Book Review: The Spaceship in the Stone – by Igor Nikolic

Michael Freeman is an ex-special forces soldier who was injured in the war and is now a disabled veteran. He loses his job and his girlfriend, and he wants to get away to “find himself.”

He was raised by his grandfather in a self-sufficient cabin in the woods. His grandfather has long passed, and Michael goes back to the cabin to get away from it all – with a few six-packs of beer.

When he hikes in the woods behind his cabin, he suddenly falls into a sinkhole or hidden cave, gets hurt badly and passes out. Nobody knows where he is.

When he wakes up he finds himself in a very different world. It turns out he fell onto a hidden spaceship in the rocks below the woods, which has been there for thousands of years, governed by an artificial intelligence, and powered by nano-technology.

Within a few days, Michael, the jaded disabled veteran, turns into a superhero with true superpowers and a mission to change the world with access to all this alien technology.

Of course, soon bad guys show up from all sides making things challenging. Michael assembles a team of ex-soldiers and the battle starts.

The Spaceship in the Stone is a cartoonish fantasy story, of course with a sequel. The characters are wooden, the dialog stilted, the plot contrived and the entire story just over the top.

I finished reading it, though, mildly enjoyed it, but quickly forgot most of the details within the next few days. I was not interested enough to bother picking up Book 2 of “The Space Legacy.”

 

 

Book Review: Conrad’s Time Machine – by Leo Frankowski

The friends and former roommates with the strange names of Tom Kolczyskrenski (try to pronounce that), Ian McTavish and Jim Hasenpfeffer get together for a motorcycle cruise across the country.

Tom is an Air Force grunt with a genius IQ and an affinity for electronics.

Ian got his degree in mechanical engineering and has a lucrative job with GM.

Jim got his Ph.D. in behavioral science and is studying the social interactions of motorcycle gangs.

When the three are on the road, they hear an explosion nearby and happen to be the first ones at the scene, before any rescue services arrive. They find a perfectly hemispherical hole in the ground where a house used to be, and the former contents of the hole appearing in the surrounding area over time.

Long story short, they discover the plans for a technology that eventually ends up creating a time machine. And thus the three misfits decide that they are going to get very rich.

Frankowski is a good story teller. It’s a lighthearted tale that does not take itself too seriously. The characters are funny and a bit cartoonish. They talk with each other like no real people would talk. Either the author intends it that way, or he is really poor with creating dialog. I think it’s the former.

This book is full of casual time travel stunts in everyday life. It creates a new universe, of course so there can be more books in the series. Frankowski writes a lot of books in series, but the naming conventions are somewhat confusing. For instance, there is no Conrad in this book at all, and I can’t quite understand where the title comes from.

In summary, it’s a fun, lighthearted read with a lot of speculative science ideas and perfected time travel. The story is enjoyable, a crack-up even, albeit a bit hokey.

You might enjoy it. I myself won’t be reading any more Frankowski books, though.

Book Review: Time Tunnel: The Eclipse – by Richard Todd

It is 1890. Annika finds herself without a transponder, which is the device she needs to return home to her own time in 2008. Stranded in time, with no way to go home, she makes the best of her situation and fights for the Sioux. She has a little help, because Kyle left his backpack on the counter in a bar when it disappeared. The bag contained his laptop which had basically all human knowledge as of 2008 on its hard drive (go figure how that would be possible).

This is book three out of three in the Time Tunnel series by Richard Todd. There is a little time travel plot twist here, but otherwise it’s just an alternate history story reminiscent of the trilogy by S.M. Stirling starting with Island in the Sea of Time.

I can recommend that series highly. In comparison, Time Tunnel: The Eclipse is a simple-minded tale of alternate history in a world where the United States disintegrates from internal strife and Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan rule the world outside of America.

Todd’s character development devolves in this third book. Most of the characters do stuff and react in ways that do not make much sense and seem very unrealistic. I got the feeling that the author just wanted to hurry and wrap this series up.

I finished reading this book simply because I had invested time in the first two of the series and I wanted to learn what would happen to Annika. However, the third book didn’t add anything new other than a neat plot twist at the end.

 

 

Book Review: The Sentinel – by T. M. Haviland

About a hundred years in our future, around 2124, there is a small permanent human settlement on Mars, and permanents space stations in Earth orbit and on the moon are a reality.

The hunt for rare minerals to feed the needs of technology has intensified, and there are companies mining in Antarctica, under several kilometers of ice, using robotic mining equipment for prospecting.

In this endeavor, a mining team finds what they think is a peculiar meteor that must have been there for more than 10 million years, which is at least how long that part of Antarctica has been covered by thick glaciers.

As they study the object, however, they find anomalies that they can’t explain, and they gradually come to the realization that they are dealing with an alien artifact.

But what does humanity do with something it does not understand? Try to destroy it.

As you might expect, that starts off a chain of events that may not be stoppable.

The Sentinel is a speculative fiction book that tells a story. The characters are simple and one-dimensional, and much of the plot is fairly predictable.

I enjoyed reading it to a point, but I would probably not clamor to read more books by this author.

Book Review: The Ark – by Patrick S. Tomlinson

Mankind discovers a black hole heading directly into the solar system. Humanity faces complete obliteration as a result. Using all the world’s resources, they build a massive starship to send on its way to Tau Ceti, where a habitable planet was found that should be suitable for humans. The Ark, as the ship is called, travels at about 5% the speed of light. This means it will take almost two and a half centuries to bridge the gap of 12 lightyears. The Ark is truly a generation ship. All of the 50,000 people who were chosen to leave Earth would never see their destination but live out their lives on the ship. Entire new generations will be born, live their lives, and die, never seeing their destination. Imagine living on a ship now that left Earth at about the time of the American Declaration of Independence. That would be the timeframe.

The story starts just before arrival at Tau Ceti. Bryan Benson is a retired sports hero. He now works as a detective. After a crew member goes missing, he eventually discovers that a murder has taken place. As he digs deeper, he finds that there appears to be a conspiracy involving the most powerful people on the ship that could jeopardize the entire mission and possibly annihilate the last living members of the human race, the 50,000 souls living on the Ark.

I picked up this book because I love generation ship stories. I have read and reviewed five books about generation ships in this blog (you can find the reviews by selecting “Generation Ships” in the categories dropdown.

I enjoyed the description of the ship and its technology, but had a hard time picturing it in my head. The author does not do a very good job describing things.

The Ark is actually Book 1 of a series of three books titled “Children of a Dead Earth.” I didn’t think I’d go for the second in the series, but the publishers cleverly put the first few chapters into the end of this book, and it pulled me in. See my review of Book 2 next.

Movie Review: Nightmare Alley

 

We like to go to a movie on Christmas Day in the afternoon. What were we thinking when we chose a movie titled Nightmare Alley to give us Christmas cheer?

Nightmare Alley plays in the late 1930s somewhere in America. Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) is a hapless young man who hates his father enough to make him freeze to death before he burns down his house with his body in it in the opening scene. As he escapes from the law, he ends up at a carnival by coincidence. Out of sheer desperation, he hires on and becomes a “carny.”

He learns quickly from his boss Clem (Willem Dafoe) and several other characters. The mystic Zeena lures him in, and her older and alcoholic husband Pete (David Strathairn) teaches him mentalism – appearing clairvoyant, revealing secrets about random people in the audience by verbal clues from an accomplice. He makes a name for himself in the carnival and is quite successful. Eventually he is put to he test by the female psychiatrist Lilith (Cate Blanchett) in the audience, who eventually becomes his accomplice and partner in crime in a series of ever more daring pursuits.

Watching Nightmare Alley is a nightmare. It is based on the 1946 novel Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham. In 1947, it was turned into a movie of the same name the same name starring Tyrone Power. So this is another remake. It’s over two and a half hours long, which is easily 45 minutes more than would have been necessary. It moves very slowly, and you never know where the story is going. For the longest time, there really does not seem to be a plot. It portrays the times in a moody and depressing light.

I learned what a “geek” is. Geek was originally an early 20th-century term for a carnival worker who was so unskilled that the only thing he could do at the carnival to entice an audience was to bite off the heads of live animals. Essentially, a geek was a socially undesirable person who lacked any skill or ability. Obviously, the term has morphed into something entirely different in the last three or four decades from those gruesome beginnings. But the geek in the carnival is more important than meets the eye at the beginning of the story.

This is a very well-done movie with an intricate plot and powerful cinematography which makes the experience depressing. It was too long. Too crazy.

Movie Review: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020)

It’s 1927 in Chicago. The legendary “Mother of the Blues,” Ma Rainey (Viola Davis) is recording two songs at a music studio. While everyone waits for Ma to arrive (as she is usually late), the director and the producer are nervous. The band is trying to rehearse, but arguments arise quickly. One after the other, the band members get to tell the stories of their lives.

I didn’t know what to expect from this movie, but I felt like I was watching a play. Sure enough, it was based on a play as I read later. The dialog, the structure, all were taken from the play.

The racial tensions of the 1920s come out loud and clear, and Ma Rainey knows that she has power over “white folks” only because she is a star and “they need her.”

This movie won two Oscars, one for Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling, and the other in Best Achievement in Costume Design. It was nominated for three others, including Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role, Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role and Best Achievement in Production Design. Needless to say, it is highly acclaimed.

While I appreciated the illustration of racial discrimination and the subject matter in general, I found it was a hard movie to watch and I had to work at staying engaged and interested. It didn’t do too much for me as a movie.

Movie Review: Bullet Head

I had to google to figure out why the movie was called Bullet Head. It turns out a Bullet Head is a name for the dog breed Presa Canario. Here is a picture of one:

A few thugs, after a heist, crash their getaway car near an abandoned warehouse or factory. The driver dies, and the other three hapless robbers get out of the car and hide out in the warehouse. When I say “abandoned” I mean long abandoned, completely dilapidated, with broken roofs and jagged concrete.

The trio of of robbers are Stacy (Adrien Brody), Walker (John Malkovich) and Gage (Rory Culkin). What they don’t know when they enter the facility to hide out is that it’s also being used by a gang to stage dogfights. While Gage scours a locker room to service his heroin addiction, he makes a gruesome discovery. There is an injured dog on the loose. And that’s all I have to say about the story.

The movie is gruesome, gory, and due to the horrible environment and the despicable characters, extremely depressing. There is nothing good about this story, just bad luck becoming worse luck by the minute.

Of course, John Makovich does a phenomenal job as a crook, as one might expect, not to be upstaged by his two partners in crime, except for Bullet Head. The dog scenes are amazing, frightening and disturbing. It must have been a very difficult job for the director to get the dogs to do what they needed to do. There is no question, the hero, the protagonist of this movie is the dog named DeNiro.

The movie made me think about the cruelty and insanity of dog fighting, and I have a hard time imagining what kind of man it takes to be a participant in such an activity.

In the credit it states:

A portion of the proceeds of this movie will go toward eliminating dog fighting, rehabilitating its canine victims, and promoting awareness and education about the humane treatment of man’s best friend.

Thank goodness.

This was difficult to watch.

 

 

Movie Review: The Last Laugh

Al Hart (Chevy Chase) is a retired talent manager who doesn’t know what to do with his life. His granddaughter talks him into moving into a retirement home. There he meets his old friend and very first client from 50 years ago, Buddy Green (Richard Dreyfuss). The two are not happy, and they convince each other to “go on tour.” Al books comedy gigs for Buddy on a road trip from Los Angeles to New York, where Buddy wants to perform at the Ed Sullivan Theater. Along the way in Kansas, at a poetry reading, they pick up Doris Lovejoy (Andy MacDowell), an artist and ex hippie who joins them along the way.

Being a San Diegan, I couldn’t help but notice that on their way from Los Angeles to Tijuana, Mexico, they showed a freeway sign for San Diego via I-5 North. Obviously, they would be going on I-5 South to Tijuana. Also, the scenery on the way to Tucson, Arizona was very much reminiscent of the red rocks of Sedona, which would be many hours out of the way when going to Tucson on I-8. Not that these minor goofs matter, I just know my Southwestern geography and can’t help but notice.

The Last Laugh is a predictable movie of the bucket list theme, of which we have seen too many. It’s reminiscent of the classic Grumpy Old Men with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon, cute enough, but sufficiently uninspired to get us to laugh here and there. It deals with illness, aging and the realities of life in a typical Hollywood fashion – superficially with stale humor.

Europeans generally do a better job with this kind of movie, and watching The Last Laugh, I realized I haven’t seen enough of those in a while.

Movie Review: Alien Code

Alex Jacobs (Kyle Gallner) is a washed-out but brilliant cryptographer. When government agents recruit him with an offer he can’t refuse, he finds out that he is being drawn into a world he was not prepared for. His job is to decrypt a message encoded in an American satellite that has been in orbit for apparently a long time, and was definitely not launched by America.

It turns out that the message is from the future and contains a blueprint to build a machine.

Alien Code is a low-budget film with fairly bad acting, awkward special effects, and a very difficult plot to follow. It takes a lot of concentration, and after a while, I just found myself giving up and just enjoyed the ride.

If you want secret message conspiracies, bad men in black, caricatures of government agents, time travel, scientific brilliance stereotypes, it’s all in this movie.

After you’re done watching, you’ll forget about it all quickly.

Movie Review: Spenser Confidential

Spenser (Mark Wahlberg) is a former Boston policeman with a dubious reputation who just got out of prison. He wants to get out of town and start a new life. But his friend Henry (Alan Arkin), who runs a gym and fighting school, talks him into coaching Hawk (Winston Duke), a young and huge black amateur, whom he has taken under his wings. Spenser, pretty much half of Hawk’s size, is able to teach him a thing or two.

When his former girlfriend Cissy (Iliza Shlesinger) get back into the picture, Henry sees trouble. And then two of Spenser’s former cop buddies end up killed, he decides he has to get to the bottom of what has happened. In vigilante style, with the help of his friends, he takes on the Boston police department and finds ever deeper layers of corruption.

Spenser Confidential is a simple who-dunnit movie, with a comedic twist, a good story, but overall not very inspiring. Mark Wahlberg is a good actor, and I have never seen a movie with Alan Arkin I didn’t like. He is such a convincing actor, and he always seems to get the dirty-old-grandpa roles that fit him so well.

I would not recommend you go to the movies and pay for this, but hey, it’s 2020, it’s on Netflix, and if you have nothing better to do at 11:00pm and want to get a couple of hours of entertainment – don’t let me stop you.

Movie Review: Time Apart

Seb is a regular dude who finds a new girlfriend. One day, without warning, he just disappears. Or at least that’s what it looks like for us in the normal world. From his point of view, he simply wakes up a year later, skipping forward in time. From his girlfriend’s point of view, he was gone, and then, without explanation a year later, he comes back. It takes several of these jumps before the two of them figure this out. How do you have a relationship with a man who is only “with you” one day every year?

This movie is surprisingly well done for such a weird central concept. It’s a movie looking for a reason to exist, but, hey, it came out in 2020, what do we expect?

 

 

 

Movie Review: Chronological Order

Usually I put a photograph here that represents the movie, and if I can’t find a good one, at least the movie poster is better than nothing. I could not find any images for Chronological Order. Rotten Tomatoes does not have it listed at all, and IMDb has a listing with a few details, the trailer, but no images at all. And there are no images to be found relating to this movie in a Google image search.

That all tells you something, I guess.

This 2010 movie is about a guy named Guy – how creative – (Brett Jacobsen) who lives somewhere in a beach town in Southern California. All the scenes looked eerily familiar. Somehow, we never find out exactly how and why he is rich. Rich enough to have nothing to do. He has a lawyer named Murray (Vic Stagliano) who is also his best, and apparently only friend. There is also a dad that is part of the picture. Guy does not seem brilliant enough to have made his own money and sold out, and he also didn’t inherit it from his father, because we find out that he supports his father. But be that as it may.

One day Guy walks along the ocean and a door (with hinges and a door knob) washes up on the beach in front of him. We see him take the door home. It’s not clear how he manages that, since his only means of transportation is a bicycle. He must have walked home with the door, but that leaves the question on how he then got the bicycle home. I guess he made two trips.  The movie is full of plot holes like this.

Don’t ask how, but he figures out that when he mounts the door and walks through it, he travels back in time. This enables him to stalk himself in the past and leave notes for himself, presumably to change his life.

This is a bad movie, with a seriously flawed plot, poor execution, pretty bad and stilted acting, unrealistic dialog, especially between Guy and his father, and not much of a story line to follow.

I would normally give it one star at best, but I boosted it by a half, because of three small reasons: (1) I did chuckle occasionally about the quirky scenes with the door, (2) it’s a time travel story and I have an affinity for those, and (3), I found the score (the music) actually quirky and a bit refreshing.

Now don’t all run to Amazon Prime to watch this masterpiece, unless, of course, you’re time travel buffs. Then you have to.

Movie Review: Making Time

Nick is a young scientist who has always been obsessed with building a time machine. He was first in his class in high school, went on to study physics and lives in a modern house in the suburbs in Michigan. His focus is on his job, and he neglects his friends, and most importantly, Jess, his wife. She has stood with him and supported him through five years of courtship and another seven years of marriage, when by 2019, she has had enough. She leaves him, and the day she serves him with the divorce papers, she also brings a box of stuff that belongs to him.

Most notably, it contains a pocket watch she gave him on their 5th anniversary of their relationship, the day he had proposed to her. That’s the watch he’s holding up on the movie poster above. When she brings it back to him along with the divorce papers, he calls it “junk” since it hardly works, they get into an argument, and she smashes it with a hammer before she leaves the house .

That very night, federal agents from the Department of Energy bust into his house, act like they’re going to arrest him, and eventually make him an offer to buy his time machine. It’s not clear how they knew it was working, and it’s also not clear how Nick would be so obtuse about that fact with his wife, who has spent years of her life supporting him in this quest. Eventually, he leads the feds down into his basement. The lead agent is Dr. Kent, a physicist who, upon seeing the time machine, seems to immediately understand how it works, and within minutes Nick and Kent are on their way seven years into the past.

Through some amazing coincidence, they arrive in his basement seven years earlier just before his anniversary party, to which he has invited some of his friends and sister, without telling his wife, because he wants to mark the occasion by proposing marriage to her with his friends present. The arrival of the time travelers pops the breakers in his house in the basement, and Nick from seven years ago comes down to check on what’s going on. Nick meets Nick, and things get complicated fast after that.

Let me just say that the busted pocket watch serves a plot need, similar to how the watch in the classic time travel movie Somewhere in Time made us all marvel: where did the watch come from?

Making Time is a cute time travel movie, but the acting is sophomoric, the plot silly and oversimplified, and the entire story is therefore not credible. The federal agents are outright caricatures, the cast of friends somewhat confusing, and the two-scene structure of now and seven years ago is too obvious for a simple plot skeleton without enough meat on the bones. And the depiction of the time machine is comical and ridiculous.

As I said: Cute. But if you’re a time travel story buff like I, you gotta watch it.

 

Book Review: Prelude to Extinction – by Andreas Karpf

Mankind’s first mission to the stars has arrived at its destination. The trip took 10 years and due to the relativistic speed, dozens of years have gone by on Earth when Captain Jack Harrison and his small crew arrive.

They quickly find out that they are not the first intelligent beings that inhabited the new star system. There is evidence of systematic destruction and extermination.

In their quest to figure out what happened, they quickly become stranded and cut off from their ship. The science mission to explore a new star system quickly turns into a battle for sheer survival against impossible odds.

Prelude to Extinction is actually a good story with a lot of potential, sprinkled with unexpected twists, some of them aided by cosmological concepts like time dilation and distortion. It’s a somewhat hard science fiction story that quickly jumps over the science.

For instance, all the aliens use engines that can accelerate to practically the speed of light in minutes without the crews feeling any acceleration by doing some “alien tech” stuff without any regard to where the energy is going to come from, and how the ships will be protected at these speeds in the relatively crowded spaces of stars systems. I know it’s fiction, but the mixture of hard science fiction in the near future,  sprinkled with impossible technology of aliens millions of years ahead of us, just didn’t work very well for me. I also had trouble understanding that aliens so advanced seem to have nothing better to do than to try to exterminate any other species they come across, which is central to the plot.

But the worst of it is that the crew, the “best and brightest Earth has to offer” consistently act like boy scouts on a field trip at best. The captain constantly has trouble asserting his authority, and his crew of scientists keep making incredible blunders that just make no sense. By making all the human actors in the story morons, whose stupid actions eventually drive the plot along, the entire novel loses its sense of reality.

Prelude to Extinction is obviously a setup for a sequel. But the author really should hire an editor to fix the dozens, perhaps hundreds of typos and grammatical errors in this book, before writing another one.

I am passing on the next ones.