BOOK: The Long Utopia (2015)

The Long Utopia Year: 2015 Author: Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter Length: 725 minutes / 12.08 hours After the events that take place in The Long Mars, I was expecting the next book in the series, The Long Utopia, to be about the CEO of the Black Corporation and the settlement he established to help him live longer. Instead, I got a story that had little to no connection to the previous plots. That being said, at least there was a story with a projected conclusion instead of merely a series of random events that eventually led to the sudden destruction of some location (as had been the case up until now). While I did appreciate some of the back-story for Joshua Valienté, there wasn’t anything in Joshua’s behavior or motivations in any of the previous books that indicated that he was even interested in learning about his past. I also was pleased that some of the “limitations” of this universe were brought back, or at least provided...
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MOVIE: Jurassic World (2015)

Jurassic World Year: 2015 Rating: PG-13 Length: 124 minutes / 2.07 hours What happens when you genetically splice together a reboot and a sequel? This film. It's interesting to find a franchise that's willing to recognize the past material and build upon it, while also adding slightly new elements to it. The idea of training dinosaurs just like pets was undoubtedly the strongest element of this movie, even if the result was the same as it's ever been. Part of the problem with this reboot, however, is that the characters don't seem to click, even to the point of the relationships feeling forced. While there were plentiful nods to the first film that started off the franchise, the plot seemed almost identical to the 1993 classic, but with plenty of cliches and hokey lines to go around. I think sequels like this recognize the elements that made the original great, but almost spend too much time overanalyzing to try and recreate the magic. These films ultimately fall short,...
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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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MOVIE: Ant-Man (2015)

Ant-Man Year: 2015 Rating: PG-13 Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours In the never-ending array of superheroes feeding into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) to support such franchises like Captain America and The Avengers, it can be difficult to make some of the B-tier and C-tier heroes seem interesting enough to devote a whole movie to them. To ensure each movie feels different from its predecessors, certain unique attributes must be applied. Whether it’s the sci-fi-themed Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) or the mind-bending visuals of Doctor Strange (2016), each film requires a gimmick to make it work. For Ant-Man (2015), it’s comedy. If you approach Ant-Man as a standard superhero film, you’re likely to be disappointed. There are almost too many off-hand references to much of the MCU to make anyone not familiar with the vast array of movies lost and confused. Plus, the hero’s “origin story” in Ant-Man is almost par for the course. However, if you watch this film with the understanding that it’s more similar to comedy/caper/heist films than a superhero film, you’re likely...
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MOVIE: Spotlight (2015)

Spotlight Year: 2015 Rating: R Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours For many years, the running joke about the movies that have won the Best Picture Oscar is that they only won because another film should have won years prior. Spotlight (2015) is this generation's All the President's Men (1976) in that it is an excellent film about investigative journalism that broke open a huge cover-up, changing the world forever. Both films deserved to be Best Picture, but Spotlight manages to take an uncomfortable subject and be frank and open about the problems that we still see in today's society. Since most of the movie is comprised of uncovering the truth behind the sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, it's surprising how gripping and well-paced the film ends up being. Part of the genius of this film is the high-energy dedication these four journalists have in uncovering the terrifying truths that had been lurking in the shadows for decades. While such a subject could easily create a...
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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: Shadowguard (2015)

Shadowguard Year: 2015 Author: Gama Ray Martinez Length: 228 pages I picked this book up for free on my Kindle recently, probably due to some promotion to heighten awareness of the latest book in the Pharim War series. As the first book in this series, Shadowguard doesn’t waste any time getting down into the action of the story. Somewhat light on exposition and description, the world created here is still vibrant and fascinating, regardless. The story's characters and setting immediately immersed me in the world, and that's not even mentioning the interesting magic system Gama Ray Martinez has created. It fell in line with the fantasy genre without being too derivative of it. Some may say a series of books about a magical boy learning magic at an illustrious school sounds a lot like the Harry Potter series. The fact that the Pharim War series has a fantasy world setting, and isn't just a hidden part of our real world, makes it distinctly different from J.K....
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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: 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...
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BOOK: Lonesome Cowboy (2015)

Lonesome Cowboy Year: 2015 Author: Frank Lowe Length: 284 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE AUTHOR*** The book with the generic cowboy on the cover contains a relatively generic story inside. I wouldn't classify it as "Action/Adventure" due to a pretty significant omission of fight scenes. "Drama" would probably fit it better, since that's the main, driving force of this book. I will admit that, while being about a country singer, it doesn't focus too long on the "losses" in life (i.e. the guy lost his dog, his truck, his girl, et cetera). Of course, the types and magnitude of the successes of the main character do make the story hard to believe at times. Told in the third person, Lonesome Cowboy suffers from having a "telling" narrator instead of the characters "showing" their emotions. Consequently, even if the characters do show their emotions, the narrator telling the reader these emotions before they happen makes the whole bit seem repetitive and redundant. In fact, there's almost...
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