BOOK: The Sword of Shannara (1977)

The Sword of Shannara Year: 1977 Author: Terry Brooks Length: 1,600 minutes / 26.67 hours Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: an unassuming character is given the task to use a magical item to destroy a great evil that once terrorized the world. To help this character on their quest is their best friend, a magic-wielding individual, a ranger with a love interest, a dwarf, and some elves. Look, I get that The Lord of the Rings redefined the fantasy genre in the 1950’s, but why were fantasy writers still replicating this formula twenty years later? I only half-paid attention to this derivative plot, mostly because I already had an idea what was going to happen. Now, I will admit that The Sword of Shannara isn’t completely a 1-for-1 rehashing of The Lord of the Rings, but enough of it is similar that it feels almost too familiar. The plot does divert from the Tolkien formula, but probably not until about halfway through....
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MOVIE: Get Low (2009)

Get Low Year: 2009 Rating: PG-13 Length: 103 minutes / 1.71 hours Despite its PG-13 rating, Get Low (2009) is about as wholesome a movie as there ever was. Loosely based on a true story of a man who wanted to have his funeral before he died so he could hear what people would say about him, the simplicity of this classic plot relies heavily on the characters within it. From the crotchety hermit to the struggling funeral parlor owner to a town full of rumors and gossip, the implication that Felix Bush (Robert Duvall) has done something terrible drives the narrative forward to its logical conclusion. The two standout performances in this movie come from Robert Duvall and Bill Murray. Duvall’s Felix Bush is as cantankerous and stubborn as they come, and he fully plays up the fact that nobody likes him. Of course, it makes sense that 40 years of carrying the burden Felix has carried would affect a man like that. On the other...
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BOOK: The Golden Apples of the Sun (1997)

The Golden Apples of the Sun Year: 1997 Author: Ray Bradbury Length: 338 pages While I know Ray Bradbury is a great science fiction writer, before I read this book I only knew of Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, both of which I’ve read. In this collection of short stories, Bradbury shows he’s not just a writer of sci-fi, but of other genres and ideas as well. That being said, his strength certainly lies in science fiction, even if these stories are a bit dated from their original, 1950’s publications. Either way, most of the stories contained in this collection were quite short and could be easily read in those brief moments in between life’s activities. Many of the stories reveal the political ideologies of their time. From the threat of nuclear war to the unknown of interplanetary travel, these themes continue to pop up throughout this book. Some of the stories are a little abstract, but there are enough solid pieces to make...
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BOOK: Valkyrie (2009)

Valkyrie Year: 2009 Author: Philipp Freiherr von Boeselager Length: 268 minutes / 4.47 hours I first gained awareness of “Operation Valkyrie” when the film starring Tom Cruise, Valkyrie (2008), was first released. It makes logical sense to me that not all Germans involved in the war were Nazis, and not all Germans agreed with Hitler’s tactics. It is then the logical conclusion that some of them would attempt to assassinate the leader who had brought their country into a sweeping, global conflict. While this assassination attempt failed, I was still curious about the inner-workings of the plot and the people who would go so far as to try and kill Hitler. My expectation of this book was for it to be an in-depth analysis of the many facets of the operation. From Hitler’s security concerns to the backgrounds of the lives of the individuals involved, I was expecting this book to be a non-fictional examination of the assassination that never succeeded. Instead, I was a...
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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...
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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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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...
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MOVIE: T2 Trainspotting (2017)

T2 Trainspotting Year: 2017 Rating: R Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 In the vein of successful and groundbreaking films receiving sequels two decades after the fact (I'm looking at you, Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)), director Danny Boyle is at it again with T2 Trainspotting (2017). While the original Trainspotting (1996) was a fun bit of cinema that used a unique visual style to emulate the sensations of the highs (and lows) of drug use, the ending was pretty definitive. Still, because drug use can have long-lasting effects, the Trainspotting sequel is an important part of the whole narrative. Unfortunately, as is the case with these types of sequels, the story didn't change at all. After all, if it worked once, what's to say it won't work again. T2 Trainspotting continues to glamorize the party lifestyle of sex, drugs, and rock and roll in a visual style that's fun to watch. Of course, what was a little interesting about this sequel is that it was almost self-aware of...
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BOOK: Warbreaker (2009)

Warbreaker Year: 2009 Author: Brandon Sanderson Length: 676 pages For the last few years, Brandon Sanderson’s name kept coming up amongst my writer friends. I had never heard of him, but they had been fans of his writing for some time. In my goal to read all the unread books I own, I found that I had obtained a Brandon Sanderson book many years ago as a prize during my first National Novel Writing Month. Even with the daunting page count, I decided to give Warbreaker a read. All I can say is that it was refreshing to finally read a fantasy book written by someone who genuinely knows what they’re doing. I’ve read a lot of books recently that I would consider “amateur,” but Sanderson proves he’s a professional in this tightly written book. From incredibly interesting and entertaining characters to expertly placed foreshadowing to a fascinating magic system, Warbreaker is fully original while also maintaining the tropes and structure of a high fantasy...
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BOOK: Dark Matter (2016)

Dark Matter Year: 2016 Author: Blake Crouch Length: 608 minutes / 10.13 hours It seems to me that the multiverse is a popular topic in fiction today. Sure, there have been plenty of stories about parallel universes and the fractal branching of our decisions, but for some reason, there’s been an uptick in the number of these stories lately. Perhaps these stories are trying to find a better universe in which to live, or perhaps they’re trying to show us that the world we have could be much worse. Either way, Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter nails the multiverse plot by exploring all the different connotations of the ability to travel between parallel universes. Presented in a traditional, three-act narrative, Dark Matter thrusts its protagonist into another version of his reality, ripping him away from his idyllic life. Using quantum physics as a form of magical hand-waving, the narrative then turns to the main character’s relentless search for his original universe. While the result of this exploration fits nicely...
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