Monthly Archives: December 2016

Clarkesworld: Year Six edited by Neil Clarke

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 2/5 stars

Clarkesworld” is an online, totally free collection of sci-fi and fantasy short stories that also publishes a magazine of said stories.  Neil Clarke is the purveyor of said totally-free-if-you’d-like endeavor and all sorts of kudos to him for keeping this alive.

“Clarkesworld: Year Six” is a collection of all the fiction stories the magazine produced in its sixth year.  As you might expect from a totally-free-if-you’d-like collection of stories, it’s very hit and miss, mostly miss.  There are a total of 34 stories that comprise year six and only a handful are good.  My favorite story is probably “Fragmentation, or Ten Thousand Goodbyes” by Tom Crosshill.  It can be a little hard to follow as it blurs the line between humanity and AI, but the exploration of that line is well crafted and intriguing.  Another story that left an impression was “A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight” by Xia Jia.  It is about a young girl growing up in a ghost town filled with robots that time has forgotten, but all is not what it seems.

This is not a terribly good collection of stories, but you should buy it and support things like “Clarkesworld” anyway.  Why?  First off, did I mention it was free for people who can’t afford it?  Beyond that, though, writing short stories is incredibly hard and getting your short story published is even harder.  Magazines like “Clarkesworld” provide a needed outlet for would-be writers to show their stuff to a wider audience beyond their tiny little blog that about 10 people read.  *looks around furtively* Outlets like this are vital for incubating new talent and should be encouraged and supported.  I mean, seriously, the dude asks for a donation of $1 per month to keep the magazine going.  Switch your order from a daily venti latte to a grande and support 20 magazines like this.

Twas The Night Before The Trump Presidency

Twas the night before the Trump presidency and all through the States
People were sitting and fretting and rewatching debates.
“She’s smoother, more polished, what a president should be”,
They said as they worried what a Trump presidency would be.
“Whatever shall we do for the next four or eight years?”
The thought of two terms brought them all close to tears.

Obamacare is almost certainly dead on arrival.
Millions of people back to scrimping and saving for survival.
And then all the Dreamers who may soon be deported.
People making their minds based on news that’s distorted.
Women reverted to abortions in back alleys.
Hundreds of coffins draped with lilies of the valley.

Meanwhile, Trump stacked his cabinet with some horribles.
Clinton was right! This was a basket of deplorables!
People who believe the solution to our crisis
Is to gather up our troops and go after ISIS.
And not only ISIS, but all of Islam.
From a person who can’t tell Iman from an Imam.

“The science is not in, climate change is not real”,
Trump said as he looked around for what he could steal.
“This time we will win! Our enemies grow stronger by the hour!”,
he screamed as he placed all his children into power.
“No conflict of interest”, he said with a Tweet.
While around him, business interests were kissing his feet.

Suddenly, what’s that? A knocking at my door?
I open ‘er up and I’m pushed to the floor.
“You’re coming with us”, said the men in the suits.
Though at the time, all I saw was the soles of their boots.
“What is it I’ve done? I’m innocent, I swear!”
“Justice will be meted out by the man with the hair!”

“This poem is pathetic, it’s useless, it’s sad!”,
Trump said to this author, “You’ve really been quite bad!”
“Can’t you see what I’m doing? I’ll make America great!”
“And all I get is mocking and laughing, derision and hate.”
“You leave me no choice, I’ll tweet this poem a FAIL!”
He motions to his guards and they cart me to jail.

Movie Review: Rogue One

Jean-Paul’s rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: A good Star Wars movie?  Yes!  Good story.  Good acting.  Good diversity.  George R.R. Martin would be proud.

The Star Wars series has has a bumpy run.  Even the most recent “The Force Awakens” was more of a fun movie than a good movie.  “Rogue One”, I am happy to say, is legitimately good.  What makes it good is that it wraps a coherent story around a series of characters with actual depth.  Even more so, what makes it good are the stories that it doesn’t tell.  How did Jyn land in prison?  Why did Saw break with the Alliance?  Is Chirrut a Jedi?  How did Baze come to be Chirrut’s guardian?  In each case, you’re given just enough context of the characters to make them whole while still wanting to know more about them.  These are all signs of a great script writer.  When you’re watching the movie, think about it.  These are all brand new characters to a vast majority of Star Wars fans and yet, by the end, you feel like they’re always been part of the story.  Admittedly, this is partly because we know where the story goes from here, but it’s still quite the accomplishment.

Another big winner in this movie is diversity.  The only white males with speaking roles belong to the Empire.  I exaggerate some, but the Alliance is robustly comprised of women and people of color and aliens and very few have American English accents.  You know, like any galaxy spanning epic would be comprised.  Comparisons to the Trump presidency abound.

There is also a lot of death in this movie.  Like George R. R. Martin levels of death.  None of the death scenes are as cool as Martin’s, but this is, nominally, a kids movie after all.  And given the story, those of you who follow the Star Wars universe should not be surprised that your favorite character is unlikely to make it out unscathed from this story.

I’ll likely see this movie multiple times.  If only to remind myself how bad the other films are in comparison.  I recently watched the end of “Revenge of the Sith” and my god is it bad.  Dialogue, acting, everything.  Can we please get a remake of episodes one through three by the script writers for “Rogue One”, Disney?  Pretty please?

Another note on 3D.  3D continues to be a waste of money and “Rogue One” is no exception.  I went to see this one in 3D mostly because I wanted to take advantage of a better sound system.  Because Star Wars.

Movie Review: Moana

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line:  Beautifully rendered, well thought out story line with some wonderful songs and an annoying pet sidekick.  Preceded by a lackluster short.

Let’s start with the short animated film that Pixar has made ubiquitous for animated movies.  This one is called “Inner Workings” and it has a clever pitch.  What if your organs were active members in the choices you make during your day?  Unfortunately, the pitch is the only thing that is clever.  There are some inspired moments in the short like when he has to empty his bladder, but mostly it’s just a battle between the brain and the heart.  Hint: The brain wins.  As my brother mentioned, it would have been better if the movie ended with the guy ignoring his brain and following his heart and going surfing only to get eaten by a shark.  I’m guessing there’s a reason why we don’t make children’s shows.

The feature film, “Moana”, is delightful despite following the trite Disney Princesses model of animation.  Disney has once again decided to forego their traditional pencil and ink animation method for the computer generated animation that has practically taken over animated films in general.  The did, after all, pay all that money to buy Pixar.  Might as well take advantage of all that technology.  And take advantage of that technology, they did.  When you’re making a movie about island life, water is going to invariably play an important part and the computer generated water is especially effective.  Really, though, everything about the movie is gorgeous from the islands themselves, to the islanders, to the water, to the ghostly ancestors, to the animated tattoos of the demigod Maui, to the sea life.

What Disney film would be complete without songs?  The soundtrack to “Moana” is probably one of the best Disney has produced.  Of special note are the main song, “How Far I’ll Go”, which is soaring in its breadth and scope, as well as the playful “You’re Welcome” which shows off Dwayne Johnson’s singing chops in his role as Maui.

My only real complaint about the movie is the animal sidekicks.  In this one, there’s a piglet and a mentally challenged rooster.  The piglet is harmless and cute and mostly useless.  The rooster I just don’t get.  This makes two Disney films in a row that incorporate mentally challenged animals, the first being “Finding Dory” which featured both a bird and a seal.  I just don’t get the humor in making fun of animals whose entire purpose is to act even stupider than they normally would.  There is nothing redeeming about the rooster’s stupidity at all.  It would be one thing if the rooster kept doing this one stupid thing and it turns out that stupid thing ends up saving the day, but nope, just a stupid rooster doing stupid things and having jokes about it being eaten thrown at it by Maui.

Regardless of my petty complaints, this is a very solid movie.  Its story is engaging for both adults and children and there are elements that will be enjoyed by both throughout.  It also helps that Lin-Manuel Miranda of “Hamilton” fame both wrote some of the songs and sang a few in the movie.  Or at least for me.  I’m a little obsessed with “Hamilton”.