Tag Archives: adventure

My Teacher Is an Alien

Author: Bruce Coville

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Susan is actually excited to be going back to school–mostly because this year (sixth grade) her class is being taught by Ms. Schwartz, possibly the best teacher ever. They’re even supposed to be putting on a play soon, which has Susan’s aspiring actress heart soaring. But when class starts back after spring break, they find Ms. Schwartz gone without explanation and a substitute, Mr. Smith, in her place. Mr. Smith begins to suck all the joy out of learning, and Susan hates the change of teachers. But then she finds out a secret that makes all her previous complaints about Mr. Smith seem insignificant–he’s actually an alien plotting to take a group of children back with him to space to study! Now she’s got to convince someone, anyone, of the truth before it’s too late.

Bruce Coville is a consistently excellent author that I just really enjoy reading. My Teacher Is an Alien is no exception. It captures the environment of a sixth grade classroom, the interpersonal dynamics, and the complications of trying to get adults to listen when you’re that age. And in the midst of that mundanity, you’re introduced to this suspenseful, incredible situation with aliens and force fields and missing teachers. It makes for a great mix. This volume is also kind of nostalgic to read, being written in the 1980’s; it’s kind of nice to look back to a world where you would actually have to bring a camera (using film!) to get evidence, and then wait overnight for it to be developed at the drugstore. There’s just a different atmosphere to stories set (and written) in that time period. I also enjoyed Susan and her friend Peter’s characters; they’re interesting individuals with well-developed characters. In general, the story’s just pretty engaging and fun–recommended.

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The Flash: Hocus Pocus

Author: Barry Lyga

The Flash (Media Tie-In Novels), vol. 1

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Flashpoint never happened, and Barry and his friends go on about their lives saving the people of Central City, never knowing the heartache of different choices in a different timeline. But in this timeline, there’s plenty of trouble to go around. Central City finds its citizens at the beck and call of a street magician styling himself “Hocus Pocus”–and really, the nerve of him, going and naming himself before Cisco gets a chance to! Although Hocus Pocus’s magic tricks are nothing impressive, his ability to control people and events around him–from getting people for blocks around to applaud to making trees move at his will–certainly seems almost like magic. But Barry is not about to accept something so implausible as the solution; there has to be a reasonable explanation of this magician’s powers. The crew at Star Labs had better be finding out a solution quickly though, because Hocus Pocus has managed to gain power over The Flash, and there’s no telling how much trouble he could cause with a speedster in his control.

I’m a big fan of The CW’s version of The Flash, which features a fabulous cast, a great sense of humor, and an excellent balance of action and drama. Plus, I’ve enjoyed the writing of Barry Lyga in the past. So I was pretty thrilled to find that Lyga had written the first volume of a media tie-in series for the show. And generally speaking, I was quite pleased with Hocus Pocus. It reads very much like an episode of the show, both with the arrival and subsequent handling of the villain and with the family drama that tends to go on at Star Labs. And of course, the element of angst that arises when things get complicated–can’t have a proper Flash story without a touch of angst. The characters are well done and keep in character nicely. Sure, there weren’t any moments where (like in a good fanfic) I was just like “ooh, that’s so such-and-such” and got all full of feels or anything. But on the other hand, there weren’t any grating moments where I had to wonder if the author had ever even watched the show, either. There was just generally a stronger focus in this particular story on the action, the plot, than on the feels . . . which is fine, although the feels are kind of my favorite part. I found it very interesting that they chose to put this in an AU/alternate timeline in which Flashpoint didn’t happen. My guess would be that this is to allow the tie-in series an element of autonomy and perhaps its own larger-scale plot, since its being an alternate timeline didn’t really affect much of anything that happened in this volume. I’m curious to see what happens with that in future volumes. I did enjoy where this story was placed chronologically in the lives of the characters–for one thing, having H. R. as part of the cast just makes everything more fun. Recommended for fans of the CW series . . . not sure how well it would hold up for fans of The Flash as a general media franchise, although Lyga is reputed to have been a fan of the comics since he was a kid, so. . . .

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Detentionaire (2011-2015 Cartoon)

By Nelvana

Status: Complete (4 Seasons/53 Episodes)

My rating: 4 of 5

On the very first day of 10th grade, Lee Ping gets in trouble for the biggest prank in A. Nigma High’s history . . . only, he didn’t actually do it. Now he’s got a whole year of detention, plus he’s grounded after school for that entire time as well! But Lee’s not about to just accept the punishment for something he didn’t do, so with the help of his friends, he’s sneaking out of detention every day to try to track down who actually orchestrated the prank. But it seems that everywhere he turns, he just comes up with more mysteries–ones that are way weirder and more concerning than a simple school prank.

Detentionaire was recommended to me as a good show for fans of Danny Phantom and Gravity Falls. And while it’s not exactly like either of those shows, I do have to agree with the recommendation–the weirdness, mystery, high-school action, keeping secrets, and conspiracies all appeal to a similar mindset. Honestly, I feel like Detentionaire is one of those shows that doesn’t get the love and attention it deserves, although the people who actually watch it tend to really love it. Yes, it’s Canadian, and the only way I’ve found to watch it in the U.S. is through Amazon Video, so that’s probably part of why it’s so little known. But seriously, it’s a great show–although yes, also very weird. At the start, it’s more of a typical high-school story, playing with the ideas of cliques, the whole detention and sneaking out thing, relatively normal high-school troubles, crushes, that sort of thing. Although, yes, any story that has a cyborg principal, a tazlewurm mascot running free around campus, and hazmats roaming the school is really far beyond normal right from the get-go. But the further you get into the story, the more it’s this big conspiracy/mystery that Lee and his friends have gotten dragged into and the more interesting it gets. The characters are brilliantly quirky, original, and memorable, even the characters you love to hate, but especially Lee and his pals (Biffy is my personal favorite, although Holger is a close second–soooo much quirkiness). Also, the animation is really interesting both in the design and the color choices; personally, I found it to be a nice change from a lot of what I’ve seen in other shows. The music is pretty solid and fitting for the show as well. The one thing that made me a bit sad was that the ending felt like it could (maybe should) have gone into at least another season, although ending it there was also valid and acceptable. So yeah, I would definitely recommend Detentionaire to anyone interested in a unique high-school cartoon with some fun and intriguing mystery and conspiracy elements.

Created by Daniel Bryan Franklin & Charles Johnston/Directed by Kevin Micallef/Starring Jonathan Tan, Ryan Belleville, Fab Filippo, Zachary Bennett, Seán Cullen, & Krystal Meadows

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Running from the Deity

Author: Alan Dean Foster

Pip & Flinx, vol. 11

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Flinx really didn’t set out to make first contact with the (comparatively) primitive native population on the planet Arrawd. . . . Never mind that doing so is a huge breach of Commonwealth law, Flinx was honestly a bit more occupied with his search for the Tar-Aiym artifact and, you know, saving the known universe. So when his ship set down on Arrawd to conduct some routine maintenance, he had every intention to stay on board and wait. But then boredom coupled with his innate curiosity struck, he explored a bit, accidentally ran into a native Dwarran (as they called themselves) . . . and what with one thing leading to another, somehow he’s using modern technology to perform what seem like miracles to the native Dwarrans and gaining a reputation across the world.

Running from the Deity is the first Alan Dean Foster I’ve ever read, and to be honest, that’s kind of tragic because he’s such a good writer. I feel like I’ve been missing out. First off, just on the whole, he crafts an interesting story, plain and simple. And I know it’s weird to be jumping into the middle of a series like this, but this book is surprisingly well self-contained–while also clearly connecting to the other volumes in the series, should you want to read them in order. But starting the story at this point, I didn’t feel lost; I was given sufficient background information in a pleasant, approachable manner so as to be able to enjoy the story . . . without being subjected to a nasty info dump. The only chapter that felt even slightly out of place was the last, which jumps to a different character and sets the stage for the next volume. The characters are excellent–full of personality that is presented to the reader in scintillating detail and that drives the progression of the story in a remarkably credible manner. And the worldbuilding. Just, wow. Arrawd and its population are so utterly alien, yet they’re presented in such a comprehensible and interesting way that I could just see them. Physical details, culture, all of it is thoroughly developed in much greater detail that I am accustomed to seeing just about anywhere. The actual writing itself is equally impressive–easy to understand, interesting to read, yet also teeming with challenging vocabulary that had me pulling out a dictionary. So yes, I truly enjoyed reading Running from the Deity as a fascinating sci-fi story and would certainly recommend it.

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Gintama (2017 Movie)

Warner Bros. Pictures

My rating: 5 of 5

Edo-period Japan has been invaded by aliens from outer space, and the country looks a bit different now with aliens (known as Amanto) in positions of political and social privilege and samurai bereft of their swords. One such former samurai, Sakata Gintoki, has embraced the challenges of this new life by becoming a sweets-loving odd-jobber along with his young friends, Shinpachi and Kagura. But when rumors of a serial killer begin to arise, Gin finds himself drawn back by his past in order to protect the present that he loves.

Okay, first of all, confession: I totally started watching this live-action remake of Gintama just because I love Shun Oguri’s work; never mind the fact that I also love the anime/manga on which this movie is based. Having said that, Oguri did a fabulous job with the role of Gin, but there was a ton of other things that I loved about Gintama. First of all, the casting in general was very well done, and everyone did a great job portraying their characters. And, even though the particular story arc they chose involves a lot of characters, they didn’t go chopping people out left and right, so fair warning, there are a lot of people to keep track of. But I appreciated that they went to the trouble of not chopping . . . either characters or plot, actually. Plot context: at the start, we do get the cafe scene where Gin and Shinpachi first meet–but after that, there’s this big plot gap, and the majority of the movie is the Benizakura arc. I wasn’t expecting them to jump headlong into the story like that, but I think it was a smart choice. It’s one of my favorite parts of the anime/manga for a lot of the reasons that make it a great choice for the movie as well. It captures the absurdity and general silliness that makes Gintama (whatever the medium) such a  fun, funny story; I confess to laughing out loud for a great portion of the movie. You’ve got fourth-wall breaking, references galore, plus just plain ridiculousness (like the Yorozuya and Shinsengumi’s beetle-hunting madness). But this arc also has a lot of heart. It pulls from both Gin’s and Katsura’s childhood days as well as from their resistance-fighter exploits, incorporating that into the present-day plot. And of course, said plot allows for some great action sequences and sword fights–it’s one of the few points in the series where Gin gets a chance to truly look cool for a moment . . . before he ruins it by picking his nose or something. As far as the sets and makeup/CGI, it’s honestly not the greatest. I mean, a lot of the aliens are obviously just folks in animal suits or wearing body paint. But that fits the story–the absurdity and fourth-wall breaking and such–so well that I honestly prefer that over awesome, convincing CG for everything. It just works. So yes, I really loved the Gintama live-action movie, although I would caution that if you haven’t either read the manga or watched the anime at least a bit, you’ll likely be a bit confused; even with two-and-a-half hours of film, there’s still a lot that isn’t explained in a lot of detail. But for fans . . . absolutely recommended; it captures not just the story itself, but the heart of Gintama.

Written & Directed by Yūichi Fukuda/Based on Gintama by Hideaki Sorachi/Starring Shun Oguri, Masaki Suda, Kanna Hashimoto, Yūya Yagira, Ryo Yoshizawa, Masami Nagasawa, Masaki Okada, Nakamura Kankurō VI, & Tsuyoshi Dōmoto

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Doctor Who, Series 11 (2018 TV Series)

BBC

Status: Complete (10 episodes)

My rating: 3.5 of 5

The Doctor’s back–but now he’s a she. And she’s as ready to take on the universe as ever, whether it’s talking down a frightened ships crew, cobbling together advanced tech from what pieces she has on hand, or solving a mystery before everything falls apart. What’s more, she’s got a whole gang of three coming along this time; more fun that way, right?

I’ve heard a lot of mixed reviews of this season of Doctor Who–everything from praising it as true Who to saying it’s completely fallen away from what Who is meant to be. And to be honest, I have somewhat mixed feelings about the series, although my general experience was mostly positive (remember, a 3.5 for me is somewhere between liked it and really liked it, okay?). First off, I think Jodie did a phenomenal job in a challenging role. She managed to find that balance of being the Doctor but also having a new, regenerated personality. I enjoyed the mix of super-quirky, inventive, and smart woman that she brings to the table. The supporting cast was kind of so-so; they were interesting and I enjoyed their stories, but I didn’t feel particularly invested in them for the most part. I enjoyed the diversity, although it did seem a little forced at times–ditto with the appealing to the common man thing they had going. As for the actual episodes, I found a pretty broad mix; some were excellent (Rosa made me cry) and others (like Arachnids in the UK) just had no appeal. Again, there seemed to be a very intentional focus on diversity and everyday people . . . which is a great thing for stories to have and I love that, it just seemed like the writers were trying a bit too hard here. Same thing with the show being Who if you follow me–the things you expect in Doctor Who were definitely present, but it was almost like they were trying too hard to incorporate them at times. Like, I get that with a new basically everything, they’ve got a lot to prove to maintain their viewership, but still. . . . One last note: this series is really short, like, surprisingly so. On the whole, I enjoyed series 11 of Doctor Who, but for fellow Whovians out there, I can’t say for sure whether you’d enjoy this or not. Fifty-fifty shot, I’d say.

Executive produced by Chris Chibnall/Written by  Malorie Blackman, Ed Hime, Pete McTighe, Vinay Patel, Joy Wilkinson, & Chris Chibnall/Directed by Jamie Childs, Mark Tonderai, Sallie Aprahamian, & Jennifer Perrott/Starring Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, & Mandip Gill/Music by Segun Akinola

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1931: Scheherazade at the Library of Pergamum (Visual Novel)

By Black Chicken Studios

My rating: 4 of 5

1930, New York City: Prohibition is in effect, and the Great Depression is making itself known across the country, but for wealthy heiress Scheherazade Keating (Sadie to her friends), other things are much more immediately important. Having just graduated valedictorian of her high school class, Sadie is ready to make her mark, embarking on a whirlwind college degree in archaeology that includes on-site work at a variety of digs around the world. Incidentally, she’s following in the footsteps of her parents, a pair of famous (now missing) archaeologists . . . . She’s also following a trail of clues that may (she hopes) lead to more information about what’s happened to her parents. And she’s not afraid to break a few rules of society if that’s what it takes.

How to describe Scheherazade . . . it’s honestly a pretty unique experience, although there are similarities to a lot of other stories and games in certain aspects. It definitely plays like a visual novel–nice backgrounds, music, character pics, text describing what’s happening, and choices for the player to make that influence how the story progresses. You could, I suppose, even compare it to an otome visual novel in some senses; there are certainly several romance paths that can be pursued, if desired. But it’s entirely possible to play with purely platonic relationships as well. I actually loved how much good friendships were a part of the story. Mechanically, the game is also almost a princess-maker sort of game in that you have to choose how to spend your time, different choices build different skills, and your skills influence how certain challenges resolve. There’s actually a good bit of challenge to the game mechanics if you really want to play to meet certain goals; however, there’s also an easy mode that basically lets you focus on the story. And Sadie’s story is pretty interesting in a pulp novel sort of way. She’s a very strong character, and an amusing one to read–even if her ridiculous wealth tends to make you forget how bad life is in the world at large for a lot of people. But then, she’s more ridiculous than even her wealth, getting caught up in chases, digging in the dirt, getting into arguments, and suchlike. And there are actually a lot of interactions with people of a variety of stations in life–lots of interesting relationships to build. On the whole, I really enjoyed playing Scheherazade and found it to be an interesting slice of an era as well as an exciting romp around the world and a fun exposition of a fascinating character.

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