Movie Review – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

No major spoilers in this review, though there may be some in the comments.

If you, after all these years, are still in category 3, then the odds are that you don’t care about the spoilers anyway, so do what you want.

The Harry Potter movies represent a truly amazing achievement in film-making. Eight feature films, all of them as faithful to the source material as they could possibly be, with a huge cast that has remained very consistent from movie 1 to movie 8, including protagonists that were CHILDREN at the start, and who have grown up right along with their characters and many of their fans. It’s incredible, and I don’t think that there has been anything else like it in cinema history.

So there’s that.

It’s clear to me now that splitting book seven into two parts for the movies was a very good idea, and to some extent, it allowed them to sacrifice part 1 for the benefit of part 2. Deathly Hallows Part 1 was not a bad movie, but to be sure, it contained all the slow, boring, depressing parts of the story, and did the best it could with them. However, those elements were important for the story, and now that Part 1 has dealt with them, Part 2 is freed up to be an intense, scary, exhilarating roller-coaster ride. Based on my first viewing, I think this last film is actually my favorite of all the Harry Potter movies, and is absolutely a fitting conclusion to the saga.

In many ways, I think I enjoyed the movie even more than the book for this installment. This may well be simply because I knew what was going to happen, and as such, was able to be much more in the moment. This movie is action-packed in a way that none of the other films has been so far. By getting part one out of the way, the movie is able to spend lots of time on the battle for Hogwarts, and it is truly intense. I am not kidding at all when I say that the movie is not for little kids. Anyone who has read the books knows this, but this movie is scary and violent in ways that surpass anything in the movies so far. There are moments where we hold our breaths in anticipation, shed tears for fallen friends, and share the joy when our characters are able to steal a moment of happiness in the midst of all the destruction.

And throughout, the movie is filled to the brim with cameos and lovely little nods to events and props and characters  from the previous films.

It’s a fitting conclusion, and one well-worth seeing in the theater.

Note: I actually saw it in IMAX 3D. The 3D is mostly pretty subtle and not distracting, though to that extent, I’m not sure it added anything either. The IMAX screen, on the other hand, was awesome.

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Book Review – A Dance with Dragons

Book Review: A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin

This review will have no spoilers for book 5, but may mention points from earlier books. Also, I may discuss book 5 spoilers in the comments. Be warned!

So, I’ll begin with a brief concession to anyone who has not already read other books in the series or seen the HBO show: “A Game of Thrones”.

Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series is, hands-down, one of the most absorbing set of books that I’ve ever read. Dark fantasy that ground its more supernatural elements in gritty detail and compelling characters. I am a relative new-comer to the series myself. I had heard many good things about the series, but it was only in anticipation of the HBO series that I decided to pick up the first book. Three months later, I finished the fourth book. And these are long books too. There are many novels that I enjoy, but these books occupied me in an exceptional way. I found myself wanting to just read them constantly. For example, I often had to resist the temptation to pull up the Kindle app on my phone while stopped at red-lights in my car. In short, I liked it, and was very fortunate that I only had to wait a few months for book five, rather than the six years required for fans who read book four when it was new.

So if you haven’t read the books, I do recommend them, and the only caveat at all is that Martin’s pattern has been to have long gaps between the books, and the series is not complete. So if you start now you may be stuck waiting with the rest of us. A valid concern, but in my opinion, waiting just deprives you of the pleasure of reading the existing books, and I’m glad I decided to go ahead and start.

Okay, so now lets move on to discussion of book five.

I don’t like to try and rank the different books in the series, but I can say that I found A Dance with Dragons to be more satisfying in the end than book four, if only because there are not quite so many cruel cliffhangers. (There are still a few.) A Feast for Crows had a lot in it that I really enjoyed, but some aspects of it were frustrating. More than half of the most-compelling characters were left out entirely, and those we did follow were, almost without exception, left in imminent peril. Martin explained in the afterword for AFfC that it and ADwD were originally one story, that he decided to split by characters rather than chronology. An interesting idea, but it just meant we had to wait that much longer to find out what happened to characters like Tyrion, Jon Snow, and Daenerys.

A Dance with Dragons spends its first two-thirds filling us in on what those characters were up to during the events of A Feast for Crows, (which I should say, actually made for interesting reading when we know some things that the characters don’t,) and then the last third brings back some of the rest, so that by the end of the book, we’ve heard from pretty much everyone.

Westeros has now learned of Daenerys’s exploits across the Narrow Sea, freeing the slaves of Astapor and Meereen, so now there are many parties seeking to meet her and enlist her name, heritage and army (and of course, let’s not forget the DRAGONS), in service of their own ends. Meanwhile, up at the Wall, Jon Snow now faces thousands of surrendered and starving Wildlings, as well as his uneasy alliance with King Stannis and his red witch Melisandre. We also catch up with Bran Stark who was last seen crossing under the Wall with the help of a mysterious figure named Coldhands, follow Tyrion as he flees King’s Landing and the ramifications of his patricide. Then we learn the fate of Davos Seaworth and another character, thought dead, gives us a peek at the actions of Ramsay and Roose Bolton.

As Martin does so well, there are plenty of surprises, lots of blood and death, dozens of characters, conspiracies, plots, battles, etc.

Like I mentioned above, I found A Feast for Crows to be very compelling reading and great continuation of the story, though where it left off was more than a little frustrating. A Dance with Dragons finishes with it’s fair share of cliffhangers (two big game-changers, in particular), but in the end, I felt like I can bear the wait for the next book a bit better. I want to know what happens next, but it doesn’t feel quite so much like Martin pulling the football away like Lucy for Charlie Brown. I loved it.

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Yesterday’s News – Fan Fiction

We interrupt this scheduled reading of “A Dance with Dragons” by George R.R. Martin for… this blog post… which will be short… then more DwD. More. MOOOOORRRRREEEE!!!!

So I had an interesting thought at my local board game night tonight, when the subject of fan fiction came up.

I have nothing against fan fiction at all. I’ve read some, and like any type of amateur (or professional) fiction, some of it is bad, some of it is good, some of it is REALLY good. I have friends who are actively involved in fan fiction communities.

But it has never really been something I’ve found myself inspired to write. Though I have no rational objections to it in principle, the idea of slipping into someone else’s setting or especially, someone else’s characters, has always felt a bit like sneaking into their house and trying on their clothes. You may go to great lengths to take good care of their clothes, and take care to put everything back where you found it, but it’s still weird.

Note: I don’t mean to imply any moral judgement there, just a personal ooky feeling. Even that is not really all that severe. I have no doubt that I could get over it if motivated to do so. However, I’ve not so far had the motivation, because usually the stories I write just come to me without me having to pursue them. (Getting them on paper is a separate question.) And so far, no fan fiction stories have come to me.

The closest I’ve come are things like parodies  or shared universe-type sketches, and those were frequently not full-fledged stories anyway. Then, there is my story: “Death Traps”, which features Dr. Mercury, a character created by JR Blackwell. I wouldn’t call that story “Fan Fiction” exactly, though there is no question that the line is a little blurry there.

But the discussion tonight just got me thinking about writing exercises and challenges and such, wherein you actively set out to do something different from your normal routine. In that context, perhaps I ought to, just for fun, try my hand at a little bit of fan fiction. Who knows, it might even help my original projects. After all, the addition of Dr. Mercury took a bare-bones story idea I had and turned it into one of my favorite things I’ve ever written.

How to start though? What fandom do I choose from? I could easily rattle off a dozen different universes that I feel like I know well enough to get started.

And do I want to write something faithful to the original? Something subversive? Cross-over?

Any of you write both original and fan fiction? Any pointers?

 

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Yesterday’s News – Luna Loves Lasers

A youTube video of Luna chasing her favorite prey.

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Yesterday’s News – True Blood

So as I write this, I am watching the latest episode of HBO’s True Blood.

Why do I love this show so much?

I have not read the novels by Charlaine Harris, so it certainly isn’t that. I am not especially a fan of vampires or werewolves or supernatural romance. I don’t find the characters to be intelligent or deep or even sympathetic.

And yet, somehow, I look forward to every new episode.

I enjoy it in ways very different than most television I watch. I think it is pretty much the epitome of a guilty pleasure.

What I like about it is that, because there is essentially no depth or nuance, the story is freed from the burdens of traditional characterization and narrative structure, allowing them to abandon entire plot lines the instant they get boring, and dwell on the characters that are fun and interesting, rather than keeping the focus on traditional protagonists.

I like it because it is unpredictable. It’s not always good. It frequently makes very little sense. But it keeps me entertained.

 

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Yesterday’s News – The Metablades

Hey there, I missed posting yesterday so today there will be two to make up for it.

For THIS post, I thought I’d share the bit of flash fiction that I wrote at this year’s Balticon during the “Iron Writer” competition. Basically, each writer was given a randomized premise generated by this website. I had the great honor of participating alongside Mur Lafferty, Scott Sigler, and Paolo Bacigalupi. (Incidentally, I just read Paolo’s book “The Windup Girl” recently, and it was very good. I may do a longer review at some point.)

Here was my prompt:

“Title: The Metablades

In a shrill Outer Rim world, a young collector of oddities stumbles across an otherworldly portal which spurs him into conflict with forces that encourage conformity, with the help of a leather-clad female in shades and her and her condescending tone, culminating in the land restored to health.”

And here was my story:

The Metablades

The wind was worse than usual today, whistling through the canyon with unusual ferocity.
Evan pulled the collar of his jacket up to protect his face against the stinging alkali sand.
Despite his discomfort, sandstorms were the best day for artifact hunting. The wind could
uncover the ancient ruins that otherwise remained buried beneath the desert sands. With the
Traveling Dunes of this colony planet, the human settlements were forced to be nomadic, lest
they be buried beneath the desert like the alien cities of another age.

The wind though, sometimes revealed trinkets, sometimes treasures, so Evan spent his
downtime hunting for them.

He slowed his speeder to a crawl. His scanner had detected something, not only metal, but
with a power signature. Could he have found something still functional? He dared not hope,
but went to investigate.

He found the tip of the artifact that had triggered his sensors, and was shocked to discover
that with only a little bit of sand cleared away, a noticeable glow began to shine through
the remaining sand. He dug into his pack for the compressed air gun to blow the remaining
obstructions. After a few minutes, he had uncovered what looked like a doorway, but with a
glowing blue field where the door would be.

He started toward the device, but before he could take more than a single step, a man
emerged from the field. The man wore strange clothing, alost all in black, but with a white
under layer, and a long thin of dark fabric around his neck, tied in a complex knot. His hair
was neatly combed, and he wore a serene expression.

"Who- who are you?" asked Evan.

The man didn't answer right away, instead, simply looking him up and down with a concerned
expression.

Finally the man spoke.

"No. No, this will not do at all. Your hair is mussed, your clothing is entirely too individualized.
You are too short, and your teeth need straightening. I am afraid that we will have to issue
you a citation."

"A what?"

"This is a citation for failure to adopt mandatory aesthetic standards." The man handed him a
piece of paper. "You must pay the sum below within the next seven cycles or be subjected to
summary judgment and death by badgers."

"What are you talking about?"

"My guess is that you are not the only one failing to conform. Where are the rest of your
cellmates? I must issue their citations as well. I do have a quota to reach, and I'm only..."

His voice trailed off, and Evan noticed a trickle of blood from the side of the man's mouth.
Then he collapsed to the ground. A blade that seemed oddly unreal and representative of
knife-making more than actual knives stuck out of his back.

A woman wearing dark leather riding gear and dark sunglasses passed through the portal as
well, and said. "No problem, kid. I'm sure you had it under control, but just thought I'd save
your world for you. Don't sweat it, you can get the next one." Then she dragged the man's
body back through the portal.

The End.
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Yesterday’s News – 08Jul11

So today, the very last mission of the space shuttle was launched.

I know several people who can speak about all the technical aspects more knowledgeably than I can, so here are some of them.

Dr. Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer

Dr. Pamela Gay, host of The Astronomy Cast

Laura Burns

Anyway, I’m not especially qualified to educate anyone on the shuttle program, but I can say that it’s always been something that meant a lot to me. When I was a kid, we would often go down and visit my grandfather and uncle in Florida, and that’s why I was there when the Challenger blew up. I wasn’t there at Kennedy Space Center or anything, but Titusville, FL, where my grandfather lived, is not far away, and it was close enough to see the launch trail in the sky. Now, I was only seven years old at the time, and we weren’t close enough to really tell what had happened except for a sort of “That doesn’t look right” feeling.

Still though, the incident has always left me feeling like I have a personal connection to the program, if only a very small one.

The last shuttle mission is beautiful, but still sad.

It’s not that I think we should keep the shuttle going. Any space vehicle should have an expected operational lifetime, and unless we wanted to build NEW shuttles, it just makes good sense that the existing shuttles should be retired at some point. The sad part, of course, is that we don’t have some other program to replace it.

It’s great that several private companies are working hard to develop orbital launch vehicles, and I think that ultimately, this is probably the direction it all needs to go, if we are ever to move into space in a serious way. However, even though there are some really exciting developments coming out of companies like Space X, they are still a long ways out from having even an equivalent to the space shuttle, much less something that could take us to the moon, or to Mars.

It’s not fair to really blame the government or NASA for this, because it’s really the American people who have not collectively demanded further space exploration. Many argue that the money could be better spent here at home, rather than going “Out there”.

It’s definitely true that there is a lot of value in robotic rovers and probes and all that, but I think that manned exploration is a necessity. Some may argue that there is no practical benefit, but even if there isn’t, I think that human beings need something that raises our eyes from the every-day. We live our lives, work at our jobs, and focusing, as we should, on our immediate concerns. But without having anything else, something that elevates us as a species, we can start wondering what’s the point.

When we went to the moon, that is a task that rivals the mythical tasks of Hercules. We, as a people, decided to perform a great work, and then we followed through. Humanity needs great works in order to be great. Exploration is not something that can just be put on the back burner, or else we lose the drive. I don’t want that to happen.

Going to space is hard. But we can do it if we want it bad enough.

 

 

 

 

 

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Yesterday’s News – 07Jul11

Woo-hoo! Two days in a row!

*ahem*

Today, I thought I’d talk a little bit about some good graphic novels that I picked up recently. I’ve not been in the habit of heading to the comic book shop very often, but twice in the last month or so, I’ve been to Chapel Hill Comics for book launches from friends. Those friends being Mur Lafferty and Angie Shearstone.

I was there to buy Heaven and Blood Dreams on each day, but while I was there, I picked up several other things as well. These are but a few of them.

Persepolis

 

This is an autobiographical graphic novel about an Iranian woman who grew up during the Islamic Revolution which occurred in that country. I had heard good things about the animated film based on the book , but had not seen it. The book is really wonderful. The story is told in an episodic fashion with a very simple but effective art style. It is at times very funny, at other times sad, sometimes scary, but always fascinating. Here in the US, if we think of Iran at all, it is usually in the context of wondering if we’re going to have to do something about how THEY don’t like us. But the truth, of course, is that many different kinds of people live there, and have hopes and dreams and feelings. However, the various anecdotes about roving “morality” squads, checkpoints, disappearances and war also serve as good reminders of how important our freedoms can be. I really enjoyed it, and have purchased the follow-up book as well, though I’ve not read that one yet.

Locke & Key

 

This is a supernatural horror/mystery series by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez. I’ve now read the first three collected volumes and it is truly great stuff. When the father of a family is murdered under strange circumstances, his wife and three children move back to his childhood home in “Lovecraft, MA”. There’s something unusual about this house. (I know, right?) Its many doors and keys have all sorts of powers: Powers of transformation, powers of healing, and let’s just say: “Powers of NOT-healing.” What could be a fairly ordinary premise is really made compelling by interesting characters, beautiful art, and a nicely twisted story, full of things that really only work in a graphic novel. There are things you will see on these pages which just wouldn’t work in any other medium.  Really looking forward to volume 4.

 

Sweet Tooth

 

I’ve now read the first two collections of this graphic novel. It stars Gus, a young man with antlers. He’s never known anything but his simple cabin in the woods, and never known anyone but his father. His father has told him that a horrible plague came to the world, to purge it of all sinners and to take the virtuous up to heaven. It also, apparently, caused many children to be born as human-animal hybrids. All of that remains the mysterious unknown, however, until his father finally succumbs to illness, and Gus decides to do what his father told him to never do: Leave the forest. What follows is an interesting take on the now-common post-apocalyptic survival genre. Gus himself is endearingly sweet, and pretty smart, despite his lack of education and knowledge of the outside world. I enjoyed this one, but don’t feel especially compelled to continue. I might pick up the next volume if I see it, but probably won’t seek it out.

So that’s all for this time, though I have a few more that I may review soon. Have any of you read any good  graphic novels lately?

 

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Yesterday’s News

I sometimes have a tendency to be non-social.

I don’t mean anti-social, because that has a proactive connotation that isn’t really accurate. When I say non-social, I am suggesting a simple loss of momentum that can happen for all manner of reasons that aren’t really all that interesting. (At least not to me, but then, that may be because they lack any aspect of voyeuristic novelty.)

Anyway, what happens when I get into one of those phases is that I don’t make much effort to reach out or communicate with people, and this includes friends, family and of course, my fans.

And yet, my love of hearing my own voice, and my strong feeling that my opinions are compelling and fascinating to any who might hear them does not go away.

This causes, as you might expect, a certain cognitive dissonance that is not fun for me, nor does it particularly benefit anyone else. Plus, even Luna, my Welsh Corgi, gets bored of my stories when she’s the only one I have to talk to.

But! This blog post is not about my unique and fascinating collection of neuroses, it is about how I’m going to try doing a daily blog post!

What will it be about?

Basically, whatever I feel like. Sometimes I’ll talk about what I’ve been reading, movies I’ve seen, games I’ve played, etc. Sometimes it’ll be about what I’m working on creatively or even little snippets of fiction that don’t really belong anywhere else. Sometimes it’ll just be observations on the world or whatever I’m thinking about, sometimes serious, sometimes more in the vein of Christiana’s Shallow Thoughts.

I’m not going to over-think it.

At least, not tonight.

Anyway, the reason for the title is that I will almost certainly get in the habit of writing these blog posts in the evening, so for most readers, they will be seeing it on the day after the day that I’m writing about. Thus: “Yesterday’s News”.

I did a quick google search and the biggest hits for the name were for a brand of cat litter, which amused me enough that the name stuck.

Anyway, I’m out of practice, and I don’t want to overdo it with this first post, so I’ll leave it there for now.

Anyone have thoughts? Things you’d like to see me write about? Mocking comments at the huge cliche of setting a resolution to blog more? Go ahead and leave a comment! I’ll be back tomorrow.

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