Media Diet

Notes on recent media consumption. Mostly so that I can remember what I read and watched.

Movie: Wrath of Man :: 2021-07-12

We love Jason Statham, and have enjoyed most of Guy Ritchie’s movies, but this one only cleared the bar by inches. The whole thing felt like a TV movie – mediocre production values, a marginal script, and Statham’s part failed to take advantage of his copious charm and humor. The final action set-piece was good, though somewhat marred by lazy dramatic writing.

Movie: Tomorrow War :: 2021-07-01

Hot garbage, lazily assembled. We quit after an hour, and that was at least 20 minutes more than this mess deserved.

Book: Relic :: Alan Dean Foster :: 2021-07-15

Decent, if middling, sci-fi from an author I really enjoyed in my youth. Reminded me a lot of classic 1960s fare from Poul Anderson or Gordon R. Dickson (in both good & bad ways).

Book: Giant Days, Vol. 12 & 13 :: John Allison :: 2021-07-10

I love this series and its characters unreservedly. I will be heartbroken when I finish the last volume (#14). In these volumes Ed Gemmell finally gets the happiness he deserves.

Book: My Sister, the Serial Killer :: Oyinkan Braithwaite :: 2021-07-08

A twist on the story of the dowdy older sister who makes constant sacrifices for her pretty but demanding younger sister. A short and pleasant read, which is good because the subject matter is extremely dark.

Book: Check Please, Vol. 2 :: Ngozi Ukazu :: 2021-06-23

Not quite as stupefyingly charming as the first volume, but still a delightful read. Bitty, the main character, is just so damn lovable.

Book: The Starless Sea :: Erin Morgenstern :: 2021-06-19

A book about people who love books, written for people who love books. So blatantly targeted to my interests that I felt like I was being manipulated. I still can’t decide if I liked it or not, but I did read the whole goddamn thing despite it being half again longer than it should have been. Pretty good up until it failed to stick the landing in the last ten pages.

Movie: Luca :: 2021-06-18

Pixar’s failures are better than most animation studios' successes, and this is far from a failure. The worst criticism I can level is “lightweight”.

Book: Hail Mary :: Andy Weir :: 2021-06-17

After the sophomore slump of Artemis Weir plays it safe by basically recapping The Martian (much like Ender’s Game is just Songmaster in different clothes). It’s a great read, so long as you don’t mind that a lot of the drama is artificial.

Movie: Riders of Justice :: 2021-06-16

Mads Mikkelsen sports a Santa Claus beard, a flat affect, and an automatic rifle. He plays it straight, but the three turbo-nerds that help him in his quest for vengeance are hilarious, and also frighteningly like people I’ve worked with in my Silicon Valley career. Their geeky bickering had me laughing the whole time.

Book: The Echo Wife :: Sarah Gailey :: 2021-06-01

“What if your husband had an affair with your clone?” At a few points I thought I knew where the story was going, but each time I was pleasantly surprised when it took a more interesting turn. A good book about bad people, but they’re bad in realistic ways rather than cartoonishly “eeevil”.

Book: The Secret to Superhuman Strength :: Alison Bechdel :: 2021-05-27

Somewhere between memoir and autobiography, Bechdel relates her life-long obsession with many different forms of exercise, interwoven with reflections on English Romantic poets, American transcendentalists, and Kerouac. More approachable than Are You My Mother, not as cohesive as Fun Home. I’ll definitely be reading this again to fully appreciate its depths.

Book: Hench :: Natalie Zina Walschots :: 2021-05-18

Starts out as yet another “what if superheroes were real” plot, though with the twist that our heroine works at a temp agency for bad-guy henchmen. The story quickly moves into more interesting and philosophical territory, while somehow also becoming a high-stakes adventure (I finished the book in a day). Walschots does an excellent job threading the needle between tedious worldbuilding and building a believable alternate world. The absence of origin stories is a welcome change.

Book: A Desolation Called Peace :: Arkady Martine :: 2021-05-16

The sequel to A Memory Called Empire expands the scope from palace intrigue to a somewhat generic war-with-inscrutable-aliens plot. The returning characters are still interesting, and the will-they-or-won’t-they romance is nice. The plot hinges on communications latency, but the science is so space-operatic and inconsistent that it’s impossible to believe in the stakes.

TV: Made For Love :: 2021-05-15

Christin Milioti and Ray Romano are excellent in this deadpan comedy. The skewering of the Silicon Valley social media surveillance state is good, but the sex doll storyline is disappointing. The series stumbles in the last couple episodes, and betrays everything it worked for at the very end.

Book: The Girl in the Tower :: Katherine Arden :: 2021-04-26

Middle book of the trilogy starting with The Bear and the Nightingale, set in 14th century proto-Russia as Christianity is pushing out traditional Russian folkloric creatures. Suffers a bit from middle-book syndrome, but the immersion in an unfamiliar mythos is fascinating.

Book: The Dreamers :: Karen Thompson Walker :: 2021-04-10

An epidemic of sleeping sickness descends on an isolated California college town. Bordering on magic realism, the plot and characters are almost secondary to the excellent writing. A bit disturbing to read this during the current pandemic (it was published January, 2019).

Book: Unconquerable Sun :: Kate Elliott :: 2021-04-08

An exciting sci-fi story in an interesting and believable universe. At least on the surface it’s not the usual “modern Americans in space”, being set in a future colonized by SE Asian cultures. The main characters are a group of hyper-competent young people verging on Mary Sue / Marty Stu, but on the whole it works. Looking forward to the sequel.

Movie: Zach Snyder’s Justice League :: 2021-04-08

I’m not sure this even rises to the level of “interesting failure”. Some really beautiful cinematography, but after an hour I’d had enough of the generic superhero BS.

Movie: Godzilla vs. Kong :: 2021-04-02

Locked in a deadly battle with the Fast & Furious franchise for the title of “Most Absurd Abuse of the Laws of Physics”. My inner twelve year old loved seeing Mecha Godzilla again. Good enough that I actually watched to the end.

Movie: Amadeus :: 2021-03-19

Every bit as delightful as I remembered it. Tom Hulce is fantastic and F. Murray Abraham is wonderfully bitter. I’d forgotten what it’s like to watch an entire movie without once having to rewind or turn on the subtitles to figure out what somebody said. Please, Hollywood, give up on mumble-core.

Book: Re-Coil :: J.T. Nicholas :: 2021-03-28

Competent and entertaining hard-boiled sci-fi adventure. The “immortality via mind transplant” plot held up well.

Book: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars :: Christopher Paolini :: 2021-03-21

A doorstop of a book (if you’re the kind of person who uses a 75 lb. barbell to prop open your doors). The world building was very good, the story was interesting, and the plot didn’t commit the sin of throwing a bunch of pointless danger in to pad the story. But man, it was just so loooooong. The hazards of reading a book by an author who is successful enough to overrule their editor. Cut out a bunch of over-detailed description and this could have been an excellent space opera. Nonetheless I’m looking forward to reading more in this universe.

Book: The Song of Achilles :: Madeline Miller :: 2021-03-14

Good, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as Circe. Patroclus, the PoV character, was passive to the point of being a cipher, and Achilles' super powers make him as boring as Super Man. Still, it was enjoyable to get a feel for ancient Greek culture, and some understanding of their obscure-to-the-modern-reader obsession with heroism and respect. The constant focus on male beauty gave me some understanding of what it must be like for women to read male authors' tedious gushing about women’s bodies.

Movie: Suddenly Last Summer :: 2021-03-09

Man, 1950s movies are strange 60 years later. Super talky, like Aaron Sorkin on speed. Katherine Hepburn chews the hell out of the scenery.

Book: This Is How You Lose the Time War :: Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone :: 2021-02-22

An epistolary novel that’s mostly an excuse for the authors to trot out their most flowery language (often literally). Slight but enjoyable.

Movie: Shadow in the Cloud :: 2021-02-20

Starts off as a complex and multi-layered story, tightly focused on Chloe Grace Moretz alone in a cramped space. Half way through the complexity disappears, the layers drop away, and we’re left with generic utterly improbable Hollywood action. I read that the script went through a series of re-writes, which probably explains the the abrupt lurch from good film to mediocre flick.

Movie: The Midnight Sky :: 2021-02-04

A science fiction movie by and for people who neither understand nor care about science. Could have been a good movie as an early 20th century nautical adventure. George Clooney is wasted as a sad sack with a bushy beard and very few lines leaving him to do all his acting with his eyes.

Movie: Run :: 2021-01-16

The plot is fairly predictable, but the lead actresses are good (mom) and excellent (daughter) and some of the scenes have great tension. The young woman playing the wheelchair-bound daughter uses a chair in real life, adding much appreciated verisimilitude.

Movie: Tenet :: 2021-01-09

It feels as if Christopher Nolan had a few compelling ideas for specific scenes and filming techniques, so he wrote a script around them. The story is a rather tedious early 21st century spy adventure – good looking men do improbable things with guns and cars and large buildings while a few attractive women look on. The time travel bits only serve to make it harder than usual to keep track of what’s happening. Worth seeing for the stunning cinematography and stylish action, but almost completely forgettable.

Book: A Deadly Education :: Naomi Novik :: 2021-01-07

Yet another grimdark Harry Potter clone. Utterly unbelievable premise (magic school is soooo dangerous that you probably won’t survive breakfast!), tediously predictable characters. You’ve read this story half a dozen times before. Abandoned 1/3 of the way through. I really liked Novik’s previous two novels so I’m very disappointed that this is the first of a trilogy.

Book: The Lesson :: Cadwell Turnbull :: 2021-01-05

I went in expecting science fiction, but after reaching the unsatisfying finish I realized it was actually a somewhat heavy handed allegory about colonialism dressed up in the clumsily appropriated dress of SciFi. Gives only the most sketchy and unsatisfying answer to the question “what is the lesson”.

Book: The Space Between Worlds :: Micaiah Johnson :: 2021-01-03

Started off fairly well, but by the time I’d reached the middle of the novel the holes in the worldbuilding had become impossible to ignore. The first person narrator had a decent voice, but her problems couldn’t hold my interest. Abandoned half way through.

Movie: The Fellowship of the Ring :: 2021-01-02

Still great on the Nth watching. The Argonath, the Balrog, the cave troll; sigh.

Movie: WW 84 :: 2020-12-27

A huge let-down after the first Wonder Woman movie. This one is a tedious and incomprehensible mess. The story is literally about wish fulfillment, which is just way too on-the-nose for a superhero flick. Athena Scalzi gives it the detailed skewering it deserves.

Movie: Soul :: 2020-12-26

Another amazing Pixar movie. Philosophical like Coco and Inside Out rather than a jolly adventure, but still very enjoyable. Stunningly beautiful cinematography; they’ve gone way past “wow, that’s good animation”.

Book: The Pull of the Stars :: Emma Donoghue :: 2020-12-13

The story was a bit slight, but as usual for Donoghue the writing was wonderful. Set in a makeshift Irish maternity ward for flu victims during the 1918 pandemic (but written prior to the 2020 one). More than a little blood and guts.

Movie: Ava :: 2020-12-12

I’m a sucker for spy and assassin movies, even mediocre ones like this. Jessica Chastain and several other high-wattage actors gamely work their way through a forgettable plot. Some pretty good fight scenes liven things up.

Movie: Palm Springs :: 2020-12-10

A lot of fun and surprisingly sweet. A better Groundhog Day (fight me).

Book: The Priory of the Orange Tree :: Samantha Shannon :: 2020-12-08

This high fantasy doorstop starts out strong but the more I read the longer the book seemed. The courtly intrigue story line following Ead and Sabran was very enjoyable, but the other more “exciting” story lines dragged (despite dragons and basilisks and alchemy, oh my). After 420 pages all the magical McGuffins had been found, the will-they-or-won’t-they plots had been resolved, and it felt like time for the plot to kick into high gear for the exciting last 20%. But no, I was only half way through the book. And then an evil bad guy stole the McGuffin, and the hero was struck down, and oh god I can’t stomach another four hundred pages of this.

Movie: Dune :: 2020-12-05

Man, this was just a trainwreck. Stunning sets and costuming and great actors could not overcome Lynch’s brutal mutilation of the source material.

TV: I Am Not Okay With This :: 2020-12-04

A really charming show with some great actors. Wyatt Olef is just excellent as the bonkers wanna-be-cool Stan. It’s a huge shame that COVID scuppered the second season, but don’t let that stop you from watching what’s available – the whole season is only two and a half hours.

Movie: Weird Science :: 2020-11-25

Anthony Michael Hall is hilarious and charming, Kelly LeBrock is hilarious and stunning, and Bill Paxton’s Chet is delightfully awful. Holds up very well, and is only mildly politically incorrect by today’s standards. Look for Vernon Wells reprising his Road Warrior role.

Movie: Highlander :: 2020-11-22

How did anyone ever think this was a good movie? Doesn’t even make it to “so bad it’s good”. Sean Connery as an Egyptian?

Book: Little Bird :: Darcy Van Poelgees, Ian Bertram, Matt Hollingsworth :: 2020-11-20

This comic has a good story though it’s a bit hard to follow at times. The art is a great mix of Moebius & Geoff Darrow. Looking forward to the next installment, Precious Metal, due early 2021.

Book: The Relentless Moon :: Mary Robinette Kowal :: 2020-11-16

Another successful Lady Astronaut story. This one is somewhere between a spy thriller and a mystery, set mostly on a moon base. Follows a different character than the first two books, but the change is good.

TV: The Boys, Season 2 :: 2020-11-15

Good dirty fun. The story had a bit more subtlety than the first season, with some very clear parallels to current events (down to the AOC congresswoman character).

Book: Piranesi :: Susanna Clarke :: 2020-11-03

A delightful read, with a very engaging first person narration. Starts off like magic realism (I seem to be running into a lot of that genre lately), but it’s basically a fairly complex mystery. Petered out a bit at the end, but still highly recommended. Would have benefitted from a closer reading than I gave it; I’ll probably re-read it.

Book: The Dazzle of Day :: Molly Gloss :: 2021-10-27

A contemplative story about family and personal connection set on a generation ship crewed by Quakers. Every bit as exciting as the summary would lead you to expect, but somehow still compelling.

TV: Two Weeks to Live :: 2020-11-13

Interesting premise, decent execution, but couldn’t hold our interest. A bit too arch.

TV: The Third Day :: 2020-11-01

We watched the first episode and the whole time I felt like I was being blatantly manipulated. It’s so mysterious. The islanders are strange. Sam is hiding something. Is it just a British Wicker Man with funny cinematography, or does it get less twee and obvious? Didn’t stick around to find out.

TV: Raised by Wolves :: 2020-10-30

We spent six hours wanting to like this, but eventually gave up with only two episodes to go. Beautiful sets, good actors, and great cinematography in service to a story that made less and less sense with every passing minute.

Movie: The Devil All the Time :: 2020-10-20

A-list actors spout B-movie southern accents in an overstuffed story of bad people doing bad things in post-war Appalachia. A waste of time and talent.

TV: Lovecraft Country :: 2020-10-18

Started off strong but went further off the rails with each episode, becoming nearly incomprehensible by the end. A great cast, good cinematography and production design, and truly excellent costuming. Pity they couldn’t have found a story to match.

Movie: Charm City Kings :: 2020-10-10

Very enjoyable coming-of-age story about a black kid in West Baltimore who gets involved in a motorcycle gang. Great acting, especially from the super-charming lead kid. Minor negative marks for a slightly pat ending and fat-kid-as-comic-relief.

Book: The Doors of Eden :: Adrian Tchaikovsky :: 2020-10-03

Exciting and engrossing, though the half dozen different viewpoint characters sometimes feel a bit distracting. The story zips along nicely except for a couple weak spots. Takes several unexpected turns and gives you plenty of cool ideas to think about. Pleasantly different from Tchaikovsky’s previous series and reminiscent of Charlie Stross’s best work.

TV: Ozark :: 2020-10-01

Lori enjoyed season one, tolerated two, and is happy with three. I’ve watched bits here and there, sometimes up to a full episode. Very good actors and a decent story, beautiful cinematography. Hasn’t degenerated into implausible soap opera yet, which is kind of remarkable given the premise.

Book: The Ten Thousand Doors of January :: Alix E. Harrow :: 2020-09-29

An extremely competent first novel from an author who bears watching. Clearly put together from familiar pieces (Earthsea, portal fantasy, His Dark Materials, Indiana Jones), but the seams are well polished and the story feels original. Would be accessible to HS students but covers enough adult emotional issues to not feel like YA slumming.

Book: Fangs :: Sarah Andersen :: 2020-09-22

An incredibly charming love story about a vampire and a werewolf told as a series of excellent gag-a-day comics.

Book: A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor :: Hank Green :: 2020-09-19

This sequel to An Absolutely Remarkable Thing went in a more straight ahead sci-fi direction. Multiple PoV narration fleshed out the other characters and kept things interesting. Good mix of intrigue and science-y stuff, all of which was pretty believable. Bonus points for conclusively wrapping up the story in only two novels.

Movie: Project Power :: 2020-09-18

Straight-to-Netflix movie about a pill that gives temporary super powers. Competent but forgettable. I was mostly there to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt; after 20 minutes Lori wasn’t there at all.

Book: The Light from Other Stars :: Erika Swyler :: 2020-09-05

The story alternates back and forth between a tweenage girl in 80’s Florida and her adult life as an astronaut on the way to Mars. Not very engaging, and I quit when the childhood part started to turn into Stranger Things style gothic horror.

Book: The Queen of the Damned :: Anne Rice :: 2020-08-28

This was a book too far. I lost IQ points getting through it. I remembered it as a lot less trashy.

Book: The Vampire Lestat :: Anne Rice :: 2020-08-21

I really needed some escapist trash, and re-reading this fit the bill in spades. Better than I expected, though my expectations were pretty low.

Book: The Vanished Birds :: Simon Jimenez :: 2020-08-15

A fairly literary novel; has the trappings of sci-fi but it’s closer to magic realism (I’ve seen several of these recently). Mostly a story about the meaning of family.

Movie: Yes, God, Yes :: 2020-08-15

A nice little movie about a repressed Christian girl struggling with sexuality. This was expanded from a short film, and was probably better at that length. Mostly saved by Natalia Dyer’s performance.

Book: Axiom’s End :: Lindsay Ellis :: 2020-08-09

The narrator is a bit flat, and the alien’s motivation was off, but overall a decent first contact novel.

Movie: Men in Black :: 2020-08-07

This aged well. Still light, funny and enjoyable.

Movie: Sixteen Candles :: 2020-08-06

This is what we wanted from a John Hughes movie! Funny and surprisingly heartwarming. Almost all the characters are (or become) actually decent human beings, and the message isn’t awful. Definitely a product of its times so expect some horrible political incorrectness. I am ashamed at how funny I still find Long Duck Dong (though most of his schtick would work for any “foreigner with limited English” character).

Movie: Gladiator :: 2020-07-29

Holds up pretty well, if a bit long. Not remotely believable, but fun. Joaquin Phoenix is great as the creepy emperor.

Movie: Pretty in Pink :: 2020-07-24

Wow, this was terrible, despite fond memories. Every male character was some kind of awful, and Ducky was the worst – full on emotional abuse, jealousy & controlling behavior. We quit half way in dismay and disgust. Did not age well.

Book: An Embarrassment of Witches :: Sophie Goldstein & Jenn Jordan :: 2020-07-24

A Bildungsroman taking place in a world much like our own, but with magic. The art style is simple but communicates emotion and action well. Fairly enjoyable, but our heroine is such a trainwreck of bad decisions that it’s sometime painful to read. Not as good as the authors' previous collaboration, Darwin Carmichael is Going to Hell.

Book: The Peace War :: Vernor Vinge :: 2020-07-18

My third or fourth time and it’s still a great read. Very few holes in the plot and premise, and what’s there is easy to get past.

Movie: Shirley :: 2020-07-15

Perfectly adequate movie, but you could just re-watch Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? instead. We didn’t finish it, mostly because neither of us were in the mood for a stressful experience.

Movie: Holy Motors :: 2020-07-11

Good cinematography and brilliant physical acting don’t make up for a total lack of plot or narrative. Why did I put up with even 40 minutes of this masturbatory exercise?

Movie: The Old Guard :: 2020-07-10

Charlize Theron kicks all the asses. The laws of physics are not horribly violated, and the plot actually makes some sense. The only negative is that “evil pharma exec” is getting to be a trite villain.

Book: Dune :: Frank Herbert :: 2020-07-07

After the fourth disappointment from a book I’d long anticipated I took Gwynne’s advice and do some comfort reading. Dune is still great. Following that I plowed through several more old favorites over the following weeks.

Movie: The Assistant :: 2020-07-06

A day in the life of a young woman working for a New York media mogul. The unseen, unnamed, and obviously abusive boss is clearly a stand-in for Harvey Weinstein. Well made and well acted, but ultimately unsatisfying because nothing is resolved.

Book: The Last Emperox :: John Scalzi :: 2020-06-20

It was okay, I guess. The Kiva Lagos plotline didn’t hold my interest (she’s profane, yeah, great, but that’s not enough to support half a novel). I wanted to know more about the flow collapse, but the resolution to that plot thread felt cursory.

Book: The City We Became :: N. K. Jemisin :: 2020-06-10

I loved the Broken Earth trilogy and quite enjoyed the Inheritance trilogy, but this seems like something from an entirely different, and lesser, author. Where her other works show this one tells – tendentiously. The social commentary is blatantly on-the-nose: the villain is a conglomeration of white tentacles that occasionally embodies as a shrill white woman. Our heroes are various shades of brown, except for the reluctant one who is a frightened white girl from the suburbs. I put this down half way through.

Movie: The Toxic Avenger :: 2020-05-29

So bad it’s great. Jaw dropping schlock with surprisingly high production values.

Book: Hearts of Oak :: Eddie Robson :: 2020-05-25

This book starts off as a mix of magic realism and allegory and then takes an odd turn into science fiction. It’s a pleasant and quick read but I think it would have been stronger if the author had been more sure about what they were making.

Book: An Absolutely Remarkable Thing :: Hank Green :: 2020-05-12

Nominally science fiction, but mostly a study of modern online viral fame and the ways it warps people and relationships. The first person narrator was engaging and the plot moved along at a good clip. I was up past midnight finishing the book because I couldn’t put it down.

Movie: First Blood :: 2020-05-11

Turns out niether Lori nor I had seen any of the Rambo films. Surprisingly good, and far less offensive or jingoistic than I had feared. The action scenes felt a bit dated, but stood up well.

Book: The Light Years :: R. W. W. Greene :: 2020-05-08

The characters were fairly interesting and the prose was clear and readable. The world-building was only marginally believable and the plot was thin. I finished the book, but mostly because I had abandoned too many books recently and couldn’t bear to waste yet another purchase.

Movie: The Inside Man :: 2020-05-06

This was well worth a second viewing. Denzel Washington is charming as ever and the rest of the high-wattage cast (two more Oscar winners and three nominees) puts in fine work. The complex bank robbery plot moves along briskly and the twist is still twisty even if you know it’s coming.

TV: Westworld, Season 3 :: 2020-05-05

The best looking science fiction sets and costuming I’ve seen in ages, like an hour long perfume commercial (in a good way). The near-future world-building was surprisingly coherent and believable compared to most of what comes out of Hollywood these days. Unfortunately the plot and storyline start out shaky and slowly dissolve into incomprehensibility. It’s clear that the season was written because HBO wanted money, and not for any artistic desire or to tell a story. The premise is awkwardly stretched over the bones of the show like the skin of a cheap android.

Book: A Memory Called Empire :: Arkady Martine :: 2020-04-26

Generally good, interesting worldbuilding and characters; somewhat longer than it needs to be, and the author’s reach sometimes exceeds her grasp. Picked up considerably in the last third of the book.

Movie: The Gentlemen :: 2020-04-15

To my surprise Guy Ritchie’s latest film, was rather good. Not up to the level of Lock, Stock…, but if you fancy Guy’s schtick it’s quite enjoyable, and certainly worth six bucks and a couple hours of your time. Hugh Grant is quite good as a man in just over his head.

Movie: Booksmart :: 2020-04-11

A movie about high school girls that actually felt like it took them seriously (despite being a mildly dumb comedy). I quite enjoyed it, Lori left after 40 minutes.

Book: Normal People :: Sally Rooney :: 2020-04-09

Beautiful writing and a decent story; I found the lead characters' utter passivity a bit unbelievable. The middle of the book felt padded, and the ending was curiously abrupt.

On the other hand this line alone was worth the price of admission:

She believes Marianne lacks ‘warmth,’ by which she means the ability
to beg for love from people who hate her.

Movie: Birds Of Prey And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn :: 2020-03-25

When am I going to learn that superhero movies are junk? Even Margo Robbie’s charm and beauty could not save this muddled dreck.

Movie: Onward :: 2020-03-21

A middling Pixar movie, which means it’s still better than most of what comes out of Hollywood. The premise is good, and the animation is stunning, but the plot and the action are curiously thin. The big action scene at the end is pretty epic though.

Movie: Knives Out :: 2020-03-05

An enjoyable whodunnit from Rian Johnson. The very star-studded cast clearly enjoy chewing the scenery. Daniel Craig does a nice job as a somewhat odd southern gentleman.

Book: Exhalation :: Ted Chiang :: 2020-02-20

This story collection deserves all the praise it received. “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” is an excellent examination of how technology mediates human experience and understanding.

Movie: Ford V Ferrari :: 2020-02-12

A race car movie built on an Oscar-worthy chassis. As a former sports car junkie this movie was extremely satisfying.

Movie: Jojo Rabbit :: 2020-02-08

A screwball comedy about a kid in 1940s Germany whose imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler. There’s no way this should work, but it does. The Oscar nominated costuming and production design were fantastic.

Movie: Terminator: Dark Fate :: 2020-01-30

Not great, maybe not even good, but way better than the last several Terminator entries. Watchable, and (with appropriately low expectations) I never wanted to throw the remote through the screen.

Book: Agency :: William Gibson :: 2020-01-25

Very much of a piece with Gibson’s recent work, but it seemed strangely inconsequential. I couldn’t get excited about the action or connect to the characters.

Book: Semiosis :: Sue Burke :: 2020-01-19

An alien contact story that felt genuinely new. Follows several generations, so you may feel a bit disconnected from the characters.

Book: Fates and Furies :: Lauren Groff :: 2020-01-08

The story follows the lives of a literary power couple, but the selling point is the gorgeous writing. The first half covers the man’s life, and by the time I was three quarters through (the second half and the woman’s life) it was starting to feel a bit drawn. Still heartily recommended.

Book: Disappearing Earth :: Julia Phillips :: 2019-12-22

A set of linked short stories surrounding the disappearance of two young girls from a city in Kamchatka. Eventually coalesces into a nice mystery novel. Interesting characters in a very unfamiliar setting. The prose was descriptive enough to make me feel like I’d been to Kamchatka.

Book: Fall, or, Dodge in Hell :: Neal Stephenson :: 2019-11-10

Stephenson clearly had several Important Ideas he wanted to work out, but he neglected to build a good story around them. Or perhaps he built several stories and banged them together until they stuck. The first 100 pages are great, and the last 100 are pretty good, but the middle seven hundred pages are mediocre and incredibly tedious. Most of the Big Idea pistols are left hanging on the wall, and the rest misfire. A disappointment from one of my favorite authors.

Book: Empress of Forever :: Max Gladstone :: 2019-11-01

Take a decent 250 page space opera and throw it in a blender with 250 pages of literary onanism. I finished it Saturday and by Monday I couldn’t remember how it ended. Pity, I liked some of Gladstone’s earlier books.