Tag Archives: science fiction

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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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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Jurassic Park

Author: Michael Crichton

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Building a theme park on a tropical island featuring real, live dinosaurs is a breathtaking dream–but for the wealthy John Hammond, it’s a dream he’s intent on seeing become a reality. With massive funding and state-of-the-art genetic engineering, he’s managed to actually bring dinosaurs to life using ancient DNA. And before unveiling the park for the public, he’s invited a special group of consultants, investors, and his own grandchildren for a preview tour of the park. But as their visit continues, things begin to go awry one by one in the worst possible way until it’s uncertain if any of them will even survive.

Jurassic Park is the first Michael Crichton I’ve ever read, and on the whole, I found it something of a James Patterson meets Stephen King thriller, with a stronger bent in the Patterson direction. It’s definitely a thriller, with plenty of action, blood, and scares. But it’s also a slower burn at the start than I was expecting, which was actually kind of nice. Heads didn’t start rolling until, like, halfway through, which gives some time for setting and character development. Having said that, none of the characters really gelled with me other than the paleontologists, who are obviously written in such a way that you’re supposed to like them. And yes, I need to get this out of the way, the story’s kind of sexist and racist–especially notably so in how the Costa Rican workers aren’t even considered in the head-counts or as real characters at all. I’ve also heard the story criticized for plot holes, although I didn’t notice any particularly; I also wasn’t looking for that particularly. As far as thrillers go, it was an exciting and creative read, so it fulfilled its basic purpose quite admirably I think. Although I’m not enough of a scientist to tell how accurate the science used here is (and it’s probably pretty out of date by now in any case), it was interesting to see so much scientific and mathematical theory worked into the plot. That in itself definitely makes Jurassic Park way more interesting than a lot of thrillers in my opinion. Recommended if you’re in the mood for a slower-burn, dinosaur-themed thriller with plenty of suspense.

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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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The Gift of the Quoxxel, 2nd ed.

Author: Richard Titus

My rating: 3 of 5

An isolated tropical island. A whimsical, incompetent king who just wants to see the world. A mysterious girl. Sea monsters and pirates. Extra-dimensional lizards who may or may not exist. What kind of mad wonder is this?!

You can tell before you even open The Gift of the Quoxxel that it’s going to be a quirky trip. And you would be right in that assumption. This is quite the whimsical genre-mash, with a lot of fantasy but also elements of science fiction and mystery, plus a lot of humor. If you’re a fan so Seussical neologism or Alice in Wonderland-style whimsy, this is the book for you. It’s filled with quirky characters, long strings of alliteration, and plenty of surprises. For myself, I did personally find the surprises to be a bit too obtuse for my taste. It was like the author tried to keep things so mysterious at points that I just found myself getting lost. Not that I get the feeling that everything is supposed to fall into place and be perfectly understood. It’s not that kind of story. But . . . I kind of found myself getting lost in the whimsy at times. Still, The Gift of the Quoxxel was a fun trip, and even better, one that’s appropriate for all ages.

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Next Gen (2018 Movie)

Netflix with Baozou Manhua, Alibaba Pictures, & Tangent Animation

My rating: 2.5 of 5

Ever since her father left when she was just a kid, Mai’s life has been a rage-filled, lonely mess. Her mom doesn’t really pay attention to her, the kids at school bully her, she doesn’t have any true friends. It’s only a matter of time until all that anger finds a target; for Mai it becomes the robots that dominate her mother’s attention and give the other kids at school the power to hurt her. And when she stumbles upon a robot that’s different–on that has true artificial intelligence and that wants to be her friend–she suddenly has the power to do something about all the rage and hurt that’s built up inside herself. But Mai isn’t the only one with an agenda, and perhaps nearly losing everything is enough to make her realize that lashing out isn’t the answer.

I have kind of mixed feelings about Next Gen. I mean, it’s a good movie. The CG animation is solid and visually catchy; technically, it’s well done. But I find myself incapable of not comparing it with Big Hero 6, and it keeps coming up short. There’s the whole robot friend thing for starters, and 7723 (the robot here) is enough like Baymax that I can’t help but make comparisons, and yet it is not nearly so cute or so prone to push the protagonist towards good choices. There’s actually a lot of violence here, and a lot of it is caused by Mai and 7723 . . . and it’s not all against obvious “bad guys” either. Mai also reminds me somewhat of Hiro–more than even just the angsty teenager vibe, there are just aspects of their personalities that are pretty similar. Only, Hiro is an example of someone like that who has good friends and family supporting him and helping him make good choices, while Mai is a clear picture of someone completely out of control with no one bothering to notice enough to help her or stop her. On a completely tangential note, I feel like the big overarching storyline (the bad guy trying to destroy humanity part) was 1) too over the top to be credible and 2) not sufficiently related to the basic story (Mai’s life and struggles), although they certainly do interact over the course of the story. So yeah, on the whole, while Next Gen is a solid enough movie, it just doesn’t strike me right, partly because I just don’t enjoy stories that are so fueled by rage and hurt. On the other hand, Bookriot presents a differing perspective on this movie in their excellent post (which I recommend reading), pointing out that this movie provides much-needed discussion for kids on appropriate versus inappropriate ways to handle anger, bullying, and the like. Which, yes, I can see their point. Thus the mixed feelings. I probably won’t watch Next Gen again myself, but I wouldn’t say “don’t watch it,” either.

Based on 7723 by Wang Nima/Written & Directed by Kevin R. Adams & Joe Ksander/Music by Samuel Jones & Alexis Marsh/Starring John Krasinski, Charlyne Yi, Jason Sudeikis, Michael Peña, David Cross, & Constance Wu

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