Saturday, March 26, 2016

Book Review: "How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe"

On the DZA Review Scale, I put this right below okay, at Why did I go through 230 pages of this? The best word I can put for this is disappointing.


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Time travel books are always tricky, especially when you have the main character interacting with his future self (in this case, shooting himself in the stomach). Books about science fiction books and films are also tricky (you don't want to get sued), but when done well (usually satirically) they are awesome (and hilarious). This one pulled neither of them off. Way too much sulking, not nearly enough action. And by "action" I mean doing anything other than sulking.

The main character is a mechanic; he travels through time and to other universes to fix other people's time machines. His father was almost the inventor of time travel, and went missing after a rather epic failure. The book is 60% sulking, 38% reflecting, 1% action, and 1% reuniting with his dad at the very end, only for two pages, super glossed over.

So if you like long, rambley stories, this one's for you. If you don't, steer clear.


Spoilers!

He sulks for the first half. Has some flashbacks and sulks some more.

He meets his future self, panics, shoots future self in the stomach.

More flashbacks. More sulking. At no point does he think to get himself a bulletproof vest.

Figures out where his dad is. Goes back in time to tell past self. Gets shot.

Recovers. 2-page glossed-over reunion with dad.


There. Just saved you 230 pages.

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Thanks for reading! :)

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns that you don't want to leave in the handy little comment box below, then please do not hesitate to contact me directly.


Sunday, March 20, 2016

Book Review: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

This post comes to you from San Fransisco, where I'm staying for spring break! (It's not a sexy spring break, though; we're doing community service...what am I saying? I'm always sexy. Book worms are very sexy 24/7, no matter where we are or what we're doing.) I brought a couple of good books with me to read and review for next week, because even in gorgeous weather in a city I've never been in, my nose needs some book time.

Anyway, sorry for the lateness of this post (I try to update on Friday mornings). It's been midterms, preparing for San Fran, the craziness of traveling and airports, and I just got done being sick for a week.

Now here's a post on one of the weirdest, coolest books I've ever read. Enjoy! :)

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On the DZA Review Scale, I put this half a step behind "Erect monuments in its honor." At least, until the deus ex machina ending. That puts the book down another step, but since there are gods in the book, it does make a certain amount of sense. There are also two sequels, which I'll read and then pass more judgment on.

It's an epic fantasy set in the city of Sky, which basically rules the world, told from the point of view of Yeine. Yeine is the 19-year-old daughter of the banished princess of Sky, in charge of her father's homeland, the northern "barbarian" land of Darr. After her mom is murdered, Yeine is summoned to Sky by her grandpa, who tells her, "You're now one of my 3 potential heirs for the kingdom. You  have two weeks to kill them before they kill you. Have fun!"

Yeah, it's a great family reunion.

There's also gods, enslaved by Sky's residents because they lost a war 2000 years ago against the new ultimate ruler god Itempus. They (sorta) help Yeine out.

I love this book because:
a) it has super-dangerous political intrigue set in a fantasy world that gives Game of Thrones a run for its money
b) there's a ton of amazing women characters (Darr itself is a matriarchal society, Yeine is badass, her mom was badass, everyone here is badass)
c) it talks about how the winners write history and the disastrous consequences of that happening
d) it talks about racism and how Yeine has to handle it
e) LGBT characters! (The original 3 gods were two guys and a gal in this weird threesome relationship before one of the guys snapped, killed the gal, and enslaved the other guy, but they still love each other even though they hate each other.)

There's also mystery. Not the fake "It's this person you met in the first five minutes, this writer isn't nearly as subtle as they think they are" kind of mystery, an actual "what the f*** is going on" kind of mystery. Yeine's trying to figure out who killed her mom, and we have absolutely no idea who it is (though we get plenty of suspects) until the very, very end.

The romance between Yeine and the night god was a bit cliché, but it wasn't a page-filler or something to put in there just to get an excuse to see some action. It actually had a purpose (albeit a trite one).

I can't even do a full, sarcastic review of this book (and not just because it's sitting in my house 2000 miles away because I didn't pack it). So much crap goes on it would take an age and a half. So I'm going to give you a super watered-down version of it (oh, by the way, SPOILERS):

Grandpa (a.k.a. the king of the world): "Yeine, you're now in a life-and-death political struggle with your two cousins as contestants for the throne. Good luck!"

Yeine: "Oh, shit."

Evil Cousin: "I'm going to psychologically torture you for the next 500 pages by attacking your homeland."

Yeine: "Fuck you, bitch."

Yeine (to other characters): "So, who killed my mom?"

Characters *pointing to everyone else*: "They did!"

Gods: "Hey, Yeine, you know that goddess who died 2000 years ago and we went to war over to avenge her and lost and are now enslaved? Yeah, her soul is inside your body. Your mom made a deal with us to save your father's life right before you were born. So when you were cooking in her oven, we put the goddess's soul in you. So now you have two souls and we need you to do this thing so we can all be free and start a new Gods' War that won't necessarily destroy the entire world, but it'll come close to it."

Yeine: "You jerks!"

Gods: "If you do as we say, we'll protect your homeland."

Yeine: "Fine. You're still jerks."

Characters: "BTW, you're not actually contesting for the throne. The ritual of succession requires a human sacrifice who chooses who's going to be the next ruler, and you're the sacrifice. Enjoy your last week of life!"

Yeine: "Fine. I'm going to start a love affair with a super dangerous (slightly clichéd) god. Oh, and does anyone in this stupid city know who killed my mom?"

Characters: "No."

Yeine: "You're all useless."

One week later, at the big fancy sacrificial ceremony...

Yeine: "Okay, so I'm gonna die and release the gods to start a new war, and I'm gonna choose the not-evil cousin."

Other character stabs and kills Yeine.

Other characters: "--the fuck, dude?!"

One of the gods (not the lover): "BTW, I killed her mom."

Goddess's soul (still chilling in Yeine's body): "So, Yeine, while they're fighting over your corpse, you wanna be a goddess?"

Yeine: "Okay."

Yeine becomes a goddess, punishes evildoers, and runs off with her godly boyfriend.

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Yup. That's it. Thanks for reading! :)
You can get Hundred Thousand Kingdoms on Amazon here for cheap!

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns that you don't feel comfortable writing in the handy comment box below, then please contact me directly. Thank you!



Friday, March 11, 2016

Best Sci-Fi Movies (In My Less Than Humble Opinion)

This is my "why the hell did I choose to review a book that's almost 600 pages long when I have a pile of textbooks to read, too, oh well, better throw up another list" post.

A lot of these I've already reviewed or said something about, so for those there'll be links to more snarkery. Enjoy! :)




5. Star Trek 2009 and Into Darkness



Despite my complaints about the women's uniforms, these are still amazing movies that talk about some really deep issues (one of my favorite examples is when Kirk has at least two perfect opportunities to kill Khan or have him killed, but doesn't, even though Khan killed the closest thing to a father he has).

Also, the trailer for Star Trek Beyond is set to the song "Sabotage." :)


4. Guardians of the Galaxy



I can't believe I only saw this movie three months ago. It is your classic superhero team origin story (Guardians of the Galaxy is actually a graphic novel by Marvel that I really need to start reading), but it also makes fun of superhero movies. At least three villains start to go into monologues and get interrupted by either a punch, getting shot, or a song. It's awesome.

And yeah, the female lead needs rescuing by the guy a couple of times, but she's still awesome and her evil sister is terrifying.


3. Big Hero 6



The manga this movie is based off of left me cold, but the movie itself is amazing. Hiro's a fourteen-year-old genius whose brother dies and leaves him with a robotic nurse. Hiro rounds up a bunch of other geniuses and they become a team of superheroes to try to find out who killed the brother.

The best scene of this movie is when Hiro has an opportunity to kill the bad guy, and he actually tries to take it (the rest of the team stops him). It's definitely one of the darkest, scariest scenes I've ever seen in a kids' movie, and the follow-up "murder isn't the answer" scene is one of the most beautiful.


2. Star Wars: The Force Awakens



Everything I have to say about this movie I've already said here. If you haven't seen this yet, that's breaking the 11th Commandment and you're dead to me.


1. The Martian



Based on the novel. A scientist is stranded on Mars after a his team mistakes him for dead and has to make an emergency exit due to a storm.

Normally, I don't like survival movies. They're repetitive and not very suspenseful (you know the guy is going to make it, at least until the final scene), and most of the skills they use are stuff most of us already know for Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts.

But this...he's surviving fucking Mars, for starters, so it's not exactly a camping trip gone wrong because of stupid decisions. Matt Damon's performance is stunning. The character he plays is such a sarcastic badass, I love him. And even though we know he makes it (does that even count as a spoiler?) all the scenes where he almost dies are nail-bitingly tense.

And not everything is about the survival story; it covers the impact it has on the entire globe and all the politics involved in people's decisions in getting him back.


Friday, March 4, 2016

Awesome Movies/TV Shows that Pass the Bechdel Test and the Mako Mori Test

The Bechdel Test: for any movie/book/TV show/whatever. There have to be at least 2 women who talk to each other about something other than a man.

Simple, right?

Try finding a movie that actually passes it.

Here's how low this bar is: all four Twilight movies and fucking Fifty Shades of Grey passes it. Toy Story does not. Most superhero and action movies do not.

Now obviously, this test is not perfect. It's just a baseline for sexist bullshit in movies. There are some amazing, pro-feminist movies that fail this, usually because the lead is a woman who is in a man-dominated world. There's now such a thing as the Mako Mori test for such cases: there has to be at least one female character who gets her own narrative arc that is not about supporting a man's story, such as the character Mako Mori in Pacific Rim, or Jessie in Toy Story 2, or Eowyn in The Lord of the Rings. Generally speaking, if a movie passes both the Bechdel test and the Mako Mori test, it's not sexist and, therefore, doesn't piss me off.

So here they are, my list of personal favorites that have passed both Bechdel and Mako Mori, because we need more of this. (Warning: not every suggestion is fantasy, sci-fi, or horror; we got some historical fiction and action.)

In no particular order:



Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Rey and Maz talk about Rey's destiny and the Force, and the story itself is about Rey (and Finn, but they're separate; she's not there to support his story any more than he's there to support hers).

(full review here)

Inside Out
The whole movie is Joy and Sadness talking/arguing, Riley talks to her mom, and everyone has their own arc.

Coraline
As the title would suggest, the story belongs to a little girl named Coraline. She talks to several other female characters (her mother, the Other Mother, the old actresses in the basement, etc).

Based off of Neil Gaiman's book Coraline. Amazing and creepy AF.

Brave
Meridah and her mom have many conversations throughout the movie (though the mom doesn't say much after she gets turned into a bear, for obvious reasons) and both develop.

Frozen
Whether or not you're sick of the songs, Elsa and Anna each have their own narrative arc and they talk to each other several times, but only once about a guy.

Toy Story 3
Molly's mom tells her to donate some of her toys (she donates Barbie). Later, Jessie and Mrs. Potato Head comfort Barbie about being abandoned by Molly. Barbie herself has her own narrative arc; Jessie, too.

Rapunzel
Rapunzel and her mother talk about the world. The story itself centers on Rapunzel's dreams of seeing the lanterns, not about finding a guy. And psychotic mother has her arc.

Game of Thrones
Many, many, many times for many, many characters. One example: Dany talks to her handmaidens about her dragons all throughout season 2, as well as her plans for world domination (basically). Margery and her grandmother talk about Margery's future and politics, Arya and the nameless girl in the House of Black and White ("the waif" in the book) talk about death and whether or not Arya's ready to move on in her training...

(mostly full review here)

The Martian
This one's somewhat tricky, because the entire movie is about Matt Damon's character and trying to save him. But there are multiple women in power (most of them being geniuses in some form or another), there's at least one thing where they talk about sciencey things and the ship, and the commander of the ship (who's a woman) has to deal with her guilt at leaving someone behind (albeit by accident) and deciding whether or not she wants to throw a mutiny to go back. So...thin line, but I'm putting it on here.

Zombieland
Wichita and Little Rock talk about schemes, zombie-killing, survival plans, etc., and their arc is separate from the boys'.

Fullmetal Alchemist
The manga and both animes are good with this. Though the anime Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is the better of the two (because it follows the manga almost verbatim).

Alien and Aliens (but 3 and 4 really suck...)
Nobody's interested in dating or guys. The only topic up for conversation is alien-hunting and getting the hell out of dodge. And Ripley is a fucking badass.

Dark Knight Rises
Catwoman has her own story that includes her female buddy/protégé and they talk about stealing stuff.

Mad Max: Fury Road
Furiosa and the BAMF grannies!

The Lazerus Effect
One of my top 10 horror movies, mostly because there are so few stupid horror movie mistakes. It's all about how Zoe's turning evil, and she has a few conversations with Eva about sciencey things.

Guardians of the Galaxy
Gamora and Nebula argue in the beginning about who's better for the mission assigned to them, and then Gamora goes off and does awesome stuff (and yeah, she falls in love with Star-Lord in a predictable romance, but that's mostly minimized).

American Horror Story
Multiple women talk about multiple things, usually about killing people and survival.

(review of the latest season here)

Lucifer
Chloe Decker talks to her daughter in almost every episode about a variety of subjects, and she has her own narrative arc (the therapist does, too, to a lesser extent).

(review of the series so far here)

Crimson Peak
The main character (who's a woman, ergo it passes Mako Mori right there) tries to convince the crazy psycho sister that the house is haunted. It is a gothic romance, so naturally the majority of the conversations are about the romantic interest (but as the romantic interest is Tom Hiddleston I can't really blame them).

(full review here)

Lost
Because island craziness leads to feminists.

Premium Rush (spoilers)
So, this definitely passes Bechdel (Vanessa and Nima talk about moving out, and Nima's weird behavior and trust issues), but there's a lot of controvery on whether or not it passes Mako Mori.

The story centers on Joseph Gordon Levitt's character Wiley (a bike messenger) and the bad guy Detective Robert Monday. But the entire story is set in motion by Nima trying to get her son into the US, and learning who to trust to help her. Then again, you can't have a crazed maniac chasing down a bike messenger for what he's carrying unless someone gives the bike messenger something to carry, and that messenger is a dude. So I'm putting this on here because it's a good movie but there is some controversy around it.

It's guaranteed to increase your respect for bike messengers a hundredfold.

Mulan
Also controversial. It passes Mako Mori, but Bechdel? Every time the women talk it's about men and marriage, although there is one scene where Mulan's mom and grandma talk about the lucky cricket. But the cricket being lucky for the matchmaker and marriage...

Beauty and the Beast
Also, controversial for Bechdel. Belle and Mrs. Potts talk about what to wear to dinner...dinner with Beast. :/

Also, I don't like this one as much, even though it's a prime example of Stockholm syndrome.

Zootopia
Jude (main character) talks about her career with her mother and Bellweather.

Also, this one gets bonus points for tackling racial issues.

Maleficent
I hesitate to put this one here, not because it might have failed one of the tests (it didn't; it passes with flying colors), but I'm not sure if I should rate it as "awesome." It was okay. But my sorority sisters will eat me alive if I say otherwise, and I need to pick my battles wisely and conserve my strength for when someone wants to put in a romantic comedy, which, no, no, NO.


Speaking of sorority sisters, the following list comes highly recommended by my dear sisters. I haven't seen most of them myself, but they have the DT Stamp of Approval:
How to Get Away with Murder
Criminal Minds
Ghost Whisperer
Anastasia
Downton Abbey
Sorority Row (I cannot believe Kay* insisted on this movie; it's laughably bad, as I explained here)
X Files
Girls (on HBO)
Scandal
New Girl
Bones
Pretty Little Liars
Bridesmaids
Sons of Anarchy
Veronica Mars
iZombie
Law and Order SVU
How I Met Your Mother
Princess and the Frog
Legally Blond
Grey's Anatomy
Chuck
The Intern
Parks and Recreation
30Rock
The Office
Once Upon a Time


If you know of any others, let me know! It's very possible I forgot something or haven't seen something that should be on here.

For more on the Bechdel test in Hollywood, go to this article. It's amazing.

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*Kay is not her real name.

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Thanks for reading! :)

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns and don't feel comfortable using the little comment box below, then please contact me directly.