Books

New Earth - Book 1 - ARC by Devon C. Ford

An end of the world novel and a beginning of the world novel. It's the first in a series, though I haven't seen / read the other ones yet. As these go it is an interesting and entertaining read. The story seems (mostly) plausible and the dynamics, especially a thousand years later, are quite interesting. We also get a bit of a brush about the ethics of AIs.

Overall not a bad read. Will keep an eye out of the second book.

Rating: 4/5

Hateland: A Long, Hard Look at America’s Extremist Heart by Daryl Johnson

This was an interesting look into the radicalization that has been gong on in the US for quite a while. It drew some interesting parallels between what was going on back in the ‘90s and before and the current Trump era.

Biggest problem I see with the book is that there will be enough people who will not accept that Trumps the symptom, not the cause.

Rating: 4/5

A Consumer’s Republic: The Politics of Mass consumption in Postwar America by Lizabeth Cohen

“Vote with your Wallet” is a common saying when people aren’t happy with something or someone. This book is sort of a history (American centric) of how that phrase came to be.

It is long winded and at times feel like it’s stuck a bit in a rut, but overall this is a rather interesting historic re-telling of the “purchase Democracy” that the US has become and in a way a warning to other democracies I guess.

Will anybody listen? Probably not.

Rating: 4/5

Nick Hall - Book 1 - Mind’s Eye by Douglas E. Richards

I generally like Richard’s books. He writes in an easy / entertaining way and the technologies he explores are interesting to envision.

The Nick Hall series is three book and the first book is generally middle of the road. Man wakes up with loss of memory, realizes he has some “powers” that others do not have and an adventure ensues.

It’s entertainingly enough written and the characters aren’t totally boring. It’s not quite James Bond or Jason Bourne but entertaining none-the-less. I am actually surprised that none of his books has been turned into a movie or a TV show.

Rating: 3.5/5

Pandemic Series by Bobby Akart

The Pandemic series consists of four books and is actually an interesting subject. What would happen if a Pandemic would strike the world? The setup / background on why the pandemic happens is… well, stuff of a “24” episode but the first book and a half are really interesting from a effect / response perspective.

Unfortunately the rest of the book pretty much follows the standard template. Scientist realizes the danger, gets ignored by the higher ups and the politicians. Meets military guy and together they try to fight it and in the end retreat into an isolated area to wait things outs.

The writing is decent, though there are some weird unevennesses in the writing at times. I am not quite sure why. The characters themselves are, as already said, pretty generic and so is the story. But if how a pandemic spreads and how CDC et. al. would respond is interesting.

Rating: 2.5/5

Orion Colony - Book 1 - Orion Colony by J.N. Chaney and Jonathan Yanez

American Demagogue: The Great Awakening and the Rise and Fall of Populism by J. D. Dickey

This was a bit different than I anticipated. I sort of expected a tour through American history with an eye on Demagogy, instead the book pretty much exclusively focuses on the beginnings of the Republic.

This doesn’t make it a bad book, it was just unexpected and it quite impressive just how deeply ingrained Donald Trump seems to be in the American psyche.

Rating: 4/5

Green Zone War - Book 5 - Rogue Battleship by Jack Elwood

I admit, the series lost me a bit a while ago. As I wrote previously it’s pretty generic and it hasn’t really changed in the 5th book of the series. I think I am done at that point. It’s enjoyable enough but I have too many other books on my “to read” pile that I will probably enjoy more.

Rating: 3/5

The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood

I am not really a big fan of thrillers, but this one came recommended by a few people. It’s British, so you already know the tone will be different than with American novels and there are a few interesting twists and turns in it.

If you like thrillers / crime stories, this one is probably going to be an entertaining read.

Rating: 4/5

Galactic Startup - Book 2 - Neighbors by Brian Whiting

I liked the concept of the first book but it wasn’t really something that gripped me. The second book is expanding on the themes of the first one but I admit I am getting a bit bored. Probably in no small part because over the last few years I read so many books in this genre that I am starting to recognize a pattern. There isn’t really anything bad about this book, but also not a whole lot outstanding.

I will see how long before I pick up the third book.

Rating: 3/5

Planet Broker - Book 2 by Éric Vall

Ah, what a disappointment. The first book had some interesting ideas. The concept of large corporations buying and selling entire planets and then seeing this from a “rogue broker” was an interesting idea. Alas, the book is going, or seems to be going, into an entirely different direction and I think I am done with the series.

Ah well. Too bad.

Rating: 2.5/5

Opus X - Book 1 - Obsidian Detective by Michael Anderle

A nice, noir detective novel of sorts. Set in the future with new tech, a unified world and a former soldiers who decides his new career should be in law enforcement. Oh yeah, and a military AI that is self-aware and does not want to go back to the Government.

It’s an interesting mix, there are hints at a much bigger thing going on but the first book does not really resolve it.

The characters are likeable, iff not unique, and the action is fast paced, if not overly violent.

Rating: 4/5

Opus X - Book 2 - Shattered Truth by Michael Anderle

The mystery deepens and as I read them back to back there isn’t a whole lot more to say. The world gets more expanded, we see a bit more of the mystery. Overall I am happy with the second book in the series.

Rating: 4/5

Culture - Book 2 - The Player of Games by Ian M. Banks

The second book in the culture series and in a lot of ways it is a moral story about the ethics of Culture and I didn’t expect quite to go that far.

Rating: 4.5/5

Black Swan Planet - Book 1 - Black Swan Planet by Peter James

This, as well as the second book we’re unexpected delights. No really. It is funny and insane and yet all sounds so plausible. If you like Futurama, you’d like this.

Rating: 4/5

Black Swan Planet - Book 2 - Black Swan Antithesis by Peter James

Bit of a change of tone and you can read this without having read the first one. It stands on it’s own and that’s a good thing.

Basically, the insanity from the first book continues.

Rating: 4/5

Expeditionary Force - Book 9 - Valkyrie

This is book nine in the series and I have to say: I am still hooked. The last book ended with a pretty devastating cliffhanger so it was interesting to see what would transpire out of it and.... well, it paid off. Only to then have another massive cliffhanger ending.

From what I have heard, it seems we won't know until August though on how it continues. Damn you Craig Alanson.

Rating: 5/5

Movies

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)

This is one movie you either love or hate. Some people have pointed out that the movie has no story, but that’s wrong. The movie is the story and I find it highly enjoyable.

It also helps, of course, if you have at least some passing knowledge of the Manson Family and the end actually pays off in typical Tarantino style.

Will have to watch this one again some time.

Rating: 4.5/5

Ad Astra (2019)

Oh boy. That is an amazing looking movie with a totally forgettable story. It could have been so much more, but instead it’s a straight forward story that tries to pretend it’s deep and meaningful. Which it isn’t.

Rating: 2.5/5

6 Underground (2019)

Oh hello there Michael Bay. So, good news, this is not a Transformer movie. Bad news, it’s still a Michael Bay movie.

Let’s be clear here, it is a good Michael Bay movie, or at least a better one, but the script just completely tanks the movie.

The major car chase scene that opens the movie? It’s actually utterly boring. You want to see good car chase scenes, watch 1997s “Ronin” with Robert deNiro. Now that has good car chase scenes.

Having said all that, the one positive thing I have to give the movie is that at least it does not try to write off the action scenes with cheap humour as most Hollywood action movies do. But that’s really only it’s saving grace. The script is a mess. It’s a Deadpool movie without Deadpool and most of the jokes just don’t land. The characters are not really developed with the exception of “Seven” the guy they pick up later who at least as some backstory.

The truly scary thing is that the ending makes it sound like they were planning to make a series out of this. Please, don’t.

It’s an above average Michael Bay movie, though his Transformer movies definitely brought that average down, but it’s best middle of the road action otherwise.

Rating: 2.5/5

Joker (2019)

This was actually awesome. I am not a great Superhero fan and this sort of falls into that genre. From beginning to end this is a well crafted movie and def. one of the top movies for me this year.

My biggest fear right now is that there are now rumours swirling around about there potentially being a follow up… I am not sure that’s what should happen.

Rating: 5/5

The Grand Tour - Seamen (2019)

Technically this falls under TV more than movie, but as they are only doing movie length specials now I figure this fits in better here.

So… Well, there is the obvious joke in the title and they are milking that to the last squirt (sorry!). It’s not their best special but entertaining enough and I am waiting for the birth announcement both for May and Clarkson any day now.

Rating: 4/5

TV

Final Space - Season 2 - Netflix

I liked the first season. Not quite Futurama, but entertaining enough. The second season is somewhat landing a bit flat for me. It’s still entertaining but just not as fresh as the first one was.

If you like space comedy and cartoons though this will definitely scratch your itch.

Rating: 3.5/5

Silicon Valley - Season 6 - HBO

I guess all good things have to come to an end, and so does Silicon Valley. I admit I was a bit surprised that the end of the show made me a bit sad. I think there is enough insanity in Silicon Valley that they could have gone on longer. It def. didn’t feel stale to me.

As it is the “end of the line” it got an appropriate sendoff. If you liked the previous seasons then you really should watch the end.

Rating: 4.5/5

Southpark - Season 23 - Comedy Central

Well, it’s Southpark. Two major themes this season:

  • China
  • Pot

Pot was already the theme last year but this year they really laid into it. Southpark also didn’t shy away from going after China over Hong Kong, which is not something that can be said about the Western media in general. So props to them for that.

Rating: 4.5/5

For All Mankind - Season 1 - AppleTV+

Oh Apple and Ronald D. Moore. This could have been so awesome and….. it isn’t.

Let me be clear, the problem is not the way it is shot or the special effects or that it is an alternate history. All of that is or could have been awesome. It is the focus of the show. It’s not a “geeky” show, it does not care about space travel, at all. It cares about social commentary and projecting 2019 backwards on the late ‘60s / early ‘70s and… It just fails.

Nothing about the (technical) challenges of space travel, rather we get social commentary and weird character arcs. Overall probably one of my biggest disappointments in TV this year.

Rating: 3/5

Lost in Space - Season 2 - Netflix'

I did enjoy the first season despite some…. crap. Let’s call it that. Season two on the other hand didn’t quite grab me to the same degree. It was still slick and stylish from a production standpoint, but many of the arcs, especially in the later part of the season, I found a bit tortured.

Rating: 3.5/5

The Mandalorian - Disney+

Yes, there is Baby Yoda and, yes, in every episode. But that's not really what makes this show interesting to me. What makes this show interesting is that it feels like Star Wars. Not like on the cinematic universe, which somehow lost it's way.

It's even entertaining, but but I do not think we really know yet where this is going. The last two episodes did give a bit of a bigger picture view, but only the tiniest of morsels the other six episodes felt like "Monster of the Week" kind of episode, with uneven length and rather loose appearing connections.

Having said all that, I still will give it high marks, if for no other reason than that it at least feels like proper Star Wars. Nobody tell Disney that though, or they'll "fix" it.

Rating: 4/5

Music

The KFMW Advent Calendar. 24 great mixes.

Internet Videos

RedLetterMedia: Best of the Worst: A Very Scary Christmas

The group watches some "very" "scary" "christmas" "movies" including one of the most famous bad movies ever made!

RedLetterMedia: Half in the Bag: The 70-Minute Rise of Skywalker Review

With so many people waiting for the latest Star Wars movie I decided to ignore it (as I have since Rogue One) and instead give you RedLetterMedia’s review of it. Enjoy, and sorry for Rich Evan’s laughter.

Long Online Reads

Artificial Intelligence: Threat or Menace by Charlie Stross

Article

OpEd: Canadians travelling to or through U.S. should pay close attention to their withering rights

Latest changes to Pre-clearance Agreement give U.S. officials dangerously extended power on Canadian soil.

Article