Loading...
Stainless Steel Droppings by Carl V. Anderson - 5M ago

unsplash-logoSteve Halama

“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say”

~J.R.R.Tolkien

And here we are, the end of one leg of our life’s journey and the start of a new one. I understand that it is an artificial construct of sorts, that today is no different than yesterday simply because I now have to remember to write an “8” at the end of the year when I date things instead of a “7”, but I welcome opportunities to reset, to reassess, and to recommit to those things that are important.

No resolutions of the standard variety for 2018. Today is simply, though significantly, a day to state once again my priorities and to use this last day of vacation before returning to work to set my feet on a firm foundation towards these priorities.

They are few, but oh so important: Faith, Family, Friends, Fitness. When I set out I hadn’t intended for it to be The Four F’s, but there you go. If 2017 taught me anything, particularly with the recent passing of my mother-in-law, it is that there is something to be said for staying true to those things that are most important. For me that starts and ends with a personal relationship with Jesus. From that foundation my goals for 2017 include making sure that I spend more quality time with family and friends, that I make wise choices with my finances and that I am prayerful and purposeful about addressing the needs of the poor in the giving of my time and my money, and that I am responsible about what I put into my body and what I do with it so that–as far as it depends on me–I am healthy and active for years to come.

My absolute favorite memories of 2017 include:

Playing games with family and friends (particularly over the Christmas holiday)
Sharing our favorite vacation spot with friends as we celebrated his and my wife’s birthdays
Meeting my first grand nephew, Parker
The hard work and resultant joy of helping to put on Spectrum Fantastic Art Live 5
Discovering new Youtube channels that inspire adventure, promote activity, and teach easy but yummy new healthy recipes
Meeting my first grandchild…of the canine variety…Ambrosius (a three year old Great Dane)
The second annual October “Lamberson” camping trip to Knob Noster State Park (much warmer this year)
Running on Landahl Park trails
Seeing the children of friends grow up and continue college, go on missions trips, start their first jobs
Several sitting-around-the-fire nights, chatting and relaxing.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed some good books, movies, and television shows in 2017 (as you can see on my latest Favorites post) and some of those experiences have been wonderful shared experiences with people I love. But the things that stand out, even more so as I get older, are the moments of getting out and doing things and/or spending time with people and just enjoying one another.

2018 will be the year that I see my wife turn 50 (March 21st) and I spend the next 8 months, to the day, harassing her about being older, until I join her at that milestone. I intend to celebrate that birthday with the best spiritual, mental, physical, and emotional health I’ve ever had. I have no doubt 2018 is going to have its share of troubles, especially in the world at large, and those things have to be met with faith and courage and trust. There is little I can do to control much of what goes on. I can only attempt to make wise decisions with what I do with my time at work and at home, with the way I use money, and with what I eat and drink and making sure that I do some sort of daily activity, even if it is just a short walk.

That all is very doable. The rest is in God’s hands. I look forward in 2018 to being a better steward with what I have been given.

May we all do the same in 2018.

Happy New Year everyone, I hope my year is filled with news of your joys, victories and triumphs, be they big or small, and I hope I can be there for you in the way you need during those times where life takes an unexpected, and not very welcome, turn.

Whether we are ready or not, it’s 2018. Here we go!

The post Welcome 2018! appeared first on Stainless Steel Droppings.

Read Full Article
Visit website
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 
Stainless Steel Droppings by Carl V. Anderson - 5M ago


(Image credit)

Based solely on the evidence here at Stainless Steel Droppings (5 posts in the entire year up to this point, not including this one), it is safe to surmise that 2017 has been an atypical year, at least in regards to reading. I have read far fewer books this year than in any year since I started keeping track, which was about two or three years before I started blogging. And out of those books that I did start reading this year, the majority remain unfinished.

I am not certain I can pinpoint any one reason. Certainly involvement in my community (church, work, family, friends) has been of much more importance to me than ever before and I have made more of a concerted effort to make memories based on interacting with others, which understandably cuts into reading time. But I have also spent more time gaming and watching various things on streaming services than I have in previous years, time that before would have been devoted to the printed word.

That being said, I have had some very nice reading experiences this year, as well as viewing and gaming experiences, and so I in no way consider this a down year…just a different one.

As before, my post is not so much a “best of” post as it is a review of what were my favorites for the year. Some of what I will share are certainly outstanding works in their own right. Others are things that made an impression on me and because of that and no other reason, they have lingered with me through the year.

READING:

Theft of Swords is an Orbit Books publication that gathers together the first two books in author Michael J. Sullivan’s self-published Riyria Revelations series. I picked this up after reading a short story featuring the series protagonists, Royce Melborn (thief) and Hadrian Blackwater (mercenary). Sullivan creates the perfect blend of humor and heroism in a series that sees this infamous pair allowing sentiment to get them into the kind of trouble they mostly try to avoid. There are no first-novel issues here, this series is fantastic right from page one. I have enjoyed the various characters introduced in these first two books and have been enjoying the second collection as well. Lauren Panepinto commissioned a great cover from artist Larry Rostant that really does a fine job of depicting these two characters. Highly recommended.

I have some regrets over things I did not review this year, and this is certainly one of them. I have been a fan of artist Gregory Manchess for a number of years due to his work being featured in Spectrum: The Best of Contemporary Fantastic Art. I have had the pleasure to meet and talk with Greg on a couple of occasions at the Spectrum Fantastic Art Live events, and am thrilled to own a couple of small original works of art he created. Needless to say, I was thrilled to discover that he was writing a book, and creating all the illustrations, inspired by one of his most beloved paintings (featured there on the cover).

Let’s be frank: I’ve read books written by artists I admire, and the story does not often live up to the artwork, making the whole a somewhat disappointing affair. This is not the case with Above the Timberline. It is an entertaining and engaging story set in a potential future (I won’t spoil anything) that has page after page of marvelous painted illustrations that help tell the story. I’m so impressed with the format of this book. Printing it in a larger size allows for the artwork to really shine. If you did not get this book for Christmas, then get yourself a “Happy New Year” gift of Above the Timberline right away.

And Greg…I want more!

In early November I dropped by the Half Price Books location near my work to do some early Christmas shopping…and of course could not resist perusing the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the store. There I found three classic works of science fiction that had obviously never been read, given their pristine, bagged condition. I’m a big fan of the work of artist Paul Lehr, and of author Isaac Asimov, so I picked this up and read it straight through beginning right when I arrived home.

The Martian Way is a series of four novellas and each one of them was an enjoyable read. The length of the novella was an ideal format for Asimov to set up and tell a satisfying story. I don’t often read a book immediately upon purchase, but I am so glad I did not wait for this one.

(As an aside, I couldn’t help but laugh when I discovered two different copies of this book, with different cover art, in my basement paperback collection, just a few days after finishing this.)

I have been a fan of the Flavia de Luce series since the publication of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Flavia is one of my favorite literary characters and I have enjoyed each of Alan Bradley’s novels featuring the young chemistry whiz with a penchant for solving murder. I used to read these books in printed form, before my wife got me hooked on the audio books narrated by Jayne Entwistle. She is a marvelous narrator. I was behind on the series, so over the course of late Summer/early Autumn I listened to the audio books over lunch breaks and while driving to and from work.

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust removes Flavia from her home in Bishop’s Lacey and deposits her in a Canadian boarding school. I read a great deal of criticism about this book from fans of the series, but I enjoyed it. I am glad that events lead Flavia back home, and back to her beloved bicycle, Gladys, but I found this to be every bit as page-turning (if you can say such a thing about an audio book) as the previous novels.

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d
is, as I mentioned, set back in Bishop’s Lacey. It opens with bad news and was quite an emotional story. It was one where I saw what was coming the entire time and yet was still shocked to the core when it actually occurred. I’m glad that the new novel comes out at the end of January. I am anxious to check back in with Flavia de Luce.

Louise Penny is another mystery series author whose work I enjoy experiencing on audio book. The Inspector Gamache books are consistently great, in large part due to the memorable characters that she has created. These books always come with a language warning from me, as one of Penny’s characters is a foul-mouthed cranky old poet, with an equally foul-beaked duck. As with most things, I had gotten behind on this series, and so I listened to A Great Reckoning prior to the release of her new novel last August (which I have yet to get to).

This story revisited some of the events that transpired over a long story arc from the first several novels in this series and it was interesting, and intense, listening to Gamache deal with these circumstances once again.

Continuing on the audio book trend, I listened to Holly Goldberg Sloan’s newest novel, Short, over the Summer. The setting of this story is a community theater production and that added to my enjoyment as I was involved in drama during my elementary and high school years. Tara Sands is a fantastic narrator, making the experience of listening to the story such a pleasure. And I credit her narration and the skill of Sloan’s writing to making me care deeply for a character who had some very unlikable qualities.

Kate DiCamillo is one of my favorite authors. She tugs strongly at my heart strings every time. I first listened to the audio book of Raymie Nightingale last year, but as I didn’t post a favorites list for last year, and given that I listened to it again this past Summer, it was destined to be on the list. Raymie Nightingale might just be my favorite audio book. Jenna Lamia creates such great, distinct voices for the characters, in particular the three unlikely young friends who find themselves thrown together due to the Miss Central Florida Tire competition. This novel deals with adult themes (parental separation and abandonment) and yet is funny and sweet and heartwarming in such a way that it makes you want to listen to it again and again. I highly recommend all of Kate DiCamillo’s novels, but this is one of the best.

Mark Schultz is an incredible artist, and the worlds he creates touch all of the hot buttons of what I like. When I see his art I am transported back to my childhood, when the kinds of adventures he portrays were not only what I craved, but also seemed like they just had to be possible. I collected this series when it was published in individual volumes, and was thrilled to get a deluxe edition of the collection from Flesk Publications. You can get a slightly dinged discount version here. This is how I got my copy, and it was a true bargain. The art is amazing and the collected portfolio contains some illustrations that were not in the individual volumes. Any art book from Flesk Publications is a work of art in itself. This one is truly special.

An article that popped up on a news site, a few days before this book’s release, featured an excerpt that talked about the physical health problems astronaut Scott Kelly was experiencing upon his return to Earth after a year spent on the international space station. His symptoms, which didn’t sound at all pleasant, intrigued me enough that I picked up the book on its release day and didn’t put it down until I had finished.

The biography alternates between chapters exploring Scott Kelly’s rise through NASA with chapters describing his time on the ISS. Both parts of the book were equally fascinating and I am so glad I read it. Since then I’ve tried to keep up with the International Space Station via Facebook, and once in a while I look at the night sky and marvel that it is up there, somewhere, and that brave souls are inhabiting it. It is crazy and wonderful to think about.

The Pursuit of God was written in the late 1940’s, and yet it is amazing how prescient it is in describing the state of the church, church goers, and the world today. A.W. Tozer’s language is of an earlier age, which I find very interesting but does make it a challenge at times. I read this for the first time last year and helped lead a study of the book in our men’s group at church over the course of 2016 and part of 2017. It is a thin volume that packs so much wisdom and encouragement, focusing on having a personal relationship with God.

CONSOLE GAMING:

Fallout 4 came out in November of 2015. I purchased it at a late-night release party, began playing it immediately, and to date have not finished the game. Over the course of 2017 I discovered mods and completely restructured the look and feel of the game, which meant several more hours of delight in the Fallout world. I’m not sure there are any games I like more than Fallout 3, New Vegas, and Fallout 4. I love the music, never tire of exploring, and even when I am away for a while I find myself longing to return to this post-apocalyptic America.

I played through most of Rise of the Tomb Raider last year, then went away from it for a long time, so when I fired it up again in 2017 I decided to start over from the beginning. The graphics of the game are amazing, as are the game play mechanics. If they keep making Tomb Raider games like this, I will keep buying them. So much fun.

The Dishonored series runs a close second to Fallout in my heart, as does the old Thief series, which is what these games remind me of. My favorite of the series is Dishonored 2, but Death of the Outsider is a lot of fun (thus far). I confess that I’m about 85% through the game, so it is possible the ending would put me off recommending the game. But I find that unlikely. One of the things I love most about these games is that you can play without killing anyone, instead sneaking up behind them and knocking them out. These games last forever for me because, instead of rushing through a level, I’ll find and knock out everyone, piling up sleeping bodies everywhere, which then allows me to explore each location at my leisure. Odd, I know, but it is fun!

I’ve played and enjoyed a great many of the Call of Duty games and my thoughts on them are all pretty similar: super fun to play, way too short. Mary bought Call of Duty WWII for me for my birthday and I finished it over this Christmas holiday. Great graphics, intense game play, fantastic audio on surround sound speakers. Just too short. But as I end up replaying these, I can live with that.

Last year my Christmas list included the Special Edition of Skyrim. It had been a long time since I had played it and I wanted to play the version with updated graphics. I ended up buying an Xbox One X recently and finally fired this up, modding it to the extreme. It looks amazing, plays great, and I’ve been away from it for so long that much of what I am discovering feels like it is all new.

If you want to mod Skyrim on Xbox, I highly recommend following this guy’s channel, and his advice. He helped me create a very stable and fun modded version of Skyrim SE.

TABLE TOP GAMING:

I imagine I am but one of thousands of people who have had a love for tabletop gaming either kindled or rekindled through the efforts of Wil Wheaton and the Tabletop show on Geek and Sundry.

Over the course of this past year we’ve played several games, these are the ones that have been the most popular with family and friends.

Code Names is one of the more recent Tabletop videos that Mary and I watched and we both thought it looked like a fun game that our family and friends would enjoy. And we were correct. Easy to learn, challenging to play, Code Names comes in a variety of versions. For Christmas I bought the standard version for us to play during holiday events with family, and I bought Mary the two-player co-op version for one of her presents. We played the standard game with my daughter and her husband on Christmas night and it was really fun. Mary and I have pulled out the cooperative version a couple of nights this week and it is also fun, with a slightly different game mechanic. Our win/loss record against the game is not good thus far! If you can give one word clues to have someone else guess one word clues, this is a game you can play.

Qwixx is one of the few games I’ve purchased cold, without having played it or watched someone else do so. It was a good choice. We played this at my parent’s house for our family Christmas last year and it was a big hit, and all throughout 2017 we have introduced people to this game, including several people over this Christmas/New Years vacation. This one is super easy to learn while at the same time allowing you to utilize some strategy to make the most of your dice rolls and the dice rolls of your opponents.

One piece of advice: if you like the game, immediately order score card replacements. It is an addictive game, especially if you are playing with 4 or more, and you go through the cards very quickly.

Roll For It is another simple game that involves little more than luck with the dice. You can watch the video on how to play it here (the video starts with them playing Sushi Go!, which is also a fun game). We taught my parents how to play it on Christmas Day and they enjoyed it so much they had us order them a copy through our Amazon Prime. This is another one we have introduced often throughout the last year. It comes in an easy-to-carry package that makes it nice to take with you when you go to hang out with family/friends.

There are less expensive versions of the game, but I prefer the pretty artwork on this edition vs. the plain edition. Also, the dice in this game are very small, which makes it great to carry with you, but I like bigger dice, so we ordered sets of multicolored dice in a standard size for when we are playing at home.


Dragon Farkle
(video here) builds upon the standard Farkle (or No Name, or any of a number of other names this game is called), giving you characters with special abilities, the opportunity to battle against your fellow players, and a dragon to defeat. The dragon pictured above did not come with the game, but I purchased it to pull out when we play because it is just more fun. This too is easy to learn, even if you are not familiar with the Farkle scoring system and game mechanics. This one has been another hit.

TELEVISION:

Other than watching the NFL live, we don’t generally watch any live television, so it is safe to assume (because you would be correct) that all of these are television shows that we have watched through various streaming services, either as part of our regular subscription, or by purchasing them digitally.

This series is based on the science fiction novels of James S.A. Corey, the pseudonym of authors Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham. It is a good series (at least the first three, which is all the farther I have read to this point) and although I watched a few of the episodes when it was first released, I had forgotten about it until a friend recently brought up that he had discovered it and was really enjoying it. Mary and I recently binge watched the first season and have watched a few episodes of season two. Other than an early scene which makes you cringe when watching it with others, or think of recommending it to others, it is an easy-to-promote show because the actors do a very good job and the writers are doing an admirable job of adapting the novels to a television format. It has been many years since I’ve read the first novel, Leviathan Wakes, and I have been surprised at just how much of the book I remember. Even knowing some of the major events that would happen in this series, I found myself in suspense and fully immersed in the story.

Mary and I watch a lot of BBC mystery/detective shows. We love them for any number of reasons, mostly because of the characters and the actors who bring them to life, but also because of the beauty, sometimes stark beauty, of the locales in which they are shot. Shetland is a show that just popped up as a suggestion due to others shows we had watched and we decided to give it a try. I’m glad we did. The cast is outstanding, particularly Douglas Henshall as the lead, Jimmy Perez. This is such a beautifully shot show. It is filmed on the Scottish mainland and on the archipelago of Shetland, and every time I see the land and the sea I am in awe. It is a brooding, perhaps even melancholy, show that has some nice, subtle emotional notes.

We watched all three seasons and are awaiting more.

Brenda Blethyn is just a delight as an actress. I became a fan watching her play the role of Mrs. Bennett in the Kiera Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice, which makes watching her bring Vera to life so interesting. Those are two characters who could not be more opposite. Vera is another show that is melancholy and moody and the scenery, when they are out on location, is also beautiful. But Blethyn is who keeps viewers coming back for more. She is tough and no nonsense without being a one-dimensional character. In her hands, and of course that of the writers/directors, Vera is a well-rounded, lived-in and very much alive character. I anxiously await new episodes every time a season ends.

Read Full Article
Visit website
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

Thanks to my brother-in-law, John, our recent tradition of seeing Star Wars movies with extended family continued again this year with a fantastic reserved-seat opening Thursday viewing of The Last Jedi. Now that a week has gone by, and I no longer feel as concerned with the chance of inadvertently spoiling the film, and also inspired by what seems to be a lot of nonsensical “fan” grousing about the film, I decided it was time to get some thoughts down here on the ol’ blog.

So here is your warning: after the jump there will be spoilers. Don’t read this until you’ve seen the film. A great deal of the fun I had at The Last Jedi was not knowing what direction the story would take and experiencing it unfold right there on the big screen.

What follows will not be a structured “review” of the film, but instead a loose collection of thoughts of what I liked about the movie. In an odd twist that makes me feel like I’m in the twilight zone, critics adored this film and the collective fan base are the ones who seem to be piling on with negativity. Let me be clear, it is perfectly okay to not like The Last Jedi and for your dislike to be filled with very valid reasons. In the reviews I have read, however, there doesn’t seem to be a lot backing up the criticism from those who purport to be fans of the series. Most of their complaints could easily be leveled at every single one of the Star Wars films, and that is why they don’t make much sense to me.

Again, I don’t fault people for having an opinion different from my own. I just would caution everyone to remember…these are Star Wars films. If ever a film series was meant to be entertaining, this is it. I was eight years old when Star Wars first hit theaters. I fell hard for the universe that existed in that film and the handful of Star Wars novels that came out during those early years of the first trilogy (the film novelizations, Brian Daley’s Han Solo novels, and the novel by Alan Dean Foster). I’ve loved some of the films, despised some, and have had middle-of-the-road feelings about others. I enjoyed The Last Jedi and look forward to seeing it again. Thus, other than a couple of “I wish they had…” comments, my thoughts will be centered around what I liked.

Enjoy, and please leave your thoughts, positive or negative (or both), in the comments. Everything hereafter, including comments, will include spoilers.

Second movies in a trilogy often have an advantage over the first film in that they can dispense with the origin stories and concentrate on building upon the characters and situations that the first film established, and this alone makes The Last Jedi a stronger, more focused, and better film than The Force Awakens. I enjoyed that the bulk of the story, at least with the small members of the rebellion and the First Order crew chasing them, took place over a very limited period of time and remained very focused. In similar fashion to The Empire Strikes Back, it alternated with the Luke/Rey story which I found so compelling. I was concerned during the opening crawl that this would be a rehash of The Empire Strikes back, with too much fan service (which was one of my complaints about TFA), but Rian Johnson did a great job of having a loose ESB structure while building in many unexpected twists and turns.

I really enjoyed the opening scene with Poe Dameron and the bombers. One thing I anticipate in every Star Wars films is the new ship designs, born in the creative minds of concept artists and then realized on the big screen. The bombers were the first of many vehicles that I loved seeing and only wish there could have been more screen time with them. I am surprised, a week out, how much I ended up feeling an emotional connection with a handful of characters who were only on screen for a few minutes due to the D-Day nature of their mission. I wish we could have known Rose’s sister more before she met her end. I may have to pick up Cobalt Squadron with one of my gift cards and give it a read during this Sci-Fi Experience season.

I appreciated the story arc for all the main characters. While others have read way too much into what The Last Jedi is trying to say about men and women and leadership roles (my opinion), I felt like Poe Dameron’s character arc fits right into who they established him to be. It made sense for him to be a gung-ho, hotshot pilot looking to take the fight straight to the enemy, with little regard for the cost. I appreciated the way his and Leia’s and Vice Admiral Holdo’s (Laura Dern) story lines intersected. I feel that the film makers did a really nice job of expanding the female leadership in the Star Wars universe beyond Leia Organa–who was always a strong character and yet often felt like the token female role in a largely male-dominated organization–without doing so at the expense of the male characters. It is possible to tell a story with both genders having integral roles without doing so by trying to one-up the other. I think The Last Jedi did that well in that Poe Dameron’s struggles were not artificial, that is exactly the way that character should act in his growth process towards becoming a well-rounded leader in his own right.

I loved the reunion with Poe and BB-8. BB-8 is such a fun character and it was great to see them together again.

The introduction of Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) was a nice touch, and I enjoyed the way that her character interacted with the character of Finn. With Rey off on an island with Luke for a lot of the film, and the need to have to rest of her character focus being on Kylo Ren, it would have been easy for the writers/director to get either lazy or distracted and short-shrift Finn’s character. By introducing Rose, we not only get another interesting character in the series, but we get to learn more about Finn by having them play off of one another. I know there are is a certain segment of fandom that would like to see Rey and Finn together, and there are certainly story elements in both TFA and TLJ that set up the possibility of a relationship between them, but it wouldn’t break my heart if the writers choose to take things in a different direction with Finn and Rose. I thought they did a nice job of leaving it wide open. We have no true indication of whether or not any of these characters have romantic feelings about one another. Their interactions can be read that way, but they can just as easily be seen as a group of young people who simply develop very strong emotional ties to one another because of what they are experiencing together. I’m perfectly fine with either or both of those things being true. The only thing I don’t want is an angst-filled YA love triangle thing going on. Ugh.

And speaking of relationships, I’m happy (unlike others I have read) that we did not a get a Rey-Kylo romance in The Last Jedi. I find it odd, being a Christian, that I am so strongly against there being a redemption story line for Kylo Ren. That may remain in the cards, and if it is done well (and that would take a lot of work, in my opinion), I may actually enjoy it, but one of the shining lights for me in these first two films of the trilogy is that Kylo Ren has continued to be a villain. He’s conflicted, to be sure, and he has the same whiner issues that Luke had early on (which I’m fine with), but he has continued to lean towards the dark side, and I like that. I want a proper villain. I don’t want to see Kylo Ren saved, and I certainly don’t want Rey to be in a romantic relationship with him. After what has happened in these two films, that is a turn I would have a hard time buying.

While we are on the subject, I thought the growth of Kylo Ren was interesting in this movie. I enjoyed seeing his growing obsession with obliterating Luke Skywalker from the universe and thought his reckless, emotion-driven responses were perfect in keeping with the character we met in TFA. I was so-so about the character and about Adam Driver in TFA, but I applaud his performance in The Last Jedi.

Rey was great, as I expected her to be. I liked the way that isolating her with Luke allowed for character growth in a similar, and yet not copycat, way that was accomplished with Luke and Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back. I didn’t have any trouble buying her rapid growth in using the Force in TFA, nor do I have any trouble with her progression in this film. I’ll get into that more in a bit. I enjoyed watching the way Rey’s character was explored in her interactions with Luke, in her Force-interactions with Kylo Ren, and in her own thoughts and inner reflection. Daisy Ridley brought to life a very interesting character in The Force Awakens, and she brought more proof to what a great casting choice she was in her acting in The Last Jedi.

I mentioned the Force earlier. In the few extended universe novels I have read over the years, prior to the release of George Lucas’ prequel trilogy, the Force was a much stronger and more diversely used energy than what we saw in any of the original trilogy, or even the prequel films, for that matter. Armed with that knowledge, having characters in TFA, and now in TLJ, be so strong in the Force so early on did not seem at all out of place. Yes, it can be argued that this is not the Force we saw as it was set up in the original trilogy films. But that was a story about largely one person, Luke Skywalker, and to a lesser extent Darth Vader. I actually enjoy that the writers have expanded out knowledge of what the Force is, who can wield it, and what great potential it actually has, whether for good or evil. Given that the films tell a story that covers a brief period of time, and that the actors aren’t aging tremendously between shooting schedules, it only makes sense to me that there has to be some story element that explains an accelerated mastery of the Force. I liked it. No complaints here.

Before I continue with a few more likes, and then wrap this thing up, here are my two complaints…or really just one complaint involving two characters: I was disappointed that the characters of Chewbacca and Captain Phasma were so underutilized. I thought the porgs were cute and fun and I think Rian Johnson did an admirable job in not crossing the line from humor to annoyance with these or any of the other comic-relief characters. However, I wish Chewie had more to do than simply be the set-up character for porg humor (and their resulting merchandise sales). I understand, it is hard to have so many cast members and to give them proper time, and Chewbacca has always been a side character with no discernible dialogue. But I would be so impressed with the writers rising up to the challenge of making this beloved character have a more integral role in these films.

My complaint is similar for the character of Captain Phasma. She was little more than comic relief in the first film, and while it was nice to see her and Finn battle in this one, her quick death scene (or is she not dead this time…again) made me wonder just why the Lucasfilm/Disney gang ever chose to put her in the film in the first place, let alone cast a real actor in the role. I feel so sorry for Gwendoline Christie. She gets a really cool set of storm trooper armor, and doesn’t get to do much than stand around for a bit and then fall into some void.

My other complaint: I loved Canto Bright as a location, and I like that we get to explore some gray areas in the Star Wars universe. It makes perfect sense that there would be places all over the universe where people were playing both sides of the conflict. I thought it was an interesting place to visit and I was surprised to read how many extras they used in those scenes (600). What I wasn’t as impressed with, though it was just a brief moment, is the reference to the 99% and the 1 percenters. I understand that films often explore the cultural issues of the times in which they are made. But try to be a little more subtle, please. In scenes where they are trying to explore complex gray areas, to introduce a very black and white take on the socioeconomic issues of our time, seems counterproductive.

As I strive to wrap this up, let me take a few moments to talk about Luke and Leia. I loved, truly loved, the way in which The Last Jedi allowed Mark Hamill to demonstrate his acting chops. The role of Luke Skywalker was so much more complex than in the previous films all wrapped up together and I was so happy for him and for the character to see him given so much screen time, and so many interesting things to do with that time. I had no idea what direction they were going to take Luke Skywalker in this film and I was riveted to my seat every time he was on screen. I didn’t mind him “dying” in this film, or the way in which it happened. His ending battle scene with Kylo Ren and the troops of the First Order was fantastic and I loved his lines during these final moments. I suspect we will see and hear more from force ghost Luke Skywalker in future films. I hope that is the case and really look forward to it.

Perhaps my greatest surprised in The Last Jedi was how much had already been filmed with Carrie Fisher, and how that allowed Leia, like Luke, to be much more complex and meaningful character than the films had allowed her to be previously. Every time she was on screen I was happy with her role and what the writers were doing with her. I was also pleased with her performance. While somewhat cheesy, her early death scene and how she ended up back in the ship didn’t bother me. Again, I have long had a more broad view of what the Force can be used for. While I would have chosen that scene to play out much differently, I was okay with it. What surprised me most was that we did not seen her character actually die in this film. I’ve read about the plans for Leia in the next film (I won’t spoil that here…and a lot can happen between today’s ideas and the actual completion of the film) and I am certainly okay on some level with them not killing her off, and yet I’m conflicted about it. They did a nice job with the closing moments between Leia and Luke, and it was a nice emotional moment for the fans, but at the same time I almost feel like I’ve had no closure with the character and the fact that Carrie Fisher is no longer with us to be able to continue on with Leia’s legacy.

Closing random thoughts: loved seeing Carrie Fisher’s daughter, Billie Lourd, have a bigger role in this film. Loved that the crew of this film used more of the old-school ways of making films, with large sets and huge casts of extras, rather than solely relying on green screen and CGI. There is a lot of CGI in this film, to be sure, and it was as amazing as I expected it to be, but building it upon the solid foundation of actual locations and sets makes it a much better textured final product. Very impressed. I thought it was great to see the Millennium Falcon back in action again, and Kylo Ren’s line about the ship near the end of the film made me laugh in pleasure. That ship always brings out the kid in me. And Yoda! How could I forget Yoda? That was such an unexpected surprise and I loved him. He was funny and enigmatic and really opened things up for this expanded idea of what the Force is and who can access it.

Overall I really enjoyed the film and plan on seeing it again here very soon. I hope to enjoy it even more the second time, without the nervous anticipation of it being good or bad. It ranks high on my list of the films that are currently in the Star Wars series, and I really look forward to seeing what Rian Johnson does with the trilogy they have given him.

Now it is your turn. What did you think? All thoughts welcome. And feel free to be very open with your comments. I gave everyone a warning about spoilers, after all.

The post The Last Jedi, my thoughts appeared first on Stainless Steel Droppings.

Read Full Article
Visit website
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

(Cygnus by artist Les Edwards, used with previous permission)

The oldest picture book in our possession is the midnight sky.

~E. W. Maunder, Nineteenth Century, September 1900.

For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.

~Vincent Van Gogh

Though I have been remiss in sharing many of my dreams and inspirations in 2017, the return of seasonable weather and the imposing presence of the constellation Orion in the early night sky has had me in a Sci-Fi frame of mind for some time now. It has been difficult not to be obsessed with the night sky ever since the total eclipse back in August. It was such a surreal moment to experience and one that has strongly influenced my reading and viewing.

It is December 10th, and thus a bit late, but I could not resist the urge to once again spend my December and January enjoying the joys of science fiction. I have been passionate about science fiction in literature and film from childhood and this time of year, with its cold temperatures and early-darkening nights, rekindles that childhood love of the genre.

Though I may be doing so alone, I hope anyone who happens to stumble across this nearly-dead site will consider joining me for The 2018 Sci-Fi Experience.

For several years I have been celebrating the beginning of the new year by immersing myself in science fiction and encouraging others do so also. This two month Experience previously ran from January 1st through the end of February, but over the years I’ve discovered that as soon as it starts to get chilly here in Missouri, I ache to embrace science fiction stories. Thus, a few years ago, I changed the period of The Sci-Fi Experience to begin on December 1st and end on January 31st. This allows us to end the current year and begin the new one by looking to the stars.

Every cubic inch of space is a miracle.

— Walt Whitman

Won’t you join us out there?

Events like these are all about taking the largely solitary act of reading and viewing and gaming and adding the element of “community” to it.

The 2018 Sci-Fi Experience will hopefully give people an opportunity to:

a) Continue their love affair with science fiction
b) Return to science fiction after an absence, or
c) Experience for the first time just how exhilarating science fiction can be.

If you have ever wanted to give science fiction a try, or are already a fan of the genre and are looking for a group of kindred spirits, this is the event for you.

This is a very laid back event. There are no challenges to meet, no limits to how little or much you can participate. You can read short stories, novels, comics, art books…anything with a science fictional bent. You can read nonfiction about space, space travel, other planets, etc. You can watch television shows, films, YouTube series. You can play video or table top games. You can also just fire up your blog and wax eloquent about those science fiction artists whose work you admire.

We will once again be promoting Andrea’s Vintage SF Month as an event that you will also hopefully participate in. The event runs through the month of January and is focused on reading science fiction novels published pre-1979. It is a great time and I look forward to reading some classics for The 2018 Sci-Fi Experience during the month of January.
___________________________

You are welcome to participate in The 2018 Sci-Fi Experience as much or as little as you would like over the next two months. If you write any posts about science fiction related books you are reading, television shows or films you are watching, games you are playing or science fiction art you are appreciating, please feel free to link those here in the comments. If you want to sign up to let us know you are taking part, please do so in the Mr. Linky at the end of this post.
___________________________

For the sake of nostalgia I wanted to use artwork from a previous Experience and from an artist who had given permission to use their work. Cygnus has long been, and continues to be, one of my all-time favorite science fiction illustrations. It reminds me of books I read as a young adult and fuels my desires to continue to find science fiction that touches those same areas that this genre of literature did back then. It is such a great work of art. I love it. Be sure to check out the website of Les Edwards (Edward Miller) to see more of his work, and perhaps to find some prints or originals for your Christmas shopping!

Here are a few banners if you would like to use them. Please credit the artist on your site if you do.

__________________________

I always enjoy making lists for this event, even if I don’t end up following it. I’ve read a couple of books already, which I will soon be reviewing. In addition to those I would like to read:

The Best of Cordwainer Smith
by Cordwainer Smith
Xenocide by Orson Scott Card
Trade Secret by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
Dragon Ship (on audio) by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
Avengers of the Moon by Allen Steele
Betrayer of Worlds by Larry Niven

I plan to watch:

The Expanse, seasons one and two
The Martian, extended edition (for the umpteenth time) plus blu-ray extras
Europa Report
Moon
The new Star Trek film trilogy
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Dark Matter, season two

What about you, anything that you particularly want to read or watch?
________________________

If you write any posts about science fiction related books you are reading, television shows or films you are watching, games you are playing or science fiction art you are appreciating, please feel free to link those on the Review Site.

If you want to sign up to let us know you are taking part, please do so in the Mr. Linky here:

I know the stars are my home. I learned about them, needed them for survival in terms of navigation. I know where I am when I look up at the sky. I know where I am when I look up at the Moon; it’s not just some abstract romantic idea, it’s something very real to me. See, I’ve expanded my home.

— Eugene Cernan, astronaut and moonwalker, Life magazine, November 1988.

I look forward to our journey to the stars, and beyond.

The post The 2018 Sci-Fi Experience appeared first on Stainless Steel Droppings.

Read Full Article
Visit website
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

As Labor Day passes here in America and those of us who enjoyed a day off return to work, it is time to acknowledge that Autumn is here. Perhaps not “officially”, but for me it is Autumn all the same. Particularly when the weather this week will be so accommodating, with Fall-like temperatures every morning.

Twelve years ago I started a reading event, inspired by what others were doing in the relatively new medium of “book blogging”, that celebrated the kind of old-fashioned, things-that-go-bump-in-the-night reading that I enjoyed doing come Autumn. I knew there had to be others who felt the same way I did, and I wanted to get to know them…YOU…and thus R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril, affectionately known as R.I.P., was born.

Fellow bloggers Andi and Heather have been active participants in R.I.P. for many years, hosting group reads as part of the annual event, and stepping in to host for me at the 10th Anniversary of R.I.P. back in 2015. I have long known that if I was ever to step away from my hosting duties that these two faithful souls would be the ones to whom I would want to pass the reins. And that is what has officially happened here in 2017.

As any of my faithful readers have been aware, my presence on my blog has waned over the last few years, and it has been downright absent most of 2017. I enjoyed hosting R.I.P. XI last year, and yet I did not have take the time to give it the passion that I feel it needs in order to continue to be a fun community event. I am so honored that Andi and Heather want to take on the annual R.I.P. event and I hope to see them take it to new places as the years move forward. Change is good and it will be fun to see the evolution of R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril as they make it their own. Thank you both so very, very much!

And so, without further ado, let me welcome you to:

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XII

The event began September 1st and runs through October 31st and has a variety of participation types and levels. I do hope you will go over there, sign up, and participate joyfully at whatever level works into your no-doubt busy schedule. I look forward to putting up my sign up post here soon!

The post R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XII appeared first on Stainless Steel Droppings.

Read Full Article
Visit website
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 
Stainless Steel Droppings by Carl V. Anderson - 10M ago

I sit here on an unseasonably mild August day, as we approach the tail end of Summer, and reflect upon the fact that it was two seasons back, on a much colder day, that I last wrote anything at all here on what for twelve years had been my most frequent and enjoyable method of processing creativity in the form of books read, films watched, art enjoyed.

Midori Snyder mused today on blogging and connection and reached out to me personally to converse about it, and as I just happened to finish my latest audio book read, I thought it would be nice to come here, dust off the cobwebs, and write.

It was back in what seems like an age ago that I did something I had never done, to my knowledge, in my entire life: I read through a series of books back to back. Richard had recommended the work of Louise Penny, and though the first book was rough in spots, I fell deeply for the inhabitants of the Canadian village of Three Pines and for the Chief Inspector who would soon bring his much larger world crashing into their smaller one, Armand Gamache.

I read the first seven or eight novels, one right after the other, in preparation for the August 2012 release of what was then her new Gamache novel. All these Augusts later I find myself again pining for Three Pines, pun intended, and the new novel that will arrive on the 29th.

For the last few years I’ve taken to “reading” these books in audio format. The narration is top notch and I love to hear the foreign words and foreign accents as they should be heard, not as my Midwest American mind processes them.

The bulk of Louise Penny’s novels in this series had their murder of the moment, but a much more grand and intense story was ever in the background, rearing its ugly head with greater intensity with each novel. Then when that story arc ended, a new story arc began, with tendrils of the past continuing to reach forward to haunt Armand Gamache in the present.

I have written before and will echo those sentiments now: there is no way to get into great detail about the particular novel in question as to do so would take pages of history and far too many spoilers and I will not ruin the experience for anyone who wants to meet these quirky but deep characters for themselves.

Louise Penny is masterful at capturing both the darkness and the light that exist not only in the world outside our front doors, but in our very selves. She processes emotion with skill and through the course of each and every novel leaves the reader wanting to be a better person, in public and in private. This novel was particularly poignant to listen to, as last September Louise Penny lost her husband after a period in which he suffered with dementia. She writes about it here and you cannot help but see from where Armand Gamache gets his courage and his resolute character. There was a detail in the novel, so specific, that stopped me in my tracks and I was just sure that this was a piece of her husband that she had given to a character. I cannot fathom the loss of my spouse and ache at the thought of anyone else having done so.

The story of Louise Penny’s loss, which I had just heard about a few weeks ago, also struck a cord because Monday, July 31st, was the one year anniversary of the death of a dear friend, Patricia Aldridge. Pat was someone I worked with for years and developed a great friendship with over our mutual love of reading and movies. Over the years, as my own grandmothers passed away, she filled that gap and we spent many, many hours sitting in Panera, eating soup and talking deeply about stories that we cherished. I watched my friend succumb to dementia slowly, and then more rapidly, over the course of several years. So much so that the last several years we were unable to talk about books or movies because even though she continued to read and watch television, she had no short term memory at all. And then I watched much of her long term memory go, though I had the pleasure of knowing some of her life stories so well that I was able to teach them back to her, and she would write them down in her journal so she could go over them to try to jog her memory.

I lost Pat well over a year ago, as did her family, but it still hurt to see her go even though I know her last hours were a miserable struggle to stay alive to see her family one last time. She would have loved these books, truly loved them, and we would have had many great conversations about them every year as the new one came out.

Over the course of twelve novels Louise Penny has made me laugh and made me cry. She angered me greatly and I had to sit with that anger until the next novel was published and it brought with it healing and understanding, if not complete agreement with her choices. Louise Penny has surprised me. Most of all she has made me care deeply about a small but mighty group of characters who live in a village that may not be idyllic, but strives to be so for the people who call it home.

I am pleased I waited with this one, as now I have but a few weeks to see where Louise Penny will take me next. What I know for sure is that at least part of it will take place in Three Pines, and that it will feel like home.

The post A Great Reckoning appeared first on Stainless Steel Droppings.

Read Full Article
Visit website
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 


(Cover by artist Paul Youll)

Polly Newton has a plan: become a starship pilot and travel the galaxy. And in the pursuit of that plan, she is relentlessly focused.

But you know what they say about the best laid plans.

When the Martian native and her twin brother Charles are informed by their mother, director of operations on Colony One, that she has enrolled them both in the prestigious Galileo Academy, even the prospect of captaining starships in half the time it would take on Mars cannot assuage her despair. For Galileo Academy will take Polly Newton to the once place she has never wanted to go.

Earth

It has been a long time since I have contacted a publishing company to request a copy of a book for review. A very long time. But when Tor Books unveiled their winter line, something special happened.

Avid readers know the phenomenon of a forthcoming release capturing your imagination. It may be that the release is the long-anticipated novel in a favorite series, or the newest release from a cherished author. But sometimes it is something that is almost magical. The combination of a book’s cover and story description kindles a feeling that you recognize, that tug of something familiar that convinces you that this particular book shares a kindred spirit with others stories that are a part of your make up. Something tells you that this book will be special.

That was the feeling I had when I saw the cover and read the synopsis for Martians Abroad by author Carrie Vaughn. I had not previously read any of Vaughn’s many novels, though I was familiar with and enjoyed some of her short fiction. I quickly requested a review copy and was thrilled when the publisher contacted me to offer the opportunity to be a part of the Martians Abroad Book Tour.

Thus on a foggy, gray Monday morning, off from work in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., I settled into my favorite recliner, dog on my lap, to discover if Martians Abroad was all that I hoped it would be. If his opinion counts for anything, I would assure you that Charlie was utterly satisfied with the novel, because I barely moved to disturb his rest as I sat for hours lost in the tale of young Polly Newton.

If you have any affection for the juvenile fiction of Robert A. Heinlein, the teasers for Martians Abroad will generate a familiar feeling. It did not surprise me at all to see back-cover praise from other authors invoking the name of Heinlein. It was the hope of reading a Heinlein-esque story that prompted me to request a copy of the novel, and that hope was certainly realized.

That is not to say that Vaughn simply parrots the work of predecessors of solid science fiction featuring young adults, like Robert A. Heinlein or even Andre Norton. Martians Abroad manages to encapsulate an optimistic retro vibe with modern sensibilities, sophisticated storytelling, and solid science. It is a very entertaining story that speaks up to its audience and in so doing exists as a book that will be enjoyed across a wide age spectrum.

Those familiar with my “reviews” know that I write very little about the overall plot of a novel. I prefer to let you discover the story for yourself rather than feed you details that are best experienced first-hand. There are familiar story elements here, particularly if you have read much young adult fiction, but that is something I generally see as a strength and not a weakness. My expectation of young adults in a novel, regardless of the genre, is that they will navigate some of the same waters that we all have in pursuing that elusive state known as becoming a “grown up”. It is the challenge of young adult novels to address those true-to-life circumstances in a way that speaks to the target audience while also appealing to those of us who are more than happy to be long past those tumultuous times. Carrie Vaughn does that quite well with Martians Abroad.

Polly Newton is understandably and demonstrably unhappy with the cards that she has been dealt. She is disappointed and unhappy and is not tremendously successful in internalizing these feelings. As I read I could not help but compare my feelings about Polly to another of my favorite literary characters, Richard Mayhew from Neil Gaiman’s novel Neverwhere. In all the many times I have revisited that novel, I always experience the same conflicting feelings of wishing that Richard would “suck it up”, for lack of a better way to put it, and not be so thrown by his circumstances while at the same time feeling a grateful kinship in knowing that he is acting exactly the way I would act. In other words, in the midst of the very unreal circumstances of the novel, he is very human…very real. Polly Newton is much the same.

Rather than quickly moving past her frustration to get to the action of the story, Carrie Vaughn allows this character to struggle, and in that struggle we see Polly develop in the same type of fits and starts that we have all experienced, and that makes her wonderfully three dimensional. And from Polly’s down-to-earth viewpoint, pardon the pun, we get to meet several other interesting, intriguing characters. In contrast to Polly, her brother Charles is quite enigmatic. He is a character that keeps you guessing right until the very end.

As you might expect, a significant part of the novel is set at Galileo Academy and contains familiar scenes of young people trying to establish themselves in a competitive school setting, but here Vaughn also steps out beyond the norm by introducing a series of unexpected, dangerous situations that not showcase the depth of her characters but also keep the reader guessing as to greater mystery that builds throughout the novel.

Martians Abroad is has been popping up on shelves over the last few days and is now officially available, and I highly recommend it to readers in general. For those who do not normally dive into the science fiction end of the literature pool, Martians Abroad is a novel that deftly weaves scientific and technological concepts into an accessible plot. For those who enjoy science fiction already, Martians Abroad posits the kind of future that we all hoped to be living in at this time, where our nearest planetary neighbor is habitable and mankind is getting ready to launch into further reaches of space.

And for those of you who grew up with, or later discovered, the novels of Robert A. Heinlein and Andre Norton, Martians Abroad will hold a special significance for you. With this novel Carrie Vaughn demonstrates that there is still a place for plausible science fiction adventure that imagines a future far better than the one we see on the current horizon.
_________________________________________________

If you have read and enjoyed Martians Abroad, I highly recommend the following novels:

Podkayne of Mars by Robert A. Heinlein
Starman Jones by Robert A. Heinlein
The Stars Are Ours by Andre Norton
Star Born by Andre Norton
Apollo’s Outcasts by Allen Steele

I would also recommend the Robert A. Heinlein novella, The Menace from Earth, which also features a young adult female protagonist.

The post Martians Abroad ~Carrie Vaughn appeared first on Stainless Steel Droppings.

Read Full Article
Visit website
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

One of the many things that I love about the end of the year is reading the “best of” and “favorites” lists of professional, semi-professional and amateur writers. Frankly of anyone willing to give their opinion of what grabbed hold of their attention and lingered on in their memories long after the final credits rolled.

This is my list of the favorite things of which I partook on screen over the past year. It will encompass films released in theaters in 2016, films I watched in my own home theater in 2016, and television shows I enjoyed over the past year, regardless of their release date.

I do hope that fellow bloggers will take the time to post links to their favorites lists, and that those of you who don’t blog your lists will feel welcome to add yours to the comments.

If a title is highlighted, clicking on it will take you to my review.

With no further ado, on with the show(s).

On the Big Screen:

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

2016 had some strong science fiction entries, the most anticipated being the first of the stand alone Star Wars films, Rogue One. The film being set in the period leading up to the events of A New Hope, Rogue One gave older fans a huge boost of nostalgia for the universe we saw in 1977 when Star Wars forever changed the film industry. For fans new and old it introduced a strong female lead, an engaging ensemble of Rebels, an interesting new villain, and it hit all the right notes.

Rogue One
was fun.

Arrival

Arrival
is far and away the critical hit of the 2016 science fiction film season. Based on an award-winning novella by author Ted Chiang, Arrival deftly blends thought-provoking ideas with riveting story telling, enhanced by stellar performances (pun intended) from a brilliantly-chosen cast. The acclaim this film has received is well deserved.

The Legend of Tarzan

I fell hard for Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter novels many years before the film adaptation, and was highly pleased once the film was released, so my hopes for this film were equally high. I read my first Tarzan novel in preparation for the film, enjoyed it, and was so entertained by the movie that I saw it three times in the theater with different people each time.

The Legend of Tarzan
could arguably be my favorite film released in 2016. The casting was superb, the special effects were amazing, the writers were able to cleverly weave Tarzan’s origin story into a film inspired by later novels, and I thought the writers did a great job establishing Jane as a character with purpose and resolve. I loved everything about this movie.

Star Trek Beyond

I was vocally against the rebooting of the original series in film when it was first announced, and then ate humble pie when the 2009 release of Star Trek blew me away and reinvigorated my love for the series. I even liked the much-maligned, and not altogether undeserving, Into Darkness. But I was ready to see the writers step away from the canonical universe and embrace this alternate timeline more fully. I believe this was achieved admirably with Star Trek Beyond.

The pairing of Spock and Bones that allowed fans to experience more of their comical repartee, the introduction of new alien cultures, the growth of both Kirk and Spock, and the top-notch special effects all combined to make this the best yet in the new Star Trek timeline.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

My Big Fat Greek Wedding
was the little film that could back in 2002. Based on word of mouth and growing critical acclaim, the film had amazing staying power and proved that films do not necessarily need a huge budget or A-list celebrities to succeed. It was a risk to try to have lightning strike twice, but I am glad that Nia Vardalos and the rest of the gang got back together for a sequel.

It would have been easy to simply repeat all the shtick that worked the first time and leave it at that. Instead My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 honored those elements of humor while building upon them to create a decent story about the sometimes-exasperating, sometimes-wonderful connections we have with our family members.

This was such a sweet, funny film. I saw it twice in the theater and have watched it at least once on streaming since its release.

Passengers

This was a great film for me upon which to end my year. It had the science fictional elements that excite me, and the romance that my ol’ sentimental self craves. Time will tell whether or not the film will be one that rewards repeated viewing, but hot on the heels of having seen the film on the big screen, I’m looking forward to seeing it again.
__________________________________________________

On the Small(er) Screen:

Brooklyn

I am disappointed that I did not take the time to see Brooklyn in the theater. Every frame is beautiful and deserves to be seen on as big a screen as possible. Brooklyn is a charming movie with a skilled cast, but it is Saoirse Ronan who carries the film and makes it a thing of beauty. Brooklyn is a quiet story, focusing on the love of both people and place, and what it means to find a home. This film is the rare combination of art and good story that satisfies on every level.

Sherlock: The Abominable Bride

2016 began with a January 1st showing of the then latest feature-length episode of Sherlock, taking these beloved modern versions of the characters back into the time period in which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had set his iconic characters. I was particularly pleased to be able to see these actors play the roles in the traditional manner and was pleasantly surprised by the way in which they were able to tie the story into the continuity of the current series.

For those of you who don’t know, the newest season of Sherlock kicks off this Sunday night, January 1st.

Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street

My favorite television series of the year, and one that now ranks among my lifetime list of favorites, is the Amazon Original series Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street. It was a short-lived series following the friendship of three young adults living on a street called “Normal” where things that are anything but normal occur. There is a fantasy/magic-realism element to the series that is apparent from the very first episode that runs throughout. One of the many things I liked about this series was that the characters took these strange happenings in stride without any doubts about the logic of them happening. They just rolled with each incident and addressed it with the unique outlook that young people possess.

If you are familiar with and liked the show Pushing Daisies, there are a lot of similarities in production values, voice-over narration, and in creating quirky, fun, likeable characters. And despite all the little touches that made this show so spectacular, it is the characters that carry each episode. And not just the main cast, but also smaller character roles, some recurring. The casting was wonderful.

I also enjoyed that while the show did touch briefly on the idea of teen romance, it was not the typical angst-filled “drama” seen in many stories featuring adolescents. This was a sweet, fun show, that had some serious and admittedly tear-inducing moments. While only a few seasons, it exists as a complete product, wrapping up the story lines and giving viewers a glimpse into the future of the characters.

I cannot recommend this show highly enough. It is well worth the Amazon Prime membership to see this series, with the bonus of getting a year’s worth of additional interesting programming.

Doctor Who Series 9

We were much delayed in getting through the most recent series of Doctor Who as we were watching it with our friends. Since the season was comprised of multiple sets of two-part episodes, it was not always easy to coordinate a couple of hours at a time to enjoy Doctor Who. The great thing about that was that instead of binge-watching the episodes, the enjoyment was spread throughout the year.

This is the series where I felt Peter Capaldi really came into his own as the Doctor, and the series did right by Jenna Coleman in her final season as Clara Oswald. The introduction of Maisie Williams as Ashildr in a recurring role was one of the highlights of the season and I was so impressed with the way they used her character, particularly in:



Doctor Who Christmas Special: The Husbands of River Song

The Christmas special, which wrapped up the events of series nine, saw the return of the much-adored character of River Song. Because of this, as well as good writing and the way in which the series wrapped, The Husbands of River Song may be the Christmas special that I love the most. It should NOT be watched without seeing all of series nine. You’ve been warned.

Dark Matter

A random scrolling through Netflix one night when Mary was gone lead me to checking out the first season of this Canadian science fiction series. I thought the first episode was fair, by the second episode I was hooked. When Mary got home, I fired up those episodes and watched them again with her. Dark Matter has a nice ensemble cast with interesting characters and the writers manage to throw enough unexpected twists and turns to keep me watching. Looking forward to checking out season two.
_____________________________________

We’ve enjoyed some other series this year: Lethal Weapon (hits such great emotional notes..a real surprise), Timeless, Parks and Rec (yes, we are way behind on this), season 8 of The Middle, but as these are shows that are mid-season, or in the case of Parks and Rec where we have a season and a half to go, I am reserving judgement until the end. But don’t be surprised if some of these show up on our list next year.
_____________________________________

So what about you? What were your favorites that either came out in 2016 or you watched for the first time in 2016? And what were your thoughts on any of the ones I listed that you’ve seen?

Is there anything you are looking forward to in 2016?

The post Favorites of the Screen in 2016 appeared first on Stainless Steel Droppings.

Read Full Article
Visit website
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 
Stainless Steel Droppings by Carl V. Anderson - 1y ago

If one were to simply trust the opinions of those paid to critique films, then the new science fiction film Passengers is one to easily write off. Save your money. Don’t waste valuable time. It is slow, cliched, filled with convenient plot elements, doesn’t know what type of film it wants to be, unoriginal, flawed…these and more criticisms abound and taking a step back from the film I myself could cite examples to fit each complaint. I will let you in on a secret: many of the films that critics adore and the films that the public adores (which are not always the same films) can be justifiably labeled with the same criticisms.

I don’t say this to give a pass to those areas where the writers of Passengers could have tried a bit harder. What I am saying is that not every science fiction film can be or should be Arrival. And as much as I praise that film, I personally do not want every science fiction film, nor every film in general, to strive to be original or to have some deep, contemplative message.

Sometimes I want just what Passengers gave me, a love story, replete with the story beats one expects from celluloid romance with the added bonus of some of the cool science fictional bells and whistles that makes a guy like me want to lay aside what I doubt is possible and simply believe once again that humanity can launch itself successfully among the stars.

While my discussion below essentially pulls what we see in the trailers, I want to put a spoiler-warning on this one paragraph following this statement. If you are concerned at all, just skip the next paragraph and read on.

Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) is on a one hundred and twenty year journey to a new colony world when his hibernation pod fails and he is awakened far earlier than the ship’s designers had planned. What is initially disorienting and then exciting becomes a nightmare when Preston realizes the truth that he is the only human awake on this vessel with no chance of going back into stasis. With the only companion being an android bartender who is an approximation of a human being, Preston is forced to try to come to terms with a life spent in complete isolation. And then comes Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence).

I can see why some critics would complain the film is slow. It mostly stars just two people and much of the first half of the film exists to establish just how lonely and isolating space can be, especially when you are alone and believe you will be alone for the rest of your life. After circumstances change and Preston is joined by Lane, the film concentrates on their relationship and builds towards the third act, which is where much of the action and tension of the film is realized.

It is admittedly a personal preference, but I enjoy stories about isolation. Maybe it appeals to the introvert in me, but I find the idea of being stranded alone both fascinating and horrifying in a way that sets my imagination moving. Whether is is the old Twilight Zone episode, “Time Enough at Last” where Burgess Meredith finds himself the last living man on Earth, or several short stories I’ve read over the years, or the recent novel and film adaptation, The Martian, I am intrigued by the examination of what would happen to a person who found themselves in those circumstances.

Passengers then takes that the next step and introduces the idea of being a couple, all alone but for one another, and what that might be like. The writers introduce a couple of interesting plot elements that I will not spoil here that engage you as a viewer and are certainly thought-provoking. But what really makes Passengers work, and what many critics do agree on, is the chemistry between Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. They inhabit these characters with such ease that you are immediately drawn to them. You want to see them succeed. You want them to be happy. You empathize with their struggles. You care about what happens to them.

I could pick apart some of the ideas that would be illogical for a ship of the size and scope of the one these characters find themselves on. Somewhat easily overlooked is the idea that is almost brushed aside that this is not the first of these colony missions, but the most recent of many, many successful journeys. You can see a Titanic-inspired hubris in the various decisions made on this ship that complicate the situation in which Jim Preston finds himself.

I could decry the story elements that turned out as I guessed they would. But I would be doing so simply to justify a reputation that does not exist. I am not a film or book critic. I am a fan with opinions who likes to share those opinions in writing. I want to be entertained. I want to believe the world I see on screen and I want to care about the characters. Passengers ticked all those boxes for me.

It had beautiful special effects, I loved the design of the ship, I thought the ending was very satisfying and I enjoyed all the moments that led up to it.

I have no doubt that fans of Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence will enjoy them in these roles. I also believe the average science fiction fan will find things to like in this film. To those who find it lacking, or are passionately disappointed in the finished product, I have no fault to find. You can certainly bring evidence to support your opinion.

Personally I look forward to adding Passengers to my film collection in 2017 and can imagine watching it many times in the years to come.

If you have seen the film and want to talk spoilers in the comments, please place the SPOILERS label at the start of your comment and let’s have at it. I am interested in your opinions, whatever they may be.

The post Passengers appeared first on Stainless Steel Droppings.

Read Full Article
Visit website
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 


(Image credit)

For the last several years one of my favorite Christmas traditions is to do some sort of fun blog post for Christmas Eve with my friend Kailana. Here is what we came up with this year…

Twas the night before Christmas…or to be more accurate, ‘Tis the day before Christmas. No doubt most of us are familiar with some version of the story of the jolly old elf who delivers wished for and asked for things round the world on this one special night. It may be just a story, but it is one very timely example of the impact that storytelling has on our lives.

We all love stories, be they told in the pages of books we read, or unveiled as we push buttons on our keyboards or console controls, or shown on screens big and small through film and television. Stories inspire us, excite us, and entertain us.

In the spirit of Christmas and with the idea of stories in mind, let us each dust off our imaginations and reveal a little about the stories that have impacted us with this simple exercise:

You have been given a great gift. Jolly ol’ St. Nick has given you a list of questions so that he can make up for all the years you didn’t quite get what you wanted. The answers to these questions should come from the stories you love. If, for example, the question was “If you are guaranteed a safe return, which fictional locales would you want to visit on an all-expenses paid vacation?”, you might answer “Pemberley from Pride and Prejudice“, or “Jupiter’s moon, Ganymede, in Robert Heinlein’s Farmer in the Sky“, or “The World’s End inn in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman“.

Kailana and I were asked to lend a hand in the question development department, and here is the final Santa-approved list. After the jump you will see the entire list of questions for you to cut and paste on your blog, on Facebook, or in the comments section of our blogs. In the spirit of three wishes, from another familiar story, you can give up to three choices for each question. Remember, this is YOUR list to Santa. Make sure to ask for what you want! After the questions you will see my answers to these questions, and a visit to Kailana’s blog will reveal hers.

Remember, up to three answers for every question. If you don’t have a blog, feel free to post your answers in the comments section.

1. What story-inspired item(s) do you want to be unwrapping on Christmas morning?
2. If you could visit a place, real or imaginary, from your favorite story and suffer no harmful effects, where would you go?
3. Santa promised to bring you the yet-unwritten sequel novel you’ve long been waiting for. What will these novels be a sequel to?
4. Santa has a direct line into the afterlife and will ask an author to finish an uncompleted novel or write a completely new one. What author and what book are you hoping for?
5. Your favorite film maker has agreed to make a film of your favorite novel or series of novels. What films are we going to be seeing in the coming year?
6. A novel, film, game or television show can only reveal so many details about the events contained therein. If you could spend the day with characters from a story and have them tell you all the details not contained in the story, who would be coming to visit?
7. Just like those popular car commercials, Santa is going to have a vehicle with a bow on it in your driveway come Christmas morning. What will your neighbors see when they look out the window?
8. Admit it, you always hoped that one of the gifts under your tree would be a live animal. What new pet(s) is Santa bringing you this year?
9. Santa has found your dream job. What kind of work will you be doing and where will you be doing it?
10. The elves have figured out Tron technology and can transport you into any film or game you want. Where to?

___________________________________________________

1. What story-inspired item(s) do you want to be unwrapping on Christmas morning?

a. Anduril, Flame of the West, forged from the shards of Narsil. from The Lord of the Rings.

b. The magical book from The Never-ending Story

c. Han Solo’s blaster.

2. If you could visit a place, real or imaginary, from your favorite story and suffer no harmful effects, where would you go?

a. The 100-acre Wood with Pooh, Piglet and company.

It is one of those idyllic places that seems much more attractive to me as an adult than it ever did as a child. I want to adventure where Milne’s characters made their home.

b. Ampridatvir, the city from the story Ulan Dhor in Jack Vance’s Tales of the Dying Earth.

It makes no sense that I would want to visit a once great city that has gone to ruin in the far future during the waning days of Earth’s sun, but this kind of story thrills me and I think it would be fascinating to see our world from that perspective.

c. Lower North Aufzoo Street from The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death by Daniel Pinkwater

This street, discovered by Walter Galt and Winston Bongo during their late night “snarking out” adventures is the kind of eclectic place I would love to visit during the wee hours of the morning with its late-night dives and strange cast of characters.

3. Santa promised to bring you the yet-unwritten sequel novel you’ve long been waiting for. What will these novels be a sequel to?

a. The direct sequel to Neverwhere, picking up right where Gaiman’s wonderful novel left off. I want to see how Richard and Door’s relationship proceeds and find out if they ever find her sister.

b. Having just read The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers and seeing a comment by her that she may not revisit this world (notwithstanding the stand-alone sequel), I want to find out what happens to all the characters on the Wayfarer. Makes me feel incredibly sad to think that I might not be able to read any more adventures with this crew.

c. A stand-alone novel in the same world of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

4. Santa has a direct line into the afterlife and will ask an author to finish an uncompleted novel or write a completely new one. What author and what book are you hoping for?

a. A novel set during the time when it was just Slippery Jim DiGriz and Angelina, before the kids, written by Harry Harrison from my favorite Stainless Steel Rat series. And let me specify, a good novel. As he revisited the series in his older years he was not as good a story teller.

b. I would ask for another Cordwainer Smith novel. His short stories are excellent, and his one novel, Norstrilia, is even better. I would love to know more of the story of C’Mell and the Instrumentality.

c. I would ask that Bram Stoker write another engaging novel like Dracula or The Mystery of the Sea. Not a sequel to these or anything containing the same characters or tropes, something new but just as skillfully crafted.

5. Your favorite film maker has agreed to make a film of your favorite novel or series of novels. What films are we going to be seeing in the coming year?

a. The first would have to be Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. I enjoy the Doctor-Who-ish television series that inspired the novel, but I would like to see a proper film with skilled, as yet unknown, actors and top-notch special effects.

b. Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh. I think it would be fascinating to see a creative team render the parts of the novel that take place in the minds of those people who are frozen and I like the characters in this story so much that I think it would make an interesting film. And the special effects would be amazing.

c. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. I would want this to be a television series though. The novel gave me such a Firefly vibe that I would want more than just a film.

6. A novel, film, game or television show can only reveal so many details about the events contained therein. If you could spend the day with characters from a story and have them tell you all the details not contained in the story, who would be coming to visit?

a. Samwise Gamgee. I know he would have much more detail about not only his portion of the adventures of the destruction of the One Ring, but stories he gathered from others in the years after their success.

b. Mr. Tumnus from C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. I would want to visit him at his house, as I’ve always imagined it to be a cozy, wonderful little place, and I’m sure he would have many stories to tell about the land of Narnia before, during and after the visits of the Pevensies.

c. Yvaine from Neil Gaiman’s novel Stardust. The novel indicates that not only did they have more adventures we know about during their quest, but then she and Tristran had many more after they left the kingdom to go wandering the land. I would love to know about those adventures.

7. Just like those popular car commercials, Santa is going to have a vehicle with a bow on it in your driveway come Christmas morning. What will your neighbors see when they look out the window?

a. The Millennium Falcon (was there any doubt?)

b. The Tardis (because who wouldn’t want to time travel)

c. The Trans Am from Smokey and the Bandit.

8. Admit it, you always hoped that one of the gifts under your tree would be a live animal. What new pet(s) is Santa bringing you this year?

a. Woola from the John Carter novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs (as envisioned in the film version of John Carter).

b. A dragon from Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series (though this may be cheating because they aren’t really “pets”).

c. Ferdinand the duck from the Babe films.

9. Santa has found your dream job. What kind of work will you be doing and where will you be doing it?

a. A member of the diplomatic core working with Marianne on the planet with the Rejoicers from from Janet Kagan’s wonderful novella, The Nutcracker Coup. These aliens are so interesting and every time I read this story I want to go there.

b. A pilot in Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s Liaden Universe stories. I would get to fly space ships to interesting places, would meet very interesting people, and would be able to learn the cool hand communication the pilots use to communicate with one another on a different level while also communicating verbally.

c. A book dealer at the Fairy Market in Neil Gaiman’s Stardust. I would be surrounded by books, would interact with others interested in buying books, and would hear all kinds of interesting tales from the other vendors and the people visiting the market.

10. The elves have figured out Tron technology and can transport you into any film or game you want. Where to?

a. I would want to go inside the world of Fallout, particularly Fallout 4. I would love to adventure in the Commonwealth, and further into the Wasteland, all from the multi-story home base I’ve built now that I’ve started modding the game. Collecting caps, trading, meeting interesting companions, exploring new-to-me places.

b. I would want to visit Coruscant from the time period of the Star Wars prequel movies, if not before. Those are far from my favorite films, but that city-covered planet would be an amazing place to visit. The technology would be unbelievable, you could no doubt find anything there, you would meet a ton of different aliens and learn about their culture, eat all kinds of incredible food, and to travel you would have flying vehicles. I’m off!

c. I would want to go and stay at Rivendell, as envisioned by Peter Jackson, from The Lord of the Rings films. It is such a beautiful, enchanting place and the elves could tell so many stories from the time before the rediscovery of the One Ring.
________________________________

There you have it, our annual tradition is alive and well.

I wish everyone the very merriest of Christmases. I hope you have a wonderful time celebrating, remembering fondly those who are no longer with us, and cherishing those who are still in our lives.

The post Twas the Day Before Christmas appeared first on Stainless Steel Droppings.

Read Full Article
Visit website

Read for later

Articles marked as Favorite are saved for later viewing.
close
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

Separate tags by commas
To access this feature, please upgrade your account.
Start your free month
Free Preview