Friday, August 29, 2014

The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton

Title: The Andromeda Strain
Author: Michael Crichton
Publisher:  Knopf (1969)


I assume we'll all be glued to our televisions this weekend for the opening games of college football but if you need something to read during halftime this title might be just the thing. It's short, on point and a little educational, too. That is, if you're interested in late 60s cutting edge technology. That statement has a hint of sarcasm but it's unintended. It is actually interesting to read this sci-techno thriller a few decades post-publication.

For those that are new to our monthly series, this is when Michael reviews a film adapted from a book which gets a review here. 


Click here for Michael's film review of The Andromeda Strain



When two Army personnel attempt to recover a research satellite that made an unplanned re-entry landing in Arizona, they encounter a town whose inhabitants have fallen prey to a fatal attack. Before much longer, they too have died. Their commander activates Wildfire and five civilian researchers begin a 5 day race to understand and contain an extraterrestrial pathogen. 

I've always thought of TAS as the first of Crichton's novels in which his signature style began to coalesce. It always felt like the first of the type of novels that garnered him the most fame: a group of very smart, qualified people come together using the latest technology to resolve a crisis. It's a style of novel I've always enjoyed (Jurassic Park anyone?) and while I don't think this is his best, it's still an enjoyable Crichton story.

After the Wildfire team has examined the stricken town and brought the satellite to their super secret lab facility, you learn a little about how each of them examines a scientific problem and you learn a lot about bacteria and the scientific tools available to researchers in 1969 (at least, if they had unlimited resources). There is a lot of technical detail in this novel and Crichton hadn't yet mastered how to incorporate it within the dramatic narrative. The book is introduced as a recounting of "recorded events" but it strays too often into the personal to keep to that structure. It's a flaw of the novel but if you like techno-thrillers this will probably still be a fun read despite the thriller aspect not really starting until the last few pages (however, if you don't like them, this is probably not the one to start with). 

My two* big complaints have to do with the loaded language Crichton so often used not coming to anything in the end and, well, the ending. The loaded language went nowhere and the end wasn't very satisfying. Obviously, I can't go into detail as it would be a major spoiler but let's just say that the ending - while not inconceivable - was unlikely and, what's more important, pretty meh. Actually, there is something I can share to illustrate my point. If you were to take all the information learned by the researchers (plus what the reader gets to know) and tried to use it to reach The End you probably couldn't do it. There certainly isn't any rule that a writer must provide the reader with a roadmap to the end but it's hard not to think: well, what'd you [author] bother with all that detail for if I couldn't use it for anything? So let's call this one a journey type of book. If you enjoy technological details and what-if situations then this title will satisfy. 

*I was mighty tempted to do a science nit pick review but decided to pass. Crichton novels do so much better than average on that type of thing that it just seems mean to pick out all the mistakes (and I've already done it to him once:).



Now about that movie... Don't forget to check out Michael's post. 


rating: 3 of 5 stars
 

Coming up next:  
The Earthsea Quartet by Ursula Le Guin / Tales from Earthsea




Links to previous joint posts under the cut: 



Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Reading Roundup

I haven't exactly been reading (or posting!) up a storm lately but here are a few recommendations which will give an idea of what I have been reading lately and whether or not I enjoyed it.

currently reading
The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton
The Earthsea Quartet by Ursula Le Guin
The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (still!)


recommended
The Virgin and the Whale by Carl Nixon
--slow starter but some interesting developments as it goes
Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox
--very cool premise, world-building done well
(Dreamquake is the follow-on to above, I'm not sad I read it but I probably wouldn't have been sad to have missed it.)
The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
--always enjoyable to read old favorites, the series is good but YMMV A LOT with the most recent
Hombre by Elmore Leonard
Clarkesworld: Year 5 (short stories)
I Do Not Come To You By Chance by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani
--a bit up and down for me but, in the end, i enjoyed it
Salvage by Alexandra Duncan
--cool premise, good world-building
Lessons in French by Laura Kinsale (audiobook)
--much like LK, any NB is better than no NB but I'd feel less than truthful if I didn't state that I thought this was the least satisfying performance of LK's backlist so far
She-Wolves by Helen Castor
--the last of the non-fic that I read surrounding powerful women in England's history

not recommended
The Widow's Daughter by Nicholas Edlin
The Memory of Love by Linda Olsson
Divergent by Veronica Roth
The White Princess by Philippa Gregory 

DNF
Bluestocking in Patagonia by Anne Whitehead
Bitten by Kelley Armstrong
In Search of an Impotent Man by Gaby Hauptmann
The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken by Tarquin Hall
--however this one did reference a book that sounds really good so I'm glad for that even if I didn't like this one enough to finish it


What have you been reading lately?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Alan Rickman Reel: Michael Collins


My household are big fans of Alan Rickman. As such, we decided to review his films from start to finish. Using IMDb, that put us starting with Die Hard (Die Hard!!!!) and we knew Dogma and Galaxy Quest would be in there, too. Not to mention all our other favorite Alan Rickman films. Plus, you know, we thought we'd discover so many more fun movies. That is probably still true but we've been discovering some real duds in our journey and it's sucking the fun out of this activity. As such, we've decided to keep going in chronological order but to focus on the ones we like or what sounds good to us.

If we skip one of your favorites feel free to make a case for it in the comments. Links to previous reviews can be found below, under the cut.

Dr Musacha: This movie is 2hrs and 13min long.
sgwordy: It feels it.




sgwordy: Alan Rickman wasn't in this all that much.

Dr Musacha: I think we've found our first thing that Alan Rickman DOESN'T do well in a film, as his Irish accent left a bit to be desired.

sgwordy: So true. It's really the first genuine fail we've seen out of him. He was in good company, though. The accents were pretty crap all around. Were you able to get a handle on his character at all?

Dr Musacha: He came across as nothing more than a foil for Michael Collins, which is weird because he was portraying a real person and so probably had more depth than that.

sgwordy: I agree and actually find that emblematic of the entire film. I assume everyone had more depth but the film wasn't successful in communicating that.

Dr Musacha: Agreed, I kept looking at Julia Roberts (an otherwise talented actress) and thinking, "Why are you here? There's nothing for you to do in this movie."

sgwordy: And, what's worse, is that I got to the end and, quite without irony, mentally wondered why so many people were at Michael Collins' funeral. I think that's a real problem when making a historical drama. Speaking of the historical part... how was Alan Rickman in the costumes in this one?

Dr Musacha: He was mostly in suits but he did have the weird looking glasses.

sgwordy: He wore glasses?

Dr Musacha: I thought so. Anyway, not his best look.

sgwordy: I'm starting to forget what he looks like in regular clothes.



Summary:
Rate the movie on a scale of 1 to 10:
Dr Musacha –6
sgwordy –6
Was Rickman the best thing about this movie?
Dr Musacha – No. I give the nod to Aidan Quinn's character.
sgwordy – No, making fun of the terrible accents was.

In the context of his body of work, on a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate Rickman as Rickman?
Dr Musacha –3
sgwordy –2

Favorite Rickman quote from this movie?
Dr Musacha: That's no excuse for obscenities.
sgwordy: Ditto.
 

Must Read!

16. For the first time in his life, he found himself imagining a future together with someone. He was embarrassed to tell her this but he had never really been in love with the women he had dated. “Well who would play me in this rom-com of your life?” she teasingly inquired. “You have such beautiful olive skin,” he crooned, “so you can be a person of color or racially ambiguous in the book but definitely a white woman in the movie.”


Don't miss the whole article here!

Science is Cool!


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

It's more than the paper.

I'm not picky about how I get my stories. I'll read on my computer, my phone, my tablet, in my books, in the books at the library, on my eReader, listen to audio (thanks to Michael:); I'll read in any format, anywhere. I like stories, I like learning, I like reading.

I also like going on vacation.

(This probably seems like a non-sequitur but stay with me.)

And going to movies, and spending time with my animals, and getting new bikes occasionally, and getting credit for what I do at work, and being recognized for my intellectual output, and being able to eat dinner/have a roof over my head, and buying video games, and (did I mention?) going on vacation.

I get to do all those things I listed because I am compensated for my work in the form of money. Yay, money.


The price of a book is not just (or even mostly) the paper.

"Unlike retailers, publishers invest heavily in individual books, often for years, before we see any revenue."

And behind the publishers are all the people (hello authors and all the rest of you!) who have worked for years to create what ends up on paper. They deserve to get paid for their work.

(Don't you like getting paid for your work?)


So, folks (and fucking Amazon!), quit complaining about the price of ebooks. It's (a lot) more than the paper.


(This, incidentally, is why I don't participate in piracy. Everyone deserves to get paid for their work.)

Friday, August 15, 2014

A Smuggler Tradition

(I'm the one in carbonite, not the one with his back facing the camera.)

Monday, August 4, 2014

Alan Rickman Reel: Sense & Sensibility

My household are big fans of Alan Rickman. As such, we decided to review his films from start to finish. Using IMDb, that put us starting with Die Hard (Die Hard!!!!) and we knew Dogma and Galaxy Quest would be in there, too. Not to mention all our other favorite Alan Rickman films. Plus, you know, we thought we'd discover so many more fun movies. That is probably still true but we've been discovering some real duds in our journey and it's sucking the fun out of this activity. As such, we've decided to keep going in chronological order but to focus on the ones we like or what sounds good to us.

If we skip one of your favorites feel free to make a case for it in the comments. Links to previous reviews can be found below under the cut.

Dr Musacha: Doesn't she know this is the initial, charismatic Austen guy so he's going to be all douchey?
sgwordy: No, I don't think she does. This is her first Austen.





sgwordy: Following up Mesmer with this title puts you watching two costume dramas in a row. I know that's not your cup of tea, but was Alan Rickman able to counter the costumes in this one after failing so utterly in the last one?

Dr Musacha: Yes, I think so. Also, this was just a much better movie. I mean much better! In fact, nothing could have made me like this more than watching Mesmer just prior.

sgwordy: (laughs) We hate Mesmer. Speaking of costumes, I'm not really into the whole people in uniform thing but holy shit Rickman was wearing the hell out of those regimentals at the end.

Dr Musacha: Totally agree. He pulled off all the costumes much better than Hugh Grant.

sgwordy: Oh hell yeah. I think he wore his costumes better than anyone else in the movie.

Dr Musacha: Yeah, but I thought Emma Thompson looked great in some of her costumes. You've told me before that this isn't your favorite Austen title, how was it to re-visit?

sgwordy: As a movie, it's certainly grown on me. I enjoy it much more now than the first time I saw it. I think I've seen it 4 or 5 times at this point. As characters, Marianne and Edward get on my nerves and I've never been able to reconcile myself to the fact that Colonel Brandon and Elinor don't get together. They are so perfect for each other. Also, I tend to dislike Ang Lee movies more often than I like them. That's the part that's grown on me. I like his direction in the film now whereas I didn't previously. Up and down tastes aside, it's definitely written and acted well.

Dr Musacha: I thought the acting was the best part of the movie. Kate Winslet absolutely crushes it, Emma Thompson is always great, Alan Rickman is why we're here, and even Hugh Laurie adds something. Hugh Grant was the only bad apple and I can't even tell if that was his usual bad acting or a limitation of the role.

sgwordy: I'm no Hugh Grant fan myself but if there's anything his limited skill and personality could pull off it's Edward Ferrars. Seriously, Elinor! What were you thinking? By the way, I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of the acting.

Dr Musacha: The only role I've liked Hugh Grant in is the first Bridget Jones. I find him completely believable as a smarmy jackass.

sgwordy laughs

Dr Musacha: From what we've seen of Rickman so far this is a bit of a departure. For lack of a more widely accepted term, he's playing 'stoically broken-hearted.' How did you find him in that role?

sgwordy: Wholly affecting. I can't emphasize that enough. My sympathy was completely with him. That type of thing can so easily fall into sad sack territory (see any number of Hugh Grant films) but Rickman brings such authenticity to the emotion. When he's quietly backing out of the door after bringing Marianne's mother to her I just want to cry for him. Then when Marianne calls him back to say thanks I well up a bit. The characterization and writing help on that, too, I think. It's clear that Colonel Brandon acts because he is genuinely compelled to not because he's looking for rewards. What did you think of Rickman here?

Dr Musacha: Another standout performance, and you can really start to see his range as we move through his movie career...we're a far cry from wise cracking villain Rickman at this point.


Summary:
Rate the movie on a scale of 1 to 10:
Dr Musacha –7
sgwordy – 8

Was Rickman the best thing about this movie?
Dr Musacha – I think I have to give the nod to Emma Thompson, but he's very close.
sgwordy – Yeah, she's quite amazing in it, I go with her, as well.

In the context of his body of work, on a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate Rickman as Rickman?
Dr Musacha –7
sgwordy –9

Favorite Rickman quote from this movie?
Dr Musacha: Marianne Dashwood would no more think of me than she would of you, John.
sgwordy: Give me an occupation, Miss Dashwood, or I shall run mad.