Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Spoiler Review

So, I finally got to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Note, this review does contain spoilers, so if you haven't seen it yet, leave now...

I'm going to try and organize this into stuff I didn't like, then stuff that I did like, but I may wander a bit.

THE BAD: (or meh, or confusing... not all of this is 'bad'...)

- I was expecting a sequel. What we got instead is a reboot of A New Hope, with a few sequel elements thrown in. I mean, we have Jakku, which is the same as Tatooine, an orphan living there who doesn't know anything about her parents, an ace rebel x-wing pilot, the Falcon getting tractored into a hanger, a death star (bigger, badder!), the heroes sneak around on the death star,  a weak target on said death star that the x-wings have to take out before the rebel base is blown up, an x-wing trench run, a quirky droid that saves the day, a bad guy in a black mask with a deep voice, the list goes on an on. Not to say that this makes it a bad movie, it's done, for the most part, quite well. Most of it's just re-hashed. So, we got the plot of ANH, but none of the optimism. But people seem to like the dark these days...  But that's a whole 'nother essay... (and, honestly, opinion, neither right nor wrong...)

- Speaking of that, Abrams can't seem to do subtle. In Star Trek, we got a redshirt who died, but instead of quietly dying in the line of duty, perhaps saving Kirk and making the character grow, it's shoved in our faces. He dies of his own stupidity, and it's shoved in our faces as though we wouldn't catch that it's a homage to a TOS redshirt if was done subtlety.
Same thing in TFA. I'm sure there's some references I'll catch on the second viewing that are more of an homage, but there's a LOT of 'shoved in your face, see, look, a Star Wars reference!' stuff, like the list in the point above.

- Lack of answers. All the questions you have going into this movie. Only one or two of them will be answered by the end.
The big one: EVERYONE wants to know "Where's Luke?" He was the main character in the first trilogy, the son of the main character of the prequels. He was (almost) everyone's favorite character as a kid. The main draw of watching TFA (at least for me, and I assume a lot of other people as well) is, "What happens to our favorite characters after ROTJ?"
For Han, Chewy, Leia, C3P0, R2D2 (kinda), and a few others, those questions are answered. Not so for Luke.
'Why isn't Luke in any of the trailers, or on the poster, or anything?' The answers is, because he's not in this movie. Well, I think he's got a total of a minute of screen time, and no dialog. I think he might be the Yoda type role in the next movie, but just because Yoda wasn't introduced until the second movie isn't a good reason not to have Luke in this one. On the other hand, including his story would've made the movie really long, so perhaps they're saving an entire movie for that?
Speaking of that, story-wise, why isn't Luke in the movie? The movie answer is that when Ben Solo turned to the dark side, Luke got so depressed that he went and hid. That's not really in Luke's character, from what we've seen of him in the first trilogy...

If you're wanting to know what happened between ROTJ and TFA, good luck. The movie only hints at a few little pieces of that. Want to know how Finn gets Luke's lightsaber that he's holding in the trailer? That's not addressed at all either. There's a half-dozen or so plot threads that aren't fleshed out. Some of them most likely will be completed in the next two movies. I've also heard the theory that some of them are left out on purpose to make you buy the books, games, comics, etc. that tie into the movie to get the whole story. (I haven't read Star Wars: Aftermath. I've heard it fills in some of the details.) If that's the case, that's good marketing, but bad story-telling.

- Where the heck did Luke's lightsaber come from?? The last time we saw it, in ESB, it was hurtling into the center of a gas giant. How did it get halfway across the galaxy? The movie answer: "That's a story for another time."
It really feels like it was put in just for nostalgia. I can't think of an in-story way or reason for it to be there, and apparently neither could the film-makers.
It's the little things like this that are insignificant on there own, yet pile up enough to draw you out of the movie.

 - If you've read any of my book reviews, you know it's a pet-peeve of mine to split one plot across three different books/movies, and call them separate stories. They're not, it's one story in three parts. There's nothing wrong with telling a story this way, it's just that I don't like it. If you have three separate movies, each with their own plot arc, and a few (or a lot) of over-arching plot elements, you end the trilogy with four stories told, instead of one. I left the theater feeling like I'd seen part of a movie, instead of a whole movie. I will admit that this one is just my pet-peave, and I don't expect some people to be bothered by it at all.

- The way the Force works. So, Rey's force-sensitive, she's discovering her powers. Okay, cool. Wait... she just did a Jedi-mind trick, with no training? What??? She just defeated a partially-trained dark-side user... with no training???
In interviews, Abrams has (rightly) said he wants to ignore the midi-chorine crap. Good. He wants to treat it as if the Force is around everyone, if you tune into it, it's available to everyone. Good, that meshes more with the original movies.
I like that idea, but the implementation of it has all the finesse of a sledge-hammer.
In ESB, Luke has had some training with Obi-Wan. On the low end, a few hours, on the high end, a few weeks. All he's able to do is move a light-saber, heighten his instincts, and call out to his sister. Lucas has stated that Luke is the most powerful Jedi there ever was, or ever will be.
And yet, somehow, Rey is able to use the mind-trick, mentally keep out a dark-side user, over-power him telekineticly, and out lightsaber fight him... with absolutely zero training???
Come on. Even most other trained Jedi Masters couldn't do the mind trick as well as Obi-Wan, yet we're expected to believe that she can do it with no training at all....
To quote Han: "The Force doesn't work like that!"

The Middle:

- The villain. I'm not sure where to put Kylo Ren. There's good points and bad, kinda all tied together.
It's kinda like Disney said, "We need to have Darth Vader in the movie!" So, we got a Darth Vader clone. Yet, the way they did it is consistent with the story. It's Darth Vader's grandson, who the darkside has twisted him into idolizing.
It's also kinda neat that, though the EU is no longer cannon, they have borrowed some of the better ideas from it. (Kylo Ren is really Ben Solo, Han and Leia's son, who trained under his uncle Luke before he turned to evil.)
That's really neat that they've nodded to the EU, acknowledged that Luke is "passing on what he has learned," and whatnot. Yet, at the same time, it feels a little re-hashed. Is the Skywalker family doomed to repeat the same story over and over again in successive generations? And, if so, that's not necessarily a bad thing, as it reflects on real-life ("Those who do not learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them.")


- I loved BB8. There's always the risk when introducing a cutesy kid-friendly character that you'll end up with another Jar-Jar. Not the case here. He was integral to the plot, funny, and well-acted (if a droid can be considered an actor...) Nothing was over-done with him (it?).

- Finn's character arc. There's some really good story telling done here with the character of Finn. His arc has a beginning, middle, and end, and still leaves room for him to play a big part in the sequels. The character's motivations for everything he does are there and plotted out, while not falling to cliche.
One of the problems I have with any evil-empire, be it fictional or in the real-world, is "Can't anyone see that what they're doing is evil? How can they think it's right?"
That's one of the reasons I love Finn so much. He's been born, bred, and conditioned to do his job, yet when they're killing innocent villagers, Finn can't do it. He wakes up emotionally, and realizes it's wrong. They could go cliche here, and have him go into full hero mode, but they don't. He does the right thing following his conscience, but he's still just trying to run away from the evil for a while.
He does seem to get attached to Rey really quickly, but I suppose they've been through a lot together, and she's the first other person he meets who tries to do the right thing...

- I love the character of Rey too, just not quite as much. The movie sets up a complex character here, who I'm sure we'll see more of her backstory later.

- Everything with Han and Chewy. I've got some little nitpicky things to say about most of the characters. Not so here. Everything is spot-on. To me, some of the other characters have to act slightly out of character to make the plot of the movie work. Not so with Han and Chewy. Han's reasons for leaving everyone are completely consistent with his character, the balance of snark, humor, and everything else we love about Han is here and perfect. Including when he dies. I would've like his last words to be, "I forgive you," or something, but just caressing his son's cheek and saying a thousand things with actions and not words (not to mention that the character hasn't ever been good at mushy stuff) is totally within the character, and works. (Yay! Abrams did one subtle thing right!)

- the "lived in" feel is back. A lot of people criticize the prequels for feeling new and shiny, and not at all like the gritty lived-in fell of the first trilogy. I don't think that's a valid criticism, as the gritty feel is symbolic of the decay that evil has brought to the galaxy.
That feel is back in TFA, and is appropriate, as one evil empire has fallen, only to have another rise in it's place. (The weariness of fighting evil for a lifetime shows in Leia's face, too.)

- I really get the felling that once the other two movies are out, the plot elements of TFA will mesh really well with them. Like I said earlier, there's a lot of plot stuff that's left dangling. To me, this is irritating to watch a movie and not get a complete arc, but the setup is there to have this be one of the most tightly integrated trilogies ever. I'm really expecting to like TFA a lot more once the next two movies are out and I'll be able to marathon all three of them.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie (and, as I said, I believe it will be better in context with it's sequels, and possibly some of the tie-in material) , but I didn't think it was perfect. Most of my issues have to do with nitpicking the plot. Fortunately , I like the characters more than the plot, and the characters really shine.

I do kinda want to read Aftermath, and some of the other tie-in material, then re-watch it. (but again, that other stuff should enhance the experience, not be required...)

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Geek Feast Blog Hop

Today we're talking favorite geeky (or related) foods. Since this is the internet, I can't share with you, but you CAN visit all the sites in blog hop, pull up all the recipes, and make your own feast to eat along with us. That's kinda the same thing, right?

I feature a bunch of different foods in A New Threat, from sandwiches, chips, steak, veggies, and inordinate amounts of tea. Now, I like tea and all, but Nilre's the tea drinker, not me. If I tried to walk you through making proper tea, she'd laugh at me.

So, we're going to talk about a Meskka's favorite food: steak.

Now, most Meskka prefer their steak raw, as in, un-cooked. Most humans, though, like it with at least some browning to it.

If you like it rare, it's easy, slap it on the grill, wait a few seconds, flip, wait, eat.

Me, I like a good well-done steak. I know, most of you at this point are all, "Eww, dried out and nasty!"
Well, that's only if you're cooking it wrong.

Let's start with equipment. You can cook a steak on a variety of implements, from a skillet, or oven, or, if you're ambitious, over open flame. Me, I like the charcoal grill. It adds some flavor, and it's a little nostalgic.

Anyway, back to cooking a great, juicy, well-done steak. You see that picture over there to the right?

That's the wrong way. Completely wrong. If you're aiming for well done, and your fire looks like that, you're going to end up with shoe leather.

To start, light a smaller amount of coals. Once they're lit, close the lid, and watch the temperuature.
When it gets around 160F to 180F, (You do have a grill thermometer, right?) shove them all over to one side of the grill.
Place the steaks on the other side of the grill.
I've got best results slathering them in barbecue sauce, that adds a little extra moisture, and flavor. You can also use a dry rub, or leave them plain, whatever you like best.

These are going to take a while to cook. The secret to a good well-done steak is low temperature, for a long time. About an hour, possible two, depending on how many steaks, the cut, the size, and what your exact grill temperature is.

Check the steaks about every fifteen minutes to a half hour (again, depending on the variables mentioned above) and make sure nothing's caught on fire. Also check your grill temp, and if you have one of those probe-type thermometers, check the internal temp of the meat (if you don't have one, go get one ;) )

Yes, cooking this way is more of an art form, but it's fun, and really yummy.

Don't forget your favorite beverage. I like Mountain Dew, but there are other options:

Visit the other sites in the blog hop:

J. L. Mbewe
Laura VanArendonk Baugh
Josh Smith

H. A. Titus
Aaron DeMott

Christina Maloney
Janeen Ippolito

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, December 14, 2015

Book Review: Namesake

Today's book review is Namesake, by AC Williams.

From the "back of the book":

"Xander and her friends onboard the bounty hunter ship, Prodigal, risk their lives to recover the derelict spaceship that could restore the shattered pieces of her memory. No one realizes what that decision will cost them.

A ruthless syndicate is determined to capture Xander by any means necessary. For protection, she turns to top Prodigal hunter and former assassin Kale Ravenwood, but as their relationship heats up, so does the syndicate threat. The closer they grow to each other, the more danger they face, for Xander can’t remember enough, and Kale remembers far too much.

Xander’s search for her memories leads her across the solar system, only to discover the unbelievable secret of the Destiny Project. When Xander learns the truth of her identity and origins, she must choose between the comfort of her former life and the new, dangerous life she has come to know and love.

Either choice means sacrifice. What would she rather give up—her friends or her name?"

First, this is the sequel to Nameless (which I've reviewed here.) I LOVED Nameless, so I was really looking forward to the sequel. Sadly, I was disappointed. I'm not sure how to review the book without discussing major spoilers, so you've been warned. Let's see, two stars, it hit several major pet peeves of mine, you might like it if those things don't bother you. I think that's as spoiler-free as I can do. If you want to know why I didn't like it, keep reading. If you don't want spoilers, stop reading here.

Seriously, MAJOR spoilers below!

I'll get to the two things that really made me dislike the book in a moment. This first thing is a minor irritation, but it added to the effect. Namesake is the middle of a trilogy. Thus, it suffers from the same lack of anything happening as most middle books do. To be fair, Namesake does it better than most. There is a beginning, middle, and end of this book, but since it's in the middle of the overall story, the main plot threads are unresolved. If this were the only issue I had, I'd just ignore it. Like I said, it's the middle of a trilogy, and AC Williams handles this problem way better than most authors do.

There is no happy ending. Namesake ends on a real downer note. I hate unhappy endings. Perhaps this doesn't bother you, but it's one of the three major things that will make me quit reading a series/author. Now, this is the middle of a trilogy, so there might still be a happy ending, but at the way things are at the end of the book, I can't see how.

Everyone dies. That's number two on the "How to get me to quite reading" checklist. In the first three chapters, we lose FOUR main characters! Holy crap! By the end of the book, only Xander (and one bad guy that we've met before, but that doesn't count. I don't mind if they die) is left alive.
Yeah, I know all the arguments about being a better writer by killing your characters, blah, blah, blah. I, personally, as a reader HATE this. I know some people like it, but they're wrong. This one item alone is enough to make me quit reading a series/author.... but we're not done...

Xander is brutally raped and tortured. The scene isn't written explicitly, but still in way too much detail for me. Sure, this fits in the hellhole of a world the characters inhabit, and some would argue this makes the story more "real." Screw that (no pun intended.) The real world is awful enough. When I want to read a story, I want hope for a better future, I want to spend my time in a world where the good guys stop things like that from happening... wait, the good guys are all dead...
I could see how, in book three, this could bring a message of healing and hope or something to people that have been through something awful... but I'm not that target audience. Maybe it's because I'm a male, or have read too many hero stories, or respect women too much, but I can't stomach reading that kind of thing. To me, when I'm reading and a book is well-written, and Namesake is, it's like it's really happening to a real person that I care about, and I can't do a thing about it, and that bothers me.
Yup, this is number three on the "three ways to get me to quit reading a series/author" checklist.

So, this book has everything I can't stand in a story. Two stars.
Why not one, you ask? I'm really hard to get either a one or a five star out of. Out of hundreds of books I've read, I've only read one (maybe two...) that I'd give a one star rating to. It would have to have at least one of these three things, and bad writing, and a horrible plot, and characters I couldn't stand. Namesake has a great plot, and characters that I love.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Name the stuff on my desk winner

So, before we name the winner, what all is on my desk?

1. Clone Commander Rex  Alarm clock radio
2. Lt. Carey body in a Bacta Tank. (Long story....)
3. Micromachines model of The Ghost from Star Wars Rebels
4. Blue Spartan Super-Solider from Halo
5. Romulan Ale
6. Kaname Chidori from the Full Metal Panic Anime
7. Mt. Dew Throwback in a glass bottle
8. Sousuke Sagara from the Full Metal Panic Anime
9. R2D2 action figure that has been converted into a flash drive
10. Gundam Mobile suit from 0083: Stardust Memories pencil sharpener
11. C3P0 (and R2, he's hiding behind the gundam) dressed up for Christmas
12. Cortana from Halo
13. Lego TIE fighter
14. A bunch of different 64th scale trucks, most of the Dodges, some customized.
15. Speakers
16. Delorean time machine
17. staff
18. Wizard's staff
19. Storm Trooper Pez dispenser
20. Darth Vader Pez dispenser
21. Me, my wife, and youngest dressed as Jedi (computer wallpaper)
22. Cheap katana (kinda hiding)
23. Sakabato (reverse blade katana)
24. Dr. McCoy
25. Yomiko Readman from Read or Die
26. Mouse
27. Type II phaser from Star Trek the Next Generation (Made by Playmates)
28. Kim Possible mouse pad
29. Noise canceling headphones
30. Scrivener, with my NaNoWriMo 2015 project open
31. Un-assembled paper model of the Ghost (I know, almost impossible to tell...)
32. Kenshin Himura (from the anime Ruroni Kenshin)
33. Either Thorin Oakshield, or Gimli, I forget which (looks more like Thorin, but I don't remember buying a Thorin, and I do remember buying a Gimli... ... AND MY AXE!)
34. DHD (Dial-home device, from Stargate)
35. Magic: The Gathering cards (Battle for Zendikar)
36. Star Trek Communicator Pin (Voyager style. Not my favorite spin off, but it is my favorite com design)
37. Fisher Space Pen
38. iPad (that I write most of my first-drafts on)
39. Star Wars hot cocoa mix
40. Lightsaber (Qui-gon's. Hasbro battle style from just after ep 1 came out)
41. A New Threat, by Aaron DeMott (Proof copy!)
42. Spider man
43. Star Gate
44. Alt-Wit Press business card (publisher of A New Threat, as well as other awesome spec-fic)
45. Optimus Prime, from Transformers
46. The Rocketeer
47. Various themed playing cards (Yu yu hakusho, Star Wars, Spiderman, etc...)
48. Superman
49. Yoda bobblehead
50. mini Star Trek TOS tricorder
51. Locutus of Borg
52. Quark
53. Q (from Star Trek)
54. Captain Jeane-Luc Picard
55. Cyclops (from X-Men)
56. Goku from Dragon Ball Z (non-super sayian)
57. Cin, from Scrapped Princess anime
58. Pencil book sheets from Stratos 4 anime
59. Emperor Palpentine
60. Yoda stamp
61. Coke bottle that says "Aaron"
62. Christmas Darth Vader plush in a Star Wars mug

Also, hiding behind Cortana is a picture of me on the Enterprise D bridge, but you can't see it well at all... And, not pictured (I tried...) is the IBM Model M keyboard (made in 1990) that I'm typing this article on.

The winner is: Cindy K, with 51 correct answers (and a bunch more funny guesses that weren't quite on the mark... ;) )

Happy (belated) Birthday to my Keyboard

So, I realized I missed my keyboard's birthday...

...by a few months... As you can see in the picture, my keyboard was made on August 13th, 1990.

I know, everyone's wondering, "Who cares?" or "Why's he using an antique keyboard?"
There's already a bunch of stuff written on that. Just search for "IBM Model M Keyboard" on Google. I first blogged about this back in 2013 when I got a USB adapter to make it work on the new computer. Anyway, my keyboard turned 25 this year. How many other computer anythings are you still using everyday that are that old?

I first got this keyboard from MSU Salvage about, oh, fifteen years ago for $5. I had to replace one spring (it was missing... it had a hard life at the university...) Since then I've written several novels on it, and it's not had one problem.

A few years ago, I found this keyboard in a dumpster:

It's also an IBM Model M, but this one is a little younger (born on 6/4/93) and made by Lexmark (IBM spun off keyboards and a few other things into the Lexmark corporation.)
This one just needed a bath, and was good to go. I've been keeping it as a backup for parts or whatnot, until I found that little white box. It happens to be a PS/2 and USB to Bluetooth adapter. That's right I can now use The One True Keyboard with my iPad! (So what if the keyboard is around six pounds, and the iPad is about one and a half....)

The next step is to tear the guts out of the adapter, and integrate them into the keyboard case. I should have plenty of room, and I might even add a bigger battery.

What old stuff do you use everyday? Comment below!