Archive for August, 2018

Dogs of War

Posted: August 31, 2018 in Book reviews, science fiction
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dogs-of-war-16By Adrian Tchaikovsky

Rex is a good dog.

He’s also a 7 foot tall canine/human hybrid killing machine. A bioform bred for war by a private security firm, he leads a multiform combat team that also includes Honey, a heavy weapons toting bear, Dragon, a serpentine infiltrator come sniper, and Bees, a distributed intelligence in the form of, well, a swarm of bees.

Loyal to his Master and his inbuilt hierarchies, Rex just wants to be a good dog and fight Master’s enemies, but when he and his comrades are deployed in Mexico to battle insurgents, the lines between friend and foe blur, and when his Master is charged as a war criminal, Rex’s whole existence is up for grabs. Are he and the other bioforms mere things, or are they sentient creatures worthy of rights?

*****

If you read my review of Children of Time you’ll see I absolutely loved it (still the best book I’ve read in years) but this left me with something of an odd conundrum, on the one hand it encouraged me to seek out more from Tchaikovsky, but it did make me worry that whatever I read next wouldn’t be as good as Children of Time.

Well if I’m being honest Dogs of War isn’t as good as Children of Time, the good news is that it’s still an enjoyable read.

On the surface it’s a very different kind of book, less expansive, and a much leaner read, and yet there are similarities. Again Tchaikovsky excels in writing sentient, non-human characters, and where Dogs of War works best is in the shape of its central character, Rex, who feels completely three dimensional, and Tchaikovsky never feels the need to fully anthropomorphise the character. Rex isn’t human, and Tchaikovsky never cheats the reader by pretending he is, yet still makes him a character we can empathise with.

And you have to applaud the sheer chutzpa of making your lead characters a sentient dogman, a surprisingly eloquent bear, a lazy reptile and an intelligent swarm of bees! Really, you’ve never read anything like it, and the sheer imagination of show here’s is amazing.

It isn’t perfect, after a strong start the middle portion of the book feels somewhat disjointed and meanders a little before the pace and the plot pick up again, and given there are so many big ideas at play here (sentience, distributed intelligence, cloning, private security firms doing governmental dirty work etc.) at times I wanted it to become more epic in scope, but then again we’d have lost the intimacy we have with Rex and the other characters if the author had gone down that route, so swings and roundabouts and all that!

All in all a though provoking and enjoyable read.

Rex is a good dog, and this is a good book!

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trainsJust a quick note to tell you I have a new book out! It’s available to buy from Amazon as a download now. Here are the UK and US links

UK: Buy for just £1.99

US: Buy for just $2.58

It’s an anthology of tales, each of which relates to time in some fashion. From countdowns and deadlines, to travelling through time itself, there’s something for everyone. Here’s more detail on each of the ten stories inside…

Do the Trains Run on Time?

An England that could be today, could be tomorrow, or could even be yesterday, has been invaded by a faceless, implacable enemy, and for a lucky few the only escape is via refugee train, but time is running out for one group of evacuees waiting at a lonely railway station when they find themselves menaced by a monstrous creature.

Irreconcilable Distances

Long distance relationships can be challenging, but as humanity heads for the stars things will only get harder!

The Delicate Art of Deep Space Negotiation

When a labour dispute on a far flung mining colony threatens to bankrupt a galaxy spanning corporation, one senior executive embarks on a desperate mission to resolve the issues, but time is of the essence.

Tempus Stultitia

When a student takes radical action to get a good grade, he imagines he’s thought of everything, but he may have made a very big mistake.

Folding Back the Years.

The place is London, the year is 1970, and Soviet backed forces are on the verge of taking the city. As the evacuation begins only one man knows that this isn’t how things were supposed to be…

Temp Agency

It’s the ultimate part time job, but is there a catch?

Mr Dweeb Comes to Town

The young man who wanders into a bar on a distant planet looks like an easy target for local thugs, but why does he keep checking his watch?

The Astronaut’s Son

Growing up is hard enough without your dad being an astronaut who’s aging slower than you are.

Habeas Corpus 

All new technologies get misused, and time travel is no different as some disreputable academics plan a very unique heist.

Ulrik Must Die!

It is another place, another time. Lady Maryam is far from home and heavily pregnant, with only her wits to rely on she must fight to ensure not only her own future, but the future of her unborn child. One thing is clear, for them to survive, Ulrik must die!

Ant-Man and the Wasp

Posted: August 18, 2018 in Film reviews
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Directed by Peyton Reed. Starring Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly,  Michael Peña, Michael Douglas, Hannah John-Kamen, Laurence Fishburne, Walton Goggins and Michelle Pfeiffer.

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Ok, we’re going to need a really big can of insect repellent!

After former criminal Scott Lang (Rudd) fought alongside Captain America in Civil War, he was placed under house arrest and forced to give up his super heroic alter ego as Ant-Man. Meanwhile the original Ant-Man, Hank Pym (Douglas) and his daughter Hope van Dyne (Lily) are now wanted fugitives and have gone on the run with their miniaturisation technology, determined to rescue Hank’s wife and Hope’s mother, Janet van Dyne (Pfeiffer), who’s been trapped in the quantum realm for 30 years.

When Scott receives a message he believes comes from Janet, he contacts his former associates and they reluctantly enlist his help in trying to rescue Janet, but their work is complicated by the machinations of a black market tech dealer named Sonny (Goggins) and a mysterious masked figure known as Ghost (John-Kamen) who can phase through solid matter and who has her own reasons for wanting to locate Janet van Dyne.

Luckily Ant-Man isn’t alone, Hope has her own suit and as the Wasp she can do everything Ant-Man can (but with wings!)

Ant-Man was a film that succeeded inspite itself. The loss of Edgar Wright during production and the lacklustre trailer hadn’t inspired much confidence in me, but it turned out to be a fun ride and, in a world of ever more epic Marvel films, the smaller, more intimate scale helped it stand out.

Now in the year that’s given us Black Panther and then Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp provides a refreshingly lightweight and smaller scale antidote to city smashing, planet hopping and more superheroes than you can shake a stick at.

Ant-Man and the Wasp isn’t epic in scale, but that’s kinda the point, and part of the reason behind Marvel’s success is their ability to shuffle the pack. After Infinity War the last thing we needed was something deep and meaningful, and dark. Instead what we get is light and fun, and it may well be better than the first one.

Once again the core of its success is down to casting. Scott Rudd’s comic timing works wonders, whether he’s in the suit or out of it, and he works well with whoever he’s paired with, whether it’s Lily or Peña, but even with Randall Park’s scene stealing FBI agent. In particular he and Abby Ryder Fortson, returning as Scott’s daughter Cassie, have great chemistry, and at times this is more a father/daughter comedy than a big budget superhero film—and that’s just fine.

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Lily again impresses as Hope. When Hank revealed the Wasp suit at the end of the first one Hope said; “It’s about damn time” and that’s a phrase that works on two levels, both for the character and in the wider Marvel universe. It did seem a trifle odd that Hope, tough resourceful, intelligent, brave, was passed over in place of Hank giving the suit to Scott. Sure, it makes sense from the perspective of Hank’s fear of losing his daughter the same way he lost his wife, but it still irked a little. Now Hope is a hero in her own right, and for the first time a female superhero gets her name in the title of a Marvel film. Ok, it’s a shame Black Widow didn’t beat her to the punch, but still, no complaints from me because Lily is awesome. She and Rudd make a good team, and an equal one. This is less Batman and Robin than Batman and Batman.

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“Of course, I’d be more than happy to steal the film.”

Of course in many ways the standout star of the first film was Michael Peña as Scott’s old cellmate Luis, and Peña picks up where he left off. He’s a genuine joy to watch, and it doesn’t even feel that contrived to get him into the story either.

 

5b3faca370e29130008b4b6d-750-501Douglas is always good, and Fishburne adds to the gravitas as an old colleague of Hanks. It’s always good to see Pfeiffer, though its shame she isn’t given more screen time. Kamen-John does a good job as Ghost, a “villain” we can sympathise with. Goggins does his best with a fairly thin role. But hey this is a film where even Luis’s buddies and Sonny’s henchmen get their moments.

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Just like playing with a toy boat in the bath

The film’s exceptionally well-paced, and the effects are great, and as with the first film, the filmmakers are again incredibly imaginative when it comes to shrinking things down or blowing them up to giant size, without ever quite hitting the heights of that child’s bedroom/Thomas the Tank Engine fight from the first one, but that’s a minor quibble.

Yes, the word quantum is overused, and it overdoes the technobabble at times, and you can’t help but feel this is going to feed into the sequel to Infinity War (especially given the mid credits scene at the end) but if you can set this to one side what you’re left with is a fun, exciting film with an engaging cast and more laughs than most so called comedies.

It might be smaller in scale than most Marvel films, but just like Ant-Man himself, this is a film quite capable of scaling itself up when it needs to.

More Ant-Man please, and definitely more Wasp!

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“Be honest, does my bum look big in this?”

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Posted: August 7, 2018 in Film reviews
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Directed by Ol Parker.  Starring. Christine Baranski, Pierce Brosnan, Dominic Cooper, Colin Firth, Andy García, Lily James, Amanda Seyfried, Stellan Skarsgård, Julie Walters, Cher and Meryl Streep.

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“Join us, join us, JOIN US!”

Many years have passed since Sophie Sheridan (Seyfried) discovered that her father was one of three men and invited them to the Greek island where she lived with her mother Donna (Streep). Now Sophie wants to reopen the hotel in honour of her mother, but she’s unhappy that two of her dads, Harry (Firth) and Bill (Skarsgård) can’t attend, and nor can her partner Sky (Cooper) who’s in New York. Her third father, Sam (Brosnan) will be there, but when a storm hits the island the whole reopening looks like it could fail.

Back in 1979 we follow the young Donna (James) as she leaves University and heads out to see the world, beginning in Paris where she meets a young Harry, before moving onto Greece where her path crosses that of both Bill and Sam.

As past and future increasingly mirror one another the stage is set for heartbreak and joy in equal measure. As the song says, here we go again.

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I unashamedly love Mama Mia. I can see all its faults, it’s cheesy and yes some of the cast aren’t the world’s greatest singers (I’m looking at you 007) but its joyful exuberance, married to Abba’s fantastic songs, and a first rate cast papered over any cracks there may have been.

Given its phenomenal success a sequel was always on the cards, but credit to the producers for waiting until they felt they had a story to tell, and kudos for deciding to go all Godfather 2 with a sequel that’s also a prequel, and the result is all kinds of wonderful, just not necessarily for the reasons the first one succeeded. For all that they’re cut from the same cloth these are two very different films, and again credit has to go to everyone involved in the production for not just giving us more of the same.

The film opens with characters dealing with a tragedy that happened a year before, and a sense of melancholia hangs over the whole film, and whilst it’s clearly a feel-good story, it’s also sad at times. Very sad.

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Hey I recognize those dungarees!

If the film relies on the return of familiar characters and situations, at its heart is something new, namely Lily James as the young Donna, and it’s no exaggeration to suggest that it’s James’ performance that makes the film. While everyone else always seems to have someone to bounce off, often its Donna who’s left alone, foreshadowing what we know will happen, that she’ll raise Sophie alone as a single mother, and its credit to James that she never allows Donna to be a character we pity, only one we empathise with and root for. Plus she’s a great song and dance woman which helps enormously.

In the present it’s Seyfried who holds the film together, albeit with able support of some wonderful actors. I’d happily watch an entire trilogy based around the adventures of Christine Baranski and Julie Walters, who once again threaten to steal the show, and Firth, Brosnan and Skarsgård imbue Harry, Sam and Bill with so much warmth you kinda wish they were your dads too.

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The actors playing the other younger characters all do a good job, some more than others, but special mention to Jessica Keenan Wynn and Alexa Davies essaying the young Baranski and Walters.

In the scene stealing category there’s Omid Djalili with an amusing recurring cameo of a customs officer (and please, please, please stay till the end of the credits.) and of course the iconic introduction of Cher as Donna mum, not the greatest actor but damn that woman can still belt out a tune.

Which brings us to the music, which is of course ever present. This is perhaps a harder soundtrack to get into, certainly for me because there were more unfamiliar songs this time around, but there’s still plenty of familiar music, and the script is peppered with witty one liners, one of Baranski’s lines is practically worth the price of admission alone.

Beyond the cast, the music and the script, I’d like to talk about the direction, because this was almost the element that impressed me most. Part of Mama Mia’s charm was its slightly DIY construction much like Brosnan’s singing (sorry Pierce) it didn’t matter if the film looked a little creaky at times. By contrast Here we go Again is on another level technically, and I was amazed at just how well put together this was, the transitions between past and present are breathtakingly well constructed, I mean we’re talking Oscar worthy here, and quite frankly if it’d come out later in the year, and could have avoided the near certain snobbery, I see no reason this couldn’t have garnered an Oscar nod or two. Yes, it’s that good.

Mamma-Mia-2-Poster-.pngGorgeous to look at, wonderful to listen to, and with a life affirming central message around motherhood this is, as I stressed, not always an easy watch, and in the end this isn’t a film that tugs on your heartstrings so much as one that rips them from your chest and shows them to you, and I can’t deny that I may have shed a tear or two at one climatic moment that just manages to stay the right side of overly sentimental.

It’s hard to say if this is better or worse then the first film, because they are so different. On the downside as I’ve said the soundtrack isn’t quite as familiar, and the duel nature of the plot does mean we only get extended cameos from certain actors, and maybe it isn’t quite the surprise the first one was. Plus knowing it wasn’t filmed in Greece is a trifle annoying…

But overall this is a far, far better film than it has any right to be, and I for one can’t wait to see it again. Will we ever get Mama Mia 3? Hard to tell, but frankly the bar’s set so high now it can surely only disappoint.

Highly recommended.

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Cherly you can’t be serious, Paul? I am serious, and don’t call me Cherly!