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Category - Books

4LN Book Review – “The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories” by Ken Liu

Title: “The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories”
Author: Ken Liu
Publisher: Saga Press

Summary: A publishing event: Bestselling author Ken Liu selects his award-winning science fiction and fantasy tales for a groundbreaking collection—including a brand-new piece exclusive to this volume.

With his debut novel, The Grace of Kings, taking the literary world by storm, Ken Liu now shares his finest short fiction in The Paper Menagerie. This mesmerizing collection features all of Ken’s award-winning and award-finalist stories, including: “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” (Finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and Theodore Sturgeon Awards), “Mono No Aware” (Hugo Award winner), “The Waves” (Nebula Award finalist), “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” (Nebula and Sturgeon award finalists), “All the Flavors” (Nebula award finalist), “The Litigation Master and the Monkey King” (Nebula Award finalist), and the most awarded story in the genre’s history, “The Paper Menagerie” (The only story to win the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards).

A must-have for every science fiction and fantasy fan, this beautiful book is an anthology to savor.

Recently, a Scottish man recommended to me a particular brand of Scotch, and I figured if anyone knows Scotch, it’s a Scot.  I also have a certain affinity for a particular translation of the Bible because a man dressed as Elvis claiming to be the son of Elvis told me that this translation would be the one his daddy would want me to have, and, let’s be honest, who would be comfortable not buying something a man that’s most likely delusional asked you to buy?  Anyway, the point I am getting at is this: sometimes someone suggests something to you that is outside of your norm, you partake of whatever is suggested, and you end up liking it.  That is what happened to me with “The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories.”

I am not generally a reader of short stories, but when this book was suggested to me I read the summary (shown above) and thought it sounded interesting.  I didn’t know what to expect when I cracked open the book, and I was pleasantly surprised to find some really intriguing stuff.  Some stories, particularly ‘The Regular’ and ‘The Perfect Match’ are as captivating as they are unnerving, while the titular short story, ‘The Paper Menagerie,’ is heartbreakingly beautiful.

‘The Regular’ is a futuristic crime thriller that oscillates between a private detective and an escort murdering serial killer.  The deeper I got into this story the more uncomfortable it got.  The crimes are disturbing.  It was fantastic.  ‘The Perfect Match’ was unnerving in a completely different way.  This short story follows Sai as he comes to terms with just how invasive technology has become in everyone’s life.  Tilly, the AI interface, is always in the ear of almost everyone making suggestions about everything from date ideas and suggested talking points to… well, basically every aspect of everyone’s life.  It’s like social media, Google, and HAL 9000 all rolled into one (less murderous) entity.  There is always something unsettling about AI, at least for me, and this story sets the creep-bar pretty damn high.

Overall, Ken Liu’s “The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories” is a fantastic read that spans an enormous range of emotions.  If the girl from Pixar’s “Inside Out” read this book the five anthropomorphic emotions would be going haywire.  If you are in any way a fan of science-fiction, “The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories” has something for you.

“The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories” is available in bookstores and online stores today, with an audiobook version also available!

Dr Gangrene’s Tales From Parts Unknown

Nashville Horror Host, and good pal to 4LN, Dr. Gangrene has just released his new book “Tales from Parts Unknown”, and for the rest of today (Wed. 3/2) you can get a digital copy for FREE through Amazon!

 


From the Dr’s Press Release:

“FREE ebook – Award-winning Nashville horror host Dr. Gangrene has released a collection of 14 stories of the weird, strange, and macabre – all written by his alter-ego, Larry Underwood – and ithe ebook version is available FREE on Amazon Kindle for the next 3 days, March 1st-3rd. The stories range in theme from the weird wild west to the far-flung future, and everything in between.
Grab yours now before this monster escapes from the lab!”

Follow the link below to check out this great book!

http://www.amazon.com/Dr-Gangrenes-Tales-Parts-Unknown-ebook/dp/B01BP1E0NA/ref=zg_bs_7588837011_f_7

The 5th Wave – Is The Book Better? (SPOILERS)

(Editor’s Note – This article was written by Paige Clark)

I consider myself an “almost” avid reader. I don’t always have time to sit down and read books, but I can listen to an audiobook like nobodies business. I saw the trailer for The 5th Wave and knew it was right up my alley as far as something I would like to read. I mean, alien invasions, disasters, plagues, AND a love story?! Don’t mind if I do!

The book starts off with the heroine of the story, Cassie (played by Chloe Grace Moretz in the film), pointing the barrel of her M-16 rifle at a solider and begging him to show his hands. When he doesn’t she fires, turns out he was only holding onto a crucifix. That did a great job of setting up her story. She describes her life as totally normal until one day “the Others”, as they are called, showed up. Nothing will ever be the same for them after that. The 1st Wave was a giant EMP (electromagnetic pulse) that turned everything in the entire world off. The 2nd Wave was an earthquake that shook the whole world creating tsunamis that decimated coastal regions and other areas below sea level. The 3rd Wave was a virus spread by birds. The 4th Wave was a little more complicated. The 5th Wave was sad and terrifying.

 

The movie followed the book almost perfectly, which I was quite please with because I absolutely loved the book. I hated when I had to stop listening to it, and may or may not have taken longer than usual showers and potty breaks so I could listen to it (#sorrynotsorry). I don’t think there was ever a dull moment when I zoned out while listening to the audiobook. The book did such a great job developing each character. Both the book and the movie were fairly faced paced even though the story took place over a few months time. The movie made you feel like it was weeks at the most.

I will say that the book did a much better job at making you believe that they were actually in a apocalyptic type setting in the sense that she had to forage for food and was filthy. In the movie her hair was beautiful the whole time. I can’t make my hair do what hers did after an hour at the park, and she had been trying to survive in the woods by herself for days on end. I don’t know about you, but I would have been much more concerned about survival than a proper hair care regimen. I mean, I get that she couldn’t have been rough looking the whole time, but they could have done at least a little better.

“Journal Entry #145: This Pantene Pro-V leave-in conditioner I put in my hair 3 months ago is STILL WORKING.”

I was a little disappointed that they weren’t able to set up Cassie and Evan’s relationship as much as they did in the book, but that is to be expected since a book offers way more time to develop that sort of thing. On her way to get her brother Sammy back she was shot by a “Silencer,” the Others’s snipers. She woke up with a super hottie, Evan Walker (played by Alex Roe), taking care of her. How could she not fall in love with him when he takes care of her, washes her hair, shows her how to shoot, and tells her things like “You saved me, Cassie.” I mean, good golly! Well turns out he was the Silencer who shot her. He is technically an Other but Cassie made him want to be human again (because, duh). One scene that they just threw into the movie to show that she was becoming more fond of Evan, before she found out he was the one who shot her, was him chopping wood. Men chopping wood will always be one of the most attractive things, assuming that the man chopping is remotely good looking. Alex Roe is extremely good looking.

“Nice guns. Need help cleaning them? Oh god, I just realized how inappropriate that sounded. I actually literally meant that I could help clean your guns because I have some experience with them and I’m just gonna shut up now.”

Another main character that I really enjoyed was Zombie aka Ben Parish (played by Jurassic World’s Nick Robinson) He was Cassie’s love interested in High School because everything about him was perfect. Well turns out he was not so perfect. His back story was a little darker – he kind of ran away instead of trying to do more to save his little sister. The movie didn’t go into much of his back story at all, I think because it was so unlikable. I completely fell in love with Ben Parish (it helps that I love Nick Robinson too, I’m a big Melissa and Joey fan) He tries so hard to make up for his mistakes that he made and when he smiles I’d give him all the things. One thing he does is try to help take care of Sammy who ends up in his squad.

“Nice guns. Need help clea… wait, never mind.”

Liev Schreiber, as always, is phenomenal. He plays Colonel Vosch, who is the leader of the Others. He orchestrates the 5th Wave. The reason that Cassie is trying to get her brother Sammy back is because he was taken to a local air force base thinking that he was going to be taken somewhere safe. After they took all the children from the refugee camp that her family was staying at, Vosch had all the adults killed while Cassie was hiding in the woods. She realized then that the army was not who people thought they were. They were actually the Others. They recruited children, trained them as soldiers, and sent them out into the field to kill what they thought were the Others, but they were actually killing the remaining humans that had managed to survive. Ben Parish and his squad figure this out when they were sent into combat. He realizes that he has to go back for Sammy as well. Sammy was put in his squad, but was not old enough to be sent to fight. What is it with this kid that makes him so special? Well, he was pretty adorable in both the book and the movie.

“Who the %$#& is Sabertooth? You will refer to me as Colonel, maggot.”

Of course Cassie and Ben end up running into each other when they are trying to both save Sammy. They are shocked, especially her considering she use to have a big crush on him, to see each other but work out that they are actually on the same team. In the movie, Cassie refused Evan’s help once she learned that he was really an Other, but of course he helped anyways. In the book she had a little more time to kind of figure out who/what he was so she was a little more keen on him helping her since he knew exactly what was going on. When Evan jumped in just when he was needed to save Cassie he said something in the movie that pretty much melted my heart, “I was wrong when I said I was one of them and one of you. You can’t be both, you have to chose. I chose you.” Then he kisses her <3 I could be misquoting that but you get the point.

“I have to tell you a secret… this isn’t my real hair.”

Eventually, Evan blows up the base. Cassie, Sammy, and Ben barely get away from the explosions. And it ends with setting up to the next part of the story.

The book (and movie) start with a hopeless situation because the 4th Wave caused everyone to stop trusting one another because anyone, even your mom, could be an Other.  That’s the reason the movie starts off with her shooting that soldier, she had no choice and no hope.  In the end though,the movie left me with all the hope you can imagine a human can have.  I could go on and on, but now I am off to start the second book. Enjoy both the book and the movie!

 

(Editor’s Note: This article was written by our favorite YA Novel enthusiast, Paige Clark.)

Analysis: New Game of Thrones Season Six Promo Videos are Out!!!!

On Friday, 93 days until the premiere of Game of Thrones new season, HBO decided to throw all of us GOT fans another bone with three 25 second videos promoting the new season. Let’s take a look at each one of them individually, breaking down what they could mean for Season Six (Spoiler alert: if your not caught up through Season 5, stop reading now):

1. The North

The voice in this one belongs to Iwan Rheon (you know him as Ramsay Bolton). The Bolton’s further cemented their claim to the North by defeating Stannis at the end of Season 5. But that boat carrying the Banner of Stark looks ready to challenge the Bolton claim.

But who is left from the Stark house to pose any threat to the Roose and his crazy bastard son? Last we saw her, Sansa was fleeing Winterfell (assuming she survived the fall). Arya is blind in Braavos. And Bran is somewhere far North learning from the GOT version of Yoda. And Rickon (remember that guy???) hasn’t been seen since Season 3. Could the threat to Bolton rule in the North be the “deader than dead” Jon Snow returning to life?

Who is left to challenge (from left to right) Roose and Ramsay Bolton in the North?

2. King’s Landing

The voices here are the High Sparrow (played by Jonathan Price) and Septa Unella (Shame, shame, shame!!!). And that banner is obviously the Lion of Lannister. Could their be a showdown of peasants lead by the High Sparrow vs. the Lannisters and their place on the Iron Throne?

3. The Tattered Targaryen Banner

Who out there also missed hearing Dothraki spoken on Game of Thrones? I’m not sure who this is, but it’s clearly a Dothraki mocking Daenarys (“Queen of Nothing, Millionth of her Name”) while a tattered Targaryen flag flies with smoke billowing in the background. Dany was in a very rough spot when we last left her, dragonless and surrounded by a Dothraki horde. Will Dany be made to pay for the death of Khal Drogo from Season 1? And who (or what) is responsible for all those flames that created that smoke in the background?

Conclusion

The clear theme is conflict:

Bolton vs. Stark(???)

Lannister vs. The High Sparrow

Dany vs. The Dothraki

But still missing from these promo pieces: actual footage!!! Never has HBO kept a tighter lid on scenes (or any actual information, for that matter) for an upcoming season of Game of Thrones than they have for Season 6. Let’s all hope that changes soon.

 

 

Time Machine Book Review – Plan B, by Jonathan Tropper

Today we go back in time to look at Jonathan Tropper’s novel Plan B.  If you have ever seen the brilliant movie This is Where I Leave You, then you are at least partially familiar with author Tropper’s work.  After realizing This is Where I Leave You was based on a novel, I immediately decided that Mr. Tropper had earned himself a top slot in the “To-Read” pile, though I decided I wanted to read something other than the book the film was based on.  I decided to pick up Plan B, Tropper’s debut novel, both because it was his first book, and because the book centered on a group of friends turning 30 and trying to hold onto youth and the close-knit friendship they developed in their college years.  Being that I am certainly nearer to 30 than I am 20… or 25 for that matter, and I also look back at my college experience fondly, this book basically jumped off the shelf at me.

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Synopsis from Jonathan Tropper’s website:

A novel about Friendship, Love, Celebrity, Addiction, Kidnapping and Turning Thirty.

Turning thirty was never supposed to be like this.

Ten years ago, Ben, Lindsey, Chuck, Alison, and Jack graduated from NYU and went out into the world, fresh-faced and full of dreams for the future. But now Ben’s getting a divorce, Lindsey’s unemployed, Alison and Chuck seem stuck in ruts of their own making, and Jack is getting more publicity for his cocaine addiction than his multimillion-dollar Hollywood successes.

It seems that the one thing they’ve learned since graduation is that nothing turned out the way they planned it. Suddenly, turning thirty- past the age their parents were when they were born, older than every current star athlete or pop music sensation – seems to be both more meaningful and less than they’d imagined ten years ago.

There’s no time to contemplate this milestone, however; life is intervening, especially for Jack. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and though the bold plan the friends devise to save Jack from himself may not be the best way, once again, going with Plan B seems to be the only choice they have.

Jonathan Tropper’s wonderful debut novel is about more than friendship, love, celebrity, addiction, kidnapping or even turning thirty- it’s a heartfelt, sharply written comic riff on what it means to be an adult against your will, to be single when you thought you’d have a family, to realize nothing in life happens like you planned it, to discover you are not, in fact, immortal, and to learn that Star Wars is as good a life lesson today as it was when you were six years old.

As I mentioned earlier, Plan B centers on four decade-long friends who get into all sorts of shenanigans as they try to save their movie star friend from his cocaine addiction. I found all of the characters to be very well thought out.  The kind of characters that feel “lived in,” if that makes sense.  Despite having vastly different life experiences from these characters, I could still see some of me and my close college friends in them. Like most good fiction, these people are likable, but flawed, which adds to the charm.  Ben, the book’s main character/narrator, is struggling in a dead-end job (if you can call writing for Esquire “dead-end,” even as a lowly list-maker), in the middle of an amiable divorce, and has been in love with his best friend Lindsey since college.  Ben along with Lindsey, Alice (the lawyer who has an almost maternal instinct towards Jack the moviestar), and Chuck the possibly sex-addicted surgeon get the band back together in an attempt to save their friendships and their friend Jack Shaw, action star.   The imperfection of these people feels real and the ridiculous situations these characters find themselves in adds a layer in which we see how these relatable personalities work out their shit with each other and life in general.

Tropper seems to have a knack for perfectly describing the minor existential crisis that comes with life just not ending up like you’d expect.  A lot of the narrator’s introspection put words to what I experienced after leaving the close-knit society that is college life.  While in school I lived with two good friends while my girlfriend and some of my other close friends lived just down the stairs.  Living that close to your friends ensures that you will constantly be in contact with the people you want to hang out with.  Nothing to do?  Walk 10 steps away and find your friends.  When you move away, that immediacy of friendships dissipates and it’s hard to figure out how to fill those gaps, while also figuring out your direction in the adult world.   Needless to say, I appreciated a novel that both brought my nostalgia to the forefront, but also managed to tell a great tale of friendship, adulthood, and settling down.

I rarely read modern fiction (I mostly stick to science-fiction, fantasy, comics, and boring nonfiction books), but I bought this novel on the January 2nd and had it finished by January 5th.  That’s with kids, a job, and an irritating inability to speed-read.  I either really liked it or I am a literary sadomasochist.  Plan B is available at major book retailers and, of course, on Amazon, just make sure you specify “books” or you will end up in the digital birth control aisle.

 

The Hobbit Life: How The Lord of the Rings Helped Me Become a Better Person

It’s the New Year, and that means everyone is either psyching themselves up to try to make themselves better people, or busy telling everyone they can find that New Year’s Resolutions are pointless.  Sure there is some middle-ground in there somewhere, but it’s pretty slim.  For me, my hope is to become more content with where I am in life, and quit looking to the next step.

One thing that is becoming more and more common in our society is something called “status anxiety.”  Status anxiety is fear of being less-than because others around you have more.  I definitely see this trait in myself, and I am working hard to fix it.  After reading a few books on the subject, I became bored with the droll, nonfiction accounts of status anxiety and began my semiannual reading of The Lord of the Rings.  It’s funny how different mindsets play in to one’s interpretation of what they are reading.  While reading the introduction there exists an almost total antithesis of status anxiety in the story’s lore.  Sometimes the best advice we can find is that found in the stories we love.  I find that pop culture, in general, allows us to explore different ideals with more clarity than most give it credit.

Now, obviously there is a strong sense of epic mythological adventure in The Lord of the Rings – there is a reason that it is one of the most popular fantasy series out there – but I want to look at something a little smaller in scope — both literally and metaphorically.  For today’s article I’d like to look at how the simplistic lifestyle of the Hobbits might help inform us on how better to live our lives, especially in the always-connected, hectic lifestyle in which most of us find ourselves.

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.” ~ The Hobbit

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Both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings center on the adventures of Bilbo and his nephew Frodo, and through these books we can get several glimpses of Hobbit culture.  Outside of a few notable outliers, two of which were just mentioned, the Shire-folk tend to value the simple things — good stories, good food, and good friends top the list — while more adventurous endeavors and loud behavior are generally frowned upon.  Really, besides the Sacksville-Bagginses, we see very little covetous behavior in Hobbit culture.  In fact, it appears that their lack of status anxiety is the key reason Frodo was so resilient to the pull of the One Ring.  Sméagol immediately covets the Ring, going so far as to kill his good friend to obtain it, and then spend the entire story trying to rebooting his precious, where Frodo’s immediate reaction is to reject the Ring and give it to Gandalf.  “The excesses of Hobbits,” David Day notes in Tolkien: a Dictionary, “were limited to dressing in bright colours and consuming six substantial meals a day.”  In fact, it appears that Hobbits that preferred to wealth above all us are generally considered assholes — looking at you, Sacksville-Bagginses.

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“There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” ~ The Hobbit

There also exists in Tolkien’s tales a sense of technophobia, meaning that the heroes often work in concert with nature, while the villains use more advanced technology to destroy nature and to create twisted versions of natural things; Orcs, for example, are thought to have once been Elves that were twisted into unnatural, evil creatures by Melkor, the villain of The Silmarillion and Sauron’s master.  We see a stark difference between the lively Shire with the fire and destruction of Mordor and Isengard.

Full disclosure, it would be hypocritical of me to say that I am a technophobe – after all, I am writing this on a laptop listening to Pandora on an Xbox One – but in a culture in which we can be continually connected to everything everywhere, maybe we could use a chance to unplug occasionally.  The Hobbits frequently go on long walks, enjoy good books, and like few things more than a good meal, a good beer, and a table of friends.  It’s a running, albeit irritating and ironic, trend on social media to portray society (especially millennials) as completely absorbed in our devices.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say completely absorbed, but I know that I am guilty of checking my News Feed or reading articles when I could be enjoying the company I find myself with.

One of the most pervasive examples of Hobbit culture throughout The Lord of the Rings is that of Mr. Samwise Gamgee (who we’ve already argued is the true hero of The Lord of the Rings).  His loyalty to his friends is the only reason he leaves the Shire, and the whole time he’s gone he looks forward to being home.  Even after seeing the splendor of Rivendell and Lothlórien, Sam dreams of a simple life in the Shire.  This shows that one can appreciate the courage and goodness found in epic stories, even to the point where it stymies one’s own courage to face unexpected fears (like Shelob, spider-child of Ungoliant), but still find the joy in time spent with good food, beer, and friends.

Alexandra & Sean Astin and Sarah & Maisy McLeod as Elanor, Sam, Rosie, & 'Baby Gamgee', Final scene, ROTK. (Sam and Rosie's second child was a male named Frodo)

Alexandra & Sean Astin and Sarah & Maisy McLeod as Elanor, Sam, Rosie, & ‘Baby Gamgee’, Final scene, ROTK. (Sam and Rosie’s second child was a male named Frodo)

Game of Thrones Season Six Teaser Trailer: Six Observations

HBO continued its Season 6 hype build for their emmy-winning drama Thursday with the release of a 41 second teaser trailer for Game of Thrones. Here are some thoughts and observations about the teaser (and I want to emphasize the teaser part since it is not a full blown trailer) clip, it’s content, and what it means for the upcoming season.

(Be warned, this clip is full of very important moments from previous seasons, so if you are not caught up through season 5, stop reading now.)

 

 

  1. No New Footage of the New Season                                                                         It is important to emphasize the term “teaser trailer” here. A full blown trailer would be expected to have scenes from the upcoming season. But this “teaser” gives us no footage from season six, only flashbacks of the most important (and brutal) moments of the previous seasons as if someone is seeing them in a dreamlike sequence all-together. But there is at least one element from season six included in this “teaser:”

2. The Voice of the Three-Eyed Raven

Remember this guy from Season 4?

That old man hanging out in the tree is the Three-Eyed Raven, the man Bran’s entire Season 3 and 4 story arc was spent getting to.

The roll, played in the picture by Struan Rodger (if you’re bored and need something to do, look for this British actor in the movies Chariots of Fire and Four Weddings and a Funeral) has been recast for Season 6.

And the voiceover we hear for most of the clip is that of Max von Sydow, the man who will play Bran’s Yoda in the upcoming season (look for him as the villain in the Bond movie Never Say Never Again and in Minority Report). So if it’s the Three-Eyed Raven speaking, we can safely assume:

3. Bran is the One Seeing the Flashbacks

Of course, Bran’s face warging (if you’ve forgotten or are not familiar with the term, it’s when he takes over an animal and controls its actions) into something at 30 seconds of the clip and his voiceover at the end saying “They have no idea what’s going to happen” are dead giveaways as well.

During Season 4, Bran warged into a tree for the first time, allowing him to see visions of the past and the future. That appears to be what’s happening here. And though we see only the past visions Bran witnesses, the quote previously mentioned doesn’t give a lot of hope for the residents of Westeros based on what Bran sees for their future.

4. 15 more seconds of the “deader than dead” Jon Snow

Has a show ever used a character killed off in a previous season to promote the next season more than HBO is using Jon Snow? Just like with the first preview poster, here he is yet again. Of course, this is Bran looking at the past, so maybe he’s just remembering Jon Snow fondly. But they sure didn’t give us 15 second clips of his father, mother, and brother, who all died tragically as well.

5. Did I mention there seems to be a real emphasis on tragedy here?

Ned Stark’s beheading, scenes from the Red Wedding, Jamie Lannister losing his hand, Jon Snow’s “death” at the end of last season are all featured prominently in this flashback teaser. But amongst all the prominent tragic moments, there’s also a clip of the “Night’s King,” you know, this guy:

standing triumphantly. That, of course is another flashback. But I don’t think his inclusion here bodes well for the people of Westeros.

6. Closing Thoughts (Yes I know, it’s a stretch making this my sixth observation)

No, there wasn’t anything new included in the many visions of Bran Stark, but the final conclusion here is that things are likely to turn very dark in Season Six, maybe darker than at any point in the show’s run. And there’s also that dead bastard named Snow who keeps popping up in all HBO’s promotional stuff for the new season. So let’s all chew on that until the next bone HBO throws our way as we eagerly await Season Six.

Mockingjay Part 2: Spoiler Free Review

A recent development in the movie industry the last ten years of “splitting the finale up in two” sometimes turn out to be very well done.  Other times, the series gets so drawn out that they would’ve been better sticking to one.

The splitting of the final Hunger Games movie into part 1 and 2 was on the side of the former, a solid choice that allowed the last part of the series to play out as it should. In fact, it proved to be a necessary tactic for the final installment of the Hunger Games saga.

Mockingjay is a reset for the entire series. Every thing leading up to Mockingjay is focused on the Hunger Games. This includes Catching Fire, which centered its plot around an all-star Hunger Games featuring previous champions only to shift that focus at its conclusion.

Mockingjay turns the complete focus of the series to the rebellion that’s been brewing under the surface of Panem. It’s hinted at throughout the series, but a lot of background was needed to establish the new primary focus.

And I believe only one movie would’ve rushed that process. Our main characters have mainly been in their home districts or in an arena fighting to the death. To be in the camp of a separatist living a regimented lifestyle while stirring up rebellious sentiments in all the districts required time for the audience to adjust to.

Jennifer Lawrence and Julianne Moore during a critical scene of Mockingjay part 1.

And parts one and two worked perfectly in sync to do that. Some of the complaints about the first Mockingjay were its lack of any real climatic moments. But part 2 brings them in spades, making good use of all the solid character development part 1 provided.

And while I entered the theater concerned the Hunger Games finale would come up short in developing the key plot twists that lead up to its conclusion, I was overall pleased with the subtlety in which these key developments were introduced while not slowing down the forward momentum the story gains once the rebels begin their march attempting to overthrow President Snow.

Gale and Katniss in the foreground during Mockingjay Part 2

I don’t feel any  need to discuss the performances of the actors here since each one owned their roles with the same effectiveness they have throughout each of the previous movies.

The appropriate conclusion in tone and style, Mockingjay, Part 2 brings an end to the Hunger Games saga that does not overstate the way so many movies do today while still effectively bringing all the overarching themes of the entire series together in a satisfying way.

4LN Book Review – Luke Skywalker Can’t Read: and Other Geeky Truths by Ryan Britt

Ryan Britt is the role model I didn’t know I needed.  I would end the review there, but then I couldn’t really call it a review which is kind of the whole reason I got the book early in the first place.  Nor would I be able to let you know why this book was so good.  Now before we get into what made this book so enjoyable, lets take a look at the summary from the publisher:

Pop Culture and sci-fi guru Ryan Britt has never met a monster, alien, wizard, or superhero that didn’t need further analysis.

Essayist Ryan Britt got a sex education from dirty pictures of dinosaurs, made out with Jar-Jar Binks at midnight, and figured out how to kick depression with a Doctor Who Netflix-binge. Alternating between personal anecdote, hilarious insight, and smart analysis, Luke Skywalker Can’t Read contends that Barbarella is good for you, that monster movies are just romantic comedies with commitment issues, that Dracula and Sherlock Holmes are total hipsters, and, most shockingly, shows how virtually everyone in the Star Wars universe is functionally illiterate.

Romp through time and space, from the circus sideshows of 100 years ago to the Comic Cons of today, from darkest corners of the Galaxy to the comfort of your couch. For anyone who pretended their flashlight was a lightsaber, stood in line for a movie at midnight, or dreamed they were abducted by aliens, Luke Skywalker Can’t Read is full of answers to questions you haven’t thought to ask, and perfect for readers of Chuck Klosterman, Rob Sheffield, and Ernest Cline.

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Ryan Britt, the author of Luke Skywalker Can’t Read: and Other Geeky Truths, has been published by the likes of like The New York Times and VICE, and was also a staff writer for sci-fi super-site Tor.com, where he remains a contributor.  The book itself is essentially a collection of nerdy thoughts in the form of essays that run the gamut from Star Wars (obviously) to Sherlock Holmes with Lord of the Rings and Back to the Future thrown in for good measure, which means it’s right in my wheelhouse.

This book was great.  Each essay was a fun read whether you know a lot about the subject matter (in my case Star Wars) or no next to nothing about it (Doctor Who).  Britt does a good job providing enough expository information about the topics to make the humorous point of his essays make sense.  Each essay offers a unique perspective on some of nerd cultures most popular franchises.  In Regeneration No. 9, Britt talks about how the idea of regeneration in Doctor Who helped him deal with a bout of depression.

Ryan Britt

Ryan Britt

In the titular essay Luke Skywalker Can’t Read he argues that everyone in the Star Wars universe is illiterate because we are never shown anyone actually reading.  Instead, they almost always use holograms to pass information along.  He does point out that there is some reading in Star Wars, but these letters are task-oriented.  For instance, the pilots in Star Wars appear to be literate because they have to read the labels in their cockpits as well as the translation of the beeps and boops of their R2 units, but a vast majority of the different societies throughout the galaxy are out of luck.  From there we get a look at the paradoxes of Back to the Future, and an essay about how J. R. R. Tolkien originally only planned on writing The Hobbit and not Lord of the Rings and what the world would be like if he followed through and never wrote one of the most popular works of fantasy ever.

Overall, Ryan Britt is putting out a really fun and interesting collection of essays that nerd culture fans of all types can get something out of it.  I was familiar with about three quarters of the subjects and enjoyed each essay.  All of the essays have some personal stories intertwined that give you a sense that you are just hanging out with this guy who ponders the great mysteries of the fictional realm and is sharing his insights.  Luke Skywalker Can’t Read: and Other Geeky Truths hits the shelves on November 24, 2015, and I highly recommend picking up a copy.

The Fan Awakens: How The Force Awakens Rekindled My Passion for Star Wars

I was born in 1988 so I didn’t see the Original Trilogy in theaters until they were re-released when I was 9.  Before then I had seen them occasionally on TV, but my parents weren’t huge fans or anything (my dad is more of an Indiana Jones man).  After seeing the movies I became obsessed and absorbed as much of Star Wars as I could get my hands on, got an X-Wing tattoo on my back, and currently have more Star Wars t-shirts in my closet than anything else.

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After I graduated college, where I double minored in Star Wars Battlefront II and Super Smash Bros, real life kind of got in the way of my obsession.  I got married (she is also a fan of Star Wars), got a job working in a cubicle, bought a house, had kids etc. When Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens was announced a long time ago, I was pretty stoked, but my excitement was tempered by what I saw as adult sensibilities and other hobbies.  That’s not to say I was no longer a fan (I still loved the Wars), but the fire wasn’t burning quite as bright as it did when I was younger.

Over the last few months, however, things have subtly ratcheted up.  I didn’t even really realize it at first, but I was slowly falling back in love.  It’s like when you are in a long-term relationship and realize you have been taking the significant other for granted for the past few months and realize just how great they really are.  Or, if that’s too sappy, it’s like when you haven’t played an old Sega Genesis or N64 game in a few years, and when you finally dust off your old system and plug that cartridge in again you are immediately transported back to your childhood (but be warned, those games are still insanely difficult).

It all started in January when Marvel Comics launched a slew of Star Wars comics, which have all been absolutely great.  Star Wars by Jason Aaron focuses on what Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie and the droids are up to immediately after the destruction of the first Death Star.  Darth Vader gives us the opposite side of the coin, showing us what Darth Vader is doing to locate the rebel pilot responsible for his failure and fall from grace in the eyes of the Emperor.  Princess Leia is a 5-issue miniseries that follows the Leia as she rallies the remaining Alderaanians after the Death Star destroyed their home-world.  These books, along with Kanan, Lando, and Shattered Empire have all been top notch and have provided interesting insight into what’s going on in the Star Wars universe.

Star Wars #1 by Jason Aaron and John Cassaday

Star Wars #1 by Jason Aaron and John Cassaday

During this time I also subscribed to Scribd which just happened to have all of the new canonical Star Wars novels, which provides backstory on Kanan and Hera from Star Wars: Rebels (Star Wars: A New Dawn), a book about Grand Moff Tarkin’s rise to power (the aptly named Tarkin), a Clone Wars era story about Asajj Ventress and Quinlan Vos (Dark Disciple), a story about the Emperor and Darth Vader stranded on a hostile planet (Lords of the Sith), a book about Luke Skywalker (Heir to the Jedi), and, most recently, a book that takes place after Return of the Jedi that follows a small band of previously-known-as-Rebels (still not sure what to call them) as they learn of a secret meeting of fractured Imperials in Aftermath.  I went through all of these books in a two month span, and then read Smuggler’s Run and The Weapon of a Jedi last week, which are two of the three young reader novels released on Force Friday.  Now I am reading Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays, which is a word for word script of the Original Trilogy that intersperses stories about how the different drafts changed over time – such as Han Solo being a big green monster – and also includes interviews with the Maker (George Lucas) and several others involved with the making of the films.  Also, I just picked up a young adult book titled The Princess, the Scoundrel, and the Farm Boy, which is a retelling of A New Hope that focuses specifically on Leia, Han and Luke.

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That stupidly long and mostly italicized paragraph shows just how much I’ve fallen down the Star Wars rabbit hole (hyperspace lane?) throughout 2015.  I’ve always loved Star Wars, but over the last half decade I went from actively seeking every tidbit of information (which is impossible due to the sheer vastness of information available) to just watching the movies occasionally and resting on my laurels.  I would still occasionally get accused of cheating at Star Wars Trivial Pursuit, but it got just a little bit harder to beat people each time.

My point is this: sometimes there are things that just stick with you like they are part of the makeup of who you are.  Like in most relationships, the passion can ebb and flow, but something can happen to bring back all of that childhood wonder before you even realize what’s happening.  Sure, there is still a chance that The Force Awakens will be terrible, but it has already done something for me that I appreciate regardless of whether it is good or not.  The announcement of Episode VII The Force Awakens awoke a passion in me that had been sort of dormant for the last few years.  It started small with a book here and there, but over these last few months I have completely immersed myself in the Star Wars universe and its nice to experience the joy and wonder I did when I first walked out of the theater in 1997.