Micro Reviews

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January 2001

Batman Beyond: The Return of the Joker (Original Video/DVD)-  Breathtaking.  The original team which brought the Batman and Superman animated series show that they know how to do super heroes.   We find out why Bruce was so isolated when we see him at the beginning of Batman Beyond.   The Joker, again voiced by Mark Hamill, has rarely been this viscous.  The animation is just beautiful.  Warning: Do not look at the character profiles on the DVD. It reveals an important plot twist.

The Dreaming Jewels by Theodore Sturgeon - Eight year old Horty Bluett escapes from an abusive step father with his doll Junky.  He goes to live with the freaks of a carnival.  He is not normal.  Horty regenerated three fingers amputated in a fight with his step father.  A fellow carny and former doctor, Pierre Montere will try to use Horty's abilities to wage his war on humanity.  It is a classic battle between good and evil.  Horty and Montere could not be more opposite.  Horty is full of love while Montere is full of hate.  Sturgeon demonstrates why he is one of the great stylists in speculative fiction.

The Coming by Joe Haldeman - Professor Aurora Bell of the University of Florida gets a message from space. The message comes from object traveling at half the speed of light and will arrive  in three months.  The book deals with how people react to this event.  Plot thread involve an extortion plot, political repercussions, and the nature of the visitors themselves.  The actual coming has a big surprise.  The novel like most of  Haldeman's ends in hope that mankind will overcome their problems.  Nice to see Gainesville used as a setting for a book..

Dune (TV Mini Series) - A daunting task remaking a popular cult hit.  The mini series succeeds..  They are able to incorporate scenes like the banquet which were not in the Lynch film.  The series looks more open than the film.  The sets and exterior visual were spectacular.  Eagerly awaiting SF channel's production of Dune Messiah and The Children of Dune.

The Bear and The Dragon by Tom Clancy -  President Jack Ryan and his team face a war between Russia and China.  Again Clancy slowly builds the conflict. There are reasons for what will happen.  While the Chinese are shown as the aggressors one sees the workings of their leadership.  We even see dissension in the Chinese leadership.   Clancy also proposes that the side with the most intelligence and the skill to use it will win in the end.

Secret Realm by Tom Cool (Reader's Group Choice) - A group of people on island have been living in a virtual world since birth.  The Chinese scientists, who run the virtual world they live in, are training these individuals to be living strategic computers.  They are given battle problems to solve and soon they are given a real problem to solve when China and Japan go to war.  One of the group know as the Trickster wonders about his environment and hots to one outside his world.   He eventually discovers how to get to the real world.  An interesting premise.  It leads to the debate of freedom as Trickster and the others  interact with real world.  An interesting combination of military SF and Cyberpunk.
 

February 2001

The Glasswright's Apprentice by Mindy L. Klasky (Reader's Group Choice) - Rani, an apprentice in the Glasswright's Guild, becomes caught in intrigue which takes to her to all levels of her society.  There are some interesting twists.  The class system of the kingdom is well designed.

Monkeybone (Theatrical Film) - A fun little film. Some of the creature designs reminded me of stuff that would be on a Sid and Marty Kroft Production.  Rose McGowan is great as a kitty.   Brendan Fraser does a great job as monkey in a man's body.  The final chase sequence is hysterical.

There and Back Again by Pat Murphy (Reader's Group Choice) - Essentially the story of The Hobbit translated to a science fiction world.  This takes away a lot of the surprise but it makes up for it in execution.  Its interesting to see what the science fictional counterpart of a hobbit, Gollum or Smaug is. An interesting look at a classic story.
 

March 2001

Ancient Shores by Jack McDevitt - In North Dakota a sail boat is found buried at a farm.  The boat is made of material not found on Earth.  The novel deals with the ramifications of this discovery.  It explores how it affects the the lives of the discoverers and the world.   There are some interesting twists to this classic story.  Both the characters and the world learn how to adapt with the consequences of the boat's discovery.

Infinity Beach  by Jack McDevitt (Reader's Group Choice) - In the far future on a human colony, a woman is trying to find what happened to her sister who disappeared after returning from a space voyage.  What she discovers is that her sister's crew may have encountered what humanity has been looking for centuries, intelligent alien life.  A good solid first contact story.  At the same time its a good mystery.

The Lone Gunmen (TV series) -  The boys finally get their own show.  A little bit more light hearted than The X Files but that is a good thing.  I like the inclusion of Jimmy Bond and Eva.  Hopefully it will take off and we will see some X-Files/Gunmen crossovers.

Gladiator (Theatrical Film) - A beautiful looking film.  Love the depiction of the city Rome.  It was also fun seeing Derek Jacobi back in Rome.  Rightly deserved the Academy Award.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Theatrical Film) - This film have some of the best sequences ever.  Some were as beautiful as well executed dance. The flight sequences were seamless. Good subtitling. No problems in reading the film.

Chocolat (Theatrical Film) - Needful Things in reverse.  Chocolate here brings out the best in people.  Should be nominated for film categories of the SF/Fantasy awards.
 

April 2001

Colonization:Aftershocks by Harry Turtledove - The German Reich has been devastated after attacking the Race.  France has been liberated.  The United States continues its activities in asteroid belt.  The Soviet Union continues to aid the Chinese rebels.   The Race faces more surprises living on Earth.  The story is heading somewhere. The Humans and the aliens will reach some type of agreement to share the planet.   It will not be a simple answer.  Look forward to the conclusion.

Josie and the Pussycats (Theatrical Film) - An interesting satire on our commercialized world.  The music was pretty good. I liked the choice of a more hard sound for the Pussycats.

Falling Stars by Michael Flynn -  Mariesa van Huyten and her associates try to stop an asteroid from colliding with the Earth.  The obstacles preventing this from happening are more political and economical than technical.  There are some great moments such as the second Far Trip expedition and the resolution of the asteroid problem.  This the end of the series for now.   Flynn can continue if he wishes since there are still some unresolved questions.  I hope he comes back to resolve them.
 

May 2001

The Mummy Returns (Theatrical Film) - A fun little film. A good B movie film.  The effects were well done. There was also a little character development.  I like the scenes between Evelyn and Rick. Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weiss made a pretty good team.. Also like the relationship with Imhotep and  Meela.

The Gate to Women's Country by Sherri Tepper (Reader's Group Choice) - In a post apocalyptic world women rule the cities.  Most men live outside the cities and compromise the armies.  The men are raised separately most of there lives. Stasia is medical student whose mother is on the ruling council.  She break certain rules out of love for her friend. This leads her to explore the rest of her world were there are very unpleasant societies.   This was a surprise. I had the impression this was going to be a men=evil type of book.  The book is not that simple.  men and women are shown in various shades of black and white. This society make sense given the circumstances.  The leaders have make tough decisions to problems which have no easy solutions.

Calculating God by Robert Sawyer (Hugo Nominee) -  An alien lands in Toronto and says "Take me to a paleontologist".  Thomas Jericho becomes that paleontologist.  He discovers that they are similar evolutionary patterns on other worlds.   They feel their studies lead them to believe that God exists beyond shadow of  a doubt. Throw in the fact Jericho is diagnosed with cancer and some fundamentalist terrorists and you have a very engaging novel.  The theological answers are not what one expects.  The aliens have unique view of what God is.  The novel has the good old fashion sense of wonder.  This could be the one that wins Sawyer the silver rocket.

The Dish (Theatrical Movie) - This is the story of the Parkes Radio Observatory in July 1969, when it was one of 2 stations keeping in touch with Apollo 11.
It was beautiful.  This movie shows engineers doing their thing.  They overcome problems such as power failures and windstorms to keep in contact with Apollo 11.  Without these guys we would not have gotten the pictures of Armstrong and Aldrin on the moon.  The film reminds us why we went to the moon in the first place. Its shame its not getting more publicity.

Shrek (Theatrical Film) - A great twist on fairy tales.  Like the surprises.  Like the gags.  Also a pretty good cover of " I am a Believer".

Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson (Hugo Nominee) - Young Tan Tan is lives a life of luxury on colony planet. The planet Toussant's culture is influenced by earth's Caribbean culture.  Her father is indicted for manslaughter and takes Tan Tan when he flees to world of Half Way Tree, a penal colony for Toussant in another dimension.  There Tan Tan faces challenges from without and within. By taking the guise of the mythical Robber Queen she can find freedom. Its interesting to see some classic themes from another prospective. The novel uses language structure from the Caribbean so it is hard to read some time. One does get used to it.  Tan Tan learns take of herself and others as she overcomes her challenges.  A pretty good coming of age novel.

Pearl Harbor (Theatrical Film) - There was never a cliché Bay and Bruckheimier did not like.  I could not buy the love story.   Too many coincidences.  I also hated all the changes they made to the Doolittle raid.   I thought Jon Voight did a good FDR. You are better off getting the DVD for Tora Tora Tora for some real history.

Witchbalde (TV Movie) - Interesting. Never read the book so I do not know if they they got it right. Looks like it could be a good series.
 

June 2001

Farmer in the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein (Retro Hugo Nominee) - Bill Lermer and his family emigrate to Ganymede to start a farm.  Problems pop up and Bill has to deal with them. A nice little adventure. Heinlein transposes the western settlement to space.  The novel still reads well.  Could win Heinlein a Hugo.

The Sky Road by Ken MacLeod (Hugo Nominee) - Clovis, a scholar working on spaceship construction yard, meets a "tinker" named Merrial. She shares an interest in his historical studies.  Those studies focus on the end of a previous era of space exploration.   Myra Godwin was the leader of small country/scientific community in Kazakhstan.  Her home is surrounded by hostile forces.  She tries to rally allies to aid her.  It was a bit hard to get into.  There is a lot going on politically in the Myra sections.  She perseveres under the the most difficult circumstances. In the end the book shows that nothing will stop mankind form going into space.

Tomb Raider (Theatrical Film) - Angelina Jolie was excellent as Lara Croft.  The directing and writing could have been a bit better.  I felt they could have used better camera angles for the action sequences. Still I hope they get to improve some of this in a sequel.

Atlantis (Theatrical Film) - Finally a Disney non-musical.  There has not been one of those since The Black Cauldron.  The animation was excellent.  Story was pretty good.  One hopes Disney will try some more non-musicals.

Charlie's Angels (DVD) - Fun little film.  Over the top in some places but it works. All three ladies were great. Great seeing Bill Murray again.  The film had some nice twists.

Gormenghast (TV Mini Series) - This was beautifully shot. The film just looks gorgeous. Unfortunately I have never read the books, so I cannot judge how well it was adapted.  The film is complex.  You have to give it your full attention. It is immensely satisfying if you do.  They only adapted the first 2 books. Hope they get around and do the third.

A.I. (Theatrical Film) - Speilberg's most ambitious SF film.  Speilberg redid Pinnochio for the 21st century.  I was quite surprised with the film's central problem, David's desire to become real. Great cinematography.  All the actors playing the mecha were excellent. There are some flaws if you analyze the society closely.
 

July 2001

Scary Movie 2 (Theatrical Film) -  Some bits, like the cat fight, worked.  Most of it makes ones nauseous.

Cats and Dogs (Theatrical Film) - A well executed idea.  I loved the dog congress and the dog history.  Feel a bit bad for the cats getting a black eye in the film.  Maybe a cat lover well be made.

Thunder Rift  by Matthew Farrell (Reader's Group Choice)- A space warp forms nears Jupiter. An expedition is sent to investigate the other side.  There we find a very primitive alien society which rely on sound and smell rather than visual stimuli.  We follow anthropologist Taria Spears studying the aliens.  Nothing really new or noteworthy about this first contact story.  There are some revelations but they seem ho-hum.

Green Arrow (Comic Series) story by Kevin Smith art by Phil Hetser - Oliver Queen is back, but the pre Mike Grell.  Kevin is definitely having a blast and sharing it with the audience.  One is getting a grand tour of the DC Universe in this one.

The Gathering of the Sinister Six and The Revenge of the Sinister Six by Adam-Troy Castro -  Some of Spider-Man's most dangerous enemies are being gathered by a mysterious Gentlemen.  There aim as usual is to destroy Spidey but is there something more.  Who is the Gentleman and his girl servant Pity.  Castro does great job with character here particularly with the villains.  I also like the scene between Spider-Man and Captain America in the second book.  The conclusion should prove interesting.

The Mists of Avalon (TV Mini Series) - An interesting take on the legend. Never had a chance to read to book. From what I heard on the grapevine it was a fair adaptation.  People make hard decisions that they feel is right. Some those decision will lead to horrible consequences. Something good is loss because people refuse to get past differences and work together.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman - Ex con Shadow gets recruited by a Mr. Wednesday to be an errand boy.  They travel all over America encountering gods old and new. Shadow seems to be the key in a great conflict.  Gaiman does an interesting job of exploring how myths are reworked in new places.  As always he gives an interesting array of characters.  Shadow is the classic every man who will raise to the occasion when needed.  Perhaps the best fantasy novel of the year.

Planet of the Apes (Theatrical Film) - A little closer to the book than the original, but not by much.  The ending is straight from the book.  Rick Baker has probably earned another Oscar for his work in this film.  All the actors especially do a great job underneath the makeup especially Carter and Roth.  The story is a bit weak in parts.  Burton as always makes up for this in atmosphere.

Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb - A not so nice fantasy writer get killed at a small SF convention.  New writer Jay Omega and his girlfriend Marion Farley try to find out who did it.  It was all right.  Some of it hit the mark on its description of fandom. Some of it feels a bit off.  May check out the sequel at some point.
 

August 2001

The Passage by Connie Willis - Dr Joanna Lander is trying to understand Near Death Experiences (NDE).  She is assisted by Dr Richard Wright who has created a process which can simulate NDEs.  Dr. Lander's search for these answers takes her to some interesting places.  She is also helped by Maisie, a young girl in need of a heart transplant.  Joanna has Richard simulate a NDE on her and she finds herself on the Titanic. Is she really on the Titanic?  Does the ship itself contain the answer to her questions?  She encounters bureaucratic insanity, wacky characters, and a new age writer along the way. This is Willis most ambitious novel. While there is allot of humor this her most serious book since Doomsday Book. There is a big surprise. A surprise that will leave one reeling.  A must read.

The Free Lunch by Spider Robinson - In the early 21st century, Dreamworld is an amusement park based on the works of Robert A. Heinlein and John Lennon.  People leave the park as better humans.   Mike is a runaway who tries to escape to Dreamworld.  There he finds Annie a midget who has been living underneath Dreamworld for years.  Annie takes Mike under her wing.  Together they try to figure out how come more elves  leave the park than come in.  At the same time they must stop Haines, the evil owner of Thrillworld, from destroying Dreamworld.  Spider creates an amusement park anyone would like to runaway to.  He also creates some interesting characters along the way.  There is also an optimistic outlook on the future.  We may have the answers to our problems if we are willing to trust.  The ending leave it open for a sequel.  I hope there is.

Ghost World (Theatrical Film) - A quirky little film.  It is about trying to grow up without compromising yourself.  It is not easy.  The cast was great. From a reliable source I hear it is faithful to the source material. It is nice to see a film which there are no easy answers.

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (Theatrical Film)- The circle closes.  It is fun movie.  Laughs are had by all.  It is sad to say good bye to the View Askew universe but I cannot wait to see what new things come from Kevin Smith's head.
 

September 2001

Tau Zero by Poul Anderson - The Leonara Christina was going at near light speed towards the planet Beta 3.  A collision with a gas cloud forces the ship to take a detour.  The Leonara Christina literally goes to the ends of the universe and beyond.  This is a classic hard SF novel.  The science is based on relativity and how it effects time.  This book is also about the endurance of the human spirit.  The crew has to face immense challenges from both without and within.  It is one of the greatest journeys in SF.

Star Trek: Enterprise (TV Series) - This looks promising.  It has the old sense of wonder feel about it.  Still there are few things that bug me.  It is disquieting seeing the Vulcans in an unfavorable light.  The decontamination scene seems superfluous.  I mean they could have had that conversation anywhere at dinner, on the bridge, etc.  Scott Bakula is great as a captain.  The rest of the crew looks interesting.  Hope it works out.

Spider Kiss by Harlan Ellison - The rise and fall of a pop singer in the late 50s as told from the point of view from his publicist.  An interesting look at fame which is as pertinent today as it was 40 years ago.

Hearts in Atlantis (Theatrical Film) - A great coming of age film.  Teaches one how to be a good human being.  When you combine King and Goldman you get something very special. This film forced me to read the book.

Science Fiction Culture by Camille Bacon-Smith - An interesting look into the subculture I belong too.  This analysis provides insights into fandom and its relationship to the industry.  The points in this book should cause discussion  for some time.  A pity it missed the Hugo ballot.
 

October 2001

Man Over Mind by Dean Warren (Reader's Group Choice) -  In the distant future mankind has been enslaved by the Minds, humans augmented by computers.  Tol, descendent of a royal house which once opposed the Minds, will lead a war against them.  The plot is classic SF. An individual taking on a corrupt society.  Characterization is weak particularly for the women.  A throwback to the pulp days.

Ascendant Sun by Catherine Asaro - Kelric comes back  to find the Skolian Empire on the ropes.  He could be the only hope to help restore the Empire.  He faces serious obstacles.  It is an interesting universe. Has some interesting erotic scenes.  Good characterization.  Makes me want to explore the rest of the Skolian Empire series.

Smallville (TV Series) - Superman meets Dawson's Creek.  It has possibilities.  The leads seem to be OK.  I am bit annoyed they had to use kryptonite to create threats for Clark to fight. kryptonite never has effected humans.  I am hoping for guest appearances from Bruce Wayne, Oliver Queen and Hal Jordan.

Special Unit 2 (TV Series) - Interesting idea. Hate those quick cuts they do between scenes. Second string X-Files. So far so good.

Alias (TV Series) - A spy show for the new century.  An interesting plot. I hope to they can keep up the pace.

A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge - A rogue AI called the Blight has taken over a human colony.  A group escaped and crashed landed on a planet inhabited by sentient dog like creatures called Tines.  Tines are primitive. Two groups of Tines have captured human prisoners.  With the human children they captured the Tine factions hope to advance themselves and overcome their rivals.  Pham Nuwen joins an expedition to recover the information on the Tine world which may stop the Blight.  Unfortunately some the alien races blame humans for the Blight and try to stop Nuwen from reaching the Tine World. Nuwen also faces the forces of the Blight.   This take place 30,000 after the events of A Deepness in the Sky.  It is a complicated novel.  There is an interesting future Internet.  The Tines are a convincing alien race.  An interesting exploration of where technology can go and how it affects a society.

Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite -  Serial killer Andrew Compton escapes from Prison.  He comes to New Orleans where he may have meet his equal in depravity in the form of Jay Byrne.   Compton and Byrne plan to kill Tran, a runaway.  As always Brite's prose leaves an indelible impression in one's head.  The book is influenced by the Dahmer murders. Brite recreates the horror of those crimes.  This book is not for the weak or close minded.
 

November 2001

Monsters, Inc (Theatrical Film) - A very Henson-like film.  Both in humor and design.  Pixar hits another homerun.

Chicks in Chainmail edited by Esther Freisner - Amusing stories of the filp side of the female warrior tale.  Interesting stuff. Want to read the follow ups.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Theatrical Film) -  A faithful rendition of the book (to the best of my memory).  It looked and felt right.  I hope they can keep it up for all seven books.

Doctor Who: Kastrophea by Terrance Dicks - The Doctor (Third) and Jo land on the Planet Kastrophea.  A colony planet where something strange is happening to the native inhabitants.  They seem to be going berserk.  At the same time different human factions try to determine the fate of the planet.  At the same time the Draconians try to instigate an incident with Earth.  An interesting and complicated tale.  It felt like a type of story Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks would have like to produce.  There are no easy answers in this one.  At best there are practical ones.

Doctor  Who: Divided Loyalties by Gary Russell - The Doctor (Fifth)  faces his past in a confrontation with the Celestial Toymaker.   The Doctor attempts to remedy a mistake he made years ago during his days at the Academy on Gallifrey.  I have been fond of Russell since his days as a writer on Doctor Who Magazine.  In this book he gets to investigate the Doctor's early years.  Russell gets to use all the lore surrounding  the Toymaker both in novels and comics.  A compelling read.

Amelie (Theatrical Film) - Amelie is young Fenchwomen trying to make the world a better place for her family and friends.  Can she do the same for herself in the process? A great film.  It has a positive feel to it. make you want to be a better person.

Space Cadet by Robert A. Heinlein - Cadets prepare being members of the Patrol.  Heinlein's second juvenile.  It is crude in some areas.  There are no female cadets.  Heinlein did seem to predict cell phone.  There is a mention of a ship receiving mail.  Since it does not describe how the mail was received,  I would like to think they came in range of a local port and they were able to download the mail.  The book also had an interesting alien race on Venus.  The aliens fit Campbell's definition of term as something that thinks like a man, acts like a man but is not a man. Looking at it historically showed promise of things to come.

Guilty Pleasure by Laurell K. Hamiltion - The first of the Anita Blake series.  In this world the supernatural is accepted fact.  The U.S. Supreme Court has declared that vampires have equal rights under the law.  One needs a court order to to execute a vampire. Anita is a reanimator and vampire hunter.  She is forced to find a vampire killer  for the master vampire in St. Louis.  An interesting combination of the detective and horror story. All the characters especially Anita is flesh out.  The world Hamilton has designed is interesting if a little dangerous.  Need to read the rest of this series.
 

December 2001

Jupiter by Ben Bova - Bova continues his exploration of the solar system. Grant Archer is sent to the space station Thomas Gold, in orbit around Jupiter, to spy on the crew for his fundamentalist superiors.  He discovers the crew is on the verge of a major discovery, intelligent life in the liquid interior of Jupiter.  A classic hard sf story. The aliens are plausible and very intriguing.  Bova pays tribute to those who have gone before with Clarke's Medusas living in the upper Jovian atmosphere. An engaging journey.

Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story (Television Mini Series) - An interesting look at the same facts. Let's face it,  Jack was a thief. One could only justify his actions by making the giant a tyrant.  It is a story of taking responsibility and setting things right.  Always good to see Mia Sara.  One of the best fantasy mini series.

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Theatrical Film) - An incredible realization of Tolkien's world. It shows what can be done if care is taken in getting the details right.  Liberties are taken but it does not detract the work.  The scenes between Arwen and Aragorn are a good example of this.  Nice to see the relationship develop.  The movie needs multiple viewings to get it all in.

Between the Planets by Robert A. Heinlein - Don Harvey on his way to join his parents on Mars gets caught in the middle of an interplanetary war.  Born of mixed ancestry his cut off from Earth and is forced to go to Venus, now in rebellion against the Earth Federation.   He tries to survive under these difficult conditions and gets involved in further intrigue.  He becomes a key player in the struggle.  Another juvenile dealing with complex issues.  Don makes the best of the situation and is able to adapt rapidly to changing circumstances.  Again interesting alien design with the Venusian dragons.  A classic Heinlein image is first used here, that of someone attacking an amoured space trooper with a meat cleaver.  This would be used again during the lunar revolution in The Moon is Harsh Mistress.

A Beautiful Mind (Theatrical Movie) - This film has a very scary concept. The idea one cannot trust one's mind.  John Nash encounters this and must combat it in order to function.  Yet through all the chaos brilliance emerges. Both Crowe and Connelly do an excellent job portraying John and Alicia Nash.  Ron Howard's best film to date.

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