Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Scorched


Scorched is book one in the Scorched series by Mari Mancusi. The easiest way to describe this series is that it is the cross between The Terminator and that dragon apocalypse movie with Matthew McConaughey/Christian Bale, Reign of Fire. Not to sound like Stefon from Saturday Night Live, but this book has everything, dragons, time travel, evil twins, maybe not so evil twins, love triangles, men in black, secret societies, cults, telepathy... and that already might be saying too much.

Trinity Foxx is trying to be a normal girl. Emphasis on trying. Her mother committed suicide, her did is out of the picture, and she has been living with her eccentric grandfather. She is also trying to keep her grandfathers fossil/roadside attraction museum afloat. Then he goes and buys what he calls a dragon egg that he paid someone to dig out of the arctic. Connor and Caleb are twin brothers from the future whose father was killed by a dragon. They have taken different paths ever since. Connor goes back in time to destroy the egg and prevent the word from being burned up by dragons. Caleb goes back in time to save the last dragon egg and help Trinity and her dragon user in a new age of peace and prosperity where dragons will save humanity.

If you have not already read Scorched, you will probably pick this trio as the love triangle and you will be correct. But love triangle might be too strong of a word. I knocked one of Mari's other books, Tomorrow Land, a bit for having a bit much teen angst and romance. And yes, I know it is a YA book. But FYI, I still enjoyed that novel. In scorched, while Trinity does develop feelings for each of the brothers, there is no big romantic subplot here. The focus is mainly on Trinity's evolution. The book has a pretty quick pace as Trinity's world falls apart and begins again with a dragon. There are some good twists in the story. Mari does a good job at keeping you wondering who the evil twin is, or are they both just being manipulated. And are dragons really all that bad or will they scorch the earth?

I enjoyed this book and while mixing the fantasy genera of dragons with the sci-fi element of time travel might seem a bit too much to handle in one story, Mari does strike a good balance. The method of time travel isn't explained in this book. It might later on, but unless you are a picky about that kind of thing, the story doesn't really need to get technical. If you can suspend your disbelief about dragons in the modern world, then you should not be bothered by the lack of technicalities of time travel. I didn't bother me. I look forward to the next books, Shattered and Smoked.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Captain America: Civil War



This is the end of the Avengers as we know it. Or at least until the next movie. Captain America: Civil War could really be the third Avengers movie. It is primarily Cap/Bucky oriented, but this is an Avengers story with everyone showing up. Well, not Thor and Hulk. You have to wait for Thor: Ragnarok to see them two again. Two external forces are responsible for the Avengers breakup. First, The Sokovia Accords. Carrying over from the Civil War crossover series from Marvel Comics, the word governments decide that enhanced beings are too dangerous to remain unchecked. Not only do the accords require people with powers to register themselves, The Avengers can now only act with the approval of the UN. Second,the death of King T'Chaka in what looked like a terrorist attack carried out by the Winter Soldier (aka Bucky Barnes).

As we see all the strings are being pulled by Zemo in an attempt to get revenge on the Avengers for his family dying in Socovia during Ultron's attack. We also get to go deeper into The Winter Soldier program, learning that Bucky was only the first and that Bucky was the one who assassinated Tony Stark's father and mother. But to be fair, Bucky was in has brainwashed state up until the end of the last Captain America film. So if you are reading this, you have already seen the film so you know all this. I just want to make a few points.

1. Sharon Carter. We learn that Agent 99 is the niece of Peggy Carter. The Peggy Carter that has a funeral in this film. Steve Rogers and Sharon Carter kiss in this film not long after the funeral. Did anyone else feel like this new love interest for Cap was a tad bit forced? Not to mention isn't it a little weird for Cap to be romantically involved with the niece of the woman he loved.... not long after the funeral?

2. The new Avengers. Black Panther, Spider-Man, and Ant-Man and the new arrivals to the franchise. We have already seen Ant-Man in his solo film and Paul Rudd was fantastic blending into an already packed roster. This is the first times we get to see Black Panther and Spider-Man. Chadwik Bowsman is great as T'Challa. He had a lot to live up to bringing a character to the screen that has never been on film. And speaking of a lot to live up to, Tom Holland nailed it as Spider-Man. For one, seeing Spider-Man onscreen with the Avengers was amazing, bot Tom had just the right amount of humor and youthfulness on screen. Oh, and back to Ant-Man, the Giant Man sequence was a fantastic surprise.

3. Blame it all on Tony Stark. Call the whole Iron Man saga a tale of Stark overcompensating for something. Tony Stark feels guilty about something and goes overboard to correct it. Or he does something that comes back to haunt him. Basically his whole story arc.

4. It was also refreshing to see The Avengers in a non-cosmic struggle. While I am anticipating The Infinity War, it is good to keep some stories more grounded in the Earthly realm. It's also interesting to see the Avengers tackle some political/moral problems more relevant to real life. But the cosmic stuff is pretty entertaining too.

This was a fun film. The Russo Brothers did a great job directing and really pulling the whole thing together. They have pretty big shoes to fill taking control of the Avengers saga now that Joss Whedon is taking a break but it looks as though the MCU is in good hands.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

You're Never Weird on the Internet (almost)


And you thought you were awkward and weird growing up? Felicia Day's book, You're Never Weird on the Internet (almost) is a way to look back on your awkward youth and think, "okay, maybe I wasn't that bad." But in a good way. This memoir will tell you everything you need to know about how this nerd queen (though she does not see herself that way) came to be molded into the person we admire. The super short answer, blame it on her mom. Kidding. Sort of. But there is more to it than that.

The book details a childhood moving a lot and a particular brand of homeschooling that some might call "home schooling." While Felicia's mother could possibly have been over encouraging, the end result of Felicia's upbringing combined with an apparent natural talent for music and math, and the the influence of the internet formed one of the bright lights in nerd culture. The book also highlights how gaming (and internet gaming) would be both a blessing and a curse to Felicia Day.

In a weird way, reading about her life you kind of both wish you grew up the same way and thank god you didn't. The weirdness of her childhood might not have worked so well on some of us. But then again, maybe we all could have benefited with a little more weirdness growing up. But moving on... The various adventures and experiences Felicia had growing up are interesting, entertaining, and in some cases a tad head scratching. I mean, there is some alternate timeline where Felicia Day is a Tejano singer in Texas. What would that have looked like?


Sometimes I have way too much time on my hands.

Anyway...  You're Never Weird on the Internet also gives you the the story of how the acclaimed web series The Guild came to be. Which still is one of the best things on the internet in my opinion. Felicia Day's memoir is an fascinating look into a not so normal life. But obviously, "normal" may not always be the best life. Even though she had her trials and tribulations she managed to not only be successful, but build her own brand and business and be someone who the rest of us nerds can look up to. More importantly, You're Never Weird on the Internet also shows us that being weird and/or different (on the internet or real world) does not have to mean you can't be happy.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Mr. Robot


How to describe Mr. Robot.... Well first of all it is a fantastic series. What starts off as sort of a heist type thriller story involving hackers/hacktivists vs. corporate evil steadily becomes more of a psychological thriller. Typically I'd throw out spoilers, but this series is so good, I really don't want to give anything away to anyone. I know not everyone has seen Mr. Robot. There are just way too many good shows out there. Rami Malik is Elliot Anderson, a coder/hacker who works for an information security firm called Allsafe.


Ellot suffers from severe paranoia, delusions, and as we come to find out, sporadic memory loss. The series starts with a major cyber attack on E Corp, the biggest client of Allsafe. Although whenever someone mentions E Corp, Elliot perceives it as Evil Corp. Kinda a shot across the bow of corporate America. The corporate logo is even a purposely similar to the Enron logo.


Elliot is the only one who is able to stop the intrusion. In doing so he finds a file within the code that is directed at him. He is given the chance to delete the file or leave it in place and see what the hackers want from him. Unable to let go of the mystery, he leaves the file in place, hiding it so that he is the only one who knows it is there. We start to see how far down the rabbit hole goes when Elliot meets Mr. Robot.


Christian Slater, who's character is only referred to as Mr. Robot, is the the mysterious leader of a hacktivist group called fsociety. Their symbol is a hybrid of the Guy Fawkes mask (made popular by the film, V For Vendetta, and used by the hacktivist group Anonymous) and the the face of Monopoly guy. They are on a mission to completely destroy Evil Corp, the banking system in general, and erase the debt of all Americans, thus freeing society.


The entire season 1 arc revolves around fsociety setting up the cyber attack. We also get to see the subplots of other characters including Elliot's best friend and co-worker at Allsafe, Angela Moss, played by Portia Doubleday. They have know each other since childhood and both lost parents to the effects of a chemical spill attributed to Evil Corp. Actually, in a way the fsociety operation is really just the background for Elliot's deteriorating psychological condition. And as the series progresses we get to see how damaged all the characters are, and I do mean ALL. Well, maybe except for Elliot's boss at Allsafe. The poor guy just wants to run a good company and gets caught up in all the fallout. The series also peels back the layers of Evil Corp and the "too big to fail" notion as well as the darker side of hactivists and criminal hacking groups who sometimes cooperate when need be. Well, in this series anyway. I have no knowledge or experience with that stuff in the real world. I just wish I had those skills. Mr. Robot is a great psychological thriller/drama that has plenty of "What the..." moments that keep things plenty interesting. I look forward to season 2.


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Deadpool


Oh, this is the spoliery kind of review, so... SPOILER ALERT

As it has been said many times, it is really a miracle that Deadpool is even a movie. By sheer force of will, it seems Ryan Reynolds was able to push through a film that is ground breaking in many respects even though it is a simple revenge story with what is still (though that may change now) cult favorite character. Impressive making 150 million over the Valentines/Presidents day weekend, Deadpool is now that highest grossing movie with a February premier, highest grossing rated R premier, and highest grossing X-Men movie premier. It also opened better then the first Spider-Man film and Man of Steel. And all this with a budget of only $58 million.

So for the uninitiated, who is Deadpool? This simple story is that Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), an ex-special operations soldier who worked as a mercenary got cancer, volunteered for a super soldier program that was supposed to cure his cancer, and got really messed up in the process. In the comics, Deadpool got his extreme healing ability from Wolverine's (aka Logan/Hugh Jackman in the movies) DNA. In the film Wade's latent mutant powers were activated through extreme experimentation. In the comics, and in the film as it seems but is not explicitly stated, Wade is not cured of cancer. The cancer spreads throughout his body at an inhuman rate and his mutant healing powers are constantly fighting it. This has the effect of giving Wade his physical deformities, looking like a burn victim. Or as stated in the previews, "You look like an avocado had sex with an older avocado."

You have probably heard by this point that the film is hilarious. And it is. It is also great for the numerous pop culture references (that might go over the heads of the younger audience) as well as direct references to Ryan Reynolds himself, the much hated Green Lantern film, and the X-Men Origins: Wolverine film where Deadpool first appeared on screen. There is a lot there for the hard core comic and Deadpool fans to love, but most of the jokes are not so obscure that a normal person can't enjoy the film. A lot Deadpool's story comes directly from the comic, featuring characters like Weasel (T.J. Miller), Blind Al (Leslie Uggams), and featuring the bar where Wade hung out a lot and received his contracts. The villain Ajax/Francis (Ed Skrein) also comes directly out of Deadpool's comic book origin story.

When the movie was revealed to be R rated, I was a little worried about the language factor. It happens with a lot of things that when license is given to use foul language it like giving a kid permission to cuss. It just gets over used and becomes a crutch to be "edgy." I was happy to see that this was not the case. If there is an appropriate level of cussing that would take place in real world situations, Deadpool struck that balance dead on. My only beef is the nudity. Yeah, okay, I am a bit of a prude when it comes to stuff like that. The nudity in question comes along with Stan Lee's most bizarre film cameo ever. No, he isn't nude. Stan is the DJ of a strip club. And it being a strip club, there is blatant nudity. Wade goes there to find his girlfriend, Vanessa Carlysle (Morena Baccarin), when he finds out the bad guys are after her. He doesn't get there in time of course. But back to the strippers. Two things, I've real a lot of the Deadpool comics, and sexual humor and situations are not a rarity. It adds to the weird charm of Deadpool. But there was no nudity. Although I cannot speak for the MAX line of comics that features Deadpool and a few other character that is not meant for younger readers. It just seemed like an excuse to get naked women on camera. Secondly, this being a "super hero" film and all, this is what had to be what the "real" world is like? Anyway, that is all I have to say on the topic. It's a flaw in the film in my opinion, but not something that ruins a movie that is spectacular. The only other issue is that all the previews prior to the film's release gave away a lot of the jokes.

So back to the good things. Pairing Deadpool with Collosus (Stefan Kapičić) was fantastic. Especially when this version of Collosus was a huge boy scout. So much of a boyscout that he even took a pause in battle to let his opponent, Angel Dust (Gina Carano), know that her breast had popped out. Angel Dust thought it was a real sweet gesture. Then she hit him. Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), and yest that is the character's name, was pretty awesome for the small amount of time she was on screen. These two official X-Men characters also solidify Deadpool as being in the X-Men universe and will not doubt lead to Wade appear in other X-films and hopefully other X-Men stars making cameos in his film franchise. With this film's success, Deadpool is going to be a franchise.

Directed by Tim Miller, Deadpool is a fantastic film that blows out the mold for superhero movies. It even breaks the 4th wall x16. (If you saw the movie, you'll get it. If not, you'll get it when you do see it.) And this is a hard R film, so leave the kids at home. (Not that that stopped some people.) Oh, did anyone notice the decommissioned aircraft carrier where the final battle took places looked kind of like a hellicarrier? It was also nice to see Bob. (comic reference)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Reason For Dragons


The last thing a high school outcast needs out of life is something really weird happening. Wendell hasn't built and form of relationship with his stepfather aside from feeling awkward and intimidated by him. His stepfather Ted is big... and intimidating. Telling Wendel stories like how he annihilated a guy for scratching his pride and joy, a motorcycle named Lilly doesn't help the situation. Wendell’s only peace comes from going to the woods and escaping into a book. But that peace doesn't last when the local school bullies challenge Wendel to a feat of bravery. Grab some programs from the grounds of an abandoned renaissance fair that is allegedly haunted. It should have been easy. But then he meets a medieval knight… who is tasked to slay a dragon… that just might be real.

This is both a coming of age story and a tale of redemption. The very unlikely insanity that happens on the renaissance fair grounds not only helps Wendel to grow up, but it also accomplishes another seemingly unlikely feat, Wendel and Ted form a bond. It is also the tale of Sir Habersham, a knight who just might be crazy, but might also be telling the truth about a dragon.

Created by Chris Northrup with art by Jeff Stokely, The Reason For Dragons comes from the ashes of a cartoon Northrup was creating with artist and writer, Sean Murphy. The laptop with all their work was stolen. But fortunately for us, we still get to experience the story. In this books introduction, Murphy recounts the tale of how The Reason For Dragons came to be this graphic novel published by Archaia Entertainment. The main story is not too long. It's pretty much the perfect length to get lost in a fantasy tale for a little while. The Reason For Dragons also contains some other shorter tales that flesh out the characters some more. It's an all ages book that adults and kids should find entertaining. I wanted a little more time between Habersham and Wendell, but in no way was I disappointed with anything about this book. I really enjoyed it. Maybe it will become a cartoon again.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Tomorrow Land


Tomorrow Land, not to be confused with the Disney film and section of Disney World, is a sci-fi/zombie apocalypse novel by Mari Mancusi. It skews a little more into the young adult genre than I would typically read, but after my wife and I met the author at Wizard World in Austin, I decided to take a chance. There are a lot of zombie stories out there. That is the good thing about a zombie apocalypse. You can apply it to any time and place. In the case of Tomorrow Land, this apocalypse takes place in the near future of 2030. The youth of the word had moved on from being obsessed with mobile social media into the world of virtual social media with VR systems that allow them to enter the virtual internet.

Just before the world was about to fall, Peyton Anderson was a normal girl in high school. Or as normal as any teen can be with a father that is anti-technology government conspiracy theorist. And of course the world would fall apart just when it looks like she is about to find her first true love. But her father has a different destiny for her. Four years after the outbreak, Peyton emerges from a bunker under her house. She does not know what the world will be like. All she has to depend on are the cybernetic enhancements her father gave her. She must go to Florida and find her father and the scientific colony he was setting up under Disney World. She will also get help from the boy she abandoned before the fall of civiliation, Chris Parker, who has his own demons that could jeopardize everything.

The story flashes back and fourth between the outbreak in 2030 and the 2040 post apocalypse. I enjoyed the scifi/zombie elements a lot. The zombies in this world are the result of infection. No dying and reanimating here. Kind of like what we saw in I Am Legend. As usual I don’t think of things until I begin typing. It is somewhat poetic that in a world where people disappear themselves into a world where nothing is real that the population would fall to a disease that strips humans of their identities and turns them into a mindless hoard.

 The book is really interesting and I did enjoy it. But the teen angst took me out of the story sometimes. Especially in the 2030 chapters covering the initial outbreak. Although this could be a non-issue for some people. I mean, let's be honest, no matter what goes on in the world, as long as there are teenagers, there is going to be some levels of angst. But I will give Mancusi credit for not making Peyton the classic girl who needs to be saved. Even though she does need Chris to navigate the brave new world, and there is the budding romance subplot, Peyton is mission focused to get to her father and deliver a cure that is hidden in her cybernetics. And while Chris is the love interest, he was not a melodramatic motorcycle hood with a heard of gold, if you get my meaning. He is definitely flawed. But I never got a sense in the story that Peyton needed to "save" him.

While on the surface Tomorrow Land appears to fall into the YA romance mold (not that I am any kind of authority on YA), it does push into some hard sci-fi elements and themes, even directly referencing classic sci-fi. I wish the world in 2040 would have been fleshed out some more. I wanted to spend more time in 2034 and explore that world. For me too much time was spent on the initial budding romance in the early outbreak in 2030. It's close to a 50/50 split between the pre and post years. Or it felt that way to me. There are two human colonies in the book that are direct contrasts to one another and we only get a little time in each. Although thinking about it, it's also possible Mancusi gave enough time to those places. While I wasn't thrilled by some of Tomorrow Land's elements, I did find it to be a good read. It's staying on my shelf and I look forward to reading more of Mari Mancusi's novels. I have her Scroched trilogy in my backlog of things on the shelf I really need to get through. Book nerds know what I 'm talking about.

You can find out more about Tomorrow Land, Mari Mancusi, and her other novels at MariMancusi.com
HyperSmash.com