Thursday, October 22, 2015

August 2015 Review Roundup

I was pretty entertained by Ernest Cline's debut novel, Ready Player One. I found it charming if lightweight, a nostalgic look back on the video game culture of the 80s. Unfortunately, Cline's followup, Armada, fails to recreate the same magic. If you've seen The Last Starfighter, you've essentially read this book already. Even throwing a lampshade on the recycled plot doesn't help, particularly when the climax boils down to one of SF's oldest cliches.

I had a far richer reading experience with the nine Philip K. Dick novels I read in August: Martian Time-Slip, Dr. Bloodmoney, Now Wait for Last Year, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, A Scanner Darkly, A Maze of Death, VALIS, The Divine Invasion, and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. You can read my reaction to Timothy Archer here. The rest were sublime in different ways; I'm very impressed by Dick's ability to tackle similar themes (the nature of reality and our place in it, essentially) with a wide variety of approaches. Nor did I expect to find Dick's characters so very sympathetic; I really cared about Dick's people, particularly the protagonists of Flow My Tears, A Maze of Death, VALIS, and the aforementioned Timothy Archer. I really regret that I came to appreciate Dick so late in life, but what a wonderful discovery nonetheless.

I also started Jo Walton's so-called "spare change" trilogy with Farthing, the first of three novels about creeping fascism in the UK in an alternate twentieth century. I'll say no more but that Jo Walton is great and she's been added to my list of must-read authors.

In film, I continued to torture myself with the rest of the Fast & Furious movies, each more ludicrous than the last. They're worth a laugh if little else.

The Star Trek fan film Prelude to Axanar surprised me with its faux-documentary format. Set in the days after Captain Archer but before Captain Kirk, Prelude to Axanar serves as a prequel to a more ambitious fan film about a war between the Federation and Klingons. With startling production values, professional actors and a decent script, this ranks among the best of the fan film canon.

Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation almost reaches the heights of Ghost Protocol, and leaves audiences wanting more, assuming they can keep up this level of quality. More than just a string of action beats strung together, Rogue Nation sets the IMF against the Syndicate, an old enemy from the TV series. Unlike that old television staple, this film possesses a sense of humour, and kudos to Tom Cruise for injecting that humour into the proceedings without distracting from the thrills. Another smart action film in a series that's getting better with age.

I rounded out the month with six movies cobbled together from various two-part episodes of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. The TV series is generally better than the films, but these alternate versions are interesting for their historical value if nothing else. 

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