Books

Level Up Trilogy by Dan Sugralinov

This was actually a surprisingly entertaining story. In some ways it is reminiscent of “Ready Player One”.

What if you life suddenly turned into a Role Playing Game? Where you could level up stats, see other people’s stats and generally try to do quests?

That’s basically the hook of the trilogy, though in the end something bigger is afoot (I am not going to spoil it).

Fast writing style with a lot of pop culture and gaming references, but accessible to pretty much everybody. The flow I found surprisingly American / British considering that the author is Russian.

If you want a fast, easy read, this is it.

Rating: 4/5

Fall, or Dodge in Hell by Neal Stephenson

Ah, a new book by Neal Stephenson. Released at the beginning of the month it comes in at close to a thousand pages. One of Stephensons doorstops.

And no, that is not a criticism. He manages to create loveable worlds and characters and “Fall, or Dodge in Hell” is in a way a continuation of his 2013s “Reamde”.

Whereas “Reamde” dealt with the world of (online) computer games, “Fall, or Dodge in Hell” asks the question: What if we could digitize a person and give them an artificial afterlife?

Many of the characters from “Reamde” are back, older, somewhat wiser and quite a bit closer to deaths door.

Part 1

In the first part of the book the characters mourn the death of one of theirs, only to realize that he, and others, had worked on a kind of digital afterlife. By scanning in the brain, they hope to rebirth them into a digital realm. They do succeed.

Stephenson in this part is mostly stuck in meatspace, with insights into the very earliest part of the digital afterlife. In true “Reamde” fashion though the afterlife and the real world still interconnect. With the living watching the newly living evolve.

Part 2

The next part of the book deals with evolution of the afterlife and what that means for the humans still alive and where it will lead society. Both worlds go through tremendous transformations and changes as time passes on. Several thousand times faster in the afterlife than in meatspace. (I would like to write more about this section, but it would steal from the story. I may write a longer analysis / review of the book in the future though).

Part 3

In the final part of the book we have entered the afterlife and become witness to all too human struggles as the meatspace world, at times, still watches on.

The End

The book ends with…… an open ending. Not in that character arcs aren’t closed, they are, but rather that Stephenson leaves us with an open ended world.

I am curious to see if he will pick it up in a future book.

Rating: 4.5/5 (Amazon Link)

Grand Dark by Richard Kadrey

Richard Kadrey is mostly known for his “Sandman Slim” in which the titular hero dies, goes to hell, at one point in time becomes the Devil all the while he lives in LA. Grand Dark? That’s different.

It is listed as “Dark Fantasy” in Goodreads and it fits. The world feels dark, a post WWI Germany comes to mind, with broken yet powerful institutions. A broken city and people infused with Jules Verne inspired machines all in the name of the greater good.

What reinforces the “Post WWI Germany” feel for me is that many of the places carry German names, and kudos to Kadrey to not butchering them up but actually using real words.

The story itself starts in a sort of no-mans land. The war has ended, in a victory, of sorts. The war invalids (Otto Dix’s “The Match Seller” comes to mind) are still around and the State appears oppressive and controlling and a sense of doom hangs over Largo, our protagonist. Young and poor he is working as a bicycle courier with an artistic actor girlfriend when he suddenly finds himself promoted to supervisor. Largo has dreams, he wants to get out of poverty and climb the latter. But life in Lower Proszawa is strange and weird.

While his life is changing, so is the city around him. The War may have been won, or at least not lost, but a sense of dread and defeat still hangs over the city of Lower Proszawa and its inhabitants. A mysterious sickness shows itself from time to time as well, which many attribute to weapons used during the war.

Largo himself will find himself in the middle of several different forces that all seem to propel the city towards the next war. With a mixture of action, romance, adventure and a good amount of steampunk meets Jules Verne style aesthetics Kadrey creates a world and a story I greatly enjoyed.

Kadrey always has been a very visual writer, but I think in “Grand Dark” he’s upped his game. This is a book that almost cries out for a mini series. Unlike “Sandman Slim” it does not rely on violence and gore to drive the story forward, rather mystery, conspiracy and fear is what propels Largo and the other characters forward.

All seem to have a sense of urgency, but few know why and all will not be revealed until the end. (I am really trying to avoid spoilers here, even though I acknowledge this reads a bit like an ad copy).

Rating: 4.5/5 (Amazon Link)

The Unincorporate Woman by Dani Kollin

A few years ago I read two books in the “The Unincorporate Man” series and it ended… well, in the death of the title character. So I presumed it was done and dusted. But as it turns out, there are more books in the series.

I was a bit torn on this book. I though the first third was a bit boring, it didn’t really catch me. It picked up a bit afterwards and did catch my attention more. But in general I think this is a bit of an average book. Both “Fall, or dodge in Hell” and “Grand Dark” where better reads this month.

You can read it without having read the previous books. It will make the world slightly less accessible, but from the context of the story enough will be revealed to make it enjoyable.

Rating: 3/5 (Amazon Link)

Climate: A New Story by Charles Eisenstein

This is one of these books where I agree with the diagnosis but reject, by and large, the solution.

In the first part of the book Eisenstein “dismantles” the debate around Climate Change. His core argument is essentially that the argument misses the point and it is about something bigger entirely, but this gets missed because everybody is hung up on CO2.

So far, I agree with him. He then goes on to talk about it being a mistake to frame things in the context of monetary value and arguing that something is worth doing because $$$. I sort of agree with that sentiment, though what he overlooks here is that money is a frame of reference that people do actually understand. I am not going to say this is ideal, but making a high-minded argument that nobody gets is also not very useful.

Lastly he goes onto a rather extensive rant about the failure of Science. Essentially arguing that “science doesn’t get it”. It’s an extend of the financial argument. I think this analysis is rather narrow minded. Science has understood for a while now that things aren’t just existing in parallel but rather are interconnected. The fault here is not with science, but with the way things are being reported. Because so much of science is deep, rather than wide, press releases, and by extension news stories, focus only on a single item.

Science reporting in the past managed to bridge that gap. It put things into context so people could understand was discovery in field X meant overall. But with the decline of Journalism and scientific literacy over the last few decades, this crucial part is missing.

So, in the end, I think the book is a good conversation starter and people should probably read it. But if they just take the book as gospel and run with it? I doubt much good will come of it.

In the end, his solution is one I have read repeatedly from North America writers: The natives know so much more than we do, and we should listen to them.

I have my doubts that just because you’re native you have a better understanding of the world, but that’s a different discussion.

Rating: 4/5 (Amazon Link)


TV

Chernobyl (2019)

I am old enough to remember when the whole thing happened. The somewhat panicked news reporting about radiation on children’s playgrounds etc.

In no small part did it lead to Germany originally decide in the early 2000s to phase out nuclear power.

So it is with a bit of interest to see the Hollywood / HBO treatment of this event.

First and foremost: It’s excellently shot, as you would expect from a HBO show and many people who have lived in the Soviet Union / Ukraine during the events confirmed online there was an enormous amount of attention paid to the little details.

So that’s the good part about the show. The not so great part for me was that a lot of the characters and their behaviour felt rather stereotypical of how an American things Russians talk. I am by far not an expert on Russian culture, but my mothers family was on the other side of the Iron Curtain and we did visit and a lot just “felt off”. Some people on online forums also voiced this, so it wasn’t just me.

And then there is the science behind what happened and what could have happened and that…. Seems to be more myth making than reality, but I let someone who knows more about this explain it in the video below.

Rating: 7/10 (iTunes Link)

The Twilight Zone (2019)

Oh Mr. Peel. It all started so promising.

The first few episodes where good, if not without it’s problem, but then they very quickly started gong downhill, with one of the worst episodes probably being Episode 7 “Not all Men”.

No, it wasn’t the topic, it was the generally hamfisted writing and the characters and this applies not only to Episode 7 but to a lot of them.

I cannot decided if the writers thought they were so smart that people couldn’t get what they wanted to say without getting it hammered into them, or if they really wanted to just preach the message.

In any case, it makes for some seriously bad TV watching. It is well shot though, I give it that, but then these days, that’s almost to be expected.

Rating: 3/10 (iTunes Link)

Thatcher - A Very British Revolution

A Margaret Thatcher, a person I can respect but utterly despise from an ideological point of view.

The timing is probably coincidental, but that the BBC releases this in the midst of a new Conservative Leadership race is…. nice.

The series comes in five parts and chronicles her rise and fall and spends, in the last episode, quite a bit of time on Thatcher and Europe and shows pretty clearly that what comes out of the Conservative party these days towards and about the EU and Europe is something that has been going on for 40 years.

Rating: 9/10

Catch-22

Well that’s dark, is my thought now that I have finished it.

I love the book and I love the 1970s movie this…. I am not so sure. It’s all there, but where the movie tries to paint over the horror with the absurdity of the story this mini series at times goes to the much darker places.

It’s not better or worse than the original movie, just different and as this is a remake, this is actually a good thing.

Like most modern TV shows it has excellent production values, the only gripe on this one would be the at times atrocious special effects (e.g. people on parachutes). Beyond that it is visually interesting, even though I find the yellow tint they gave the entire show a bit uninspired. I am not sure what they tried to convey here, that it’s hot? Either way, a weird choice.

Rating: 8/10 (iTunes Link)


Movies

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

Now that the third one is out I thought it was finally time to catch up on the second one that has been sitting in my “to watch queue” for a while.

And…. I liked it. It was a good continuation from the first, though I admit some of the action scenes are way over the top, especially in the beginning. CGI though seems to be well done / minimal, with the most noticeable exception of the blood splatter.

Having said this, the movie had a great feel similar to late ‘80s and ‘90s John Woo movies. The camera work was dynamic, but not to the point where you couldn’t follow the action / choreography.

The movie also moved surprisingly slow. We didn’t really get into it until around 50 minutes in and the movie itself is only about two hours long. I appreciate it.

And then of course there is the cliffhanger in the end. Greatly enjoyed it, looking forward to the third.

Rating: 8/10 (iTunes Link)

Captive State (2018)

Well, that was a disappointment. The movie is…. I wouldn’t say confused, but it’s completely and utterly uninteresting. It’s supposed to be about the struggle for Freedom but it doesn’t really bring anything new.

Early on the movie teases a bit of the Aliens, but we never really see anything of them / about them or who they are. That works for a movie like “The Arrival” but for this? Not really. The story may have worked as an action movie, but it seems to try to be more “The Arrival” than “Battle for LA” (not that the latter one was a cinematic masterpiece).

What a waste of John Goodman.

Rating: 4/10 (iTunes Link)

Captain Marvel (2019)

Well, that was…. Boring.

To be fair, I have “Marvelled Out” a while ago, but this completely lost me around 45 minutes in. I kept it on in the background and puttered around the place because it’s so utterly forgettable on so many levels.

So, story? Probably. Cinematography? Marvel Standard. Yeah…. That’s about it.

I leave this RedLetterMedia review here:

Rating: 3/10 (iTunes Link)

Chinatown (1973)

Ah, Film Noir. I was recently reminded of this movie and re-watched it. I am not sure I would call it the “best movie of all time” as I have heard some people call it, but it is definitely a cinematic masterpiece, that captures the Film Noir mood incredibly well, even though it’s shot in colour.

It is also “funny” to see a really young Jack Nicholson, as the movie is older than I am. So it’s somewhat interesting to see an actor I had always known as “old” being so young.

It’s too bad that the two follow up movies were either a bomb or didn’t happen. Sad.

Rating: 8/10 (iTunes Link)


Internet Videos of Note

Destroying my insides with Wakeup Juice from Back to the Future Part Three

Came YouTube recommended and “Drinking with Babish”. The presenter is funny too. So if you’re into Mixocology, check it out.

Abortion & Ben Shapiro

I came across the Philosophy Tube channel a few months ago. His videos are generally funny and at the very least make you think. Over the life of the channel the presentation has definitely improved and he has found an interesting voice for the themes he deals with.

In this one he takes on Ben Shapiro and anti-abortion people in an entertaining way that makes you think.

Check out the whole channel though. Good stuff there.

Star Trek Discovery Season 2 - re:View

Red Letter Media is probably my go-to movie review “site”. Mostly because the guys do understand movies and have the ability to enjoy schlock as well.

I have been rather “torn” over Discovery, mostly because I just don’t think it feels like Star Trek and I found Season 2 somewhat confused. It’s nice to see that I am not the only one.

And I am sorry for Chris Evans laughter. No, really, I am. Still, watch it.

Smooth Jazz CD 101.9 - "The CD Files" (1999 VHS

VWestlife loves old technology, mostly audio, and sometimes he finds time capsules like these.

The whole thing is so very '90s, it hurts.

A VHS tape from 1999 promoting New York City radio station CD 101.9 (WQCD). "The story of a stressed out man and a woman with a secret. Find out how she turns him on to the hidden pleasures of 'The CD Files'." One of the recipients of the tape could've won $10,000, but this copy wasn't the winner.
The station changed formats in 2008 and Smooth Jazz is no longer a popular radio format, but the video is a surprisingly well-produced time capsule of New York City in 1999, with the Twin Towers visible in the background.
As for the DJs seen and heard in the video, Deborah Rath, now known as Deborah Howell, is a voiceover artist and a DJ on Los Angeles radio station 94.7 The Wave (KTWV). Pat Prescott is also now a DJ on 94.7 The Wave, and Dennis Quinn is now a Professor of Radio, TV, and Film at Hofstra University.

Erotic Boredom: A Book Review of The Mister by E L James

KrimsonRogue's book reviews are funny. Mostly because he actually reads stuff I wouldn't touch with a barge pole and a hazmat suit.

I guess, watching someone's misery can be fun.