOK: Spinning Silver (2018)

Spinning Silver Year: 2018 Author: Naomi Novik Length: 434 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** About seven years ago, there seemed to be a renaissance of fairy tale retellings and reimagining that swept through popular culture. From television shows like Once Upon a Time and Grimm to movies like Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) and Mirror Mirror (2012) to the books of Melanie Dickerson, it seemed that wherever you turned, you could find someone’s different take on classic fairy tales. While perhaps a little outside this bubble of pop culture, Spinning Silver has the benefit of standing out in a field of genre books that seems to have cooled in recent years. Based partially on the story of Rumpelstiltskin, author Naomi Novik has masterfully combined elements of Jewish and Russian folklore to reimagine this story from a somewhat more modern perspective while also maintaining its fairytale settings and tropes. If anything, her strong and independent female characters highlight how chauvinistic the original fairy tales seem when compared to the culture we’re living in...
Read More

BOOK: This Present Darkness (1986)

This Present Darkness Year: 1986 Author: Frank Peretti Length: 520 pages Back in high school, I had to read this book as part of my Religions class and thought it was pretty good. As I have been preparing for writing The Slumberealm Gambit, I decided to give This Present Darkness another read so I could recall how Peretti combined the fantastical spirit world with the real world. For a book written in 1986, it’s aged surprisingly well, even if the demise of the newspaper and the rise of constant contact via cell phones would make this kind of book set in modern times a hard sell. Even so, I honestly wouldn’t mind if someone adapted this book into a movie, as the plot is thrilling and the action is top-notch. Strangely enough, one of my qualms with this book is with its formatting and proofreading. There were a few missed typos, and the right-align text didn’t seem as professional as I would have hoped a widely-printed book would...
Read More