The Last Jedi (2017)

Last Jedi poster

Phew – I can relax, no one can ‘get’ me with spoilers for the Biggest Movie Event of the Year (TM) now that I’ve seen it! I’ll provide none of my own, don’t worry.

I’ve always felt I was just the wrong age to be a huge Star Wars fan, and while I’m a huge (wannabe) geek I’ve always had that feeling that I’m just not into it enough to appreciate all the hype. I missed out on the original trilogy largely, I was less than enthused by the prequel trio, and while I rather enjoyed 2015’s The Force Awakens (aka episode 7) it felt more like a rehash of the original – yes, it was fun and I liked it but… it was missing something, some spark of originality or soul, perhaps?

I was a little surprised, then, when The Last Jedi side-swiped me into being the film that is finally making me geek out a LOT over this whole franchise! 🙂

Without mentioning specifics, this has a lot going for it: a more original storyline, lots of character development all ’round, cute critters in the form of porgs, some familiar faces, some new blood adding positively to the film. I laughed more than I expected – there are some genuinely funny moments, and it’s a huge boost to see a juggernaut like this not taking itself too seriously. And of course it looks spectacular, and is just chock-full of adventure and action and everything that makes Star Wars Star Wars!

It’s not perfect. I was a little puzzled by some of the plot threads, which were perhaps a little bit… pointless, dare I say? There were a few moments of “Why didn’t you just do that in the first place?!?!” and other slight logic flaws. The things that were maybe waiting for an explanation that either didn’t happen, or just were a bit underwhelming.

And then there are the visuals that make all of that just melt away. The eye candy is everywhere, from background details to fantastic wildlife: crystal foxes and the soon-to-be-ubiquitous porgs. The use of the colour red is particularly ‘wow’, from Supreme Leader Snoke’s throne room to the planet where the very ground seems to bleed.

I had thought going in that 2.5 hours was going to feel like a long movie, but it really didn’t. I was genuinely swept up in the fun of the adventure, and the sense that there is a lot more story still to come. Finally, I think, I might be starting to understand a bit about the huge appeal of this universe!

Released: 14th December 2017
Viewed: 16th December 2017
Running time: 152 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 8.5/10

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Ancillary Mercy – Ann Leckie

Ancillary Mercy cover

“One moment asleep.”

And so we come to the closing of the wonderful Ancillary trilogy, some of the most impressively engaging sci-fi I’ve read this year. As ever, if you don’t want even a hint of what might have gone before, I’d suggest not reading a review of the third installment 😉

Book one, Ancillary Justiceintroduced us to Breq, a ship’s AI mind now trapped in a single ‘ancillary’ body. The second chapter, Ancillary Sword, saw Breq more or less avoiding the galactic war raging as she (and, must mention, everyone is a ‘she’, male or female – still adds to the otherworldly feel, even as I get used to it!) takes command of a warship and goes about setting right the wrongs she perceives in the civilisation at Athoek Station.

Mercy was criticised somewhat for taking the story down very small after such a grand opening, but here we see the larger picture come crashing in to the smaller stage – and it works very well, more so for having had that time to connect on an intimate scale.

It’s a lot to ask for this book to wrap up a galactic tyrant at war with herself, a civilisation being forced to abandon old prejudices, and a handful of broken soldiers serving under the command of an even more broken AI. And yet, it delivers: I’d say with satisfying resolutions all ’round, even while giving that sense of a much, much wider story continuing on.

I’m kind of sad to say goodbye to these characters – but can’t wait to visit another part of the universe in Provenance.

Paperback: 328 pages / 19 chapters
First published: 2016
Series: Radch book 3
Read from 3rd-10th December 2017

My rating: 9/10

Ancillary Sword – Ann Leckie

Ancillary Sword cover

“‘Considering the circumstances, you could use another lieutenant.'”

Usual vague spoilerish warning: this is the second in a series, so even mentioning a character from this book might serve as a small spoiler for events in the previous installment. But hey – Ancillary Justice is marvellous, so stop reading this and go read that first! 🙂

Following on from events at the end of Ancillary Justice, Breq finds herself in a very odd position. Whose orders is she ‘supposed’ to obey? Who is pulling the strings – of herself, or anyone else around her? Which side is ‘right’ – if any, of course?

Being given command of a ship, Mercy of Kalr, is a blessing and a curse. It’s a little closer to her old self, but always with that ‘not quite the same’ dagger to the heart. No one quite knows what to make of her, either, as she arrives in Athoek Station still trying to win over her own crew, with a very personal mission in the face of galactic mayhem, and ready to take on any perceived injustice in the isolated system. War may be raging further afield, but here things are cut off and proceeding as normal. But can Breq leave ‘normal’ alone, when it seems so very corrupt?

Following the brilliance of the opening volume of this trilogy, introducing a universe with a default female pronoun to challenge our little brains, and a character trapped in a single human body after millennia as a ship’s AI, Ancillary Sword is perhaps unsurprisingly a little less loved. The main complaint is that the scope of the story is quite a lot smaller. It’s a much more personal tale, in a rather constrained space given the scope of the whole.

I have mixed feelings about all of this. On the one hand, I was still hugely impressed reading the book, still loved the writing and the world building. But on reflection, it is harder to give it quite as high as mark, as the events are just a little less impressive and a little more… preachy?

For, Breq is apparently on a mission, even if she doesn’t entirely mean to be. There is a touch of self-indulgence from the author, I think, in setting up a character with just enough power to stomp all over every injustice she sees, and of course her logical ex-computer brain sees everything so black and white. Indeed, all the situations are rather written as black and white, so…!

This is still one of the best books I have read this year, so it’s pretty churlish to pick too many holes. I think expectations after the first book were very hard to meet. However, while not quite hitting those highs, I did still very much enjoy reading this and am about to pick up the final book of the series. And waaaa at it being the final book, tbh!!

Paperback: 356 pages / 21 chapters
First published: 2016
Series: Imperial Radch book 2 (of 3)
Read from 20th-26th November 2017

My rating: 8.5/10

Doctor Who: Myths and Legends – Richard Dinnick

Doctor Who Myths and Legends cover

“Heroes. Gods. Monsters. Time Lords.”

Amazingly, it’s been over a decade since Doctor Who made a triumphant return to the screen, becoming more popular than ever to the point where the recent sneak peak of the Christmas special, aired during BBC’s Children in Need appeal, caused absolute squeee’ing overload on social media. If you’re finding it too hard to wait the a little over a month to go before the full episode airs on Christmas day, perhaps this book of short stories will fill the gap for you.

Myths and Legends is a collection of fourteen tales, giving a Gallifreyan twist to familiar stories from our own history: the Argonauts escaping from the Cyclops, for instance, or the Wooden Horse of Troy. Despite being a fan of Greek myths, I didn’t find it particularly easy to spot the links at times – the table of contents helpfully lists the inspirational tale –  which… I’m not sure, but is probably a good thing.

To be honest, some of the stories try a little too hard to fit a space-age tale into something written thousands of years ago. The Minotaur’s labyrinth, for instance, is rather shoehorned into a tale about the Racnoss, a spider-species that was featured in the 2006 Christmas special, The Runaway Bride. Now, spiders and mazes are fine together, but here it just seemed rather a daft way to try and get your prey to where you’re about to eat them – hmm.

My other minor ‘hmm’ about this work is that it made me feel like I’m not a big enough geek. I’ve watched Dr Who since… oh, okay, maybe not give away my age ;)… since well before its modern regeneration, but I found myself wondering at times if I just don’t pay enough attention to get some of the winks and nods here. But then, after a few I found myself wondering why there weren’t more tie-ins to the series as shown on screen. With a title like this has, I suppose I expected more… specifics?

Overall, this is a perfectly adequate set of stories, but somehow didn’t quite hit the mark for me. Perhaps it’s the slightly written-for-youngers simplistic style, or simply a flaw in this reader and/or her expectations. Your mileage may vary, as they say, and if you do have a small TARDIS on your premises, chances are you’ll get more out of this than I did.

NetGalley eARC: 288 pages / 14 short stories
First published: 2017
Series: none
Read from 25th September – 13th November 2017

My rating: 6/10

Geostorm (2017)

geostorm poster

Geostorm starts with the kind of cutesy, hopeful voice over that instantly made me fear I’d made a terrible, terrible mistake. Truth is, I avoided this movie for most of its release run, expecting awfulness. I’m pleased to report it was far from the worst thing I’ve ever seen – but, still in no way shape or form a good movie! Knowing that, relax and enjoy the spectacle.

So… in 2019 (that voiceover helpfully informs us), the scale of destruction caused by global warming-related extreme weather is such that all the nations of Earth band together to do something about it. Enter the highly unlikely casting of Gerry Butler as a top scientist, who leads a team in creating ‘Dutch Boy’ (after the tale of the one who stuck his finger in a… urm… dam, and saved the town from flooding), a system of satellites that can interfere in weather patterns before they become catastrophic. Of course no one would ever attempt to use that kind of power for evil, right?! o_O

What follows is every disaster movie trope you’ve ever seen before, plus every someone-high-up-is-behind-the-sabotage ‘thriller’, and a pretty cringeworthy rehash of every estranged-family-thrown-back-together stuff. Overly bright teenage offspring are on hand to give ‘meaning’ to saving the planet (!) and to sob pitifully for your heart string tugging needs. Cute animals are imperiled by tornados! Lots of scantily-clad beach people are frozen to icicles!!!

If I’m not being clear, this is daftness turned up to, oooh, about eight and a half? If, however, you manage to actually see any of the movie between bouts of eye-rolling, then the visual candy is quite nice. I did love the new and improved ISS – space geek that I am – and the balance tipped in favour of ‘space stuff’ over too much CGI natural disaster footage.

To say there’s absolutely nothing original about this is putting it mildly. If I had paid for the experience, I might be feeling ripped off. However, a quiet afternoon’s excuse for leaving my brain switched off, it really wasn’t as dreadful as I feared – which is about as high praise as I can manage. Still, in terms of meeting expectations, it was into the positive. Go figure!

Released: 20th October 2017
Viewed: 9th November 2017
Running time: 109 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 5/10

Ironclads – Adrian Tchaikovsky

ironclads cover

“Sturgeon says that, way back when, the sons of the rich used to go to war as a first choice of career.”

It’s the near future. Brexit has happened, but unable to stand alone the UK becomes part of the US – giving the latter a toehold right next to Europe. Governments are increasingly irrelevant, as it’s the giant Corporations who are running things now – including war. And as the opening sentence suggests, the sons of the rich are once again choosing war as a career. Well, it’s not like they have to risk their lives: they’ve got all the money, all the tech. No, it’s an excuse for them to play general while the grunts like Sgt Ted Regan are the cheapest of commodities.

So, when one of the ‘Scions’ – the mega-rich in their armoured tech marvel ‘suits’ – goes missing somewhere in the Nordic countries, it’s Regan and his closest few squad mates who are sent on the rescue mission. And, of course, things are never exactly what they first seem…

This is a short, standalone novella, but wow does it pack in the ideas! The plot is this one mission, but we get plenty of snippets about how the world has changed in the not-so-distant future, grounded in very real politics and such going on right now. It’s a little eerie at times, to be honest.

For the main, though, this is action all the way, with heavy dollops of very satisfying sci-fi all presented with just the right amount of characterisation – the latter not always a sure thing with such strong concepts and world-building. It’s nice to see the location of Sweden and Finland used for a change, too.

I’ve been meaning to try some of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s much-praised work for ages now, and if his longer work is anything like this I’m only sorry I haven’t tried it sooner! Recommended, for sci-fi fans, gamers, and anyone who might like a dose of action with a strong warning about ‘what if…’!

NetGalley eARC: 160 pages / 10 chapters
First published: November 2017
Series: none
Read from 2nd-6th November 2017

My rating: 9/10

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

BladeRunner 2049 poster

I’m finding this such a hard movie to review, I can barely imagine how difficult it must have been to make! The original Blade Runner (1982) has become one of the cornerstones of science fiction cinema. The look, the noir-ish feel, the music – all iconic. So, first rule of sequel: don’t destroy that kind of legacy!

And – phew! – BR2049 doesn’t. In fact, it does a lot of things very right. However… I dunno, perhaps my expectations were set too high, but while I thoroughly admire what they’ve done here, I’m giving it a lower mark (still 8/10!) than I thought I would.

First off the good stuff: it looks fantastic. I means, the world is a bit grubby and not-nice, and yet the visuals are still mindblowing. Cinematography Oscar, surely – and given the man responsible is Roger Deakins more than overdue, too!

The cast were all really great, too. I’ve never wholly understood the massive appeal of Ryan Gosling, but his slightly blank approach here works very well for the character. It’s his movie: Harrison Ford doesn’t show up until well through the extended running time, and to be honest it would have been great if they could have left that as a surprise.

Ah, yes: avoiding spoilers! This is definitely one of those movies where going in as un-informed as possible is a plus, which only adds to the difficulties in reviewing! So, no plot details from me, just the vague: Blade Runner Ryan Gosling is sent on a mission that might have a far bigger consequence than anyone could know. Along the way he has to deal with Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), the new owner of what was the Tyrell Company, who has his own agenda and one of the new, ‘obedient’ replicants, Luv (Syvia Hoeks), to push it.

So why didn’t this hit quite as many buttons for me as I’d hoped? I’m not entirely sure, to be honest – quite frankly, it should have. Perhaps the plot wasn’t as surprising as it was for others, given that a few threads of it have appeared (and not desperately well handled, tbh) in the KW Jeter ‘sequel’ books? I suspect it might be more to do with the ten million different versions of the original movie – with rather different views on a certain Big Issue – leaving this one with a slight dilemma on which to follow. And while many reviewers are praising the way this, too, leaves that ambiguity, I actually felt that only one version actually makes sense – given a few lines, and the overall plot – and it’s not the one I was a fan of. Ho-hum.

Another slight discomfort for me was the sheer amount of female nudity and sexualisation. It’s not the film’s fault to have opened in a time where this is such a trigger issue, but still: it feels like every variation of subservient womanhood is portrayed here, from the virtual and porn-esque representations, to the actual prostitute and the unappreciated ‘secretary’-type. It was all just a bit ‘off’, somehow, given the present culture of Hollywood and beyond.

That said, don’t think I didn’t enjoy this because I did. Flaws aside, the visual spectacle alone is worth a watch, and unlike some other recent eye candy, this has a great deal going on underneath that. The main character’s story arc is handled extremely well, the baddies are a delight, and there’s enough left unsaid or unexplained (black out, anyone? Oh, but how perfect to explain the retro-tech!) to add a layer of intrigue and imagination stimulation.

So: 8/10. Excellent, but not perfect, ymmv and all that, but sooo worth seeing on the big screen for the wow-factor.

Released: 5th October 2017
Viewed: 18th October 2017
Running time: 163 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 8/10