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6/18/2015

A Review of "Engines of War" by George Mann Starring John Hurt's War Doctor








 This is a review of the Doctor Who tie in novel Engines of War. If you have no interest in Doctor Who you will have no interest in this. Caution there may be spoilers.












Doctor Who is a unique and beloved franchise and if you have to ask what it's about you probably shouldn't be reading this review. Needless to say the Doctor is a personal hero of mine. I love him in all his forms and enjoy every era of the show. In 2013 Whovians  were given many gifts from Steven Moffat and others who have worked on the show. In my opinion the most memorable event to take place in the the Whoniverse was  the 50th anniversary episode the Day of the Doctor. It was an epic multi-Doctor adventure featuring all of the past incarnations of the Doctor and saw the return of Gallifrey. The episode starred Matt Smith's eleventh Doctor, David Tennant as the tenth Doctor, Billie Piper as the Moment, Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald and John Hurt as the War Doctor. The War Doctor is an incarnation between McGann and Eccleston. He fought in the Time War and because of this his three immediate successors refused to acknowledge his existence.




No Doctor in the history of the show is without tie in books. I do not believe John Hurt could have ever truly been the Doctor in the same ways as the other twelve without at least one prose adventure. Engines of War is that adventure. I really thoroughly enjoyed this book. Because of that I'll begin by talking about what's wrong with it.


1. There are typos scattered throughout the book. They don't make anything unreadable but they took me out of the story on several occasions. I don't know why this is the case or if it's the same with every copy but you should be warned. Naturally you have just noticed a typo on my own blog and plan on gloating in the comments.


2. Your enjoyment/understanding of the book may rely largely on your knowledge of the established canon of the show. This wasn't a problem for me but I'm a very dedicated and obsessive fan. If you are a long time fan you are likely to get a lot of the little references and nods to the past and the future.





   Engines of War is about the Doctor  crash landing on the Dalek occupied planet Moldox. There he encounters the fiesty and emotionally damaged young dalek  hunter Cinder. From there the two finds themselves breaking into Dalek headquarters, The Daleks it turns out have been developing a new weapon. The weapon is poweredby a temporal abnormality near Moldox called the Tantalus Eye. The purpose of the weapon is to wipe people, things or even places from both time and space. This would effectively make them no longer real. The Doctor and Cinder go to the Time Lords who in order to prevent the proliferation of time weapons decide to just go ahead and blow up the Tantalus Eye . This would of course destroy a dozen different inhabited worlds and every living thing on them but it's not like that matters. Obviously the Doctor and his companion work to stop the genocide as well as defeat the Daleks. They do this by stealing a Time Lord  (Borusa) who Rassilon has turned into a weapon known as a possibility engine.


  This book is interesting for a number of reasons. It is not only the best look we get at the life of John Hurt's Doctor it is also our best look at the events of the Time War. It's something we could never get in a multi Doctor story. This story allows for a kind of focus and exploration of the Doctor's past which would be out of place in the regular series. In book form however it works beautifully. We get an interesting cast of characters both from the classic series and the mind of George Mann and we get to see just what pushed the Doctor over the edge and put him in a place where he could even imagine pushing that big red button.


   I'm a big believer that Doctor Who is first and foremost about the Doctor but at the same time it is never just the Doctor. Engines of War is not only  the story of Doctor and the Time War. It is also the story of Cinder. Cinder is everything the Doctor values. She's brave and smart and capable of working independently and making tough decisions at a moment's notice. But more than that she's a girl who wants to escape everything but doesn't know if there's anywhere to escape to. She's stuck between a rock and a hard place and is determined to fight her way out. She could  easily be compared to Ace. She adds a lot to the book. It's a real pity she only got this one adventure.





   The George Mann wrote the Doctor is very true to the performance given by Sir John Hurt. He's a slightly grumpy, slightly goofy old soldier who desperately go  back to exploring the universe for pleasure. He's got a dark and feels an enormous sense of responsibility to protect the universe. What I think Mann does really brilliantly is that rather than writing a character exactly like the one seen on screen he wrote the Doctor as he would have been before losing hoping. He shows us real character progression and makes his writing feel natural and not like some sort of prequel put out just to cash in on the popularity of the character.




   Engines of wars is a fun and at times very sad story which sets gigantic standards for itself and then lives up to everyone of them. It's truly a must read for any dedicated Whovian. It stands up as a perfect companion piece to The Day of the Doctor and is an entertaining and poignant story on its own.










6/11/2015

A Review of "All You Need Is Kill" (AKA "Edge of Tomorrow") by Hiroshi Sakurazaka















   Before beginning I should clarify that I am reviewing an English translation of the Japanese novel All You Need is Kill. This book is the source material for the popular Tom Cruise film Edge of Tomorrow. I have not yet seen the film but will likely be reviewing it separately in the near future. Now that I've made that clear I'll introduce you to some of the major characters in this novel.






   1.  Keiji Kiriya








Keiji Kiriya starts off as your typical everyman. He's joined the UDF (United Defense Force) within the Japanese military in order to fight the Mimics which are what the humans call the alien creatures that have invaded. He says himself that he doesn't want to be a war hero. He just wants to prove to himself and others that he is capable of accomplishing something.


   He soon learns that his decision to join the military may have been a mistake when he finds himself about to die on the battlefield. Rita a prodigious American soldier stays with him as he takes his last few breaths, He dies but somehow he lives to remember it. He finds himself repeating the thirty battle over and over again. Each time he dies and wakes once again in bed to start all over again. As he starts to piece together what's happened he also trains his mind and develops fighting skills  in the hope of eventually being able to defeat the Mimics and somehow return to normalcy.




2.  Rita Vrataski








Rita (AKA the Full Metal Bitch) is an American soldier who has killed more Mimics in battle than anyone  else and is considered a hero by people all across the world. She fights with a personalized battle axe and wears a standard issue robotic fighting suit which she had painted red in order to stand out and attract Mimic attention. She's got a kind disposition but has suffered a lot and been hardened by pain. She does not suffer fools gladly and has more than a few secrets.



  Throughout the time loops Keiji and Rita begin to build a complex which is inevitably forgotten by Rita each time things are reset. She helps him to figure out what exactly has been happening and their relationship becomes a key plot point of the novel.



3. Yonabaru Jin




Yonabaru is Keiji's closest friend and in many ways the total opposite of him. He's an argumentative, womanizing, often rude soldier who is initially more experienced than Keiji. Each loop begins with him approaching Keiji to sign the same peace of paper. He dies on more than one occasion and despite the temporary nature of each of these tragedies Keiji feels a great deal of guilt for his friend's demise,



4.  Bartolome Ferrell








   Ferrel is Yonabaru and Keiji's platoon sergeant. He's an experienced veteran who demands respect but would sacrfice his own life for his soldiers. He believes in physical fitness, hard work and self control, Throughout the novel he becomes a great asset to Keiji who attends the same training session with him more than a hundred times. Keiji eventually surpasses Ferrel in fighting skill. Ferrel shows him a great deal of respect and seems to value him highly as a soldier.



   These among others are some of the people the not too distant future world of All You Need is Kill.







  The book is a very fast and easy read with plenty of action and cool visuals. While none of the core concepts (alien invaders, robotic fighting suits, time loops etc.) can be said to be unique to this book they are all done in very interesting ways. You really feel the isolation and the frustration from Keiji's strange predicament. The war does not feel like something which simply existed for the purpose of putting our protagonist in danger. It was presented like any real war between human entities. The Mimics are more like tanks than people so their nonhuman nature doesn't distance the book two far from the realities of battle.


I'm the sort of person who finds it impossible to rank things on a scale of one to ten so I won't. What I will say is that I recommend this book to anyone with a taste for good science fiction and or horror. It's thrilling, surprising and in places very touching. The characters feel like they live in a world far larger than what is presented in the book. Even the aliens have a complex and not entirely evil backstory. It makes you think about the value of life and sacrifice and it is likely to bring a few tears to your eyes.



6/10/2015

What Does It Mean To Be Human? Are the Doctor, Data and Dexter Morgan People?











   Humans are Homo sapiens. We experience emotions such as love and hate. We are capable of understanding that we exist as individual beings separate from other humans. These are all some fairly accurate observations of what  humans are. They are also of course incorrect. Thousands of years ago Homo Sapiens shared the Earth with the Neanderthals. The Neanderthals were human. In fact Neanderthal DNA is present in the human genome today. But when we think about humanity we exclude them because when we don't the picture becomes a little less clear and hard to fully understand. The observation that humans can be defined by the presence of emotions is likewise untrue. While almost all humans experience emotion on some level their is a spectrum and even those who experience normal emotions are in some cases capable of completely shutting them off in order to commit acts which would otherwise be unthinkable. The final observation is true of almost all adult humans without severe mental impairments but interestingly enough it is not true of infants who as far as researchers can tell believe themselves to be the only thinking beings in the world.



  I am writing this in response to a video contest from the Big History Project. The contest aims to encourage discussion and contemplation of the question of what it means to be human. I'll go ahead answer that now. A human is an organism scientifically categorized as such. This of course is done by humans and is somewhat meaningless on a universal scale where we can all be looked as nonliving particles acting to consume energy which have organized into an arbitrary and random pattern. I don't think the question that most people are asking when they say "What does it mean to be human?" is actually about humanity itself. It is more so about any being that has equal to or great than human intelligence and can understand the world and engage with the world in a way that the non-human animals we see on Earth simply do not. The question is more about personhood. This is not the abstract concept of personhood which Republicans like to apply to anything which could someday be a person. This question can be broken down into three parts. 1. What is personhood? 2. What are the identifying markers of a person? 3. How are people fundamentally different from anything else be it living or nonliving in their environments?

 


  1. Personhood is defined as the quality or condition of being an individual person.
   
     At first glance you might think that this doesn't tell you much but the wording does say a lot about
     how we as a society tend to think about personhood. A person is an individual. An individual is a person. The two words are easily interchangable. The smart wasp or ant is never truly person because they act as a hive mind and can not be separated as singular and functional individuals. So a person is something with a brain capable of understanding its own existence and percieving some aspect of reality beyond the perception of lower creatures. They can think as individuals and as as questions such as "Why am I me rather than them?" For argument's sake let's say the young and the psychologically abnormal who belong to groups that could on the whole be categorized as people are people. 


2. As stated people look at the world in a way different than other creatures capable of thought and think about themselves on a deeper level as well. Because these are all arbitrary rules made up by humans it's fair to say that this intellect is beyond that of the primates that share the earth with us today. 



3. It might be that for some people what I've already spelled out makes people seem pretty different from everything else that is I'm not sure I buy it. Dogs aren't people but they can love. Corpses are shaped like us but they're empty inside. In the end we are both the sum of our parts and so much more than that.





   I'm not going to lie. I wrote this most because I was hoping aliens might be reading my blog. It seems unfair to me that the Doctor despite how wonderful and lovely he is does not fit some definitions of what a person. It seems abundantly clear to me that he is a person regardless of his fictional nature. It is highly likely that there are aliens (who very probably don't resemble humans) that could be called people. It is very very probable that with advances in artificial intelligence you will one day be in the company of mechanical people. Humans are special. We are the only people any of us have ever met and that's something to be proud of. We have this opportunity to live in a universe of constant change and experience it as it is right now. We get to build ourselves and shape our own realities. That's what it means to be human. More importantly that's what it means to be a person. Have a lovely day. 


 



 Here is John Green's video response to the same question.





                                     



6/09/2015

Dumbledore and Gandalf Bravely Fight Evil with Love








      On Sunday two great bearded wizards united not for a battle or to vanquish some dark force but instead in the name of love itself. That's right, on Sunday June 8th, 2015 Albus Dumbledore and Gandalf tied the knot. Even more interestingly this magical union took place not in Hogwarts or Middle-earth but instead at the Equality House located closely to the HQ of The Westboro Baptist Church (a center for racism, homophobia, treason and the brainwashing of impressionable youth). 





    This all came after J.K. Rowling the author of the widely beloved Harry Potter tweeted a meme which proposed that Dumbledore and Gandalf as an interesting non-canon couple. In the 
language of today's Muggle youth she shipped them. Naturally as soon as the illiterate and deranged leaders of the Westboro Baptist Church finishing screwing their cousins and checked twitter they were outraged to find something as unholy as joke and set to work stopping people not agreeing with them by typing words and sending them to Rowling. Needless to say these were bitter and unpleasant words with no real value. Somehow the church's brilliant plan failed and Rowling the bestselling author and literary genius was able to respond in such a way that they were made to look like fools. 




   Aaron Jackson, the founder of the nonprofit Planting Peace (which created the Equality House) 
thought that Dumbledore and Gandalf really did seem right for each other and so  he organized for a wedding to be held. Unfortunately Gandalf  and Dumbledore were both unable to make it so they had arrange for actors to play them instead. Still it was a festive and cheerful occasion and a real fairytale wedding. 


When anybody tells you that the characters you love in books or films or televison aren't real or calls you a fool for loving them remember this. Remember that these characters can be real. They're real when and where it matters. They are what we stand for and they stand for us. They remind us what we believe and how to fight and to be brave in situations which we've only ever imagined facing before. Whether it's the Doctor or Batman, Gandalf or Dumbledore these heroes are important. They help us fight  real world evil. This isn't dementors or death eaters. It's not orcs or giants. It's people who are prejudiced and want to tear us apart and consume us just because we're not them. We are the people who believe in magic even when we know it's not real. We can be the heroes we love just by standing up and doing good in their honor. That's what they would want from us. 


6/05/2015

A Review of Paper Towns by John Green






               





The man pictured above is John Green. He is a well known Youtuber  and the author of multiple bestselling YA novels. Perhaps most notably he wrote TFIOS or The Fault in Our Stars. He also puts peanut butter on his face. You may or may not be aware but the film Paper Towns (which was adapted from John Green's book of the same name) is coming out soon. If you're at all nerdy or you hang out with nerdy people chances are you're going to be hearing a lot about Paper Towns. It's going to consume your life. Everywhere you look people will be talking about it or their will be advertisements for the film or book. In fact if you're the sort of person who reads this type of blog I would put money on you seeing the Paper Towns movie within the next two years. Now that we've accepted that you are definitely going to see this hopefully awesome movie I would just like to tell you a little about the book that started it all.



   Paper Towns is about a guy named Quentin Jacobsen (Q for short) who is deeply in love with the idea of his next door neighbor Margo Roth Spiegelman. Q is pretty much your average guy. He's a bit smarter than most and he's initially somewhat withdrawn but  he doesn't have much of a story of his own. He's in many way very similar to the character of Pudge in Green's first novel Looking for Alaska. In Looking for Alaska Pudge is a teenager who obsesses over the last words of dead people but does not live himself until he goes to a boarding school in Alabama in search of a "great perhaps." The great perhaps represents everything that people wait for and want to happen and also the lack of control and the intensity of the experience of just letting go and allowing life to happen.

    It's an idea that's completely abstract but also core to the lives of Green's protagonists. Margo herself becomes an abstract concept to Q. She keeps him at a distance for years, pops back into his life one night and then vanishes leaving cryptic clues and unanswered questions.  For Pudge the great perhaps is Alaska Young and Culver Creek Preparatory High School. For Q the great perhaps is  Margo Roth Spiegelman or the journey to find her or at least understand understand who she is.




  One of the reasons I love Looking for Alaska is that it allows the reader to draw their own conclusions about the motivations of the characters and the true nature events. It left questions hanging because the point of the book was asking the questions not answering them. To me Paper Towns feels like a thematic sequel to Looking for Alaska. It takes similar characters on the same sort of journey in search of personal connection, meaning and truth but this time it doesn't leave you wondering. We get to see what the pixie manic dream girl really is like when she's alone and it's sad and harsh and not what we want to see but it's also something that needs to be seen. DFTBA!!




          

6/04/2015

A Review of Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan and John Green






       I must confess that I have a bit of a collector's mentality. I wouldn't call myself highly materialistic (though I do love material things) but I crave experience and when I fanboy I try to go as fully fanboy as possible. This is why after reading and loving John Green's TFIOS, Looking for Alaska, Paper Towns and An Abundance of Katherines I decided to pick up Will Grayson, Will Grayson. I expected another somewhat formulaic but also completely brilliant and fresh John Green book. What I did not bargain for was David Levithan's unique style which attacks young adult fiction in a somewhat different but equally real and interesting way.




    Will Grayson, Will Grayson is about two misfit teenage boys, One is a somewhat social and outgoing heterosexual with a gay friend named Tiny (who is anything but), the other a deeply depressed and self hating homosexual with no real friends whose world view is a mixture of dark humor and total pessimism. Initially the only thing connecting these two characters is that they both share the name Will Grayson. Long story short, they meet in a porn shop and the course of both their lives takes a turn.




Now I could take you through the entirety of the novel. I could talk about the important character progression or the importance of learning to let go or letting yourself care but you know what I'm not going to. The only thing I want to talk to you about is the real star of this book. His not Will Grayson. It is Tiny Fucking Cooper. Tiny Cooper is the most fabulous and awesome thing about this entire book. He's so incredibly gay. By this I don't mean to stereotype gay people. It's just that Tiny could easily be some kind of stereotype but he's not. He's a flamboyant and hilarious gay romeo who may have a tendency to be a bit of a drama queen. He's hilarious but at the same time a genuinely good and warmhearted person. He knows who he is and he owns it. He's the sort of person who writes a musical about himself and doesn't care what anybody says so long as his vision is realized.



Will Grayson, Will Grayson is a hilarious and thought provoking book with a fleshed out cast of characters and a feeling that it is grounded in the reality of everyday. You  should go out and read it as soon as possible. I'm a thousand percent sure it will be a movie within ten years.




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