Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘One Star’ Category

Earthbound is the third in Haldeman’s “bound” trilogy. The first two were Marsbound and Starbound, which I have recently reviewed. I gave them only two stars and one star respectively, and usually I would not read any more books of a series that I rated so poorly. But I made an exception with Earthbound, because I wanted to know what happened next.

In Marsbound, the protagonists traveled to Mars, found Martians, came back to earth orbit quarantine, discovered an alien race with seemingly godlike powers, and were attacked by these aliens.

In Starbound, a group of seven humans and two Martians were sent to the star of the aliens, 25 lightyears away, as ambassadors for the human race. They got there and came back, but not much happened otherwise.

In Earthbound, the group that came back from traveling to and from the alien star for more than 50 years, who had aged only a few years due the time distortion factor that applies at relativistic speeds, found itself stranded on a military base in California. The evil aliens had turned off everything electric in the world. It’s not explained how they did that, and it’s certainly not clear what alien reasoning has made them do that, other than they don’t like other races who can become dangerous by acquiring technology. So Earthbound is really not a science fiction story anymore, but an Armageddon tale of survival in a world that has been thrown back to the technology of the 1800s, however, with a supply of guns and ammunition available in the late 2100s.

Nothing much happened in Earthbound otherwise.

Read Full Post »

Starbound picks up where Marsbound stopped. Humanity has decided to send a starship to Wolf 25, the home world of The Others.

The starship uses the “free energy” concept provided by The Others through the Martians to create a matter – anti-matter reaction engine. However, for that it needs reaction mass, which it obtains from a large ice asteroid. The asteroid is large enough to provide mass to travel the 25 light years to Wolf 25 and back with mass to spare. The ship accelerates at 1g all the way to the half-way point, at which time it will have reached more than 90% of the speed of light, when it turns around and then decelerates for the second half of the trip. Due to the relativistic speed, the crew will only age 6 years during the more than 25-year journey.

They should be able to meet The Others, and come back, all over the course of a little more than 12 years in their own lives, while more than 50 years will have passed on Earth.

Along the way, unexpected events change their plans and the “meeting” with The Others is not quite what they expected.

While the premise is exciting, and the first journey of a crewed trip to another star could be exciting, the author does not take advantage of the opportunity. There are conceptual problems with the plot, and the story-telling is stilted.

There are some concepts that just don’t make sense. For instance, the ship accelerates at 1g for half the trip. However, anyone studying relativity and doing the pretty simple math will realize that, from Earth’s frame of reference, if you’re accelerating at a constant rate of 1g, then you would reach near the speed of light in about one year. Why keep accelerating after that, particularly when there is a significant plot point about the Martians really suffering in the 1g Earth-standard gravity. They could have turned the engine off after one year, and they would arrive only very marginally later, after turning the engine on for braking again one year out. The whole thing just didn’t add up.

Another massive plot hole is that the entire premise is that the limit of the speed of light affects all races, including The Others. They can’t travel any faster than anyone else. However, somehow they are able to cause terrible destruction to humanity seemingly instantaneously, as the plot of the story will tell.

Yes, you may say this is science fiction, and the author has to right to make up the technology. But this does not work if on one side the author goes to great lengths building a world around the limitations and effects of general relativity, but on the other hand seems to break those rules in deus ex machina fashion all throughout the plot.

Finally, let’s talk about the crew. Humanity sends seven humans and two Martians as the world’s ambassadors to another star to meet a known very hostile race. Leaving the two Martians alone, the human crew consists of two married couples. The first are Carmen Dula and Paul Collier of Marsbound. The other are Meryl and Moonboy, the two xenologists of Marsbound. Then apparently to make things interesting, they add a triad (marriage of three) with two male “spies” and their mutual wife, Elza, who is a medical doctor who also happens to be a nymphomaniac. This causes all sorts of friction as she sleeps her way through the crew within the first few weeks. Why in the world would humanity set up a team of star travelers who would be cooped up in a spaceship tin-can for 12 years and not make sure there will be sexual stability for the journey? I assume it’s for plot purposes, so there is plenty of sex sprinkled into the story. I might add that the sex really does not work in this story.

The author also applies a strange concept of using three different narrators, switching between chapters. One is Carmen, the other in Namir, one of the spies, and the third is Fly-in-Amber, one of the Martians. I don’t see why that was necessary, as it didn’t add anything to the story as far as I could tell. But it was confusing, since I had to figure out who was talking every time a new chapter started with the protagonist speaking in the first person. He could have put the name of the narrator into the chapter title and made it a little more straightforward.

Starbound is a tale with a lot of possibilities, but those are completely wasted. Haldeman is a good story teller, and I enjoy his novels, but this one is just too poorly crafted and constructed, with a far-fetched a plot that I simply was not able to buy into.

Read Full Post »

The only other Brunner story I ever read was Lungfish, and here is my review.

Brunner wrote A Maze of Stars in 1991.

Somewhere, sometime in the distant future, humanity has left its birth world, Earth, and developed a starship with a mission of seeding new planets with humanity. After initial robotic missions, “the Ship” takes a load of humans and seeds about 600 planets in “the arm of stars” or just called “the Arm.”

There are about six hundred thousand stars visited by man, and sixty thousand have planets hospitable to life, six thousand have developed life and six hundred have been seeded with humanity. Only about 60 of those are fairly successful, and most of them are in some state of devolution.

The Ship is artificially intelligent and has become sentient. It’s been about 500 years since the planets were seeded, and the ship is on an endless loop, visiting the planets clandestinely and observing the outcome. The only problem is, the ship’s jumps through hyperspace, called tachyonic space in this book, result in various jumps in time in addition to space. The ship can’t control the time jumps. So it sometimes “remembers” the future of a planet it is visiting, because it has been there “before” which was far in the future.

Are you confused yet? I certainly was.

A Maze of Stars has a solid and interesting premise, basically observing what happens to humanity in adverse conditions, left to its own devices. Each planet is different. The ship visits the planets undetected, and it has this amazing technology that it can project itself as a realistic human being on the planet itself and interact with the people. It can also “remote view” scenes on the planet and be an observer. Finally, it can show such remote viewings to its passengers, sort of like an immersion movie.

One interesting premise is that most of the planets are hyper-concerned about germs, diseases and viruses that might come from other planets that they have no defense against. Much of the inter-planet trade or exchange is therefore blocked by the various planets, and interaction is severely minimized.

All of this sounds very interesting, but Brunner has made it completely boring and a real slog to read. Nothing happens. The ship simply visits one planet with a weird name after another. We observe pointless vignettes of action by cardboard characters that appear in one chapter only to completely disappear in the next. There is no story, there is no plot, there is no common thread, there is no suspense. And when there is an opportunity to make it interesting, Brunner misses it. For instance, he describes weird mutations but does not “describe” them leaving the reader helpless. He mentions exotic extraterrestrial animals, but does not even attempt to describe what they actually look like. And there are no sentient aliens in this story, even among 600 seeded planets – not one intelligent alien culture that has productively interacted with humanity.

A Maze of Stars is full of interesting concepts, each worth a book of its own, but none of them explored in any detail. The printed edition of the book was 393 pages long. I read the Kindle digital version, and it seemed like two volumes of War and Peace back to back – endless. It slowed down my reading and made me thirst for novels that actually have some plot, some story that keeps turning the pages.

 

 

Read Full Post »

Movie Review: Creep

Aaron is a freelance videographer. He answers an ad on Craigslist for a one-day job to videotape a man dying from brain cancer, who wants to leave a video journal of one day of his life for his unborn son. The instructions are for Aaron to tape himself driving up to the mountains. When he arrives and meets the man who hired him, Joseph, things turn creepy right away, and get more and more uncomfortable for Aaron as the day progresses. When Aaron is ready to leave in the evening, he can’t find his keys. Joseph convinces him In the next few days, the learns that the job wasn’t quite what he thought is was.

Creep is the 2014 movie we ended up choosing to watch on Halloween night, when the pandemic kept the streets empty of trick-or-treaters, and we were looking for a scary movie. There are exactly two actors in this movie, Aaron (Patrick Brice) and Joseph (Mark Duplass). It could have been a play.

This film would not win awards in cinematography, since the entire movie is filmed by a hand-held video camera. You hardly ever see both actors in the same frame, since one of them always holds to camera, consistent with the plot. The picture is always shaky, to the point where I felt dizzy at times. Creep got 89% from the critics on the Tomatometer, but I have to say I just found it – well – creepy. Being what it was, I expected that axe in the front yard of  the house in the mountains to have some role in the movie, and indeed it did in the end. But Creep did not draw me in. I watched it from a distance, so to say, as an exercise, rather than a movie I was drawn into by anything it offered. No music, bad pictures, shaky frames, very unlikable characters, silly plot, none of it spoke to me. While it didn’t specify the location, the scenery looked a lot like Big Bear, California to me, and I could relate to the cabin, having rented some there from time to time, and trails in the woods, and the scenes by the lake.

If you want to see a weird and creepy movie, do watch Creep, but don’t expect to write home about it afterwards.

 

Read Full Post »

 

Allen Gamble (Will Ferrell) and Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg) are two police detectives, both disgraced and sidelined. Terry has made some mistakes in the line of duty, and Allen would be better suited as an accountant rather than a cop, since he does not like to take any risks. Both are going to work every day to fill out paperwork for other cops.

When the two are assigned to a high-profile investigation of a sketchy rich guy, they must deal with their differences and inherently mismatched personalities to do the tough job of the cops they usually just idolize from a distance.

The Other Guys is a police comedy that came out in 2010. We watched it late one night to get our minds off the crappy national news. It’s the kind of unmemorable movie I would have completely forgotten about the next day, had I not taken a few notes right away so I could write this minimal review that says – just don’t bother.

Read Full Post »

In the last few days I watched the “trilogy” movies Atlas Shrugged, parts I, II and III. I put trilogy into parentheses because it’s not really a trilogy, but I am getting ahead of myself…

The trilogy is based on the novel by Ayn Rand of the same name. The novel is one of the longest written in the English language with 645,000 words and over 1,000 pages. I read the book in 2008 and wrote a review here. I gave it three stars. Atlas Shrugged is a book you cannot shrug off, and it leaves a mark on you, it alters your thinking, and it is just as relevant in the age of Trump as it ever was, or perhaps more so. Before I get into the movie review, therefore, here is my plug. Go and read Atlas Shrugged, it is worth it, and it will change the way you think about our society.

Browsing the movie offerings on Amazon Prime in pandemic stupor, I came across the Atlas Shrugged Trilogy:

Atlas Shrugged: Part I – came out in 2011.

Atlas Shrugged: Part II – The Strike – 2012

Atlas Shrugged: Part III – Who is John Galt? – 2014

I watched the first movie and it struck me that it was pretty poorly done and that it didn’t do the book justice at all. Also, it played in the “near future” of 2017 – which for 2011 is reasonably far away. I thought that didn’t work. Atlas Shrugged plays in the 1950s, it is about railroads, steel and rust-belt industries in general. They have telephones and railroads. Commercial air travel is still in its infancy. By placing the story into the age of smartphones, Apple, and Facebook, but still dealing with the subject matter of making a railroad work, just does not play very well. It would have been much more effective if the movie had played in the original time period, mid 20th century. It would have been more authentic.

Then I watched the second movie and I was completely jarred. All the actors of the main characters were completely different. Yes, Dagny, the protagonist, was still a young blonde woman. Her assistant, Eddie, was still a black man. But that’s where the similarities stopped. They didn’t even try. All the characters that played in Part I had roles in Part II, but all the actors were different.

Enter Part III. AGAIN all the actors changed. Every. One. Of. Them.

This was truly bizarre. It was hard to watch. The most jarring character changes were those for Ellis Wyatt and Francisco d’Anconia.

I am not even going to go into the story line here, since I won’t recommend you watch the movies, but I have to tell you something funny.

Today, via email, a good friend from high school asked me about a classmate, and he praised my memory of details from 45 years ago. What had gone completely obscure and murky for him were vivid images for me, completely clear. We remember what we choose is important for us, and we forget events and people that had no impact.

Memory is selective. I just experienced this now when I sat down to write this review about the trilogy. Since I remembered reading the book a long time ago, I did a search for the title and found it. But guess what else I found? This review I wrote in 2012 about, you guessed it, Atlas Shrugged: Part I. It was actually pretty good, and it’s a better review of the movie than this is. I encourage you to read it.

So – in 2020 – in pandemic boredom – I watched all three parts of Atlas Shrugged and absolutely had no recollection first of watching the movie, then of writing a pretty extensive review and coming pretty much to the same conclusion – don’t bother.

Atlas Shrugged, the movies, are so bad that you’ll likely forget you ever watched them in the first place.

 

 

Read Full Post »

Ellen Martin’s (Meryl Streep) husband dies during a cruise on Lake George. When she tries to collect on an insurance policy, her hapless journey eventually leads her to Panama City and the world of shell companies the rich of the world are using to amass larger fortunes on the backs of ordinary citizens. The movie tells the story of the famed Panama Papers scandal that quickly created a straw fire in early 2016 before the tumultuous presidential elections and the ensuing Trump administration stole the headlines.

It’s ironic that a story about how the rich evade taxes, cheat their own countries, through complex webs of fraud and worthless paper was told just before we elected Trump. But there are other books written about that.

The Laundromat tells this story awkwardly, not quite a movie, but not quite a documentary either. I kept watching, but I was quite unsatisfied at the end.

You can pass on this one, unless, of course, you’re working on a paper about the Panama Papers.

 

Read Full Post »

The picture above shows a piece of the demolished Death Star crashed into an ocean on some planet. I always like pictures of crashed space ships (or in this case huge space stations) on some planet, hidden by clouds and mist and off in the distance. Star Trek had a few shots of spaceships sitting on the ground from time to time, and Star Wars does the same. And that shot, and a few of the scenes that come along with it, were the most interesting and enjoyable part of the movie.

This movie is rated only 53% on the Tomatometer. We went to see it because we had seen the other eight Star Wars movies over the last 42 years, and “we just can’t stop now” even though everyone said there isn’t much to go and see. The Star Wars series is an epic, and in such, it shaped my entire life of enjoying science fiction.

So what about The Rise of Skywalker?

  • I don’t know what the title means. I didn’t see any Skywalker rising.
  • There aren’t any decent aliens. All the aliens have only cameo roles in the background, mostly lasting a fraction of a second, not enough to enjoy them. The few aliens that speak are the trite humanoids, as usual. Whatever happened to the classic bar scenes?
  • Sword fights. What’s with the light sabers in every Star Wars movie? I get it. Wars waged by huge fleets of thousands of advanced battle ships miles long in size with weapons that can destroy planets are ultimately solved by two young people and their swords. The sword fights are always boring. Nobody ever gets hurt, they just go on and on, and I simply find myself waiting for them to be over. This is the case in every Star Wars movie. Half of this movie seems to be sword fights.
  • Stealing from the classic theme of Independence Day, where the alien mothership is attacked and defeated by pilot jockeys in fighter jets, the same thing happens in this movie: A thousand ships suddenly materialize in the sky over this planet where the entire battle cruiser fleet is for some reason suspended, and they, by their sheer numbers, eliminate the battle cruisers.
  • Then there is the invincible emperor, who has magical telekinetic powers, that are eventually matched by one Jedi with two swords. Deus ex machina.

There was no story that I cared about. There was no plot that I could follow. There were no characters that I could empathize with. There was no technology or space travel gear that was interesting. The movie makers just packed as much Star Wars legacy and as many characters into two hours and twenty minutes that they could to make a bang ending to the series.

But I think it fizzled.

After all, where was Jar Jar Binks? (backstory here)

 

 

Read Full Post »

Ivy is a 37-year-old divorced mother of twin girls of sixteen. She is on her way to visit them, driving down a freeway in rural Virginia when the road suddenly is buckled up and destroyed in front of her. She gets out, along with a few other people in other cars and tries to figure out what might have happened, when she is thrown into a time warp of sorts. Along with Harper, another stranger, a 33-year-old man, she wakes up and finds herself in a primeval forest.

Long story short, they were thrown back in time about 17,000 years to when North America was still full of large fauna, including giant bears and saber tooth tigers. The very first humans had just come from Asia and had made their way across the American continent.

Ivy happens to have a notebook with her and writes a journal of their story of survival in a Paleolithic wilderness. Her journal is the book. Ivy tells the story in the first person present tense.

There is nothing really happening in the story, other than the description of their day to day efforts to survive and possibly thrive. The plot is simple and way too simplistic to be credible. It’s almost like a fairy tale for an 8-year-old audience. The language is stilted and unreal, and the ease with which everything goes smoothly for them just does not ring true.

Reading about that time in history reminded me of The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel which I read many decades ago and remember as a very good book. So reading Pushed Back prompted me to download that book so I could read it again, or at least give it a try.

The language in Pushed Back is juvenile and full of trite expressions. I’ll give you one example. The author likes to use the word “friggen” to create a feeling of astonishment that she apparently can’t impart otherwise.

When Harper kills a wild pig with his spear, Ivy says:

“Oh my gosh, you are a friggen master hunter!” I crowed in joy.
— Ison, S.A.. Pushed Back: A Time Traveler’s Journal (p. 158). Kindle Edition.
I guess it’s ok to use this word in this context when Ivy quotes herself directly. However, this word is used five more times throughout the book. Here are the other examples:
  • a friggen giant sloth
  • the Paleolithic friggen era
  • after seeing the big friggen sloth
  • that was friggen amazing
  • just as friggen fast
Ok, the author likes “friggen” but to my astonishment, she also likes “fricken” as in the other two examples:
  • I mean really fricken screwed.
  • What? Fricken dandelions.
Maybe you are thinking I am being petty, and maybe I am, but these are just a few examples of the repetitive use of trite expressions and made-up words that may be part of colloquial American life, but it sounds friggen stupid in a book.
Then, of course, there are the numerous punctuation, spelling, grammatical and even tense errors that should have been found by an editor or, if too expensive, a friend, who should have read the book at least once before it was published and sold. But alas, that’s apparently acceptable in modern publishing.

This is listed as Book 1 in the time travel series, but I could not find a Book 2 yet. Checking S. A. Ison’s work, I see she specializes in survival material and post-apocalyptic stories, with several series of books in that general subject matter.

Given the poor presentation, the sloppy editing, the vapid language, the flat plot and the superficial characters of Pushed Back, I think I am done reading S. A. Ison books.

Read Full Post »

Humanity has created an empire that spans many stars and planets in the nearer galactic neighborhood. Jeff is the executive officer on a warship with a crew of ten. The ships have faster-than-light travel capability. They emerge near their targets at speeds close to the speed of light, unleash their planet-destroying bombs and then, hopefully, speed up again into hyperspace to escape. But the defenses are just as lethal, and Jeff’s ship is the only one of a squadron of five that survives the attack, albeit seriously damaged.

They manage to find a nearby object they think is an asteroid and perform an emergency landing on it. As they approach, they realize it’s not an asteroid, but a giant alien ship with a diameter of 600 miles. Having no choice, they land on it and are admitted inside.

The ship’s artificial intelligence speaks flawless English. It claims it has been intercepting human media transmissions for centuries and has had the opportunity to learn the languages and the cultures. The ship promises to take them home, but the journey would take six months, due to the limitation of the hyperspace travel capabilities of the vessel. The crew takes this opportunity to explore the ship.

It does not take long before they discover the first of them killed in a most gruesome manner. As they search further, they find ancient secrets of horror that threaten not only them, but all mankind.

The Dark Ship is the second book by Phillip Peterson I have read. The other was Flight 39. Peterson writes originally in German and his books are translated. The translations are good and I see no reason why I’d want to read his books in the original German. Peterson knows how to tell a story.

In the case of The Dark Ship, which is much more of a hard science fiction book than Flight 39 was, I was distracted by the fairly lax application of building a reality. Most of the technology applied seemed magic, and I am not talking about the alien technology.

The human space ships seem to travel at relativistic speeds on their missions between hyperspacial jumps, yet there seems to be no effect of time dilation on human society. The fact that a crew would return home decades after it left for a mission is completely ignored. It’s not necessary for the plot in this case, but it just made the story unreal. When the ships travel near planets and stars at speeds approaching the speed of light, there is no mention of how the ships protect themselves from the space dust and other debris that would be intensely thick near a planetary system, making such speeds impractical or impossible.

On a smaller scale, they use seemingly magical military space suits with apparently endless energy supplies. Since the inside of the dark ship is dark everywhere, they rely on their flashlights or headlamps for light, and those, too, seem to be powered with endless power supplies. I could go on and on with examples like this. None of those examples take away from the story line, but for me they made the experience unreal and there is too much deus ex machina going on for it to seem realistic.

The story itself revolves around the crew finding the truth about the alien ship and its ancient mission. To do that, they go on a journey to the interior of the ship. Remember, at a diameter of 600 miles, it’s a 300 mile journey – on foot. That means there are lengthy passages of corridors and more corridors that the crew has to travel down with not much going on to move to plot forward. That makes the book somewhat of a tedious read.

In summary, The Dark Ship is a reasonably entertaining science fiction story, but not one I would want to read again or one that would entice me to read more books by this author.

Read Full Post »


The Diaries of Adam and Eve is a classic by a classic writer. I would never have thought of picking it up had it not been for Wolfgang’s recommendation:

Kennst Du das “Tagebuch von Adam und Eva” von Mark Twain (Diary of Adam and Eve)? Herrlich! Weltklasse! Diesmal keine Übertreibung!

[Do you know the “Diaries of Adam and Eve” by Mark Twain? Glorious! Worldclass! This time no hyperbole!]

So I picked up the book. It’s a very short book and a quick read.

Adam comes back from a tracking trip near Niagara Falls and is baffled by the presence of another creature that suddenly appeared in his life and won’t stop chattering – Eve. Then eventually, we get to read Eve’s point of view, which is entirely different than that from Adam’s. When they get expelled from paradise, they end up in Tonawanda – or something like that. Then the first baby comes along, and Adam thinks it’s a fish at first, then a bear, and it takes him a very long time to figure out Cain is a little human.

This book is a classic, written by a master. I love Mark Twain’s writing. But I could not make sense of The Diaries. I absolutely do not know what to do with it. The story is puerile. Perhaps he wrote it for youth and their amusement. I can’t tell if the whole thing is supposed to be a fable, or sarcasm, a parody, or just pure fun. To me, it’s none of the above. To me, it was just silly.

I have a hard time rating a book by one of America’s great writers poorly, but honestly, I don’t know what to do with The Diaries of Adam and Eve. I can’t, in good conscience, recommend that anyone bother to read it.

Read Full Post »

Two and a half hours of action scenes and a plot no human could possibly follow. About half-way through I was ready to be done. If you want action thrillers, I guess that’s your movie. Rotten Tomatoes gave it 97%.

All I can remember the day after is: long, endless motorcycle chases, Paris cops, helicopters, mountains, and badass anarchists with stolen plutonium and nuclear weapons. And, ah, CIA and spies and double agents and triple agents.

Here is my review:

 

Don’t bother!

Read Full Post »

Portal to the Forgotten: A time travel story

Tyler and Grace, a young couple in rural Arkansas, are out for a walk in the Ozarks, when Grace suddenly disappears into thin air on the trail right in front of Tyler. When Tyler tries to explain this to the authorities later he is arrested for suspected murder of his girlfriend.

Luke is Tyler’s cousin. His hobby is building primitive weapons, hunting with primitive weapons and tools, and playing survivalist in the woods of Arkansas. When he hears about Grace’s disappearance, the believes Tyler, and he goes on a quest to figure out what happened. On this way, a mystery woman who claims to be a writer, befriends him and they retrace the steps of Tyler and Grace.

Sure enough, there seems to be a “portal” in the woods. They traverse the portal and end up in “another dimension.” But they don’t have much time to reflect. Luke finds himself in a net, trapped like game in the woods by tribal savages.

Portal to the Forgotten is sold as a time travel story, and that’s how I stumbled upon it. But it really has little to do with time travel. The protagonists are simply tossed into a world that is completely different from their own, with seemingly no way back.

The author romanticizes his characters. Luke, for instance, happens to be a primitive hunter. He drives his pickup truck into the wilderness, parks the truck, walks away, sort of like they do in Naked and Afraid, and builds tools, hunts animals, and lives off the land. That’s his hobby. Supposedly he is REALLY good at that. Now what are the odds of such a person ending up jumping through a portal into a primitive prehistoric world, without any weapons or tools? Yes, the plot in this story is too contrived.

Luke is the perfect primitive hunter, better than any of the tribal adversaries. Moon turns out to be a one-man army – think of Rambo. Grace, a martial artist, is also a fighter in her own right. So the people stumbling into the “other dimension” are all super heroes with super hero skills.

The land where they end up is not quite the past, or perhaps the deep past, but a prehistoric world full of different tribes, some more advanced than others, but who all are killing each other. The world is so savage, that every time two human males of different tribes cross paths, one of them dies. Of course, our super hero crew always wins, and the savages fall like leaves. Still, a society where human males always kill each other on contact would not survive very long, but that seems to be the world they are thrown into. And let’s not forget, there is the obligatory Nazi named Karl who time traveled to the same world in an effort to steal ancient technology, kind of like in Indiana Jones. True to expectation, it’s the Nazi and his mission who makes everyone’s lives complicated.

Portal to the Forgotten is a somewhat clumsy story with an unlikely plot. It starts out interesting, but as it evolves, it gets boring. There is a lot of editing needed. Sometimes the author uses wrong words or poor grammar. The book could use some professional editing. There is a lot of exposition, where the author tells us what the protagonists are thinking. So we are constantly in the heads of the protagonists, and their thoughts are often just puerile.

For instance, at one point in the story, still back in the Ozarks, Moon had passed out drunk and naked and Luke had brought her into the cabin and put her into bed. So it’s established that Luke had seen Moon naked before.

But later, in savage land, there is the following passage:

“While you are whittling on that, I’m going to bathe.” She stood. “I trust you won’t look.” Luke immediately turned red. He hated himself for it. “That is so cute.” He turned redder and scraped harder and faster, wished she would just go bathe. He heard her behind him taking her clothes off. He was tempted to look, but he was too embarrassed to say anything, much less turn around.

Gschwend, John. Portal to the Forgotten: A time travel story (p. 55). UNKNOWN. Kindle Edition.

The passage continues for a while where Moon is all prissy about standing in front of the fire to dry off and making Luke close his eyes. So these two adult super heroes are stranded in a wild country and they are worried about seeing each other naked? The book is full of descriptions of such unlikely and inconsistent behavior, it makes the characters unreal and incongruent.

Portal to the Forgotten has too much crammed into the story that does not belong there or add to the plot. The science is babble-science. I like my science fiction to the SCIENCE fiction. The plot is contrived and the characters are just not very interesting.

There is a sequel, but I won’t read it.


 

Read Full Post »

Two brothers live together in their boring, unsatisfying lives. One day a package arrives in the mail which contains a video message that eventually inspires them to go back to a cult where they were born and raised many years ago. They drive down to San Diego – I can tell because they pass the San Onofre nuclear power plant in our neighborhood – and then up into the hills in the Julian area. The entire movie plays in a camp in the highlands in eastern San Diego County – an area that I call home and where I have spent much time hiking. There are also a few scenes that were shot in the Borrego Springs area.

In the camp there are a couple of dozen goofy characters living odd lives. Strange things happen. Slowly, ever so subtly, the brothers are pulled back into the community. They stay an extra day, then another one, and soon it becomes clear they might not leave at all.

The Endless is an impossibly boring movie with no plot whatsoever, that goes on – well – endlessly. It’s also a very low-budget movie. They needed one car, access to a mountain camp, some twenty actors, most of them without any speaking roles, and very few props or costumes of any type. Even the special effects are cheesy and cheap. The story makes no sense. There really isn’t an end, and the moral is supposed to be that we’re all trapped in our lives, in endless loops, longer or shorter, repeating day after day, or week after week, or minute after minute.

Good grief! How this got 96% on the Tomatometer is beyond me!

Save yourself the endless, pointless, listless agony and don’t bother with this movie.

Half a star for the movie, and another half a one for the soundtrack – typical horror-suspense but at least somewhat enjoyable.


 

Read Full Post »

As I have done for pretty much all my life, when a new Star Wars movie comes out, I go see it within the first few days. It is a ritual, a rite, something I do, and I know it’s the same for many of my contemporaries.

As usual with Star Wars, I can’t really follow the plot. There are always people who are on far-away planets who are needed for help with some impossible task and emissaries go to find those people. Then there are the mysterious telepathic connections between the Jedi and his disciples, which transcend time and space. Luke, who is the protagonist of this movie, is not very satisfying as a character. He is the last Jedi, but a burned-out one, a reluctant one, and a lot of the movie’s energy is spent on making Luke just do the right thing. To me, that is not much of a plot.

My favorite and repeated complaint with Star Wars is about its disregard for physics. Spaceships don’t fly, they just wink in and out of ordinary space when they go into lightspeed seemingly without acceleration. Except when it’s the old Millennium Falcon, which seems to have superpowers and always flies like a fighter plane in the atmosphere, pulling tight curves, whether it’s in space or not. Fighters continue to fly like there is air, and orbital dynamics is completely ignored.

My most enjoyable experience with Star Wars is usually its depiction of aliens in ordinary settings. I can think of the classic bar scenes that seem to be customary in all episodes. This time, there is only a short sequence in a casino, where there are a few aliens, but they are all humanoids. It seems the entire Star Wars galaxy has devolved into humans with head masks. I am sure that’s to make production cheap, but it’s trite and uninspiring to me. Why isn’t there ever a real alien that is part of the mainline plot? No, I don’t mean another Jar Jar Binks, who himself was nothing but a human in an amphibious suit.

This episode does not tell much of a story and seems to exist only to set the stage for the sunsetting of the two characters most intimately associated with Star Wars: Luke Skywalker (played by Mark Hamill, of course) and Princess Lea (played for the last time by the late Carrie Fisher). We say our good byes to both of them, amid a story of fireballs of exploding ships, spaceships racing in tight spaces, comical droids, rubber-mask aliens, desert rust-bucket floater-ship races and a Wookie.

There is nothing new in this episode. The franchise has run out of original ideas and every movie is just a collection of old concepts and special effects, rendered on a new stage, in a slightly different story between good and evil.

True to Star Wars legacy, every conflict in the galaxy is eventually resolved by a swordfight between two humans. All the action stops, high-tech weaponry goes silent, armies of star troopers vanish, spaceships float inactively, the crescendo of the music rises, and the light sabers zap out of their handles. Plot resolved. Deus ex machina.

Will I go see the next episode in a year or so?

Probably.

 

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: