Tag Archives: aliens

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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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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How to Talk to Girls at Parties (Graphic Novel)

Story by Neil Gaiman

Adaptation, Art, & Lettering by Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Fifteen-year-old Enn doesn’t really get girls. He’s at that awkward age where they seem to have flown ahead, all mysterious and unknowable. His best friend Vic keeps telling him to just talk to them, but . . . what exactly are you to say to someone you don’t understand at all? Enn’s troubles come to a head when Vic drags him to a party, waxing eloquent on the girls they will encounter there, only to find halfway through the evening that they’ve crashed the wrong party–and the girls here are an even more bizarre variety of mysterious and strange than any Enn has encountered before.

I’ve enjoyed Gaiman’s short story “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” ever since I first read it in M is for Magic many years ago. It’s classic Neil Gaiman–the magical clash of the mundane and the extraordinary, couched in such a way that it hints at all sorts of wonders unseen without ever stooping to spell everything out, to take away the mystery of it. It’s breathtaking. Moon and Bá’s graphic adaptation is far better than I expected, managing to preserve much of the ethereal strangeness, the predatory otherness, that makes this story so gripping. Likewise, they do well making Enn awkward and ordinary, making the culture clash here painfully, magically apparent. I think that there are a few parts where more is shown than I would like; this is the sort of story where more left to the imagination is better. But then, that’s the challenge of telling this sort of story as a graphic novel at all, and I think the adapters did well in not overdoing the showing on the whole. The art style is lovely, capturing the alien and the ordinary both in an ethereal collision. Highly recommended.

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Torchwood: Forgotten Lives (2015 Audio Drama)

Big Finish Productions

My rating: 3 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience, because Torchwood

It’s been years since “the miracle,” and Gwen and Rhys have settled into a quiet life with their daughter, far, far away from Torchwood, aliens, and any such things. So it’s with a bit of trepidation that they respond to a late-night phone call claiming that Jack Harkness (whom they haven’t heard from in years) needs their help . . . and yet, how can they help but respond? Leaving their daughter with Gwen’s mother, the two drive to a nursing home in northern Wales, hoping to find Jack and save the world (again). But what they find is enough to leave them more than shaken, even with all they’ve seen in the past.

Forgotten Lives is a pretty solid contribution to the Torchwood canon. It’s a full-cast audio drama set a few years post Children of Earth, and it does make allusions to that, so mild spoilers there. As for the cast, the only main-cast members to show up are Gwen (Eve Myles) and Rhys (Kai Owen). Jack does show up as well (naturally), but not in his own body, so no John Barrowman appearances here–bummer that. The acting is solid, and the flow of the story is easy to follow. I did find it interesting that the story focuses on a nursing home and the vulnerabilities of the people who live there–definitely some social commentary going there, despite the main threat being (once again) an alien invasion. As is typical for Torchwood, this leads us to some dark places, so fair warning there–as with literally everything related to this series, I would recommend avoiding if you’re prone to depression. But yeah, for those who enjoy the series, Forgotten Lives is an interesting continuation going beyond what we got in the show and is worth checking out.

Written by Emma Reeves/Directed by Scott Handcock/Produced by James Goss/Starring Eve Myles, Kai Owen, Philip Bond, Valmai Jones, Seán Carlsen, & Emma Reeves

 

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Meteor Prince (Manga)

Mangaka: Meca Tanaka

Status: Complete (2 volumes)

My rating: 2.5 of 5

Hako has the worst of luck–pencils breaking, things falling on her, rain beginning just as she goes outside, you name it. So why should it be any surprise when an experiment by her friends in the Occult Research Club leads to a naked alien prince falling on her, claiming she is his soulmate, and demanding she mate with him? Fortunately for Hako, she has awesome friends who manage to convince said prince, Io of the planet Yupita, that he has to win Hako’s love first. Meanwhile, they also convince Hako to try to make him fall in love with her and then make him leave. Of course, with her luck, what are the chances they’ll actually both fall in love for real?

Meteor Prince is not a bad read, but it’s certainly not Tanaka’s best by any means. It’s cute and goofy and hopelessly romantic in a sweet, innocent way (ignore all the nudity and talk of mating; it’s actually pretty clean). But it’s also kind of predictable and tropey. Like, down to the amnesia getting in the way of their love kind of tropey. Io is very reminiscent of Tamaki Suoh is oh so many ways, only with a dark past that never really gets developed much, with less social awareness (le gasp! Is this possible?), and with cool alien shape-shifting abilities. And aside from her bad luck, Hako is a pretty predictable shoujo heroine–innocent, girly, a bit too sweet, but relatively lacking in outstanding characteristics. On the other hand, Hako has a pretty awesome baby brother whose background and character I would have loved to see developed more; we didn’t even get to meet him until partway through the second volume! Probably the biggest pro for this series is actually Hako’s friends in the Occult Research Club–both because they have interesting personalities and because they’re just good friends, which is important. As for the art, it’s cute, pretty typical in style for the author. So yeah, for a cute, short shoujo manga, Meteor Prince will do quite nicely, but it’s not particularly memorable or outstanding.

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