Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Review of Brandon Mull's Beyonders

I've been moving recently so haven’t been updating, but now I have the time to review a book series I read recently: Brandon Mull’s Beyonders. Having made it through most of Fablehaven, I had high, or at least moderate, hopes for this new series. The world he creates is intriguing but ultimately my hopes were unfulfilled. I’m going to try to review this series without any tremendous spoilers so this may be a bit more vague than some of my other reviews.

Upsides:
  • The main character, Jason, is transported to another world—as children are perpetually having happen to them in YA fiction. It’s a pretty interesting world really and I wish we got to see more of it throughout the series. 
  • There are many different types of places Jason goes on his travels, my favorite being the Sunken Lands which is comprised almost primarily of an under-water city. I like the creatures there, and the constant danger the characters are in really comes through.
  • The magical races Brandon invents are very unique with powers and abilities that fulfill traditional fantasy roles, but in some very interesting and surprising ways. My favorites are the Displacers—a race that can detach their body parts at will, like the Fire Gang from Labyrinth, but human looking. I also really liked the Torivors even if they had way too many names in the books (darklings, lurkers, etc.). 
  • The iconic main hero, Galaran, was awesome and I really enjoyed his character as well. 
  • The end of the first book has a pretty good twist.

 Downsides:
  • Too many irrelevant references to food that just tastes different from our food.
  • Way too many occurrences when a character no one cares about dies and everyone gets upset, versus main characters who die and no one has an emotional reaction WHATSOEVER!
  • The magic system revolves around people speaking magic words and then getting tired if they use their ability too much. This is extremely stale and unimaginative but at least he doesn’t try to hide that.
  • The two main characters spend most of the three books separated and that is very annoying.
  • The juggling between viewpoints is not handled well, especially because one of the characters is going on a quest and the other is mostly waiting around. They spend large portions of the story wandering, not sure what to do. This is how real life is and is not interesting in story form (read Deathly Hollows if you want more of this crap).
  • THE WORST ENDING I HAVE EVER READ IN ANY BOOK OR SEEN IN ANY MOVIE EVER. Don’t know how else to say it really. I also don’t want to tell you what it is for spoiler purposes, but the main characters do not directly take part in this achievement or in fact even witness it even though it involves an entire mountain being leveled (ok minor spoiler) that they happen to be next to.
  • THE MAIN BAD GUY IS NOT BAD OR SCARY OR INTERESTING. This goes out to all the creative people in the universe. Please have good endings and interesting villains. Stop trying to be so creative with your endings that they end up being completely unsatisfying crap craters. 
  • Zombies for the sake of zombies. Stop putting zombies in everything.
  • At some point it feels like the author lost interest in what was happening and was just writing for word count or to get to the end.

This would have been a much stronger series if it had been cut to two books. A lot of book and movie series are that way really. They are less and less aggressively edited as time goes on and I’m really tired of things being stretched too far just to achieve a certain word count goal.

Conclusion:
The Beyonders had a lot of promise. You could tell Mull put a lot of thought into the world building and what happens behind the scenes, but in the end, it was poorly executed. There were far too many characters for him to juggle. I can see younger readers enjoying it immensely and hey—that was the target audience, so there you go.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Firestorm Armada: Solyrian Skyhammer Curiser Review

I like most of the Solyrian ships particularly their dreadnought, which I don't own yet, but today I'm reviewing the Skyhammer Cruiser. Solyrians are very linear in design and cylindrical as well. There aren't any visible turrets and the traditional sense but there are a number of nobs on the sides that I guess could be guns. It also has one on the front which is the main cannon. All in all a cool design even if a bit phallic. . .

In order for this model to stay together you will need to pin the three sections together. I tried not pinning and it wouldn't stay together. The entire model is made of resin so I thought is would be light enough but sadly no. So I drilled a hole down its long axis from the back and glued a metal rod in.

 The two green ones in front are the Skyhammers


Here's what a Skyhammer looks like from the top.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Someone Should Make a Hobbit Movie 'Cause I Don't Know What That Was

Wouldn't a Hobbit movie be great? I mean more Tolkien is always good in my book. Huh? The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey came out last Christmas? It was not a Hobbit movie and was definitely not unexpected! We were all told well in advance it was coming and I cringed the entire time. Dwarves with no beards? Really? Dwarves with axes stuck in their heads? Really? Fully CG bad-guys that aren't convincing? Jar-Jar Binks is back! Cringe!

I know this movie came out a while ago but I saw the trailer again recently for the Desolation of Smaug and cringed again. Now we have CG elves jumping through tree branches and a pretty lame looking Smaug. I expected much more from the most famous dragon in fantasy literature. Pete's dragon was more menacing. Why do the special effects from the Lord of the Rings look better than in the Hobbit?

In it's original incarnation the Hobbit is a children's book and has a vastly different feel from the Lord of the Rings. This latest installment tries to do both children's book and dark adult fantasy at the same time and sucks at both. There are some very bright spots but the tone of the film is inconsistent at best.

Upsides: The main actors, Richard Armitage and Martin Freeman, are excellent even if Thorin is practically beardless. Gollum was great. The dwarves' musical theme is amazing and I have it stuck in my head to this day.

Downsides: This is going to be more of a list since there are so many things...

Ian McKellen looks twice as old as in LOTR and four times as tired. Christopher Lee too. I love them both but they looked really old for something that takes place like 60 years earlier. Their makeup sucked and the lighting made them even older. They should at least look the same.

The soundtrack was just the LOTR soundtrack with one new song. At least when Star Wars came out with prequels they had the old themes interwoven with the new stuff and it was awesome. The music just didn't feel both familiar and fresh in the Hobbit.

Crappy CG. I hate how much is in this movie. It's so bad it's embarrassing and distracted me from the action. Someone please dye Thranduil's eyebrows blond! Plus an elf would never swear fealty to a dwarf, that's just stupid. The party scene at the beginning of the movie was so long it was boring and wasn't fun or funny.

Rock 'em Sock 'em stone giants. Radagast. Radagast's rabits. Pot smoke coming out of Radagast's ears. Radagast dies and I'm not sorry. Sebastian, the hedge-hog he saves.

The tomb of the ringwraiths (dumb idea not in the book). Gandalf hitting on Galadriel (awkward!).

I at least felt that Peter Jackson had read the Lord of the Rings, I have no such feeling about the Hobbit. Each LOTR book got one movie and are twice the size of the Hobbit. The Hobbit does not need three movies. Hollywood has finally bloated a franchise so badly it's actually longer than it would take to read the book. Maybe this will encourage literacy. Better than getting bed sores trying to watch the whole Hobbit series.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Somebody's Watching Me: Modern Book Cover Tropes

Been to a book store lately? I mean a real one, not online. There are eyes everywhere. Watching you. I'm not talking about the guy embarrassed 'cause you caught him looking at one of those car magazines with the women in bikinis on the cover. The eyes are on the book covers and I mean all the book covers. I went to Barnes and Noble a couple of weeks ago and one in five covers had the 'Floating Eye' on it regardless of genre. You know the one. It has one eye with a partial face or just the eye by itself. Floating in space in a nondescript color field.

Why do you stalk me book cover? It's not intriguing. The eyes don't even have a context in most cases. These aren't even spy dramas they're supernatural romance or teen contemporary. Apparently love is now stalking and general creepiness. I wouldn't mind so much if it were actually relevant to the story or mood - I just think it's people getting lazy with their marketing. Remember that one cover that had the one eye everyone loved? Yeah me neither. So why copy it on virtually every book cover these days?

OK, so it worked for the Host. Yes I read it because I refused to read Twilight and wanted to know if Stephenie Meyer (dumb spelling) was as awful as I thought she would be. I have to admit the setup was great but lacked any real emotional depth. It started out with a kind of Halting State by Charles Stross idea and flat-lined. My point is that the glowing eye on the cover was actually part of the story and not just a cheap attempt at being mysterious.

My humble irrelevant opinion is to please stop doing this to your audience. Intriguing and mysterious isn't the same as open-mouth breathing and stalking glares.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Firestorm Armada Ship Review: Directorate Battleship

I have several Firestorm ships I bought on clearance and this will be the first in a series where I review what I think about them from a modelling perspective. So first up is the Directorate Battleship.

Upsides: I love that Spartan Games makes their stuff primarily out of resin. This ship is actually one single piece of resin so no parts to glue, or more importantly, no parts to fall off. This does present some other challenges and drawbacks which will be outlined in the Downsides section. I would prefer plastic due to it being less expensive but it's certainly much lighter and holds paint better than pewter. I always thought pewter was the worst possible choice to make minis out of. The design of the ship is pretty aggressive looking. It has a slightly crustacean feel to me.

Downsides: Although I love resin there do tend to be slight bubble if its cast improperly and having cast resin parts myself I know this all too well. There are some small bubbles in the corners of some of the belly guns and in the engine section of this model. They can easily be repaired with a little putty or some extra paint and are not very noticeable. I didn't notice any mold lines though which is good. The base it comes with a little tight and I had to drill it out to make it big enough for the vertical post the ship sits on.

All in all I liked this mini. I regret my paint scheme, it's pretty loud and if I had it to do over again I'd pick something more muted. Not having to glue on stupid little pieces was a nice change. I just primed it out of the box and started painting.

Here are some pictures:

Top


Bottom


Next star ship review will be of the Sorylan Skyhammer Cruiser.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Man of Mediocre or was that Steel?

Yeah I know it's been months since the new Superman movie came out but I just have to complain about it. I know I complain about most movies I go see. Maybe one of these days I'll stop going to see them but until then I'll tell you what I think.

Upsides: The first 15 minutes or so of this movie rocked. Russell Crowe was the coolest Jor-El ever. Why wasn't this the whole movie? Krypton felt epic and alien and totally got me pumped for the rest of the movie.

Downsides: The rest of the movie. Superman/Clark was absent. Not necessarily physically absent but he was a super-non-presence on screen. And his abs weren't that great. The death of Jonathan Kent was the lamest death scene of all time. Saving that dog was the second worst scene in the movie. That slow motion disintegration isn't how people die in tornadoes. They get pulled screaming into the air and get cut to pieces by flying debris. Standing still and watching that happen makes you the worst son ever.

That one sub-commander Faora-Ul, or whoever, was fun to watch fight but she had like triple the screen time as Zod. I didn't much care for the semi-sympathetic bad guy direction everyone insists on taking these days. Can't anyone be a proper villain anymore? Evil for the sake of evil? Sometimes those who are the worst in this life have the least reason to be that way.

Why do people only have guns when superman isn't around? They have guns but decide to punch him in the face instead. Hey nice superpowers, bang, not that hard. Just one of the inconsistencies of this movie. How 'bout the "it will take years for us to adapt to this world and get all our cool super powers! Oh wait just got mine." That quote was Zod's (slight paraphrase but not really). He doesn't even ask you to kneel before him. Impostor! Plus no manly thigh high boots.

Destruction porn. This is something that afflicted Transformers, in particular the last one. How many tipping buildings will our heroes have to escape. How many buildings will Superman and Zod throw each other through before they realize it doesn't do anything. Half the time you can't even see what's going on and when you do you don't care. As far as Superman actually killing Zod, that didn't bother me because Superman has killed innumerable thousands fighting in Metropolis. Is every skyscraper in that city empty? Nope they're full of people getting crushed by a random flying Zod while filing paperwork or sitting on the can. Also what's with Zod's goatee when he decides to be evil. Really? And everyone's bulky armor was almost awesome but failed. How can they even move in those things?

The worst scene in the movie was the kiss. Gross. I mean awkward high school kiss gross. Or siblings kissing. Plus there was no real development of their relationship. They just did it 'cause they were supposed to. The sparse attempts at humor fell flat every time. They clashed with the tone of the movie like fluorescent shirts from the 80's. And that was really how the whole movie felt. I think my brother summed it up fairly well when he said that it pretty much followed the same format as a musical but instead of dance numbers there were flashbacks. I think Christopher Nolan forgot he wasn't directing this movie and so it really had two directors that stepped all over each other.

 All in all this movie was mediocre. The visuals were okay as long as they were krypton related. In the end  I'm still waiting for a Superman movie that is actually super.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

How to Make Asteroids

One of my hobbies is making and painting miniatures. There are a large range of figures from games I don't play but own 'cause their cool. The last month or so I've been into Firestorm Armada. I found a website that had them clearanced and bought several. Over the next few weeks I'll be doing reviews on these with regards to their quality and general awesomeness. Anyway I like the fact that now I have some non-Star-Wars spaceships. This brought up a unique problem however.

What kind of terrain do you have in the vastness of space? Flat maps are nice but 3D is better so I put my mind to how to fix this issue. Not hard to figure out, asteroids and debris fields are about as far as it goes. So asteroids, how to build asteroids.

What you need to make asteroids:

Step 1: Find a neighbor with a yard full of lava rocks
Step 2: Under cover of darkness steal handfull of said rocks
Step 3: Putty. Epoxy or Sculpy
Step 4: 1/8 inch clear acrylic rods and 1/8 inch acrylic sheet for bases

You can also make asteroids using only putty but the lava rocks are great for pressing textures into the clay. Rocks are difficult if not impossible to drill through to have a socket for the rods so I build up some putty texture it like the rest of the rock and paint it. If done properly you can't tell where the real rock ends and the putty begins.


I've already spread the putty to fill a depression in the bottom of this rather large rock and have textured it by pressing a smaller rock into it to leave a similar texture.


Texturing is finished. Normally I'd just pop this in the oven according to the Sculpy instructions but since dinner was in there at the time this was just for the blog post. I'm actually going to build a little space station in this large rock. I do have some other smaller examples using Green Stuff epoxy.


After the epoxy sets I drill a 1/8 in hole in to for the stand. You can see the stands in the background there.


A couple Plumbata scout corvettes in an asteroid field.


A Skyhammer cruiser as well.


The big incomplete asteroid with some bases jammed in the soft putty. Anyway, prime them black dry brush with some grey and you have some pretty convincing asteroids for cheap. The 1/8 inch rods and bases are standard for Firestorm Armada. I tried 1/16 but they're a bit too fragile.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

How success leads to failure: Bloated franchises and the failure of editing in modern media

Have you noticed how many sequels there have been lately? How the longer a series runs the more it sucks? Well I have and I'm tired of it. This blog post will be regarding the death spiral that seems to be the inevitable result of success of multiple sequel franchises.

Case Study 1: George Lucas.

The original trilogy was awesome, the prequels suck royally. This is because of success or rather the delusion some were under that he no longer needed editing. He was at the top of the pile and whatever he says goes. Could you imagine what would happen if someone tried to tell George that maybe Jar-Jar wouldn't be such a good idea? You're fired is probably what would happen. The "humor" was also not funny. It felt like I was being talked down to by someone younger than me. These movies almost ruined the original trilogy for me because DARTH VADER WAS NO LONGER SCARY! He was a whiny teenager. Was that supposed to make me sympathize with him? Was that supposed to make me feel that his fall was surprising yet unavoidable?

Case Study 2: She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named 

Have you noticed how much bigger the Harry Potter books got by the end of the series and weren't much better and didn't have more real content, specifically #7? It looks like the editors decided to go on vacation. The corporate answer is that more content is good even if it's crap. Just slap a respectable name on it and shove it out the door even when it has no resemblance to the original product. (Bourne Legacy, well the movies have nothing to do with the books anyway but at least the original trilogy of movies was good.). The first half of movie seven was pointless and devoid of any plot points. The second half had all the important stuff in it. My observation from this section is that the last book is twice the size of the first book and then they made two movies out of it. That's too little butter spread over too much toast.

Case Study 3: Peter Jackson (PJ)

This should really be grouped with George Lucas because he's fallen into the exact same trap as the Star Wars franchise. Making movies the come before but are made after doesn't work. The problem with the Hobbit is that it has to feel like a sequel in terms of more action etc. but is chronologically like 80 years before or something. The Hobbit was originally a children's book and had a rather light tone as compared to the Lord of the Rings. People would be expecting that tone and the two styles clash badly. PJ resorts to slap-stick, annoying humor to lighten the mood and fails. He also relies heavily on CG special effects instead of hard work and creative problem solving to make a masterpiece. I'll just come out and say that Azog is the Jar-Jar Binks of the Hobbit. Fully CG characters just because you can is just plane unconvincing and dumb. Stick a guy in a rubber suit. He's humanoid, he'll fit and it looks better.

The length of the Hobbit series will be ridiculous. I could read the entire Hobbit faster than watching the movies. Maybe this will lead people to read the book in order to avoid the bed soars you'd get from trying to watch the movies back-to-back. He'll make a ton of money and the studio is ecstatic I'm sure to have more garbage to pimp.

Have you also notice that good ol' Pj has lost the weight. Too bad all that extra bloat just wound up in his movies.

Conclusion

I hate almost anything that was made by a committee. I have no love for bureaucracy either but it would be better for everyone if someone could look at these works while they were an progress and say: "NO. THAT IS NOT A GOOD IDEA. THINK OF SOMETHING ELSE!" Your first idea is almost always a bad one. You need to think about this a little longer and not try to make your every petty childish whim into reality. Stop surrounding yourselves with yes-people that agree with you all of the time. Have the courage to listen to someone who disagrees with you.

Unfortunately I can only say this after the fact.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Review of Gloom the card game

Overall thoughts: I love it. And so does my wife, which is saying something.

Upsides:
  •  It has a slightly different game mechanic where you stack transparent cards on each other. These cards tell a story about how your characters day is going.
  • To win, you try to ruin your characters' days ending in an untimely death. If you've had a bad day this can be somewhat cathertic. 
  • There's a good balance: the more negatives you add to your characters are, the harder it is to stay ahead. 
  • The character designs have a lot of flavor. We have the Cthulhu version, and if you know Lovecraft, you'll understand the little sayings on the cards, etc. 
My wife thought "Tigger Man" was a funny name in comparison to Lovecraft's actual name of the cat. If you've read it, you know what I'm talking about.

Downsides:

I honestly don't know what to put here. We really like the game. Looking forward to more expansions.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Pacific Rim Review

Went and saw Pacific Rim the other day. Over all, I liked it.

Upsides:

I appreciated that they didn't go for crap romances. (Did you hear that, Christopher Nolan with Man of Steel? That kiss was unwanted and unnecessary, sir. Talk about doing it for the money. Zero passion. But that's a review for Man of Steel.)

Back to Pacific Rim. I liked the scale of the combat. It really did feel epic.
I generally like the look of the movie. The way they made everything look used and had seen actual combat.

The pacing was good. There was enough going on throughout that I wasn't too bored for a long period of time.

Downsides:

The acting sucked. The characters sucked, the "quirky" scientists in particular. Everyone felt flat somewhat. Still better than Michael Bay. A word to Michael Bay: Stop making movies. NOW! You say, but hey, Michael Bay makes a lot of money. Well I say, so do drug dealers. As far as I'm concerned they both damage society and should be illegal.

Pacific Rim was better than Transformers, as far as giant combat movies go. And since these are the only two giant robot combat franchises I think the bar was set pretty low.

Oh and I didn't like the robot designs too much. They were a little goofy.

And it was ridiculous that they used helicopters to transport them. Those helicopters would never be able to lift something that size. The physics didn't add up. Speaking about implausibility, (spoiler alert) you can't escape a nuclear blast with only 18 seconds.

I'm listing a lot of things I didn't like, but the things I liked definitely made up for the negatives. It was overall a decent summer action movie that was heavy on action and light on substance.