Yup. Star Wars.

Spoiler-free section:

Yeah, so Star Wars came out a little while ago, and I finally got around to seeing it.  Yes, it was only a week, with with all the hype and all the talk, it feels like I waited an eternity to see the thing.  Needless to say, this was a Very Big Deal.  But you knew that.

Frankly, that degree of hype is dangerous for anything, be it movie, television show, book, what have you.  The greater the hype, the harder it is to avoid crushing disappointment.  Even a good, or fantastic, or great movie can feel like a letdown if it doesn't reach the lofty goals expected of it.  A friend of mine experienced that with Dark City.  It didn't live up to what he was expecting, so we walked out of the theater with him feeling disappointed, even though it's an excellent movie.  It truly is.  You should go watch it, actually.  Get the Director's Cut if you can.  That doesn't have an opening voice-over full of titanic spoilers.

But, back on topic.  Star Wars: The Force Awakens (henceforth TFA) actually manages to live up to its hype.  And yes, I was hyped and looking forward to this.  I was six when Return of the Jedi came out, and I have vivid memories of seeing it in the theater.  Sure, it was the worst of the originals, but that's still going to have a huge impact to the mind and imagination of a six year old.  Unsurprisingly, I became a huge Star Wars fan, and have remained a fan, even as I've grown old, bitter, and curmudgeonly.

That magic hope was still there when I spent two hours standing in the middle of a line-turned-mob as we waited for the re-release of A New Hope in 1997.  That opening fanfare and text crawl sent a chill down my spine as I watched A New Hope on the big screen like it was meant to be.  Sadly, the Special Edition was mostly just a bunch of worthless trash added to clutter a perfectly fine movie, but you take the memories you can get.  It didn't quite reach the hype, but as a link to something I couldn't have witnessed, it was still magical.  Not magical enough to wait in line forever for the Empire or Return re-release, but I still saw them in the theater.

Skip ahead a bit more and we have Phantom Menace.  Again, my hopes were up.  How could they not be?  New Star Wars!  And the trailers looked great!  And... well... we know how that turned out.

So I waited a week for TFA.  Now I kind of wish I hadn't.  It was really that good.  From the opening text crawl to the end.  This is how you make a new Star Wars film, George.  This is everything the prequels should have been.  George Lucas may have invented Star Wars, but JJ Abrams clearly understands what it means to the fans more than Lucas does.



Baby, It's Cold Outside

With Christmastime swinging around again, I found myself listening to a radio station that was playing a version of Baby It's Cold Outside.  As always, I started thinking about the song itself, the implications of the song, and the hostility towards the song from many people.  Because I like hearing myself talk and seeing myself type, I figured I'd ramble on about it for a little while.


Leviathan Hit The Snooze

So, I watched that first Expanse episode (it's On Demand, it's own website, the SyFy site, YouTube, and probably a dozen other places).

In an of itself, it did its job: I want to watch the next episode.  If you like reasonably hard sci-fi and you're not familiar with the books, you should definitely check it out.  Ignore the idiots saying it's "Game of Thrones... IN SPACE!".  It's not.  For one, it doesn't have nearly enough rape to qualify.  For another, it features actual human characters and doesn't feel like an author working out his extensive issues (and his frankly disturbing obsession with rape).

For fans of the book, it should still be enjoyable, unless you're extremely hardline with your expectations on adaptations, in which case you've probably never seen an adaptation you've liked.


There's Something Under There

I'll admit, the Tremors series is a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine.  The first is a pretty classic creature-feature and was a great little horror-comedy flick.  I've always liked it.

They, unsurprisingly, got worse as the series went on.  2 was a serviceable direct-to-video sequel.  3 was not particularly good, but that might have just been me really disliking that they named the creature form "assblaster".  It felt like they were trying too hard.

Tremors 4: The Legend Begins was an odd duck, but enjoyable in its own way.  I think I liked it a little more than 3, if for no other reason than because it fleshed out the lore of the graboids and I can be a sucker for that kind of thing.

Which brings us to Tremors 5: Bloodlines.  The fact that there are five of these movies kind of blows my mind, especially since it's been 11 years since 4 came out.  And 25 since the first.  Let that percolate a minute.  This series has been around for 25 freaking years.


Cal's Back

A little over a year ago, I wrote a short review for a pair of novels, Confessions of a D-List Superhero and Origins of a etc.  Towards the end of that review, I mentioned that I had seen that the author, Jim Bernheimer, was planning a third book.  At the time, I said,

"I'm not entirely sure where he's going to go from here.  He can't really do another prequel unless he plans to spend a couple hundred pages on Cal's college days, and the story was pretty much wrapped up at the end of Confessions."

Well, now we know why Jim's a published author and I'm just a goof with a dopey theme and a Blogger account.

What I'm trying to say is, this book impressed me.


Pulp Pile: Nick Carter #216

So, while on vacation, we went to 2nd and Charles, a pretty neat used book store.  A rather huge used book store, in fact.  While there, I wandered the isles, looking at spines, hunting for some good old fashioned pulp.  One of the ones I found was a series of Nick Carter books.  The one I decided to grab was today's subject, Nick Carter Killmaster #216: Terror Times Two.

Just look at that cover!  It just screams pulp, doesn't it?  We have Nick Carter in a nice Archer-esque tactical turtleneck, a brunette babe with a gun (who doesn't really appear in the book, she seems an amalgam of two characters), and a tank crashing over either waves or some snow, which really doesn't appear anywhere in the novel.  Seriously.  There's no tanks in this book.

This is some glorious spy-pulp here.


The End Is... Well, You Know How This Goes

So this was a neat concept.  Three collections of short stories, the first collection set to the lead-up to the apocalypse (whatever form it may take), the second collection being stories during the apocalypse, and then the third collection being after the apocalypse.  And, on top of it all, a good number of the authors wrote three stories, giving us a few linked trilogies within the triptych.  All in all, it worked out very well.


The Hugo Mess

So, the other day, Marko Kloos and Anne Bellett declined their Hugo award nominations. This is bad enough on the surface, but I think it also demonstrates something a little bigger, and represents a need for Kate Paulk to reconsider Sad Puppies 4, and indeed, the entire Evil League of Evil should take a moment to think long and hard about what they want to accomplish with Sad Puppies and where they want to go from here.

Now you, dear reader, are probably a normal person; a sane person. I can only assume that the above made little sense to you, so I'm going to go ahead and give some background information about what's going on here. Now, I'll come right out and say that, at the very least, I'm amused by the Sad Puppies hullaballo, if not outright supportive of it. Or at least I was. Anyway, with all that in mind, I'm going to try to be objective here. There's already been more than enough hyperbole and misrepresentation as is (looking at you, EW).


Presidential Campaign Season on Facebook (Oh No!)

We now have a handful of people who have announced their intention to run for president. As such, weather we're ready for it or not, it's now Presidential Campaign Season. Yes, yes, it's 19 months away, but that just means we're in for a long 19 months, not that we can hold the line against this. Hell, I'm hearing reports of campaign ads already airing (attack ads, naturally).

So, like it or not, we're stuck with it. And, furthermore, like it or not, some of us are much more involved and interested in politics than others. Now, we it comes to family dinner, it's likely to be less of a concern, because uncomfortable silences or credible threats of physical violence, tend to blunt the worst of it. And, in theory, you're less likely to make a complete ass of yourself in front of loved ones. In theory.

But then there's Facebook. Yes, there's other social media, but you're more likely to have your mother and fifth cousin twice removed on Facebook than on Tumblr or Flickr or whatever other intentionally misspelled mish-mash mess of a social media platform you use. Unfortunately, Presidential Campaign Season doesn't play well with Facebook, and it's just waiting to bubble over with invective and hostility.

So, with this in mind, I've come up with a sort of manifesto or creed for surviving Presidential Campaign Season while on Facebook. Or rather, to make things easier on those on the other side of the political divide and those who don't care (either through apathy or, you know, not living in America).


I Kept Wanting To Make It Plural

So, last week, I saw Kingsman: The Secret Service.  I wasn't entirely sure what to expect when I went to see it, except that it starred Colin Firth, and that it involved a, well, secret spy agency.  Honestly, I don't even think I was aware that it was rated R.  I just knew that the previews looked great, that almost everyone everywhere said it was great, and that it wasn't entirely serious.

On the one hand, if you're interested in seeing this movie, perhaps that's all you should know.  That being said, I think there's a couple things that should be mentioned, even though I'll be striving to avoid spoilers. 

Essentially, Kingsman deals with Taron Egerton plays "Eggsy", the son of a deceased Kingsman.  He's solidly working class and listless, despite being athletic, smart, clever, and so on.  He's not quite a chav, but he's certainly rubbing elbows with them.  Into his world come Colin Firth's Harry Hart who introduces Eggsy into the world of the Kingsman.  Queue training sequence intercut with The Machinations of an Evil Megalomaniac Who Wants to Take Over the World.  After all, it is a spy flick.

Kingsman has its roots firmly planted in the Bond end of the spectrum, as opposed to the more "realistic" Bourne movies or films like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.  That being said, it is more than willing to poke fun at the Bond style movie, especially the less serious ones from the Moore years.  Still, it gleefully eschews the po-faced seriousness of the Daniel "Poutiest Bond" Craig years, delighting in its gadgets and gizmos, such as bullet-proof umbrellas and cigarette-lighter grenades; however, it manages to take reality into account on such things.  There's a scene where Hart is showing Eggsy the "toy room" and Eggsy asks about a wall covered in smart phones and tablets.  Hart, almost sadly, explains that they're perfectly normal, because they're already ridiculously powerful.

Circling back, I want to address the fact that this is an R rated movie.  It's not rated R for language or for a random topless scene.  It's rated R because it's almost shockingly violent.  Keep in mind that this is the same people who did Kick Ass.  While it is stylized to a certain extend (not to the extent of, say, Sin City), there is quite a bit of it.  Sofia Boutella plays the part of Odd Job; she's named Gazella, presumably because of her prosthetic feet (the curved spring style; it's an appropriate name).  He razor sharp prosthetic feet.  Odd Job cut heads off statues; Gazelle dismembers people.

I don't want to scare people away, though.  While violent, it doesn't really linger lovingly on it, and while there's plenty of blood, it never veers into the realm of gore.  As someone who has little stomach for gore, I know what a fine line it can be for a film to walk.  I think that this film stays on the safe side, for all but the queasiest stomachs.  And, really, only one fight overstays its welcome, largely because it's intercut with the reactions of three different people.

This isn't a film that will make you think.  It isn't really even a deconstruction of the genre.  It is, however, an exceptionally enjoyable film, and far, far more fun than I've had with a movie in a long while.  Kingsman may have its tongue firmly planted in cheek (as one review put it, "tongue planted so firmly in cheek, it's poking out the other side), it never winks.  It's a fantasy, pure and simple.  It knows that it's not serious, but it revels in its violence and silliness, as opposed to sneering at it aloofly.  It's well worth seeing.


Yesterday's Kin

I've been a fan of Nancy Kress ever since I first read Beggar's In Spain a couple years ago.  Since then, I've slowly worked my way through much of her back catalog, which can be a bit of a pain, since much of what she's done is either A) short stories or B) not available on my Nook.

That being said, I've read a fair amount of her output, and I can honestly say that I'm quite the fan.  For those curious about where she falls on the Mohs Scale of Sci-Fi hardness, I would place her right around the 4.5 level ("One Big Fib"), but she seems to meander between 4 and 5, which is pretty crunchy, to be perfectly honest, and about as "hard" as I think I could handle for casual reading.  For instance, Crossfire and Crucible have near-C travel, but the time dilation effects are actually major plot points, so while she's using high speed travel between stars, she's taking the science into account.  She also (generally) places her stories on Earth in the nearish future; there's no blasters, but plenty of genetic engineering, oftentimes at the hands of Highly Advanced Aliens.

So, for once, I've read a current novel.  Yesterday's Kin was published by Tachyon Publications, which, until today, I'd never even heard of.  But who cares about the publisher?  Let's talk about the book!


First Amendment Principles

If the Barbary wars taught us anything, it's that the worst thing you can do is Pay the Dane-geld.  Sadly, in many ways, western civilization is all too willing to do just that. Freedom of Speech is a core, bedrock principle to modern society, yet many governments and many people are all too willing to abandon it as soon as some psychopath decides that his beliefs are superior to all.  People are too willing to throw away civilization in the futile hope that someone else will go up against the wall before them; sacrificing everything for a few more minutes before it's their turn.

The person behind Draw Muhammad Day is still in hiding. They probably will be for the rest of their life, because the barbarians believe that mass murder is an appropriate and measured response to school yard taunts.

And make no mistake, these are barbarians; they seek to destroy civilization to bring us all down to their level, scrabbling in the dirt and screaming against reality.

Not all Muslims are like this, sure. But to hell with that disclaimer. We're not talking about all Muslims; we're talking about barbarians seeking to annihilate western civilization.

Where's this generation's Charles Martel?  Perhaps we'll find him at the Daily Charlie.